Mouse Guard: The River at Elmoss, and making players cry

Got a chance to go back and play some Mouse Guard this weekend with Dave and Margie and Kate and Ka(y/therine).

This session was a continuation of action that took place in “Not much Use as a Postmouse” and “A New Route to Ivydale”.  Margie’s character Lucia was still Angry from the last session, so she took the “Summary of previous events” intro to the session, which lets her get rid of a condition on her sheet.

As the patrol was getting ready to set out to their next delivery point (Elmoss), they were met by a traveler/messenger from Elmoss who was looking… well, not for them, exactly, but for a Patrol that was supposed to have arrived in Elmoss several days ago, escorting a much-needed grain shipment from Ivydale.  The messenger hadn’t spotted them on his trip here, so he asked Our Heroes to see if they could find them as they traveled what SHOULD have been the same route.

Asking around Ivydale, the patrol learned that the other group of Guardmice was led by Warwick, a patrol leader with a good reputation and Rosamund’s (Kate) mentor back in her tenderpaw days.  Also, the last Aelwyn (Dave) heard, a female guardmouse of his acquaintance (“Brynn.” sigh) was a member of that patrol.

The group set out their goals for this mission;

  • Rosamund: Locate my old mentor, Warwick.
  • Aelwyn: Rescue Brynn’s patrol!
  • Lucia: Make sure the grain shipment makes it to Elmoss.
  • Graystripe (we haven’t met her yet): Impress her mentor enough to be made a full Guardmouse.

Scouting rolls were made as the patrol tracked the grain cart across quite rocky terrain, well away from the usual path (necessary, since from the tracks they could tell that the wagon was overburdened and very bad off in muddy areas).  This led to a ‘twist’ in which the patrol caught up to the wagon not far from Elmoss.  Warwick’s patrol had tried to ford a stream that had surged with Spring runoff at exactly the wrong moment… leaving the grain wagon almost tipped over next to the ford, and Warwick’s patrol clinging to a hummock of grass and detritus downstream a ways.

Dice were rolled, and the situation became further complicated: Lucia struggled to lever the grain wagon’s wheel out of the mud, Aelwyn struggled with tying off a rope from the shore while Roz swam out to the other mice, midstream. (Where she was pulled up by Graystripe.)

This complicated situation took us into a full-on Conflict with the river.  The river’s “Goal” was “wash the wagon, the grain, and both patrols down river”; the player’s goal was “save the mice, save the grain.”

This was a very challenging conflict to do, initially, and as I had quickly scripted my actions for the river, I should have stayed with the players and helped them ‘translate’ their actions into scripting… because it’s hard to see what an ‘attack’ looks like versus a river, or what skill to use… or what a maneuver looked like.  It just took awhile to get going.

Anyway, after two full exchanges (involving a lot of rope slinging and hauling mice up to the branches of a tree overhanging the river), the patrol managed to get almost everyone to relative safety, but they’d been pretty badly beat up in the process. (They only had two Disposition left from a starting 8).  Everyone was Tired.  In addition – Lucia (who was still basically in the River when it threw its final big surge) had to made a health check to see if she got sick from being, basically, half-drowned as she clung to the grain wagon (which got its wheels snapped off and was basically grounded out at the ford).  She failed that check, so in addition to being Tired, she was also Sick.

Once the water level had died down again, the patrol made its way up to Elmoss to get the town to send people out to help unload and transport the grain (and get medical treatment for the injured).  They ran into the useless, hampering, feudal-style bureaucracy of Elmoss, and got in a show-down with a nasal-voiced administrator who didn’t want to open the gate after dark, OR send anyone out after the food the town ACTUALLY NEEDED.

Aelwyn headed this showdown up with a stirring call to action, but everyone helped out, from Roz and Lucia’s persuasion, to Gray’s deceptive story about dangerous, hungry, grain-stealing weasels in the area. The administrator was unmoved (we got a tie), and Aelwyn tried to outstubborned him (Will vs. Will tiebreaker), mentioning that the ruling family who had paid for this shipment to be delivered would surely be curious who had prevented it from arriving.  When Lucia added “good point… what was your name again?” the adminstrator folded.

Their duty done, the patrol limped into town. Aelwyn acquired lodging for everyone (Resources check, also taking care of the “Tired” condition for everyone), and Roz tried to tend Warwick’s injuries, but the older mouse was pretty badly hurt, and all the water and his cracked ribs means he’ll probably always have a cough (missed Healer check lowered Warwick’s health by 1).  Lucia was also feeling a little drowned, and continues to have a nagging cough (failed Will check means she’s still sick, but with no lasting stat-damage — she’s hoping to get some medicinal help in her home town of Sprucetuck).

Gray tried to convince Warwick to make her a full Guardmouse – an argument Roz supported – but War was having none of that. Instead, he put Roz in charge of her training, since he’d be sick in bed for several weeks at least, and “the girl needs to get back out on the road”.  Roz accepted the job, and the next morning put Graystripe through the first of likely many hard swordmouseship workouts. (An instructor check for Roz, which in turn gave Graystripe a “failed” check on her Fighter skill.) There’s a new sheriff in town.

Meanwhile, Aelwyn went window shopping for Brynn and ended up spending way way way too much on a gift for her (a nice gift, but the failed Resource check resulted in Ael’s Resource score dropping by one – which in turn clears all his accumulated checks to advance that stat).

So: a bit bruised, a little waterlogged, but victorious, the Patrol prepares for the next leg of their journey – across the spring-snow-covered open meadows to Sprucetuck.

A few observations:

  • We hadn’t played in several months, and it took us a long time to remember all the nuances of the game we’d learned the last time. I forgot to encourage the players to earn ‘checks’ by using their Traits in ‘negative’ ways for one, and that hampered folks during the Player’s Turn in Elmoss.
  • The Conflict with the River was cool, in that it really showed what the system can do with weird conflicts, but that conflict totally took the system off the map in terms of “what skills do we roll” and “what does this kind of action look like in this context?”  Cool, but it slowed us down and caused a little frustration (see the title of the post).
  • The players still struggle with the idea that failure doesn’t mean “I don’t get X”, but instead means “I get X, but at a higher than anticipated cost… or with a twist.”  (And I struggle with remembering to POINT THIS OUT. :P) This led to folks pushing harder than they needed to in order to win conflicts, when “losing ” would have still gotten them what they want, but with interesting consequences.
    • Related to that, the Conflict with the River was temporarily frustrating, because it felt like “We won, but it didn’t FEEL like we won, cuz we’re still sick, tired, and the Grain is still stuck in the River.”
    • Once I pointed out that “you won, but I won a lot of rolls too”, and used a kind of “hit points – you lost a lot of em” analogy, then getting beat up and hurt while “winning” stopped being a problem for folks.
  • We worry a lot about getting the rules right.  This leads us to saying things like “Okay, on my Check, I want to use Healer on Warwick’s Injury…” instead of “I want to go see Warwick and have a scene with him.”  I think that’s just a matter of familiarity.  Right now, we’re Playing the System a bit more than just playing a game… I think that’ll come.
    • Lucky for us, while we’re perhaps “playing the system” overmuch right now, it’s a pretty GOOD system.

Mouse Guard is definitely a game where you get beat up and really struggle to pull out a victory.  It’s both heroic and not-heroic.  In once sense, it’s not-heroic cuz EVERYTHING is bigger and badder than you.  On the other, it’s very heroic, because in that face of all that, you soldier on ANYWAY, to protect the Territories.  That last point is a big one — it just may not be a game for everyone — but I hope we get a few more sessions to find out.

Min-Maxing Fun

Entirely unrelated to this post here -> over on storygames, they’re kind of talking about the same sort of thing I brought up in the last post: here.  I’m not sure if it’s something you’d want to read all the way through, but there’s interesting stuff there — I particularly like Paul and Ralph (Valamir)’s thoughts on things.

It also kind of parallels this other thought I’ve been poking at since Monday night, which is what this post is about.

Monday night, Tim and Kate and I were talking about gaming stuff (as we sometimes do between frames of bowling).  We’d started out talking about that last post and the authorship/acting issue.  That drifted into other areas, such as the problems with splitting the party (it doesn’t bother me a bit, but it bothers pretty much everyone else, and I wonder if I can’t solve it universally across all our games with a little social contract related to playing NPCs), and eventually got over to this other topic, which Tim broached with the following (paraphrased):

There are games, like DnD, for example, that have a minimum and a maximum amount of fun.  Unless you get some kind of truly transcendent session, there’s a maximum amount of fun you will have with that system, but there’s also a guaranteed minimum amount of fun you will have [Doyce says: “that would be my ’20 minutes of fun packed into 4 hours’ experience]. The upside there is that, even in a worse-case scenario, unless the group totally implodes, you’re guaranteed x amount of DnD-like fun.

PTA (and other story-games) have no minimum and maximum, which is both bad and good — the maximum can go off the charts, but it can also potentially be absolutely zero fun at all — even negative-fun.

And yeah, you can nitpick that and say things like “well, that all depends on familiarity with the system and blah blah blah”, but the basic idea stands, and I agree with it.

There are games you can kind of phone in.  DnD’s a reasonable example: if you’re brain dead from a long day, you just kinda want to crack some jokes, eat some pretzels, stab orcs in their stinky orc-faces, and take their stuff.  You can be somewhat assured of having at least x amount of that kind of fun if you just show up, assuming the group is functional.

But that is not the case with some story-games. PTA, for example.  You can’t just phone it in – everyone has to kind of be on their game or the game itself becomes less fun or unfun for everyone when it’s the tired/disengaged-person’s turn.  There are lots of games like that: PTA is one, but Don’t Rest Your Head is on there also, and I don’t think you have to put a lot of work into thinking of others — The Roach, DitV, Mortal Coil… hell, I just think of any game where, if I suspect the players are going to show up brain-dead, I want to switch to another game for the night due to the impending sense of personal exhaustion from carrying the added load.

I’m not assigning a value of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ here.  There’s times when you WANT to shoot for the stars in a way that DnD just can’t handle.  Other times, that kind of no-brainer play appeals, because the idea of an all-in game is just exhausting.

There are even a few story-games (or indie games) that allow this kind of … let’s call it cruise-control play. From my direct experience, off the top of my head, these include:

  • 3:16
  • In a Wicked Age (provided the GM is throwing something in the face of the tired player for them to face)
  • Spirit of the Century (acknowledging that this is not really a story game, by design)
  • Mouse Guard (presumably, then, BW/BE)
  • Sorcerer (don’t laugh – I can throw Bangs at anyone and almost always get SOME kind of interesting reaction)

Are they BETTER when everyone’s engaged and actively contributing? Sure. So is DnD. That’s not the point.

Heck, one of Vincent’s own criticisms of IaWA is that it lets people just roll dice without exerting some effort, which results in less interesting conflicts.  He’s working on a new game right now whose main design goal is to make that sort of play impossible; as I understand it, in that new game, if everyone isn’t putting forth effort to deeply describe the environment and actions in that environment, then the game will just… stop.

Which is… well, that MIGHT be over-engineering a solution too far in the other direction.  I don’t want the game to BREAK if everyone isn’t totally on their a-game, right? Bad enough when that happens and the game just gets sluggish.

Obviously, we want to play in a game with active and energetic player input… with lots of in-character play and emotion and stuff. And it’s really cool when a game encourages that kind of caring in the players and activity at the table and gives us tips and tricks and built-in stuff to help make that happen… but it’s asking a bit much when a game flat out requires it. Some of this should be our job at the table, you know?  Socially?

I think that a  ‘play your balls off or the game breaks’ design is going to take us to a place where the maximum fun is … sure … really amazingly high — and the minimum takes us somewhere so crappy we didn’t even know it existed until now.

Sometimes, there’s something to be said for coasting; for knowing, going in, that we’re guaranteed at least x amount of a certain kind of fun.

There’s other times when you want to break the needle.

Meta-gaming, Actor-Stance, Author-stance, and Narration

Twitter. The final frontier new hotness. These are the transcripts of gaming nerds, trying to discuss involved game sessions using nerd jargon, in 140 characters or less.

After Wednesday night’s PTA game (where we are now 4/6 on our season of Ironwall), Tim (cyface) tweeted:

cyface A good game of #sg-pta last night. Had to tie @doycet to the stone table to make him RP instead of Metagame, but we got there. 🙂

Now, I know Tim meant no harm in his comment, and I know specifically (I think) which scene he was (mostly) referring to, but I couldn’t resist a reply.

doycet @cyface I attribute my flighty non-rpness to being really unsure if we’d get the bloody episode done on time without fast-forwarding.

Which unsurety stemmed from the fact that one guy’s spotlight episode (Tim’s, actually) coincided with a ‘screen presence: 2’ for every other character: two of them ramping up to their spotlight eps, and one coming down off his spotlight and ‘wrapping up’. There was a lot going on!

Then, of course, I started second guessing myself:

doycet @cyface Unless I’m that bad all the time — in which case… yeah, I don’t know.

Tim replied:

cyface @doycet Some of both, but generally, live for the moment, as long as the moment is good!

Meera also commented (in a reflection of the fact that she still feels she’s learning to grok some of the indie voodoo):

mtfierce @cyface Funny, I thought @doycet only metagamed in pity for the kids at the back of the indie class.

Which is a kind thing to say, and perhaps more consideration than I warrant — I know one of the things I’ve failed at with PTA in the past has been meta-level discussion of the events in the game in lieu of… you know… PLAYING.  It’s something I’ve been trying to avoid (pretty successfully, I believe) in the current season of play.

So went back and really thought about the game session (and previous sessions) in an analytical (and somewhat unkind) fashion.  That analysis prompted my next couple statements:

doycet @cyface Trying to analyze my play — is it meta-game, or doing author-stance narration? If it’s the later, then… yeah, I am. For me, authoring > acting.

doycet @cyface By “>”, I mean “more personal enjoyment/comfortable for me”. I do enjoy both kinds of play in others, and even acting for myself… in smaller doses.

This led us off into a (more profitable, IMO) discussion.

cyface @doycet It’s an interesting question. Assuming author is being well cared for, I’d prolly choose actor. But if author bad, actor = painful

cyface @doycet …and thus I’d choose author since I think it’s affects more people at once. If I can stabilize author, back to actor.

Hmm. Okay, I understand, here, what Tim’s saying, I think: “Assuming the story isn’t careening off the rails, I’d rather ‘play my guy’ and not step back into an author-level role unless necessary.”  Which is fine, but not exactly what I was talking about. To whit:

doycet @cyface Not 100% we mean the same wrt ‘author stance’. I just mean ‘playing my guy’ in 3rd person (author), rather than 1st person (actor).

doycet @cyface So, put another way, I-the-player am more comfortable playing in 3rd person than 1st, and wonder if my 3rd-person play reads, to you, as meta-play.

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I think there may be >2 modes: 1st prsn RP, 3rd prsn authorial description, omniscient scene narration, & meta-level “pre-summary”.

Here, I’m basically co-opting Forge-speak terms for stuff.

  • Actor-stance. The way I’m using it, I mean interacting with the game from your character’s 1st person point-of-view.  Obviously, you’re only using info the character knows, and your play is mostly roleplay, in the traditional, non-game sense.
  • Author-stance. You’re still just playing your guy, but the POV is more of a personalized 3rd-person, rather than 1st-person. Your character is still only acting ‘as they would act’, but rather than sort of improv’d roleplay acting, you may be describing their actions and what they say, rather than playing them out.
  • Director Stance. The player actually determines aspects of the story relative to the character in some fashion, entirely separately from the character’s knowledge or ability to influence events. So, the player not only determines their character’s actions, but the context, timing, and spatial circumstances of those actions, or even features of the world separate from the characters. (I do this all the time – it still isn’t meta-play.)
  • Meta-level “play” is, for me, something to be avoided, where you’d doing stuff like “Okay, if I succeed here, this is exactly what happens, and if you succeed, this is exactly what happens…” and then we roll dice (or whatever) and… there’s nothing left to PLAY, cuz we already described every possible outcome, so we just tic a box on the form we already filled out and go on to the next scene.  Some folks (me included) think of this as ‘playing before you actually play’.

So… yeah, if I read Tim’s first tweet as being backed with all this terminology (I rather doubt it was, and good for him), then I’d have thought he was saying I was doing that last thing.  Hopefully, what he was saying was that I was doing more Director Stance wankery (which, to be fair, I enjoy) rather than Actor (which, to be fair, Tim seems to (inexplicably) enjoy seeing me do).

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I’d say only meta-“pre-summary” is sucky “playing-without-play”, but either rules/results analysis -or- bad scene narration can BECOME that thing, by accident.

Now, personally, I don’t necessarily think Author or Director stances are bad – I’m a writer, so of course I enjoy looking at the scene from the CAMERA’S point of view, rather than the actors.  I’d go so far as to say I actually prefer them over Actor stance (full on, first person roleplay) for myself, but I’m at ease enough in my own neuroses to admit that at least one (lesser) reason I find them more comfortable (read: safe) is because when I get into first-person roleplaying in a scene, I get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene.

Well, duh.  Of course I do.  Let me rephrase.

“I’ll actually (sometimes) get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene than I’m comfortable with, and I’m concerned I might  make my fellow players uncomfortable with the level of my emotional involvement (when I play angry, I’ll get angry, et cetera), so I instinctively avoid it… That’s actually happened in the past, and I make me feel a little oogey.”

Said oogeyness is entirely a trust issue, and I really should cowboy-up and let go of my trust issues when I’m playing with the Wednesday group. Feh.

But still… that issue aside, I just plain like author/director modes.

What about you guys?


In a weird bit of synchronicity, Paul Czege made this comment on a thread over on Story Games just last week:

I think lots of indie games have skewed many of us to where our play behavior is more like authoring at each other than it is character play. We play many indie games to use the engine of the mechanics to author something that affects the other players. But the result is, paradoxically, less affecting.

Because for a story to be affecting, it must be made from some of the author’s bare personality and honest identity. When a player’s character is a tool for affecting others, more than a membrane for two-way communication, play is “awesome” but boring. We appreciate the creativity and talents of our fellow players, but have no contact with their identities.

So there’s that. I don’t think Paul is wrong.

“This ends in Mud.”

david-petersen-mouse-guard-4((The title of this session is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the finest, most awesome line in the new Mouse Guard collection, Winter 1152.))

A player couldn’t make our ongoing PTA season this week, so the remaining players and I opted to do a one-shot with Mouse Guard.

Since chargen takes quite a bit of time for new folks, I ran the whole thing as a series of questions in a (55 reply!) email thread. Here’s what they came up with:

  • Chris: Jerrick is a 33 year old patrol leader originally from Dawnrock. He had a natural talent as a survivalist and leader that led him to the Guard. As a tenderpaw and later a patrol mouse, he specialized in pathfinding, and has a reputation for never losing a mouse in any of his patrols. He is wise in the ways of mice, wilderness, motivation, and tracks. He believes “there’s always another way”, and his Instinct is to protect the mice of his Patrol at any cost.
  • Randy: Faolan is a 20 year old patrol mouse originally from Shaleburrow. He had a natural talent as a fighter; and he is extremely Bold — the guard seemed a natural fit for him… once he could be convinced not to attack everything at first blush. In Lockhaven, he was assigned to Rand (who was on his final wilderness patrol). Rand focused on his training as a scout, but his specialty (and first love) has always been fighting. He is wise in the ways of scrounging and predators. He believes “success comes through victory”, and his Instinct is to always keep a sharp blade.
  • Meera: Yarrow is a 25 year old tenderpaw — unusually old to join the guard, she applied to the guard several years after her home, Walnutpeck, was lost in the Weasel War — an event that left her and all the other survivors of the wonderful, wood-carved town Bitter. She grew up with her parents (Brand and Ivy) and learned the ways of the apiary from them – a common trade in Walnutpeck, whose apiaries were second to none, prior to the War. Her generous nature made her many friends — most of whom are now gone. She deceived the guard about her age and was eventually found out, but was allowed to stay anyway. In Lockhaven, she was assigned to Jerrick, who focused on her training as a healer and survivalist; her training thus far has been… eclectic. She is tough (all those bee-stings) and wise in the ways of weasels. She believes you must “think with your head and act with your heart”, and her Instinct is to always have a second exit available.

Prep was pretty simple: I used the Mission Burner method that someone posted on Story Games, and came up with the following:

– Pick a settlement one or more of the patrol members are from or have history with: DAWNROCK

(Jerrick is from there, and Yarrow had a friend there – a loremouse named Siaran.)

– Weather messed something up there.

(Specifically, Spring snowmelt and rain caused a mudslide that snapped the wheel off the town’s only Mill.)

– Important mice or supplies must be accompanied to the settlement.

(Carpentry tools and a Carpenter (Faolan’s old Carpentry artisan to whom he was apprenticed: Sable.))

– Wild animals are creating difficulties for the settlement.

(The possibility exists that creatures emerging from winter hibernation might pose a problem to repairing the Mill — I’m thinking, since we’re on a “mud” theme: Bullfrog.)

– The difficulties will experience an unexpected twist

(See: Bullfrog.)

The Mission: “This ends in Mud”

Escort Sable (carpenter who once apprenticed Faolan) to Dawnrock with supplies, then help that settlement repair their mudslide-damaged Mill.


1. Get to Dawnrock. Pathfinder Test: Ob6 (Spring).
— ((Conditions Failure: Main person is Tired, helpers are Hungry and Thirsty.)) *OR*
— ((Twist Failure: Mice are on the wrong side of a broad, swampy area that’s become nigh impassable in the Spring Thaw. Ob5 Boatcrafter or Ob8 Survivalist — Failure conditions on this are Tired (lead mouse) or Hungry & Thirsty))

2. Repair the Mill (Complex test – must perform 3)
Scientist Ob5 (Design new wheel); Laborer and/or Health Ob3 (clearing mud and damaged bits – hauling supplies); Carpenter Ob 6; Healer (to help Sable recover from the wet and muddy trip – he’s Sick).
— ((Twist Failure: A bullfrog emerges from his muddy winter hibernation where the Laborer mice are clearing, and decides to have one of them as a snack. Bullfrog Nature 5: Leaping, Croaking, Camouflage, Predator))


How it Played Out

((None of the players have played MG before. Jerrick has read Burning Wheel. The other two players have read Fall 1152. That’s it. Avante!))

After a brief overview of how the system basically worked, we jumped in.

The scene opened with mud. Snow melt, last night’s rain… whatever the reason, the courtyard in Lockhaven was muddy.

Standing in that mud, staring at a cart (like the one the grain merchant was hauling in Fall 1152) loaded to the brim with carpentry supplies and tools, are Faolan and Yarrow.

Cut to: Jerrick, in Gwendolyn’s study. The matriarch is explaining that, while this isn’t a particularly glamorous assignment, it’s very important; the water wheel on Dawnrock’s only mill was snapped off in a mudslide — although they have many skilled stone masons, the town has no carpenter to speak of; Lockhaven has arranged to provide both carpentry supplies and a skilled carpenter — in exchange, Dawnrock will send down several wagonloads of milled grain in the fall.

Gwen’s captains suggested Jerrick be sent, as he’s from Dawnrock and knows the area.

Jerrick nods, then asks the more pertinent question. “Who’s the carpenter?”

Cut back to the courtyard, where a stooped oldfur toddles up to the guardmouse and tenderpaw.

“Oy! Give an old mouse a hand up onta that cart!”

Faolan peers. “S-Sable?”

“Aye! I be a deputy guard mouse, now, boy! Time to test alla that training I wasted on you!”

“You’re… going with us?”

“Aye! Now… get me up on that wagon! I’ll be able to see for miles!”

“Get. Down.” Jerrick was not in the mood to humor the oldfur when he reached the courtyard. There were younger carpenters in Lockehaven, and he was at a loss as to way this old fool was being sent into the wilderness.

Much cussing ensued, and moaning about having to walk, but eventually Sable got down.

((Thing I forgot: both Jerrick and Faolan have Patrol Captain Harrow as an Enemy — Harrow is the guy behind assigning them to glorified carpentry duty, and the one who arranged for a crotchety oldfur to be sent along. I was GOING to have him show up just before they left to make sure they knew that, but I got so wrapped up messing around playing Sable, I forgot. 😛 ))

Jerrick, well-known as an expert pathfinder, turned to his newest patrol member. “All right, Yarrow — how about you find us a way to Dawnrock?”

Yarrow seriously considered scurrying away.

((Pathfinder test. Ob6. Yarrow doesn’t HAVE Pathfinder. Beginner’s luck rules, with help from Faolan (scouting) and Jerrick (wilderness-wise), left her rolling 3 dice… needing six successes. Sure. Failure. GM opts for a twist.))

The patrol heads… well, mostly north. Jerrick is stoically silent as Yarrow leads them, refraining from any comment more helpful than “are you sure?”

A long day ends with the group staring at the murky morass of a spring-swollen swamp. Dawnrock lies somewhere on the other side. Doubling back will add another day to the trip; possibly two. Continuing forward will require some kind of boat. Or… raft. or… something.

They decide to sleep on it.

The next morning, Faolan starts scrounging up bits of wood and vine to contruct a viable raft. Yarrow helps out by hauling the stuff (laborer), Jerrick ‘supervised’ with motivation-wise, and even Sable “helped”… by criticizing Faolan’s clearly atrophied carpentry skills.

((Boatcrafting. Ob5. Faolan has a 2. 3 helping dice from others, plus Scrounge-wise gave him six dice to roll. 3 success. GM uses a Conditions Twist.))

While the raft that Faolan finally got strapped together was enough to keep the cart (mostly) out of the water, the whole thing was terribly top-heavy and nowhere near big enough for the mice to ride (except for Sable, some of the time). Yarrow and Jerrick waded along on either side of the raft, chest-deep in the water, while Faolan pushed on the thing from the back.

The raft got hung up on tufts of grass repeatedly, and was generally a nightmare to move, but by late afternoon, they had cleared the swamp. Soaked to the bone, they’d had no time to eat — Yarrow and Jerrick were Hungry, but Faolan was too Angry to be hungry.

Oh, and old Sable is sneezing and sniffling and clearly Sick.

Back on “dry” land, they set out for Dawnrock and got there well after dark. It took some talking, but the town guard finally let them in, and let them stay in the guard house — no wandering around town for the strange guardmice, not without the See’s say-so, so Jerrick couldn’t even go stay at his family’s home — nor could Yarrow visit her friend.

The next morning, the guard were greeted by the leaders of the town and enthusiastically led out to the mill site to start on repairs. There was much to do.

First, they decided that Sable needed to be seen to. Jerrick went back into town to find a shop selling medicinal herbs and such.

((Resource test: Ob 4. Player was rolling about 7 or 8 dice, thanks to some help and being in his home town. Easy success, giving +1D to Yarrow’s next roll.))

With the supplies in hand, Yarrow set about making an eye-watering, head-clearing poultice for Sable.

((Healer test: Ob 3. Yarrow’s Healer is 2, plus the +1d for supplies, plus help from Faolan. She got two successes, spent a Fate point to blow up a 6, and got another success. Victory! Healthy old carpenter coot!))

With a revitalized (and aromatic) master carpenter dealing with building a new wheel, Yarrow started leading the laborers as they cleared mud and detritus from the wheel’s final location, and Faolan started cutting down a new axle for the wheel (something Sable figured Faolan could handle).

((Laborer, Ob3. Yarrow has 2. Helping from everyone, including ‘supervision’ from Jerricks motivation-wise (best trait EVER). Success.))

((Carpenter, Ob… 4? Something like that. Helping dice abound. Player gets 3 successes, two of which are sixes, but opts not to go for the win, wanting to see what will happen.))

Yarrow is covered pretty much head to toe in mud, ears drooping, when she hears “Y-Yarrow? is that… you?”

Her ears droop further.

It’s her friend, the loremouse Siaran, native of Dawnrock, whom she was hoping to impress with her guard mouseliness (her Goal for this session).

He’s unfailingly impressed and enthusiastic about seeing her, however, and even volunteers to jump in and help with the clearing of mud. He rolls up his pant legs and sleeves, hops in, and starts shoveling with a passion only seen in over-enthusiastic scholars trying to show off.

His shovel bites into the mud and pokes a just-waking Bullfrog right on the nose.

The bullfrog is not amused. It croaks. Siaran croaks desperately back. It doesn’t seem to have much affect.

((CONFLICT! Bullfrog, Nature 5, vs. the patrol. Bullfrog Goal is “Eat Siaran.” Patrol goal is “drive off bullfrog, and keep it from ever coming back.”))

Disposition is rolled. I get 7. Players get 13! (Faolan spent a Fate point to blow up a bunch of sixes.)

Action 1: I script Attack. Players (Yarrow) script Defend (they’re new to scripting, but it worked out in their favor this time). Yarrow rolls her Nature to defend, and throws herself and Siaran down and out of the way of the whipping tongue (taxing her Nature).

I get four successes on five dice. Yarrow gets two, but they’re both sixes. She spends a Fate point, rolls the two new dice, and gets two more successes. Tie!

Action 2: I script Maneuver. Players (Jerrick, with a bow) scripts Maneuver. I get two success, and so do the players (which is a shame, cuz they were rolling a LOT of dice). We both get +2D to our next action…

Action 3: … which doesn’t matter for me, because I scripted Feint, and the Players (Faolan) scripted an all-out attack. I don’t get to roll at all, and Faolan got six success, then spent his last Fate point to blow up some sixes and finish off my last point of Disposition.

The bullfrog, shovel-smacked, bruised, and cut along its flank, flees the area. Awestruck locals cheer.

Jerrick and Yarrow are Hungry and Thirsty, but this is Jerrick’s home town, so mom and pop fix them a nice meal, and that’s all taken care off with no Checks.

Jerrick, introduced to Yarrow’s friend, is very interested in the young mouse’s ability (unhelpful as it was) to speak Bullfrog, and spends a few days speaking of all things Loremouse. (Skill check on Loremouse. Two Success.)

Yarrow, chastised at her terrible pathfinding, gets up on the very highest parts of Dawnrock (which is atop a tall hill along the coast to boot) and takes many notes on the lay off the land she can see for miles and miles.
(Pathfinder beginner’s luck check: Success.)

Faolan’s time is spent more simply — at a pub, regaling the locals with retellings of the fight with the bullfrog, tossing back free (“medicinal”) beer, with cute young (“medicinal”) she-mice perched on his knee.
(Will check to recover from Angry: Success!)

A pretty fun time, even though we kind of forgot to set GOALS for the mission until very near the end. Bah. GM-failure.

Still, a good night, fun had by all (I think). Call it a win.

Love this game.

This weekend…

We painted our house, introduced Kaylee to classic musicals…

And killed a friggin’ BALROG.

If that picture doesn’t adequately convey the power of the Ancient Maiar compared to humble mortals… then I can’t help you.

Rawr.  There was much shouting amongst our merry band of heroes.

Next up: a giant turtle, nesting within the waterworks of Moria.

Then, facing down the Watcher in the Water within the deepest levels of Moria (where it’s retreated after facing a major offensive at the Hollin gate).

[3:16] Actual Play: Reptiloid Chameleon Tricksters in the Goya Asteroid Belt — no way were those actual troopers.

So the player of this episode’s spotlight character didn’t show up for PTA last night (Khaaaaan!), I suddenly needed to run something off the cuff, and we didn’t get started until 7, due to the waiting to see if the Spotlight guy would show.

Right. Zero Prep time, short play-time. Go!

  • Lady Blackbird felt like a little too much prep. Maybe. or something. It felt like too much.
  • A Penny for My Thoughts would have been perfect, but I haven’t finished reading the rules yet.
  • I also haven’t read Geiger Counter or Danger Patrol yet.
  • I couldn’t FIND Ghost Echo.
  • Mouse Guard would have been perfect… if we already had characters done.

And I’m flipping through my PDFs, and say “Okay, how about 3:16?”

3:16 is (on the surface) about Space Marines blowing the hell out of aliens. It’s Warhammer 40k, Spacehulk, Aliens, Starship Troopers (the movie), and not a small amount of Full Metal Jacket and Platoon all rolled up into a thick, fleshy ball, shot full of stims, and dropped out an airlock.

We went with it.

Character generation is fast. Characters have two stats: Fighting Ability (FA) and Non-Fighting Ability (NFA). They have a reputation. They have a name.

  • Merra played Sgt. Trib, who had a rep as a super-positive optimist. Tim’s character immediately dubbed him “Sergeant Happypants”. FA6/NFA4
  • Tim played Cpt. Boll, a cigar-chomping vet who’d been promoted and demoted from Sergeant more times than he could count. FA7/NFA3
  • Chris played Trooper Weevil, who is snarly. FA7/NFA3

Their briefing by the prissy Lt. informed them that an asteroid-belt mining facility had gone signal dark. Command was sending in 3rd Army, 16th Battalion to reestablish comms and make sure nothing had gone amiss.

The troops were warned that Aliens were active in the area: reptilian humanoids with a POWERFUL MIMICRY ABILITY. They were to be DESTROYED WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE.

“How do we tell if someone is a miner or a reptiloid?”
“If he’s shooting at you, he’s a reptiloid pretending to be a miner.”
“What if he’s just a scared miner?”
“He’s a reptiloid, pretending to be a scared miner.”

Note: the actual “alien threat” that I rolled up was Corrupt Troopers with the Armor ability.

So the troopers get in the drop ship and head on down to the mining base. In flight, while the Lt. droned on, the ship is hit with… something and starts to heel over and tumble.

Cpl. Boll immediately pops the back deployment hatch and orders everyone to EVAC NOW!

Weevil and Boll succeed, Trib does not.

What followed was a firefight in the hangar bay with well-armed opponents who had taken out the transport with guided missiles.

Afterwards, the troopers noticed the dead ‘reptiloids’ looked just like dead troopers. In power armor identical to their own. With the same weapons.

Really good camouflage, that.

The proceed into the mining facility tunnels, getting harassed by one of the “enemy” (voiced by Clancy Brown), who taunted them with their ignorance of what Command was really up to out here, and how they didn’t know what they were really being used for, and how the troopers should be joining forces, not fighting.

The Lt. ordered radios shut down.

They came to the mining base/town in the heart of the asteroid. At the center of the company-built town, they found a mass grave and a crudely built monument. The “Enemy Voice” came over the town’s loudspeakers.

“You see what happened here? We were told the miners had been taken over by mind-controlling alien leeches — that we had to destroy them for their own good, and the good of Terra.”

“That wasn’t what happen. What happened was these families wanted better pay. That’s it. We got sent in to gun them down.”

“They aren’t the enemy. Command is the enemy. Terra is the Enemy. You are the enemy.”

A big fight ensued. Tim took a look at all the Threat Tokens on the board, and decided to have a Flashback and name one of his Strengths — a move which automatically wins the conflict and wipes out all the Threat Tokens in Play. Many enemy armor suits were weak-spot-exploited.

Having used a Strength, Boll is now eligible for promotion at the end of the mission… and he’s 1/10th of the way to acquiring his final Strength/Weakness: “Hatred of Terra”.

From that, I think you can guess at one possible arc in this game.

They marines chase down the enemy as they retreat to their own ship, and there’s a final showdown versus the Enemy Voice marine right at the gangplank of the ship, before it flies off.

Once again, he tries to get the troopers to come with him – to see the truth – and to DO something about it.

Then Sergeant Happypants shot him in the face (and considered fragging Cpl. Boll into the bargain).

The end.

Back on the TCST Dortmunder, Cpl. Boll is promoted to Sergeant (again), and the unit requests (and gets) a number of weapon-grade improvements (though Weevil’s request for a tactical shotgun was denied). Weevil’s NFA went up to 4, Boll’s FA went to 8.

We were done playing in a little over 2 hours.

Good stuff. I didn’t have the rules down too well – hadn’t read them in maybe six months – but we muddled through and I only forgot one important thing (NFA rolls out of combat give you a bonus in later rolls).

And honestly? I’d kinda like to play this again and see what happens with these guys. All told, what more do you want out of a quick and dirty night of gaming?

Finally, as promised to the group, a series of links to hacks, tweaks, discussions, and actual play. I marked the particularly good stuff.

Talking about the game:

Hacks and Quick Improvements:


Actual Play

[PTA] Ironwall, Episode 1: The Ambassador

Wow, it’s been awhile since this episode aired, but as Episode 2 is playing tonight, I thought I’d better get a summary down.

I covered the pilot episode of this post-apocalyptic, fairies-are-back-and-they’re-pissed, survival drama here, in case you’re looking to get caught up.

Previously on Ironwall:

  • Shot of Sienna going all black magic scary in The Fairy Hill; children looking at her, horrified.
  • Shot of Cam meeting his shoulder-fairy for the first time out in the suburban ruins. “I want to come with you!”
  • Cam turning on Lennox in the cabin of the train. “Would you just back off?”
  • The Duke of the Fairy Hill, talking to Joseph. “My goodness; you’ve gone entirely native, haven’t you?”


The camera zooms around the post-apocafunky island of not-Manhattan, showing us various settlements.

  • Where Upper East Side is today, we see patrols along the banks, a guardpost at Hellgate Bridge and on Roosevelt island (the bridge that crosses the East River at the island is torn out over the island, so that people have to cross by dropping down to the island, going through the guards, and then back up). There’s also a ship dock here that we take a little time looking at, so maybe that’s important.
  • Where the Upper West Side use to be, there are crumbling but well-maintained brownstones with anachronistically-dressed people (kind of feudal post-apoc chic) walking around the neighborhood, nodding and smiling to each other and looking secure.
  • All around Grand Central (where the sign over the doors just says CENTRAL), a bustling town-within-a-city, with lots of activity – working machinery, construction, conversation… some electric lights flickering to life as a generator sputters to life and a small group of people cheer while JOSEPH (J. Rhys-Meyers OMG) looks pensive.
  • We see the skyscrapers to the south end of the island, kestrels and other birds circling and nesting in the rusting framework. Most of the floors are open to the weather, and high up, a pair of watchers scan the horizon. One gets the others attention and points out to the sea. The second person pulls out binoculars, looks out to sea, and nods to the other, who goes over to the far side of the tower and starts ringing a bell.

We zoom back to “Central”, see Lennox (Viggo) turn toward the sound, looking first up at the iron towers, then in the direction of the sea. There are many buildings in the way, but by his frown and the look in his eyes, it seems he can see, or at least guess, what’s out there.

The camera zooms through those buildings (a big church, the NYC library, etc.) out to the sea, where we see a large sailboat, modern, but sort of gone primitive, with a kind of US gov’t emblem on the sail; again, a bit primitive. On the ship, in the prow, there is a woman in quasi-military, weirdly formal white attire, looking out at up at the city. The camera slows, starts moving more smoothly, pans around to look over her shoulder from her POV, and we see the City in silhouette as the sun sets behind it.

The silhouette goes black and we see it turn into the logo for the show as “IRONWALL” and the faun’s head fades in over it, the theme music fades in, and the OPENING CREDITS ROLL.

COMMERCIAL BREAK: Ironwall is brought to you – at least in my broadcast area – by Xcel Energy Wind Power, and the new Solarum hybrid from Kia. Someone got the word out that the show has a “you bastards blew it all to hell” eco-theme. Huh.


We start on the docks on Roosevelt Island, beneath the shattered span of bridge. All the key people are waiting for the woman in white to get off her fancy boat. Joseph (Rhys-Meyers) is there, but in the background: standing to the foreground of the crowd is the Old Priest and Lennox (Viggo). Our other principal actors are scattered around the crowd. There’s also a big fat man in a fancy coat and a lean, rangy looking guy, both standing next to the priest.

Here to help you. Not at all evil. Promise.
Here to help you. Not at all evil. Promise.

The woman in white looks too-clean white, and the first shot of her is almost upskirt, standing under a flag made by an aspiring Betsy Ross Jr. with old naval insignia and a couple of stars, maybe some stripes. Her first line is a little classic: “Don’t worry. We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”

She smiles to show it’s a joke, but no one’s really laughing.

Oh, it’s Bridget Regan. She introduces herself as Elizabeth Montclair, and makes a speech(standing on a stack of old computer monitors): she’s an ambassador from Washington-that-was, and she wants to establish an alliance with the settlements of “your city”. (She doesn’t call it Ironwall, but she doesn’t say New York, either. It feels like she wants to, but doesn’t.)

The speech is followed by scattered applause – a lot of people turn around and go about their business without clapping, but some people (the fat man in front) are SUPER PUMPED.

The Ambassador suggests a more private place to talk with the Leadery-types, and leaves her soldiers (did I mention she has a bunch of soldiers on the boat?) on the boat and goes with the Priest, the fat man, the lean guy, and Our Heroes to talk at The Church.

The Church is a little weird. There’s aren’t a ton of religious trappings, and I feel like their pretending it’s one of the cathedrals in NYC, but it’s not one I recognize. Most of the iconography is missing, and the front doors just have these BIG iron spikes mounted on them, like it means something. Hopefully we’ll find out more later.

Right now, it’s not important: the Church is just the Scoobies’ Library for now.

Lennox and Cam (rawr) sit in the pews listening, JOSEPH (again, Rhys-Meyers) is up front next to Father Ezekial. Sienna the Spooky Witch stands in the back, looking through the modest library.

The Ambassador comes clean (right) saying that actually, she needs the resources of the city to track down a threat that has escaped from her own city and was headed here – is probably here already. She is chasing a traitor from her settlement who is some kind of ‘skin-changer’. A human, but one who can shapeshift – ‘co-opting the worst of fey magic.’ She wants to bring her people (did I mention the soldiers) off the boat and conduct the search.

“We have an excellent success rate in tracking down fey hidden within humanity.”

Which sounds about as creepy-inquisition as it should, I think.

The fugitive woman (name: Veronica Jacobson) has an ‘everyskin-cloak’. The Ambassador indicates that the ‘needs’ of the cloak mean that the woman is probably going to start feeding on the locals in some way. Maybe she has already.

“So she is human?” – Cam
“I don’t know if that’s a fair assessment anymore.” – Montclair

OUR HEROES look for additional information, some to avoid a witchhunt (CAM), some curiosity (SIENNA), some guilty consciences (JOSEPH), and to make sure who is really in danger (LENNOX).

The Ambassador mentions, during the questioning, that part of the reason the coat is important is because it includes not just the black magic of torturing animals, but also the skins (and thus, associated abilities) of the fey.

So, there’s… like… fairy parts in this cloak? Like… torn-off flutterby wings and such? Eww.

OOC Comments

“‘Pensive’ is very big this year.” – Doyce, overusing the word.

“She’s an Ambassador. She’s here to Ambass.” – Doyce

“Snuffleupaghi?” – Tim, musing on the kinds of skins the cloak might incorporate.

Next, a MONTAGE scene showing posters going up, people being talked to, observations being made in whatever way is most appropriate to each character.

All this leads to someone getting a lead.

“Good news, we found her, bad news is, she’s taken Clemens.”

Right… who’s that again?

“We think we found her, but Clemens is missing…”
“…and there’s a lot of meat on Clemens.”

Ohh… Clemens (Gailard Sartain) is the fat man — who is also probably the guy in charge of the fancy Upper West Side people.

There is some planning about how to take this woman-monster thing down, which gave up a good line:

“You can’t go in loaded for bear if she’s going to be a bat.”

Anyway, Lennox (who apparently has Fey-dar) leads the way to a warehouse somewhere along the Hudson shoreline. The whole place is kind of boggy, because the Hudson has reclaimed a lot of the lower-lying areas along the southwest side of the island, but it’s not totally underwater.

So there’s a chase/fight in a warehouse. It’s dark and tense and everyone has crappy old flashlights that barely work (except for CAM, whose flashlight is awesome and can SEAR THE RETINA.

Now, here’s the thing; according to the Buffy Bible of Show Order, everyone should get their asses kicked by this monster, and only beat her in the second attempt at the end of the episode, but … no. The woman goes down without a huge fight. Sienna reminds Lennox he needs to +DESTROY+ her coat.

“I wouldn’t trust me with it.”

They pull the coat off the woman (which apparently REALLY REALLY HURTS), and then Lenn pours oil over it and makes sure it burns. It does, but it also writhes and screams while it does so… which is creepy.

Lennox is frowning – showhow, he thought this would be harder.

COMMERCIAL BREAK: Ironwall is brought to you by Kiva, who bought the whole 90 second spot so they could really explain the charity. Huh. Good idea; Ironwall is nerd-tasty, and Kiva is the kind of Charity nerds would probably like.

Sienna is with Father Ezekial and captured girl as they bind wounds caused by pulling the coat off of her skin. (Also: OW.)

“So, who do you think gave her the coat?” Sienna insinuates.

The priest demurs, noting they don’t have enough information to imply anything.

Sienna points out that if the girl was so good at the black magicks, there would have been a lot more in the way of, say, injury, let alone hot, crunchy death. Projecting much, Si?

The father points out the politics of it – that too sensitive a situation to accuse anyone outright, but that they should maybe… umm… hold the girl while they do a little more investigation.

Sienna agrees and offers to ward the room in addition to having the guard.

So… that’s interesting – she admits to a little bit of magic to regular people, at least, and the priest doesn’t bat an eye.

Lennox and Cam chat a bit about how easily the woman (they start calling her Veronica, so we know we’re supposed to see her as a person) was captured, and if it was that easy, how did she haul off Clemens-the-fat?

Cam goes to talk to Clemens, because he thinks there’s more information to be found in how he was caught by this wisp of a woman. After an argument with his SHOULDER FAIRY, he discovers The Ambassador has troops in the city – within the village of Upper West, specifically. After seeing the relative luxury that Clemens enjoys, he gets to the bottom of the situation.

Seems as thought Upper West has already been in talks with Washington, and drawn up some agreements.

Also, these aren’t the troops from the boat, these are OTHER troops – MORE troops – who marched up to the city overland (suffering some losses) and were let on the island over the Great Bridge (which Upper West is supposed to guard).

Lennox finds about about the new kids in town, and meets with Logan-the-Lean of Upper East to gain some kind of Solidarity.

Logan agrees, and comments says, “Wouldn’t it be a shame if the soldiers they brought accidentally ran across our `friends’ in the Ramble. Oh no, that wouldn’t be right.”

Lennox agrees. Is he agreeing that it wouldn’t be right, or that the soldiers should have an accident?

Yep, that was deliberately ambiguous.

Joseph has a high-larious moment in the church confessional with his Sekrit Ironwall Fey Contact, who uses the name “Joseph” like a weapon.

Sekrit Contact wants to know what Joseph wants to be, what he wants being “the Kerrigan” to mean. Where he wants to fit in. If he’s going to take on a role in the fey politics, how much self-delusion is he willing to give up?

Just as things start to get interesting, The Ambassador shows up to cop a feel on the local politics and starts insinuating things about our city, trying to draw Joseph out into talking about Our Heroes.

She doesn’t seem terribly impressed with Our Heroes. But she has noticed some “odd things”.

  • One of the most senior borderer in your settlement (Lennox) failed to notice his own nephews had been replaced with Changelings?
  • Cam doesn’t farm, yet he goes to the Park every night?
  • Serena does magic? How? From books? We have many books, but none of our people can do what you say she’s done.
  • Did you know that even the best-glamoured of the Fey still leave a tell-tale, no matter how close they come to appearing human? Something to give them away — a strange birthmark, perhaps, or unnaturally colored eyes, like yours, Joseph…

Yeah, she is not of the comfort-making.

Commerical Break: Ironwall is brought to you by the new Kodacell.

Sienna is in with the animal-skin woman, who wakes up while Sienna does magical stuff — draws wards or something.

“Your magic works?”

Sienna seems nonplussed. “We don’t burn witches here,” Sienna says, maybe over-hopefully.

The girl seems darkly amused – also, apparently, The Ambassador is her sister. The girl’s story is that she stole the skin-coat (part of a Washington R&D about working against the fey) in retribution for Elizabeth Montclair (the ambassador) having lost her moral compass, as well as the Program having devoured the rest of the girl’s family.

Not sure if “devoured” is literal or not.

Sienna feels the girl out to see if she notices anything about the magical wards or any magics around either of them.

Veronica gives no indications that she can feel anything of the sort.

The last visual of this scene is a pan back to see that indeed, the girl is in the middle of some nasty-looking wards, completely oblivious to that fact.

Thanks to Father E, there’s going to be a trial… a not-trial, to see if there SHOULD be a trial: if Ironwall needs to keep Veronica around to stand trial for crimes against the city itself before she is released to The Ambassador.

BEFORE THE TRIAL, CAM’s earring… erm, shoulderfey notices Joseph. The two have lots of side-whispers and facial gesticulation while Cam, Sienna, and Lennox compare notes. Cam and Joseph are sent to make sure that The Ramble (read: the Queen of Flowers, Cam’s Fey-with-Benefits) is alerted to the troops that may cross from Upper West and down to Central if the not-trial doesn’t go The Ambassador’s way. There’s some talk about getting those soldiers to disappear. Permanently.

Cam and Joseph head into the Ramble to make deal with the Queen of Flowers. The deal is voiced such that the QUEEN makes it clear that “If 30 men are taken care of, I will be owed 30 men worth of work.” Somehow, she makes it sound like a group sex scenario will be partial payment.

“She is surrounded by the scent of musk and elderberries and wine…” – Doyce

“You cut-and-pasted that straight from my forebrain…” – Tim

In the meantime, Cam’s “pet fairy” (who is NOT present) is mentioned and the Queen acts unconcerned the influence of pets against her and Cam’s… ugh… connection. Also, she makes lots of allusions to Josephe’s status as “Kerrigan” but nothing outright is said.

Sienna tells Lennox she’ll stand at the trial to say Veronica would only know black magic if it bit her (and at that, only if it wasn’t subtle) – to indicated that there’s no way Veronica created the every-skin coat on her own. But as Father E points out, they don’t have any reason to hold her in protective custody since there’s no crime committed here.

Thus commences THE NOT-TRIAL.

[The conflict at “NOT A TRIAL” is just to find out if they can convince the Board to keep Veronica in Ironwall, against MONTCLAIR’S wishes. MONTCLAIR stands up and defends self. The players get lots of black card failure. FAILURE brings out Veronica to her sister MONTCLAIR’s custody.]

And, again, the show goes against what you’d expect, and Sienna and Lennox lose the argument to the council, who votes to hand Veronica over to The Ambassador.

Lennox, who disagrees with the whole thing and thinks Ironwall should just tell The Ambassador to sod off, and is CLEARLY thinking about just jumping in and “fixing things”, still escorts the Ambassador and Veronica across city to the Q bridge and, from there, to MONTCLAIR’s boat. They get within sight of the boat, looking down on it from the bridge and BOOM BOAT EXPLOSION!

There’s a shot of Lennox’s face, and Sienna’s… and we’re pretty damned sure THEY didn’t do it.

So who did?


Next week, on Ironwall:

  • A voice, to Joseph: “You did have something that would help you remember… but do you remember where it is?”
  • Veronica, to Sienna: “You said you lost your child?”
  • CAM: looks at Joseph “Your eyes seem different somehow.”
  • Someone tells Lennox. “Some of the Board think you’re trying to pull off a coup.” Lennox doesn’t look like he’s denying it.
  • “Did any of the Ambassador’s soldiers enter the Ramble last night? Four are missing.”

LotRO – a set on Flickr

Kate and I have taken all the screenshots from the last two years of playing LotRO and put them up on the Flickr.

With comments.

It’s probably about as interesting as a slideshow of someone else’s vacation, but it makes us happy, so there.

LotRO – a set on Flickr.

Optimizing my free time

I don’t have anything against DnD 4e. In my opinion, it’s a big step up – a real evolution – from the 3rd edition rules.

I don’t have anything against the folks in the monthly game of DnD 4e that I play in. They’re all decent enough folks.

I like my character. I like the way my character works in play. I even like the storyline.

But I’m done.  I was at the game for eight hours on Saturday, not counting travel time, and we managed two fights and one scene that might nominally be deemed ‘role-play’ that ended becoming a player-discussion of the inherent morality (or lack thereof) of groups of adventures who categorize entire sentient peoples by racial stereotypes, then kill ’em and take their stuff.

Fascinating, in a petri dish kind of way, but not what I signed on for, general.

So I’m done.

What shall I do instead?  There’s a weekend writer group that invited me to join in, and I think I’ll do that.

As for gaming in general, I think I’ll stick with things that produce a better fun to time ratio.

Still making a hobbit of it.

Kate and I started playing Lord of the Rings Online about two years ago.  I’m only aware of this because, last night, Kate dinged her second character to level 60 (the current maximum level), I was there to take the screenshots, and then I went in and started browsing the screenshot directory from the very beginning, and we had a lovely pictoral walk down memory lane.

I was poking through the blog archives this morning, looking for something else entirely when I stumbled across the post “Making a hobbit of it” from September of 2007, in which I talked about our decision to play LotRO together, and my initial ‘briefing’ on the game.  I’m pleased to see that most of the tips and observations on gameplay are still true (and pretty good), with the awesome stuff just getting better.  Not all the characters I mention in that post survived to 2009, but “the most potent pair we have” are still inarguably our main characters — despite his being level 60, I spent most of my play time yesterday on Geiri, and I still have a laundry list of stuff I want to do on him.  That’s good, fun game design, as far as I’m concerned.

So what’s the current tally of toons?  Let’s see:


  • Geiri Kinshield, dwarf of the Lonely Mountain, level 60 Guardian, miner, jewelcrafter, and a damn fine cook.
  • Finnras Delain, man of Gondor, level 60 Captain, combat-librarian.
  • Emyl the Undying, dwarf of the White Mountains, level 35 rune keeper, wandering drunk.
  • Tyelaf, man of Dale, level 28 hunter, explorer.
  • Finir, dwarf of the Lonely Mountain, level 24 minstrel, scholar.
  • Kaetlyn Delain, woman of Gondor, level 24 Warden.


  • Tiranor, elf of Mirkwood, level 60 Hunter, woodcrafter.
  • Tirathien Aerlinn, elf of Lothlorien, level 60 Minstrel, tailor.
  • Tirawyn, woman of Rohan, level 29 Captain, weapon smith.
  • Tiradis, elf of Mirkwood(?), level 24 Champion, explorer.
  • Tirra, hobbitses, level 22 burglar.

It’s easy to figure out which characters are Kate’s, regardless of who she’s got logged in.

As I said, we’re still having a pretty darn good time with this game.  In hindsight, we probably should have just bought the lifetime subscription and saved some money. 🙂

LotRO: They can rebuild it. Better, stronger, faster, and dude… way f@*#ing cooler.

As I mentioned on my other blog, Kate and I decided a week or so ago to try out some new characters in Lord of the Rings Online (our MMO of choice) so that we could explore the changes/improvements to the ’starter’ areas in the game. Kate likes playing elves (*shudder*) and I like me some Dwarf action (yay!), and they had revamped the whole Dwarf/Elf starting region of Ered Luin fairly recently, so that was kind of a no-brainer.

(Also, I made up a kind-of solo character to check out the starting Man region of Archet/Combe/Staddle, because I’ve always liked that area most of all, and they updated it, so I was basically checking out two areas. No revamp changes had occurred in the Shire at all, because (a) the designers were really happy with that area and (b) so were the players — therefore, we made up no new hobbitses. )

We were VERY favorably impressed with the new regions, both with the changes and the characters we made up, and played them during most of that weekend. Good stuff.

I think it’s safe to say that each starting region still has its own definable flavor (the dwarf/elf area feels older, more ‘epic’ in the sense that these are old enemies you are fighting, while the Men are facing new threats of their own devising, and the Shire bounders move slowly from the bucolic and quaint to growing awareness of the threats from without), while all the starting regions have been brought up to the level of quality seen in the Shire (up until this point, considered the best place to level new characters up, once you knew all the various areas well-enough).

And then came Bree: the great melting pot of all character activity from level 15 to 25, where everyone’s time line finally merged for the first time. It’s always been a decent area, but there were still a few notoriously annoying, deadly, or just plain aggravating elements of the region.

But that’s normal, right? There’s always going to be some annoying stuff, right? That’s a given.

I don’t think that anymore.

Kate and I had already played through the starting regions a week or so ago; the conclusion of which sent us off to Bree to speak with a ranger by the name of Strider. Having just explored the improved Ered Luin, we decided to let the characters sit for a week in Bree without taking any quests until Book 8 dropped, because we heard they were doing a full-bore revamp of the Bree area.


Without a hint of irony or sarcasm, I can say that the revamp of the Bree area represents the finest revision and improvement I’ve ever seen in any MMO. Period. Full stop. The way they have streamlined the storylines and quests in the area should quite simply become the new gold standard for zone design in MMOs.

If you haven’t played LotRO, you should try it out, just to play through as far as the end of the Bree story arcs, which take you into the Barrow Downs and some truly epic quests.

If you played LotRO in the past, but don’t at the moment, do yourself a favor and try it out again for a month. Start over with a new character. Play whatever you want, it is all good.

If you’re just starting LotRO, like our friend Rob, I envy you – you never had to deal with with that crappy quest down at the South Greenway Barricade… you never got ripped to pieces by the deathtrap meat grinder of the original Old Forest (or bored by the more-recent, dumbed-down version).

If you’re currently playing LotRO, make a new character and experience the new content in the old areas you think you know so well. You. Will. Love it.

So… back to what I was saying… Book 8 came out yesterday, and (after logging in all our other character to reap the benefits of the great quality-of-life tweaks to gameplay), we logged in our “littles” to resume play in Bree. By the end of the night, we’d made it through the new “Grimbriar” quest hub, Adso’s camp, dipped our toes in the (new) Old Forest and wrapped up with the middle Chapters 6, 7, and 8 of Book 1, which took us into Buckland at the edge of the Shire – and what a change Buckland has seen. Wow.

They revised the Old Forest (which I didn’t think they’d bother messing with, as it’s already seen one revision) and somehow – magically – found the perfect sweet spot between the original Old Forest (horrible death trap, but cool) and the more recent version (sadly, laughably harmless).

The Southern Barricade along the Green Way with that one miserable mission that no one wants to do? They fixed it. It’s so much fun now.

It’s all just… so much fun.

Right at the end of the night, we noticed we both had a message in the mail. I won’t say what the message was, except that it was from an NPC we (as players) were very familiar with, and who our characters had not yet met. The letter made the both of us stop and just stare at each other and say “That… is so. Fucking. Cool.”

And it was. It really was.

I cannot WAIT to really delve into the Old Forest now. I am practically VIBRATING in anticipation of the Barrow Downs. These are two areas of the game that, while cool, I have always tried to minimize contact with as much as possible.

No more. Bring it on. I may not be ready, but I am excited.

Kudos, LotRO Dev Team: you knocked it out. of. the. park.

A Penny for My Thoughts

I love stories about amnesia. I just… I love ’em.

Tim has been talking about Paul Tevis’ A Penny for My Thoughts.  The game is out now, and that link connects to Paul talking about the game a little bit on his podcast.  I will allow him one episode of self-promotion, because the game sounds really cool.

It’s definitely on my “to buy and play” list.

Maybe even online via Twitter. 🙂

Making PTA work – hooray

Played another session of Primetime Adventures last night – our Ironwall series.  There will be a summary of events from this interesting and interestingly low-key episode, but just a few notes on making the game work.

(This is not a super challenging thing for everyone, but I’ve struggled with it as a GM and Player in the past, so I still think about it.)

1. I felt like I was checking the book a lot in our first session – doubting and double-checking everything I said.  Last night, I purposely put the books far to the side and just ran with what my gut told me was the right rule for this or that bit in the conflicts.  Better.

2. All that stuff about setting stakes in the game? Yeah. Ignore that.  When there’s a conflict, ask “What do you want?”  Get that answer.  If someone tries to answer with “If I win, then X happens.”, kick them in the junk, and repeat your question.

Corrolary: If two (or more) people are saying what they want in the same conflict, make sure that it’s logically possible for them both to get what they want at the same time BEFORE you draw cards.

GM: NPCs don’t want stuff – at least, it’s not stated by you – they take what they are given as a result of the player’s success or failure.

3. Saying what actually happens as a result of the card draw is the job of the narrator, NOT the person saying “What I want is…”

4. It’s the narrator’s job to say what happens after the card draw, but is still the GMs job to reveal… you know… previously unknown stuff, not related to a player’s character.  Narrator doesn’t say “And then Joe reveals the murderer is… JANET!”  Saying who the murderer is falls to the GM. (Unless a player wants it to be them. 🙂

That’s it. That is making the game work.  Mostly? Point #2.

Our first Mouse Guard session: “Not much use as a postmouse” and “A New Route to Ivydale”

Wow, I kind of screwed some things up in the first session, but we had a lot of fun anyway. What follows is the tale of one play session that, by the suggested structure of play in the rules, was really two ‘missions’ worth of stuff (two cycles of “GM’s Turn, Player’s Turn”). I didn’t realize that until I’d gotten into the session quite a ways, however, so I somewhat incorrectly overcompensated during the final Player Turn with an extra skill check for everyone, but ahh well -we had a good time.

So, for those of you who played, forgive me for retroactively breaking it down into GM Turn One and so forth, because we didn’t know that during the game, but it helps me remember the structure of play, and we’ve already discussed in email how I screwed it up, so you know I know. 🙂

Right! Now, the events as they took place.

Lockhaven, Spring, 1152

We started off in Lockhaven with the rain coming down and mice scuttling from building to building (mostly) trying to stay out of the mud and puddles. Lucia bumps into the cartographer that she apprenticed with when she first came to Lockhaven in 1148. The two chat quickly (it is raining, after all), and Marielle – hearing that Lucia would soon be sent out on Patrol – encourages her stay dry, warm, and draw lots of maps.

Lucia promises to do so and heads off the main Keep for the briefing with Gwendolyn.

When she arrives, Rosamund (Roz) is already there. Aelwyn stomps in a few moments later, a smile on his face and mud on his feet — not everymouse tries to avoid puddles, it seems.

Captain Rand greets them as he exits the keep, letting them know that Gwendolyn will see them now… and to wipe their feet.

Gwendolyn has them sit down and lets them know that they will be sent farther afield than she’d like, considering they have no official patrol leader, but the Guard is stretched thin this year, and needs must…

Their whole assignment in brief, is to travel to Dorigift in the south, delivering mail to Shaleburrow, Ivydale, Elmoss, and Sprucetuck as they go (this alone is a trip of more than a week. In addition…

  • The guard will be escorting a young mouse, Orina, and her new son Hale to their home (and husband) in Ivydale. Orina had to put up in Lockhaven in the late fall to give birth, but her husband traveled on to Ivydale out of necessity, and Gwendolyn promised the young mother that the Guard would see her home.
  • Gwendolyn also wants the patrol to scout a direct route from Shaleburrow to Ivydale (there used to be one, but it was somehow lost during the war in 1149).
  • The patrol should acquire barrels of False Scent from the scientists of Sprucetuck and take them to Dorigift.
  • Once the mail is delivered in Dorigift, the patrol will set out west, locate the Scent Border of the Territories, and repair the border with the barrels of False Scent. (A standard springtime necessity for the guard.)
Note: Obviously, this is WAY more than one mission’s worth of stuff to do… Gwendolyn is laying out a whole season’s assignment, knowing that the group won’t be back for some time. The Guard is spread thin, after all, and needs must…

Once the guard finished up with the Scent Border, they are to return to Lockhaven by way of Copperwood. Gwendolyn dictates this route specifically so that she can intercept the patrol with new orders, if necessary, without wasting their time on a needless trip back all the way back — the Guard lives on the paths of the Territories, not Lockhaven, after all.

Mission One: Deliver the Mail to Shaleburrow and Ivydale, with Orina and baby Hale in tow. Blaze a viable trail from Shaleburrow to Ivydale as you go.

With the mission handed out, each character each picks a personal goal for this mission:

  • Lucia – I will map a new path from Shaleburrow to Ivydale.
  • Aelwyn – I will protect the mother and child and get them safe to Ivydale.
  • Roz – I will make sure the mail is delivered safely to Shaleburrow and Ivydale.

After the briefing, I mentioned that it’s possible it would be raining for the whole trip to Shaleburrow and Ivydale – hard weather for a newborn cub to travel in – and asked if anyone wanted to do anything about that, so we had a Weather Watcher test.

Obstacle 1: Weather-watching vs. Spring to see if the weather would clear before when the mice set off. (Failure would probably have resulted in a weather-based twist for the patrol, or the weather getting worse, but it didn’t come up, because the mice won. Even though Roz’s independent nature (trait) made the whole thing more difficult (+2 dice for her opponent – the weather) by eschewing consultation of the local Lockhaven weather watchers, she managed (with Lucia’s scientific knowledge – and her new, improved, fir cone barometer device), to determine that the weather would be… clear and warm!

On the way to Shaleburrow, Roz and Aelwyn spotted a few early shoots coming out of the snow alongside the path, and got to talking about whether or not any of them would be of any medicinal value. Lucia heard this and offered her scientific opinion, and before long, the three of them had slowed their patrol to crawl as they each took turns wandering off the path to look for various herbs and plants. The upshot of this was that the foraging mice, while successful, were already Tired and Hungry when they got to Shaleburrow, which was supposed to be easy part of the trip.

Tired mouse is still tired.
Tired mouse is tired.

Although she didn’t say much about it, the delay in the trip left Orina antsy and annoyed. Lucia is tired; Aelwyn and Roz are both hungry and thirsty.

Obstacle 2: Harvesting along the route to Spucetuck, looking for healer supplies. This was a failure success-with-consequences, resulting in mice that were either Tired (Aelwyn, as the ‘lead mouse’ for the conflict) or Hungry/Thirsty (the two ‘helping’ mice). Only later did it occur to me that I could/should instead have made succes-with-a-Twist in which one of the foragers ran into a spring-waking Bullfrog, but I didn’t. C’est la game.

Late into the evening, the patrol arrived in Shaleburrow: (Effectively, the first Player Turn.)

  • Roz’s Check: Circles Test (Ob3) to find the local postman and work with him on mail delivery. This check failed with the “Enmity Clause” twist: the postmouse of Shaleburrow (Edgar) pretty much thought that Roz’s work was the worst he’d ever seen in 20 years – that she not much use as a postmouse — some kind of punishment from Lockhaven. Roz left his office just short of tears, but trying to remember everything he’d berated her about doing wrong, so she could improve in the future.
  • Aelwyn finds the group a place to stay – lodging that would alleviate Hungry and Tired conditions from people. This was a Resource test, augmented with Aelwyn’s Bard-wise: a good inn (with good entertainment) was found.
  • Lucia: A Circle’s Test (Ob3) to find someone in the inn familiar with the old, now-lost route from Shaleburrow to Ivydale. This was a Success: a veteran of the war (William) was found who described the old route and gave Margie a +1D “gear” bonus on the Pathfinder roll for the next day. He also shared that the old route had benefited from a bridge over a fairly daunting stream. During a retreat in the Weasel War, that bridge had been destroyed — in William’s opinion, it would be finding a reliable way across that stream that would make or break the success of forging a new path.


Next day… off to Ivydale (2nd GM turn)

Lucia is trying to find a path (and it’s still good weather, yay). (This is a Pathfinder Test, Ob 6.) Roz tries helps her with Weather Watcher, Aelwyn tries to help with Scout – but neither of them help, nor did any of William’s advice. This test failed succeeded-with-a-Twist (which we’ll get to in a bit).

Without use, the old path has faded to virtually nothing. Lucia is sussing out a path (with the chatty Aelwyn assign trailblazing duty far in the rear and away from Lucia), but it’s slow, slow going. Orina is in better spirits, and baby Hale is great. Aelwyn apologizes for the hard travel, but Orina expresses her gratitude: the fact is, that this is what the Guard does, and it’s work like this that keeps the Territories connected — she knows that, just as she knows that if she didn’t have the Guard mice to travel with, she’d still be in Lockhaven, and no closer to her husband. Aelwyn notes that this is just the sort of bold thing that the Guard does.

Evening falls, Lucia feels they’re getting close to where her maps indicate the stream will be, and she doesn’t want reach it at dark, so she calls for a camp.

Camp is made, and Hale is getting fussy – it’s been a long day for him. Aelwyn is regaling Orina and baby Hale with some tale of heroism… and then suddenly stops talking (unusual in itself).

“Did you hear something?”

It’s quiet … it’s … a squirrel! Flying squirrel! A flying devil! No! They eat baby mice!

TWIST: THE ANIMAL -Lured in by the whimpering of Baby Hale, the flying squirrel wants to abduct his next meal.

The squirrel’s goal in this conflict is to grab the baby mouse and get away. The patrol’s goal is to protect Hale and drive the squirrel away. Disposition of 7 (mice) vs 8 (squirrel). Aelwyn is leading the fight, since his goal is to protect them.

We scripted up our actions, and in the end it worked out with the mice scripting Defend/Feint/Attack, and the squirrel scripting Feint/Maneuver/Attack.

This combination meant that the Defend by Lucia was completely foxed by the squirrel’s Feint, then Aelwyn’s bow-based feint against the squirrel’s Maneuver was quite effective (though the flight-based maneuvering was also), and the Attack vs. Attack was a dangerous final move for both.

Lucia tries to defend by grabbing Orina and Hale and moving for cover, but she misreads where the squirrel was going to be and the three of them move to, basically,the worst place possible (squirrel hits the group’s disposition for 6, leaving them 1).

Aelwyn tries to Feint and the squirrel, who was swooping around (maneuver) for a dive at the baby mouse suddenly maenuvers right into into a hail of arrows that was meant merely to drive it off and instead peppers it with painful, stinging shots. Pow! Six successes taken from the squirrel’s 8 disposition (lots of help from Roz and Lucia). Aelwyn uses his lone Fate point to reroll his sixes and gets one more success… the squirrel Disposition is now 1… Aelwyn taps Nature with his lone Persona point… rolls 3 dice… but doesn’t get ONE success on 3 dice. In the meantime, the Squirrel gets 4 successes with his maneuver, and “disarms” bows from the mice for the rest of the Conflict — he’s about to get in WAY to close to use bows.

Attack v Attack (or “this is gonna hurt”): With both sides down to 1 disposition, it was looking like a pretty ugly “both sides win” conclusion to this fight, and that’s pretty much what happened.

With both sides reduced to zero in the same action, everyone gets their stated goals; the squirrel is driven off, but he’s got Hale (who is uninjured).

In the final exchange, Roz got a heavy cut in on the squirrel as he flew past, so he’s leaving a blood trail and is Injured. Aelwyn basically threw himself in the Squirrel’s path as it came flying in in a last-ditch effort to keep him away from from Hale — he gets knocked flat, and his shoulder is dislocated (Injured). Both Lucia and Roz are Angry (condition).

This is what Angry looks like.
This is what Angry looks like.
  • FOLLOWUP CONFLICT: THE CHASE – The squirrel had Hale, and the mice set off in hot pursuit!It is POSSIBLE that this second conflict should have counted as – sort of – my second Obstacle for the GM’s turn, and that once it was done, I “should” have just handwaved away the planned Obstacle of the swollen river, since I’m only supposed to have two main Obstacles per GM turn. I can see arguments for it either way. In any case, that isn’t what we did — so we ended up with an extra-long Obstacle + Twist + chase scene series, and everyone got especially beat up this GM Turn.

Aelwyn is too weak from his injury, so Lucia takes the lead on this conflict, rolling beginner’s luck Scout for the group’s disposition. She also uses her Clever trait, and taps (and taxes) her Nature and ends up with a Disposition of 8 vs the injured Squirrel’s 7.

Also, I tell them that Orina will be using her Scout skill (she’s a harvester mouse) to give a helping die with each roll, and she is also a special piece of ‘gear’ for this conflict – she can be ‘tapped’ once during the conflict to provide an additional bonus die. (Like a sword works in fights.)

In this conflict, I got…



I’ve heard people talk about this on the BW boards, but I’d never really seen it in action, and man… ouch.

For the squirrel, I scripted an Attack (which, in a chase, translates to “no finesse running”, followed by a Defend (hide from pursuit), and finally doubling back and away from the patrol (feint).

In the first exchange, Roz did a Maneuver, climbing a tree directly in the wounded squirrel’s path. The result was a tie, but Roz tapped her Nature and got a few more successes, which she turned into bonus dice for the next action.

In the second exchange, I’d planned to ‘defend’ by hiding, but the mice were Feinting — the squirrel hid from the noisy, shouting mice, but that was JUST what they wanted – Lucia was moving in quietly from the side. Unfortunately, although she had the advantage, she couldn’t quite capitalize on it: Lucia rolled 9 dice … but got only 2 successes.

In the final exchange, the squirrel tried to fake the patrol out with a feinted double back, but Aelwyn – running full out this whole time, scrambling up a tree, and LEAPING ONTO THE SQUIRREL – was having none of it. It was mouse-attack vs. squirrel feint, and Aelwyn took the squirrel’s disposition down below zero… with the mice taking not one point of Disposition ‘damage’.

This, but jumping from a tree, with no spear.
This, but with a tree and no spear.

Hale is safe! The squirrel is driven from the area, never to return (leaving the nascent new path free from at least one predator). Yay!


The patrol, beaten and bruised, comes to the stream, swollen with spring run-off.

OBSTACLE: Swollen River – Either a Boatcrafting Ob4 test, or a Survivalist Ob6 test to rig something up… followed by a Health check to power the boat across the river.
Aelwyn’s shoulder makes it almost impossible for him to work an adze and put together any kind of boat big enough to hold two mice at once, so Roz takes a shot at it (beginner’s luck rules) . (Health-based). Aelwyn gives suggestions, Lucia gives scientific advice. RESULT: “Success with Consequences” It takes… all… day… and Roz is very Tired.
We gonna need a bigger boat.
We're gonna need a bigger boat.

Once the boat is done, Lucia takes it across, with tips from Roz. Lucia pushes forward, doing well… but the current is stronger than expected and takes her further down stream, past the low spot on the far bank she was aiming for.

TWIST: Scattered downstream – The mice were scattered along the stream for quite some distance. Finding everyone is a Scout vs. Nature (6) test – lowered to 5 dice because weather watcher stopped the rain earlier.

Aelwyn leads the hunt to find where Lucia made it ashore. Everyone finds each other, and luckily Lucia is on the far shore… with rope! There is roping, tying, swearing, heavy labor to ferry the boat back and forth and get everyone across (Roz and Lucia gets hungry, and Aelwyn is tired), but everyone gets across!

And, fortunately, it’s relatively easy on the other side. Also, the spot where Lucia came to ground wasn’t a bad place to ferry mice across, or even maybe to build a bridge…

The patrol arrives in Ivydale through the tall grass, snow melt, and mud… there is a tearful reunion between Orina and Freel, her hubby, and the mice stagger off to bed and a hot meal at Aelwyn’s parent’s home.

Tired mouse is still tired.
Tired mouse is still tired.

We wrapped the session up with a properly-done Player’s Turn.

The Player’s turn was as follows, though maybe not in this PRECISE order:

  • Ros takes a long walk and successfully tests her Will to get rid of Angry.
  • Lucia uses Cartography to make a simple map of the new Shaleburrow/Ivydale route. Success.
  • Aelwyn calls on his Family for food and board (no roll required) — this will help all of them get rid of their Hungry and/or Tired conditions. He also makes a Resources roll (boosted by being in his home town) to buy the supplies needed to give Roz a bonus to her Healer roll to make an Injury-healing poultice). Success.
  • Ros makes said poultice. (Success)
  • Lucia uses Ros’s poultice to Heal on Aelwyn’s Injury. Success. (The fact that Aelwyn used his Brewer (drinking beer!) to help Lucia… did not actually help.)
  • Aelwyn does a Circles test to locate the local postmouse, since Roz had been busy making stuff to heal him. (Success).
  • Roz, working with Aelwyn (who has Scouting), does a Beginner’s Luck test of Scouting — she is a very citified mouse, and while her skills are useful some of the time, she’s feeling her lack out in the Territories.
  • Ros then advised Lucia to take a long walk – it had helped her Anger, so maybe it would help Lucia. (Player of Roz gave Lucia her last check so that Lucia can try to get rid of Angry.)
  • Lucia makes a Will test to get rid of Angry. Failure. Lucia stomps back in from her walk, covered in mud and straw, and growls “it didn’t work.”

That was it!

Aelwyn was voted MVP for the session for the out-of-the-tree-jumping, Roz got Workhorse, and Lucia got Embodiment. Everyone earned 3 Fate and 2 Persona.

My Observation: the first session of Mouse Guard is hard on players — they don’t quite know all the rules yet, or how (and why) to generate Checks from their Traits, AND they only have 1 Fate and 1 Persona to throw at conflicts. If I had it to do over, I might start new players with 2 Fate and 2 Persona for the very first session. I predict the second session (with more Fate and Persona to go around, and a better rules understanding), will be much smoother.

Still, we all had a good time, and are still talking about and pondering the session days later, so I’m going to call it a win.

Also, I TOTALLY don’t feel bad about the session going about 5 hours. Given that a GM Turn + Player turn is “supposed” to run about 2 to 3 hours… and the fact that we played TWO (though we didn’t realize it at the time), the whole thing took pretty much exactly as long as should have been expected. Woot. Go us.

[[Recovery Note: Whoever narrates the Prologue at the beginning of the next session gets to remove one Condition before play begins. (Each MG comic starts with a Prologue, so it’s hardcoded into the Game System.) This means that, if Margie does the prologue next session, Lucia can lose her Angry condition. Woot!]]

More Mouse Guard, part 2

Right, so… where was I?

We had most the skills and wises nailed down for the characters, and we knew what skill each character’s mentor had emphasized in their training, so once again I went back to an idea from that article on teaching Mouse Guard through character generation and decided to show everyone how Independent tests worked.

6. The first test. I introduced the basics of the game system to everyone by doing an Independent test with each player. Based on the mentor they described and the focus each mentor took in their training, I would come up with a Ob 4 test (pretty difficult within the system) that they needed to face with a single Independent test. Getting a bonus to the roll from one of the player’s Wises are okay, plus the player to that player’s right could also describes how they help with the roll, and gives one helping die to the player.

Once that was done, they got to check either a success or failure for that skill, and we proceeded on to the next thing.

The thing was, due to the nature of the tests, this turned into a bit of a challenge.


I started with Kate, playing Rosamund, and asked for a reminder about what her Mentor had emphasized in her training.

“Fighter”, she replied.

“Fighter? I thought that was your natural talent.”

“That too.” She looked at her sheet. “It’s also my specialty.” She looked at me. “What?”

“Nothing.” I tried to figure out how to frame a scene involving a Fight test that was logically an Independent Test (rather than a versus test, which was the next thing I was going to do) and… yeah.  Also, in such a way that Dave could help her in  some way.

“Okay, so…” I looked at the map of the Territories. “You’re in Pebblebrook. Your patrol is.  Your mentor has been on you about how all your fancy moves and dueling rules are fine, but don’t carry much weight when you’re out in the wild.  To drive the point home, he… umm…”  I glance at Dave.  “He sends you out to recon a farm where the Pebblebrook mice have reported… well, they’re not sure — some say a big animal, some say weasel raiders.  Dave, your patrol’s out in this area too, because this has turned into kind of a big mess, and your leader sends you along with Kate — Rosamund.”


“And Aelwyn is scouting and doing his thing, and Rosamund, you’re like… poking around the outbuildings, a big granary… and you come around the building and come up face to face with a bobcat.”

They both blink. “Holy Crap.”

“Yeah… so…” I struggle to frame this up. “The thing is way too big to seriously threaten — you’d need a couple dozen guards to have a chance at this thing, maybe more — so you just need to get away.  Luckily, this thing can’t seem to decide if you’re food or a toy or something to ignore, so you’re not rolling against it, and not having to beat its full Nature.  You’re sword’s out and you’re just trying to hold it off and get it away.”

So we tally up dice, and Kate has some kind of sick number of dice — her Fighting is a 6, for pete’s sake, which is as high as it can go in the game — and Dave gives her a hand using his Predator-wise by shouting “poke it in the nose, it should back off!”  Kate wins the challenge handily and the two mice beat paws back to their respective patrols to report that yes… there APPEARS to be something amiss in Pebblebrook.


Next up is Aelwyn, and I ask Dave what his mentor’s training focus had been on, and he tells me it’s Scout.  Okay. That’s a bit easier, although it’s supposed to always be a versus test, but whatever. So is Fighter as far as I can imagine. C’est la gaming.

“So… same basic thing, Dave,” I say. “You’re in Pebblebrook, still, and it’s a bit later in this mission we’re flashing back to, and you’ve been sent out to scout around and see if you can find the lair of the bobcat or any weasels, because some people swear they’ve seen weasels around.  It’s weird, and it’s raising a panic in the western territories, which is why, Margie, you’re Patrol is out there too.  You two tenderfeet have been paired up on this scouting thing while your leaders confer.  This is going to be and Obstacle 4 Scouting test, and Margie…”

“… can help with Pathfinder.”

“Perfect. You’re pointing out on your map which roads and paths in the area are probably too well-traveled to use, and Aelwyn’s weaving through the countryside, looking anything weird, and… roll.”

Dave does, but he only comes up with three winning dice, and he needs four.

“So, you’re up on a bank, like a low rise that drops off sharply into this hollow, where there’s a small fire and a handful of weasels around it.  They’re talking about how they need more meat to lure the bobcat and keep the thing in area and scaring the locals so they don’t notice the weasels and whatever they’re doing.  Right about then, the bank gives way and you tumble down in amongst them.  There’s a lot of mud and rocks falling too, so you’re not immediately screwed, but you have to scramble and run like hell to escape them.”

I explain that, when you fail a roll, you can still succeed, but I also hit them with a Twist (something unexpected complicates things) or Consequences (they are saddled with some penalizing conditions).  In this case, it doesn’t matter, because this is all flashback, but I explain that I’d probably give them consequences – Dave would get the worst of it, cuz he was the ‘lead’ on the roll, and Margie would get a lesser penalty.  For example, I might give Dave the conditions of Tired and Angry after they escape, which Margie might get away with just “Hungry and Thirsty”.  If they’d really blow the roll, I might have Injured Dave instead, and giving Margie Tired.

We cover all that, and there’s quite a little narrative going on to this flashback thing that I like.


Lucia’s skill-to-test is Pathfinder, which she’s quite good at, and I flash back just a bit further, explaining that the three patrols had met up in Barkstone and wanted to find a way to get to Pebblebrook without using the main routes, which was a Pathfinder roll, with Kate helping out via her Weather Watcher skill.  Margie nails it, and we play through how the three patrols sneak into the area around Pebblebrook and start their recon that we’d already played with the other two.

Once we finished describing these scenes, we went around the circle again, with each player describing their mentor presenting their tenderpaw with a cloak and inviting them to stay with the Guard at the end of their first major Patrol. The player tells us the color of the cloak, and why the mentor chose that color.


  • Rosamund’s cloak is green, the color of life and vitality.
  • Lucia’s cloak is buff, the same shade as her fur, to remind her that her own goals and those of the Guard are one.
  • Aelwyn’s cloak is rust colored, “because it won’t show the blood-stains much, kid.”

7. The players then write down a Belief and an Instinct, maybe influenced by those scenes we’d just played. We took quite a bit of time hammering on these, but in the end I think everyone was pretty happy with them, though the Instincts might need to be a little more “triggery” for Margie.

  • Rosamund’s belief is “You can find glory by yourself, but only the Guard can achieve victory.” (which can, no coincidence, be summarized as “All for one, and one for all.”
    Her instinct is “always keep my equipment in fighting repair.”
  • Aelwyn’s belief is “The Guard prevails so long as it has heroes.”
    His instinct is “Always take the most Heroic action.”
  • Lucia’s belief is “Truth and Knowledge are their own reward.” (We’ll see about that.)
    Her instinct is “Discover and Document.” and… “Endure?” Maybe.

8. Friends. Each player tells about a friend they have.

  • Rosamund’s friend is Saxon, who is a good platonic friend and a sparring partner during the long Winter seasons in Lockhaven.
  • Aelwyn’s friend is Brynn, a fellow guard mouse who was recruited at the same time as him.
  • Lucia’s friend is Aunt Moira, a cartographer in Barkstone.

9. Enemies. Each player tells me about an enemy they have. I set up a Versus Test (my roll against theirs) with their enemy.

  • Rosamund’s enemy is Miranda, a potter in Copperwood.  Once a childhood friend, she dislikes Rosamund for “stealing” Saxon.
  • Aelwyn’s enemy is his brother Darwyn, a senior harvester in Ivydale who resent Ael for leaving the ‘family calling’ for fortune and glory in the Guard.
  • Lucia’s enemy is Thom, a patrol leader in the Guard.

The versus tests go like so:

  • Rosamund returns to Copperwood after being admitted officially into the Guard for some R&R. She’s spending the evening at a local pub near her family’s home with her old friends when Miranda shows up.  Eventually, Miranda starts in on Rosa, insinuating that our short little fighter only joined the guard to ‘get’ Saxon or, possibly, just seduce every male Guard in sight.  It’s a Persuasion versus Deception test, with the opinions and beliefs of their mutual friends on the line.  Kate brings in Copperwood-wise on the roll because “I know these mice, and they know me.”

    We tie the roll, I explain the various options when that happens, and Kate opts for a Will-vs.-Will tiebreaker roll, which I win pretty handily.  Margie comments that Miranda just “out-stubborned” the argument, and I go along with that, narrating how Miranda keeps harping and harping on the topic, while Rosamund loses interest fairly quickly and finally just blurts out “Yes! Fine, yes! That’s exACTly why I did it. Are you happy?” And stalks out.  Kate wasn’t loving having lost this conflict, but the final narration seemed to satisfy her pretty well.

  • Aewyn’s versus conflict had to do with a mission in Ivydale to track down some predators, with Aelwyn scouting for his patrol and his brother, scoffing, leading a group of locals on his own.  Aelwyn handily schooled his brother in this contest, proving without a doubt that he knew what he was about in this Guard work.
  • Lucia’s contest was against Thom, in which her patrol and Thom’s were both in one of the northern shore towns, and they fell into a debate about whether or not the weather was going to get worse the next day and interfere with local harvests.  Despite bringing in her widget-wise and a very scientific-looking pinecone barometer, Thom showed that experience and… you know… looking into the sky would always beat an over-clever youngling with some gadgets.

10. Suit Up. Everyone writes down some gear.  Mouse Guard has a lovely, elegant ‘encumbrance’ system: you can’t have more stuff than what fits in the (small) Gear area on the character sheet.  We probably still overgeared, when compared to the simple lists of ‘only the important stuff’ you see with the examples in the book, but whatever.

11. Group Challenge. We then played through one full conflict that happened sometime in the past.  Conflicts in Mouse Guard are a series of double-blind scripted actions, and can be pretty interesting. We’d already gone through an independent and versus test, so this just involves choosing actions and playing out the right tests as a consequence.

The setup for this went back to our Pebblebrook flashback situation.  I told the group that the three of them had discovered a group of Weasel Spies, and it was going to come down to a fight.

  • The Weasels goal was to capture the mice and prevent them from warning anyone else about the weasel plan (I decided this was all happening in the weeks leading up to the big war in 1149 that cost the Territories three towns to the weasels).
  • The player’s goal was to capture the weasels if possible, kill them if not, drive them off at the very least, and destroy their map of the area. (I told them to aim for a lot of stuff on their goal, so that they could still get some of it if they needed to compromise at the end of the Conflict.)

Dave ended up the designated leader for the Conflict, we rolled to determine group dispositions, then they asked me to leave the room so they could script their first three actions.

When I came back, they were ready, and we got to it.

  • The first action was Aelwyn’s – he’s scripted an Attack action with his bow. I had also scripted an Attack, and normally that would mean that, because of Dave’s bow, whoever rolled better would ‘win’, but I was attacking with a thrown knife, so it ended up being two independent Attacks, unblocked by the other side.  Dave rolled better, but their side had less Disposition to start with, so I was still better off then them.
  • The next action turned out to be Lucia, who was doing a “Manuever” (improving the group’s situation), using a bow.  I was also doing a Maneuver action (more thrown knives), which in this case meant that once again, we were just rolling Independently, rather than Versus.   Margie rolled very well, and I didn’t — the end result was that her maneuvering and bow shots left a huge opening for Rosamund. (And extra dice for Rosamund to roll, and one less dice for me to roll in the next action.)
  • Rosamund, with her Fighter 6, scripted an Attack. Surprise Surprise.  I had ALSO scripted an attack.  This was pretty dangerous, because the two of us were both close enough to defeat that we could both be defeated in the same simultaneous action, which would mean that both sides would get everything they wanted from the fight.  Needless to say, that was a pretty dangerous result.  It’s also exactly what happened: Kate rolled a huge pile of dice and wiped me out, but I didn’t need to do much take out the player’s side of the conflict either.

So what happened?  Well, I couldn’t capture them, but I could do the rest — the fight was bloody, brutal, and short; the weasel spies were dead, their map destroyed, but though the mice struggled valiantly to get back and worn the others about what was about to happen, they were too Tired, too Injured, and they simply didn’t get there in time to do any good… maybe things were already too late long before that, but the fact of it is, they blamed themselves.

And that’s where we left off.

Personally, I was very happy with the session – I felt like we got the characters sketched out pretty well, but more than that, I think the skill tests throughout really helped give some color and depth and a shared history to the group that I really enjoy.  I’m definitely looking forward to playing this weekend.

Also, the final wiki’d sheets for Aelwyn, Rosamund, and Lucia.

More Mouse Guard

I’ve already talked about my current enjoyment of the Mouse Guard RPG, or at least the game-in-concept, as I hadn’t a chance to play it yet. I thought that might change last week, thanks to Skype and a nascent game forming up on the Burning Wheel forums, but unfortunately I just couldn’t pull it off.

Then I got an email from Dave, mentioning in more-than-passing that… hey… he and Margie were at loose ends and Katherine-free for the coming couple weekends… and how are things? How’s the wife? How’s that gaming table?

Whattaya know, that gave me an idea.

So on Saturday, Dave and Margie came around and, with Kate, we set about making up characters for a Mouse Guard game.

Now, the book has a perfectly fine character creation process, but since neither Margie or Kate had read much or any of the comics that the game is based on, I wanted to get everyone into the same basic headspace, which lead to a few introduction exercises borrowed from an article I read a few weeks ago on the pedagogy of playing Mouse Guard, but with a bit of the high-energy fluff discarded, because we had a sick player involved. Here’s how that went.

1. Mouse Ball. The idea of this little game is to start seeing the world from a mouse’s perspective. I started by saying something that would threaten a mouse, and maybe a little color around it, like “Racoons will destroy a town just to get to the winter stores.” Then I’ll throw the ball. The person who catches it has to repeat what I said, and add something else that would threaten a mouse, like, “… and the towns must be built high to avoid floods.” Then that person throws the ball to someone else, who has to repeat the last threat that person said, and add a new one.
2. So how does the Mouse Guard manage it? I pick one of the dangers we named in Mouse Ball, and talk briefly about how the Mouse Guard deals with that problem. Then someone else picks another problem and talks about how it might be handled.
3. Forming the Patrol. I started this off by simply saying “We need to form a patrol, what should that patrol include?” The others took over while I messed with getting dinner ready to cook. I had envisioned this as everyone coming up with many ideas, then cherry-picking the most appealing for their actual characters, but in practice everyone just proposed a single character and tweaked the concepts a bit until everyone basically meshed.
4. See Me. We finally got started on the character Worksheet: Name, Age, Home and Fur Color. Once those things were done, I asked the “Mouse Nature” questions from the book (p. 299), to determine what each individual character’s Nature score was. Then we went around, with each player telling us about their character (Name, Age, et cetera) and how they answered the Nature questions. We got:

  • Kate: Rosamund is a 26 year old from the city of Copperwood. Her fur is a sleek gray, and her Nature was a fairly un-mouselike 3, because she doesn’t suffer privations to save up for later, doesn’t fear weasels or other predators, and doesn’t run from a fight. (In fact, she rather enjoys fights, though as an urban mouse, she grew up far more used to dueling without consequences than battles for her life.)
  • Margie: Lucia Singleton is a 25 year old mouse from Sprucetuck. Her fur is a buff color, and her Nature is a slightly more mouse-like 4 – she has a (quite reasonable) fear of weasels and such. She’s an almost archetypical resident of Sprucetuck: shy, bookish, with a thirst for knowledge that leads her into adventures she might otherwise avoid.
  • Dave: Aelwyn is a 28 year old mouse from Ivydale. His fur is a lustrous blonde and, although he comes from a long line of Harvester mice, he is meant for different things: His Nature, like Rosamund’s, is 3. In fact at first glance he and Rosamund have quite a bit in common, but their motivations are subtlely but significantly different — Aelwyn believes wholeheartedly in the power of Heroes.

Now, somewhere around here, I almost burned down the house and/or killed us all, thanks to a Grill Malfunction, but we got that settled down and decided to finish up supper prep inside. Once we got that cooked and eaten, we returned to the characters and proceeded pretty much in the order presented in the book.

5. Skills and Life experience. This was fairly straightforward – everyone made up Patrol Guards, so they all had the same number of skill.  They can be summarized like so.

  • Rosamund (whose longer character concept was later summarized by Kate simply as “D’Artagnan”) grew up with her parents (Benedict and Portia) and learned the smithing trade – very common in that city.  She had a natural talent as a fighter, however, and although she is quite short, she was also very independent, and persuaded her parents to let her apply to the Guard.  In Lockhaven, she was apprenticed to Richard the armorer for two seasons, and was then assigned to Warwick, a senior patrol leader who chose to focus on Rosa’s abilities as a fighter, and how they applied to the real world, as opposed to duels.  As a tenderpaw and later a guard mouse, she trained as a fighter, healer, weather watcher and, given her natural gifts with a blade, as an instructor — though her specialty (and first love) was always fighting.  She is wise in the ways of armor, Copperwood, and dueling.
  • Lucia grew up with her parents (Gwen and Cadfil) and, always inquisitive and clever, learned about Science as a young mouse, for which she has a natural talent as well.  Her Instinct to “Discover and Document” led her to the Guard – one of the best ways to see and learn new things.  In Lockhaven, she was apprenticed to Mariell the Archivist for two seasons, and was then assigned to Mary the Older, a senior patrol leader who chose to focus on her natural inquisitiveness toward work as a pathfinder.  As a tenderpaw and later a guard mouse, she specialized as a pathfinder, but assembled a truly eclectic set skills as a healer, fighter, hunter, cook, and weather watcher.  She is wise in the ways of medicine, paths, and widgets.
  • Aelwyn grew up in Ivydale with his harvester parents (Liam and Elana) and although he was a hard worker, his brave nature and natural talent as a hunter called him to greater things.  Though it left him quits with his brother, he set out for Lockhaven, where he was apprenticed to Gailyn the Brewer (disappointingly unheroic, but still very popular with his peers). Following his apprenticeship, he was assigned to the patrol of Captain Dunlevy, who chose to ‘sell’ his heroic young hunter on the value of good scouting. As a tenderpaw and later a guard mouse, he specialized as a scout, and eagerly focused his training on precisely the sorts of things he thought any good adventurer should know: fighting, hunting, and surviving.  He is wise in the ways of predators, tall grass, and bards. (He is, in fact, a skilled orator.)

… that’s the first part — tomorrow, I’ll talk about running some independent and versus tests with each player as part of character generation, and wrapping up with a quick Conflict.

Primetime Adventures: Ironwall, Pilot Episode, “The Hill”

((Our pitch session is here. The cast includes:

  • Cam, mechanic and tinkerer-savant
  • Joseph, one of the pillars of the settlement, hiding a terrible secret
  • Lennox, border guard, the survivor of a wiped-out settlement
  • Sienna, practitioner of black magic who has already paid high prices

The rest of the session follows below, as recounted by TWoP.

But first, a few observations on how to achieve successful, fun play in PTA, garnered in part from a recent ‘tips’ discussion on Story-Games, proven by last night’s session:

  • SUPER IMPORANT RULE ONE: Keep Stakes limited to what the character wants out of the scene. Let me emphasize this: what the character (not player) wants (not ‘what will happen’).
    • Bullshit: “If I win, a, b, and c happens, in that order, in this way, such that we needn’t even play it out.”
    • Not Bullshit: “My guy wants to find out more about X if I win.” or “My guy wants to be impressively competent if I win.”
    • This is so simple, and in the past I’ve seen it done wrong (and done it wrong) so many times.
  • IMPORTANT Rule Two: The high card narrates the conflict, but THE GM STILL INTRODUCES “PLOT” FACTS. Put another way: “This is PTA, not Inspectres.”
    • Bad – The narrating player says: “You beat him up, pow biff bang, and pull him up by his collar, and he admits that he’s working for… “FATHER DONNELLY!”
    • Good- The narrating player says: “You beat him up, pow biff bang, and pull him up by his collar, and he admits that he’s working for…” *turns to GM to fill in the blank*
  • Do not include specific consequences of failure or success when setting Stakes. Leave that up to the High Card player. Just. Say. What. You. Want.

Other good things to remember:

  • The Producer frames all scenes. The players just take turns requesting scenes, providing a focus, location and an agenda.
    • On the agenda: Don’t overcomplicate. The agenda should simply be what the characters are “up to” on the surface, not what the whole scene is going to be about.
  • Not every scene must have a conflict.

Right: enough rules chatter – on with the recounting of heroics.

Continue reading “Primetime Adventures: Ironwall, Pilot Episode, “The Hill””

My thoughts on the Mouse Guard RPG

I’m very excited about the first play session of our new Primetime Adventures game this Wednesday, and while I’m putting a lot of mental effort into it, another game is on my radar, and I really had to share.

There are a few games that I think of as the touchstones in independently published roleplaying ‘story’ games. Sorcerer. Inspectres. Dogs in the Vineyard. Primetime Adventures. The Shadow of Yesterday. The Burning Wheel. My heart wants to add Spirit of the Century to the list, or Don’t Rest Your Head, but while they’re some of my favorite games, they also came along later, and they were built with a somewhat different priority in mind than that first list.

Those who know my gaming habits know that I’ve played or run (or both) most of the games on that list — usually a number of times (usually not as much as I’d have liked) — with good reason. Each one brings something special to the table that either isn’t available elsewhere, or which became an element copied numerous times in other games. They’re seminal, as well as being fun.

The one exception on that list  of seminal, inventive games is The Burning Wheel — I’ve never played Burning Wheel.

Now, that isn’t to say I didn’t OWN the game — I had the very first edition of the game, hand-numbered, in pencil, with a little thank-you note from Luke Crane.

But play it? No, I did not.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good game – many many people will say a great game – but it’s very very crunchy.

And I don’t mean it’s “Crunchy for a Story Game,” the way Agon is; I mean it makes games like DnD, Warhammer, and GURPS look like diceless freeform.

Those other games reward players with better ‘performance’ once the players have achieved a degree of system familiarity. Burning Wheel goes a bit other other direction: it punishes the absence of system familiarity – it is through system knowledge that one achieves nominal – rather than exceptional – performance from one’s character.

At the time that I got Burning Wheel, I was already doing a very long-running DnD game, and frankly I didn’t *want* to run another crunchy, high-GM-prep system; I just didn’t feel as though people wanted to dive in and learn a whole new system with that much detail. Hell, *I* didn’t; the game sat on my shelves for several years – skimmed, but unread. If it came up in conversation, I mentioned that I really wanted to play the game with some people that understood it before I tried to run it myself. In the meantime, I ran other games — with DnD handling our/my need for crunchy tactical games, our indie gaming was taken up with other things — with limited gaming time and ever-shrinking schedules, the folks I play with are just more likely to choose games with a lower level of required investment than BW.

But I never quite abandoned my interest in the game. Everything I heard about the game sounded – to my tactical-loving side – quite cool, and the raves and praise heaped on the “Story” elements of the game (character Beliefs, Instincts, Traits, and Goals) were just as effusive. When the Revised version of the game came out, I picked it up; when Burning Empires came out, I read and re-read information on the game and its setting. But it was still a game that took too much time to learn, too much time to prep.

Then came Mouse Guard.


Mouse Guard is a roleplaying game where players assume the role of the titular Guard from the comic books by David Petersen: bipedal, intelligent mice who protect their communities from a variety of threats in a semi-medieval setting. There is no magic in the setting, nor are there any humans; the threats to those precarious communities are the seasons, the weather, the wild animals, and (sadly) the very mice the Guard are sworn to protect. Their goal is simple: to keep the roads open within the Territories – to keep from becoming prisoners in their own cities – mice in gilded cages, if you like.

To me, the idea that the creators behind Mouse Guard (who were also RP gamers of a more classic sort) wanted to have an RPG for their product didn’t surprise me – nor did the fact that they wanted a more story-driven game. What surprised me was that they were going to get the Burning Wheel crew to do the game. What surprised me the most was what I started to hear about the Mouse Guard RPG:

  • A streamlined version of the game. The sparest, most elegant iteration of the rules, to date.
  • Accessible to new players – not just new-to-BW, but new to Roleplaying.
  • Still a true and excellent representation of the Good Things That Are Burning Wheel.
  • Strong player-centered focus of play that’s built directly into the rules in numerous ways.
  • Lots of situation-generating hooks built right into the characters, making running the game easy.
  • Several procedural innovations that make elements of play that are problematic in other games (high crunch = high prep time) very fast and easy.
  • There are already a number of ‘hacks’ to port the game to settings that I find very interesting. (Such as “Realm Guard”, which involves playing Dunedain in the 4th Age of Middle Earth. Mmmm good.)

Also, it didn’t hurt that the book itself — 8″x8″, hardbound, 300+ pages, but with a ruleset that can be completely summarized on the backside of the official character sheet, and thus chock full of setting material, advice, and artwork rather than charts — is f’in gorgeous.

So I got it.

I read it. Cover to cover, like a good book. I annoyed Kate by reading sections out loud, explaining rules she didn’t care about, and recounting examples from the source material she’d never read. Hell, I’m still doing it.

Here are some of my thoughts.


In short:

  • The player defines the character via their Beliefs, Goals, Instincts, and Traits, and it is ONLY through bringing those elements to light during roleplay, in the game, that you are rewarded with Fate and Persona points (which probably do pretty much what you expect).
  • Skills improve through active use. Period. Through play. Period.

The Mechanics of Success and Failure

Basic tests in Mouse Guard are simple RPG fare: either unopposed or “versus” checks – in either case, the player needs X number of successes to achieve Unmitigated success. Your skills are numerically rated (usually from 1 to 6), and when tested, you roll a number of d6s equal to the skill rating, count those rolling 4 or higher as successes and discarding the “cowards” that came up 3 or less. If you’ve played Shadowrun or Vampire, you’ll recognize this.

The innovation here is that there is no failure result in the game. What’s that? A crunchy-tactical game where you can’t lose?

Kinda. If you fail to get success outright, success is achieved at the cost of “Conditions” or a “Twist.” With conditions, you win, but you acquire (or more) conditions, such as Tired, Sick, Hungry, Angry, Injured, and so forth.

So you can save your wounded companion, even if you blew the roll, but now you’re Tired.

You can escape from the Owl, but you’re Injured… and Hungry… and Tired. Ouch.

Sometimes, you're not trying to escape...
Sometimes, you're not trying to escape...

Twists work similarly, but instead of taking a condition, your conflict is interrupted by (or leads to) a twist that takes the story in a new direction… and which very likely leads to ANOTHER conflict.

In other words, that bedrock concept of Indie Gaming GMing – “Failure should make things more interesting.” – is hardwired into the game.


Scripting is a core concept of extended Burning Wheel conflicts — the “big” conflicts in BW use this kind of conflict, where opposing sides pick a short series of actions without knowing what the other side is going to do — potentially leaving themselves wide open at the worst possible moment, or tactically outguessing the other side at the perfect time.

I love the concept of scripting – it has that kind of immersive realism I sometimes enjoy – but in practice, I know the BW implementation leaves some people cold.

In Mouse Guard, the scripting is a far more streamlined version of the basic BW scripting… simpler, but with powerful choices — perhaps the best implementationof the mechanic. Far from being just a guessing game, you have to weigh which actions your character is good at, which your partners are good at, which your “weapons” are helpful for (scripting works in any kind of conflict, from weapons to survival to chases to oration debates), compare each of them to the actions the opponent might do taking into account what he and his weapons are good at… and then realize your opponent is doing all that too, at which point it becomes very much like a strategic board game mechanic, in terms of the mental gymnastics required to use limited information to outwit the other guy.

And, like the basic skill tests, Failure and Success has many many shades — it’s only by utterly defeating your opponent without letting them get a paw on you that you get exactly what you wanted, exactly how you wanted it.

Even if he wins, things will probably not go perfectly.
Even if he wins, things will probably not go perfectly.

Teamwork is vital. That’s one of the fundamentals of this game. You are little mice in a great big world, and quite frankly you will be ultimately unable to complete your missions if you don’t work together – eventually, even with the skill system having “outs” for failed rolls, you’ll hit a Full Conflict with scripting that simply blows you away, with no way out but death. The prey are bigger than you (hell, the herbivores are bigger than you, and they’re eating all the food!) the seasons are bigger than you, the weather is bigger than you… you need to help each other.


“Call it what you like, but I’m still failing”
Now yes: failure isn’t “failure” in Mouse Guard, but it stings to play a game and lose the first conflict – maybe the first several – but the way the game is set up, all that means is that a new, unexpected situation crops up. (And in other way, reminiscent of With Great Power, such struggles feed you the resources you need to Kick Ass later.)

There are a lot of games out there that are basically mission completion games. The point of those games is to use your resources well in order to successfully complete a mission. In those games failing the mission is failing; it isn’t game-destroying, but it is a failure. You had a chance to step on up, and you didn’t step, as it were.

Mouse Guard looks a lot like a mission-completion games. Mouse Guard feels a lot like a mission-completion game. But I don’t think Mouse Guard actually is a mission-completion game.
Mouse Guard is a game where you tell a story about heroes who go on a mission (little heroes, but still). That’s a close thing, but its also a sharp and important divide.

One of the most excellent things about that difference is that it might teach everyone at the table to let go a little bit and try something heroic rather than spend ten minutes figuring out a safer plan.

To act, rather than deliberate.
To act, rather than deliberate.

I don’t care if it’s mice (though I like the other settings people are porting the system into) — the simple fact of the matter is that I think this is one of the best tactical, crunchy, story-driven games out there — maybe the only one that’s all three.

I can’t wait to play.

Primetime Adventures Pitch Session: Apocalypse Fairies!

So last night we got got together to work through the Pitch Session for a new Primetime Adventures game.

((For those who don’t know, Primetime Adventures is a game meant to emulate action/melodrama television shows. The purpose of play is to create a short-run television series (5 or 9 episodes) driven by the Issues of the show’s stars. Players in PTA are both the Actors of their protagonists as well as Authors of the TV series. The GM (called the Producer in this game) has two jobs: make sure scenes move toward Conflict and work the overall story arc for the Season into play.))

Pitch sessions for PTA are always strange beasts, because people come in to the session with random ideas for shows, almost none of which ever make it through the whole process, and by the end, you have something pretty cool that everyone’s excited about… and no one’s entirely sure how it happened.

I was going to cheat a bit on this post and find a previous post about a PTA pitch session and kind of map what happened then to what happened last night, but it turns out I’ve never written about a pitch session before. No easy-out for me.

Right, so here’s what happened.

First, I was running a little late from a class I was teaching, so we got going around six-thirty or so. I had a notebook in my pocket with a few pitch ideas, and not much else.

So we chatted a little bit and then I asked everyone what kind of television show they didn’t want to see / do. Tim said that he really wasn’t much into the idea of a ‘straight’ one-hour dramedy like Gilmore Girls or Felicity or something like that. No one looked too disappointed by that – I think we’re the sort of folks who expect a little genre weirdness in our TV. Cool.

Meera spoke up and requested we avoid setting things in any war between the Amercian Civil War and today, simply because her history-fu for that time frame was weak. Again, that sounded good to everyone (for myself, I was merely homesick for the “Strange Allies” PTA game we never finished.)

That was pretty much all the “I’d rather not”s for everyone, so we talked a bit about what kind of pitches we had.

Randy piped up (a bit tongue in cheek) with the idea I dubbed “Left Behind… Because You’re An Asshole”, where something akin to the Biblical Rapture occurs, but only people who are, objectively, good people actually transcend.

We talked a little bit around this topic, until I admitted that, while I liked the idea of a kind of “oh crap, all these people are gone, how will we survive?” event, the idea of an event with biblical elements left me pretty cold.

Tim jumped in and said he was also into the idea of a kind of a post-apocalyptic survival story, though not just “straight zombies” in the vein of The Walking Dead, which is an idea I’d mentioned earlier in the week.

((I’d like to pat us all on the back at this point for not mentioning the Swine Flu once the whole night.))

Right around that same point, Tim also mentioned that he enjoyed “resource drama” – where you’re scrounging for supplies and making do with whatever you can find. The A-Team was mentioned, which is a little too camp for me, but also elements of Mad Max and things of that nature.

We threw around a lot of Survival Drama at this point, and talked about the kinds of story arcs you could do in there: a hellbent run from Point A to Point Z, basic survival, defend the base, find a weakness of and destroy the Big Bad… things like that.

I thought it might be interesting to start well AFTER the initial “inciting event,” and Tim agreed, mentioning that flashbacks would certainly explore that event more.

So we tossed around ideas of what the apocalypse might have been. Zombies… vampires… dragons… robots… robots created to fight zombies (yes, seriously), then turning on their owners…

Somewhere in there, Tim commented that some kind of Faerie Attack had never been done as an Apocalypse Event, and I said something like “Well, then we should do that.”

(I believe Meera would like me to state, for the record, that the faeries were not her idea… she just (gleefully) went along with it.)

That seemed to provide quite a lightning rod for ideas after that point, and coalesced into a show concept that The Producer is tentatively calling Ironwall (until we think of something yet more awesome).

SOMETHING had caused the Fae to reemerge in our world, and those fae (a collective term that we decided encompassed everything from fairies and pixies to trolls and dragons to bakemono and oni — all presented in the style of Hellboy II and Pan’s Labyrinth’s art team) were Very Angry. The result of this re-emergence was hundreds of millions if not billions dead (either from fae attacks or from jumping off bridges when they realize that the bogeyman is real).

We tossed around several ideas about WHY they had come back, including:

  • The bio-organism of Earth was calling on its last, most vicious defenders, having failed through the ‘fever’ of Global Warming to control the human disease. “Giant T-cells shaped like Unicorns,” Meera quipped.
  • There was a regime shift in Faerie and the new King really hated us (a la The Golden Army).
  • The thousand-year treaty (involving a drunk Irishman, the King of the Fae, and a lost poker bet) finally ran out.
  • Old iron railway tracks had been torn up, reconnecting long-severed ley lines.
  • Nanites run amok. (which we didn’t exactly love)
  • Starbuck is an angel. (Okay, not really.)

… and in the end we decided it didn’t matter, or that it would come out during the show itself. The basic idea was that humanity was on the ropes, hiding out in the ruins of big cities, where the Iron content was high enough to weaken the fae magic. Something had recently happened to put the status quo in danger, and Our Heroes would be doing something about it.

Tim asked what would be happening that would bring the characters together, and Randy came up with a pretty awesome idea (and the First Scene of the Pilot): somehow the Fae had made it into the City (tentatively, Manhattan – Detroit would work better, but we know nothing about Detroit) where the Settlement was and had swapped in EVERYONE’S children for Changelings. The “First Scene” idea for the Pilot is all these adults dragging their crying, screaming children into the middle of the settlement and throwing them into a bonfire, where the audience finally sees that the people in the hoods and robes are not the bad guys, and that the things in the fire are monsters.

That opening scene lets us do a lot of stuff during the pilot:

  • Explain what the Fae can do with glamours and illusion and the like.
  • Visit a fae stronghold and see how the bad guys roll.
  • Show off the characters in an action-type situation.
  • Get everyone asking questions like “How could they do this? Why didn’t they do it before? WHAT HAS CHANGED AND HOW SCREWED ARE WE?!”

… which is basically everything a Pilot is supposed to do.

There was a bit more background stuff, during which it became clear that SEX was going to be a big element of the story, because the Fey need humanity to refresh their bloodlines (and humans… well, are human, and the Fae are hot and sexy). Plus, Tim made “Sex with Fairies” his character’s main Issue. I wrote all that background stuff down in the Series Bible on the Wiki page, so check it out.

Then we came up with characters:

  • Tim is playing a kind of mechanic-savant with natural animal sex appeal whose Issue is temptation: specifically, sex with faeries: *gasp* SLEEPING WITH THE (hawt) ENEMY.
  • Meera is playing a girl whose black magic led her to cut some pretty unspeakable bargains when the fae first arrived. Her issue is Atonement.
  • Randy is playing a border guard for the settlement – someone who survived another settlement in a smaller town being wiped out. He has issues with control, born of concern for protecting the settlement.
  • And Chris is playing a young man who was taken in by the settlement’s priest when he was a young boy and who has grown up as a pillar of the community. His issue is Self-Worth, because HE IS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE FAE, A LYING LITTLE CHANGELING THAT HIS “PARENTS” DIDN’T HAVE THE GUTS TO KILL.


So… right. That’s where we are now. Pretty much nothing at all like any of the pitch ideas we’d been thinking of, pretty cool… and no one really knows how we got there.

I’m rather excited to play.

Writing for (make believe) television: The Game!

I’ve been a bit periscope-down for the last week or so, but I thought I’d pop in for just a moment before my students show up and muse on a game I’m starting up this evening. I don’t normally talk about my gaming on this blog (saving that for Random Average), but in this case, I thought it was relevant.

The game is Primetime Adventures – a story-game that’s designed to simulate the ebbs and flows of (mostly) genre television melodrama, best exemplified by shows like Buffy, Alias, Six Feet Under, Chuck, Heroes, Lost, and things of that nature.

Tonight we will have the Pitch Session, in which participants will propose various show ideas which we will then shoot down or hammer on until we have a concept for a television show we rather like – at which point in time we proceed to make up the protagonists for the show and figure out the basic flow the story arcs and the character issues and all that good stuff that we’ll explore for the next five or six game sessions.

The television metaphor is a powerful one, and leads to some good concepts, many of which are inspired by the basic idea “this is something I think would make awesome television, but which no one IN television would ever have the balls to make.” Maybe it’s faerie-invaded Edwardian England, or ghost hunting noir, or undead-fighting kung-fu holy warriors, or everyman robot-overlord survival horror. Could be anything, really.

I don’t have any ideas.

Rather, I have about a hundred ideas, none of which are stepping forward and shouting “pick me, hone me, LOVE ME” the way I always expect they should do — the way that actual quality television or stories do.

In fact, what I’m feeling right now is pretty much what I feel every time I’m about to start a new writing project for which I only have a kinda-sorta idea. It’s a good place to be, and kind of a rotten place to be all at once. When all you have is a blank page and no constraints, you can get a little paralyzed.

I can hardly wait to get started. I’ll let you know what we come up with.

Scrolling Credits

Tomorrow night will be the Pitch Session for a new PTA game. If things wrap up a bit early, Kate will join in for Shadows over Camelot. Both of these possibilities please me.

I’ll be one of the people pitching ideas; I’ve a few in the back of my mind, but of course things with me always seem to gravitate to a certain set of visual themes, one of which can be adequately summed up with this image.

You’ll have to side-scroll to see the whole thing, but that’s actually the idea. In my head, all images are animated and the frames are changing in relative location even as they scroll right to left across the television screen.

No idea what the show would be about, but that’s the sort of thing those pencilneck writers worry about. *chomps on producer cigar*

Coming back to the old home town: Paragon City

Saturday morning, I revved up the old comp and prepared to get in a little gaming goodness. Would I get back to the incredibly satisfying, incredibly frustrating Braid? How about restarting Bioshock, to get at some of the story I’ve missed? Perhaps a little of the Ol’ Reliable, with Lord of the Rings Online?

None of the above. This weekend, I played City of Heroes.

Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve played CoH, though I think it’s fair to say that, when I played, I logged enough hours to last me the rest of my life, if I so chose. Still, I’ve been feeling an itch to play some supers lately – and, specifically, to play particular characters from CoH – and the opportunity presented itself, so that’s what I did.

Also, there’s two more Supers games coming out this year, and I want CoH fresh in my memory when I go check them out.

I don’t have a lot of nuanced analysis to present, so here’s just some stuff off the top of my head.


  • Well, it’s fun, isn’t it? Not having to worry about bad guys getting behind you, the fairly intuitive interface (with some important exceptions), and hell… it’s super heroes – that’s pretty damned fun.Don’t discount this bullet point: it balances out a GREAT DEAL of the “Bad” and “Meh” below.
  • CoH is easy to play. If you don’t want to sweat the details, you really don’t have to, and that’s okay: you get an arrow telling you where to go to get missions, then you get an arrow telling you where the missions are, and then you do the mission and repeat. Provided you don’t ramp up the difficulty setting at all, I’m convinced a half-trained monkey could get a character into the mid-thirties with no problems at all. If you’re working with familiar contacts in a big zone, you can fly from mission to mission of mindless fun.
  • Extensible. If you like crafting systems and character stat tweaking CoH definitely comes through, limited only by your pocket book.
  • New content. Seems the development team is still doing solid work, and while I haven’t messed with the Mission Builder (nor am I likely to do much creation with it — my days of creating custom stories for CoH are long past (when it was much harder to manage), and that desire has NOT returned at ALL), I’ve heard that some of the new player-created content is excellent, and there certainly is a LOT of it.


  • Fucking. Timed. Missions. Why aren’t all the timed missions LABELED AS SUCH? It’s a simple, fixable thing, and game is, basically, fucking rude for not warning people. It’s doubly annoying when combined with this: I think they MUST have changed this somewhat since I last played, because damned if I remember this, but WHY IN THE HELL do you automatically get the next mission in a chain when you turn in the previous one? I just click on the NPC and BOOM: new mission? WTF, over?
  • Bugs. Perhaps I got so used to it last time that I didn’t notice, but DAMN the game is buggy. Kind of stupid bugs, also. Base problems. Costume options that migrate to some other table and screw up your character’s look. NPC pathing stupidity that borders on the laughable. Weird door bugs. Those stupid fucking CoT teleportals that go the wrong direction. Crashing the game if I’m using the wrong power when I zone. Seriously: for a game that relies SO HEAVILY on Zoning, it should be less crash- and bug-prone.
  • Zoning. Ugh. So much zoning. I don’t care if it’s fast (it isn’t, even on a good comp), it’s overused.
  • Inventory Management. The inventory capacity on CoH characters is STUPIDLY small. You can get 10 enhancements before being full up. Roughly 15 recipes. About 30 types of salvage. Roughly speaking, that’s half the bag space of LotRO – about a third of WoW. The number of times my recipe or enhancement slots filled up (with useful or valuable stuff), requiring a trip to a store (or four) was frustrating.
  • The interface is great, except when it isn’t. Is there any way to get into screen where you can see your powers and how they’re slotted WITHOUT clicking “Manage” in the Enhancement bag inventory? Is there any indicator that screen even exists, if you didn’t already know?
  • Why can’t you just drop a mission? I don’t mean “Drop it and get credit for it.” I mean DROP IT. I have three mission slots (at least one of which I probably got dropped on me without warning when I turned in an old one – see “Stupid Fucking Timed Missions” above), and I end up in a new area with cool new missions and I can’t just drop the crap I have and take these new things – I *HAVE TO* do those existing missions first.

Good? Bad? I’m the guy with the nanites in my blood.

  • Anyone who tells me that CoH doesn’t have an Inventory system, WoW-like auction house, crafting halls, potions, or body looting — YOU ARE FOOLING YOURSELVES, or just being disingenuous. The ONLY difference in the looting between CoH and other MMOs is that CoH has it happen automatically, without clicking on the body. That’s it. Salvage, inspirations, and enhancements? That’s LOOT. Some of it even makes a coin-jingling noise when you get it. All CoH does is remove a single click. (Actually, WoW doesn’t make you click anymore either, really, so…)
  • Level Cap. Like the urban spawl of Los Angeles or Denver, CoH continues to grow perpetually OUTWARD, with no interest in growing UPWARD. This is apples for some, oranges for others.
  • Only three missions can be live at a time? Really? Three? I get that CoH is geared for ultra-casual players, but goddamn: THREE? I’ve got over Forty-five quest slots in LotRO, and I manage. My daughter can count to ten without using her fingers; give us some fucking credit.

Now, did I enjoy myself? Oh hell yes. I played enough on Saturday that I didn’t get much of anything else done, and Sunday wasn’t much better. I’m pretty sure I dreamed about it Saturday night – it gets into my pores. It holds a special place in my heart – surrounded by a bit of scar-tissue, but still.

And Kaylee loves it. More than any other MMO, she just loves it. That might be partly due to the fact that she heard it in the womb, but it is what it is – she loves it. Like LotRO, she loves hitting the attack buttons as long as they make a satisfying BOOM, and LOTS of powers in CoH go Boom.

That said, it’s a game I have to approach with some caution – it’s fun and all, but it has a bad tendency to cause me to push other things out of my scope of vision — that’s all on me, not the game, but it is something of which I need to be aware.

NCSoft has a payment scheme these days that lets you pay for a single month at a time via paypal, without the annoyance of starting-then-stopping a recurring monthly plan, just to get some casual play – I’ll probably do that for the next month, simply to get my ‘fix’ for the superhero goodness and to analyze how much influence it still has on my productivity. Maybe I’ll even lure Kate along for the ride: who knows?

But I had a good time. It’s a good game, for all it’s quirks and flaws; maybe even despite – or because – of them.

We got our butts kicked by Shadows over Camelot, and it was excellent.

As I’ve said before, I’ve wanted to play Shadows Over Camelot for quite a long time. Two and a half years, probably. This desire hit a fairly significant road block in that neither I nor anyone I knew owned the game, and the price tag on the box discouraged whim-purchase.

I thought I’d found a loophole in February when I bought it for a buddy’s birthday, but it was not to be – he and I were both interested, but the familiarity of Catan lured in all of our playmates and when he went back to NYC, he took the game with him. The nerve.

But a few weeks ago, my darling wife picked up a copy we’d put on reserve, and I basically commandeered Dave’s impromptu game day on Saturday by walking in, pulling out the box, and setting up without so much as a by your leave.

Our version of the game looked something like this, except there were a lot fewer swords accumulated on the Round Table (far right), and the Deck of Evil Events (black deck) does not appear to be dampened with Manly Tears of Regret and Suffering. YMMV on that one, apparently.

So we set up, and I read aloud through all the rules (kudos to everyone for staying awake), and we played.

The basic game works like this.

  • Each player (minimum of 3, maximum of 7) plays a Knight of the Round Table – one of the named ones that you’d probably recognize.
  • You begin in Camelot, around the Round Table.
  • All around Camelot, forces array themselves to bring the Kingdom down. Seriously, there are more things trying drag down Camelot than there are knights to deal with them; (1) Saxons continually raid from the sea, (2) Picts raid from the forests, (3) the armies of Morgan and Mordred assemble Siege Engines to storm the castle, (4) the Black Knight challenges the might of the knights, (5) Despair of ever finding the Grail grows, (6) Excalibur is lost in the Lake, and might never be recovered, (7) Lancelot has abandoned Camelot, and will aid the King only indirectly… if confronted by a knight who can best him in combat, and (8) oh yeah, there’s a dragon.
  • King Arthur goes first, unless no one’s playing him, in which case the youngest player goes first.
  • On your turn, Something Bad Happens. For Something Bad, you either (1) draw from The Bad Deck (black cards) and do whatever it says (for instance, strengthen the Black Knight, Strengthen Lancelot, Grow the Pict or Saxon armies, increase Grail Despair, et cetera – or there’s some REALLY evil things that can happen, usually associated with Morgan, Mordred, or the Queen), (2) place a siege engine around Camelot (see the picture), or (3) lower your own Life by 1 to prevent anything else bad from happening.
  • Once Something Bad Happens, you then do Something Heroic. These heroic things are usually things that act in direct opposition to the Bad Things: Seek the Grail, face off against the Black Knight, lead forces against the Saxons, try to get Excalibur, simply destroy siege engines around Camelot (not at all easy), and things like that.
  • Once you’re done with your turn, play proceeds clockwise to the next Knight, and that simple cycle repeats.

Each of those Threats is basically a nigh-Sisyphean task. For example: you and several other knights might be working like crazy to collect White “Grail” cards to accumulate eight and finish that Grail quest, but EVERY SINGLE time a knight goes, Something Bad Happens, and if they draw a black “Despair” card, then “poof” goes the latest Grail card, and the balance swings back the way of Failure. That same teeter-totter action is happening all over the Kingdom, with slight variations.

And you can’t just place Siege Engines instead – if 12 accumulate around the Castle, then Camelot falls, and they’re damnably hard to eliminate once they’re on the board.

Winning the quests is the way to victory, but each one of those quests requires significant effort. Worse, some of those quests are perpetual (you can defeat the Black Knight, but he’ll just hold another tourney once he recovers; you can defeat the Picts and the Saxons, but they’ll just attack again next year); while others, even when won, cause the forces of Evil to redouble their efforts (once you have the Grail, any “Grail Despair” cards instead become “add another Siege Engine to the board” cards, for example).

So you can really band together to win a quest, but if you do, (a) you’re ignoring other forces attacking Camelot, and (b) once the Big Quests are won, they increase the rate of assault on Camelot.

You can spread out to handle everything at once, but then it’s a war of attrition. It’s a tricky thing to balance.

And by “Tricky” I mean to say “we played it twice and got our butts kicked both times.” Some successful tactics did present themselves, but we weren’t quite putting it all together yet.

That said, it seemed as though fun was had, and there was a strong opinion – dare I say a smoldering fire burning in the eyes of the failed knights – indicating that more play of the game lies in our future.

Then what? What happens when we finally eke out a victory and save Camelot?

Then we finally play the FULL game.

The version where one of the knights is a Traitor.

Why I wouldn’t use IAWA to run Amber (at least not with Amber players)

Wednesday night rolled around, and we were set to play In a Wicked Age. This was going to be my fourth or so time running the game, the second time for both Tim and Chris to play (revisiting the same characters) and the first time for both Meera and Randy.

Participant background

It’s not unimportant to note that I have a lot of play time with various story-games (not as much as I’d like) and that Tim and Chris have been playing quite a few different games with me in the last year or so, including Galactic, Dogs in the Vineyard, Inspectres, IAWA, and a couple others (I think). Meera’s played a couple of these types of games as well, most notably (in my head) Primetime Adventures. Randy’s played a little PTA, some Dogs, some Sorcerer, and I think that’s about it.

Significant (to me, at least) is that both Meera and Randy have a lot of play time with Amber DRPG (or some variation thereon) – enough that I think it’s fair to say that their experience with that game strongly informs and establishes their modes of play. I don’t say that to malign – I love em both, but the habits that Amber establishes are there, demonstrable, detectable even if you don’t know that’s what you’re seeing, and hard to break.

I bring that up because it mattered in play.

Now, first off, I think the game went well. We had a fun oracle to start out with, and there was a lot of stuff going on.

WHEN WE LAST LEFT OUR HEROES (read: last session)
* Farid Dafir, the marketplace snake charmer, had just reclaimed his rightful place at the head of the animal cult, ousting the woman Eil Bet.
* “Regano” al Aiqtanq, his cousin, had at least temporarily snared the heart of Kianna, the sneak-thief who’d gotten the whole mess with the released genii and the evil spirit started in the first place.

Chris was left at the top of the We Owe list. He picked NEST OF VIPERS as the Oracle and selected the first one. Tim crossed himself off the We Owe list to “just be” in the story.

The Oracles elements (from which one selects a character) are:
* A band of slavers, bold and incorrigible
* A moon gazer, possessed by 10 rival spirits
* Burglary of the storehouse of a powerful robber merchant
* The warden-ghost of the place, generous to the good-willed

Possible Characters, implied or implicit
* Any one of the slavers, including their leader, 2nd in command, or whoever
* Any one of the slaves, ditto
* The moon gazer, possessed
* Any one of the people burgling the storehouse
* The robber merchant, or one of his people
* The warden-ghost

From that, we came up with:

* Chris, playing his cult-leader/animal-charmer Fariq, who is also the moon-gazer with the 10 angry spirits within.
* Tim, playing Regano.
* Meera, playing Jessemyn, one of the slavers, who are all working for…
* Randy, playing Kadashman, the robber merchant and sorcerer.

The NPCs were:
* Natan, Kadashman’s eunuch major-domo, conniving to replace his master.
* Kianna, the thief from the first session, reincorporated as the burglar of the robber merchants ‘storehouse’.
* Saahi, the head of the slavers, in love with Kadashman.
* “Precious Dove”, Kadashman’s prime concubine, his conduit to the spirits he controls through sorcery, the one person who can put Fariq’s spirits at peace, the person Kianna was sent in to “borrow” (kidnap) by Fariq.

Much wackiness ensued. In the end, Fariq had his spirits sorted out, the concubines had all fled, Regaro had kept Kianna safe from the eunuch (who was rolled up in a large rug), and Saahi and Jessemyn were riding out into the desert with an unconscious Kadashman draped over the saddle. It was a pretty good session.

But there were still a few disconnects and weirdness. I, for one, automatically went into post-conflict narration once something wrapped up, and (a) that’s not always my job and (b) the results of the conflict hadn’t been negotiated yet, so I was totally going cart before the horse.

That wasn’t all of it, though. There were a few points in the game when what was going on at the table was sort of churning the water without doing anything, and a few points where the action ground to a halt when I’d turn to a player, ask what they were doing, and get a kind of deer in the headlights look. Analysis Paralysis, Tim calls it, and mmmmmmaybe that’s right. I’m not sure, though.

I am sure (pretty sure) what was causing it though.

Over on his blog, Vincent has been talking about different resolution systems. Specifically, talking about the ways in which the different games’ fictional stuff affects their system stuff, and vice versa.

The cloud means the game’s fictional stuff; the cubes mean its real-world stuff. If you can point to it on the table, pick it up and hand it to someone, erase it from a character sheet, it goes in the cubes. If you can’t, if it exists only in your imagination and conversation, it goes in the cloud.

Bear with me, guys, I’m going somewhere with this.

Continue reading “Why I wouldn’t use IAWA to run Amber (at least not with Amber players)”

Summed up

The tagline on this website is there for a reason.  For a very very long time previous, it said something about Falling Down, and while that Something is still true, it’s not entirely relevant as an introduction (and warning) about what goes on with this site.

For those who know me (and who inexplicably choose not to flee as soon as they figure this out) it’s a familiar joke – wondering aloud about whatever my current obsession might be, or how one of my nigh-on-neverending projects is going.  (My obsessions change often, but I am constant in my affections.)

Paul Tevis (whose podcasts I’ve enjoyed for quite awhile, but whose blog I’ve only just discovered) summed the whole problem up very nicely in this post, in which he inadvertently reveals that we share the same brain.

Time is a problem for a dabbler like me. When I want to do something, I want to do it well. I’ve learned enough to know that if I want to do it well, I need to do it regularly. There are only so many hours in the week, which means that if I want to do something, I need to not do something else. The problem is that I want to do everything. This inevitably means I want to do more things than I can do regularly, and thus I end up clinging to things that I do infrequently, taking time away from things I could do well, and spiraling into an overbooked and yet unproductive schedule.

Yeah… tell you what, Paul: whichever one of us figures out how to deal with this first, we’ll let the other one know, deal?

Wizards of the Coast takes a… novel approach to dealing with PDF piracy

Angry Bear is angry.And by “novel”, I mean to say “utterly stupid and short-sighted.”

Earlier this evening RPGNow, Paizo, and DriveThruRPG pulled all of their Wizards of the Coast PDF products (where both new and much much much older products were available) at WotC’s request.  The ability to purchase them ended at noon – the ability to download products that you’ve already bought ended at midnight.

According to Wizards of the Coast, this was done to prevent piracy.  (In a followup statement, they clarified that they believe this… because they are luddite morons.)

“We have [taken these actions] to stop the illegal activities […], and to deter future unauthorized and unlawful file-sharing.”

I love the vast understatement from one gaming site today:

“I predict an increase in piracy of Wizards products.”


Let me take this one step further.  I guarantee – not ‘predict’, but guaran-goddamn-tee that every single PDF of WotC products made available after midnight tonight will be a pirated copy.

Just… think about it for a second; you’ll see exactly what I mean.

See… before today? Sure, some people were sharing PDFs like that on file-sharing sites, and there was pirating going on. Sure, yes.

Was it because the PDFs were made available by WotC and sold online?

No.  You’ve been able to get PDFs of ANY game book — hell, any book at all — even ones that have never had electronic versions available, ever since scanner technology became remotely mainstream (early 90s), because people have time, and geeks have desire for the electronic versions.

Until today, at least most of the people who wanted electronic versions of their game book were getting the PDFs the easy way: google search, got to RPGNow, click, click, download.  No torrent software. No worrying if you picked up a virus with your latest PDF. Easy.

Now, the only way to get the electronic version of a WotC product is to get it from a pirate site.

I can either not get it at all (sucks for me, and WotC gets no money), or I get it from a torrent site (hassle for me, and WotC gets no money).

The pirating people? This has no fucking affect on them what. so. ever.

Well, no; that’s not entirely true.

This move by WotC, ostensibly meant to fight piracy, will actually ensure that more people will come to their site to download ALL the PDFs they want (for games, for novels… whatever — I mean, as long as they’re THERE for the DnD stuff, they might as well look around and see what else is out there, right?…).

It’s not just stupid and short-sighted.  It doesn’t just ensure the piracy of their work by 100% of those that want PDFs of DnD material; it actually hurts all the other companies in the industry as well.

Like having your very own ant-farm

It’s fascinating — annnnd a little horrifying — to watch new converts to story-games come rushing in, gushing with the (justifiable) excitement they have over the games, only to hit a brick wall, face first, as soon as they stray from the topics related to the games themselves.

I suppose it’s not any different than any other specialized group that gets in new members on a regular basis who have ONLY the stated interests of that group’s charter in common with the other participants.  Writing groups. Biking clubs. Quilting circles. Whatever. 

But I’m not able to observe those groups, and I *am* able to observe large groups of gamers, online, and watch this sort of thing happen.

“What do you mean you voted for Obama? You wrote such a funny Actual Play post about your Primetime Adventures game session…”

“How can you be for universal health care and still claim to be a legitimate fan of 3:16?”

“You marginalize the convicts in the US prison system at the same time you claim to be all about Story Now. Hypocrite.”

United in our obsessions? Not exactly. Kind of hilarious.

Machinima: Order of Middle Earth

I’m a big fan of machinima made from games that I’m playing.  My only MMO at the moment is LotRO, and while the game is great, one of the things I’ve missed from WOW is the amount of great machinima movies that the player base produces.  (Lots of crappy ones also, but there’s so many out there that even the 10% that aren’t crap  comprises a pretty vast selection.) By comparison, the selection of LotRO videos is fairly lean.

One of the good LotRO blogs out there (again, a fairly small in number by comparison to WoW) linked to the  “Order of Middle Earth”, put together by a player on the Brandywine.  It’s really quite good.

Order of Middle Earth from Roon3808 on Vimeo.

The New Frontier of Indie Publishing has already been Mapped Out (on a Battlemat)

Before I get into this, I need to lay out a couple concepts that I’m referencing here.

Concept One: The Long Tail

long_tail_graph“The Long Tail” describes the “niche” strategy of businesses like or Netflix which can be expressed – in my own words – as “sell many different products, in relatively small quantity, per product”. This is different from traditional business models, where the basic idea is “sell a large quantity of only a few things.” Traditional publishing is built on – no surprise – a traditional model; so much so that only 5% of all published authors account for 95% of the profit in publishing today.

Conversely, the way companies like Amazon and Netflix work allows them to profit by selling small volumes of ‘niche’ items across a broad customer base, instead of only selling large volumes of a few popular items. The group within that broad customer base that purchases a large number of “non-hit” items is the demographic that is also sometimes called the Long Tail.

This model acknowledges that the upper 20% of items listed for sale will account for most of the sales, but without negligible stocking and distribution costs, the other 80% of available products will still be profitable per unit sold and will, as a group, outsell that top 20%.

The main benefit to consumers is vastly increased product variety.

The main benefit to the distributor is that they can keep a much bigger ‘inventory’ of products in a particular niche, since warehousing isn’t such an issue, letting them outperform traditional competitors (example: Netflix can supply many titles that Blockbuster simply doesn’t offer in-store, because said title is not *already* popular).

The main (two) benefits to the independent author are:

  1. Those whose products could not — for economic reasons — find a place in pre-Internet information distribution channels can realize a burst of financially successful creativity that finds its audience. One example of this is YouTube, where quality artists within any number of disciplines have found success that they would never have gotten via traditional channels.
  2. The new ability to maintain a large ‘niche’ inventory without warehousing overhead means that the creator has time to find their audience via a new method of marketing that has only recently become viable, let alone profitable.

That new method of marketing is Concept Two.

Concept Two: First, Ten

social-networkingSeth Godin came up with this name and this concept, but in his own words “Three years from now, this advice will be so common as to be boring.”

The basic idea is this:

Find ten people who trust you/respect you/need you/listen to you…

Those ten people need what you have to sell, or want it. And if they love it, you win. If they love it, they’ll each find you ten more people (or a hundred or a thousand or, perhaps, just three). Repeat.

If they don’t love it, you need a new product. Start over.

As he points out, this approach changes everything, as compared to typical publishing. You don’t market to the anonymous masses. They’re not anonymous and they’re not masses. You market to people who are willing participants. The idea of a ‘launch’ and press releases and the big unveiling is a bad one. Instead, a gradual build turns into a swell turns into a wave.

(Seth is very smart – damn sight smarter than me. You should be reading his blog.)

So the basic idea is that (a) you have this Long Tail demographic you can market to, and you have the time to do so, because you don’t have to worry about running out of time and getting your book backlisted/discontinued — that’s just not an real concern anymore. You just need to Find Ten, over and over again. This includes things like:

  • New Media Marketing: building and managing a presence on social networks and online or virtual communities. This is very low-frequency, low-intensity, and cost effective.
  • Buzz: Basically word of mouth, the transmission of commercial information from person to person in an online or real-world environment. There was a statistic bounced around this year’s Technology of Change conference that 85% of book sales were thanks to word-of-mouth, 10% were thanks to the book cover, and everything else anyone did for marketing accounted for the final 5% of sales. Word of mouth is clearly pretty huge.
  • Viral Marketing: Using preexisting social networks, with an emphasis of the casual, non-intentional and low cost.

Look at those three things: anything there strike you as something a publisher can do better than the author, plus perhaps their first “Ten” people?

((To be fair, there’s no reason at all this doesn’t apply to an author working in Traditional publishing as well. In that case, you want/need your Agent and Publishing Editor to be two of your First Ten, so that they can evangelize within the existing Trad Publishing networks that you-the-author could never reach. That’s obviously valuable, if the option is available to you.))

Now, ponder this: all this marketing theory stuff is not hypothetical. This is something already happening today in one of the publishing niches that has raced ahead of the mainstream publishing genres (fiction, non-fiction) by virtue of never having been part of mainstream publishing in the first place.

I’m speaking of roleplaying game publishing (which you might have guessed from the title of the post). Lemme ‘splain.

spielleiterBack in the late 70s and early 80s, roleplaying games were on their first upswing and, since the primary product of the roleplaying gaming industry at the time was books, game developers looked, naturally, to the publishing industry for ideas on how to MAKE books – how to publish.

And let me tell you, those were some meticulous, geeky bastards back in the day; they figured out how publishing worked and in most cases they followed the traditional publishing model to the letter. Also, they usually aimed for the highest quality products they could (or, often, couldn’t) afford to produce. You should SEE some of the books they turned out – big, beautiful, heavily illustrated, hardbound, double-stitched – you could kill a caribou with the first (or second) edition of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons – don’t even get me started on the original Champions rulebook.

There was, of course, a problem. Roleplaying games are a niche market. Super-niche. The nicheiest. You could have one, probably two, MAYBE three or four product lines successfully pushed into this niche market using traditional publishing methods (each additional line taking a bite out of the success of the other lines) before the niche was full and anything that came after failed. Perhaps not right away, but they’d fail.

TSR (publishers of DnD) was even bought out, and all the others? There is one handful of gaming companies (full-time employing a double handful of people) that have survived from then to now. Meanwhile, the list of those that went under, trying to publish using traditional means, would fill a phone book.

Most people gave it up.

Then came the internet.

With the internet came mailing lists, usenet, and (eventually) forums that in some cases became places of collaboration and creation for that niche market. Some of the early products of that time (FUDGE, to name one) are still popular today, but the basic idea here is that this experience informed some game designers that their ideas had merit, and even an audience.

They just didn’t have any idea how to turn that idea into a PRODUCT without bankrupting themselves. First, the book publishing cost was prohibitive and Second: even if they found an affordable way to publish, how do you get your niche-within-a-niche idea out to the right people?

Then came Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition, which did a remarkable thing by releasing their rules set as Open Source, basically allowing anyone legal permission to write adventures and source material for the game, and publish it however they like, with one simple caveat: “write it in such a way that the customer still needs our main rulebooks to play.”

Suddenly, the problem with “How do you get your work to the right audience” was gone (provided you wrote stuff for DnD – the biggest product line within Gaming, so not much of a hardship), which left hundreds of creators with only one problem to solve: how to get our work out to people without bankrupting ourselves.

More importantly, this was a group of people who never really associated themselves (mentally) with traditional publishing – they’re gamers, man – so there’s no stigma to the idea of self-publishing. Quite the contrary: in that niche market, self-publishing was the DREAM – a mix of “rock and roll” and “my god, I might actually make some money off this hobby I love!”

Now these were geeky, meticulous bastards (notice a theme?), and when faced with a problem like that, they worked the HELL out of it. By a glorious bit of serendipity, available technology on the internet was finally catching up to their needs at almost the same time: relatively affordable and good-quality print-on-demand, secure and user-friendly online ‘storefront’ software that let you sell electronic files easily. FREE services for acquiring legitimate ISBN numbers and getting listed on sites like Amazon, so that your new DnD module would show up in Amazon searches alongside products from the “big boys.”

Heady times.

When the wave of 3rd edition DnD publishing waned, what was left behind was all that knowledge, experience, creative forums, and the services to make publishing your own stuff possible.

muWhich is exactly what people did. Today, there are HUNDREDS of products available to this roleplaying gaming niche, and no one ‘going out of business’. Sure, some stuff never sells (because it’s crap), but the good stuff rises – slowly, most of the time – to the top, and finds its target audience, who evangelize and market for those games without much help from the original creator at all, aside from their participation in the social networks surrounding that niche market.

Most of their sales come from:

  • Building a presence on social networks and online or virtual communities (The Forge,,, Indie Press Revolution and dozens more, including (of course) Facebook and Twitter).
  • Word of mouth, from one successful Actual Play report to the next.

Sound familiar?

Sounds like a real-world example of what people are theorizing indie publishing will look like.

Here’s the thing: indie publishing ALREADY works like the ‘theory’ posits: it’s just that only a small group has realized it so far.

The death of the Emoticon

2206_mourning_over_dead_friend1A few weeks ago, I noticed an interesting comment from someone I follow on YouTube, which went something like this.

“This is really great news, which I feel calls for a pretty major deviation from my normal internet posting rules. I know you guys hate them, and you know that I hate them, but just this once, in honor of the occasion, I’m going to type a smiley. :-D”

In the replies to the original poster, I saw a number of people surprised (or mock surprised) at the inclusion of the smiley, and it got me thinking about emoticons in general; has there actually been a drop off in their use?

After almost a week of paying desultory attention to painstaking research on the subject, I’ve decided the answer is a qualified yes. Yes, within the group of people whose electronic communication I regularly read, there has been a marked drop off in the use of emotion-indicating text markers. They aren’t completely gone, but there are definitely fewer showing up than there used to be.

Any thoughts on why that might be?

My personal theory is that emoticons emerged (re-emerged, actually, since they were in use in other non-electronic eras) when communication over the (nascent) internet was starting it’s first major uptick, and more and more people were trying to make use of the written word, sans any other medium, to make a point or (harder still) have a conversation and/or debate. The reason given at the time was that communication solely via text was ripe for miscommunication – that text robbed the speaker of tone and inflection critical to conveying the nuances of an ironic or satirical statement. In short, they were saying they needed a smiley face so that people knew they were joking. (Conversely, readers said they needed the smiley to identify such things.)

Are people less sarcastic/ironic/satirical today? Seems unlikely. Sure, most of us use a smiley here and there, but – at least for me – it’s often to take the sting out of a particular harsh statement; less “this is a joke” than “remember we’re all friends here.” My opinion is that we (the global internet-using culture) have so immersed ourselves in text-based communication since those early digital days that we’ve collectively relearned how to clearly communicate nuance in the medium, as well as how to detect it.

We’ve become better readers. And writers.

Now if we could just get people to stop typing “LOL” as though it’s an actual word.

I’ve come up with a new Template for Random Average

Not a template in the wordpress sense, but one that can be used when posting about new games. I’ve included the current draft below.

I just got the [PDF/Ashcan/Print Edition] of the [Story-Games Summary Post/Pre-alpha/Alpha/Beta/2nd Beta/Final Edition/2nd Edition] of [GAMENAME], and I have to say it rocks. Seriously, it’s probably the best thing since [sliced bread/4.0/Dogs in the Vineyard/[LAST FUN GAME PLAYED]], and I’d highly suggest [clicking the link to read it/downloading it/ordering it from IPR/bumming a copy off me, since I bought two extra copies, it’s THAT awesome].

I’ll admit, I’m not really into [furries/BSG slashfic/bronze-era epistemological romance/DnD], but this game really scratches an itch, and I’d like to play it [now/this weekend/whenever we get together next, which probably means [there will be a new version of the game/English will be a dead language] by then, but that’s okay!] Let me know if your interested [in the comments/in response to the email i will invariably send out anyway].

I know we’ve already scheduled something for that game I was raving about [yesterday/last week/last month/in my earlier post today] (whatever the name of it was), but I think I’d rather drop that and do this.

And don’t worry about picking up new gear for the game – I know the randomizer for the conflict system is a bit odd so I’ll provide the [dice/fudge dice/poker deck/pinochle deck/Tarot deck/sheep entrails] for anyone who doesn’t already have their own.

So excited!

Whatcha think?

So what are you playing right now?

So the 2009 wishlist conversation was pretty much a non-starter. However, I know you guys are playing stuff right now, so let’s hear what it is.

For myself, the list includes:

  • Inspectres, on the very near horizon.
  • A once-a-month DnD game.
  • Lord of the Rings Online (MMO)
  • World of Goo (Wii)
  • Lego Star Wars (Wii)
  • Bioshock (PC)

Something to save to my Blackberry

The simplest little RPG ever

This is an RPG intended to be played with kids. It requires one adult (or semi-adult) GM, and assumes that the player characters go out and have adventures. Said adventures need not be violent gore-fests, but they can be heroic swords-and-sorcery affairs if that’s the way you swing. There is a built-in “Boss Fight” at the end, but that can be a mean substitute teacher as easily as a dragon.


Okay, let’s try this again…

Nope, the site wasn’t working for me — not well enough anyway.

So, I’m back over here where I should be – transferred entirely to WordPress – and working on adding the stuff to this wordpress-based site that I wanted out of the Ning – a forum and better ways to have a conversation.  More info as I create it.

Birthday presents for nerds

From a GChat with the DM in my once-a-month DnD game:

12:59 PM Dale: Congratulations: your character gets 175 xp in celebration of you living another year 😉


It’s all in the delivery.

While running around Moria on our main characters last night, I mentioned to Kate the upcoming fixes for my beloved Guardian class, coming to LotRO in the next free content expansion (Book 7). Specifically, most of the guardian’s threat-generating abilities will generate more threat, and those skills have an increased chance to get a critical success on threat generation.

ME: Apparently even on the skills that are just me hollering insults, I can get a crit and… be REALLY insulting, I guess.
HER: So, like… [deep breath] “BARUK KHAZAD, DICKHEAD!”
ME: … exactly.

I love her because she’s so ladylike.

A review of my recent gaming, via pictures.

Why yes, yes it can.
Played us a little Dogs in the Vineyard last week. The session ended on a cliffhanger. My prediction for the next session?
Interpret as you see fit.

MMO: Lord of the Rings Online
What’s been going on with Geiri?
That would be Geiri, Tiranor, and our new friend, level 60.
I’ve been trying to catch Finn up to Kate’s minstrel who, as of January 15th, was about ten levels ahead of him.
Mission: Accomplished. As an upside, while I’ve really enjoyed playing this character for a long stretch, it’s really given me an appreciation for other things… like playing my other two characters, extra writing time, and… you know… the touch of natural light on my pale, pale skin.
No funny action shot of what’s been going on with Emyl — I have really enjoyed playing a non-melee guy and hiding behind other people while THEY get beat on — it’s a nice change of pace. Also, playing as a trio (Kate on her Captain, and Tim on his shiny new Warden) was really enjoyable, although it seems as though one of us is always unable to talk on voice-chat, due to one ailment or another.

Since I never got the new expansion to the game when it came out (during NaNoWriMo), and all the people I played with aren’t playing anymore (or moved to another server — is it me? You can say if it’s me), I just figured I didn’t need to be spending money on the subscription right now. Maybe later, but not now.

Because what gaming post is complete without zombies?

Dogs in the Vineyard: Watching the Watchmen

While digging through stuff in my games closet, I found character sheets for a game of Dogs in the Vineyard game that has not yet got off the ground.

  • Lucas Wiley – one of the Mountain People who was adopted as an infant by the Steward of a Faithful community, after that same steward (and community) wiped out the village of Mountain People to which Lucas had originally belonged.
  • Lawrence Shoemaker – a kind soul who is much (much) more comfortable carrying for all of the King’s dumb creatures.
  • Efrem Crofter – a bookish young man who spent a great deal of time in the great Library… perhaps to stay away from his step-father, a man who taught him to shoot… and who branded him with the symbol of the tree of life to remind him to “be good.” A guy who just wants to help people.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it here; this is not a game about religiosity. It’s not a game about faith and judgment. It’s not even a game about paladin cowboys fighting evil and shooting bad guys in the head (although that part’s pretty damn fun).1
It’s about what happens to people who want to Do Good, who get into the Real World and have to fix Real Problems and deal with the unlovely results. It’s never about the Towns. It’s never about the Sins. It’s about the Dos. It’s a melodrama about growing up.
(… and shooting people in the face. With love.)
1 – It’s definitely NOT a game about ‘what if mormons had magical super powers and were always right’, which is what some people still seem to think.

Don’t Rest Your Head: All Your Dreams, Remembered

Last week, I had a chance to run Don’t Rest Your Head, a game by Fred Hicks of FATE and Spirit of the Century fame. The game is a bit hard to explain, but I’ll give it a shot.
First, here’s some color text:

You can’t sleep.
It started like that for all of us, back when we were garden variety insomniacs.
Maybe you had nightmares, or maybe you just had problems that wouldn’t let you get a good night’s rest. Hell, maybe you were just over-caffeinated. It doesn’t matter. Three AM, wide-awake, eyeballs kind of loose in your sockets and jangly nerves. We have ALL been there.
Whatever it was, eventually you got to a point where sleep became a choice, rather than a mandate, and then it just… dropped off the list.
And then, and only then, something clicked. You started noticing the extras.
An extra door here or there. An extra window looking out onto a city packed with surplus buildings, hodgepodge towers standing shoulder to shoulder, roofs angling into one another. Clocks chiming the thirteenth hour and unfamiliar stars twinkling in the too-clear sky. Streets and alleys that weren’t there before, leading to late-night markets that will trade you your childhood memories for things like laughter, forgiveness, and indecision…

There’s more, but that’s the gist. The flavor is Dark City, Midnight Nation, Neverwhere, Mirrormask, and a even little Keys to the Kingdom and The Matrix thrown in. ((With that list of inspirations, I think it’s clear why *I* was interested in playing it.)) The player characters are insomniacs who have found, wandered, or been sucked into a city full of the things that the regular world has lost or left behind. More importantly, their insomnia allows them to tap into abilities that are flat out impossible, from the point of view of the well-rested.
Aside from deciding what those special abilities are, character generation mostly boils down to answering five questions:

  • What’s Been Keeping You Awake? — the source of the character’s insomnia; sets up what the character’s immediate history has been like.
  • What’s on the Surface? — determines the first impressions the character gives off.
  • What Lies Beneath? — speaks to the protagonist’s secrets, the part that doesn’t show to the world if they can help it.
  • What Just Happened to You? — what happens to the character in his very first scene of the game – basically, this is the thing that puts the character in motion.
  • What’s Your Path? — this is a biggie: where does the character see things going, if everyone goes well? Put another way, what are they going to be working toward in any given scene, in the absence of any more immediate motivation?

I think it’s important to note that these questions are NOT some kind of fluff character questionnaire; this is the origin of the character’s insomnia (which provides them their abilities and access to the Mad City), the face they show the world, their dark secrets, their Instigating Event, and their primary motivation. They are IMPORTANT. I think I can illustrate how important later in this post.
So Tim, Chris, and Kate played, and here’s who they came up with.

  • Tim created Bobby Trunks, a genius robotics/gizmo designer and lifetime comic book nerd. He’s been obsessing about this ‘widget’ he’s been working on for over a year, but the pressure to get the thing working has been building up over the last few months, until things finally come to a head at the start of the story. In theory, his Madness Talent was that he could manifest any character from any comic book, and chat with them or make them help him (in the game, we saw Forge, Tony Stark, and the Joker), but in practice, his power was more commonly The Widget that he’d invented, which I’d originally intended to be a macguffin. Either way, it worked out.
  • Chris created Irwin, a contract killer who just woke up (in a cheap hotel room) from what appears to be some kind of surgery to repair damage done from a wound to his skull. The surgery seems to have activated his long-dormant conscience, and it’s playing merry hell with his normal calm. Irwin’s madness talent is that he can remove the ‘walls’ in people’s minds that keep their inner sociopaths caged.
  • Kate came up with Georgia Havermeyer, a law school grad student and intern at the Knight & Smytheson Agency. Georgia has too many obligations, too many people and things she needs to protect, and too much going on, all the time. Her Madness Ability is that she can be Two (or more) Places at Once. (And as we found out, when things get really crazy, those different locations don’t even have to be in the same time stream. Wackiness ensues.)

Initial Starts
As I mentioned previously, the players come up with their ‘what just happened’ answers, and I pretty much roll with that. In this case:

  • Bobby Trunks just got his widget working in some kind of inexplicable and impossible way (you feed items into one end, and get different things out of the other end — such as a long-box of comics poured into one side to produce… a kryptonite bullet). He rushes off to tell his wife, and discovers that she’s been working a starring role in the (cheap) porn industry to keep the rent paid on his workshop. Then a uniformed man with a stopwatch for a face shows up and asks for The Widget.
  • Irwin woke up in a hotel room with no clear memory of the last month or so, a bag full of money and weapons, and two men sneaking up on the outer door of the room. The two men inexplicable turn on and kill each other… and then the phone rings.
  • Georgia, working late in a filing room, sees her boss step into the room from the back … out of an old oak-and-iron door that should not — and never has been — there. Torn between her desire to follow her boss and kiss up… and see what’s behind the mysterious door… she does both.

Reincorporation and Pulling people together
Tim’s main concern with the game is that, with no unifying theme behind the characters (we didn’t make the characters up as a group, but via a quick series of private emails), everyone’s scenes and stories would be pretty disparate and unconnected, leading to growing disinterest when other people were doing their scenes. I worked to avoid this somewhat by distributing the GMing duties during conflicts — depending on the outcome either the player, or the person to their left or right or opposite would be narrating, which kept everyone on their toes and interested.
Also, Tim introduced a taxi cab early on, which is just this guy who is apparently ‘always’ his cab driver. He mentioned it off the cuff — nothing supernatural or weird to it.
Later, when things were getting weird for Irwin, I had The Cab (featured in the supplement to Don’t Rest Your Head) show up and pick him up off the street. Tim immediately said “and it should totally be MY cab… the same guy.” And so it was. Very shortly thereafter, the cab also picked up Georgia (well, actually picked up two Georgias — one from the Mad City as she was fleeing the offices of “Night and Smith’s Son”, and also “undergrad Georgia”, from a flashback), as well as Bobby. (But again, not current-moment Bobby, but Bobby from a flashback to the day he first met his wife.) Though once everyone was in the cab, they all became the ‘current moment’ versions of themselves.
So that’s how we got people together. Bobby took a look at Irwin and handed him the Kryptonite Bullet, saying something like “I think you’re supposed to have this.” Georgia handed Irwin a file that her legal firm had on him that she had been filing just before being interrupted by The Boss, and in it were instructions for Irwin’s next “possible” target… which was apparently “B. Trunks” — either Bobby or Beth.
Surreal? Yeah… You don’t know the half of it.
The next thing that happened was actually about an hour-long extended flashback to the moment when Georgia first entered the Mad-City side of the Mysterious Door, but THIS time, due to stuff going on the Cab, Irwin and Bobby were with her. A big bloody fight ensued between the trio and a horde of Pin Heads (think thumbtacks-for-heads), and lots of research (and torture) resulted in some answers for the group.
Irwin found how who he had to kill to get out of his contract with — apparently — Mad City’s District 13 bureaucracy. (Bureaucrazy?) Namely, the Tacks Man (head of the pin heads and chief administrator of District 13.
Bobby found a ‘file’ that Night & Smith’s Son had acquired from his friend “The Cabby” — apparently, the poor man gambled the “Last Memory of My Daughter” for a clue as to her whereabouts, and lost. Bobby took the memory from the Files & Trophies Room with a grim smile on his face.
Georgia made a deal with Night’s Personal Assistant, the eight-legged Mr. Nancy — basically, she would recover The Widget for the Agency, or take All Required Legal Steps For Breach Of Contract on their behalf (read: Kill Beth Trunks).
A word about Georgia’s bit here. At this point in the story, Kate was floundering a bit. She’d been really rocking the story up to this point (and rocking the hell out of her Madness talent in the process) but when it came down to this point in the story — this was where she needed to find something to move her to a conclusion, and she just didn’t seem to KNOW what she was looking for.
So I said: “What is your Path? Look at your sheet; let that answer inform what you’re doing here.”
And she blinked, and looked down at the sheet, and then this evil little smile spread over her face and she said “I need to meet with with Mr. Nancy.” From floundering to utter clarity of action in two seconds.
Those questions you do at character creation are IMPORTANT.
Building Madness and Exhaustion
As I said, Kate was rocking her Madness talent, and as a result Madness was kind of building up in her. By the last big showdown, she was teetering on the brink of Snapping. (Were it not for a mechanic called “Hope” that she tapped into not once but twice, she actually WOULD have snapped. Appropos, that.)
The other kind of “Death Spiral of Awesome” mechanic in the game is called Exhaustion, which is a resource you choose to introduce but which, once introduced, builds up and up and up… giving you more and more dice with which to kick ass, but making it increasingly more likely that you’re going to Crash (fall asleep and become a screaming neon sign reading “Eat Me” for every nightmare in the Mad City). In this game, knowing it was a one-shot, I was pushing the players pretty hard to get those Madness and Exhaustion spirals going, and Tim jumped into the Exhaustion spiral head first.
The Big Confrontation
With the Memory of My Daughter given to the Cabby as payment, Bobby asked him to take them right to the Tacks Man (who, as it turned out, was in the Central Tent at the Bizarre Bazaar, which was currently in District 13 — a reveal that used a LOT of reincorporation from earlier scenes that had seemed to be inconsequential at the time). Once the cab let them out (inside the tent itself which, Tardis-like, contained an entire roman arena), the group headed in a couple different ways. Irwin and Georgia went after the Tacks Man (he to kill him, she to serve him with a subpoena), and Bobby went after his wife (being held in the arena box seats by Officer Tock (the clockwork man) and his minions.
Lots and lots of dice were rolled (when the Madness and Exhaustion are at their peak, very little can stand against one of the Awakened, let alone three of them — the question isn’t will they win, but how much damage they will do to themselves in the process). In the end, the Tacks Man was served his papers and carried off by the members of the arena audience (all too happy to help jail their oppressor), and Bobby rescued his wife… then promptly Crashed and collapsed from exhaustion in the middle of a giant arena crowd with more than a few nightmares lurking within. Not good. Not good at all.
Post-Game Analysis: Biggest Powers, Stumbling Blocks, and Satisfaction
Kate had, earlier, voiced some concern that her little “Two places at once” power would never have the oomph of Tim’s “every super hero in the world is helping me” Madness talent. In play, nothing could have been further from the truth, as Georgia’s ability to manifest multiple (sometimes hundreds) of herself, or manifest younger or older versions of herself to act in previous or pending time-streams turned out to be THE premiere talent of the game.
As a group, we had to work hard to get everyone’s ‘stuff’ intertwingled enough to resolve people’s stories within the one-shot, but it worked. In hindsight, we decided that group character creation (we did it over email) or more ‘public’ character creation via email (letting people know each other’s histories and background) would have really helped during the game, especially when it was one of the other players narrating another person’s scene. Useful information to have for the next time.
But was the game fun? I’d answer a resounding yes to this — the creativity and just playing weirdness that everyone brought to their narrations and play just entertained the hell out of me, and all in all I thought it was a wild, surreal, and sometimes even poignant trip. Would I like to play it again sometime? I repeat: hell yeah. Hell, I’d like to play the cabbie. 🙂 It wasn’t the ‘horror’ game I’d had in mind, but it was definitely full of disturbing and weird imagery and events. Like any good story, it didn’t give me quite the thing I’d expected, but what it chose to give me instead, I enjoyed.
And now, hands aching, I’m done with this recap.

Quote of the Day

Paraphased from Ron Edwards.

The commonly and uncritically repeated phrase [is] that a primary rule [of good gaming] is “Don’t be a dick.” In application, that usually means “don’t disturb the unspoken social dynamic” or “subordinate yourself to the dominant personality.” What I am saying is that we begin with the notion that we are here to have fun, and as such, any notion that someone must make sure that happens is evidence that the primary notion is, for this group [as a whole], not reliably present.

Gaming recap and the dangers of a character concept

Not a lot of gaming going on, but what there was is worth a comment or two.
My MMO time has been entirely Lord of the Rings Online time lately. Wrath of the Lich King is out, but I haven’t picked it up largely because I don’t really have anyone to play with and any urges I might have to hit the new level cap are curiously absent (or redirected to LotRO). Likewise, I haven’t been playing WAR very much (or at all, since November 2nd), after a fiasco during a server transfer left me without my highest level Destruction character. Lee’s in his mid-30s now and my highest is level 8, so there’s not a lot of draw there. One or the other of those two games is going to stop getting my monthly subscription for awhile, I think.
But I’ve been having a great time in LotRO. With the Mines of Moria expansion (as a new expeditionary force of Durin’s Folk reenters Khazad-dum to learn what happened to Balin… and perhaps mask and muddle the passage of the Fellowship) a raised level cap, new classes, and new epic battles (a new Raid instance that pits you and 11 of your kin against the Watcher that was driven into the deeps below the 21st Hall)… well, I’m a happy dwarf, cruising toward level 60 (57 right now) at an exTREMEly leisurely and enjoyable pace.
One of the best things they’ve added to the game have been at least a dozen small-group dungeons designed either for solo play or 3-person groups, and in both cases able to be completed in less than an hour, and sometimes in as little as 15 minutes. Gone are the days when you need at least five other people and five hours of play to work through a massive instance filled with crowds of “trash” monsters to get to the good fights — LotRO’s largely dumped those designs in favor of smaller areas with less trash that you and two (and in some cases only one) of your friends can tear through in 30 minutes for great rewards (and 3 or 4 boss fights). All I can say is “Kudos” and “Where do I sign up?”
I’m also working on getting my Captain leveled up into the range of the expansion, but most of my non-Geiri time has been chewed up on an quixotic series of character re-rolls I suckered myself into.
See, one of our friends got started on LotRO, so I thought I’m make up an alt to play along with him. I’m interested in both of the new classes in the expansion (the agility+medium armor warden and Words-Have-Power Runekeeper), but as he was already playing a warden, I opted for the Runekeeper. Only the elder races (elves and dwarves) really understand the power that words can have in Middle-earth, and given those two choices, I’m obviously going to make a dwarf. While poking around in the starting area and chuckling over the names of the Runekeeper abilities (“shocking words”, “fiery rhetoric” or the threat-reducing “Master of Allusion”), I got to thinking about writers, writer-archetypes, dwarven stereotypes (drunk scotsmen) and bucking dwarven stereotypes (drunk RUSSIANS!) and found it very amusing to model the concept for the character off of a drunk, russian author I like. The name field wouldn’t accept Bûkoskè, so I settled on another name.
And then some stupid part of my head whispered “you should try to get the “Undying” title.”
“Pff,” I said.
“A drunken, undying writer who can only create when he’s sober and can only bear the horrors of battle when he’s drunk?” It suggested.
“Whoa…” I was intrigued.
I was also distracted, and got my guy killed in the process.
So I deleted him, recreated the same guy again, and started over.
You see, to get the Undying title, you have to make it to level 20 without being defeated. At all. The best I’ve ever done is 13.
A week went by, with me cursing at bad luck, worse luck, and (to be fair) a couple really bone-headed moves on my part that got Attempts #1 through #6 killed, usually somewhere around level 13. In a way, it was a microcosm of the entire MMO experience: the joy of creation, the thrill of play, the disappointment when your plan and vision didn’t pan out, the abandonment of the character, and wondering why I’d just wasted the last two days. It got to be a vicious circle; if I made a different guy, or gave up, then not only would I not get the title, but all the time I’d spent on the damned project was wasted as well. (Seriously: the average of my six attempts totaled six level 11.8 characters in about one week. In that same amount of time, our friend had got his warden to level 16.) This is the danger of having a character concept. 😛
I rerolled one last time, declared (read: promised Kate) that This Was The Last Guy, No Matter What.
And I got to level 14. (Emyl the Undefeated)
And I got to level 17. (Emyl the Unscathed)
And, playing on a crappy wireless broadband connection in South Dakota, I got to level 20. (Emyl the Undying, Honourary Sheriff, Member of the Inn League, and (far more relevant) Sage of Fine Spirits)
A day or so later, I promptly pulled about a half-dozen goblins down on my head. BUT I GOT MY TITLE, DAMN IT.
Strange as it seems, I got a little tabletop gaming in while off in South Dakota. I sat down with my niece and nephew and played some Shadows. Malik (9) and Jadyn (5) were sleeping in the upstairs of their great-grandmother’s house (where we’d all just spent a day having both Christmas lunch and dinner) when they were woken by a strange noise. Investigating, they discovered a goblin was stealing the pies from the sideboard down in the basement and tossing them through a small, green-glowing doorway under the stairs to a waiting partner. Malik grabbed a skillet and smacked the thief on the head and tossed him in the fireplace, while his sister threatened the other with a plastic pie knife (“childhood, red in tooth and claw”). Then it was time for lunch, so we didn’t have time to crawl through that door-under-stair and see what was on the other side.
Best exchange?
Malik: “I have a pan, so you should grab a knife.”
Jadyn: “Okay, I’m going to get one like that green one that momma has at home.”
Malik: “That’s PLASTIC!”
Jadyn: “Yeah, but it’s the only one I’m allowed to use.”
Malik: “Oh. Right. That’s good.”
Priceless. I’m looking forward to getting some other gaming going soon.

Return to Northmoor – A Free D&D 4e Adventure Podcast

In this final Return to Northmoor episode of the year, Doyce Testerman and Tim White sit down with Fred Hicks of Evil Hat (Spirit of the Century and Don’t Rest Your Head), and OneBadEgg, a new venture producing materials for Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition.
Fred talks about how his games have evolved from the days of Amber Diceless, to FUDGE, to FATE 1.0-2.0, and the the FATE 3.0 that was used to build Spirit of the Century.
He talks about the burgeoning D&D 4e publishing industry, and the various meanings of OneBadEgg – including one related to WotC.
Fred talks about how 4e has given him a new love of miniatures, and how much work creating a new class for 4e can be.
Finally, Fred talks about adding Story Games elements to your D&D game using the “Circle of Blame”.

Personally, I enjoyed the evolution-from-Amber talk that kept cropping back up in the original transcript, but which Tim WISELY edited down to a few pithy comments. All in all it was a lot of fun to do, and Fred’s discussion of the industry is really interesting.

Recent game activity

Haven’t updated in a week or so with anything, so here’s just a few thoughts and updates.
Generally, I didn’t do much of any gaming in November, due to NaNoWriMo.
WoW’s Wrath of the Lich King is out. I haven’t gotten the update yet and haven’t been on the game since very very early November. It all sounds cool, but honestly I’m not really itching to play at the moment.
Ditto Warhammer online which, while a ton of fun and an all around excellent game, just isn’t grabbing me — I suppose that might be a simple function of not knowing anyone in the game, really. I botched a free server transfer to a more populated server and managed to send my main character to a different server than all my other characters. Haven’t really felt like playing since then. 😛
LOTRO, conversely, has really been scratching an itch for me. The new Mines of Moria expansion is doing a fantastic job expanding the lore presented in the second half of the Fellowship of the Ring, the art is fantastic, the new classes are a ton of fun, the OLD classes are really entertaining me right now. My current favorite new addition? A series of about… I’m going to say 10 new instances that are (a) designed to be run with no more than 3 players (and which can be run with two if they have certain abilities) (b) each take no more than 30 to 45 minutes to run and (c) reward you with some really good stuff that benefit all the players. So… yeah. All my online game time has been focused on LotRO right now.
As I said, no gaming in November and none in December either — this is pretty much par for the course during the holidays, but I’m getting a little stir-crazy without some dice to roll.
In January, I’m starting up a (very) small group on Wednesday nights to play a bunch of Indie games. We’re going to play every other week, and will be starting with Dogs in the Vineyard, then maybe Galactic or IAWA or Dead of Night – once we have a little trust and familiarity built up, I’ll trot out something like Bliss Stage or My Life with Master.
Very very jazzed about this.

[FateRPG] Change the Century

From Judd:

Okay, characters [in Spirit of the Century] don’t get better over time [they might change or shift, but not really improve]. That is fine with me. We did some suggestions in the book for character advancement and they felt flat to me when we played. I suggest we ditch ’em.
You don’t change your character, you change the world.
After every game (or after each arc, if you don’t finish a pulp novel’s worth of adventure per session), you see who spent the most Fate Points in the course of play. That player gets to add an aspect to the world.
This means that world aspects will quickly add up. But only a few are used in each game. At the beginning of each game, each player (GM included) can choose one world aspect that is in play in order to avoid ten world aspects just kind of falling on top of one another in a clutter.
World Aspects can be anything that is inspired from the game’s play, from anti-vigilante laws in Gotham to flying cars become affordable to Gorilla City’s first ambassador greets U.S. president. They work just like aspects.
Pulp characters do not change but dammit, at the gaming table, they should change the world.

I like it. I don’t like that I don’t have enough time available to run a regular installation of this game.

Tim’s “Return to Northmoor” Meta Episode 2 – Blending D&D and Story Games

The second half of the conversation.
I haven’t even listened all the way through and I’m loving it — we talk about

  • kibbitzing/contributing at the table and when not to
  • more conversations with players
  • open communication and when to tell folks to shut up…
  • shout outs to the local play group, the NYC guys, and Kate
  • playing before you play
  • DnD and how it deals with failure — ways to make failure fun — framing consequences
  • Rules Hacks — couple of those… action points. Shadow of Yesterday Keys, and how they tie into Action Points

Anyway, the first one was cool, and Tim did a great job on this on.

Amber Diceless doesn’t make the “Bucket List”?

Related to my previous post, a spin-off discussion about why Amber Diceless doesn’t make some people’s top-12 list.
I contribute to the discussion, but the money-quote is from Tony LB, who just explained to me why I haven’t enjoyed any Amber game I’ve played, but immensely enjoyed the ones I’ve run; relative focus on the character relationships in the game.

Posted By: TonyLB
Here’s a recipe for making yourself really miserable in ADRPG: Go in with a character that you enjoy because of his physical and mental abilities.
Here’s a recipe for making yourself really happy in ADRPG: Go in with a character that you enjoy because of the way they view their family members.

This is also explains why I always thought it was important for folks to have read a couple of the books first.

Story Games for Everybody – 12 RPGs to play before you die

The meme starts here. (Note: I’ve played every game on the OP’s list, except for Burning Wheel, which I would very much like to do.)
Okay, so here’s my list of 12 RPGs that everyone should play before they die.

  • Dungeons and Dragons, for at least 10 levels
  • In a Wicked Age, to break your DnD habits while leaving you in a comfort zone
  • You have to have participated (not just had it done for you) in making up a character for either Hero System or GURPS
  • Heroquest for at least five sessions, preferably 10, to show you that you don’t need to have great power in your character to have great flexibility
  • Sorcerer, until someone reaches 0 Humanity, to play a game about relationships. If not that, Breaking the Ice
  • Inspectres, to play a game with true, full-blown player authorship
  • Either The Shadow of Yesterday until someone Transcends, or Spirit of the Century until someone becomes one of the Spirits
  • Dogs in the Vineyard, for no less than three towns with the same characters
  • Diceless done well: Nobilis, Mortal Coil , or Marvel Universe (the one with the glass stones) — for six solid sessions. If you have to, Amber Diceless, but there are far better rules out there these days
  • Either a complete game of My Life with Master or Galactic, to experience a defined end-game
  • Either a complete game of The Mountain Witch or The Roach, for well-handled player vs. player
  • Finally, make your own game and play it until it works

Unlike the original poster’s list, I have not done many of these, even as a GM. DnD, Amber, “Diceless done right”, Sorcerer, and Heroquest. Kinda-sorta a full game of Mountain Witch, though I’d like to do it again, and I’ve done single sessions of many of the other games, but never had a chance to play things all the way through to realization.
My personal list also includes the desire to play a full season of Primetime Adventures until the damned system makes sense to me without hours of talking about it, and Burning Wheel, because I actually like crunchy stuff.
I also love Jason’s version of the list:

  • A game that isn’t supposed to be, but becomes a roleplaying game anyway (Bang, Catan, Are you a Werewolf?)
  • An homebrew/heartbreaker, played with the creator, who is the only who really knows all the rules.
  • A stupid-long marathon session (I remembered the THREE-DAY DnD session in college with great, great fondness.)
  • A session that becomes part of your social group’s vernacular forever (Dave G’s “I got this…” might make that list…)
  • A game that challenges everyone’s boundaries in a meaningful way
  • The first game you ever played, played again in a new light (I still have that original pink-box DnD set in my closet, if anyone’s game…)

Solitude: Strangely familiar

Penny Arcade writes about our current gaming schedule.
It’s a fact of the Holiday Season that gaming schedules take a kick in the junk (though I don’t have the heart to go back and look at how many game sessions I actually played in 2008, they way I did for 2007 — it would be sad), but it still gets to me a bit.
I have a plan in the back of my head to set up a weekly “indie game” on Wednesday nights, once we’re into the new year. The benefits are that weekend plans won’t get in the way, and that the limited amount of play time will force us to focus. The downside being a limited amount of play time, but even that I’m not sure about. I’m excited about this idea. Thinking about maybe 3 people with the option to bring in 1 or 2 additional people for specific games.

The one where he does a podcast

This is the first of two podcasts I recorded with Tim, about bringing Indie kung-fu to a DnD game.
My favorite quote: with DnD games, you can kinda just show up and roll dice. I’m not saying that every time you play an Indie game you have to bring your “A” game, but you do have to bring A GAME — some kind of willingness to contribute.
Also contains: shout outs to Kate, my old DnD and Amber games, lots of different story game references, multiple A-Team references, and Indie Games as Hacky-sack.

Driving away your players

So, there’s a bunch of stuff going on in WoW right now – the normal Halloween event, plus a bunch of stuff having to do with the upcoming release of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion. There are neat attacks on major capitol cities — undead hordes dropping out of FLYING CITADELS, cool bosses to fight and gear to get… and just a lot of neat stuff.

And… in the limited amount of time I’ve had to play this weekend, I haven’t gone anywhere near WoW. Warhammer, yes. LotRO, sure. WoW? No.
The reason way can be pretty accurately summed up by John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Dickwad Theory, and the current Zombie Plague that’s spreading throughout the World… of Warcraft.

Basically, that part of the ongoing ‘lore event’ is ruining the fun I have in the game. Specifically, the extent to which people can use the event to screw with other players and the lack of safeguards against it.

  1. To give the situation some context, I should explain how the event works:
    People can become infected with the Scourge plague. This is done when a player kills an infected roach, opens some infected crates, or is the subject of infection by either player-controlled or NPC zombies.

  2. The infection is applied as a disease. When the disease runs its course (which took 10 minutes, then five, and finally – this weekend – only 1 minute), or when a player dies while infected, the player turns into a zombie.
  3. As a zombie, a player retains his or her level and can attack other players of either faction, whether they are flagged for PvP or not.
  4. NPC’s can be infected and become zombies, as well, which means you can infect, zombify, and kill … oh, Auction House NPCs… or the Flight Point NPCs… or the Bank NPCs… or any of the thousands of NPCs who hand out quests.
  5. There are NPC “Healers of the Argent Crusade” who can cleanse people of the infection and who will attack these zombies, which means they will probably get infected, zombify, and die.
  6. High level players with any sort of disease cleansing capabilities (3 of the classes, none of which I play) can also remove it, though it has a high resistance rate.
  7. City Guards can attack zombies, which means they will get infected, zombify, and start attacking other people.

This seems an okay situation on the surface. NPC healers were meant to serve as the defense against the early version of the plague. However, it is important to note the various conditions changed the event into one of the worst experiences WoW has offered:

  1. The argent healers are only stationed in major cities at important hubs: banks, auction houses, flight points, and entrances to various areas. They are not stationed in towns outside of the capital cities… in other words, in 99% of the world.
  2. Guards in most lower-level towns are too low in level to even hit, let alone put a dent in, the high level player zombies. At best, they can daze the zombie and prevent them from reaching a low-level player who has managed to run away.
  3. Low-level players cannot themselves put a dent in the player zombies that are much higher in level than them, due to the level difference.
  4. Given the opportunity, most people are dicks (see Internet Dickwad Theory).
  5. My high-level guys can get around alright with flying mounts, but … well, we can’t run quests anywhere near populated areas, because we’re either getting attacked by player-run zombies, running back to a healer to get cleansed of the plaque, or we can’t actually GET a quest or turn it in, cuz the guy we need to talk to is wandering around and moaning about Brraaaaaaains.
  6. My low level guys can’t do anything. If they so much as log on, some level 70 player-run zombie will kill them.

So… when I had a chance to log in this weekend, did I log on one of my WoW 70s (who both have stuff I’d really like to accomplish before Wrath comes out in mid-November) or my WoW alts?

Nnnnnno. I’ll play another game. I have a character to level in LotRO. I’m still trying out all the character options in Warhammer. (I’m one of those apparently rare people who got the “dual-wield MMOs” talent.)

Hell, for that matter, I have blogs to read, books to read, an election to volunteer for, a Lexicon to write entries for, and pretty soon NaNoWriMo.

I have lots of things clamoring for my attention every day and World of Warcraft — which often calls out to me with the most seductive voice in the crowd — has handed it’s Blizzard-branded megaphone to a bunch of asshats. Heck, even if the event were running as intended it would regularly and routinely interfere with the game that I’m paying to play; so much so that I choose not to play that game.
Which I’m pretty sure was not the goal they were shooting for.

Warhammer: Age of Reckoning — Evolution, not Revolution

Well, I have the game and I’ve checked it out. I haven’t had a chance to play that much (several trips home and some LotRO gaming have got in the way), nor have I read up on some of the nuances of the game… I understand what’s going on, but in some places I’m not 100% sure WHY it’s going on.
But still, I’m going to talk about it a bit.
How’s it feel?
In terms of it as an MMO, it’s a good solid game. I haven’t run into any major bugs of any kind, and the gameplay is pretty intuitive. Basically it’s going to feel very familiar to WoW or LotRO players, although there are a few more screens available in WAR, so there’s more keybinds. I don’t know why they mapped so many things to the same keys, and then chose to map just a few things to wrong different keys (I’m looking at you, mister “P for the Character Pane”), but that’s easily fixed stuff.
In terms of the game as an expression of the Warhammer Intellectual Property (IP), it’s also pretty darn good. The game feels a little more like Warhammer Fantasy Battles than it does the Warhammer Fantasy RPG (or at least the Warhammer FRPG in my head), but that’s fine — the Fantasy Battles game has contributed a lot more to the IP than the RPG has over the years. The forces of Chaos feel appropriately alien and nasty… the Greenskins are nasty, brutish, and (mostly) short… and the Empire is note-perfect. (Can’t talk about the dwarves or elves yet, as I mostly haven’t played them.)
The graphics are somewhere between WoW and LotRO in terms of tone, and not-quite LotRO in terms of quality. Everything LOOKS very Warhammer, though.
You can dye your armor and equipment right off the bat, and… get this… all the dye colors are the color names from the Official Games Workshop lines of miniature paints.
Speaking of custom looks, let’s talk about…
Character Creation
Okay, so each of the two factions in the game (Order and Destruction) have three representative races. Order has Dwarves, High Elves, and Humans. Destruction has Greenskins (orcs and goblins), Dark Elves, and Chaos (basically humans in service to otherworldly gods of corruption and decay).
You pick a server, then a faction and race within that faction first. Know that you can’t have characters from both factions on the same server, but you can make other-faction character on some other server.
So you’ve picked your race, and now you pick your career. Each race has either three or four careers to choose from. Don’t worry too much about balance here, because what it boils down to is that each faction has a total of 10 classes, and each class has a almost-direct counterpart in the other Faction.
Let’s see if I can remember the classes:

Classes Races Role Note
Chosen/Ironguard Chaos/Dwarf Tank Uses toggle-on auras
Runepriest/Zealot Dwarf/Chaos Pure Healer Lots of buffs
Squig Herder/Shadowhunter Greenskin/High Elf Skirmisher (ranged, mobile, with some melee ability Squig herders have a pet, the elf doesn’t
Marauder/White Lion Chaos/High Elf Melee DPS White Lion has a pet, while the Marauder has mutating limbs
Shaman/High Mage Greenskin/High Elf Healer + Ranged DPS Casting one type of spell builds up buffs to the opposite kind.
Warrior Priest/Disciple of Khaine Human/Dark Elf Healer + melee dps Fills their ‘mana’ pool back up by beating on things.
Sorceress/Bright Wizard Dark Elf/Human Glass-cannon Ranged DPS They build up power that they can expel in big blasts… or potentially blow themselves up.
Witch Hunter/Witch Elf Human/Dark Elf Somewhat squishy melee DPS Chained combinations of skills make their target go splat.
Engineer/[Something In Chaos] Dwarf/Chaos Ranged DPS with stationary ‘pets’. Pretty squishy.
Black Orc/Swordmaster Greenskins/High Elves Tanks ‘Decent’ attacks open up ‘better’ attacks when they hit, which in turn open up ‘great’ attacks when they hit, then the escalation starts over.

I think that’s most of them.
The main thing to note here is that the basic Faction vs. Faction are:

  • Chaos vs. the Empire (humans)
  • Dark Elves vs. High Elves
  • Greenskins vs. Dwarves

… and that none of the racial careers have their direct counterpart in the faction they will fight the MOST. For instance, if you play a Chosen (chaos tank), your direct counterpart in Order is a dwarven Ironguard. Now, maybe you’ll run into one because a dwarf has run over to this Empire allies to help them out, but TYPICALLY, you won’t see an enemy who has mostly all the same tricks that you do.
Also notably, each class pairing has some kind of special mechanic that doesn’t work like any other class pairing. That really makes each class in your faction unique and cool — you might really like playing one kind of career, but not like another, and that really makes sense here — they do NOT play the same way, and it’s a MUCH more profound difference than say, a Scrapper and Tank in CoH, or a Hunter and Guardian in LotRO. (Yes, a guardian and hunter do very different jobs in the game, but their MECHANICS are basically the same… that is not the case in WAR.)
Finally, you figure out how your character is going to look. The level of character customization is right around the same as Lord of the Rings and WELL past the customization in WoW. (Obviously it’s far below CoH and CoV — that’s just the nature of the game — that level of customization would be totally pointless in any genre in which ‘found loot’ is relevant.)
One thing I think is interesting here is that each of the CLASSES actually has its own set of looks to combine and play with — you and your buddy might both make humans of the Empire, but if you make a Warrior Priest and he makes a Bright Mage, it is completely impossible to make those two characters look the same. Forget the default clothing: what I mean is that the hairstyle options, facial forms, tattoos, scars, accessories, and even in the body shape is going to be different between those two classes, despite being the same race. You can pick out a fire Bright Wizard from 100 yards away, even if he’s just standing there.
Put another way, in LotRO or WoW, if you make a dwarf warrior and a dwarf spell caster, and you pick all the same “look” settings for both, they will look identical to each other if they’re standing there in their skivvies. In WAR, they won’t even be close.
What you’re doing
There’s about four different activities you can do for leveling in WAR.
PvE Quests
These are your basic solo missions and quest chains that lead to the rare team-required quests with nice rewards. The stories here are pretty good, and the the way they show you where to go on the map to perform the quest is GENIUS, but the basics of the questing is nothing new here. (One nice thing? You never kill a boar and find out it doesn’t have a tusk that you need.)
Public Quests
Let’s see if I can explain this in terms of City of Heroes.
You know those Rikti Invasion fights? Or really any of the CoH special events, like snow men or the hoodlums burning down buildings?
Okay, let’s say those things could happen at any time — that they were keyed to certain locations and tended to happen both randomly and/or when a lot of people were around. Sounds pretty much like the events in CoH.
Now, let’s say that when you walked into an area where one was happening, you saw a message like “The Rikti Are Attacking!” and you got a Public Quest temporarily assigned to you, like “Stage One: Stop the Scouts!” You could ignore it if you wanted to, and keep doing your thing, or just leave, or you could jump in and help.
If you help, and the people ‘in’ the Public Quest successfully did whatever it was they needed to do, everyone got quest completion XP, divided by total participants (with a bonus for being part of a group instead of solo). Repeat for several “Stages”, and then there’s an End Boss who shows up.
After you beat the end boss, a chest drops, and everyone gets a turn at picking one thing out of the chest… first pick goes to the person who contributed most to the entire Public Quest, and on down from there. Some of the loot is really quite good.
That’s a public quest, and they’re ALL OVER THE PLACE in Warhammer. War is, indeed, everywhere.
PvP Scenarios
Every zone in the game as a PvP scenario associated for it. You can ‘queue’ up to participate in these things — tactically important areas in the region — and continue to work on whatever it is you’re doing. When there are enough people on BOTH sides queued up to do the thing, a big battle horn sounds and off you all ‘muster’ to the battle area (or not: you can chose to just not go when it’s time, if you’re busy). You can get xp from this, and in addition your character actually has a ‘PvP level’ that can advance, as well as a ‘normal’ character level, and those two don’t have to be kept even. They’re fun, they’re short, and the rewards are, again, pretty nice.
When you’re done, the game pops you right back to wherever you were before the Scenario, and you can keep doing what you were doing (even queueing back up for the next one).
Oh, and the Scenario System auto-levels you to a ‘competetive’ level for the Scenario, if you’re a little level 2 guy trying to play in a “levels 1 to 11” scenario; so in that way, WAR even uses a genre-useful kind of CoH’s Sidekicking.
You’re basic closed-instance adventures, with maximum group sizes ranging from six to 24. Again, these are nasty, brutish, short, and filled with some nice gear.
How you’re keeping track of it
Every character has a Tome of Knowledge. Think of the Tome as a combination of CoH Badge-tracker, Quest log, collection of game fiction on all the important people you’ve seen, monsters you’ve faced, pictures of places you’ve been, and a source of new quests.
What’s that? Accomplishment-borne quests? Yeah, it is pretty cool: say you’ve been fighting chaos beastmen for awhile. While fighting them, you end up killing, like, your fiftieth one
– In WoW, nothing notable happens.
– In CoH, you’d get a Badge. (“Bane of Beastmen”)
– In LotRO, you probably get a title (“Bane of Beastmen”), plus it opens up a similar ‘advanced’ challenge to work on (“Kill 150 MORE and you’ll get a bonus to your Determination Trait.”)
– In WAR, you get a title (“Bane of Beastmen”), plus it opens up a similar ‘advanced’ challenge to work on, and there’s a chance that (a) you’ll immediately get a quest to go talk to Someone Important (b) you earn a new minor ability (“Bonus to killing Beastmen!”) (c) you get some special piece of gear.
Basically, the Tome is a combination of every kind of Character Accomplishment Tracker in every MMO I’ve ever seen, with whipped cream and sprinkles on top. Take Note: Regardless of how well WAR does, this is going to be a game aspect that players will expect in all their MMO play from now on.
Is it the end-all-be-all of MMO gaming? Nope. But it’s a good game that takes the current state-of-play from a lot of good or successful games, and improves or adapts it to make their game better.
Is it my next 2-year game? I don’t know, but I’m definitely going to play it for more than the first free month. (I’m looking at you, Tabula Rasa & Age of Conan.)

Opting out of the Race

Over on Waaaaagh, they’re talking about “The Race.”

The Race is my pet term for the phenomena that happens at the beginning of any MMO launch, where players rush in the gates, then feel the compulsive need to flat-out sprint toward the end game out of fear of getting left behind. Left behind what? This isn’t the rapture, it’s a video game. Some yahoo is going to hit rank 40 in about 110 hours of non-stop, red-eyed gaming and be a minor game celebrity for six seconds. I’m not quite sure what Mr. Yahoo thinks, but I can assure him that women are not going to be throwing ovulated girlie parts at his feet because they want his awesome genetic legacy to live on. He’s just the first of several folk who think that the game “hasn’t really started” until they hit the highest peak.
So obviously nobody’s going to keep up with that, apart from a few insane hardcore guilds and their incredibly angry spouses. But there is this unsaid, palpable fear of getting left behind the main pack in those first few weeks, especially your guildies and friends who you want to team with.

(Emphasis mine.)
Like the original poster, I confess that I do have a certain amount of drive to get to the ‘top’ of the game, if for no other reason than the fact that I hate like hell to be the guy who can’t come along and play with my friends when they all want to run a new event and I’m not tall enough to ride the ride. I’ve experienced that to a small degree on WoW (not a lot, actually, since I wasn’t really IN a guild until after Grezzk hit 70), and a lot more on LotRO (where it seemed that someone was always organizing a group-event centered around a zone I wasn’t high enough level to survive).
((Dutiful props, here, to CoX and it’s Sidekick mechanism.))
With that said, I’m not really sweating this for the release of WAR. As much as I’d like to get into the game and go a little crazy, there are reasons I’m not (even though I did qualify for the early-bird week of play):

  1. Technical difficulties. It took ages to download the 9 gig client, and once I had it, the .zip was corrupt. Consequently, I need to wait for the actual install disks to arrive, and they didn’t ship til Wednesday. No head-start for me.
  2. AFK. The head start was last weekend. I was out of town. The “real” start is tomorrow. I’m going to be out of town (for the same depressing reason). 😛
  3. Other gaming stuff to do. Yes, I want to play WAR, but I also have stuff I want to accomplish in WoW and LotRO before THEIR next releases hit the shelves. I maintain that one of the best ways to balance one’s time in a game is to play more than one game. “Drugs are my antidrug”? Maybe, but it works. Tabletop games would work well here as well, but they simply aren’t as reliable for me at this point.
  4. Other stuff to do in general. Home improvements. TV and movies to watch with Kate. Kaylee-things. Writing. Reading. Just stuff.
  5. One must wait for the giants to grow up before one stands on their shoulders. Frankly, I’m lazy — I don’t like paying fifteen bucks a month to wander around fucking LOST for two hours while I try to find the little widget-thing that I need for a quest. If I wanted to get turned around and travel back and forth over the same area for an hour looking for something I KNOW should be RIGHT THERE, I’d drive downtown. Waiting a few weeks to get started and taking my time once I get in means that when I DO get into the game, there will be a number of lovely guides to tell me how-to and what-to and when-to and why.

So am I looking forward to WAR?
Absolutely. I want to play EVERYTHING.
But it will all still be there in a few days.
((And frankly, I’m going to kick ass no matter when I start. 🙂 ))

Goals, with Deadlines looming

So, the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for World of Warcraft is coming out November 13th – a bit less than 2 months. With it comes another 10 levels added to the level cap, and something like 10 new zones and stuff to do. Siege warfare, with big weapons. Et cetera.
Hot on its heels, Lord of the Rings Online is releasing it’s first expansion, The Mines of Moria, on november 18th. That expansion also adds 10 levels to the level-cap, a ton of new areas to explore, and a metric ton of new content for the ‘other’ heroes of Middle-Earth — things that, per usual, surround the events of the second ‘book’ of the Fellowship of the Ring, without directly focusing that.
So. Two Months left before the current content in both games becomes… well, not obsolete, but merely a bump in the road that leads to the new end-game.
Two months to tie up some loose ends. What loose ends? Well, let’s look at a list or two:

  • Titles for your character in WoW (unlike most games) are INCREDIBLY rare and hard to come by. Grezzk needs to run two more “hardcore-difficulty” dungeons and defeat one of the easier 25-man raid bosses to become a “Champion of the Naruu”. I would dearly, dearly like to do that.
  • Grezzk is also capable of improving his reputation with the “Netherwing Dragons” faction to the point where one of the Dragons actually volunteers to be his mount. This is an entirely soloable effort, and simply requires that I put in the time necessary to do the daily Netherwing quests for a couple weeks… and then I’d have a FLYING DRAGON to ride around on.
  • I’d really like to get enough gold together to get the maxed-out riding skill for Syncerus, which would then let me start/finish the questline that would give him the ‘epic’ druid flight-form. This requires more than a little grinding of daily quests — about the same amount as what I need to do on Grezzk to get the dragon. With that said, there’s no reason I can’t do this particular goal AFTER Wrath comes out.
  • There’s no gear or anything I really need for either of my main characters — Grezzk is pretty much geared to the nines until he’s close to level 80, and Syn’s stuff will be replaced relatively quickly by questing in the new zones.


  • Finish the Books. There are epic questlines in LotRO called ‘books.’ Basically, these are the story arcs in the game that specifically hover around the storyline of the actually Fellowship of the Ring story, either directly or obliquely… regardless, they bring you in contact with the main characters of the books a lot. There were eight “Book” story arcs in the basic LotRO release (with books 7 and 8 pretty much aimed at level 50 characters), and since then they have released… six more Books, all designed for level 50 characters. Kate and I have finished books 1 to 8 on our main characters, and we want to finish the other six books before the expansion comes out. If we I don’t manage to do anything else before Mines of Moria comes out, I’ll be quite happy.
  • Kill that Balrog. I’ve written about him before. We’re close to figuring out how to beat him, and I’d like to do that before the level cap rises and he’s not as much of a challenge.
  • Again, I don’t really have any gear I feel I must have before the expansion comes out. What I have now is working for me really well, and will no doubt be replaced as we venture ever closer to Mordor.
  • Just for Kate, I’ll add that we need to get her character’s reputation with one of the factions up high enough for her to actually make use of a very nice item that she accidentally bought LONG before she has high enough rep to USE it.
  • I’d like to get one more character to 50 before MoM comes out. I don’t know if that will happen, but I think it will for Kate, especially if she works on Tirathien while I’m doing my dailies in WoW.

Finally, I’ll note that I really only have about a month and a half to do this, not two months, because NaNoWriMo starts November 1st, and MIGHT cut into my play time a bit…

I swear, it’s not me.

Once again, while I was out of town, the WoW guild my main character was a part of disbanded.
Said guild was the one true Horde ‘end game’ raiding guild on Farstriders – a ‘low-pop’ server that I transferred to a year ago when it was first brought online. It was a very successful guild for the player base — in the time I’ve been with them we’ve fought and defeated some stuff in the game that I NEVER thought I would see before the next expansion came out. I can’t say I was really friends with any of the guys in the guild, but I respected the leadership — they were good guys.
And now, just before the expansion comes out and everyone starts their big push to the new level cap and into the new content… I’m at loose ends again. This makes GoH the third guild that’s disbanded while I was afk.
I moved my second-alt to another server about a month ago — due to other stuff going on in my life, I haven’t spent a ton of time with those guys, but they seem pretty cool, and Cenarion Circle is a pretty high-population server with a robust player base… maybe I’ll go there.
Then again, they just made it possible to transfer your characters from PvE to PvP realms, so I *could* move Grezzk to the PvP server that I know people on… or the one that Lee has some active characters on…
I’m definitely going to move servers, I think. I know that much. I just dunno where. I’d really like to get into a group that will have a good time leveling up and ‘learning’ the new expansion.
I’ll try to leave my guild-killing-karma on Farstriders. 😛

Fixing Tank classes in MMO PvP

Tanking classes (if they’re build to be good tanks in NON-pvp) suck in PvP situations. They don’t do enough damage to take guys down, and all their cool tanking abilities don’t do squat.
In PvE: You can taunt a bad guy, forcing it to attack you, so that other people in your group can do their job while you soak all the big nasty hits.
In PvP: Your taunts have zero effect, and any opponent with half a brain will attack the wimpy little mage that does BIG damage first, then come back and whittle through your health at their leisure.
((Note: you can reconfigure a tanking class to do very good damage… at which point their ability to tank starts to suffer.))
Warhammer has come up with an elegant solution that’s vaguely like DnD 4th edition: in PvP, if you taunt an opponent, they can still attack whoever they want, but *if* they attack someone else, they do less damage and their chance of missing is higher. This gives your opponent a choice: take out the tank to get rid of the penalty, or try to take out the squishy mage anyway… even with the penalty, knowing you’ll miss more and won’t hit as hard?
Either way, you as the tank are still doing your job — protecting the group.
I think it’s a genius way of handling it, and I really hope that this kind of idea finds its way into games like LotRO, WoW, and CoH.

End-Game play in an MMO

I played CoH for a couple years. I think it’s fair to say I played the game a stunningly unhealthy amount quite a bit, but I did hit a point with every character when I became less interested in logging them in and more interested in playing some other character. It is perhaps not a coincidence that that point of disinterest came not-so-long after the character hit the level cap.
That’s not a fault of the characters — they were (and no doubt are, if I ever renewed the subscription) still a lot of fun to play, but there was nothing new or interesting to do — no real sense of “okay, you are now among Earth’s Mightiest Heroes ™, now you’re ready for the important stuff.” It was much more like “well, you’ve beat everything the villains of this world can throw at you. Time to retire.”
Which is basically what I did. Honestly? The only characters from CoH that I wish I could go back and play some more are Pummelcite and Mister Brightside… because I didn’t “finish” them. More than any other MMO I’ve played, CoH has an end-state more than it has an end-game.
((And please don’t get me wrong – I think it’s a great game, but it is possible to be ‘done’ with it, or at least with a character. As evidence, I present the Consortium; they still play the game regularly, but their exploits are (near as I can tell) entirely involved in leveling up new guys; there’s simply no reason for them to log in Amorpha or Psi-clone or even their more recent 50s.))
Anyway. Moving on.
When I started playing World of Warcraft, I was in a different mental place than I had been when I started CoH, and I was a lot more careful of how much time I spent playing (though perhaps no more careful about how much time I spent thinking about it); although leveling is much easier in WoW than CoH, it was about 9 months before I hit the level cap with my first character (Grezzk). My total /played time on him was a whopping 23 days worth of online time, when the average amount of time to hit the level cap now is closer to half that time.
The difference between WoW and CoH is that, since then, I’ve more than doubled my /played time on Grezzk. That is to say that I’ve spent more time playing Grez AT 70 than I spent getting Grezzk TO 70. And it’s fair to say that I’m nowhere near ‘done’ with everything I could do with him in the end-game of WoW as it exists today (though perhaps I’m done with everything I can do on the server I’m on). I’m getting close, but I’m not done. (And an expansion is coming out in a few months to give me even more to do.)
I had thought that maybe WoW had the corner on this end-game thing. I enjoyed playing Lord of the Rings Online with Kate, but I was struggling with the leveling grind in the mid-40s.
Then we hit 50.
I’ve been on LotRO for a least a couple minutes (almost) every day since then, I think. There are 7 “epic” storylines to get through, and a bunch of dungeons to explore…
And then there’s the Rift (a 12-player dungeon — a mine in Angmar where they accidentally (or not) unearthed a Balrog that was supposed to stay chained up til the end of days). And this “Rift” thing? If I wanted to do that, there was some gear I needed*, and some old quests to finish up…
In short, there was an End-game. We could finally play with the Big Kids. We were, indeed, among (middle-)earth’s mightiest heroes, and ready for the Greatest Challenges, and we’ve really been enjoying how the game has changed; an already rich and rewarding world opened up and said “You thought raiding Fornost was cool? You thought fighting one of the Nine in the Misty Mountains was epic? Take. A. Look. At. This.”
And look, we have. By my calculations, it took us about 12 days worth of /played time (spread out over more than a year) to get to level 50. That was two weeks ago, and in only that time, we’ve already spent about a sixth as much time just playing the end-game… advancing the Epic Storyline… figuring out how we’re going to Beat that Balrog. **
Frankly (and in stark contrast to CoH), I don’t have TIME to level an alt.
And in a few months, an expansion comes out to coincide with the Fellowship traveling out of Rivendell and heading (unknowingly) into the Mines of Moria.
I can’t wait.
(* – actually, it turns out my gear was just fine.)
(** – Funny story about the Rift. Our Kinship has been working on defeating the Rift for awhile now — they schedule a run every couple weekends. Kate and I signed up the first weekend after we turned 50, since it looked like they were short on players and, since they were short on players, we were brought along… expectations for our performance were not, I think, very high. Since then, we’ve gone back a second time. We’ve gotten farther as a Kinship than we ever have, and faster than we ever have. Our vets attribute a lot of this to us (me and Kate). Kate and I informed the Kin that we couldn’t be online this weekend or the next… and they called off the Rift runs until we get back. It’s gratifying to feel wanted.)

d20 update (and a bit of a rant at the end)

I feel weird using ‘d20’ to refer to a game of Dungeons and Dragons 4.0, as the game is fundamentally different than the versatile-but-expensive set of lego bricks that made up the 3.5, 3.0, and d20 systems of old.
But anyway.
We played a little more of the Keep on the Shadowfells on Saturday, and by ‘a little bit’ I mean ‘just that one fight that notoriously kills entire parties, followed by some handwaving in the direction of roleplay’.
Man that’s a vicious fight. I’m only playing with one house rule to the 4.0 system, and it is this: “You can trade in Healing Surges for Action Points on a 1:1 basis, and use the resulting action points as indicated within the rules.”
If there a limit to one Action Point per encounter? If so, we ignored that one too. If not, and it’s just ‘on AP per round’, we were fine.
Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that without that little house rule most everyone would have died. (And don’t anyone blame the halfling wandering off, because the fight is tuned to five players, and you had five even not counting the halfling.) As it was, Irontooth dropped the Paladin and Warlord about a round before he himself fell, but some first aid rolls got them standing again.
A few thoughts on the system, scenario, and our general gameplay:

Continue reading “d20 update (and a bit of a rant at the end)”


ScreenShot00137.jpgThere’s Tiranor and Geiri, deep in the frozen lands of Forochel, about 30 seconds before we both hit level 50 (the current level-cap in Lord of the Rings online).
I don’t know if there’s a way to see the total amount of time /played on a character from within Lord of the Rings, but I don’t think it was a whole heck of a lot; it’s been a long time since we started playing them, but our play time has been VERY off-and-on since we started, and almost every serious bout of playing resulted in a flurry of leveling and advancing. To illustrate the ease of progression, Kate is now playing a solo minstrel and TEARING through content that took us several months to get through, since we simply weren’t playing as often.
So what’s next? Well, once you hit 50, there are a number (and that number is about six) of Legendary quests for each character class, so we each have our work cut out for us to go from a ‘baby’ 50 to a ‘real’ 50.
Also, there are fourteen ‘books’ of epic story in LotRO, and we’re currently on… Book Seven? Books 8 through 14 are all geared for level 50s, so we have a LOT to do and experience there before the Mines of Moria expansion comes out later this year.
… and I need to improve my crafting of Rings of Power! useful trinkets and magical jewelry. Diamonds and Beryls and Ancient Silver, oh my…
And I have some fishing to do… what?
And… yeah, I’ve got two (if not three) other characters I’d like to level up. Tyelaf my hunter (and the first actual character I made), my Captain, Finnras… and man I tell you what… Kate’s Minstrel sure looks cool…
She needs some help leveling, though… that girl has to “retreat” a LOT.

Drama Llama: Level ?? Boss

I have this annoying little thing I do whenever anyone is telling me about some kind of personality conflict going on in the world.

Doesn’t matter if it’s Margie talking about stuff at work, Kate relaying the woes of multiple-sisterhood, Dave on the latest Episcopalian Brouhaha (a pairing of words so common I feel like it should get a trademark stamp), or Stan relaying the latest in politics —

I nod my head sagely and say: “Yeah… guild drama is the worst.”

Because, let’s face it; humanity thrives on interaction, and we’re all flawed in various ways, and the internet exacerbates those flaws — so as often as you’re likely to come into conflict when face to face, the chances quintuple as soon as the internet is added to the mix.

And what are MMO guilds? Big social constructs whose main product is an increase in Interneteraction.

Result? You will see interpersonal drama fifty times more online than in all other social gatherings, combined, and with that kind of weighting and repetition, it isn’t long before every OTHER kind of drama starts to look like something you’ve already seen online.

I spend a fair amount of time online. I’ve witnessed (and caused) my share of drama, going back as far as… 1991, when a friend and I nearly came to blows over some argument in a text based Star Wars mmo… and as recently as… well, last night.

I don’t like drama. I especially don’t like the effect it sometimes has on me, which is frustration that puts the Enter key on my keyboard at serious risk of mechanical failure.

So here’s the deal – I’m in a guild now that I don’t feel a lot of connection to. Decent enough people, but I just don’t feel like I know any of them. I already talked about this:

I’m acquainted with these guys, like people at my job, and they’re cool, but they aren’t my friends; not the way that Dismember or Yodi or Izmut were — or Mal or Sam or 76 were — or even Crystal and Staer.

Added to that was this thing where the guild had posted a need for some healing druids. I leveled a druid up, practiced healing, got geared up at no small expense (in-game) solely to myself, and told them “Okay… I’m ready! Put me in Coach”, and got back the empty sound of Nothing in return.

Right. No personal connection in what is an ostensibly SOCIAL passtime, and a lot of effort going to waste? Time to look for better options.

I’m on a smaller server, though, so I knew I’d have to look to other servers to find another option. In my poking around, I found a guild that not only seemed like a lot of fun, but which actually had a couple of my old friends in it — including the one guy I’ve really gotten along with this whole time.

And I posted to their forums, and the responses from the other guys in his guild were… well, it just clicked. I started making arrangements.

Last night, we have a raid going on, and beforehand I go to the head guy and tell him “damn, you just don’t seem interested in using this guy I’ve worked on. What’s up?”

There followed a conversation about the guild’s concern about me bringing my ‘alt’ and getting gear that someone’s ‘main’ might need. I assured him that I had no intention of asking for any gear beyond what would otherwise go completely unused — I just wanted to help the group out. Whatever.

((And honestly? I’m really not that worried about it at this point, because I’m thinking “I’m probably going to at LEAST transfer Syn to another server, if not both characters.” I just wanted to voice my thoughts.))

He said we’d talk later, and we got the group going, and not long after that, I get a /tell that says “Get Syn on, you’re healing this.”)

To quote Matt: “WTF, over?”

So I healed my first big raid (Serpent Shrine Cavern, facing the Lurker Below and Leotheras the Blind). It was fun. I learned alot (and the healing-boss-person said I was “Doing GREAT”, so that’s cool).

And on the last boss, two identical items dropped that I could use.

And someone in the group says “I’ll take one, in case I respec to healing.” (He is currently specced for damage.)

And there’s silence. One main said something, but there are two of these things.

So I say “Well, I’m in for one of em, if no one else needs em, for this guy.” Who is, as has been stated, an Alt character, and thus pretty much the crappy muck surrounding the bottom of the totem pole.

And just as I’m typing that out and hitting Enter, someone else says “I’ll take one too, in case I respec to healing.”

Ahh. Oh well. C’est la WoW. Right?

And someone quickly says in Ventrillo “You can’t get those if a Main needs em, Grez!”

Hmm. Bit over-emotional in the tone, there, but okay. Easy to diffuse.

“Yeah,” I say, “it’s totally f–”

“Why not?” someone asks.

“Guys,” I say, “I just came to play, it’s totally -”

“It in the loot rules.”

“Well, that’s kinda dumb, he healed it, didn’t he? Those are healer items.”

“It’s in the –”

“GUYS,” I say, “Seriously. I didn’t see the second person before I typed it. My bad. Don’t worry abo–”

Guild Boss Guy: “We’re going to give the second drop to Grezzk.”

Oh. Shit.

Right. The best kind of game drama. Loot drama. (And don’t shake your heads at this online foolishness, tabletop players — the same damn thing happens in tabletops all the damn time, even in games without gear.)

So now I’m in a pickle, kids.

1. I was all ‘even steven’ with the guild until last night — my time invested in raids perfectly ‘paid’ for the loot I’d gotten (you can go in the hole for items that drop and sort of pay it back later, though it would take some guys like… five months to do so). Now, I am not.

2. No one was ‘using’ Syn in raids. Now they are.

3. I got the gear, and I quote, “Because Syn getting it will be the best benefit to the guild in the long term.”

… so… how the hell do I transfer to another server NOW?

Unfortunately, while the raid was nice and all, I’m still stuck with this:

4. I don’t know anyone in the guild, really, or feel like there’s any sort of connection.

And that #4 is a problem. It’s a social game, chilluns; that’s why I *play*.

(A Side Note: is the concept of an “alt” vs. a “main” really… viable? I have two similarly-geared characters with completely different abilities, and I’m willing to bring either of them in, as needed. Am I, the player, not the character, the real asset to the group? Yes, obviously that is the case, if for NO OTHER REASON than the fact that the character’s can’t play themselves. Why not assign loot to the PLAYER who has the most ‘points’ to ‘buy’ the drop, and leave it at that?)

A few random thoughts

* No, no tabletop gaming thoughts at the moment. I’d have to be doing some of that to have any. (Or, if not, I’d be having a lot of Lonely Fun thinking about games I’d like to run but can’t. Thanks, but no: been there, done that.) Downsides there may be, but an MMO is (almost) always available for a game at the same time you are.
* There are… nine end-game ‘dungeons’ in WoW, two of which have been added since the expansion came out. My guild is working on the 7th. We’d like to hit the 8th before the new expansion comes out. Not likely.
* On the last two boss fights, I hit Sunwell (final dungeon)-level single-target DPS with Grezzk. Support for me swapping my ‘main’ from Grezzk to my barely-geared healing druid is… fading.
* You don’t get to know people in 25 man raids. To really get to know them, you need to run (and re-run) five-person and 10-person runs with folks — where you are the only person doing your job, and they are the only person doing THEIR job… it’s more personal. I’ve never gotten a chance to really run the smaller dungeons with my guild, having joined after my last guild melted, and it changes the dynamics of the game – I’m acquainted with these guys, like people at my job, and they’re cool, but they aren’t my friends; not the way that Dismember or Yodi or Izmut were — or Mal or Sam or 76 were — or even Crystal and Staer.
* I’m looking forward to Wrath of the Lich King (Rash of the Itch King) coming out, because we’ll all be leveling together and back to running 5 and 10-person dungeons again. I might get a chance to actually get to know the guys in my guild.
* Hopefully, I’ll still like em when I do.

Return to Karazhan

So I’ve been to Karazhan… umm… a bunch. A buncha bunch. However, that was:
a) On Grezzk. (Ranged damage)
b) With a different guild.
Now I’m going with my *new* guy, Syncerus, with an entirely different group of people, and it’s kind of all new to me — totally different set of challenges, because I’m (one of) the healer(s), rather than a tank or damage-dealer.
So I’m back to sort of analyzing performance and such, and it’s interesting to me, so you poor bastards get to read about it, too.
What’s Karazhan?
It’s a 10-person ‘raid’ dungeon. (For the CoH-centric, think taskforce, but all in one very large instanced mission with static (and very atmospheric) entrance location.) There are… 10 bosses (and one boss-like ‘event’) in the instance, and a LOT of ‘trash mob’ pulls to do between them. The whole thing takes about 4 hours to clear if you have what it takes to clear it, but that time can expand a lot or even decrease quite a bit, depending on the group.
It is, easily, my favorite group activity to do in the game. I love the atmosphere, the story, the instance itself, and the boss fights. Haunted castles are just goddamn cool.
Y’all know how I was ALWAYS down to do that one timed event out in Eden? What the hell was that called? The thing with the big Crystal Giant thing? The Eden Trial? GOD I loved that thing. (Crying shame I never got to do that on Pummelcite.)
Karazhan is my WoW “Eden Trial.”
So… how’d the second run go?
Really well. I didn’t get pimped out like I did last time, but I contributed a lot more.
Were the groups the same as last time?
Not at all.
Last time, we had one tank, four healers (as the most undergeared guy, I alternately healed or did damage, as the situation warranted), and five ranged damage dealers. No melee guys at all, besides the tank. VERY strange group.
(A typical group is 2 tanks (from 3 possible tanking classes), 2-3 healers (from four possible healing classes), and a mix of ranged and melee DPS (of which there are way too many options to count).)
This time, we had a somewhat more normal group: 2 tanks (though both were the same class, which is fairly unusual and not always desirable), 2 healers (usually, you see three unless both of the two are over-geared; we weren’t), and six DPS ranging from totally overgeared to secondary- or tertiary alts of main characters. I was one of the two healers, and my gear was roughly comparable to the other healers. My class excels at covering damage on the tanks, while his is fantastic at dealing with group-wide damage from AoEs and such — a pretty complimentary pairing, all in all.
We didn’t have a way to keep the tanks from getting feared, however, and we would MISS that ability in the long run.
How did you do, overall?

Once in a while, someone will compare healing a big group to playing whack-a-mole — you see damage hit someone, and you smack it with your healing spell. Maybe that’s accurate for your first few raids – before you figure out much, you might have no idea who was going to take damage next. This is probably why you see so many newbie healing reports showing an abundance of emergency healing (high mana cost for fast, big spells); the healers just aren’t experienced enough to not play a reactive game. But good healers know their fights and know their raid-mates well enough to start a cast before damage happens.

I went into the run with that in mind, trying to school myself to see beyond what was happening and start looking ahead to see what was going to happen. I’m not particularly good at this, because most of my ‘healing practice’ to this point has been in PvP battlegrounds, where most of the damage IS largely unpredictable… but I really feel like I was getting the hang of this during the run.
So how about Boss by Boss
Okay, sure…
((I was going to lay this out in a table, but I realized that I don’t really remember how to do that in anything but a Wiki anymore. Ahh well.))

Attumen the Huntsman, guardian of the gatehouse
What happened last time: I was melee dps, and I didn’t do very well at all.
What happened this time: This was the first boss and only about the fourth fight with this group, so things were a little bumpy, but we beat him handily. The hunter in the group (who plays a healing priest as her main) got a nice crossbow that I never saw once, playing Grezzk.

Moroes, senechal of the keep and master of the haunted banquet hall.
What happened last time: I was melee dps, and I didn’t do very well. Moroes garrotted me in the middle of the fight, and I died from the ‘ticking’ bleed damage before the fight ended.
What happened this time: I think I died once while we were clearing out the trash mobs before the main fight — it rather stunned the tanks — but the fight went well. Moroes vanishes periodically throughout the fight, reappears beside a random member of the group, garrotes them, then runs back over to the tank. The ‘garrote’ is a constant bleeding effect that will kill the character quickly if not seen too, so on top of healing the two tanks (he keeps blinding one of them, so you need two), you have to keep heals going on an ever-growing number of garroted team mates (often, you’re one of them).
Oh, and he has four friends you have to either kill or crowd control while you’re beating on him, so group-wide damage is happening a lot.
No one died (except me, from bleeding, seconds from the end of the fight). I was happy. Also, he dropped a really nice item for tanking, and no one else wanted it, so it took it for my ‘tank set’ of gear, for times when I need to respec. My tanking set is now reasonably strong.

The Maiden of Virtue, titan of a long lost age
What happened last time: I was melee for this fight, and actually did pretty well.
What happened this time: This fight was annoying. One of the two paladin tanks was on ‘heal the healers’ duty for this fight, cuz Maiden likes to smack the hell out of the healers, and… well, I don’t know what they were doing, but it wasn’t healing me. I died quickly and watched most of the fight from the floor. She dropped a very nice healing item, though, which I got, so it was hard to complain.

The Opera: Little Red Riding Hood
What happened last time: I chased the big bad wolf around and clawed at his backside.
What happened this time: I healed the tank and whoever the wolf was chasing. (Every 30 seconds, he turns someone into a little gnome girl with a red cloak and chases ‘her’ around the room. Healing them is a bit of a challenge, as they’re running around and behind stage sets and breaking my line of sight. One guy died, but in my defense, he always dies. One of the tanks died, but I rezzed him mid fight (a druid-only ability).
I got Little Red Riding Hood’s cloak, which is quite a decent healing cloak for healer/spellcaster, and actually toughens me up a bit into the bargain.

Nightbane, the undead dragon wreathed in fire (Attempt One)
What happened last time: We died repeatedly, even with four healers on the tank, and finally decided to give up and come back and kick his ass later. He’s probably the toughest fight in the whole run.
What happened this time: We died repeatedly, even with two tanks, mostly because he fear-bombs the groups and we didn’t have any way to keep our tanks from running all over like chicken little and getting dragon-chomped in their unprotected back. We decided to come back later and try again.

The Curator, arcane construct and keep of the Master’s Library
What happened last time: After a really frustrating nightbane fight, I respecced out of melee and into a Healing & Ranged Spellcaster build. During this fight I did both.
What happened this time: This is a damage- and healing-race. We had lots of DPS, and two healers. No one died, and the curator dropped in record time.
The Curator marks the end of the ‘first half’ of Karazhan. It is generally accepted wisdom that everything after Curator is a serious upshift in difficulty from what has come before. (With the exception of Nightbane, whom you can fight earlier, but really aren’t *meant* to until later.)

Terestian Illhoof, demon hiding in the library stacks
What happened last time: I was healing for this fight, but my health was so low that when Illhoof summoned me into the “sacrifice circle”, my teammates couldn’t heal/free me before I died.
What happened this time: Obviously, I was healing, and I was really nervous about being sacrificed, because last time there were THREE other healers and they couldn’t keep me up until the damage-dealers could free me… this time, there was only one healer besides me. What I didn’t count on was the simple fact that I’m tougher now than last time, and the dps was more on the ball. No deaths. We annihilated him.

The Shade of Aran, master of the Library
What happened last time: Aran has no aggro table, so he can’t be tanked: he does AoEs and randomly targets people and hammers them with spells. The first time he did that to me, I died. I just didn’t have the health to take the punishment, even with four healers.
What happened this time: He targeted me for a personal beat-down not once, but twice. Thanks to my own increased toughness and come anticipatory healing on my part, neither one killed me. I also combat-rezzed our biggest damage dealer when he dropped in the middle of the fight.

Netherspite, the astral dragon, in the Observatory
What happened last time: I was an off-healer and, when called upon, switched into bear form and TANKED Netherspite.
What happened this time: We wiped very quickly on this one due to an inexpert pull by the lead tank — I just couldn’t stand where I was in range of everyone for heals. On the second try, we took him down with only Mister Big Damage But Dies A Lot going down, two seconds from the end of the fight.

The Chess Event
What happened last time: We won.
What happened this time: We won. The Chess event isn’t exactly… hard.

Prince Malchezar, demonic lord of the Burning Legion
What happened last time: I think we had to beat on him at least once before we won.
What happened this time: Took him out in one shot. I didn’t think about it at the time, but that may be the very first time I’ve EVER been involved in a one-shot of Prince… there are a lot of random elements in that fight that usually screw you at least once before it all goes your way. Not this time.

Nightbane, the burning undead dragon blah blah blah (Second Attempt)
What happened last time: We got a priest into the group, so they could fearward the tank.
What happened this time: We got the player of the hunter to log on their main character — a priest — so they could fearward the tank (stupid gimmicky fight). We took him out in one easy attempt. Of course, with that player on the wrong character, Nightbane dropped nothing but hunter gear. 😛

All in All
I had been looking forward to this run all week, because I knew I was going to be one of the main healers for the first time EVER in a proper raid, and I really wanted to see if I could do it. I think my performance was strong; I got two very much needed gear upgrades, kudos from the other healer, and a lot of surprise and disbelief when I told the group after we were done that I’d only done Kara once before on Syncerus and had NEVER been a main healer for it. My guild leader was on the run and commented that he would never have guessed I was a total healing-noob. “Really great job for your first run. Well done.”
I need to replace my pauldrons for sure (one more Kara run and I can) and possibly my gauntlets (entirely up to chance), but as soon as I do I’m going to tell the guild leader I’d like to bring Syncerus to the next big-boy, 25-man raid instead of Grezzk. I believe he now knows I’m up to it.

Pimped. Out. (And, at the end, a story that made me really happy.)

I know I just did a photo spread on Syncerus, but his gear situation changed for him rather abruptly last night, so… updates.
See, the guild got done with the 25-man raid-du-jour early, and folks wanted to do something else. A couple of the higher-end guys, (myself, one of the lead tanks and the Guild Leader included), have some fairly fresh-minted 70s we’d like to get geared up a bit, and basically that means “let’s go run Karazhan”, which is the first of the end-game 10-man dungeons.
The nice thing about Kara is that folks are really pretty familiar with it by now, and very little has to be explained before any big fight. Also, unlike the non-hardcore-mode five-man dungeons, there’s still a really good reason for even the most HEAVILY-geared guys in the guild to want to come to Kara*, so it’s actually REALLY easy for use to get enough people to do the run, and if you’re just getting up to the point where you can do Kara, having a few heavy hitters with you is kinda nice.
(* – Each boss in Kara gives you a couple ‘badges of justice’ that can be used to acquire really good loot, even if you’re heavily geared. There are 11 bosses in Kara, which means 22 badges in a few hours of play, which is easily just about the best effort-to-payoff ratio in the game.)
So, we’d started the Kara run the night before, and everyone wanted to finish; people started to assemble, and we had the craziest group: usually, we have two tanks, 3 healers (two if they’re both heavily geared), and a mix of ranged and melee damage-dealers.
What did we get?
1 tank (the guild leader), four healers (one of which was me, and the other three HEAVILY over-geared), and five ranged DPS. No melee guys at all, other than the tank. So weird.
Since the healers in the group totally had healing covered, I just sat back and blasted away with my offensive spells (nature’s wrath, insect swarm, moonfire, starfire, et cetera) and emergency healed when needed. My performance dps-wise was much better than when I came in the night before as a cat — I’m USED to doing this as a ranged damage dealer — melee was just a pain for me.
So. 11 bosses. Each one potentially dropping some gear I can use.
How much gear did I get?
14 pieces. No one else in the group really needed anything at all — they were just there for the badges — and the other two guys who actually needed gear were playing a paladin (platemail, please) and a warlock (cloth-only), so none of the stuff I wanted was anything they could use.
Four.teen. I got seven pieces that directly and instantly improved both my healing and spell damage by about 50%, and the other seven helped fill out (dare I say ‘complete’) almost all of my tankingbear- and cat-form sets.
And they look badass.
Armored Clown Suit
Here we have, as a review, Syn as he appeared when he was doing anything but healing/casting. Decent gear, but it looks bloody awful. The only consolation here is that, since this was the gear I used for either tanking as a bear or soloing my quests as a cat, I was always in either Dire bear or Cat form, and never saw it.
That was then, this is now.
Gone is the clown-like, mismatched armor. I’m sporting Heavy Clefthide chestpiece, leggings, and ‘boots’, plus some nice new gloves and shoulders (that for some reason aren’t displayed in this shot).
With the exception of that crazy (but good) “I’m Batman” staff, he looks just like how I think a Tank should look: very little adornment – just heavy armor and a ‘lets get to work’ attitude. I really like it, and for all that I’m currently focusing on playing as a Healer/spellcaster, I do hope that I get a chance to do some tanking as well.
The catform set of equipment has significantly different stats than the tanking gear: forget about extra health, extra dodge, extra armor – focus on “I want to kill you in the face…” (or the back, I’m not choosy).
Obviously, the *attitude* of the gear is totally different also. Straps all over, lots of sharp points — the damned EYES GLOW RED in the headgear — the whole thing just screams “dangerous”.
I love it — almost makes me want to respec back to Feral damage-dealing to REALLY try it out, but as it stands, it’ll be gathering a little dust in the vault while I work on healing — it’s too expensive right now to respec back and forth between the two. Doing the Cat & Bear thing is *fantastic* for soloing and doing daily quests, but I’ll be honest and say that I’m not really good at playing melee dps in a raid. Tanking, yes, but melee damage? No. I don’t know how the rogues do it.
I won’t show the healer-gear set again, because although I got like 7 new pieces, it’s all stuff that’s concealed under the robe, so nothing looks different, until you look at new totals in my healing and mana regen and stuff like that… where there were HUGE boosts. Huge. At one point, I mentioned what my numbers had gotten up to, and the general consensus was that they weren’t just “good numbers for a new guy”, but just plain “good numbers.”

Finally, the story.
We’re getting close to the end of the night, and we’ve made it up to Netherspite, a sort of ethereal dragon.
Netherspite is an interesting fight that goes back and forth between two Phases.
In phase 1, one guy in the raid stands in a specific place, and whoever is standing there WILL BE the guy that the dragon attacks. Period. (There’s also a spot one person can stand in to do massive healing, and another where you can do massive damage.)
In phase two, which is fairly short, Netherspite sort of just attacks anyone – totally random. As long as he doesn’t go after you twice (which is just bad luck), you can surive that — then you’re back to phase 1.
But there’s a catch. Whoever stood in those three magic spots in the LAST phase 1 cannot stand in the same spot in the NEXT phase 1. (And someone HAS to stand there and soak them up, or they buff the dragon and he kills you really dead.)
So you have to have two guys for each spot, and they take turns during each “Phase 1” being the guy who has to stand in the Spot.
So… there’s this Tanking Spot, right? We need two guys for the tanking spot.
We have one tank.
The conversation went something like this:
“So… we need another tank.”
“Syn, did you bring your tanking gear?”
“Umm… no. It’s not up to par for Kara, so I left it in the bank. All I have is my healing gear. For tanking, it’s… not… good.”
“Okay. Right. Doomas, You’re going to be the second tank.”
“What? I’m healing specced.”
“Yeah, but you’re a paladin. You have platemail. You have a shield. You can tank him.”
“It’s a bonus-to-healing shield! It’s probably just paper mache with some LEDs in it to make it glow!”
“*sigh* alright, but I don’t know how to do the tanking here.”
“I’ll explain.”
And he did, and we started.
But… on that stand-in tank’s second turn, he died. Right. I dunno what happened — my job was to take my turn in the Super Healing Spot and, when not there, blast the hell out of the dragon, and when he went down, I was blasting away and trying not to die.
The next Phase 1 came around, and the Real Tank says:
“Okay guys, burn him down! We don’t have another tank for the next Phase one!”
And we tried. We really really tried, but he just wasn’t quite ready to drop.
So we go into the crazy-running-around-don’t-die Phase Two, and the Real Tank says:
“We need another tank for this phase! I can’t do it twice in a row. Someone step up!”
So I turn round, shift into bear form (which (at least) significantly bumps up my health and the protection bonus I get from my OH SO NOT A TANK healing gear, hit my Feral charge to get to the Tanking Spot and start hammering away with (few, oh so few) default Tanking Abilities that I have when I’m not specced for it.
I. Am tanking. Netherspite. I did NOT get the briefing on the little ‘step in, step out’ thing you have to do on the Tanking Spot to keep from getting squashed (though I’d seen it done many times on Grezzk), and I was NOT mentally prepared for that duty.
And I’m in healer gear.
But dammit, we needed a tank, and if there’s something Druids do well, it’s fill lots of different roles…
This is where everyone was really glad that we ended up bringing three overgeared healers. I liiiiiiiiiiived!
(And then I ran like a little pussy (cat) for the back wall during Phase 2 and healed myself like crazy.)
Netherspite died on the next Phase 1. There was much cheering.
All the gear upgrades were nice, yes. But that fight?
That is what I’m going to remember about Syn’s first run in the haunted keep of Karazhan.

Syncerus dings 70

So my “second main” is now 70. Syncerus (so named because I made him look like a water buffalo in horn-style, face, and coloration, and because Stonestrider was already taken) is a tauren (read: tribal society of minotauresque humanoids) druid (read: shapeshifters and tree huggers).
It took approximately half as much time to get Syn to 70 as it took Grezzk — a bit over 12 days. I don’t know when I created him, but he’s third on my login screen after Grezzk and… the character who sits in one of the major cities and checks prices of items for me on the auction house. Seriously, I have no idea who’s in the ‘created second’ slot, but that’s all I use them for. I think it’s a rogue… so, yes, I put a rogue in charge of my money — Margie would find that funny.
ANWAY, let’s have a little Picture Pages fun with Syncerus.
Syncerus at the Login
This is Syncerus at the login screen, with the grassy plains, traditional tribal background you see behind all Tauren characters at login.
I really love tauren characters. The only real problem I have with them is that all characters move the same speed by default, which means that little characters like gnomes get animated with really fast little steps (and thus seem to move faster), and Tauren – as the biggest toons in the game – have a kind of slow, loping gait that feels slow. Luckily, I have a cheetah form and now a BIRD FORM, so the slow movement feel doesn’t bother me much.
In addition to being a druid with a number of sexy animal forms I’m not going to show you, Syncerus is a herbalist (Tauren get a nice boost to this skill that carries through the game) and a skinner (very ‘leave no part of the animal unused’), so the open plains of Nagrand are very… *tidy* after he come through on a hunting spree.
Anyway, that login screen is how Syn looks now, when he’s in “healer mode”. Let’s look at the horrible way he looks when he’s NOT all healing and stuff.
Armored Clown Suit
This is the gear Syncerus was wearing just as he dinged 70… kind of. Actually, I think I’ve already put on some level 70 gear, so even THIS outfit matches a bit more than the armored clown suit he usually had on.
This is the gear that Syn’s now wearing when he’s tanking (though you’ll never see it, because he’s busy being a DIRE BEAR RAWR), or being a claw-your-face kitty (which is how I run my normal quests.) It’s slightly better looking than the old stuff, but only just barely.
I need about one more good night of battlegrounds (wherein, ironically, I heal) to get rid of those hideous green shoulders and replace them with… well, seriously the best shoulderguards for bear-tanking in the game. I’m still nowhere near where I need to be on my tanking stats to be able to tank a Raid of any kind — there’s a lot of little niggling bits I need to take care of, but I’m getting there.
Visually, I also have a little more leather to gather before I can make the leg armor that matches the tough-guy-armor that you see on his feet and chest and hands… it’s a full set that’s pretty much the definitive gear for tanks at his level, and also probably (mostly) won’t be replaced before the new expansion comes out.
At that point, he’ll pretty much match from head to hoof while tanking… the way he does when healing.
I have, shall we say, had a lot more luck (and been, I will be honest, more motivated) to gather pretty decent gear for his healer-mode equipment.
Looking 4 haelz?
This is Syn wearing the shiny new gear that was waiting for his "healing mode" set, once he hit 70. The most visible pieces (the Shoulders and and the “robe”) are also kind of the weakest — pieces I picked up when I became “honored” with some key factions. They’re nice, but I’ll probably have better fairly soon. The best stuff I’m wearing is barely visible, if at all.
Underneath the robe I’m already wearing, I am not ashamed to admit, one of the better pieces of druidic healing gear in the game – though the name (“Pants of Living Growth”) makes me smirk. My guild leader gave em to me, as well as that HUGE mace on my belt — which is pretty much the best non-epic one-handed healer-weapon out there; I’ll replace it, but not soon, unless I’m lucky.
The best pieces are the smallest. You see that little headpiece he’s got on, sort of giving him a second set of horns? That particular head piece is roughly equivalent in ‘power level’ to the stuff that drops off Kael’thas Sunstrider, the boss that my guild is working to take down for the first time at this point (If you speak WoW-raiding, we’re 6/6 SSC, 4/5 TK, 3/6 Hyjal). I got the piece through being a damned awesome healer in the pvp battlegrounds (seriously, we almost never lose a battleground), and I worked my gently-swishing, bovine tail off to get it, so people who want to bitch about ‘welfare epics’ can bite me – I know how much work raiding is, and I did just as much work in a damned PuG environment to get this single piece of gear. I also spent a lot of gold last night putting the best gems I could find into it. I sincerely doubt I’ll replace that piece soon.
Anyway, I went from level 69 and generally able to handle healing the lower-level-60 dungeons, to this gear; at which point in time my mana pool (9500), bonus to healing (+1050) and mana regen rate (145 in-combat) all jumped to right about where they need to be for me to heal the first level 70 ten-man dungeon — just a huge jump. I promptly went out and found a Shadow Labyrinth run to heal, and it went very well, even though almost all my talent points are still in Feral abilities, not Restoration (40/21 “feral swiftness” build).
I really, really, really hope I get a chance to go on a Karazhan run soon and see if I’m correct in my assessment.
Hi there.
Sometimes I wave to the Alliance guys in the battlegrounds while my teammates are beating the hell out of them (something I remember Lee doing with his healer on CoH, and now I know why). It’s those little things that bring a smile to the bearcow’s lips.
A fight in the battlegrounds against the same number of opponents is pretty much a toin coss — unless one side has a healer. It’s amazing how much of a difference even one person totally dedicated to healing makes in a fight.
I like doing PvP on Grez, but that’s pretty much a soloist’s game for me — a blaster-vs-blaster situation where I’m just trying to get the other guy to 0 before he does the same to me.
With Syncerus, I hold the line.
And finally, the definitive picture of Syn.
As any MMO player knows, this is usually all I see of my character.
Look at those shoulder guards! Peripheral vision is for the WEAK!

Week in Review

Hmm. Let’s see what was going on.
In general
I haven’t been feeling very well. I haven’t been sleeping well or enough.
Syncerus is about half a level away from the level-cap, so that’ll happen pretty quick; this week, I’d think. It has taken me about 240 hours less playtime to get him to this point than it did on Grezzk. Given how much time I spend playing, that works out to getting him to 70 roughly three months faster.
And what then? Well, I’ve been amassing a lot of “requires level 70” gear for Syn, so when he dings I should be able to step into some fairly significant upgrades.
For healing, I’m already wearing the about a quarter of the stuff that I’ll take into end-game. I have a lot of the rest waiting in the bank — when 70 hits I should be doing VERY well on the stats I need. I’m actually ALREADY at the ‘ready for raiding’ level on my mana and mana regen rates — I need a bit more health (should come with the gear) and a bit more bonus to healing (ditto) for the entry-level raids… more than that to really walk in with the big boys to the big raids.
For tanking, I don’t have quite as much of the gear I need, though oddly, what I *do* have is for all the slots I haven’t been able to fill in as a healer — weird luck there.
So what do I want to do?
I’ve REALLY enjoyed healing in pvp battlegrounds — I know pvp well enough to know when my healing has turned the tide of a fight, and lemme tell you, that happens a LOT — having that kind of influence on a fight is really cool. Plus, it’s good practice — after pvp, healing a five-man dungeon run is a piece of cake.
Tanking… is just that. Tanking. I’ve done that a lot (and I get a good “sword and board” tanking ‘fix’ with Geiri on LotRO), so that’s all fine, but it’s not new. Healing is new — it’s more than a new area in WoW, it’s like playing an entirely new game. That said, I *do* have decent tanking skills, even in WoW, and I’ve tanked a fair amount of stuff in the end-game. Plus, as tanks are more in demand than healers (barely), being willing to tank kind of ensures I can get a group for whatever I need. As a bonus, if I get a tell like “we can take you if you can heal/dps — we already have a tank”, i can do that to.
I dunno. I like healing. We’ll see when I hit 70, I guess. I’m out of ‘rested’ xp bonus right now, so that might take a few days to do. In the meantime, i’m going to hit Battlegrounds for more honor — the battlemasters have a belt (and bear-form shoulderguards) I want…
Man I like playing this guy.
For the content my guild is doing (Working on Kaelthas in tier 5, hitting Mount Hyjal), there is very little stuff I can upgrade on Grezzk until the new expansion comes out. Syn is the main reason I log in right now — I just run Grez for a little bit each night to earn gold.
I can’t get LotRO to run reliably on my (old, tired) desktop right now, and I didn’t have a (either) LotRO-capable laptop home with me this weekend, so I haven’t played.
The game day for Sunday was called due to lack of interest. Next weekend I’ll miss the Colorado Springs one cuz I’ll be at a company picnic up in the mountains (tries to make an excited face).
Looking forward to (a) the DnD game, where the group is about to hit an encounter that has caused a lot of other groups to wipe, and (b) playing some more In a Wicked Age with Lee and De.

Not happy

Today finds me pondering (once again) the way that my blogging “life” is currently divided and partitioned off.
Once upon a time, the split was pretty clear: gaming-related stuff went here, and anything that I wanted to write about that wasn’t that went onto Average-Bear. This was done for a number of reasons, but none of them were really for compartmentalization as much as organization. The problem is basically that the organization of my gaming posts would suffer dramatically if they all had to be lumped under a single heading of “Gaming” on a blog that was supposed to handle everything — the bloat from that one category would be hard to manage and the heading itself would be largely meaningless in terms of actually organizing anything — I’ve over a dozen post categories on this gaming blog, and porting all that into another blog would, at best, make that combined blog a kind of “gaming, with a few tangents” blog that I’m not interested in doing.
But the problem is that, with my new ‘main’ blog, there are things that I *don’t* want to blog about there, which aren’t gaming-related either, and thus have nowhere to go.
Which brings me back to just having one big journal for everything, and the problems be damned…
Which brings me back to actually contemplating the problems and deciding that I can’t just ignore them.
And nothing changes.
Not entirely sure what to do with that. Not sure there’s much I actually can do about it.
But I think it’s telling that I’m writing about all this on my gaming blog… a blog that actually nets quite a bit more traffic now than my ‘neutered’ main blog. What it tells me is that I’m doing something wrong.
I’m just not sure what.

Patch 4.1 out for DnD

Okay, not a patch, but people make the DnD = MMORPG comparison so much, I figured one more tired joke wouldn’t hurt.
Actually, it’s errata and updates for all three books, enough that I hope they correct this stuff in a second printing of the 4.0 rules.
They has completely overhauled the skill challenge system in the DMG errata. All skill challenges now end with 3 failures regardless of complexity, so Complexity 5 challenges are going to be very difficult. However, they also dropped the difficulty of all skill checks by 5 (which is something I was already doing, based on the number crunching geniuses at Story-Games… you know, they don’t right many crunchy games, but those guys grok dice probabilities.
Anyway: all Easy skill checks are now difficulty 5 instead of 10. Moderate skill checks are now DC 10 instead of 15, and Hard checks are now DC 15 instead of 20. This still scales up with level.

Gaming Update

Haven’t done one of these in awhile, mostly because I’d been updating WoW and LotRO play stuff using Twitter. However, Twitter’s API went completely kerflooey a month ago or so, which means that, since Twitter never updates in my feedreader anymore, I rarely think about it, and thus, never update it.
So, until I come up with another, better way to just give MMO character updates on the fly, here’s everything going on with anything that could be considered gaming.
I mostly just log Grez on for raiding and running a few ‘daily’ (repeatable each day) quests for cash. My guild has finished off Vashj, and is the only Hordeside guild to have done so on my server (Farstriders). We’re currently working on Kaelthas, the Blood elf ‘prince’, who is the other boss at the same Tier of difficulty as Vashj, and I’d expect he’ll go down in the next week or so… this will ALSO be a boss kill that no one on the Horde side of our server has completed.
Grezzk is pretty well geared at this point, because I’ve been working on such things and I’m considered a ‘contributing’ member of the raid, but one recent ‘gear ding’ made me very happy: I just got the second piece of a four-piece ‘set’ of items available only to raiders hitting the high level of content that we are. (In wow-speak: The Tier Five two-piece set bonus for hunters.) Getting two pieces of that ‘set’ gives me a really awesome bonus ability: every time I hit something, I heal my pet for 15% of whatever my damage was.
Just… ponder that for a second. If you don’t do wow, work it out for whatever game you DO play, where you have a pet. You’re on CoH? Okay… you hit a bad guy for 100 points and your Jack Frost heals 15 points.
As an added bonus, the threat generated by that heal doesn’t count toward me — it counts as the pet healing itself, so it actually helps the pet hold aggro and tank for me when I’m soloing, which is AWESOME – I do so much damage now that it’s really hard for my pet to really tank anything for more than a few seconds before my damage output convinces the target that I’m the (far) more serious threat.
Druids in WoW are a bit like Kheldians in CoH, only much, much better. Depending on the way I spec, I can play him as a Tank + backup Melee damage-dealer, a viable main healer, or a ranged damage-dealer (which I already have with Grezzk and have no intention of doing with Syn).
This kind of versatility has been a total joy to level with. I’m specced heavily into Tanking/melee, with a few good low-end abilities out of the healing tree. That, plus effort on my part to have both a good set of tanking gear and a good set of healing gear means that I can solo to my heart’s content as an extremely viable ‘big cat’ form (with stealth, which makes things even more fun), and then join a five-man dungeon run as either the Tank, the Healer (I’ve actually healed as many runs as I’ve tanked), or even melee damage.
When I want a break, I just strap on my healing gear and join a PvP battleground and heal like crazy — it’s great practice for when a regular old PvE dungeon fight goes haywire and everyone (including me) starts taking damage… plus I earn a ton of Honor I’ll be able to use at level 70 for some huge gear upgrades.
My goal is to get him to 70 as fast as possible (I’m at level 66, and it’s taken me approximately half as much time as it took me on Grezzk), respec into full-on healing mode, and join in the Raiding fun with the rest of the guild. Once I hit 70, I think about a few serious runs of some end-game content will get me to the point where I can actually contribute well to even the toughest of the raids we’re doing — I already have about half the gear I need (8 items) to be a viable raid-level healer.
Geiri and Tiranor (“Geiranor”) have leveled up to 46-of-50 in Lord of the Rings, and we’re well and truly into some interesting end-game content.
The progression of the storyline in the game has us to the point where the Fellowship is in Rivendell and is ready to leave on their great journey, but unable to leave because one of the Nine survived the attack at the Fords of Bruinen and is slinking around the Trollshaws and the Misty Mountains, spying on Rivendell. Gandalf surmises (rightly) that if the Fellowship set out while a Nazgul was around to report back to Moria, they’d all be dead inside a week.
So you have to eliminate that threat.
Yeah… we defeated a Nazgul, baby. (As part of a full team, but still.) Big epic fight in an old dwarf ruin in the Misty Mountains. The ground trembled and the walls shook, and when it was all said and done, the bastard went down. Pretty damn cool.
So we’ve four more levels to go to fifty, and I think something like seven more “books” of epic storyline to play through before Mines of Moria drops sometime later this year.
And we have a few alts we want to level. Kate took some time this week on her minstrel an rocketed up like 4 or 5 levels. It’s NOT hard to find a big group willing to help you with your quests when you’re a healer, I guess. WHO KNEW.
Why is that we can easily get five people to the table with short notice for a DnD game, but we can’t get three together reliably for something like In a Wicked Age on even a monthly basis?
4th edition is fun for what it’s good at. I’m kind of eliding the roleplaying stuff at this point while we learn the rules a bit more, and that means we’re doing a lot of fights, but the fights are fun.
in non-dnd news, Colorado Story Game is doing a gameday up at the Casa this coming weekend. I’ll either be running IaWA or The Mountain Witch, probably. I’d like to do more In a Wicked Age with Lee and De and Kate… the In a Wuxia Age with Dave and Margie and Kate… and Spirit of the Century.
Yeah… more Spirit of the Century would be GOOD. I keep thinking that being able to put Aspects on the Scene is the perfect way to reflect the kind of subtle magic you see in the Lord of the Rings books.

To my gamer-homies that don’t live within 10 minutes of me…

415610_sk_lg.jpg I’m seriously thinking about this camera (thirty bucks, so… less than a tank of gas), plus Skype (free), for in-home video conferencing.
It’ll be more and more useful as Kaylee gets older and I need some remote face-time, but for gaming? Yeah, I’m seriously thinking about this. Maybe just as a test run if enough people are interested enough to shell out for the camera.
Why? Mostly so I can play with more people without everyone bankrupting themselves for the gas money. 😛

The one where he figures out why he often screws up Primetime Adventures

So, there’s this thing going on with my Gaming People where PTA isn’t working for us. We’ve put Dave’s current PTA game on hold for now, to try out In A Wicked Age in a completely different setting (both from the PTA game and from the IAWA default), with a view toward possibly using that for running the PTA game.
The problem is with conflicts. They just take fucking ages to work through. Fucking. Ages. It takes people out of the moment, it’s frustrating, and the end result is usually NOT a satisfying ‘thing’, cuz we’ve already discussed the scene to death, so when the resolution finally comes, we already know what happened.
I said in a post a few months ago that PTA seemed to work well for us when we used the “car chase” rules, which let us break up the action more, and while that’s true, that’s not the problem.
The problem is that we’re having the wrong conversation beforehand.
The one bright and shining scene I remember from one of our PTA games was when this girl that Randy’s guy was sleeping with says “I love you…” as he was getting dressed and leaving the apartment, and put him on the spot. BANG. His Issue was something like “personal commitment” or something, so the conflict was clearly about him trying to get out of the room without pissing her off while remaining emotionally ‘safe’ from her. In that scene, PTA really sang. We were so jazzed at the end of that game session that we jabbered about it all for an hour.
And never managed to get back to that point again. Why? Well, because I thought, based on that scene, that the trick was for the GM to pose conflicts in a kind of series of “bang” events… and that’s not why it worked.
It worked because it was about his Issue. The character’s Issue — and we constantly and consistently FORGET this — is the whole POINT of the character AND the game… it’s a game about TV Dramas, after all — of COURSE it’s about the Issue.
I re-realized this, reading something Matt wrote almost two years ago (emphases mine):

PTA probably adds some to the confusion, because the real Conflict has to do with the protagonist’s Issue, and you have to do a little digging around to figure out how it factors into the playing of cards and stuff.
You’re sneaking past guards. Your Issue is maybe “Insecurity”, let’s say. What’s at stake, in terms of the conflict, is your Issue, not the guards; how does what happens in your sneakery affect your Issue? You get past them… they spot you… does not matter*. Either outcome could be either a win or a lose as far as your Issue is concerned.
No, you don’t say, “if I win, I’m no longer insecure.” You do say, “if I win, my character addresses his/her insecurity in a positive way.”
Notice how the conflict of interest is clearly established, but nobody knows what will happen until the narration starts flying.

That’s what we’ve screwed up pretty much 70 to 80% of the time in PTA. Dammit.
Makes me want to run it again, just to get it right.
[* – and the events that actual happen should be informed at least somewhat by plot-stuff that ‘needs to happen’ in that scene]

Hacking the DnD Action Point rules

So I looked over the various gaming threads that had come out of discussions of Action Points and how they were used — I agree and disagree in equal measures with what folks are saying, so I’m just writing down my thoughts on Action Points from my own point of view.
This essentially codifies the House Ruled Action Point system I’ve been using.
First, my thoughts:

1. Action Points are cool. I don’t necessarily love how they’re implemented in the game, because:
– 1a: They can only do one thing (take an additional Standard Action).
– 1b: That option is alternately kind of lame or potentially game breaking.
2. Due to (1b) and the risk of a game breaking series of Action Point expenditures (two or three rounds in a row of additional actions would kind of break things, yes), the game designers opted to:
– 2a: Heavily restrict the number of APs a player can have.
– 2b: Heavily restrict how often APs can be used.
I understand why they did that, but I think it simply treats the symptomatic problems of the system as implemented — it doesn’t fix what’s busted.
3. Since Action Points, under the standard system are both (a) rare and (b) unstable in terms of payoff, they’re rarely used by the players.
– 3a: Their primary purpose (allowing players to combat the unavoidable whiff-factor in a dice mechanic with no bell curve and roughly a 50/50 chance of success on any given roll) is alternately too weak or too powerful in practice.
– 3b: Their alternate purpose (as a way to make characters more awesome) is diluted.

Truly, they might just as easily not even be in the game: as written, they represent a lot of bookkeeping (“a new Action Point accrues every two encounters, but the total resets to 1 after each Extended Rest”? Really, Wizards of the Coast? Really?), for a rare and often anticlimactic pay-off.
They are, alternately, “too much” and “not enough”, in my opinion.
So here’s my hack. Changes and additions are italicized.

1. Your character starts with one Action Point. For the purposes of drifting as little as possible from the core rules, we’ll retain the standard accrual rules I just made fun of:
– 1a. You gain a fresh Action Point every other encounter.
– 1b. Your current total of Action points resets to 1 after an Extended Rest.
2. You can use your Action Points for one of three things:
– 2a: Spend an AP to take an additional standard action. (Once per Encounter)
– 2b: Spend an AP to reroll a failed (or successful) d20 roll. (Once per Turn)
– 2c: Spend an AP to add +3 to (or subtract 3 from) a d20 roll. (Once per Turn)

Edit to Add: A natural 1 can’t be rerolled, and always misses. Sometimes, you’re just screwed, and that’s awesome too.
3. At will, as a free action, you can cross off a Healing Surge and give yourself an Action Point, which can immediately be used in one of the ways listed under 2. Healing Surges reset per the normal rules.

The end result allows players to “push” by sacrificing some resources in a way that I already know I like a lot from playing lots of other games with similar options. (Vincent Baker uses a phrase “trading in your future for your present” and I like that term quite a lot.)
It’s also relatively “trad gaming” in the options it presents: if I really wanted to hack it into some kind of Indie co-authored hippie craziness, I’d add a few Meta-options under #2, like spending an AP to let you add facts to the game fiction, a la Spirit of the Century.
Even without that option, I’d definitely consider a player who really wanted to take part in a scene and suggested paying an Action Point to conveniently show up, if it was remotely plausible.

Fueling the game engine with your gaming group.

A thought from Story-Games on how to achieve a certain amount of “success” with running an indie rpg with your friends, and that is this:
There is a minimum amount of creative enthusiasm that needs to brought to the table, socially, by all the players, to make the game work, and that creative enthusiasm needs to be directed toward the thing that the game you’re playing does. It’s what the Original Poster calls the Social Mandate.
In In a Wicked Age, the Social Mandate is the conflict between characters (and, to a lesser degree, the anthology of short stories that results from play). People need to be interested in and excited about the conflict of everyone’s Best Interests and WANT to put that into play. Without that social fuel, the engine dies.

In My Life with Master the power dynamic between The Minion and The Master has to be interesting to the players on an authorial level *first*.
The Individual Wants vs. Community Needs problem in Dogs in the Vineyard has to be compelling to the players *first*.

The play of Trust against the backdrop of Dark Fates in a small group has to be interesting to the players or a Mountain Witch game chokes and dies.
To take it out of the indie realm (which is why I crossed the word out…
The challenge of smart tactical battle play and resource management has to be appealing to players for DnD (or Warhammer) to really sing. Yes, you can roleplay in the game, and have fun doing so, but if you’re not into the kind of combat style that the game supports, you’re roleplay will be spread between loooong stretches of your own boredom.

The One Where He Totally Geeked Out Like a Mid-1980s Gamer Nerd ((Hacking DnD 4 into Lord of the Rings))

I noticed early on that LotRO’s main conceit about their “Health Bar” really really works in DnD 4th with regards to healing.
Lord of the Rings refers to your ‘health bar’ as Morale — so it’s mostly representative of your will to continue the fight — the rest of the game works in similar ways — where death =’s ‘retreat’ and so forth. This makes ‘healers’ in Lord of the Rings (which is really quite a low-magic setting) make sense — they are the minstrels with their uplifting songs (VERY Tolkein), the Captains with the rallying crys and bold words, and even the Lore Masters with their quietly whispered words (or sometimes taking your worries on their own shoulders to ease your burden).
That idea really works in 4th edition DnD, especially when you look at the Healing Surges everyone has (accessible in combat as Second Wind) and the names of the healing-type abilities for the Warlord (Captain), which indicate that they’re really just boosting your will to continue the fight.
Mike Mearls was saying in an interview that it changes nothing in the game if a player wants to take all his mage spells and switch them to ‘cold’ damage instead of, say, fire; it’s the kind of customization hacking he expects from players in the game as they make their character their own.
Then I thought: it would be a pretty simple thing indeed to hack the Cleric into a sort of lore-master and/or minstrel (or both, depending on which path you took at creation) simply by changing the names of the powers and changing their “implement” from a holy symbol to either a wizards staff or a musical instrument. Do that, drop Mages and Warlocks from the game (or leave them for the bad guys), and you’re pretty much ready to play in Middle Earth in LotRO style.
So, to sum up…
– Drop Dragonborn and Tieflings. Duh.
– Elladrin are the elves of Lothlorien and Rivendell.
– Sylvan elves are the elves of Mirkwood.
– Fighters: unchanged. Depending on build, they are either Champions or Guardians.
– Rogues: rogues are more melee damage dealers than the LotRO Burglars, and their benefit to the group is slightly different, but it’s still similar enough. Halfling rogues should favor trickster builds, probably, with the other type being more common with sylvan elves and the like.
– Rangers: virtually no changes.
– Warlord: call em Captains and you’re done, though I think a lot of them would be multiclassed.
– Cleric: the ‘sit-in-the-back’ build (whatever the name) you tweak in Power names and Implements to be Minstrels, and the ‘up-in-your-face’ build you likewise tweak to be Loremasters.
– Warlocks: probably only bad guys — infernal types serve Sauron entirely, I’d guess. Fey types work alright with the High elves, and Star-pact warlocks would make an interesting type of Loremaster, maybe.
– Mages: too overt to be anything but bad guys, really.
This would simulate LotRO pretty well, would work for a game setting like Midnight quite well, but still be too much magic for true Tolkein.
If you really wanted to be totally hardcore Tolkein, not LotRO, you remove Clerics and Mages. Healing would fall entirely to the use of Healing Surges and any Captains you had with you. Warlocks stay in the setting in very particular instances. Infernal Warlocks are bad guys, Fey Warlocks are the Elf Lords, and Star Pact Warlocks are Gandalf and Sauruman. (Keep the Ritual List, from which you’d likewise remove things like passwall and the Portal magic, but keep the ‘rezzes’ for when Frodo gets insta-gibbed a ringwraith on Weathertop. Only the various Warlocks would get such Rituals automatically — anyone else would need a Feat to learn a few — Aragorn did so.)

Technical Difficulties

A staff writer on writes a bit about how he really got into Age of Conan, and then stopped playing in favor of Guild Wars.

Now I know that AoC puts much higher graphic demands on your system and that Guild Wars has had years to eliminate the performance bugs that still plague the early days of AoC, but none of that mattered. Playing Guild Wars made something instantly apparent to me. Age of Conan is an enjoyable game with a great deal of potential but after a month of intensive play I’d gotten to the point where it just wasn’t worth the consistent and mundane technical hassles involved in playing it. I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t frustrated, but at that moment in time I’d found something better to do and so I just stopped playing.

This is the problem I’m currently having with Lord of the Rings Online. My poor old desktop is five years old and, while it’s pretty much tweaked out as far as the hardware will withstand, it can’t get any better, and when I start up Lord of the Rings, the machine’s old bones really start to show. Graphics issues. Lock-ups, some of them system-wide. Horrible horrible lag.
In order to combat this problem (which, rather than getting better over time and bug-fixing on LotRO’s part, has gotten progressively worse as they add newer content and cooler graphics — the problems aren’t bugs, they’re just the way things are), I’ve had to dial my game settings down to the lowest possible. The gorgeous LotRO panoramic views? I don’t see much of them when I have my graphics set to “Low”, to avoid lag — I dial up to “high” to take screenshots, then back to “low” to actually, you know… move. I have a dual monitor system, but one of them is now simply taking up space on my desk, unplugged, because running both at the same time, with LotRO, causes heat problems on my video card, thanks to the strain that the game puts on my card. Don’t even get me started about the hiccuping sound during any of the justly-vaunted cinematics within the game.
I love the game, I really do — I think they’re doing a fantastic job on it, and I acknowledge that the problems I’m having are largely due to trying to run the thing on an old, loyal golden retriever of a PC that really needs to be put out of his misery. Hell, Kate’s laptop is only a few years old and IT struggles with all the rendering it has to do in a busy town.
But, you see… there’s this thing. WoW doesn’t cause me any of those problems. I might have a night of lag, due to a server issue, and when that happens I’m glad to be able to do something else, but that’s a known server issue, easily fixed, not an inability of my Hardware to run the Software. When it comes down to it, I spent many evenings choosing to play WoW over LotRO this last month (even when LotRO can include Kate) because I knew that when I logged into WoW, the game would RUN.
I appreciate that games traditionally push the envelope of what PCs can accomplish — more than any other kind of software, GAMES push hardware developers to climb to the next plateau, and that’s great.
But if you want to really be a huge success? You need to remember that you can’t be so cutting edge that the playerbase spends more time trying to balance on that cutting-knife-edge than they do ACTUALLY PLAYING YOUR GAME.
I mean, it’s not just LotRO. I bought Tabula Rasa because the idea of a good Sci-fi MMO excited me — and couldn’t get the game to play, at all. I made it halfway through the tutorial before I gave up.
I have a copy of Age of Conan gathering dust in my office closet because if I deleted everything but the operating system off my PC, I still wouldn’t have the harddrive space to INSTALL IT — forget about whether or not my other system specs would be up to speed.
It doesn’t matter if your game is awesome if people can’t run it. WoW graphics are comic-book in style (On purpose – comic-book-style imagery has successfully sold for five decades – uncanny valley CGI? Not so much.) and requires what is now low-end hardware to run quite well. That’s at least part of the reason they have retained 10 million active subscribers. Ten. Million. No one seems to know what it is they they’re doing to enjoy the kind of grade-curve-breaking success, but I’ll tell you what they aren’t doing — they aren’t pushing the hardware envelope — that is not, in any way, where they garner their win.
I had a great, really fun time playing Lord of the Rings last night. Kate and I led a group of heroes (total strangers) into the ruins of Fornost, the last, ruined, capitol of the Kingdom of the North, now thick with wights and orcs and wargs and their horrible leaders, bound to life by the morgul blades they wielded. We fought our first Nemesis-level foe, and defeated him only when Kate figured out that we had to light the old Kingdom’s signal fires mounted on the rooftop where we faced him, in order to weaken him enough to win.
It was epic.
But you know what I enjoyed the most? It was the second night in a month where my PC hadn’t locked up while playing the game.
“Not locking up” shouldn’t be the thing I liked the best out of the whole night; that should be assumed.
My one regret of the evening shouldn’t have been “the screenshot I took from the top of the tallest towers of Fornost was pretty boring, because I forgot to dial my graphics back up from the setting where I can play to the setting where it looks good.”

DnD Skill Challenges

Skill Challenges are a new wrinkle in DnD skill use that aim to make said skills use… well, more interesting. The basic idea is that each Skill Challenge has a Complexity rating from one to five.
A Complexity One skill challenge for a group of level 1 adventurers, for example, requires that the group as a whole succeeds at 3 skill checks before it fails at 3. A complexity Five skill challenge is something like “succeed at 11 before you fail at 7”.* The idea is that everyone around the table who is involved is taking turns at working on this challenge, either by making their own skill rolls or helping someone else hit theirs, and that each of these ‘moves’ is roleplayed/narrated as you go, making the whole thing more interactive.
In an ideal world, there are a few ‘obvious’ skills that work for each encounter, and the unspoken challenge to the players to come up with novel ways to apply the skills they’re good at that aren’t on that pre-approved list. It’s all very, if I may say so, hippy and indie. It’s a LOT like how all the skills and combat in Heroquest work.
In practice, the Challenges have come under a lot of fire, both because the Difficulties for success are weighted HEAVILY toward failure in some places, and because people are having trouble getting their heads around it, and finally because the results of the Challenge are, as written, binary: you either Win Completely or fail completely.
Enter Keith Baker, and some excellent thoughts on making Skill Challenges interesting and winnable, without actually changing the math. (Which I’m doing anyway.)
One good suggestion is something straight out of Heroquest, but predicated on the DnD Combat model: more graduated levels of success, ranging from the Crit-like total victory, to a regular old Success, to Moderate success, partial success, failure with some benefit, failure with a single mote of light, and the Crit-fumble of Total Loss.
But the best suggestion is one I’ve been working on for what seems like years, now: setting up conflicts so that the failures are as interesting as the victories.
* – I know the numbers I quoted for Complexity values are off, compared to the rules — I’m quoting a mathmatical rework of the rules that makes more sense to me.

Design Challenge: a world without spiders

The premise: A GM is starting up a new game, and wants to have a world with no spiders.
Result: people make suggestions. My personal favorite is the one where Lolth the Demon Queen of Spiders has been killed, and her death took all her little eight-legged minions out with her.
The results, it appears, might be pretty catastrophic.

Spiders: We’d Probably All Be Dead Without Them
Why? Because spiders are the dominant terrestrial predators on the planet.
Why? Because there are so many of them. (An acre of English meadow in late summer has been estimated to contain more than 2 million spiders, and it’s safe to assume that wetlands and undisturbed forest contain significantly more.)
Why else? They eat a lot. So what? Because they structure insect communities wherever they occur, spiders play a vital role in the terrestrial food chain. Without all those hungry, carnivorous spiders, insect populations would explode, food crops would be decimated, ecological balances would be ravaged, and humans would probably starve within a matter of months.”
* Spiders are the largest entirely carnivorous order of animals.
* Assuming an average consumption of 0.1 gram of prey per spider per day, the spiders in one hectare of forest would consume 47,500 kilograms of prey per year–which is equal to 47.5 metric tons of insects!
Their sheer number make spiders vital in maintaining the balance of nature. Because they structure insect communities wherever they occur, spiders play a vital role in the terrestrial food chain. Without all those hungry spiders, insect populations would explode, food crops would be decimated, and ecological balances ravaged. Humans would probably starve within a matter of months–if they hadn’t already succumbed to various insect-borne diseases. No spider, incidentally, has been found to transmit disease.”
The spider is really man’s best friend. Imagine a world over-run with flies. Life would be intolerable! Without our friend the spider eating other insects like the fly, many serious pests would rise in number and present humankind with an incredible problem – one which would seriously affect our chances of survival. Even the good old household spider, like the little one I have here, does his part. Imagine how much it would cost to develop tiny little robots to roam over your house and clean up the maggots, eggs, flies, larva and other living things hidden away in every crack and cranny throughout your home. The spider does it all for you, and all for nothing. Most times he even has the sense to stay out of the way when you are around. So if you want to keep the real pests down, tolerate the spider a bit more in your home. If you really cannot bear to have one in the room with you, go and fetch a glass, pop it over the spider before he runs for it, and slip a postcard or stiff bit of paper under the glass to temporarily seal it in. You can then turn the glass upright and with the card or paper still held on top, take it out into the garden and let it go. One deft flick of the glass low to the ground should do it.”

Ecological impact of spider predation: a critical assessment of Bristowe’s and Turnbull’s estimates.

In any case, a fun little mind-game.

“Keys” for DnD

For a longer-term DnD game, I am seriously considering using something like the experience point system in The Shadow of Yesterday — the “keys” that you pick for your character and which give you xp when you ‘hit’ them. (You’d need about 10 to 15 to level, probably, which would be pretty fast, even compared to the speeded up ratio in 4.0.)
Clinton wrote up a hack of the system for 3.5 d20. It’s here, and would require a very little bit of tweaking to update to 4.0. Some excerpts:

The first way you get XP is through Keys. They determine behaviors that will earn XP for your character. Keys are motivations, problems, connections, duties and loyalties. You should pick one at 1st level, and one every odd level after that. You can never have more than five Keys.
Each Key has a Counter. If you go against the Key – that is, act according to the Counter – you can choose one of two options:
* Lose 2 XP.
* Remove the Key and gain 7 XP. You can never take this Key again.
((A few particularly typical d20 key examples.))
Key of Bloodlust
Your character enjoys overpowering others in combat. Gain 1 XP every time you/your group wins a battle, or 3 XP for defeating a foe equal to or more powerful than your group. Counter: Be defeated in battle.
Key of Glittering Gold
Your character loves wealth. Gain 1 XP every time you make a deal that favors you in wealth (max: 3 per adventure). Gain 2 XP every time you finish an adventure with more wealth than you started with. Gain 5 XP every time you finish an adventure with double your previous wealth. Counter: Lose (or give away) over half your fortune.
Key of Fraternity
Your character has someone he is sworn to, a friend who is more important than anyone else. Gain 1 XP every time this character is present in a scene with your character (maximum 3 per adventure). Gain 2 XP whenever your character makes a decision that is influenced by them. Gain 5 XP every time your character defends them by putting himself at unusual risk. Counter: Sever the relationship with this person or the person dies.
Key of Vengeance
Your character has a hatred for a particular organization, person, or even species or culture. Gain 1 XP every time your character hurts a member of that group or a lackey of that person. Gain 2 XP every time your character strikes a minor blow at that group or person (killing a member of the organization or one of the person’s lackeys, disrupting their life, destroying their property). Gain 5 XP every time your character strikes a major blow at that group or person. Counter: Let your enemy go or destroy the entire organization.
Key of the Masochist
Your character thrives on personal pain and suffering. Gain 1 XP every time he is bloodied and 3 XP every time he is dropped to 0 hp. Counter: Flee a source of physical or psychic damage.

There are also some “classic fantasy trope” examples of Keys on the TSoY wiki, here. I particularly like:

Key of the Explorer
Your character seeks novelty and discovery at every opportunity. Gain 1 XP everytime she goes somewhere or encounters something new to her. Gain 3 XP whenever she experiences something unknown to her society. Buyoff: Settle down to a quiet life.
Key of Extravagance
Your character seeks every opportunity to impress those around you with his means and generosity. Gain 1 XP every time he gives a gift or spends money on an unnecessary luxury. Gain 3 XP every time he blows a significant fraction of his net worth. Buyoff: Refuse a luxury you could have had.
Key of Glory
Who cares about power or riches? You crave fame! Gain 1 XP when your actions inspire strangers to talk about you insultingly (there’s no such thing as bad publicity). Gain 3 XP when your deeds win you acclaim and adulation. Buyoff: Adopt a pseudonym or go incognito.

You can probably see where a set up like this would speed up the leveling process in some entertaining ways. 🙂

How did they know?

Waiting in my Inbox, early this morning…
Not quite the 60% discount is was on preorder, but the box set of all three core books is still 40+% less than the sticker price, and approximately half what the three books would cost, purchased separately (sorry, FLGS).

Actual Play: Keep on the Shadowfells, Session One

As I mentioned, had a chance to play the first couple events in the sort of “DnD 4th Edition Lite” Keep on the Shadowfells. What you get with this game is basically a DnD Lite version of the rules (somewhat too light in a few places — would have helped to know a few things that aren’t mentioned in the 16 page rules booklet, but it worked out), 5 pregenned characters with all the math worked out and put on a nice, easy to read sheet and their first two level-ups already worked out, and an 80-page adventure… a pretty good one, at that.
Oh, and you get all the maps you’ll need for any combat, so when I fight starts, you just lay out the map, drop down the tokens, and go at it.
Stuff I noticed about the game
1. In MSExcel-speak, 4e still tests as “True” for whatever value you assign to “Dungeons & Dragons.” A lot of people have been busting on it, saying that it’s all-combat, all the time, and there’s no support for anything else, etc. etc. This has pretty much been true for every iteration of the game. The people saying such things are very silly. We haven’t had a chance to do a skill challenge yet, but when we do, I expect good things.
2. You really do need mini’s or good counters to play this thing. I need to get better wood discs than the ones I made — smaller, and less splintery. Either pre-made, or I need to get a 3/4″ dowel and get a MUCH finer-toothed blade for the saw.
3. Combat is a lot more interesting than it’s been before, because…
3A. Everyone can contribute meaningfully to the fight, even/especially the (traditionally useless) first-level Wizard.
3B. Everyone can do a lot of crazy maneuvers and funky stuff. It’s entirely possible for everyone to “Use their Nuke” and really do something awesome.
3C. We did not make full use of it, but I did see that classes are designed to have serious synergy in combat: the Cleric’s maneuvers set up Paladin’s maneuvers set up Fighter’s maneuvers. You’re really a TEAM now. Heaven help me when Margie and Kate start coordinating their respective ‘battlefield control’ abilities — they started to get a handle on them by the middle of the second fight and suddenly my super-mobile Kobolds had a VERY difficult time moving around.
3D. The monsters are really a team too. I played stupidly with the Wyrmpriest in the second fight. I should have bombed guys with his acid bomb ability from long range for awhile first, THEN come in and drop his two AoE attacks once the battlefield set up.
3E. The monsters require so much less book-keeping than before.
3F. A lot of the crazy 3e complications are now much simpler.
3G. There’s some better rules on building an encounter so that terrain, traps, conditions, etc., matter more–the scene is more interactive… there are many more ways to interact and use terrain.
4. On the other hand, while fights require more intelligence and imagination than prior editions’ Rock-em Sock-em Robots combat system, fights last a long time.
5. There’s a disconnect at the table, because most of use have played 3.0 and 3.5 before — I’ve played a LOT, Dave and Margie and Jackie played quite a bit, and Kate’s played less, but MUCH more recently — so when a rule in 4.0 is different from 3.5, there was a bit of shock… sometimes it was “is that a new rule or a Doyce Houserule?” (disclaimer: I used no houserules) and stuff I remember from 3.5 that isnt’ true anymore (Example: Standing up from being prone doesn’t cause an Opportunity Attack — in fact a LOT less stuff does, which makes it easier to deal with… but leaves veterans with the niggling suspicion that we’re forgetting to do something.)
6. In previous editions, each class had a very different feel: if you were a 1st level Magic-User, you had to play the game very differently than a 1st level Fighter. This difference is FAR less pronounced now. Also, the classes that are “simple” versus “complicated” have changed. Paladins and clerics have a LOT of stuff on their sheets. Rogues LOOK simpler than that, but the way you apply what they can do during a fight is pretty advanced stuff.
7. There is pretty much no effort to make the mechanics hyper-realistic. Hit points are as much “morale” as they are “health”, and that kind of logic is the only way some abilities make sense. I like it.
Stuff I noticed about the play
1. All the characters are awesome. I want to play a fully tank-specced dwarven fighter so much I can taste it. Similarly, I think a rogue with a rapier, a ranged weapon (vs. twin-blade) ranger, and a cleric would all be a ton of fun. There are really no classes that, when reading about them in the PHB, didn’t sound fun and worth checking out.
2. Christ, but we are a persnickety, particular, optimizing bunch of nitwits. I mention this solely because Katherine played with us last night, running the rogue, and by the end of the night I felt positively terrible for her, because the nice nurturing adults just could. not. let. her. play. her. guy. and just do whatever she wanted, because there was a tactically better move to be made somewhere. We need to let her just ‘go in and hit that guy’ for awhile before we worry about shit like flanking and such. Let her GET flanked once or twice, and I guarantee she’ll learn to do it herself.
3. Along the same lines: good lord we’re terrified of taking an Opportunity Attack. Damn.
4. I was tired, and Kate was flat out exhausted — really, we shouldn’t have played, but I’m glad we did — it would have been close to a month before we could have gotten these specific people to the table again, and it was nice to pull out all the dice and really beat on stuff.
What happened?
Oh, Margie’s guy is friends with a sort of professional adventurer guy. Said guy is haring off on one of his wild adventures to find a Dragon’s burial site. He’ll be back in a month. It’s been three month’s and the guy’s wife comes to margie and guilts her into going and looking for him. Said dwarf recruits several mutual acquaintances to come with. His drinking pal the mage. The paladin he knows from the warrior’s guild. The cleric the paladin is tight with… and the rogue that the cleric has turned into a little “rehabilitation side-project.”
Right. Oh, and when word gets out that the priest and paladin are headed for Winterhaven, a friend of theirs in the temple who researches such things drops in while they’re packing and advises them to keep on the lookout for a death cult that was spotted heading that direction about a year ago. “You know, just in case. Sure it’s nothing. Ta-ta.”
So they’re traveling to the town and about three days in and getting close to the town they get waylaid by bandits. Little lizardmen- kobolds. There is fighting. The slinger gets away and the others die.
The group gets to town and starts talking to folks, asking after the dwarf’s buddy. Clues are had. The paladin approaches the Lord of the town and gets a promise of reward if they wipe out the kobolds that are harassing the town.
So they have to decide about what to do next: go down to the rumored dragon’s graveyard to look for the missing guy, or head for the Kobold camp? (Or even head for the old abandoned keep from the fallen empire, up in the hills — the one either haunted, or infested with goblins, or both.) They decide that the dwarf’s buddy is the first priority.
They head south out of town and are ambushed by more kobolds — a bit tougher group. The slinger had run back to camp and told such a tale of horror about the adventurers that some bigger guns were called out.
There was more fighting. A lot of “once per day” powers made an appearance, some of which healed the party for large amounts, others of which set large patches of foliage on fire. The group came out of the fight largely unscratched (thanks to healing) but with some of their bigger powers already used up for the day. They’re a little shaky about if they should move on or rest up. *mutters about over-cautious heroes*
And that’s when we called it for the night. I had a good time. I hope we play again.
At the same time? It made me really appreciate the kind of play we have with In a Wicked Age. Different (very), but also very good. I should always make sure to have a copy of that game with me when heading to someone’s house.
As a side note: I’m rolling all my dice out in front of everyone. No fudging, so there’s a good chance some folks are going to be making Death Saves at some point… heaven knows how many times I soft-pitched a fight in 3.5 to keep folks from dying (and the rogue still bit it like… what? Five times?)

Dealing with the whiff-factor in DnD

Played some DnD last night. It was good. I will talk about that more in a bit, but for now, an idea for combating the frustration of repeating missing in a fight.

The Angry Meter
If you miss, you get a token. A Big bowl of glass stones that you get to grab from when you miss — a nice tactile way of portraying building anger. Conceptually it transforms a miss from “a whiff” into “I didn’t hit you yet…but I’m getting closer”.
You can turn in five tokens on a future roll, after the roll has been made.
In Heroic Tier: they’re worth a +5
In Paragon Tier: +10
In Epic Tier: +15
That way, if you would miss anyway by spending tokens, you wouldn’t spend them and just rack up another for the pile.
Critical Fumbles give you two tokens, because 1’s make us really angry… alternately, if you want a fumble to suck more, you lose all your stones when you roll a 1.
You lose all your stockpiled tokens during an extended rest.

Kind of like it… but I’m not sure a game with so much “Marked enemy” stuff going on needs another token floating around the table.

OM Freakin’ G: The DnD 4.0 game with the seven-year old got even more awesome.

You haven’t been keeping up with the exploits of D and his dad Tony? Why on earth not? Go here. Read.
Turns out two of the kid’s characters can speak draconic, and they’ve been fighting kobolds, so the kid is making Dad translate what they’re saying all the time.

At this point in the fight it was very much all over but for the agonized draconic shouting. But that, interestingly, is when things got really funny and weird.
“GGLgLGGGLGG! SSSSSSSssss ss ss …”
“What’s that mean?”
“We are done for, my brother! Let us die with honor!”, I say. After all … they’re toast. Everyone knows it.
Quoth D: “Do you surrender?”
>Blink, blink< "Uhhhh ... SSS?" "What's that mean?" "Uhhhh ... yes?" So now he's got two prisoners, and I'm all like "What the heck is he going to do with prisoners? Is there going to be horrific torture involved? Is he going to wring information out of them, then slaughter them? Kids can be dark ... " Quoth D: "Are you good now?" >Blink, blink< "Uh ... I don't think we're really ... uh ... good or evil. We're just sorta ... us." "Oh. Well I've decided you're going to be good." "But that ... that doesn't actually make us good." "It will. I believe in you." Wow. His major adventure-genre influences have been Fantastic Four, Naruto and Avatar ... but I didn't realize he'd actually been listening.
So he took them back to Winterhaven. He said “You’re going to live here now, and you’re going to be good.” He spent all afternoon talking to extremely mistrustful villagers, convincing them to give these two guys a chance.
In the interest of having chances to, y’know, fight (which D definitely agrees is a lot of fun) we established that he’d gotten lucky and captured the only two non-evil kobolds in the whole tribe, and that the rest of them were terribly evil right down to the core and needed to be killed with extreme death.
D listened to that and said “Yeah, because otherwise we’d have to rescue everybody, and I don’t have enough legos for that.”

Can’t. Stop. Grinning.

Watching the 4.0 DnD release

… is a fascinating kind of car-crash voyeurism.
Lots of folks into gaming have never really tried anything outside of their comfort zone for gaming, and that’s fine.
Many many of those folks are playing DnD.
But what’s happened with 4.0 is that the designers for the game, unlike many of their players, have been watching and (unlike some of the gaming-industry-aware-but-disdainful d20 faithful) embracing some of the significant gaming innovations of the last five years or so. For example:

  • In-combat “tagging” with non-combat skills to give your allies bonuses. (Spirit of the Century)
  • Reducing resource overload to keep the characters streamlined and fun to play as they level. (MMOs)
  • “Respeccing” your character without significant penalty as you level. (SotC. MMOs)
  • The same system used for all actions, even spellcasting. (Heroquest. Dogs. Hell, any indie game in the last 5 years.)
  • Taking actions that set everyone up to be awesome, not just you. (The driving force behind most any indie game.)
  • It seems like a small thing, but it’s something *I* had been playing with a hack for for a couple months now… mechanics to support a “Tank, holding aggro” in a tabletop game.

One of the things I hadn’t seen so far, though, was this little tidbit…

*Q:* Will there be social combat rules in 4E or some other system that allows for non-combat conflict resolution?
A: Yes. We have been playtesting a new social encounter system, which has been one of the most heavily developed—and contentious—parts of the game. Look for it in the DMG.

One of the things that bothered me about 3.5 DnD is that, as a tactical combat game at heart (something it does very very very well), non-combat interactions (ie: the “roleplaying” in RPG) never got the same amount of system support that combat does. Consequently, combat is more *important* than other activities; it has more weight, just in terms of time-devoted-to-it-at-the-table. When a scene that uses Bluff and Diplomacy will simply be ten minutes of roleplay and (if I’m lucky and it’s not simply hand waved away via GM Fiat) one die roll… while a combat with that same antagonist might run 30 minutes to an hour of game play… why would I put much time into developing my Bluff and Diplomacy feats when Combat skills let my character ‘be awesome’ for a much longer stretch of play-time at the table? It’s got a bad payoff percentage at the gaming table.
Answer: I wouldn’t, or I will anyway and be frustrated. (See also: my bard character Gwydion.)
Rules that let an important ‘soft skills’ encounter get the same love and attention from the system that a physical fight does? Games with that kind of ability are the reason I abandoned 3.5 in the first place.
It heartens me that the designers for 4.0 obviously paid so much attention to the best stuff that the REST of the gaming industry (both pen and paper and electronic) has introduced in the last 5 years.
Why is watching the release of the game like watching a car crash?
Well, for many DnD players, all of this new stuff, which is familiar to ME (and my friends, thanks to the evangelical nature of my enthusiasm for those sorts of games in the last few years), is very unfamiliar, new, strange, and just plain WEIRD to them… watching them come to grips with the new DnD is just… fascinating.

Learn about DnD 4.0 with some cool, funny guys.

Okay, so here’s what happened.
Tycho and Gabriel from Penny Arcade, plus Scott Kurtz from PvP, got together with one of the R&D guys from Wizards of the Coast, who runs a DnD game for them.
They recorded the whole thing. Plus, Gabe and Scott drew some scenes from the adventure.
So what the teeming public gets out of it: the whole adventure has been recorded as eight podcasts, plus funny comics.
But that’s not all!
See, Tycho plays d20 all the time. Scott hasn’t played in years, but did at one time. Gabe has never played DnD or any other tabletop RPG at all.
And the GM is really good and takes his time explaining everything, so you find out about the game’s system in a way that’s really natural — the guy is REALLY good explaining the game.
And you have players who are just kind of excellent to listen to.
The first session is here.
The second session is here.
You have to create a login to the Wizard’s web site to see the stuff and download the podcasts. If you have the least little interest in the game, at all, this is how I would suggest you learn about the game, before even looking at the rules, or buying them.
I have to admit, I’ve been looking over the rules for the levels 21 to 30, the “Epic” ranges, and thinking that those rules represent exactly the direction our long-time DnD game went… an ogre warrior gathering an army to become a battle master… or a cleric on the way to demigod-hood, for example (she gave birth her deity’s son, after all)… it’s a shame these weren’t the rules we were using back then. We would have had somewhere to go.

For the nerd on your Father’s Day list

Dungeons and Dragons, 4th Edition.
I’m sorry, I’m just hearing too much good stuff about it. The indie roleplaying community is going gah-gah over it. “If old-school basic Dungeons and Dragons were rewritten by Days of Wonder, after they’d played Spirit of the Century for six months.”
It’s meant to be a high magic game… crazy high magic like rivers of flowing earth and villages of dragonblood humanoids. Dunno if I love that, but …
Eh. I dunno. I mention it mostly because of the great reactions from people whose opinions and gaming tendencies I frequently agree with, and from this actual-play write up, in which the gamer’s seven year old son plays through the first DnD 4th edition module, simultaneously running five characters, keeps all the rules straight (even for Attacks of Opportunity), and outmaneuvers his dad.
I confess: the battlefield rules sound really fun.

How Conflicts Work (PTA, Galactic, and many many more)

So in this post, I’m going to talk about some different games and how they deal with conflict resolution.
Specifically, in which games do conflicts work, and which they don’t work, and how to help out the ones that don’t work as well. I’m going to start with something bog-standard that pretty much everyone is familiar with (DnD), and move progressively further out until I get to an indie game with a lot of good going for it, a lot of good rep, and a conflict system that we keep failing to really ‘get’ — Primetime Adventures.
So, DnD. It’s hardly perfect, but the thing it WANTS to do well it does really well. The only real problem I have with combat is that there really isn’t an end-state where someone doesn’t end up dead; there isn’t really a point in the game SYSTEM where you can say “no: the potential price here is too high — I’m out”. There is a point in the game FICTION (if the play group supports you) where you can do that, but that’s it — the rules themselves don’t support it, and do a lot to discourage it (AoO rules, etc).
The main problem I have with NON-combat conflicts in DnD/d20 is they are all one-roll wonders; you roleplay roleplay roleplay, and then roll to see whether you succeed or just wasted your time. With combat, you get a blow-by-blow recreation of the action, and with a tense diplomatic session, you get… one roll. If you’re lucky, the roll might be adjusted up or down via GM-fiat-bestowed bonuses, thanks to your roleplay, but nowhere in there do you get a system that will give you a sense of verbal sparring.
Result: combat is (sometimes unfairly) called “20 minutes of fun packed into four hours”. Roleplaying is largely freeform, unsupported by the (inarguably solid) small unit combat system.
Here’s a game where you get to use the same system used for everything (unlike DnD, applying the same granularity to everything as well), and as a result of that, all conflicts feel equally important. The basic one-roll system is used when some sort of conflict needs to be resolved, but it’s not a hugely important conflict. The “Extended Conflict” system gets trotted out when a conflict is Really Important. This is kind of brilliant, because depending on the kind of game you’re running, a huge set-piece battle might play out in 10 minutes, with two die-rolls, while a conversation over tea back at the castle might be THE MAJOR ‘FIGHT’ of the session.
The only problem with the current version of the rules is that the gulf between the ultra-simple basic conflict system and the ultra-complicated extended conflict is pretty broad, and often filled with house-ruled mini-extended rules, because the extended conflict rules are cumbersome. This is being fixed in the new rules coming out sometime this summer, and from what I’ve seen, the new “let’s use the longer conflict rules, because this scene is IMPORTANT” rules are going to be easy and intuitive and do exactly what they’re supposed to do. Bravo, sez I: I can’t wait to do some stuff with that system again.
Spirit of the Century
Much like Heroquest, the game uses the same mechanics for both physical combat, verbal conflicts, and really anything else — this means that everything is equally important (ie: represented by the rules and the time spent on it at the table) and any kind of character can contribute. In many ways it’s a very ‘traditional’ game, but full of stuff you can use to really have some kooky story-game fun. I’d love to use this to run a middle-earth-style game of “subtle magics”; the system in the game of being able to Declare an Aspect on a location or in the scene is perfect for the kind of “did I really see that?” magic that’s prevalent in the books.
((Note: it totally isn’t fair to list Spirit at this point in the “timeline”, because it comes after and learns from a bunch of the games I’m about to talk about, but whatever. It reminds me of HQ, so I’m mentioning it here.))
Dogs in the Vineyard
There has been a lot of talk in the indie-game-design scene in the last couple-four years about “stakes”. This is all Ron Edwards fault, thanks to a little game he wrote called Trollbabe that originally introduced the term, after which it was promptly co-opted and at least partially misused in about a gazillion other games.
The idea basically is that before you start rolling dice, you decide what’s at Stake. An example of this might be something like “Okay, I want to get Count Bobo to back down and release the prisoner to me — if I win, he does that.” or something like that. The problem with Stakes is that, if you do it wrong, in the process of defining “what happens if you win, and what happens if you lose” before you roll, you frequently end up discussing and halfway playing out all end result possibilities, so that once you roll the dice, there’s really nothing else to PLAY. You just kind of grunt and say “Okay, well, that cool thing we already discussed to death? I guess that happens. Moving on.”
((Trollbabe, incidentally, bypassed this problem in typical Ron Edwards fashion, via the mechanics of the game — the stakes themselves aren’t nearly as important as the pain you’re willing to go through to GET them — but as is typical with Ron, he doesn’t really explain that in the text, and it’s only head-slappingly obvious about five years later, after everyone’s already cocked up a number of other games trying to pull off the same thing.))
Now, Vincent Baker wasn’t immune to this use of Stakes — he wrote Dogs in the Vineyard during that time, and the concept of setting stakes are there, but (in my opinion) are presented in a far clearer and cleaner way (because it’s Vincent, really). Basically, the conversation you have before rolling is basically “Okay, I want you to reveal what you’re hiding in the house”, and then you roll dice and let the dice sort out what happens. If I just plain beat you in the series of rolls that follow, you’re forced to give in.
However, you might not be willing to take the kind of Fallout (damage) from that full exchange, and give in early. In a sense, that is the heart of Vincent’s conflict resolution in all his games: Negotiation with a Stick. The Thing You Want is out there, but the getting of it breaks down into ACTIONS; into What You Are Doing.
“What you get” is interesting. “What you are doing” is interesting and COOL.
In Dogs, this breaks down roll by roll and is narrated roll-by-roll as a series of discrete and interesting and impactful actions… all of those actions DO something to someone else (that’s the ‘with a stick‘ part) who might decide not to take any more and just give in. (Or they might decide to up the ante and Negotiate with a Knife. 🙂
It’s genius. It sets a bar.
In a Wicked Age
I’m not going to sit on the Vincent Baker bandwagon for very long in this post, but I want to draw a parallel between IAWA and Dogs — they both do the Negotiation with a Stick thing, but they manage it from completely different directions.
The big thing with In a Wicked Age is that Vincent has entirely done away with the idea of Stakes. Instead, you go back, waaaaaay back to that good old d20 stuff and just talk about “What I’m going to do”, which (for me) is a more comfortable place to be as a player. And the end of a series of rolls, you know who actually did what they said they were going to do, and who failed. The winner can then say “give me what I want, or I hurt you.” And the loser can say “Okay” or “hell no, tha’s jus’ a flesh wound!” and you go back into conflict for more pain.
((I’m getting there. I’m almost to the Primetime Adventures thing. I swear.))
Galactic isn’t a finished game, but it’s by the same author who wrote PTA. Since it’s a newer game, it shows how the author’s learned and expanded what he wants out of the game and the conflicts, but it still carries with it some of the flaws. The biggest one I hear the most is that the conflict system is good for conflict, but not so great for roleplaying during the conflict… it has the back and forth dice and sacrifice tactics of, say, Dogs in the Vineyard, but there’s a bit more dice-handling going on, and you’re sort of focused more on that and less on the roleplay that (should be) allowing new dice to hit the table.
Hmm. That’s not very clear. Let’s go to the instant-replay, Bob.
Dogs in the Vineyard Example:
Dave is in a conflict, arguing with a recalcitrant member of one of the towns on his Circuit. The first couple verbal exchanges didn’t work out that well for him, so he’s going to assert a little authority in the form of his Coat — the sort of badge of office of the King’s Watchdogs.
Step 0: It’s his turn.
Step 1: He roleplays bringing the Coat into the scene. Maybe it’s how he stands, maybe he says something about it or asserts his right to wear it, or maybe he just flings it back and the end of it swings in the air, all cool-like. Whatever. He roleplays it first. That’s mandatory, and whatever is narrated to bring the Coat into play DOES happen.
Step 2: He rolls the dice associated with his coat and adds them to his pool. Maybe the dice are awesome, in which case the coat will have had a big impact on the conflict, and maybe they suck, in which case it didn’t.
Step 3. He narrates further, going into what he’s doing as his ‘move’ and ‘plays’ the dice that will represent the strength of what he just did.
You see what happens there? Roleplay is a MANDATORY prerequisite that allows the player to both strengthen their character’s position and justify the dice that he ends up playing against his opponent.
More importantly, it’s specifically stated as The Way You Do It in the rules.
Galactic Example:
Dave is in a conflict, arguing with a recalcitrant member of a colony world he’s trying to get some information from. The first couple exchanges didn’t go his way at all, and he’s gotten some of his dice potentially knocked out of play… plus the dice he has are kind of weak compared to his opponent’s.
Step 0: It’s his turn.
Step 1: He checks off a couple Edges that let him ‘save’ some of his dice from being knocked out. He also spends a fortune point to bring one of his unused Archetypes into play, to give him more dice.
Step 2: He pulls the ‘saved’ dice back into play, and adds his new dice to the mix, and he and his opponent roll.
Step 3: We figure out, based on which dice stay and which dice get knocked out, what happened.
Step 4: We narrate what we deduce has happened … it’s a bit like reading tea leaves. 🙂
See what happens there? Roleplay/narration is a kind of… addendum. An epilogue. It is not central to either the action or the mechanics. Note that this is just the way my group does it. We could (and should, now that I’ve figured this out) do it this way:
Step 0: It’s his turn.
Step 1: He roleplays the actions he takes and everything that happens that will bring in the Edges he needs and the Archetype he’s introducing.
Step 2: He pulls the ‘saved’ dice back into play, and adds his new dice to the mix, and he and his opponent roll.
Step 3: We figure out, based on which dice stay and which dice get knocked out, what happened, and continue roleplay/narration from the stuff we already did in Step 1.
See how that’s better? And there’s no reason we can’t do it that way… but there’s no reason we can’t do it a slightly sloppier, much less roleplay-reinforcing way either, cuz The Way It Is Done is not in the rules.
Hmm. Need to send these thoughts to Matt. Anyway.
Primetime Adventures
Whoo. Been a lot of typing to get here, hasn’t it? Sorry about that.
Okay, so PTA is brilliant. Seriously, and truly, it’s brilliant. I’ve never seen a game that so perfectly represents the way a story is told in the television-medium. The way fan mail works is great, but especially with screen presence and Issues… it’s hard for me to watch a show now and NOT see it in terms of “who has the big screen presence this week” or “oh, it’s an Spotlight Issue session for Angela”, or whatever.
The conflict system, though. Oy. My head.
The problem is, it’s so damned simple. I get x number of cards. You get x number. We flip them over, and whoever has more red cards wins. See? Easy.
No, no it isn’t.
The problem is two-fold. Maybe threefold. Two-and-a-halffold.
One is stakes. PTA is built entirely on setting stakes, and it was written when the term was very vaguely defined by the indie community, so it’s kind of vague and hazy here. It is very. very. very easy to discuss the stakes of the conflict to the point where you’ve entirely explored everything that can happen in the scene, before you even PLAY. THE. SCENE. We don’t focus on what is being DONE; only on what (eventually) happens.
Two is the conflict mechanic itself: flip over of all your cards and you’re done. Conflict mechanics are more interesting when you can insert narrative/roleplay action in the midst of them — we said that even all the way back when we were talking about DnD, didn’t we? The combat is better than the non-combat stuff, because there’s more stuff going on — it isn’t just one roll. In Heroquest, the “important” conflicts are the ones with a few more rolls and detail. Dogs always has a series of rolls, into which roleplay is completely integrated. Galactic has a similar back-and-forth, but doesn’t integrate the roleplay (yet), so it’s not as smooth or as enjoyable.
PTA? It has one cardflip. Boom. Done. The most suspenseful conflicts in the games I’ve played in so far have been when we use the “Chase Scene” rules, which means we flip one card at a time, so if we each have three cards out, we break it down into rounds, basically, and narrate how the action is going up to that point, then flip the next ones.
That’s good. Honestly, I think we should use that “Chase Scene” method a lot more of the time, if not always. If we houserule in a rule that said you can spend Fan Mail in the middle of the conflict to bring in another card (probably paying double for it, since it’s mid-fight), as long as it was before the last flip, that would give us one more reason to roleplay each of those exchanges.
Problem Three, put simply, is just how the scenes are introduced.
Bad: “Okay, I think we’re at a conflict here, what do you want out of this, if you win?” (this is how we do it when we’re not feeling comfortable in the game)
Good: “She says ‘I love you…’ and looks at you expectantly.” (BANG!)
What’s all that mean? Maybe nothing, maybe a lot. I’m possibly running Galactic this weekend after a lot of time away, and we’re playing PTA next weekend, so these things are on my mind. I welcome any thoughts from those (two) of you who managed to stick with me til the end.

“I kick it (old school) for 1d6+2 damage.”

bt-dd-box-225.jpgSo a few weeks ago, I was poking through an old chest of junk from high school and found something I thought I’d long, long LONG since lost. That image to the right gives the suspense away, but I’ll say it anyway:
The pink-box, 1980 copyright, got it for Christmas out of a Sears catalog, “red box” Dungeons and Dragons. The dice are gone (as is the crayon included to color in the numbers), and the spine of the book is cut through so I could put it in a ring binder, and the box is full of old maps and worlds and character sheets, but it’s there. The expert rules, too, in all its weird, crazy, “dwarves, elves, and halflings are characters classes, like warriors and wizards” glory.
And I want to run it so, so bad.
Or at least something like it. For me, a romp down the OD&D lane would be one thick with nostalgia, but I understand that, while the rules are kind of light, not everyone would want to spend the time grokking them (and ignoring the stuff you know from more recent, if not really improved editions) just to smack some kobolds for 1d6 damage with an iron mace.
But… something like that, you know? I love me some Wicked Age, or Spirit of the Century, and I long for a good campaign using Heroquest rules, but while WIcked Age is lean and mean and good story-making fun, and Spirit is a hell of a fun romp and plenty rules crunchy, and Heroquest has a kind of all-in-one fantasy beauty to it, none of the games I’m playing right now scratch a particular itch that I can best sum up as “defined progression.”
You know what I mean; that thing that D&D does, where you get a certain number of experience points, and then there’s a ch-ching and you get a new skill or new trick or new something. Wicked Age characters change, but it’s more story-like. Spirit of the Century characters… shift but, superhero-like, don’t really level up. Dogs characters change all the time, but it’s as a result of things that happen in the story, not because you got 1000 xp and became a Dog-Exorcist, Level 3, you know? There’s no level-up chart for fixing 2 Dogs towns and then *ding!* Heroquest is more traditional, but is like Hero System or other point-based games in some ways — little, incremental changes that you pretty much get by your own spending of points.
I want… I dunno. Burning Wheel would probably do it, with its skills and mega-crunch and life paths, but it’s a big meaty system that Kate played once and didn’t love, and I don’t want to have to learn and then teach another huge, meaty system, anyway. I did that with DnD 3.0 and 3.5, and it burned me out to the point where I won’t play those games anymore; they make me sad the way a failed, codependent relationship does.
So I want something with some structure to character progression, some smacking-kobold fun, that I don’t have to spend a lot of brain power learning… so something I already kind of know, and like, and didn’t burn out on.

Continue reading ““I kick it (old school) for 1d6+2 damage.””

In a Wicked Age

So I’ve mentioned this game a couple times on the site, but haven’t really gotten into the game that much or talked about the sessions. Let’s fix that.
A few months back, I went down to Lee and De’s with Kate, and we cracked open my copy of In A Wicked Age — a game designed to do Sword and Sorcery in the vein of Howard or Tanith Lee. There’s a cool podcast interview with Vincent about the game, here.
The game basically let’s you draw a few cards to define the elements of the setting, pick up some of those elements as PCs, some as NPCs or setting, get each of them pointing guns at each others heads (metaphorically) and then dumping them into a situation together.
Combat/conflict is about as complicated as any “roll initiative/roll defense/gain advantage for next round” game, and is basically perfectly designed to create a kind of an anthology of loosely connected short stories that involve many of the same characters (to a greater or lesser degree) in many sessions. Each session jumps to a new chapter… forward in time… backwards, sideways… whatever. It’s pretty hot, and the rules cool and pretty easy to ‘get’.
It hit the gaming community, and everyone promptly built like 300 million new oracles to use the system in different settings — unlike Dogs, it’s highly setting-independent as a system.
Anyway, we got to the game-starting, and I opened to that part of the book, and we did that stuff. Here’s what the book said to do, and what we did.

Continue reading “In a Wicked Age”

The Sound of Silence

The internets are pretty darned quiet today… at least the areas I listen to. This is, I think, almost entirely due to the release of the Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures on Friday — all those folks who normally blog about WoW stuff are creeping through the jungle, watching the branches above for Stygian assassins. Seriously: I mean it. WoWInsider posts maybe 50 to 70 news items a day, and yesterday a bunch of new information on the upcoming and much-looked-for Expansion was leaked out.. and today, there have been seven posts.
It’s set up to be a big hit.
* Huge potential fan base. A major fantasy property. A million subscribers in the beta, alone. That would be, as a point of reference, three times more than the best numbers CoH has ever put out for a quarter, and larger just in the BETA than all but the truly huge players in the US and Euro market are doing with their production models right now. Their BETA had twice as many player accounts as LotRO — a successful game by any measure, representing possibly the most definitive fantasy setting in the world — does right now.
* Beautiful, evocative, machine-straining gameplay. I’ve known I’ve needed to upgrade my desktop machine for a while now — it’s … (checks Dells site) … wow… it’s over FIVE YEARS old, and although I have tweaked and upgraded and pushed and prodded and squeezed additional performance out of that box until it damn near vibrates with the strain, the very very best I can get out the old horse today is less than the cheapest desktop models Dell is selling today as factory refurbs. Age of Conan knows it — their bare minimum requirements to run the game are beyond anything I have.
* A combat system that’s actually… you know… different.
* A crafting system that you don’t have to screw with for 40 levels, if at all.
* Acknowledgment of the growing-older playerbase with an “M” rating that it works HARD to deserve. Bloody, violent, grown-up fun. That alone will put it in the shopping cart of another 500 thousand folks.
I’ll be honest — it’s not the only reason I want to replace my home computer, but it’s one of em.

Greetings from Shell Beach Eriador!

Again, look at these as snapshots from a recent vacation.
The first shot is from a few weeks ago, taken a few hundred miles northeast of the Shire, in the easternmost reaches of the north downs. It’s one of the passes into the mountains that leads (after quite a lot of winding and ambushes and scary dragon kin) into the southernmost reaches of Angmar, the Witch King’s seat of power. The statues framing the pass look a lot like Nazgul to me. The dark trail on the ground marks the passage of a massive army that went through not too long ago (now occupying the valley of Dol Dinen to the south).

“… but the trees are actually quite lovely…”

This one isn’t really a screen shot — it’s just the current map for the game. As you can see, a lot of the ‘world’ isn’t in play yet — really it’s just the section of the map connected to the areas that the Fellowship ‘touched’ or referred to just during the first half of the first book. Click on the picture to go to an annotated version of the map.

Rivendell. What more do you need to say? In this shot, Geiri pauses on the steep, steep path leading down into Imladris to take in The Last Homely House. At this point in the game’s timeline, the Fellowship is resting up after all the misadventures that got the hobbits there from the Shire; Gandalf and Elrond are in deep council; Aragorn ponders the reforging of Narsil; Boromir remains as far from Elrond as he can; Gloin hasn’t arrived yet, nor has Legolas; Frodo mopes; Samwise worries about him; Bilbo spends his time in the Hall of Flame, telling riddles… and Merry and Pippin smoke barrels of Old Toby don’t pay much attention to anyone else.

Geiri and Tiranor, somewhere in the inhospitable reaches between the northern Shire and Lake Evendim.

Geiri, at Tinundir — Dunedain-held ruins along the shores of Evendim, at sunset.

Geiri, facing off against one of the bestial gauradan, LotRO’s nod to werewolves while staying true to Tolkein. They’re very beast-like in movement and appearance (I had to work at getting a screenshot that showed me their human face under the wolf head for several minutes and numerous fights), and their tribal areas are very cool. I particularly like their facial characteristics; that lantern jaw and heavy brow really sets them apart from other Men.
In this shot, I’m doing what I usually do: smashing my shield into the bad guy’s face until Tiranor gets a couple arrows into them and they decide to have a lie-down.

And that’s it, for now. I tried to get a shot that captured us on our (new!) horses, riding through frozen Forochel, with the northern lights in the sky and our breath coming out in white puffs, but I never quite got it all in a good shot at the same time, so that will have to wait.

A couple screenshots from World of Warcraft

Really, what is an MMO but a mini-vacation? And what should you do on a vacation? You take pictures.
I’ll have some screenies from LotRO soon as well, because they are much prettier. WoW is much more comic-book style, but pretty in it’s own way… or maybe I’m just a nerd.
WoW_Prince Action
This image is from a Karazhan run that, judging from the gear I’m wearing and who I’m grouped with, was probably about 2 or 3 months ago. First, I like this picture because it’s kind of a heroic action shot: Grezzk has just released an arrow at Prince Malcheezar, Octan’s water elemental is blasting an ice bolt over my head at the target… it’s cool.
Second, it’s a pretty good shot of my customized user interface in action. I’ve tweaked the look of the game a lot from the default (thanks to Blizzard making the UI pretty much open-source for developers to mess with at will and release addons for). If you click on the picture above, it links to the Flickr page where I’ve made a bunch of notes on the elements in the picture, just because I’ve never done that before, and it was pretty fun to do.
Whoops. I killed Dr. Boom.
Who’s Dr. Boom? Officially, he’s a guy you’re supposed to kill in this one quest in Netherstorm — a mad goblin who specializes in making exploding robots or something. The thing is, the guy has like like a million-zillion hit points, so in the quest you get some special bombs that you can chuck at him if you can get close enough — hit him with like four of them and he goes down. Unofficially, his stupidly high health and the fact that he never aggros on you — just surrounds himself with bombs — means that ranged DPS like mages and hunters can use him to test out new shot rotations with a DPS-meter running to see what options do more damage, without worrying about (a) killing your target or (b) dying.
I had cause to use him for that purpose last weekend.
Turns out, you will eventually have to worry about (a).

So how did that “interview” raid go?

You know, the first time I went to Karazhan with Grezzk, I was geared up appropriately, ready to go, and yet… I didn’t outperform anyone.
I mean, I did my job, and I didn’t screw up (too much: I saved that for my second run), and I filled a role that needed filled and did the damage that needed to be done. But that was it. I wasn’t posting chart-topping numbers, I wasn’t three-times higher than the next higher damage-class, and I wasn’t doing as much damage as all the other teammates put together.
Eventually, I manage all those things in Karazhan and Heroic-level dungeon teams, but not that time. I was the new guy. I was decently geared for entry-level, but that was it.
And that stage… being the new guy with “good-enough” but not actually “good” gear, and not knowing what I was doing and actually gimping my performance simply because I was focusing so hard on just not screwing up? That stage was a LONG, LONG TIME AGO.
Note that I say “was” a long time ago. As of last night, I’m back in that same place again. I’m the guy with “good enough, but not *good*” gear — the one who needs to learn the fights before he relaxes enough to really open the throttle up — the one who died about 2/3rds of the way through every boss fight. I did the job I was brought in to do, but it wasn’t A+… it was … maybe a B-, maybe a C. “Shows promise, needs to focus” writes the teacher in my new class — not nearly as ‘easy’ as my old class.
A friend from my old guild who convinced me to join him in this new guild told me that he really wanted me to come in and just blow the doors off some of the cockier members of the guild. That didn’t happen last night.
But it will.
I like this new pond. It’s a lot bigger.

Not-a-job job hunt

Hmm. I wrote a really really long post that didn’t go anywhere. Let’s start over.
Playing Grezzk, I’ve been working on the new event in World of Warcraft — the introduction of the Shattered Sun Offensive and all the heroic behind the scenes effort (read: repeatable quests) that go into it — as you complete quests, you and all the other folks doing those quests on the server help the ‘progress’ of the war effort move along — over time, you gain a foothold on the island, then expand it, get logistical support, et cetera, et cetera.
I’ve really enjoyed being part of the Offensive. This can be shown numerically, because the quests themselves pay pretty well and advance your reputation with the Shattered Sun faction — in the short time since this faction was introduced, I’ve gone from 500 gold to the almsot 5200 I need to get an epic-speed flying mount and because Exalted with the faction weeks ago… all without trying… just ENJOYING my small part in the war effort. Good stuff.
But I’m kind of done with that. I enjoy my alt characters a lot, but at the same time I like playing GREZZ: I’ve got more play-time on him AT level 70 than the play time I have on all his other 69 levels combined (a tribute both to the character and to the piles of stuff there is to do in the end game), and there is a lot more stuff to see in the game that I haven’t yet — ‘end game’ stuff that no one will run come Halloween/Thanksgiving when the new expansion comes out. There are seven 25-man dungeons in the end-game, and I’ve seen one of them. I’d really like to fix that.
I was in a guild that was gearing up to hit that content really hard, and it melted down. Scholomance Debate Team went from a really quirky family to a truly poisonous environment in a matter of weeks. In Lee’s words, “it was like dating a really pretty, smart, sexy girl for six months… and then finding out that she was in a mental institution for the three years just before she met you… and then escaped.”
When all the happened, I just didn’t have time to deal with it; I wasn’t an officer or a class lead, and frankly between Kate moving out here and looking for a new job, I just had more important stuff to think about.
So I moved into a casual guild of people I knew who were thinking about doing a little more raiding then they had been. What they were moving up and in to was stuff I’d already done a bunch, but it was still fun to see it again through new eyes. I wasn’t sure it was the right fit for what I wanted, but the GL talked to me about what he wanted to do in the future, and convinced me to stay. That was just before the wedding.
While I was off getting married, the guild leader quit the game during a firestorm of a guild meltdown that I’m pretty glad I missed.
Right. Guildless again. Farstriders is a small server (note: still 5 times higher population than the average CoH server), and there are really only about three guilds who are doing the content I’d like to see, and they’re all kind of ‘hardcore’ raiding guilds; to use an amateur-sports analogy, I was playing with my friends, out in the park, on weekends. These guys are trying to win their division the sponsored league play.
But seriously? It’s that or doing a paid transfer to another, much bigger server and looking for a ‘responsible, but casual’ guild that would take in a stranger.
So I’m basically trying out for one of the local Big Names this week. It’s a series of job interviews all over again.
Honestly? I’m pretty excited.

And in the meantime, i get to play Lord of the Rings with Kate, one which we’ve really picked out our ‘mains’ and started some serious exploration of the higher-end areas. People want us to get to Rivendell in time to give Aragorn a message! We’ve seen Angmar! (Well, we snuck into the southernmost passes leading into angmar and saw a really terrifyingly big dragon go by overhead.)
Pretty heady stuff for a steadfast dwarven guardian and his adorable elven hunting companion. (It’s my blog, so she’s his companion. 🙂

No, there haven’t been a lot of updates

… that’s largely because there hasn’t been a lot of gaming going on.
Sometime last month, Dave ran a session of Ill Met by Gaslight, and that was good.
A little while before that, I ran a session of In a Wicked Age down at Lee and De’s, and that was good too.
I haven’t run Spirit of the Century this year… maybe since last November.
I haven’t run a session of Galactic since mid-December.
Which would leave me posting mostly about World of Warcraft and Lord of the Rings online (which, unlike my local playerbase/social calendar, is always available). I don’t really want to do that (though I may have a “WTB: PvE Hordeside Raiding Guild that won’t Melt Down” post coming up at some point), so that has left me with not a lot to write at the moment.
In lieu of slew of WoW/LotRO-centric posts, I’ve installed two twitter feeds into the sidebar to let me natter on, in a constrained fashion, regarding whatever bit of digital-adventure minutia I’m currently obsessing over.
And seriously?
“Skilled Orc Hunter WTB: Hordeside raiding guild that won’t melt down. Will transfer servers for new content and good group of players.”

Playing Wrong… Right

So Paul Czege (author of the RPG My Life with Master) has something really interesting to say about that game and how it’s viewed and interpreted by the playing public.

I blame [this misunderstanding on] what came later. When I designed My Life with Master, my play style was characterized by fluid scenes involving multiple player characters, a natural enjoyment of roleplay and dialogue without any particular hurry to use the resolution mechanics, and no particular concern for equitable apportionment of screen time. To my great frustration, it has subsequently become characterized by formalized stakes-setting, abrupt usage of resolution mechanics, and narration at the expense of roleplay.

Does that boldface thing sound like some of the less-successful Primetime Adventures play? Hmm…
So there’s this thing I always find myself apologizing for on the Story Games forums, and it boils down to something like this:

“Here’s some Actual Play that I wanted to share with everyone. It’s going to be long, although there’s only a few conflicts: we got through about five scenes in the five hours we played — we just don’t play as fast as everyone seems to.”

Why did I bother apologizing for something like that? We had a good time with our five hours — we did some cool stuff and had fun, right? However, I’d been reading so much on the ways that various folks ran their games (and I mean THEIR games — games THEY wrote) that I wanted to at least try for the kind of style envisioned by person who wrote the game.
What did that mean? Well, based on what I had interpreted to be the case, the idea was to cut into the action, drive straight for whatever the current conflict might be, get there, engage the conflict mechanics as soon as logically possible, figure out what happened, and then narrate it. Then immediately cut to the next scene.
Hmm. Damn, it doesn’t even sound viable when I describe it like that. Often it wasn’t, although using PTA’s rule of “skip anything that would bore the audience” works better.
Result? Usually, Epic Fail.
So lately, I’ve kind of let that go, a little bit at a time. De helped with this in one of her comments on this blog: “So we play slow? So what, we have fun,” and lately I’ve come to a better place for MYSELF in gaming, where I *still* focus on the next drama- or conflict-laden scene, and still try to get to a point of conflict IN that scene, but I get there with more roleplaying, less narrating, and let more of the CONFLICT be roleplay, with the system itself used to determine the final ‘what happened?’
There was a really good example of this in the second-to-last Primetime Adventures game I ran — so much so that I really started to feel like I was “getting” that game (ironically, but simply letting go and not TRYING to “get” it.)
So, is it stupid be kind of relieved and “cleared” to find out that most of my concern over playing the game wrong stems from incorrect assumptions on my part about how it’s being played by others, from the beginning? I hope not: I will feel that way, regardless.
These crazy new games, they talk a lot about the Story and how to get to it — something I already know, but was sloppy about in the past. They’ve helped with that. However, all that very specific language about the story made it seem as though the story itself, and the creation of it also had to be parsed out and diced and sliced in the same very specific way, or all the advice would be useless. USELESS!
And it’s not that way; it’s like writing advice. Yes, it’s often good and useful and helpful, but if you try to observe and follow every single bit of good advice all at once, being careful not to forget anything and to get all the words exactly right in the first draft…
… it’s going to fucking suck. I mean, it’s going to godawful unreadable shit. There will be a gem here and there, and you’ll cling to those gems and analyze the HELL out of them, because they are undeniably BETTER than what you were doing before, but the net result is worse.
You can’t do it that way. You write. You keep those other new things in mind, and let them all gradually sink in over a great deal of time, or you incorporate one thing at a time until you don’t think about it anymore, then add the next thing.
Why do you do it that way? Because if you can write at all, you already know how to write in a way that makes you happy, and that is the important thing you have to hold on to no. matter. what.
The same is true of play. I got all excited for a while about how I could be doing things better, and lost track of the fact that what I was doing already makes me pretty goddamn happy. So I let all those little guides and hints sit to the side, and I’m slowly working them in, a little at a time, and I’m not worrying about the fact that I’m doing it ‘wrong’, according to what I’d thought I’d read.
And just about the time I got completely comfortable with being wrong, I find out I was okay, all along.
Life is funny that way.

Nobilis, renewed.

(Via Story Games:) Rebecca Borgstrom has released “Unlikely Flowerings”, the first part of the long-awaited Society of Flowers supplement for Nobilis as a 115 page pdf at Drivethrurpg for $5. It’s also available for free at (the publisher) Eos’ website, but “purchasing it from DTRPG will show your support for the author, her efforts and improve the chances of seeing the rest of the book.”
Nobilis is also getting a reprint by Eos Press. The reprint will be revised and twice as thick as the 2nd edition, due to resizing the book to 8.5″ x 11″; will contain new art, a new visual style, and content from The Game of Powers Live-action RP rules. (Which is ironic, since I always thought the rules in Game of Powers worked better for TTRPGs than the main rulebook’s more LARPish rules.)

Week in Review

Not a ton to say, really. Kate might disagree, but it doesn’t feel as though a lot’s been going on with Gaming-stuff.
* No Galactic or Spirit of the Century. *sad panda*
* I led a Kara raid up through the Opera event on Wednesday. That was fun in a wacky way; more stress, but we had a weird group and ended up doing stuff like taking out Moroes and company with no priests, chain-traps, and a lot of shooting things in the face.
* One of the other Raids on a ‘free’ night fell through, which left me with nothing to do, so I hopped on Syncerus the Drood and chewed up Strangethorn Vale and Duskwallow Marsh for awhile, dinging both 40 (hellooooo Dire Bear form) and 41.
* I didn’t really want to watch the Oscars, so I played during that while Kate watched and filed a bunch of her books on our now-full shelves. This led to FINALLY getting Kayti done with the huge Zul Farrak dungeon for which I’ve been gathering quests and prepatory gear for… three months? A long time. During the run I dinged 47, and turning in the (eight!) quests afterwards took her all through 47 tp 48. Tanking the run was fun, though the paladin threat generation isn’t as easy as I recall (partly due to trigger-happy pug-teammates).
Grezzk’s guild is struggling to recreate itself in an active-raiding mold. Consequently, raid schedules are in flux, the officer corp is in flux, the guild charter… you get the picture. Old officers unhappy with the changes are leaving, etc. etc.
Y’know what I’m doing about it? Nothing. I went to the (vent-based) meeting to vote on various changes, and offered my two cents and a reality check or two on some of the rules, but volunteer to be a raid leader? No. Volunteer to be an officer? No.
Thanks. I’ve done that. I have the t-shirt and the “die in a fire” emails from former guildmates.
I log on. I play. If I’m really lucky, I get in a group with some folks and we have a good time. If not, I still get to blow stuff up and mess with my little characters and play a game.
A second job (unpaid, that is) I do not need.

“All right, you rudimentary-lathe people have gone too far.” (Galactic: introduction and Session One)

I’m really not going to be able to do the Galactic game justice with an Actual Play report.
First, we’ve had four sessions now and I haven’t done a report yet. The first one was back in late November, and the details are a bit hazy.
Second, a ton of stuff has gone on, and inevitably, I’m going to forget some stuff.
Third, I want to talk a bit about the mechanics in the game, so that’s going to color things a bit, and there’s a lot of that to talk about.
I’m going to give a shot, though, because the game deserves the thought and discussion.
So let’s start from the beginning.
In Session 0, we had too many players. That’s all right, because (a) one guy wasn’t going to be able to stay with us for the whole run and (b) with a few extra players, we were more likely to have enough people to play even if someone couldn’t make a session.
These are the characters we came up with. We each also had to come up with one planet and one faction that’s active in the setting, and you repeat that between each of your three quests, also, during the first session, every Captain comes up with their own cliffhanger for the first quest to start with. They also pick the world the quest will feature. The player on the left picks a faction that will be prevalent. The player on the right comes up with a central NPC for the quest.
So there is a lot of communal world-building going on throughout the game, which means that each game of Galactic is very different in tone, elements, and story than any OTHER game, despite the “main” story being the same. (Even the Scourge itself is different in each game.)
Now, on the surface, Galactic looks like the kind of game where no one can miss a session. The reason for that is the way character creation works. Everyone makes up a starship captain, and then we sort of ‘meet’ each captain in turn, and everyone else at the table (except the gm) makes a crew member for that captain. Captains and their ships can run the gamut from an officer of the Concordant Navy to the captain of a commercial cruise ship to the leader of a ragtag group of scavengers — it’s all good. Thing is, it seems like “if someone doesn’t show, then that crewmember isn’t there on every captain’s scene, and so forth”, but as long as you make the ‘minimum’ number of players (which might be three plus the GM, maybe, but which could work with just two players, short-term), you’re good to go.
The basic background of the setting is that mankind, after creating the huge Galactic Republic, was wiped out by the mysterious Scourge. One colony ship escaped the genocide, and founded a new home on a nasty, brutish world at the end of nowhere. They finally returned to the stars, found out about their lost history, and are starting to explore and colonize back in the direction of the “Core” — the home of the original Republic. On the way, they run into lots of alien races who were once part of the Republic (and who often revile or worship humanity, by turns), as well as the ruins and abandoned technology of their own ancestors.
And then the Scourge wakes up.
The game is about how these captains (working alone for the most part) try to stop the thing that no one could stop the last time. It’s got a strong feel of the new Battlestar Galactica for me, both in the story tone and in the mechanics and interplay of crew and captains.
This is basically how the conflict works out.
A scene opens with a captain. We set up what happens and we play. At some point in there — maybe right away, maybe later — we get to a point where either I or the Captain say that something happens that other one says “no” to, and that’s where and when we go to the Conflict system.
The conflict system works like so: in true Firefly- or BSG-style, there’s two sides to every conflict — there’s “what the conflict is ostensibly about” and “the relationship between the Captain and one of the crew that is either going to be strengthened by Trust or weakened by Doubt as a result of what happens.” It’s important to understand that Winning or Losing the Goal happens INDEPENDENTLY of the Trust/vs/Doubt thing with the crewmember. You can totally get your ass kicked in the epic space battle, but the crewmember who is “on the hook” for that scene could trust you more at the end, because of the WAY things happened. Or vice versa: you could kick ass and take names, but your actions fill the crewmember with Doubt.
1. You figure out what the Conflict is about, and which crewmember is ‘on the hook’. (This is my term for it — not the game’s.)
2. Then, the Crew who are involved take the one dice that they get to contribute to the conflict (there are painful and dangerous ways to contribute more dice — sometimes a LOT more dice — using what I and the author call the “leaf on the wind” mechanic) and decide if that dice is going to help the Quest or the Crew side of the conflict.
3. Then, the GM decides where he is going to allocate his dice in the conflict — is it mostly going toward weakening the crew’s resolve, or to resisting the Goal of the quest? Maybe an even mix? The GM has a budget of dice he can use on each captain (plus any Doubt the crew has in the captain), so I can’t just crush them every time with as many dice as I want.
4. Once the captain sees where the crew are putting their effort, and what forces are arrayed against him, he puts out his own dice, which can be quite numerous — he has multi-dice ‘archetypes’ that can be brought to bear, as well as the ability to utilize any Trust that he’s earned from any of his crew (like any captain, he can put the crew’s Trust to use, though that puts that Trust at risk — he can lose it). Finally, he can decide that whatever he’s doing might put innocent bystanders at risk, and the bigger those potential Consequences are, the more extra dice he can bring in. They are BIG dice too, those Consequence dice, so they’re very tempting.
When it’s all said and done, the dice are all arrayed against each other, and there is rolling, and comparisons a lot like the old dice game “War”, and narration of that round happens, and then folks might have lost, or they might ‘give’, or they might rally and go into another round and keep battling until the whole thing is resolved. At the end, the Captain has either won or lost their goal, and one of the crew members has either gained Doubt or Trust in the captain (and the same crewmember can totally have both Trust AND Doubt in the captain, over time, which is awesome.
Once that scene is done, we do it all again with the NEXT player; we switch to a new captain, everyone switches gears to playing a new character, and off we go.
So… that’s kind of what happens in play.
This is a very set kind of story arc. Each captain plays through three quests. A quest is over when the captain wins three conflicts having to do with that quest. Now… that might be three wins in a row, or 2 wins, then a loss, and then a win; or maybe five straight losses followed by three wins (which would be kind of cool). Doesn’t matter — at some point, they get the three wins, the quest is accomplished, and they move to the next, then the next. (Unless they die — they CAN die, and there are provisions in place for that.)
Once the third quest is done, we move to the Last Big Quest, and at the end humanity is either saved or it’s wiped out by the Scourge. The end.
Right now, we’re about four sessions in, and pretty much everyone is done with their first quest.
Session 1 (Chris, Tim, Dave)
We started with Tim’s Captain Nils, the captain of Isabel’s Dream, which is ostensibly a cruise ship, but is also a neutral ground for diplomatic meetings and happens to be armed (definsively!) to the bloody teeth.
Tim had a great cliffhanger set up, and I was looking forward to it, but I also wanted to make sure we were ‘getting our roleplay in.’ Matt Wilson is a great game designer, but in playing his other ‘big’ game, Primetime Adventures, I’d noticed that players got wrapped up enough in the mechanics that they didn’t… you know… “just roleplay” — they only did with regards to the Conflict — making for very focused, but very short scenes… maybe only a few lines of dialog and lots of narrative. That’s partly Matt’s playstyle (as I understand it), but I wanted to make sure that we were taking the time to roleplay just for the sake of roleplaying as well.
Also, this “who is the ‘featured’ crewmember” thing was kind of new to everyone, so I took a page from BSG and started the ‘show’ with a scene between the captain and the crewmember-of-note. In this case, that was Dave’s college student, working as an assistant purser on the ship.
We opened the scene with Tim’s captain briefing the purser on the seating arrangements for a big banquet that evening on the ship. This was an impromptu thing, but Tim really rose to the occasion, rattling off page after page of detailed “do’s” and “DO NOTS” about everyone attending the party — who couldn’t sit next to who, and why, and which group’s hated which other groups, or who needed special treatment, or practices, or food, or greetings — while the harried and utterly overwhelmed purser trailed along in his wake, nodding and trying to take notes. The scene really illustrates how good Nils is at his role (which is largely an act) and how new to the whole thing Dave’s purser is.
So now the cliffhanger, which is simply this:

During the banquet, as the Dream comes into orbit over the planet of R___, the mysterious black box in Captain Belinar’s room (passed down for generations in his family in readiness for ‘when the Scourge return’) begins to beep. The captain is called to his suite, and he and a few select members of his crew enter. As soon as they do, the box emits every more beeps, and the ship shifts perceptibly. The helm hails the captain, and informs him they have just lost all steerage control, and the ship has moved into a landing pattern with the planet’s surface.
There are a few seconds of silence, and the captain comments, “It’s unfortunate that we’re not atmosphere capable.”

The goal for the conflict was “Get control of the ship away from the box, before we enter the atmosphere.”
I’d love to give a play-by-play, but it’s been months, so here were the key bits:
* Dave’s neophyte-purser character was at some level mind-melded with the mysterious black box.
* Chris’ security chief/ship’s chaplain was a pain in the captain’s tuchas.
* The captain kept the ship from entering orbit by cutting all the main power in the ship (including things like the gravity control) and using on-board nuclear missiles (!), fired at the planet (!!!) to introduce enough counter-momentum to get back into a shaky low-orbit.
* Dave’s character, as a college-level historian, was shocked that the captain targeted the planet randomly to induce the right thrust for the ship, ignoring the fact that he was targeting key bits of the local ruins, such as the famed “Third Pylon”, but the captain’s plan paid off : the planet’s highly damaging Acid Raid (which actually shouldn’t have been falling during that phase of the planet’s weather) damaged the missiles enough that they didn’t damage anything of any importance on the uninhabited planet — several didn’t even fire.
We then switched to Dave’s character, Allysande Daen, who’s main goal is to track down her father, a former navy admiral, and find out what happened to him and What’s Going On.
We join the crew making planet fall on Ando III, a cool-temperate planet with a vaguely oriental flavor, on which “Zeno”, Daen’s father’s former XO, is living… in a well-heeled asylum.
Tim’s crewmember Bosley, Daen’s personal ‘batman’ is the crewmember on the hook. Chris is playing “Smoke” the stoner-mode mechanic who keeps Daen’s “Heart of Darkness” working. Daen and Bosley are heading to the Asylum. Smoke is heading to the local bazaar to scrounge up some supplies.
Bosley, who knows Daen well, is quietly talking with her during the mechanized rickshaw ride to the asylum. They’re discussing things like “Are you prepared to tell him how your career is doing?” (It isn’t: she left the navy to pursue this personal quest.)
Dave’s cliffhanger setup was the next bit:

Daen and Bosley walk into the public “sun room” where Zeno and a number of other patients are sitting around doing various sun-room activities. He looks up and recognizes her. She says “Hello, Commander. I’m looking for my father, and I was hoping you might be able to help me find him.”
The old man nods and says “I was afraid of that.” Then he and EVERY OTHER PATIENT IN THE ROOM pulls guns out from under their lap blankets and open fire.

The goal for the conflict is essentially “Win the firefight without killing Zeno.”
((A word about conflict goals: they are best when they have interesting failure options built into them. “Survive the fight.” is boring, but “Survive without killing Xeno” is cool: you can LOSE the conflict, but that could mean lots of things. Maybe you lose the firefight; or have to flee; or the police arrive and arrest everyone; or you win, but you shoot the one source of information you have… or a dozen other things. Setting up a good conflict WITH INTERESTING FAILURE OPTIONS is a key part of not just Galactic, but any game. Losing should be just as interesting, if not more so, than winning.))
So there’s a gunfight. Meanwhile, Smoke is in the bazaar, and only a few seconds after the shots start in the asylum, some guys jump him in the bazaar and he’s running for his life and shouting for help from the Captain as well. (His crew-dice were in on the side of winning the Crew conflict, not the Quest one — how well she handled Smoke’s problems would build Trust with Bosley. Bosley was ALSO in on the Crew conflict, not the quest.)
Again, I have only a few bullet points.
* The captain took a few bullets in this fight. Dice that get knocked out of a conflict stand the chance of being “impaired” – made unavailable for the rest of the quest. A LOT of Daen’s “Warrior” archetype dice got impaired during the fight, so that’s how that was narrated.
* Dave went to a lot of work to protect both Tim and Chris’s dice from getting knocked out — lots of shouted commands and shoving Bosley out of harm’s way and suchlike.
* Some ‘deep cover’ agents from the organization that Daen is working with a lot showed up to help out (use of her Connections trait, which allows (or forces) rerolls)
* Dave ended up winning the conflict, and closes in on Zeno, who’s run out of bullets. He agrees to talk, and then goes into a violent seizure (seizures being one of the “Scourge traits” in this version of the game.
And cut to the next guy.
Captain Argon Slash is docking his ship, the Legion, on “The Drift” — a massive space-station in the middle of uninhabited space, comprised of hundreds if not thousands of different ships crushed, bound, and welded together. Each captain has his own ‘flavor’, and Slash’s is a kind of mix between Firefly and an anime where the characters often make Super Deformed angry-faces. The crewmembers for this part of the quest are Sonja, Slash’s ex-wife and the ship’s negotiator; and Jake, who’s sort of a young, crazy, gun-ho shootist (and Slash’s fifth-cousin).
Slash, who collected crazy Solar Republic artifacts (and then tries to integrate them with his ship), has discovered a weird pyramidal object. He’s not sure what it does, but he’s heard a rumor that at the heart of the Drift are ships that date back as far as the Solar Republic — ships that still WORK. His ‘plan’ is to find a way into the core of the gang-turf-controlled Drift and plug the device in… and just… see what happens.
Which is his approach to most ancient tech.
The three are heading toward a meeting with a contact on the Drift who controls the territory they need to get through when they’re jumped by members of the neo-luddite, anti-expansion “Blue Sky” faction.
Slash holds them off — thermal detonator in Jabba’s Palace-style — with a Mysterious Ancient Artifact (or two). Jake is waiting (and eager) for orders to shoot. Sonja is verbally sniping at everyone. The following verbal exchange takes place
Sonya: “Listen to the man — I was once married to him, and I can assure you it’s dangerous to get close to him.”
Blue Sky: “Silence! We would hear nothing from someone who has succumbed to the sin of divorce!”
Sonya: “Excuse me?!?”
Blue Sky: “Quiet!”
Sonya: “All right, you rudimentary-lathe people have gone too far.”
And that’s when the shooting starts.
* Slash was pretty much conning the Blue Sky folks all the way through.
* Jake’s crew dice where very hot — he was shooting all over.
* Sonya was saved from ‘knock out’ by Argon’s love of tech. She takes a shot and the chest and Slash cries out, running over to her and pawing at the hole in her clothing. She protests that she’s fine — and he reveals he was just checking to see if the armor weave that he put into her jacket (without her knowledge) held. It did! Slash is happy — Sonya is pissed.
I put a LOT of dice against the Crew aspect on this fight, cuz I wanted Sonya to have Doubt in Slash, but the group banded together and held me off — Sonya, although she doesn’t *like* Argon very much, does *trust* him… at least she trusts his instincts with technology. (Ironically, it’s turned out that Sonya is the only crewmember who DOES have trust in Argon… maybe the other’s don’t know him that well?)
The Blue Sky scatters, and Jake runs off after them, whooping and hollering. Sonya storms off back to the ship. Argon is left by himself.
Back to Captain Nils
The goal of this conflict was not very good on my part — simply “Get Control of the Ship back from the Box.” It was a FUNNY conflict, to be sure, but not a good one — failure would have resulted in nothing much happening, which sucks. Luckily, they one.
What happened.
* The box used some kind of lightning on Chris’ guy… then sort of mind-controlled him. Nils had to incapacitate him with some other ancient family-heirloom widget.
* Dave’s character was the box-translator most of the way through this. (“No, no, using the blue lightning against the Reverend is BAD!”)
* The box was receiving a signal from the planet, telling it to come down to the planet. The Signal is on U-space frequency … ironically, from the just-saved-from-destruction Third Pylon!
* Nils is able to control the box by speaking commands to it in Trilatian. (The Solar Republic version of the /sudo command.)
And Allysande Daen…
With Zeno having seizures and possibly doing himself serious internal harm, SMOKE has to talk the Captain through dosing the man on something that will bring him out of the seizures and subdue him… without killing him. Luckily, Smoke is something of a ‘pharmaceutical expert’.
* Smoke gives quick, professional medical advice and actually shouts at Allysande when she hesitates at one point.
* She trust him and follows his instructions.
* Bosley now really trusts her for her success and for supporting her crew. (Though I think we awarded Trust wrong here…)
… and that was the end of session one. I’ll put another post up for Sessions 2 and 3 combined, and a third for Session Four, which is where we are now.

“Let’s not create a WoW-widow before we even get married, hmm?”

… or, to be fair, a Gaming-widow in general.
I’ve been giving my Google-calendar a workout for the last couple days, because although I am a gamer of many different colors and stripes, I have traveled down the road of life-imbalance quite a few times since the early 90s (oh, those early MUDs and MUSHes; oh those hours of Space Hulk and Battletech map creation), mid-90s, and far far more recently… and I’d just rather not go back there, thanks.
So: I raid in WoW (though I could wish for a little more progression-status and a little less farm-status — I did my farming in my youth :P), and I have some alts I really enjoy, and I play LotRO, and a have a copy of Tabula Rasa winging its way to me for a practically criminal discount, and I have table top games I’m running and even more that I want to run, and then there’s writing stuff, and reading stuff… the question before me is “how do I get enough time to ‘blow stuff up’, without ensuring that I have “ALL THE TIME YOU COULD EVER WANT, AND THEN SOME, YOU BASTARD”?
I’m not an expert, but these are the guidelines I’m working with right now.
1. Schedule my time. I don’t mean just my play time, but just flat out schedule the Big Stuff that needs doing during the next week. Note: I use the word “needs” advisedly, and not without some irony; leveling my druid does not “need” doing… it’s just one of those things I’d enjoy getting to do.
2. Kate and Kaylee first. The time I will, without fail, spend with My Girls during the week goes on the calendar first. Everything else bends to adapt. Non-negotiable. This is fairly easy for Kaylee-time, as Jackie and I already have a set schedule that pretty much ensures I see her every day (barring the off-weekend). Kate and I — not habitually that detail-oriented — are working on actually scheduling stuff, too: weekly date nights and the Regular Tuesday Night Activity (currently swing dancing). This also (happily) includes some activities like LotRO and watching geeky shows like Avatar, so… Win/Win!
3. Limited ‘play commitments’. I have a limited amount of time to be online and playing stuff. Call it 15 to 20 hours a week. My guild has planned activities that take about 15 to 20 hours a week. I do ****NOT**** want to spend all my online time on those planned activities. Therefore, I need to strictly limit my raiding commitments. This basically boils down to (selfishly, very selfishly) signing up only for stuff *I* really want to do, and NOT signing up for things just to ‘help folks out’. I’ve prioritized my time helping online-people out before, and it always means I spend too much time online with an exponentially decreasing amount of personal enjoyment. I play so *I* can have fun; bugger off, internets. This rule means I get to spend a good portion of ‘me’ time completely unstructured. I approve.
4. Vetoes Unless I am currently involved in some kind of group activity in which my sudden departure will result in screwing over a bunch of other people. (I’m GMing a game, a central player in a game, or in some kind of group, online), Kate (and, to a lesser degree, Kaylee) can ask me to drop what I’m doing. ((Emergencies, of COURSE, mean that I say “sorry guys, gotta go” and I f-ing GO. Duh. Obviously.)) Conversely, I reserve the right to go kill stuff instead of watching a third hour of Trading Spaces… or Little Einsteins.
There are unspoken parts of this, like the assumption that there will be lots of ‘white space’ on my calendar that will get filled in naturally with the “sand” of honey-dos, chores, random acts of laziness, and especially impromptu fun stuff involving either The Girls, or Games, or both.
But you have to lay out the Big Stuff first, before the whole area fills in with sand and leaves no room for them.
Or so it seems to me. I’ll report back, maybe, on how it all works in practice.

Fiddling with my global cooldown

Cooldown: n. MMO-related. A period of wait time before a spell, ability or power can be used after that same spell, ability, or power has been used.

Example: In World of Warcraft, a character’s hearthstone has a one hour cooldown. Once you use it to teleport back to your ‘home’ location, the stone cannot be used again for an hour.

Global Cooldown: n. MMO-related. A period of wait time before any spell, ability or power can be used after ANY OTHER spell, ability, or power has been used.

Example 1: In World of Warcraft, any attack power triggers the ‘global cooldown’. At the moment that an attack power occurs, all other special abilities become unavailable for 1.5 seconds. This is to prevent players from stacking up skill uses at an unrealistic or game-breaking rate.

Example 2: In City of Heroes and Lord of the Rings online, the Global Cooldown is actually ‘front loaded’ into each power — there is a (often uninterruptible) delay between activating an attack and that attack actually happening. The end result is the same as WoWs global cooldown, but allows players to queue their next attack while the current attack is still ‘going’.

Global Cooldown: n. Doyce-related. A period of time during which I need to decompress at the end of the day. Cooldown times vary, depending on what has been happening that day. Cooldowns often include use of an MMO, but might also involve reading, watching videos, or various other activities; however, many people adopt specific activities that they prefer, and are reluctant to change.
Failure to observe the the Global Cooldown can be game-breaking.
Global Cooldowns (as defined here) are strongly affected by who else is in your adventuring party, as other players can aid the GCD, extend the time required, or even interrupt the GCD unknowingly, resulting in a number of system errors.
Communicating with the other members of your team about the GCD is highly recommended, especially when you have recently added a new member to your party.

Almost suspiciously perfect

A job opening posted by Blizzard Entertainment. I’ll boldface the requirements I meet.

* Contribute to the written development of Blizzard Entertainment’s intellectual properties.
* Write copy text for use by other Blizzard Entertainment teams.
* Write technical information for game manuals.
* Author original short stories that showcase Blizzard Entertainment’s rich and diverse intellectual properties.
* Contribute in the research, gathering, and documentation of source materials from Blizzard Entertainment’s intellectual properties.
* Work with business partners in the development of our intellectual properties through the creation of ancillary products
* Perform editing tasks when needed by creative development.
* Perform other duties that may be assigned by creative development management and producers.
* 2+ years of industry or related industry experience as a writer
* Successfully published writing work, preferably in the fantasy, horror, and science fiction genres
* Working knowledge and understanding of technical writing and editing
* Excellent written and oral business communication skills
* Working knowledge of Blizzard Entertainment’s intellectual properties, and a vast knowledge of current successful intellectual properties in today’s popular culture
* Ability to work and thrive in a team environment
* Ability to produce writing without constant supervision
* Excellent organizational skills and ability to work well under deadlines
* Experience creating and running pen and paper RPG campaigns and/or live-action RPGs
* Experience in playing massively multiplayer online role-playing games, especially World of Warcraft
* Bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience
* Experience in designing and playing computer games (finally, my years buildings and running those text-based MMOs, written in LISP, pays off!)

Could this possibly be for real?

This is a full-time position in Irvine, California.

Ahh, there it is. The sting of verisimilitude.

Week in Review

Got everyone together for the third installment of our Galactic semi-playtest this Sunday. Despite horrendous paint fumes and a cuddle-needy munchkin underfoot, we still got a lot done and… MAN I need to write up an actual play report for the whole three sessions so far.
This game delivers. Wow. Seriously. Unlike a lot of other games I really really like (Heroquest, Dogs in the Vineyard) Galactic is not the kind of game you can easily kitbash to work in some other genre. it’s hard to explain, but it’s designed very specifically to play several science fiction ship captains, with their crews, working independently to stop the destruction of humanity. It is really NOT the kind of game that twists and bends into some other genre very well.
However, the stories that you get OUT of the game will be very different, even with repeated replays, so in that way, it’s different every time. It does one thing, but it does it very well. More later.
After a two-month break from progression raiding for the holidays, the guild I’m in has started fast-tracking some raiding work. To this end, the officers have been recruiting and we took our single, over-populated, weekend Karazhan team and split it into one weekend and one weekday Karazhan team, which lets us gear more people up, more quickly.
The challenge there is that we’re then working with much leaner ‘rosters’ for both teams — we no longer have the luxury that we had over the holidays of swapping people in and out to create the perfect team to annihilate whatever boss we were about to fight. If we don’t have ‘enough’ priests to handle the undead guys in Fight B, then … well, we have to deal. If we don’t have “enough” rogues for the Aran fight? Tough. This has forced us to be a little more resourceful, coordinated, and willing to use some unconventional tactics to win what are sometimes ugly fights.
But win we have: three weeks running, both teams have had full clears of Karazhan from front to back. Cool.
Also: after our almost two month break from progression raiding, we took a brand new raid group back to Gruul’s Lair. With a significant number of new raiders in key roles, the result might have been tough to handle, but instead we handed High King Maulgar a flawless, one-shot kill. Seven days later, the guild downed Gruul himself for the first time in the history of the guild, which is awesome. (I wasn’t there to see it, but hopefully I’ll be in on the next one.)
The most notable thing about our first Gruul kill is that they took him down much more quickly than a first-time guild would. We’ve recently adopted a new strategy that verified what many have suggested all along — once we learned the fight, we would prove to have *more* than enough Damage, Healing, and Tanking to immediately start looking at the next challenge after Gruul.
In non-progression news: I’m leveling up a druid and a paladin. Grezzk is Damage, so one of these new guys will be a Tank, and the other will be a healer. Don’t yet know which will be which, though.
Hey: those folks who play LotRO and read this: we should set up a time to log in and do some stuff.

Week in Review: Done with PvP

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I like WoW battlegrounds. I like WoW Arena. I even like flagging myself for PvP and going after various PvP “world objectives.”
I especially like the way they implemented PvMP in Lord of the Rings Online.
So how exactly am I done with PvP? I’m done with PvP-servers in WoW. I transfered the last of my characters from a PvP server to a ‘carebear’ server last night.
Here are the things with the PvP that I like: It is challenging and it is a very different kind of game than the typical PvE “Kill Ten Rats” missions that you run over and over and over again with gradually improving special effects budgets. Playing against other players is fun.
It’s also NOT what I want to do ALL THE TIME. If I sign up for a battleground or an arena — that’s what I want to do. If I flag myself PvP so I can take back the town of Halaa — fantastic — that’s what I want to do.
If I’m riding around the open plains of Nagrand, hunting clefthoof bulls for their hides and meat while I get caught up on my newsreader, then PvP is NOT what I want to do. Setting up a game so that anyone who wants to be a jerk can interrupt what I’m doing just for the hell of it is not fun for me. It’s like reading a book on the edge of the playground and having some other idiot decide that — whether you want to or not — you’re playing Dodgeball.
Right. Now.
So the deal with the WoW “PvP” servers is that, if you’re in a ‘safe’ zone, you can’t be attacked unless you specifically say you can, and if you’re in any of the ‘contested’ areas (read: 85% of the landmass in the game, and almost 100% of the area you’ll be in for 96% of your character lifespan) it’s automatically Duck Season.
Switching from a PvE server to a PvP server is like learning how to play an arcade game in a regular video arcade, and then visiting an arcade where all the other players are allowed and in fact REWARDED for walking over while you’re playing your game and SCREWING WITH YOUR CONTROLS. Nevermind that they could just wait until you got in line to play one of the player vs. player games there — they want to screw with you while you’re doing one of the solo race car games.
Thank you, no.
What bugs me the most about the PvP-server-players’ attitudes is that it’s more realistic to play in a setting like that.
Because, well… no. No it isn’t. If ‘realistic’ means ‘like real life’, then I disagree. The two major factions in WoW are currently observing a TRUCE. Moreover, both sides are being assaulted by other, more powerful forces. The SAME ones. Enemy of my enemy? Hello?
Secondly, people don’t just randomly see another hunter on the open plains and say “he’s not bothering me, but I want to engage in a life-or-death struggle with him RIGHT NOW.” Why? Because they might DIE. And, realistically, DEATH IS PERMANENT, and not to be engaged in between two people over who gets to kill the next clefthoof cow down the road (when both the people in question have thousands of gold in their pocket to buy food).
People go PvP for objectives. Important ones. Otherwise, realistically, it’s not worth the risk.
Or, coming back to the game, it’s not worth the TIME WASTED. Having some level 40 guy following my level 20 character around to kill her over and over again, then /dance, /spit, and run off? That’s now how I want to spend my 15 bucks or my time.
You want to get me in a battleground with that guy?
Bring it on.

Week in Review

Just a quickie.
This was kind of an exciting week with the guild, as we expanded our raid schedule a bit to accommodate more people.
Normally, we do the (10-man) Karazhan instance on the weekends (most of the real progress is on Saturday and Sunday for a couple hours, though we do sometimes get started with a drunken Friday night ‘run’ for laughs).
This last week, we ran a Kara raid on the weeknights as well. This is a pretty big deal, because you can’t be saved to two instances at the same time, which means we had 20+ different people (or at least different characters) participating, and two runs means more gear upgrades for everyone. Both teams pretty much cleared the whole instance. (I believe the weekday team did it in three nights, and the weekend group did everything but Maiden in two runs and just decided to skip the Maiden of Virtue, as there was no benefit for anyone to doing the fight.)
That was cool, but even better was fielding a full 25-man group to take a shot a High King Maulgar (and his court of Ogres) on Friday night, followed by Gruul the Dragonkiller.
This was a pretty momentous thing. The last time we took a serious stab at that fight was in November, and we didn’t really get enough people: we didn’t actually even beat Maulgar, and we’ve had that fight pretty much worked out for awhile.
Now… this time… okay, the signs weren’t great. We took maybe an hour to get started, and we have a LOT, and I mean a LOT of new people. The guy who usually magetanks Krosh Firehand was on his healer, so Lee was magetanking with Wyrmeyed. We had a new guy tanking Kiggler the Crazed who’d never done it before. We had a new guy who doesn’t speak English very well tanking the Warlock. Probably half our healers were new. We brought a level 68 guy along just to fill out to 25 people. It was crazy.
So we fight through the trash to get to the High King, we explain the fight to the new people, and how complicated the five-simultaneous-pulls start is, and we say “go” and we go…
… and we one-shot it. Damn near perfect fight. After not doing it for months and then bringing a bunch of new people. That was cool. I was up around 900 damage-per-second, and another guy broke 1000 dps. Insane. In-sane.
So it’s on to Gruuls. The Raid Leader announces that we’re going to do three tries and be done with the fight, no matter how it’s going. No building frustration: we have a lot of new people (we swapped in a 70 for the 68 at this point, with no hard feelings), and a brand new strategy to learn.
Let me explain what kills people in this fight. It’s not really the Boss. Gruul is an incredibly big guy in a very big cavern, and he does this thing every so often where he smashes the ground. Again, this guy is BIG: when he smashes the ground, it jumps like a trampoline and everyone goes flying in the air in random directions. When you land, you are slowed… slowed… slowed, and six seconds after you land, you’re frozen for a few seconds, and then SHATTERED. Everyone who’s within 15 feet of you at that point will cause you (a lot of) damage, then you can move again, if you aren’t dead. Around four people or so around you, and you stand a good chance of dying. If no one is close to you, you take no damage.
The problem is, even with a big room, there are 25 people in there. The chance of you landing too close to too many people is HIGH, and it’s hard to get away when you’re slowed. So we have a strategy now where everyone but the healers and the tanks run to the walls before the slam, so we don’t fly around anywhere — just the healers and tanks do. Less people flying around means less damage from the Shatter.
And it works. Damn it works. We did not get Gruul down, but we got him lower than we ever have in the past (again, with a lot of new people and no practice in two months). We had some bad luck where all our healers got silenced at a very bad point in the fight, so the tanks died… and on another attempt, sheer bad luck bounced all the healers and the tanks on top of each other, so the whole healing and tanking groups Shattered each other to death.
But that’s just bad luck. We can beat bad luck. We totally have the damage-dealers we need (I broke 1000dps on one attempt, and another guy broke an unheard-of 1200) and we have the method we need to beat that bastard. It might even be this Friday night.
… when I will be on a plane to New York, which I’m very happy about… so I wish them luck.
ANYWAY: it was a very fun series of runs, and Grezzk got the last of the gear he can get from either of the instances (pretty much — I’ve given up on getting the Wolfslayer Rifle or Nightbane’s mail leggings, and that’s okay) — Curator in Karazhan dropped my Demon Hunter (Tier 4) shoulderguards and I got the matching gloves off High King Maulgaur, so not only are my stats pretty damn good, I *match* — at this point, I’m going along on the runs to help the rest of the guild gear up and to have a good time (which it almost always is). My last two major equipment upgrades until we get past Gruul and start doing the later 25-man raids are going to come through Arena pvp.
Syncerus and Thienedera
I’m leveling up two Horde alts right now. Syncerus the tauren druid (the bearcat cow), and Thienedera the paladin. Last week, they got a lot of love. This week, I’m leaving them logged out in Inns to build up their rested rating for that lovely double XP bonus. I’ve seen the low and mid-game content already — I’m not interested in dwelling on it this time, so I’m focusing on flying up to 70 as fast as I can with both of them. Thie is a little lower level than Syn at this point (she’s on a PvP server for now, so I’m a little more cautious), but I expect they’ll get a lot of playtime soon.
My grand scheme is to have one Damage dealer, one Tank, and one Healer at level 70 and reasonably well-geared by the time the next expansion hits. I don’t have much interest in alts past that point.
I have, really, one alliance character. I finally dusted off Kayti and took her for a spin this week, and it was a lot of fun. Spell casters are a total pain in the ass on a paladin, but if I avoid them it’s a nice relaxing solo grind. I’m taking my time on her because there’s stuff on the Alliance side of the mid-game that I HAVEN’T seen.

Kate was available to play this week, so we got on Geiri and Tiranor. We had a lot of Fellowship quests to do, so I got on the Looking for Fellowship channel and asked around for some more people. A guy sent me a tell and pretty quick we were in a group with a bunch of guys who all know each other in real life and were all on voicechat.
Two hours later, all those Fellowship quests were done, Kate had gotten hooked up with some new crafted loot from one of the other players, and I had built up a pretty good start on a “DPS” set of equipment to put on when I’m not tanking — something that will become a lot more useful when Book Twelve opens up new options for Guardians, and we had some new people in our Friends list. It was another good run with a random group of strangers — in that arena, I believe LotRO is the Best MMO on the market, bar NONE.

No gaming this week, but here’s what I having coming up:
* Galactic: We still have a lot of game left to do there.
* Spirit of the Century: Need to get those sessions started up again.
* I have Savage Donjon Squad ready for our next pick-up game session.
* Once Galactic is done, I want to take a stab at Bliss Stage with Dave and De and whoever else I can get in.
* I have the pre-order copy of In a Wicked Age, a sword and sorcery bit of genius from the guy who did Dogs in the Vineyard. Totally new system. Totally new kind of Awesome.
* Don’t think I’ve forgotten about our characters for Breaking the Ice, Kate. I haven’t. Also, I have been challenged to play a Paranoia-set game using Breaking the Ice, and I don’t intend to back down from that. That’s a two-person game — anyone out there want to learn a new game set in a familiar, crazy setting?

WoW, that’s a big number

WoW breaks 10-million subscribers.

Blizzard also explicitly defined who it counted as subscribers, clarifying that the 10 million number (2.5 in the U.S and Europe each, 5 million in Asia; currently available in 7 languages and coming soon to Russian) refers to those who have paid a subscription fee or have an active prepaid card to play World of Warcraft, as well as those who have purchased the game and are within their free month of access.
The count does not include free promotional subscriptions, expired or canceled subscriptions or prepaid cards.

For the purposes of comparison, CoH has about 120 to 150 thousand active subscribers at any given time. LotRO has, at last report, 300k and rising.
People need to stop comparing WoW to other US-developed MMOs in terms of subscribers or size or ‘who wil be the WoW-killer’. 10 MILLION people isn’t a game, it’s a city. Comparing WoW to something like DnD Online is like comparing CoH’s playerbase to the population of Chicago.

Week in Review

What can Brown do for you?MMO – WoW
Grezzk – level 70 (effective level: 117)
Most of my time on Grezzk has been spent on (1) Kara runs (2) getting folks qualified for Karazhan runs and (3) getting together supplies for the Kara runs. Which isn’t to say that they’re terribly time consuming, just that that’s all the time I’ve spent on him in the last couple weeks. Just a few updates:
Team Stuff:
I’m the default “caller” for the Infernal ‘bombs’ during the fight with Prince. Basically, while fighting the boss, these bombs fall out of the sky at regular intervals, flying in at and angle, change direction one time in the sky, then hit the ground. If they land near or on the team, the team probably wipes, and we all start over. The caller’s job is to figure out where they’re going to land, and get people out of the way. One of the members of the guild calls the fight “Grezzk vs. the Prince”, due to the way the fight tends to play out — everyone is doing their job, but it pretty much comes down to whether or not we can stay out of the Infernals long enough to kill the Prince. Some of it is just luck, unfortunately, but alot of it is good calling a group who follows instructions well, and quickly. It’s a tricky thing to judge when you don’t have anything else going on, which of course I do. As ranged DPS, I’m in a position where I can pan my camera around to watch for the Infernals as they fly in from the sky behind us, while still doing my primary job (kill the boss) and keeping my pet fighting and alive.
I’ve called the fights for about a month now, and we’ve been pretty successful. The raid leaders have been pretty vocal about my ability with the calling. Feels good.
I’ve pulled in quite a lot of heroic badges commemorating boss kills, which you can then use to acquire some nice loot, so I’ve upgrade quite a lot of stuff (my new leggings aren’t on yet, since I’m still waiting to get an enchant on them from a guy in the guild. I also got a really really sweet bow off that Prince fight last week, so right now my gear is pretty strong.
There’s really nothing I can ‘buy’ with honor from the battlegrounds right now that would be an upgrade for me as near as I can tell, so after I got a very nice ring, I’ve been giving them a pass for now.
HOWEVER, there is a very nice hunter’s axe I can probably pick up with a few more weeks of doing arenas. The “noob” 3v3 team I was on kind of dissolved, but another guy got a 5v5 team started this week, featuring some pretty major DPS guys from our Kara runs. I like 5v5 a bit more because I’m not ALWAYS the “first kill priority” target in the bigger group. In our first series of matches, we won something like 8-of-12, and we were actually short a healer for that run, so that group looks really promising, and they’re fun to chat in Vent with as we play. I like doing arena as a fun break from the typical activities in WoW — it’s fast, furious, and over quickly — you can get your 10 matches in in about 20 minutes and have the rest of the week to do other stuff.
Honestly, I think my favorite part of the raiding isn’t the gear (whatever) or the boss fights (though they are fun), it’s having everyone in Vent and talking while we play. It’s a very laid back, fun, social kind of thing, and I’m less interested in being on Grezzk just to make some gold and do solo quests than I used to be, simply because I’d RATHER be doing something that involves running Ventrilo. I probably end up doing more Instance runs because of that, since it usually means having vent to chat on.
MMOs — a social activity. Who’da thunk it.
Syncerus (level 31)
My tauren (minotaur) druid is a ton of fun, and that’s reflected in the time I’ve spent on him — I think I was level 22 or 24 about a week ago. For you CoH people, druids work a bit like a Kheldian. You can stay in your ‘native’ form and heal/cast damaging spells, shift into bear form to tank (or when you pull way more aggro than you meant to), and claw the crap out of stuff in a “cat” (read: lion) form when you want to sneak around and kill stuff super quick (read: scrapper). Basically, whatever mood I’m in, there’s probably some way to scratch that itch with this character. Right now, all his talents are going into stuff that makes his Bear/Cat forms stronger, but I have a pretty decent set of “healer/caster” gear that I switch into when that sort of thing is called for — I’m not sure what I’ll be doing with him at level 70, but he’ll be either a tank or a healer. (I already have a ranged DPS character, so as cool as the Moonkin (read: spellcasting, facemelting Owlbear form) is, that won’t be what I do.
My current project with him is doing the quest chain to give him the ‘water’ form — a kind of manatee — cuz I need a lot of stranglekelp for my alchemy right now. I have a non-combat ‘cheetah’ form for hauling ass on land and let me tell you — it actually makes gathering up herbs fun — looking forward to the same ability underwater. 🙂
Herbalism aside, I’m not really stopping to smell the roses on Syn, though; I want to get him to 70 and join in all the big-reindeer games. Ultimately, I’d like to have one DPS, one CC/Tank, and one Healer available in the end game. Since I don’t know whether Syn will be a tank or healer, my ‘third’ guy should probably be someone who can go either way as well — that probably means Paladin, so I might be talking more about Theinedera in the future.
Kate’s been MIA for a couple weeks to get her company rolling and wrap up things in NYC, so I haven’t really been on LotRO much. I did get a chance to play a bit with Dave and Margie’s trial-characters last night, and I hope they decide to give the game a run; Dave geeks out on the lore like I do, and Margie seems to really enjoy the ‘mini games’ hidden within the crafting system and auction house, as well as the nuances of the skills and traits. They’re both adaptive and smart (obviously) and have quickly figured out the changes to gameplay that you need for different quests.
I leveled my little armorsmith a bit with them — one more level and he can actually wear the heavy armor he’s been making for other people. Really do like that game, and I look forward to some more time spent there once things settle down for Kate and myself.
face to face
No joy in mudville. We were going to run another session of galactic on Sunday, but I’ve been sick (not really feeling better even today), so I called it off and took a long nap. Hopefully we’ll get something going soon.

Dragonlance Animated Movie: first one released in a few days.

Holy crap. Holy CRAP.
Okay, the animation isn’t great, but the voices are pretty good. Why am I so excited?
Here’s the story with Dragonlance. Basically, a group of DnD players back in the days of ADnD, working at TSR, ran a campaign. The two authors who were writing the books basically statted out the characters from their story and everyone divvied them up. A huge amount of stuff that happened in that game made it into the story, but as importantly, the idea of the story superseding the basic DnD practices of “kill it and take their stuff” infused the campaign.
It didn’t hurt that the books are actually pretty good.
When the books were released, TSR also released a series of campaign modules designed to let anyone play those characters through, essentially, the story of the books, with some extra stuff that you only see alluded to in the books. It was something like 14 modules, I think — an epic, epic kind of story. Huge.
But more importantly, a lot of the players in my group (this was back in high school) read the books and were really jazzed about the characters and the story. They saw what the characters were doing, they saw what happened to them, and what kind of choices they made — more realistic, less ‘loot it!’ And that informed their play.
In short, that was the first game I ran where people weren’t so much playing a group, tabletop version of Gauntlet, and started roleplaying.
The story was a horrible, horrible railroad from one end to the other, I’m sure — no way it could be otherwise, really, when you’re trying to follow the basic storyline of a book — but it was a golden, special time in my memory, and I preordered the movie this morning.

Aggro and You (and you… and you… and you)

I really enjoy Lord of the Rings Online as a game and as an immersive Tolkien-geek experience, both because of its similarities to games like CoH and WoW, and for its differences.
One of the BIG differences in LotRO is Aggro Management and handling big fights in the game. I’m going to illustrate how Aggro generally works in most MMOs that I’ve played, even for only a few days.
Aggro: Aggression. The amount of “hate” that a computer-controlled bad guy has toward a player’s character. It’s summarized (behind the scenes) as a numeric score.
The BASIC mechanics of aggro work something like this, in most games:

Continue reading “Aggro and You (and you… and you… and you)”

Week in Review: Online

Didn’t have any face to face RPG goodness going on this week (and yes, I know I have yet to deliver an actual play for Galactic — it’s just that it’s going to be SO LONG… *whine*), so here’s what went down in the world of Online Heroics.
MMOG: Lord of the Rings, Online
Tyelaf (hunter) and Tirawyn (captain) are level 25 and working with Radagast the Brown in investigating Things Gone Wrong in the eastern Lone Lands around the ruins of Ost Guruth. (the lands between Weathertop and the Trollshaws, for those soaking in lore-geekery). Throw in an encampment of Dourhand Dwarves, wights, more evil spiders than you can shake a flaming arrow at, and some sort of neeker breekers soaking in the waters of a swamp filled with the dead, and you’ve got some good times.
Geiri (guardian) and Tiranor (hunter) are in the North Downs past Trestlebridge (up the Green way from Bree a fair hike). They are also level 25, and the main thrust of the storyline in that region seems to be around a Ranger and a few organized Men who are trying to unite the free peoples of the North before the whole region falls to lawlessness and orc raiders out of Angmar. Baddies so far are mostly the aforementioned goblinkin, or are bestial in nature — lots of wargs, maddened bears and wolves, et cetera.
When they aren’t directly on the front lines, Geiri keeps working on the fine art of jewelcrafting — gold necklaces, intricate silver rings and so forth. Interesting, fun, with lots of benefits for those wearing the finished products.
Aside from a weird disconnect in my head where it feels like Geiri and Tiranor should be the ones fighting the evil dwarves, while Tye and Tirawyn help unite the Men of the north… it’s going pretty well.
Finnras (captain) is also in the Lone Lands, but a bit closer to the Forsaken Inn, so he can travel back to Bree and the Old Forest more easily when he’s working with Tirathien (minstrel). He’s closing in on level 20, which will give him access to a cooler man-at-arms, heavier armor, and… well… other stuff, but that’s what I’m focusing on at the moment.
Grezzk had a pretty good week. Early on in the week, the hunter class boss decided to spend a night farming up the materials he needed to give (give!) me a couple nice if minor upgrades to my gear.
Me: Did I mention how much I appreciate this?
Him: Did I mention hos much you deserve it?
So that was a good feeling. The guild had a Karazhan run scheduled on Saturday, but I had some stuff to do, so I wasn’t around for the first part. When I did get on, they had already taken out Attumen the Huntsman, Moroes, Maiden of Virtue, and were just starting on the Opera Event, which turned out to be Big Bad Wolf. The raid leader (who was that same hunter leader) got me into the group in his place (passing the leader rains to another guy) after that, and I stayed in for the rest of the run.
Result: total clear of all thirteen boss fights in about six hours, which is pretty awesome. I was in for… the Shade of Aran (1-shot), Chess, Curator (1-shot), Terestian Illhoof (1-shot, during which I disconnected and got logged back in in time for the last half of the fight), Prince Malchezzar (three attempts, due to some bad luck on the Infernal bombs), Netherspite (1-shot), and Nightbane (1-shot).
My personal performance was (I feel) pretty damn good. Aran went damn near flawlessly. Curator involves me a lot, since I’m pulling all the patrols prior to the boss, I did a LOT better on Netherspite and really kind of helped communicate the ‘rotations’ that have to happen during the fight, and Nightbane was okay — I got killed just before the last phase, but I wasn’t the only one, so I don’t feel that bad.
Prince? On the Prince fight, which I’ve only done twice, they put me in charge of Calling Out the Infernal Bombs.
How to explain this fight? Basically, there’s a big boss who knocks the tank all over, so he has to be fought with the tank’s back against a wall to prevent that. It’s a big open courtyard, and every minute or so, a big demonic stone golem thing drops out of the sky AT AN ANGLE and hits the ground. It doesn’t MOVE, but it it sends out an Area Burst of fire that ticks for damage every second. The damage will kill you in three seconds, or one, if you’re currently weakened by the Prince.
So it’s one guy’s job to watch them as they fall, figure out where they’re going to hit, and tell everyone where to move BEFORE it lands.
And they change direction in mid-flight.
Sometimes twice.
And you have to keep FIGHTING while you’re watching these things… while you have the camera swung around to look ABOVE and BEHIND you. The job always falls to a ranged DPS person, cuz healers and melee guys just can’t do it.
And when the Prince gets down to about 33% health, they drop every 30 seconds, instead of every minute, so you start running out of places to stand that are safe.
I’m happy to say that our first two fails weren’t due to my screw ups, but just bad luck on placement of the infernals or silly things like the tank getting bounced away from Prince and dying. I was kept on the Infernal calling for each try, being told by the raid leader “you’re doing a good job, and you’re getting better every time” and by the end I was moving people a lot more confidently. The third try was very clean.
Best of all, the loot off Prince included the hunter’s Kara-level (tier four, if you speak WoW) helm, so I really felt like I EARNED that sucker — it was very nice upgrade for me. (Picked up the Badge of Justice trinket, and I’ll have the T4 pvp shoulders this week some time.)
Best of all is the feeling that I’ve gone from the noob guy on the teams to someone folks feel like they can count on to do well. “Grezzk is going to keep calling the Infernal drops” is worth a lot more to me than a shiny new helmet.
We were going to try to down Gruul on Sunday (we totally have the DPS, Tanking and healing for this fight, we just need to manage the Slams and Shatters better), but with the holidays, we just can’t get 25 people on. It sucks, cuz I KNOW we’re ready to beat that big bastard.
And that’s it. Got another post coming up about Aggro and the fighting style in different games.

Building Excitement

It is a very special kind of activity that, when discussed (even in the abstract) via any medium, actually makes you more excited about performing that activity in the future.
I believe that’s also the definition of most of the leisure activities I really, truly enjoy.

Week in Review

Sunday’s Galactic session (which was the second gaming session, and the third session if you count chargen) was covered in Awesome. I promise to post an Actual play report on both sessions, combined, this week.
I wish I could write a book based on this setting. Great, great story.
MMOG: Lord of the Rings
Mostly working on some crafting skills in mid-week and then got on Geiri and Tiranor for some grouping goodness on Sunday night. That went reasonably well as a duo, but we tried to do a six-man quest on Weathertop THAT I HAVE SUCCESSFULLY TANKED BEFORE, and we got owned repeatedly. Huge repair bills. We had a PuG-healer who was SEVEN levels higher than the rest of us and he couldn’t keep me standing against bosses that the healer on the last run had no problems with. I know why it was happening, and I also know why I don’t want to run with that guy again. Moving on.
Really like the tanking ability Geiri has right now. I’m holding aggro pretty damn well, and am quite tough. Now if I could only tweak a few things about the interface that i don’t like, I’d be really happy.
Grezzk finally got the horrible “KILL FIVE SONS OF A GOD” quest chain done, which opened up a whole slew of new quests in the Blades Edge mountains, and made him the King of the Ogres (the ogres in Blades Edge don’t aggro to you after that, and if you kill one, they say stuff like “Me so honored. Me killed by King!” — it’s funny).
I’m getting a lot better at the PvP battlegrounds with him. Last weekend in one match I got something like 97 kills in 14 minutes, 25 of which I dealt the killing blow for (which usually means I took them out one-on-one), and was defeated twice. One-on-one pvp fights pretty much used to mean I was dead — these days, one on one means I’m down about 30% health, and 2 vs Me is still sometimes in my favor, depending on what classes the other two guys are. I hate shamans a lot. 🙂
Ran most of Kara on Friday and Saturday. Friday we one-shotted Attumen the Huntsman, Moroes, Curator, the Opera Event, and took out Aran in two or three tries. It was my first time fighting Aran, and it’s a very very fun fight. “Hit him hard. Okay, no one move at all, or we all die. Now there’s a Blizzard sweeping through the area… avoid it! Now don’t move again or we all die! Now run to the edge of the room before he AoEs! Now Freeze again! Now kill the elementals he summ– DON’T MOVE! BLIZZARD! KILL HIM! KILL HIM TIL HE DIES!” And win. It’s fun. We did Chess and Maiden of Virtue and Prince and Netherspite the next day. Netherspite was a new fight for me. I suck at Netherspite. A small upgrade for me dropped in the Chess event, which was cool.
My personal bragging, however, was on the Moroes fight the first night. Moroes is one boss with four other Elite Ghost mini-boss adds.
How it usually works: You have two priests in the group, at least. They each use Shackle Undead on one of the adds, which keeps an undead mezzed the whole fight. One tank takes the other two adds, and one tank takes Moroes. We kill the two ‘loose’ adds, Kill Moroes, then take out the two shackled mobs. Getting to the shackled guys usually takes like 3 or four minutes, which means the priests have to be reshackled about three times per fight.
We didn’t HAVE two priests. We had one… and me.
HUNTERS have Freeze Trap. it is pretty much the only thing besides Shackle that works on Undead. (Freeze Trap basically works on anything that can be mezzed at all, but it has Certain Downsides.)
The downsides:
– It lasts 20 seconds.
– It can only be cast every 30 seconds. (Yes, do that math — that’s not hunter friendly.)
– You don’t cast it on a mob; you drop it on the floor and then lure your target over it by hitting the mob.
– Hitting the mob once it’s trapped releases them, so make sure you stop hitting them when they’re getting close to the trap.
And… yeah, so for that fight I had to keep one of the “Shackle guys” trapped for … a long damn time. Normally hunters might have to ‘chain trap’ from one trap to a second one… maybe a third. This one was going to be more like five or six in a row.
…while continuing to do high damage to the group’s current target.
1. Drop a trap, which lasts for one minute, unused.
2. Wait 30 seconds until the skill is ready to use again.
3. Tell the tank to go. Hope he listens and doesn’t wait so long your trap expires.
4. Tanks pull. Hit the mob and piss him off, lure him to us, and into the trap, seconds before it would have vanished from the floor.
5. Take two steps off to the side, drop another trap.
6. Send the pet after the main target and start shooting.
7. About 18 seconds later, the trap breaks and the mob comes after me, hits the second trap, and freezes. I have 10 seconds left on the skill before I can use it.
8. Move a few feet. Switch to the Group’s Second Target and start shooting.
9. Drop the trap.
10. 10 seconds later, the mob gets loose and comes after me. He hits the third trap. I have 20 seconds left before my skill is ready, and the trap lasts 20 seconds,optimally.
11. Move toward the fight at an angle, while shooting.
12. Switch targets to Moroes and send pet.
13. Trapped Mob gets loose just as my skill is ready, but since I ran off a ways, I get it down before it reaches me. It is trapped (hopefully) for 20 seconds. I have 30 seconds before my skill is ready to go again.
14. Run all the way to the other end of the ballroom, shooting Moroes as I go. Turn back the way I came, keep shooting Moroes and watch my trapped mob.
15. Mob trap breaks. I switch to him and shoot him in the face. He comes after me down the long room.
16. Switch back to Moroes and continue shooting. Trap is still not ready.
17. He’s halfway to me. Trap is still not ready.
18. Someone on Ventrillo says “umm… the Trapped Mob is loose.” I say “He’s just coming to me, I got him.” (he is still controlled, because he’s doing what I want)
19. Trap is ready. Drop it just as he gets to me. Freeze. 20 seconds on the trap. 30 seconds on the skill timer.
20. Run 10 seconds away from him (counting in my head) while shooting Moroes, and repeat.
21. Moroes dies just as my baddie hits the trap again.
22. Everyone kills my mob, which by this point in time, due to the shots I used to keep him angry at me, is already down to half health.
23. I break my arm patting myself on the back.
… and I’m very lucky none of the traps broke early… which happens.
Anyway, I was proud of that. I was either second or third DPS for most of the Kara stuff, except for Netherspite. All in all, a pretty good run. I didn’t break anyone else’s mezzes, I didn’t send my pet onto any wrong targets, and I just generally didn’t screw up — after my second Kara run, where I was pretty unhappy with myself, this was a very good way for the run to go: uneventfully.
Aside: I’m just generally ‘better’ when things go pear-shaped, I guess. Seems like I screw up more in the controlled situations.
Case in Point: doing a heroic run of the Coilfang Slavepens, and the tank, mage, and healer die on a bad pull. There are two elites left to kill and it’s me and a warlock. Either one of these elites can two-shot either one of us.
And we won. THAT was a good fight. 🙂

Motivation in Games

Penny Arcade discusses why people play games.
Kate said to me “yeah, I definitely play to explore the game — to *see* it.”
I enjoy that, or at least I can understand enjoying that, but for me the real joy is in displaying expertise. I don’t mean BEATING the game, really — I mean doing stuff in a game that demonstrates a level of familiarity and skill.
First thing I learned how to do in City of Heroes? Run along fence tops. Stand on top of traffic lights and do jumping jacks. Get to the altitude ceiling in Steel Canyon without using Flight.
In WoW? Ice Trap two bad guys at once. Defeat a ‘team of five recommended’ bad guy with just me a long, open road. Tank a whole dungeon using my pet.
In Lord of the Rings? Defeat the evil, haunted oak tree in the heart of the Old Forest with two characters and no healing.
In Halflife? Beat the enemy gunship with a beat up pontoon boat, no cover, and half my health.
In X-Com? Taking an entire enemy ship with one solder, after the whole rest of the crew was killed in the first round.
I think everyone can give a ‘woot’ when that sort of stuff happens, but for me, that’s really the GOAL. I almost WANT things to go pear-shaped when I’m playing — because that’s when it gets FUN. I know Lee’s the same way.
By the same token, I really don’t like it when I’m the only one in a group experiencing a learning curve — it makes the whole experience less fun for me, and it’s one of the reasons that raiding in WoW right now is a little frustrating.
Why do you play?

Week in Review

This one will be brief. I’ll got into more detail in some following posts.
Tabletop: Galactic
We played our first session of Galactic on Sunday, with three players. It was an good sized group for learning the rules, and we had some excellent scenes — a shipboard emergency, a big gun fight, a little gun fight, a mexican standoff, and some fun MIND CONTROL.
The mechanics are much cleaned up from earlier iterations of the rules, and want only some reorganization to really come out clear. The strategy you use in the conflicts is a lot of fun and easily as engaging at that level as the crunch you work with in d20 — it’s just a completely different KIND of mechanical crunch.
We got the rules, we laughed a lot, we enjoyed the scenes, and we’re excited to play the next session. What else to say?
Oh, a lot more to say, but I’ll save that for a post of its own, later this week.
Grezzk: Some new gear becomes available tomorrow in the game, ‘purchasable’ by using the honor points that one earns by playing the PvP battlegrounds. There are two pieces in particular that I’d like to get that total something like 27,000 honor: a total I believe I hit last night, and if not I’ll be able to get the difference in one run tonight, then log on Tuesday and two new epic pieces.
We ran all of Karazhan on Friday with a couple of tanks I’ve never worked with before. Normally, I target through the tanks for these situations, and that worked GREAT last week. This week, it was an utter horror.
I did about half the boss fights, but it was a frustrating run for me. The Raid Leader I’d snapped at early on (You want me to run without a pet? Okay, you run without a weapon.) sort of made me his pet (pun) project — get ‘im geared up and used to the trash pulls. I think they’ve just never had a hunter in the guild who gets offended when you suggest they don’t use their pets. We did some other runs later that weekend where I did perfectly fine — I perform quite well when I know the fights, really. The Dark Portal instance is particularly fun for me, even if I’m in charge of the waves of adds, and most of the rest are very comfortable as well.
Running Kara as melee or tanking seems like it would be a lot easier than ranged damage — it’s so damned easy to target the wrong guy and screw everything up on those group pulls.
Tyelaf the hunter and Geiri the Guardian both hit 24 this week. Geiri is probably my favorite character on there, though Tye is a close second and Finnras (oh captain my captain) a close third at level 18.
This week, Geiri got to tank the Great Barrows up to the first boss and a Cave Troll, atop Weathertop. The group for that run was moving very fast, so i’m not sure how I did on holding aggro on the minor trash, but the boss fights all went very smoothly — I kept them on me without any wavering.
Also: CAVE TROLL! So much fun.

Week in Review

No face to face gaming this last weekend (pretty much everyone was gone or busy), but a fair bit of online stuff going on.
Play by Post Galactic
Captain Finnras of the Binturong is shaping up to be a great, interesting, fun character… that I’ll probably never get a chance to really play.
Face to Face Galactic
Trying to use email to get done with the last bits of campaign generation, prior to our game this coming Sunday. Some silence from the players on this point, but at least one has really stepped up and given me a fun cliffhanger to start his story off with. Woooot.
Looking at the calendar, I feel a bit of mope. We get a game in this weekend, then I’m gone the weekend of the 30th, then we have the 7th and 14th weekends… one of which is probably iffy… so maybe we’ll get three sessions in. Maybe. If only we had more TIME. Eh. A noble effort, either way, and maybe we’ll get a chance to keep going after the holidays with the folks who aren’t off to another acting gig in some other part of the country.
Pretty much everything I’ve done on WoW in the last week has been Grezzk. It’s not because I don’t enjoy playing Kayti, or Theinedera (who I’d LOVE to level up with the speeded up leveling they put in), but Kayti’s Alliance-side in a guild I don’t know that well and who aren’t my level, and Theinedera is on another server entirely (really should move her to Farstriders).
Hellfire Ramparts, Blood Furnance (fail), Shattered Halls, Steamvaults (twice), and Arcatraz.
We one-shot High King Maulgar, AND the guy that “the hunters” are assigned to (Kiggler the Crazed) dies so fast that we have time to switch targets and help the melee dps guys kill their first guy. That has never happened before (granted, it’s only our third Maulgar kill, but whatever). The guild Hunter leader is VERY happy about this and personally compliments me on the damage I was putting out.
We don’t beat Gruul the Dragonkiller, but MAN it feels like we COULD, if we could just figure out where NOT to be when he shatters us.
We take down half the bosses. Attumen the Huntsman (an epic for Grezzk), Moroes, Maiden of Virtue, Curator… and the random “Opera” event, which was Wizard of Oz… so we actually beat Tinman, Dorothee, Lion, Strawman, and Toto all at once, and then Wicked Witch. They’re all one-shot kills with no one dying. I am in for every part of this run. (10 people can be inside, but your group can actually be bigger than 10, with back-up people outside to swap in on certain fights where their skills are needed or they need gear — they keep me in for everything, to teach me the instance. I *did* screw up one pull on the trash before Curator and wipe everyone, and died a few times early on as I figured out what was what, but otherwise it was good.)
At the end of the day, I go to repair my gear… and I notice that I have been given access to a guild-funded repair allowance.
We one-shot all but one boss (they have to do Nethersprite twice — I wasn’t in that fight), and I do well in everything I’m involved in — we nine-man Prince, which was cool.
At the end of this week of stuff, Grezzk has a two-piece “Beast Lord” set from the Heroic runs (which helps me trap stuff better), THREE epic pieces of gear from Kara (when you’re the worst-geared guy in the run, you want lots of stuff that no one else has an interest in), hundreds of gold worth of enchants and ‘nice to haves’ from the Guild Bank… and some personal compliments from the hunter leader and the Guild leader. A couple more heroic runs, and I’ll have some more pretty gear from cashing in Heroic Dungeon badges.
Plus, as I already blogged, it really feels like he’s part of the guild now. Especially when people can just BS on Ventrilo while we run instances.
It’s been a good week. 🙂
I haven’t done much with Tyelaf since the epic battle with the Cave Troll on top of Weathertop. He’s level 23…
… and now, so is Gieri, my dwarven Guardian (tank!). This is where all my LotRO time has been going this week, and it shows — I’ve gotten some really nice tanking “Deeds” completed that are increasing the amount of threat he generates, AND the number of enemies he can keep locked on him simultaneously. It’s HARD to hold aggro in Lord of the Rings, and there’s some assumption that any but the truly crazy/dedicated tanks are simply going to let some of the enemies hit other characters.
I aim to be one of the crazy tanks. No one gets hit but me. Dem’s the rules. Generally, it works pretty well, though we have had a setback here and there. By and large, Geiri + Tiranor the hunter = EZ Mode. 🙂
Finally, Finnras, who is my ‘third main’ character. The captain is level 17.9, and will be the next person I work on catching up with the other two. Once Kate and I have a pile of people all the same level, we’re going to play around with the team ups to see what different ones might be fun.

Getting over the New-guy Wall

After a long dry spell, I feel pretty good with the guild Grezzk joined a couple months ago.
MMOG is Massive MULTIPlAYER Online Game, and if you’re solo for everything… well, play Halflife 2, it’s really good.
But if you’re in and MMOG, It’s like that song from Cheers, y’know? It’s nice when everyone knows your name. That’s where you want to go when you have some free time.
Especially when getting to that point was a lot of work.
So here’s Grezzk’s play history in a nutshell.

Continue reading “Getting over the New-guy Wall”

So let’s talk about Galactic.

Then Isabel, seeing before all others that the Scourge would indeed be the end of Humanity, did gather up the faithful and lead them across the Wastelands and through many hardships and past many tempting oases, until they came to their new home. There, Isabel said they would be safe, and told the people to persevere, and was gone.
On the nasty, unpleasant world of Caliban, that is the story at the core of the ‘origins’ tales in most of the religions. There was a great and powerful kingdom/empire/shogunate, and then the Scourge came (why and how they came varies wildly), and the great prophet Isabel led the Chosen on a long trip and left them to fend for themselves in a rough and dangerous place that was, nonetheless, safe from the Scourge. The Chosen survived, and everyone else died. Noah’s Ark, but with a LOT less water.
Time passes. Many many many generations of people live and die (often violently) on Caliban, which is a harsh world requiring harsh measures and harsher rules. The world is sparsely but widely settled, and its people are highly territorial, warring with all other territories both for survival and for the supposed evils “they” have committed since time immemorial. Mankind slowly becomes more civilized (or at least more technologically advanced) and, like Earth, people find a comfortable place in their lives for their religion — maybe making it a central part of their lives… maybe not thinking about it at all.
About five generations ago, someone found a long lost ruins down near the almost-uninhabitable equator. In the ruins are some very very odd documents and… artifacts that contain references to the prophet Isabel.
Many references.
And a lot of math that people are only barely able to figure out — math and information that seems to be showing the exact location of the great ship that Isabel brought her people to safety in… and that location is smack dab in The Reef.
The Reef… which is an asteroid belt on the outer edge of the solar system of which Caliban is a part.
Space-faring technology at that point in time amounted to a few unmanned rockets being fired into the outer atmosphere. (When fighting your neighbors and survival are your two main motivators for several millenna, a budding space program is not a big priority.)
People were, needless to say, a bit agitated.
Temporary treaties were signed. Much work is done in a surprisingly short period of time. Several territories send ships to the coordinates in the Reef.
They find Isabel’s ship.
The five generations since then have seen a lot of change.
So, the basic legend seems to be true. There was a big … empire? Federation? Something. A big human-founded republic that spanned thousands of worlds. Somewhere at the height of that, the Scourge came… or were created… or manifested… something. Isabel saw the writing on the wall, got together an enormous generation ship with all the best tech (much of which Caliban techs are still trying to reverse-engineer), and set out to get clear of the impending destruction of the human race.
She passed a lot of really nice, habitable planets and, for reasons unknown, picked arid, barely habitable Caliban to settle on. Humanity had to work so hard to survive in those first years that they lost — or gave up — pretty much any knowledge that didn’t focus directly on making it to the next sunrise. Society fell apart, scattered, and slowly… very very slowly… rebuilt, and discovered where it had come from; the disaster it had avoided. There is a resurgence of faith, but also a massive drive to analyze all the old texts in light of this new information.
What does mankind do in a situation like that?
They head right back out to the stars, of course.
In the current time, there are many colonies spreading out from Caliban, funded by the still highly competitive, barely cordial Territories of the home world. Beyond the colonies are the Remnants — hundreds, maybe thousands of worlds that were once part of the Solor Republic that was humanity at its finest. Left behind are ruins, lost technology, mysteries, and hundreds of Alien clans that still live on those worlds and who were, inexplicably, untouched by the Scourge that destroyed humanity. Some are neutral toward the last survivors of mankind; some worship them like returning gods; most of them shoot on sight (using technology far better than Caliban’s), screaming in a rage. It has been well over two thousand years since they’ve seen a human, and still they remember the pain of when it all came crumbling down.
You play a ship’s captain, sailing the void between worlds in search of… something. (What that is is different for everyone, isn’t it?) You might be a captain in the Concordance Navy. You might be a smuggler, or entrepreneur, or merchant, or archaeologist, or scavenger, or one of the idle rich, or something else: no matter what, you’re the Captain, and when things get rough, it’s just you and your crew.
Things are about to get rough.
The Scourge is coming again.

Continue reading “So let’s talk about Galactic.”

Game Mechanics that set the tone

So I’m musing about game mechanics; have been for the last couple weeks, actually, because I’m playing a lot of Spirit of the Century, editing a MONSTER of an old-school-style game called Robots and Rapiers, getting ready to run Galactic, and wishing I’d had more luck playing PTA and Dogs.
So all those systems are bouncing around in my head, and I start drawing comparisons.
Here’s an observation:
Lots of games have Edges. By “edge” I just mean “that thing on your character sheet that lets you tweak things in your favor.” Call them Aspects, Traits, Talents, whatever… in play, they let you tweak results.
There are really two ways that an “edge” can be invoked:
Mode 1. They can be used to give you a intial, “pre-roll” boost to your chances of success, thereby increasing your odds of winning a conflict. Primetime Adventures does this with both it’s Traits and Fan Mail. Spirit of the Century pretty much does this with Aspects (they come in after the roll, but before the roll *counts*).
Mode 2. They can be used to stave off or lessen the sting of failure. Galactic’s “Edges” do this. Traits you bring in after a conflict has already started in Dogs in the Vineyard do this. “Doom” in Conspiracy of Shadows does this. The appropriately-named Survival Points in Dead of Night do this. There are many others.
Now, my point is this: your final numeric result using ‘edges’ in either of the two ways above might be exactly the same, but the modes feel different, and that feeling seeps into the tone of the game you’re running. pushing either toward adventure-heroic (mode 1) or the survivalist-gritty (mode 2).
I’m not talking about the game’s power level. It doesn’t matter if you’re giving folks one ‘edge’, or five, or ten — I think if they’re implemented in the style of Mode 1, the game is going to have a kind of “let’s be awesome” feel, and if you’re using them in the style of Mode 2, it’s going to have a kind of “let’s survive this” feel.
What does that mean? I think that means that, even if you have a mechanically-perfect ‘hack’ to the Spirit of the Century rules to use it for zombie-survival-horror, unless you change the way you can invoke Aspects, the system itself will be subtly encouraging you and the players ‘be awesome and heroic.’ It’s not the number of Aspects you give people that matters, but how they can be used that will affect the tone.
Now, let’s say that you have a group sitting at the table who (a) totally gets the tone you’re going for, (b) agrees to it and (c) actively works to support it. Can they overcome the subtle whispers of the game and run an horrifying zombie-survival game using, say, straight Spirit of the Century?
Yes. Without hesitation, yes. The rules are only one voice at the table, and can be drowned out easily but other voices. It’s really no different — or less jarring — than when one PLAYER is working toward a different tone than everyone else.
You just can’t throw popcorn at the rules and say “knock it off.”

Galactic: good for the brain, bad for the eyes

I was going to write up a post about the character/universe generation for the Galactic game from this weekend (a complete campaign I’m foolishly trying to cram into the space between here and mid-December), but I wanted to transfer everyone’s notes up to the wiki first.
And reading their [censored] awful handwriting, I am now totally [censored] blind, so you’ll have to wait for the update until I learn how to read braille.
I thought *my* handwriting was bad. Holy hell.
Anyway, the stuff I sacrificed my eyes to transcribe is on the wiki here.

“I got Girl Cooties” (Weekend in Review, the MMO post)

Figured I’d split this up into two posts, since I have a lot to post about the face to face Galactic game.
If you want to know why the post has the title it does, you’ll have to read to the end.
Right then.
Who’s this? I haven’t mentioned her before. This is my level 20 blood elf paladin on Kel’Thuzad — a full-PvP server. I’ve been wanting to level up a tank on the Horde side, and while I’m still trying to get into playing a bear-form druid, I still REALLY LIKE paladins, and I already have a lot of experience playing a protection-specced pally on Alliance, so I’m working on Thienedera now.
The patch coming out on Tuesday is cutting the XP required to level from level 20 to 60 by 20%, and increased the XP from quest rewards, so I wanted to get her to level 20 to really set her up to smoke through the levels in a hurry. That meant getting her up 3 levels this weekend, which… I pretty much did just on Friday night — there’s a reason they didn’t speed up leveling from level 1 to 20. 🙂 In the process I was invited into a Guild and … was really really surprised by a very supportive group. There are no 70s in the guild, but they’re a very good-sized group and the leadership seems really really focused on helping out everyone and really helping the group progress as a whole. That’s neat. I’m pleased I’ll be part of a guild like that as try to her up.
Also, I might have to make use of WoW new renaming service (which take all of 2 minutes, apparently). Kaylee informed me that Thie’s name is “Casey”, so I might have to rename her. 🙂
After a couple weeks of fairly light play, I got Grezzk on and did some fun stuff. Said fun stuff included a run of not one or two but THREE five-man dungeons that I’ve actually seen before, and participating in Gruul’s lair, which is the first of the 25-man raid-dungeons in the game — a pretty short one that only takes an hour or so to do successfully, or longer if you’re still trying to beat the last boss.
The first instance was done as a favor to a friend of mine who is not in my Guild. He’s a tank, and a nice guy, and needed someone to provide damage in the Auchenai Crypts which, to put it simply, is my least favorite instance on Grezzk (I think I’ll LOVE it on Kayti — it’s MADE for AoE tanking). He talked up his guild a lot to me, how smart and quick they run things, and I’m at least five levels too high for it, so I figured I’d come help out.
Yeah, we team wiped probably 8 or 9 times. It was awful. I was pulling aggro off the tank with just my autoshot running, and … ugh. It’s a miserable mid-level-60 instance and they didn’t have the people they needed for it. Sucked.
The second instance was with my Guild in one of the wings of Tempest Keep known as Arcatraz. “Wings” is a particularly-apt name for it in this case, as Tempest Keep is actually a series of ornate palaces floating in open space — you can’t even get there without a flying mount. Arcatraz is essentially a prison for horrific critters that some bad people are keeping locked up, and whom someone is now releasing to wreak havoc — you must stop them, yadda yadda. I’m not sure, but I believe Arc is considered the hardest wing of Tempest Keep, which would then presumably make it the hardest five-man instance in the game (Again, the Crypts have my vote for MOST ANNOYING, but it’s not even a level-70 dungeon).
This is a particular FUN and FUNNY dungeon to run — there are two bosses in about the middle of the instance that have been working together so long that they really really HATE each other and each actually cheers you one as you kill the other one. The bickering and the cheering is done with some FANTASTIC voice acting. Also, the last guy in the run — a kind of powermad toady — is voiced beautifully by Curtis Armstrong, and always cracks me up.
This run went really well — it was a good group and everyone was guildies and on Vent together, so while we were a little tired and not too talkative, it still went really well. I found I was STILL pulling aggro off the tank (who is geared very very well and knows his job), so I’m not sure what happened there. Normally I don’t have aggro management issues like that, but maybe I’m starting to get into the DPS range where I churn out so much damage I have to routinely pull back a little. Would be nice if that’s so.
In any case, I was EASILY the top damage dealer in the group according to the DPS readouts which, considering I was running with some serious Guild vets, made me feel good. I also did a little chain trapping, which makes me happy when I can contribute in that way.
Saturday, the Guild was running the 25 man raid-dungeon Gruul’s lair. How to explain this…
There’s a giant that the Ogre tribes worship as a god. (For good reason.)
You go to his lair. You beat through his elite guards to the first main room. In it is the High King of the Ogres, and four of his closest advisors. These advisors are also full-on raid bosses in their own right. They are all standing in a pack AND HAVE TO BE PULLED, TANKED, AND KILLED SIMULTANEOUSLY BY FIVE DIFFERENT PEOPLE.
Kiggler the Crazed uses ranged magic attacks on whoever he’s fighting, and doesn’t hit too hard — anyone with decent health and a healer along for the ride can tank them — you just need DPS to kill him.
There’s a warlock who summons demonic pets the size of a bus and fears his tank all the time, so that’s a total pain. The fear is an AoE, also, so he has to be fought FAR AWAY from all other groups.
There’s a mage who keeps up a fire aura so nasty that it will kill ANYONE in melee range in a few seconds, so you have to take him down with nothing but ranged attacks.
There’s a priest who, unless interrupted by rogue stuns or silences or something, heals everyone ELSE, a LOT.
And there’s the High King, who just hits really frigging hard.
So you need
1. Someone to pull the High King off in to a hallway and basically solo tank him (with a healer or two to keep you standing, until everyone else is dead).
2. Someone to keep the fire-mage guy busy.
3. All the rogues and other melee guys killing the priest as fast as possible.
4. A tank (or two) on the fear-spamming demon-summoning warlock.
5. A five-man team of hunters, mages, and one priest to keep Kiggler the Crazed busy, and then make him dead.
It is one of the most complicated pulls around, and if the pull is good, and you kill everyone in a smart order, the fight is easy — if the pull is bad, the fight is very… short.
I got picked to pull and tank Kiggler the crazed this time — my second time in the run. Then when he (hopefully) dies, I’m to send my pet after the priest or warlock while simultaneous attack a different guy (the fire mage) and, when everything else is dead, join the whole raid in killing the King.
How’d it go? We killed everything on the first pull, and all 24 or 23 of us were standing at the end. We’re getting pretty good at this. I was really happy to be the guy in charge of pulling and at least initially tanking Kiggler, and really pleased to be in what is, so far, our best fight against the High King and crew.
Then we went on through another hallway full of tough guards to Gruul. This was really tricky and actually raid-wiped us once. Then we got to Gruul. People were told where to stand once we got inside. People were warned not to linger at the doorway when the fight started, or you’d be locked outside the chamber of this huge bastard…
… and I walked in a step too far, Gruul triggered, came over, and wiped us all out. &**&#$(&*@# . Dammit. Wiped out the raid. @#$@#%.
Anyway, we tried one more time, but folks had to go after the one try — we have yet to beat this guy, so I’m not going into all the stuff that happens in the fight, but suffice it to say it makes the fight with High King Maulgar look like a summer cotillion.
Peole were still on Vent after the raid was done, and some of us needed a run of another instance, so five of us reformed and ran and did that instance. I dunno if we were overgeared or what, but I’ve run The Black Morass before, and won… and this was a breeze by comparison. A BREEZE. 18 waves of dragonkin coming in through randomly spawning portals and trying to kill this guy behind us… with waves 6, 12, and 18 bringing along a full on Boss as well… and we smoked it. It was good and, again, among a group of vet characters, I was WELL in front on damage-dealt. I feel like I’m ready to sign up to participate in the (10-person raid, 13-boss, “task force in a box”) raid dungeon “Karazhan”.
I feel like I can contribute. I think I might do that this Saturday.

Saturday night (yes, after running Gruul AND the Black Morass instance), I got onto LotRO and Kate and I were running around the Lone Lands (the uninhabited region all around around Weathertop for miles and miles. We’re in a tricky place with Tyelaf and Tirawyn — lots of “need a fellowship” missions in both the Barrowdowns and Lone Lands, and not much else — in short, we’ve hit a wall we need some help to get over.
We were on no more than 10 minutes when Kate spotted someone on the Looking for Fellowship channel asking if people wanted to join them for “Clearing Weathertop” (which involves exactly what it sounds like — defeating the orcs and … OTHERS… that infested the area Weathertop after the Ringwraiths recently visited there.
We joined, and found out there was another player who also had the in-game voice chat enabled (a built-in push-to-talk tool that we use instead of Gtalk). We started chatting and coordinating that way, and eventually got the whole group on the tool, so we could get really teamed up well.
This was a GREAT group — one of those once-in-a-hundred pugs that just clicks. We had a great tank, some decent damage, and two Captains who, although not healers as such, do an excellent job of healing “morale” as long as you keep WINNING.
This was where I was really glad that I’ve played most of the classes by this point. The thing with the Captain-class heals is that they only become available when you DEFEAT AN ENEMY. If you just look at the skill list for the class, you see a bunch of heals and think “okay, they can heal, we’re fine.”
And that works great when you’re fighting packs of five or six orcs — bad guys are dying all the time, so their heals (and a number of defeat-dependent buffs) are available much of the time.
As I said, they’re really good when you’re WINNING.
BOSS fights, when you’re fighting one BIG thing, for a LONG time — they loose access to a LOT of those abilities, and become, basically, a mid-range damage dealer, which is bad.
And we had to kill a number of bosses.
So I’ve come off several hours playing WoW, where hunters can’t shoot things from too close in, and LotRO hunters have a HUGE range on their bows, so I’m WAY WAY WAY back.
And we fight our first boss, and I see that health levels are starting to drop all over, and finally the boss dies, and a heal goes up, and then his minions die, and we’re fine again.
So… the next boss guy… I switch to a minion. Hunters are like well-armored Blasters in CoH — we hit FRIGGING HARD. So I start on a minion, pull him to me, beat him up, and he dies in the middle of the boss fight.
And… I see a heal go up. I hear the other captain on voicechat say, six seconds after the kill, and one second after the “heal power” opportunity has dropped “dang, missed it.” She wasn’t expecting the kill, so she didn’t know all those buff powers were going to come available all of a sudden.
I kill another minion right about when the boss dies… so that doesn’t matter so much.
We get to the top of Weathertop.
There’s the big boss guy. None of us have ever been here before, but we’re ROLLING through the thing, so we (read: they) all charge in. It’s a toughish fight, but we win.
This guy has half-again as many hit points as the boss we just killed, we’re already down on power, and his had more minions. ACK!
So I shoot him a bit, and we’re getting POUNDED on. He smashes the whole group and everyone but me (who is WAY WAY back) is stunned. I switch targets off him so he doesn’t decide I’m his new target while the tank is knocked silly.
I’m on a minion. A HA!
I shoot the minion a lot. In the face. Health scores are plummeting and NO heals are going up, cuz nothing’s dying.
Just as I’m about to kill the minion, I get on Voicechat and shout “Captain! Heal opportunity is coming up… NOW!”
The minion dies. Beautiful green light floats up from everyone.
So. Damn. Cool.
We had such a good time with that we all just stayed in group all night and cleared Fellowship-only missions the rest of the evening. Good stuff.

So what’s with the post title?
I was in voicechat a lot this weekend. By and large? Everyone in charge was female, which I think is just unspeakably cool.
The leader for the Tempest Keep run? Female, as was the main melee DPS.
The Raid Leader, one of the tanks, and main healer on Gruuls? Female.
Pretty much the whole damn fellowship in LotRO were female — both Captains, the Tank… (And as much more of LotRO are 35 and up, it was a good group for that reason also.)
It was just a neat thing… and really made me appreciate the mental energy that that brings to a group.

Religion in Gaming

We need more Starbucks: the character, not the coffee. An interesting take on probably the most believably religious character in genre television. Very nice ideas about bringing that kind of portrayal to your gaming table.
After reading it, imagine bringing that kind of ‘real’ religion to, say, a Dogs character. FUN. 🙂

Year in review

Yes, I know it’s not the end of the year yet, but since the holidays typical kill my gaming, I’m simply looking at the last 12 months, to take a look at what kind of face to face gaming I got done.
November, 2006
– A year ago, today, I ran the first/last game for the guys out in NYC. It was the “freebooters” scenario for Shadow of Yesterday.
– I also started up a play-by-post Mountain Witch game that sadly died of asphyxiation during the holiday doldrums. More sadly, in cleaning spam out of that forum last week, I accidentally deleted all the gaming-related posts. 🙁
December, 2006
– Nothing
January, 2007
– Got together with the locals and made up characters for a clockpunk Shadow of Yesterday game.
February, 2007
– Nothing.
March, 2007
– Nothing again — I didn’t even post weeks in review for these two months. Sheesh.
April, 2007
– After two months of a big fat nothing, I am *rabid* to play, and fly to Chicago for Forgecon Midwest. There, I get to play Heroquest, run a game of Shadow of Yesterday and the Mountain Witch, and playtest Galactic with Matt. After I get home…
– I start up the Primetime Adventures “Weird War Two” game, and had the pilot session.
– I run the second (and apparently last) session of the clockpunk game.
May, 2007
– Nothing. Scheduling people for games continues to be a nightmarish endeavor.
June, 2007
– Stealing from the very best, I pick up on the NYC crew’s gaming plan, which is basically “have a huge group of players, and run a regular game for the first five who say they can attend.” I start a Spirit of the Century game and sign up 13 other people. Only one has not played to this point — most everyone has played at least two or three sessions, and EVEN I GOT TO PLAY ONCE! Success!
– I also start the Nine Princes in Pulp game this month.
– I get in the second episode of Primetime Adventures: Strange Allies — “Djinn” — it goes swimmingly awesome.
– Dave starts his Ill Met by Gaslight PTA game.
July, 2007
– Not one but TWO different FULL EPISODES of Spirit of the Century
– Another session of Nine Princes in Pulp — unfortunately, pretty much the last one, as we’ve yet to get back to that.
– Dave runs PTA again.
August, 2007
– Spirit of the Century and the ever-rotating player pool wins again.
September, 2007
– Nothing in here. How odd.
October, 2007
– More Spirit of the Century: Two new episodes, both on Friday nights. How unusual. And lots of fun.
– A session of Dead of Night: “Zombies At(e) my Homecoming Dance” Still need one more session on that.
November, 2007
– Flying in the face of history (and sanity) I’m trying to start, play, and FINISH a short Galactic game during the months of November and December. Chargen is this Sunday. No other gaming is on the docket yet, because Galactic is going to take scheduling priority, but I do intend to get in some more Spirit of the Century and finish the Dead of Night game.
Analysis, after the cut…

Continue reading “Year in review”

So Conflicted

The Zombie Fluxx card games combines a great love and a great hate of mine.
Love: Zombies. Man, I likes me some zombies.
Hate: Fluxx. I’m goal oriented enough that the constantly shifting ‘win’ requirements in Fluxx actually give me a headache (and remind me of a few too many bad I.T. projects).
I’m torn. I want to order a deck, but it might only be so I can set it on fire.

Week in Review

So here’s what’s been going on.
Face to Face
Ran a murder mystery for the most recent Spirit of the Century game on Friday night. “Doctor Brightman is dead.” Good stuff, for all that I suck at doing mysteries. It was “Margie’s session,” so I gave it a college try, anyway. There were investigations, autopsies, some wonderfully fun characterizations, a seance, and a whole lot of laughing. Present were Chris, Tim, Dave and Margie; again, I have to give a nod to Kate’s observation that I run better games when I’m NOT close friends with everyone at the table — we just generally focus more on the game and less on everything else.
Didn’t even seem to get too sidetracked by having Kaylee around for the first part of the game.
This Thursday, it’s Zombies at(e) my Homecoming Dance 2: The Revenge of the Hickey.
Online, not MMO
I’m going to be playing in (not running) a play-by-forum game of Galactic(!), using the ashcan edition that Matt did up for Gencon this year. That should be fun. No character information or even links yet — we’re juuuust getting rolling.
Grezzk is still level 70. I’ve actually being getting into some fun dungeon runs lately (there are only about… five or so in the later game that I haven’t done even once, if you only count the five-mans). I’m not UBER geared or anything, but at this stage my ‘effective level’ is 108, taking my gear into account. (Taking gear into account, the maximum level in WoW is somewhere around 150, while perhaps 125 is as high as I’m likely to get with the Guild I’m part of.) Anyway, I’m still having a lot of fun with Grezzk.
Hit 45 on Kayti. Nothing terribly exciting to report on her. People keep stopping in mid-run to ask me what kind of weapon I’m using, cuz they can’t figure out how a tanking paladin is topping the damage reports. I try to explain that the damage is all from the paladin abilities, and that I would do pretty much the same damage if i were naked, but no one seems to get it. Eh. In a few more levels, I can hurl an “Avenger’s Shield” (think Captain America-esque energy contruct) at enemies to pull them, and tanking is going to get a LOT easier. Woot.
I tanked a run into Scarlet Monastery’s Cathedral a few days ago and it went really smoothly. We obliterated everything and aside from one jackass who screwed up the boss-looting at the end, it was a great run.
There was one point where I TOTALLY “pulled a Hype” with her as well (which is a tactic that *I*, personally, have never seen work in WoW, that I used to do all the time in CoH). We were clearing out a big chapel area, one clump of guys at a time… like 3 or 4 guys at a time — it was SAFE, but it wasn’t particularly hard. About halfway through I told the other paladin “heal me, I want to try something” (I didn’t really tell the priest ahead of time. oops 🙂 and I just ran through a couple (or three 🙂 clusters at once and pulled them all back to the group — something like 8 to 10 guys. Got em all nice and pissed at me and the group just burned em down. I think most of them were JUST about out of mana when the fight ended.
The group’s response: “That was fun. Do it again.”
Tyelaf is level 21. We (he tends to work with Tirawyn the Captain) have done most of the quests around the town of Bree, and now have two BIG GROUP things to deal with — spying on the Witch King himself, and a foray into the Great Barrows that house the last ruler of Cardolan. Yikes. After that… folks need a lot of help in the Lone Lands, and a lot of that involves shooting Orcs, so I’m THERE.
Geiri remains my toughest character. I don’t know if he’s my FAVORITE, but he’s definitely tied for first. At level 16 (17?) he’s got considerably higher morale (read: health) than Tye, and he and Tiranor the elven hunter TEAR through quests that I recall being a pretty big pain in the tuchas with Tye. We were on last night for a few hours and finished up all the storyline in Ered Luin (the Blue Mountains and Celondim) and headed East through the Shire and into Bree, where we met up with Strider and continued to harass the kinda-sorta undead dwarf Skorgrim — that dude HAS to be tired of seeing use show up and mess with his plans over and over. It’s been like… well, for Tiranor, it’s going on 600 years, now. (God I love how the time-instanced storyline in LotRO works.)
Downside to Geiri: he takes half a coon’s age to kill anything on his own. However, this rarely comes up. 🙂
His personal bane: creban. Friggin’ evil birds.
Oh, and elves that go running off of cliffs and break his damn ankles.
I haven’t played Yarren much, but she’s also wrapped up all the quests in the Shire and has headed to Bree to see what this “Strider” guy wants (something about heading into the Old Forest to look for some hobbits he’s supposed to meet up with in Bree). She’s also going to give up the plain-jane professions of farming and cooking. Poking at old scrolls and bits of lost lore from the Second Age is SO much more interesting (and likely to get her face melted off, but THAT’S FUN TOO.)

[SotC/Fate] A Different Take on Phases

From one of the game’s author’s a great tweak to the phases in SotC character generation to move away from a time-oriented series of phases and instead use a more organic series of questions to find answers for:
* Who are you?
* Who are you connected to?
* What’s your big issue?
* What kind of situations do you see yourself being involved in?
it’s very very good.
Don’t get me wrong — I love the phases of character creation in the standard Spirit of the Century rules, and I’ve used them both in a standard game and an Amber game with good success, but the phases themselves are pretty closely tied to the post-Great War setting. This tweak allows you to ‘fit’ character generation into virtually any setting with no problems at all — it has all the Aspecty-goodness of SotC with some great flavor added from things like Primetime Adventures “issues” and even the old-school Amber questionnaires. Good stuff.

Zombies at(e) the Homecoming Dance

Caught up by the desire to play a little wacky horror roleplaying in the middle of the week, I got a few folks together, pulled out the pocket-sized campfire horror game Dead of Night, and we had ourselves some fun.
The players:
* Jay, in town from New York for the next few months — catch his part in Pride and Prejudice next month at the Denver Performing Arts Center.
* Meera the Fierce
* Randy
The Concept:
* It is 1985
* You are in High School
* Heathers and Pretty in Pink meets Shawn of the Dead
The Main NPCS:
* Meridith, the Homecoming Queen
* Troy, the “captain awesome”, knows-everyones-name, cool but cocky quarterback (played by James Marsden)
* Rick “the Hickey” – head linebacker, bully (played by Jake Busey)
* Sarah – salutatorian, on the field hockey varsity team, pretty, popular, and rumored to be pregnant (I said Julia Stiles was playing this part, but I was actually thinking of Erika Christensen. Huh.)
* Kinney(, Melvin) – an angry young man who’s been threatening to burn down the school since sixth grade
* Bender – the stoner dude
My constraints for character creation:
* Tell me why you’re NOT going to the Homecoming Dance
* Tell me about some kind of relationship you have with at least two of the NPCs above
Here’s what we got:
* Meera: Alice (“don’t call me Allison”) – the smart, acidic, Scary Goth Chick. Sophomore. She’s Troy’s little sister and dated Kinney in Junior High until he got “too intense”. She’s not at the homecoming dance because… c’mon, look at her. Look at THEM — it’s obvious.
* Jay: Chris – the slightly stoned, visionary singer/guitarist/songwriter of Beefcake Express (not the band’s actual name, which I can’t remember, but it was close to that). Bender is the bass player, and Kinney is the drummer. In play, we also discovered he had a one-night ‘thing’ with the homecoming queen, and he still has a thing for her. He’s a Junior. He’s not at the homecoming dance because the class officers selected a clearly inferior cover band to play at the dance.
* Randy: Jason – the rebellion-through-kleptomania kid. He’s a sophomore, and has a crush on Sarah. Rick the Hickey has selected him as a particular target for harassment, but Jason returns the favor by routinely stealing Rick’s stuff. ((He really doesn’t like Rick because he dated Sarah for a little while last year.)) He’s not at the dance because he didn’t have the guts to ask Sarah (who, because of her personal drama, is also not going). Also, as we find out with the first in-character line in the game, Jason always plays halflings.
What are they all doing during the Homecoming dance?
* They’re in the basement at Alice’s house, playing Call of Cthulu. Alice is GMing. Jason is playing a short british man.
Quote and other wackiness after the cut.

Continue reading “Zombies at(e) the Homecoming Dance”

Wish Fulfillment

Last night, Kate and I were running around the edge of this orc camp up the Greenway a few miles from Bree. We’re leaving, but one of the guards spots her and takes off after her. She ignores him, figuring (correctly) that she can outrun him and he’ll give up the chase in a little bit.
Me? I stop.
“You stopped you shoot him, didn’t you?”
But let me clarify.
It’s not because I’m bloodthirsty or need the xp or anything.
I (a dyed in the wool Tolkien fanboy) am given the opportunity to plant an arrow fletching-deep into the back of a fleeing orc.
It is going to be a long, long, LONG time before that gets old.

Playing to win

I actually had two points for my “serious gamer” post, but the thing was getting too long, so here’s the rest of it.
Let me pick out the bits in the first post that had to do with my second point.

Player B can have an extremely productive 90 minutes online and then go to a movie with local friends.

Productive. Getting stuff done.

Cleaned up some old quests, and started collecting some materials I need for the next ‘big’ dungeon I want to do with her.

How did I know I’d need them? I looked up dungeon instances for the basic level I’m at, focusing on stuff that was higher level by a little bit, because (a) it’s better rewards and (b) I’m a pretty good player, so I want to push myself.

Also, following some research on the “maintankadin” forums, I respecced her for a stronger tanking build, which cost me a ton of gold, but the results of which I liked.

I don’t just research what there is to do — I read about how to do it. Yeah, most of the posts are about playing at 70, and if I’m only level 40, that’s not entirely relevant, but it does tell me what to aim for, what to expect, and most importantly, what I will be expected to do if I want to team up with other people.

… spent some time in the afternoon doing more work on game-prep for that face to face game, and reading up on LotRO quests and appropriate surnames for Men of Gondor.

Prep, prep, prep. I want the face to face game to come off well, and while I don’t prep scenarios as such, I *do* prep by getting familiar with the rules. For this game coming up, I’m researching:
1. Half-life
2. Horror movies of the 80s
3. Mullets
And I’m looking up surnames of the Men of Gondor (note: they don’t use them) because at level 15 your LotRO character can pick a surname, and with the server I’m on, it’s important to me that it’s accurate. I’m a fan-boy.

Kate and did a little LotRO stuff, which mostly amounted to us running around the Old Forest in fear for our very lives.

Why do I prep? Why do I look stuff up? Because eventually the shit is going to hit the fan in whatever game you’re playing, and you want to continue to have fun — not have a frustrating night.
That’s the same reason I aim to do things that push my play ability. If my ‘safe’ play has more instances where I’ve pushed the limit and had to really work to succeed, then I’m ready for the times when I have to redline when I’m NOT expecting it.
Yes, we ran around all over, yes we scrambled — the only time I didn’t have fun was when I was defeated and had to retreat from some wild critters that really shouldn’t have been that much of a challenge — they WERE, because Kate and I got separated, which also shouldn’t have happened.
Saturday, I was on my paladin and teamed up with another one. I tank on my paladin, and I’ve done a LOT of reading on how to do well as a tank on WoW, because it is a LOT different than tanking on City of Heroes.
1. You don’t get any kind of front-loaded aggro. Most tanks in WoW only have a piddly little ranged attack — some (most paladins) don’t have any, and they have to build it by getting beat on for a good ten seconds. 2. Their aggro is FRAGILE. It is no challenge at all for a damage-dealing class to decide they want to pull the bad guy’s aggro from me onto themselves… the CHALLENGE in play is to do as much damage as they can WITHOUT getting aggro. (You can run an aggro meter to tell you were you are in relation to the tank.)
In CoH, Tanks get a ranged taunt that affects up to five enemies at the same time, and, once you start hitting them, pretty much guarantees you will never lose their attention that fight.
The only thing like that in WoW is dynamite, and I can’t MAKE dynamite.
So I was out with this other paladin, and while I’m still running up to the baddie, they throw off a holy smite — a ranged spell they get, because of their build, that I don’t have. Before you could say “What the…” I was running back the way I came, chasing the thing down as it went after the other character.
After the fight, I asked them to wait and let me build aggro on the mob first. “Five seconds,” I said, “during which you can even hit them with your basic attack if you want, just don’t use that Smite.”
“Why worry about it?” They said. “I can tank these little guys.”
Sure, but that’s not the point.
There’s something my football coach used to say. “You play like you practice.” Only into my mid-thirties do I really start to understand that.

Continue reading “Playing to win”

Casual/Hardcore vs. the Serious Gamer

Okay. This is going to seem like it has a lot to do with MMO gaming, but at it’s heart it’s about gaming in general — even just about social commitments as a whole.
In the MMO world (and in gaming in general, in a much less formalized/articulated way) there are two labels for players that can tossed around: “Casual” and “Hardcore”.
Definitions of these two terms vary, but in a nutshell, the two might mean any or all of the following, depending on the speaker:

  • Casual – Doesn’t take the game that seriously. Doesn’t play much (less than 20 hours a week, let’s say). Isn’t reliable in terms of showing up for planned activities. Automatically drops game-related activities if something ‘better’ comes up. Isn’t a particularly good player. Isn’t a particularly ‘advanced’ player (has good gear — progresses through game content). Just isn’t very serious about it. Might say they’re showing up for something and just… won’t. Has a life.
  • Hardcore – Takes the game WAY TOO seriously. Plays more per week than they spend at work. Never misses, and usually organizes, planned game activities. Automatically drops other activities if something comes up in game. Is a ‘leet’ player with great gear, ultra-fast progression into end-game content, know the math of the game backwards and forwards, knows the Lore by heart. Is the attendance-nazi for in-game events. Lives the ‘life’ of a Basement Dwelling Virgin Troglodyte.

Clearly, the generalizations above are filled with statements from one side, talking about the OTHER side. In MMOs (and online forums in general) it’s a lot more obvious, but it happens in face to face games, too. We all know the guy who keeps the spreadsheet of all the treasure accumulated at last weeks game — who’s got the best gear so far — who the group has beaten, what the xp-per-session is, and who’s missed the most sessions.
We also know the guy who says they’ll show up to the game, doesn’t for three weeks running, and when he does, arrives with his second six-pack of the day and proceeds to drunk (yes, “drunk”, not “drink”) his way through the game. The other players shake their head at this ‘casual’ person, the casual person wonders about those other five at the table who showed up on time, and clearly have no life.
So… which one are you?

Continue reading “Casual/Hardcore vs. the Serious Gamer”

Splitting the Party

A good, though old, discussion about the histrionics and misconceptions that surround ‘splitting the party’ in gaming sessions.

Are you even really getting less spotlight time? Think about it for a moment – there’s still only one GM, either way. He can only shine the spotlight for 60 minutes each hour. And even when the PCs are dialoging, the spotlight is switching back and forth between players. The total number of minutes is the same when playing “split.” In party play, you feel a tad less engaged when your character is not in a scene, because you know you won’t be able to be called upon to do anything. But everyone has experienced in party play where they’ve been in the room, but really not involved in the action going on, right? So is that possibility that you might be called on really all that much less engaging than just watching?

I like having characters who feel comfortable with doing their own thing — this is the kind of play supported in a lot of the game I’ve played (Amber) and play (anything current).
What’s great about this discussion is that is dissects the reasons behind player/gm reluctance to split the group up — where it comes from, why it continues — and shows how to make those boogiemen go away.

Gaming in review

A mix of gaming this weekend.
((Blogging bitching: it really should be possible to just hit Ctrl-B in Moveabletype to Boldface something. It worked in 2.0 for pete’s sake — you mean to tell me you can’t do it NOW?))
Played Spirit of the Century on Friday night. I pretty much went in with a scenario ‘aimed’ at two player characters who bailed out at the last moment, so I had to wing it.
Luckly, SotC is good at winging it. I had:
– The Daring Magpie – burglar and dilettante faceman, who has done a couple sessions already.
– Rami Samiti – East Indian psychic: ditto.
– Trent McCoy – new character for a player who’s been at all the games — a driver and ‘gun man’.
– Beau Brass – a musician and smooth talker.
My basic method with these games is to ‘focus’ on one or two characters in each session — specifically, I’ll pick someone who’s already been at the game a couple times, and make this ‘their’ session. I was going to game at the retired character for Trent’s player, but he was, as I said, retired, so that indicated The Daring Magpie and/or Rami as the focal point.
Those two characters are different enough, and I’m lazy enough, that I didn’t want to screw around with working out a story that featured both of them equally. Rami had a lot of stuff going on in “The Ape Soldier of Teyawasu”, so that mean The Daring Magpie.
Therefore: social situations, schmoozing, and possibly some sneaking about and stealing stuff. Main focus: something both urban and urbane (based on player comment).
Then, if we have new players, I try to throw something in for them. Trents a drive and shooter. Beau is also new.
So… I opened with a car chase, moved to New York City for the main action (since we’d already ‘done’ L.A.), and set the whole thing around a music festival at the Woolworth Building, to give Beau some musical spotlight.
The heroes started out in mid-chase, trying to stop the bad guys from delivering something to NYC for Doctor Methuselah. They stop them, open the crate with the MacGuffin inside, and find a note from Doctor M himself that reads:

Hello Century Club,
If you’re reading this, you’ve stopped my witless minions from delivering a key piece of equipment I require for my current project.
However, this puts you in a dilemma.
While the project in question would be a brilliant step forward for mankind, it also requires certain sacrifices you would likely find objectionable. You have, probably unknowingly, stopped that plan by acquiring the object in this box. Bravo.
However, the device that requires this object is already in place and will be activated on [date two days hence], regardless. Without this object in place, as a focus for the devices power, well over ninety percent of the population of Manhattan will perish.
So: Do you keep the object, foil my plans, but doom a city, or deliver the object and complete the device (and with it, my original plan)?
Either way, it is now your problem. Good luck, god speed, etc.

Then I just sat back and watched the fireworks.
We had a lot of digressions and such, simply because we hadn’t played or seen each other in a month, but all in all it was a good session and lots of fun.

Grezzk joined the Scholomance Debate Team on the Farstriders server a few weeks back. Since then, I haven’t done a LOT with the guild members, but the stuff I have done has been both fun and a good learning experience. I’ve also got a lot of good loot recently, but frankly that’s been mostly all my own doing.

  • Ran Mana Tombs, and tanked it with Tusker the wonder pig. Would like to do that again, as we didn’t finish the last boss.
  • Ran Auchenai Crypts with some of the SDT members. That went just fine, although the Tank… should play his other mains.
  • Pet-tanked the Coilfang Underbog. A competent healer that knew how to watch my pet and keep him standing meant that we cleared this with no problems.
  • Pet-tanked the Coilfang Slave Pens. Ditto here, though the healer was different. Tusker has tanked about a quarter of the high-level instances in the game now.
  • Ran “The Mechanar” instance with the guildies, and got a really nice gun that, unfortunately, I need to get some better gear to go along with it before it will be as good as my bow, despite the fact that it has better stats — basically, I’m just in better shape to use a bow right now than a gun.
  • Ran the 25-man raid “Gruul’s Lair.” Big group, but a short instance — just two big rooms with some trash mobs in between — takes about an hour. We downed High King Maulgar and his 4 Boss-level buddies (think fighting Statesman, Back Alley Brawler, Synapse, Positron, and Numina, all at once), but couldn’t quite take down Gruul himself — the Guild hasn’t been able to take him yet. Crazy fight. Crazy.

Heck, all the boss fights in WoW are crazy at some level. The easiest boss fights in WoW make the hardest boss fights in CoH look like a game of air hockey at Chuck E. Cheese… I have a lot to learn about most of those fights, but I didn’t screw up too bad (except for siccing Tusker on the wrong boss at one point in the Maulgar fight and feeling like a moronic “huntard” when someone on vent said “Grezzk, where’s your pet?”
Kayti the Paladin-tank
Got to level 43 with her, and continue to plow forward. I like tanking, and of the tank classes, I still like tanking with Paladins the best.
Syncerus the bear-cow
Played Syncerus the tauren (bull) druid (bear form!) with Lee’s little priest for awhile on… Sunday? Saturday? Got about 3 levels and most of a fourth, cleared all my missions for the first low-level Dungeon in the game, and got a bunch of new gear and abilities. Druids are like CoH Kheldians, except the nature forms they take (Tank, Melee DPS, Healing, Ranged DPS) are actually AS GOOD AS their equivalent counterparts, with different mechanics for every form. Very challenging class.

Lord of the Rings Online
Tyelaf the Hunter joined the Council of the Secret Flame, an Kinship. Good group of folks, and helpful. He’s level 14.
Yarren Heatherfoot the hobbit burglar passed Tye as my highest level character, thanks to lots of Bounders-related misadventures with her cousin Tirra. I don’t know that she’s my favorite character — I really like all of my characters on that server (Hunter, Burglar, Champion, GUARDIAN) — but with the neat crowd-control ability and funny situational stuff, she and Tirra (who’s also a burglar) are a LOT of fun to play.
Geiri the dwarf Guardian. Yeah. Stop me if you’ve heard this one — I get in front and do a lot of shield-meet-goblin-face-bashing goodness, and Tiranor the Elf Hunter shoots things until they are very very dead. It’s a match made in Valar. Although they are not our highest level pair, they are very likely our most deadly. Tiranor frequently kills stuff before it even gets to me. No oliphaunts, yet, but she’s getting there.

He’s not pretty, but I like ‘im.

“What are YOU looking at?”
I’ve had a couple pretty good runs with Grezzk lately, and he’s looking pretty badass: the Shoulderpads-of-self-impalement (not actual name) are new, as are the badass spear and the eyepatch. Not pictured, the insanely ornate, gorgeous, kick-ass bow “of the Torn Heart” that he was given by the ghost of its previous owner, as a reward for saving the world. Again.

The economy in an MMO

Here is a simple fact about MMO economies: every “value” in a MMORPG boils down to time investment.
In short, a thing becomes more valuable to the player-base in any game, in direct relation to the time required to make the thing.
CoH Example, since that’s what most people reading here know:
The really valuable invention recipes in CoH are valuable not because they’re uber powerful (a “tech wings” costume-piece recipe doesn’t do ANYTHING for your character stat-wise), but because they represent an investment of TIME that pretty much EVERYONE has agreed they’d rather pay ridiculous amounts of influence (which everyone earns just by playing) to get rather than spend the time (multiple Task Force runs) to get.
Right now, is MARGINALLY worth more to sell a completed Invention Enhancement (which you acquired the recipe and materials for, then made), than it is to just sell the rare recipe.
That will probably change. I say that based solely on my experience on other games that have a ‘one-click creation’ system for “production” of cool stuff… the fact that ‘making’ the thing required virtually no time at all will devalue the finished product to the point where people will actually not be willing to pay as much for the finished product as they would for the component ingredients, sold separately.
This is, anyway, what I’ve seen in games with both gathering and crafting components: gathering takes time (in WoW or LotRO, stopping on your way to somewhere else to chop wood or mine or whatever — in CoH, doing the rare bosses or Task Forces that yield the cool inventions), while Crafting a Cool Thing out of the gathered stuff is just one button click. Because the one-click-crafting is easy and requires no time, but the gathering process takes time and effort, the raw materials are (usually) worth more on the Auction House than the product you make with it, even if the thing you make is inarguably a ‘good’ item.
Which is why I tend to focus on ‘gathering’ stuff on MMOs — so far, I’ve found that you can do better, financially, simply by gathering stuff, selling it to people willing to pay for it, and just BUYING the finished products you want, rather than making it yourself… and you’ll still have ‘money’ left over.
The single exception to this I’ve found is WoW’s Herbalism/Alchemy pairing — by dumb luck, the time required to gather (herbalism) matches the time needed to Produce (Alchemy) so well that the final product (lovely potions for health, mana, good stats and smooth skin) are worth more in the live economy of the playerbase than the component parts.
Also, making potions is fun. 🙂 I dunno why, but it is. 🙂

Demonstrating Learning Behavior

Three MMO mistakes I’ll never make again
“I do not need to level tonight.”
For “level,” also insert “get the pretty new item,” “finish this mission,” or do ANYTHING when the whole point of staying on is just to accomplish some virtual goal. If I stay on too late some night because I’m having a great time (either just doing a good storyline, or playing with friends, or even soaking up some testosterone in a PvP battleground), that’s one thing — that’s fun — that’s adding a smile to the ledger of your life. If I’m blearily trying to pound out that last 150 hellboars I need to get the XP to level up? Log out — the boars will be there TOMORROW.
“I do not need to help people run things.”
I don’t need to be a class leader. I don’t need to be a guild leader. I especially don’t need (or want) to spend any online PLAY time having meetings, discussing some kind of inter-player drama, or conducting interviews with new members. I can do it — and I’m for damn sure GOOD at it — but I will eventually resent it, and that will cause me to burn out, with fiery, painful consequences.
“I do not need to play a healer.”
This one is somewhat tongue in cheek — what I need to do in any game is make up (a) a ranged damage dealer and (b) a tank. Judging from both CoH and WoW, I’ll make them (and level them up) in that order. That is what I enjoy. Anything beyond that… will probably have to wait until I’m done with those two.
Bonus: “People are only rarely as reliable when you are an online friend as they are when you are a face-to-face friend.”
That’s just the simple truth. Note that I did not say “virtual” versus “real life” friends: inasmuch as the time I spend online is REAL time, and I am talking to REAL people in other parts of the world, and spending time doing activities and having REAL fun — the people I know online are just as “real life” as anyone.
But they aren’t a face to face friend to me, and I am not a face to face friend to them, and no matter how good a person you are, that makes a huge difference. Raise your hand if you have NOT been burned by assuming otherwise in the past.

A little note for Battleground players

If you have a nifty little macro/code/addon widget that, when you’re down to 20% or 10% health, automatically has you do something like “[Yourname] calls out for healing!”…
Shut it off when you go to the PvP battleground.
Yes, it’s probably useful when you’re grouped up in a quest or dungeon or something (though any healer doing their job well would find it insulting)… it may even be useful to hear your character (or the voice actor they hired) shout “HEAL ME!” when you’re solo and not paying attention to your health…
But in the battleground? When it’s just your and me, and I’m trying to pound your helmet back into your face? Calling out for healing at that point… it’s really just kind of sad.
And funny. I shouldn’t forget funny.


Hmm. I was planning on a basic week in review post, but I realized pretty much everything I have to say boils down to whining.
In summary, it’s more interesting and fun when I have people to play with, be it on CoH or WoW or LotRO, and the large part of my current problem is, I don’t (most of the time, with exception to the rule specifically granted to the obvious people it should be granted to).
That’s it. Five page itemization deleted. I’ve accepted it and plan to get some editing and revision work done this week. I’m online too much right now anyway.

Tiny gaming update

Not a lot of gaming in the last week. Here’s what’s been going on.
Grezzk Level 70 orcish hunter. Farstriders server. Blood and Thunder Guild
Ding 70! Simul-ding with Lee’s warlock Blynd. Last week I mentioned some things I was going to do once I hit 70.
* Run all the Outlands instances. ((Not started yet.))
* Go to Mulgore and run all the newbie starting-zone missions for the Tauren to finally get my rep with them up to Exalted, so I can get a war kodo. ((Done! Got exalted on the second to last available mission. Did NOT, however, get the war kodo yet, as I’m saving up for my flying mount.))
* Get my flying mount. ((Not yet. Give me a few days.))
* I’m going to get a dragon (fine: netherdrake. whatever) for a flying mount, once I have the ‘regular one’. ((Not yet.))
* I’m going to figure out where the quest line is that lets me walk up to Garrosh Hellscream, kick him in the nuts, and say “man UP, for chrissake — you’re an embarrassment — you give ‘mamas boy’ a bad name.” ((Found the quest. Still need to finish it.))
* Leveling up Alchemy, having finally dropped Skinning. Just no money in it. ((Started that. Potions, Ho!))
* Get a firefly pet.
* Get Cooking high enough to make the uber pet-buffing snacks. ((Done!))
Kayti Dwarf Paladin (Kirin Tor server)
Level : 40 (Ding!)
I have a pony (or in this case a paladin’s warhorse)! I also have plate mail! Herbalism and Alchemy level caps both raised to 300! Two horrible horrible PUGs, but lots of good duos.
It was a good week to be a paladin :).

Grezzk: Ding 70

Because it is late, simply a brief screenshot summary of some of the better moments from the last 10 levels or so, including (thanks to the magic of photo editing, to cover up my mistimed click) the simultaneous Level 70 ding of Grezzk and Lee’s warlock, Blynd.

Week in Review

Here’s what’s been going on in the last week or so:
Grezzk Level 69 orcish hunter. Farstriders server. Blood and Thunder Guild
Ran the first Hellfire Peninsula instance twice, and got some phat loot from that. Cleared all the non-dungeon-group quests in Hellfire Peninsula, Zangarmarsh, and I’m through MOST of the stuff in Nagrand, except for the stuff that *really* requires a group (to differentiate between that and quests that say they require a group and really just require a hunter and his pet. 🙂
Also got a nice new ranged weapon, and should get a real elephant gun of a weapon pretty soon.
Level 69 right now. 10% done on the way to 70. If things continue at their current pace (and there’s no reason to think they won’t), I’ll probably ding 70 on either Wednesday or Thursday this week, maybe Friday, and I should have enough money for the riding lessons and manticore flying mount at almost exactly the same time as I level. (No point in getting it earlier, since you can’t get the mount until level 70 anyway.)
I can’t wait to ding 70, simply because it’s going to open up so much more stuff to do without thinking about ‘is this getting me xp’ anymore. I’ve spent lots of time on little ‘non-earning’ side projects in the past, but now?
* I’m going to run all the Outlands instances.
* I’m going to go to Mulgore and run all the newbie starting-zone missions for the Tauren to finally get my rep with them up to Exalted, so I can get a war kodo.
* I’m going to get a dragon (fine: netherdrake. whatever) for a flying mount.
* I’m going to figure out where the quest line is that lets me walk up to Garrosh Hellscream, kick him in the nuts, and say “man UP, for chrissake — you’re an embarrassment — you give ‘mamas boy’ a bad name.”
* And aside from all that, there’s 3 more regions in the Outlands that I haven’t even touched yet, in terms of doing the quests and checking out all the cool content. 🙂 That’s fine: I really like Nagrand — it’s a hunter’s paradise — so I think this will be a good place to ding 70.
Haven’t done a ton in the last week or so, but the Brightsides have gotten a lot of play recently, and they’re lots of fun to play, so that’s good. I think the last thing we did on them was the “Cape” mission… by which I mean “find a hero in Paragon City, beat them up, and take their cape.” Funny.
Lord of the Rings Online continues to impress me with the evocative setting. The interface is a little unfamiliar to me, still, but it’s getting better. Pretty sure I have one of every class and probably two of every race, just to play around with different stuff until I find the stuff I really like. Also, it takes a lot of work in the character creator to come up with a halfling male who doesn’t look dumpy as all get out.
Tabletop -Spirit of the Century
Kate was in town and I finally got to run session of Spirit of the Century with her in attendance. I asked her earlier that week to pick a good town for a pulp adventure and she said Hollywood… she was, unbeknownst to me, thinking “Noir” and not “Pulp,” but it worked out. The story opened at the grand opening of the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, with a big display of Egyptian antiquities that turned up missing…
… cue a car-chase (our first real use of the change mechanics that I like so much), a mook fight, the first use of the incredibly deadly explosion/grenade rules… and a MUMMY! Woot.

Warhammer Online

The Human Side of WAR — this is an easy to ready two-page interview, and I recommend it. Lots of great quotes, and exciting descriptions of the ‘living world’ they’re working on with Warhammer Online, but this is the one that got me:

WoW is The Beatles, who changed music forever. You can’t be the Beatles; they already exist. You can’t copy them. If you try, you become The Monkees. You’ve got no chance. We’re not The Beatles. We’re Led Zeppelin.

Having played a lot of Warhammer back in college, both on battlemats and as an RPG, that stuff got me excited. That’s always been Warhammer — heavy metal.
Heavy, sharp, slightly rusted metal.
Check out the trailer at their website ( See if the orc and the catapult make you laugh. If so, this might be your kinda game.
((If WoW = the Beatles, what’s CoH? Shinier, with a smaller, much more niche-oriented fanbase, and more system resource requirements… I’m going to say something like the Cure. 🙂

A very limited market of appeal

I can’t seem to find that vital crossover audience of people who appreciate the subtle genius of taking Little Einsteins songs and rewriting the lyrics for World of Warcraft.

LOTRO Review

Tempted in by Avocet, and as a long-time Tolkein Fanboy (let’s not talk about how many times I’ve read the Hobbit, LortR, and even the Silmarillion), I gave Lord of the Rings Online a try last night.
Overall review: Very very good. Visually appealing, very intuitive “explain it all” interface, very evocative of the setting. A little buggy during scene transitions. Not beta-level buggy, but a bit — I’m encouraged to upgrade my video card drivers.
More beneath the cut.

Continue reading “LOTRO Review”


(Here’s a cunning scheme from NCSoft…)

Any and all Superpowered individuals are needed immediately to stave off the Rikti Invasion that threatens all of humanity! To support the fight against this ruinous alien invasion, all former players in good standing have their accounts reactivated from Thursday, August 2nd through late Sunday night (August 5th, 8:59PM PST / 11:59PM EST).
Anyone who has previously played City of Heroes or City of Villains is able to log in get into the fight! Spread the word to your supergroup or guild mates and online friends who might not be playing CoH that now is the time to come back and check out the great new Issue 10, for FREE!
Welcome back to these Heroes and Villains! Join the fight against the Rikti Invasion Force and have a great “City of” weekend!

City of Heroes Official Forums

Random Additional MMO Thoughts

My GOD I’ve missed having Fly on a regular toon I play. Slow, but still the best move power ever.
We need some kind of bulletin board to post up rare Invention Salvage we need. 😛
We should run Statesman’s TF, and the Rikti one, soon, but I’d like to wait on the Rikti one until I’ve got someone through the zone content.

Week in Review

Played a little Spirit of the Century this last weekend. It wasn’t the session I’d dreamed up for the game I had to abort last week, since that would have been totally inappropriate for the group we’d assembled, but it was still fun. We had…
Mob Mooks
Mysterious Vanishing Zeppelins
Mushrooms, Giant
Mushrooms, Glowing
A lost civilization of cannibals (sorry, ran out of M’s)
… and a whole lot of fire.
Best of all, the most “turtle-up” player got drawn right into the middle of the story, which I think both startled and pleased him. He habitually makes people who are kind of distant from everyone else he’s working with, and hard to socket in, and with very little work on my part (and thanks to a great idea from Randy) he was right in the middle of the whole story. It was ABOUT him, really, which was cool.
I think the best part was when he rescued the starlet of his favorite Radio program — Esperanza Kittredge — and she threw her arms around his neck and said ‘get me out of here!’
And… see… he has this Aspect about how he loves this radio show…
And he has this OTHER aspect of “No one touches the Master of Shinanju!”
So I held up a Fate point and said “She’s sobbing into your shoulder, and her voice is even more amazing than it is on the radio, but No One Touches the Master of Shinanju…”
And he could either take the Fate point and shove her rudely away, or
let her cling and instead pay ME a Fate point (and it’s not like he had a ton at that point).
Does he comfort his idol, or stick with the hard line, elite attitude?
Bang, baby. 🙂
And he thought about it a bit, and paid me the point, and let her cling to him as he carried them away from the giant burning mushroom on the rope ladder dangling from the escaping zeppelin.
It was cool.
MMO stuff after the cut.

Continue reading “Week in Review”

Fiddly Bits

One post before I hit the paving stones of the work-street… possibly with my face.
Hmm. I was going to make this a long, drawn out thing, but instead I’m going to boil it down to a few bullet points.
I’ve played CoH a long time. I like it.
I’ve played WoW not as long, but also like it a lot. Possibly more than CoH, but that’s an apples to oranges thing — CoH is not WoW, nor vice versa.
One of the things I DO NOT like about CoH is that leveling takes ages. This is a design choice from NCSoft, because there’s no end-game content in CoH — once you hit the top level, there is, in short, f#ck-all to do.
Compounding this is the fact that, between leveling dings, there’s nothing HAPPENING to your character. Except for the dings, there’s just nothing going on. When you get to a new level, you either get a new power, get a few points to improve a power, and can maybe upgrade the effectiveness of all your powers (with new enhancements for said powers).
But that’s it, and it all happens when you ding. Other than that, you just slog slog through the same 50-odd, random mission maps, reading the story-lines in depth because those stories are the only things differentiating the missions.
I think that’s why RP is so much bigger on CoH than WoW (in my experience) — adding your own personal stories to the characters is the only way to have new things happening to your characters with more frequency.
Contrast this with WoW. When you level, you ALWAYS get at least a new Talent point, which at the least is going to improve you character, maybe give you a whole new ability that not everyone has. Plus, you get new skills, et cetera. That’s all pretty much like CoH.
However, you level faster, MUCH faster, because there’s LOADS of stuff to do at the max level for the game — many folks actually think of getting to 70 as “the first part” of the game, while the stuff you do once you get there as “the rest of the game.”
But then there’s all the other things you have going on BETWEEN levels. Skill-ups as you’re moving around, doing stuff, be it for defense, weapons, fighting, or a profession. New gear that might possibly be an upgrade to the stuff you’ve got… maybe an obvious one, or more of a lateral promotion that emphasizes a different strength of the character… either way, something to look at and ponder.
In other words, fiddly bits.
Some folks don’t like fiddly bits. For myself, the fiddly bits that fill in the ‘in between leveling’ is what keeps the game INTERESTING, long-term.
No where near a level? That’s fine, I’m working on getting my Alchemy skill up — I wanna be able to make water-breathing potions! Plus, I’m working with the forces in Thrallmar a lot right now, and they have a lot of cool stuff that they’ll give you… IF you reputation is high enough with them, so I’m doing missions specifically for them, to get up to Honored, then Revered, then Exalted with them, cuz look at that fancy bow they ha–
Oh, I dinged? Wow, I didn’t even notice I was getting close — I was busy playing THE REST OF THE GAME.
There’s always something to do, and I really, really love that.
CoH folks are starting to get a taste of this with the Inventions system — now, in between those leveling dings, you can keep an eye out for cool inventions that fall your way — stuff that, just like cool new gear in WoW, tweaks, changes, and improves your guy without a ding — stuff that, in some cases, is really worth CELEBRATING.
Hell, Pummelcite make 2 million influence yesterday, just selling off stuff he had no use for — that damn near made back all the money I spent on upgrading him this weekend. That right there is a cool thing — between missions and leveling, I’ve got something to DO.
It made me really enjoy CoH more. It improved my experience, so kudos, design team.
Now let’s take it to the next level.
How about a series of missions you can do (like the police-band missions, yeah… tie it into that) that raise your rep with certain groups in the city, allowing you to get your hands on inventions, recipes, and enhancements that you can only get if you’re on their good side?
I’m not talking about a single mission to get you a Nemesis staff for three days, I’m talking about working SERIOUSLY with the Kings Row Police until they give you access to their “Riot Gear” inventions and craftable temp powers.
How about the idea that if you work your rep up really high with certain groups (Brickstown Police), it drops ESPECIALLY low with other groups (Crey Corp), who then randomly ambush you, because you’re on their most-hated list? Boom, you have a NEMESIS!
Repeat throughout the city. Repeat for the 35+ factions and groups around town. Wanna bet i wouldn’t dust off my level 50’s to ‘grind reputation’ with some of those groups? HELL yes.
Fiddly bits.
I think there’s an appeal here that goes beyond MMOs as well. Some games really attract their following through all the little fiddly bits that you get to tweak and play with on you character. DnD is definitely this way (and, to a comment De made, maybe so complicated it’s better handled by a computer), but also Champs, Tombstone, even Heroquest (little constant improvements), and maybe even Dogs (again, little constant improvements and character changes). Compare to other RPGs with few changes and ‘dings’ that are few and far between (AmberDRPG, even PTA).
Very interesting way to examine and evaluate some of the games on my shelf, and understand why I like some of them more than others.

Multiple Choice

The invention system on CoH gives me:
a) A way to improve my non-50 characters beyond the glacially slow leveling process.
b) A way to improve my 50s, at all, and in very neat and interesting ways (5% chance to heal 15% of my health every time I fire an energy blast? Psychic damage added to my holds? Yes please!)
c) Something useful and cool for my level 50’s to work on — dangerously like actual end-game content.
d) The ability to save and maybe even make money on these improvements through a little research, diligence, and personal effort, by making the stuff myself and selling off the good stuff I don’t need. (CoH develops its own Loot and Crafting system which, like the rest of the game, is a comic-book-simplified/streamlined version of that found on other MMOs — unfortunately with a much crappier interface.)
e) A slight headache.
f) All of the above.
Prompted by a few good drops Slip and Markov got last weekend during our TF run, I hopped onto CoH yesterday and poked around the Auction House for the first time. Got some new inventions. Picked up the ingredients for same. Made them. Slotted them. Found myself poorer, but quite pleased.
Logged in Hyperthermian. Repeat (though foolishly buying stuff made by other folks instead of stuff I made myself).
Logged in Hangtime… repeat… Bear Claws… Strategist… Pummelcite…
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Wiped out the bank accounts on a couple of them, but generally improved most of them and spotted a few REALLY WANT TO HAVES for each one. Good stuff. Actually made the utterly static level 50’s interesting to me again, and opened a world of fun for the mid-20 to mid-30 toons. Still need to check out Kethos, I think, though he’s not quite in the sweet-spot range (32 and up) where inventions are better than the stuff you can just buy from the store.
Anyway. Was finishing up Pummelcite (which involved a quick respec to move his slots around juuust a touch to really max the HELL out of Granite armor and take full advantage of his main attack powers) when I got a tell inviting him to a level 35 group-up.
Pumm’s level 34, and I really wanted to get him to 35 in time for Issue 10, so that he can run that new content and spend some quality time with the other folks who’ll be logging back in to run the TF — dude doesn’t even have the ATLAS MEDALLION, for pete’s sake.
Anyway. Joined the group. I wasn’t too optimistic of my leveling chances — he was BARELY 34, and solo leveling takes an age in CoH — more than any other MMO, they really reward you for group, and grouping BIG.
Lordy, does it ever. The group ran between 6 to 8 players for 2.5 hours. Pumm was the only tank, there were three defenders, and everything still dropped so fast I could barely establish aggro before everything dropped. Yowsa.
More importantly, I dinged level 35 and THEN some in the short time playing, picking up a new Area Effect attack (Tremor) and a couple fun inventions enhancements I could actually use.
Most importantly, it was fun. I miss playing the big guy — the amount of punishment he can absorb while in Granite Armor is positively unbelievable. I wanted a guy who could tank anything for a group of eight, at the cost of some soloability, and by god I’ve got it — he’s incredible.
Anyway. I also spotted Statesman standing around in Independence Port. Something about a Task Force? We should do that.


"City of Heroes" champions virtual queer prom

Hundreds of super-powered lesbians and gays let their magical hair down at a new LGBT prom recently. They danced, flirted, elected a prom king and (drag) queen, played outdoors in their underwear at a mountain ski resort, and levitated with robotic boots and angels’ wings until they crashed the server. Yes, they were in a virtual online world called “City of Heroes.”

It’s about friggin’ time, Batman.

Starting on Tuesday, July 17th, the Training Room Test Server will have two new game features enabled for testing: Character Transfer and Character Rename.
* Character Transfer will allow customers to move characters from one server to another.
* Character Rename will allow customers to rename a selected character.
Both of these features are not part of Issue 10: Invasion. Although we are beginning to test them now, we anticipate that they will not be enabled on the live service until after the launch of Issue 10.
We estimate that both features, Character Transfer and Character Rename, will carry a transaction fee of $9.99 each per use (there will be no fee for transfers to or renames on the Training Room). Should a Character Transfer have a name conflict on the destination server, a free Character Rename will be made available to resolve the conflict and rename the moving character.
These new features exemplify our commitment to improve the quality of the City of Heroes experience. We feel the price of these features is enough to prevent potential abuse, but also reasonable enough to not be prohibitive for those who want to improve their gaming experience by moving servers or changing a character name.
IMPORTANT! Customers who are interested in taking advantage of the Character Transfer service should know that it is possible in the future that we may make changes to the game that would remove the need to Transfer servers. One example of such a change would be a “server-less” game configuration where all players can group with anyone, without the restriction of which server they play on. We are not committing to this “server-less” configuration, and in fact there are no plans to implement a “server-less” environment this calendar year, but because we are charging a fee for these services, it is important that our players understand that the possibility exists. We want to be very clear in this regard so that those who do decide to make use of a Server Transfer, when it becomes available, understand that they may not need it in the future.
For those interested in assisting with the testing efforts of Character Transfer and Character Rename, keep your eye on the Official City of Heroes Announcement Forum for further details. Thank you for your continued support!

Game reflects Life

Although it’s ostensibly about WoW, this post from Terra Nova: “Our avatars, ourselves”, makes some great observations how we relate to (and interact with) stimuli in virtual worlds in general, specifically our and others’ avatars.
In brief, research to this point indicates we react to virtual stimuli exactly the same way as if it were real — for example, we don’t want our characters standing too close to other characters, because it’s a social convention in the real world that we all have our own individual space. ((This is particularly notable in WoW, where there is no “body buffer” as there is in CoH, and it’s possible to actually stand ‘inside’ or walk through people, but people go to GREAT (if unconscious) effort to prevent that from happening if at all possible.))
Also (and obviously) we react positively to attractive avatars, more ‘upbeat’ locales, environment conditions, and surroundings. Again, I’ve seen this. The avatar example is easy to see — there are toons whose abilities I really like, but whom I don’t play simply because I don’t like looking at them much (Zero at the Bone, or any undead WoW character) — but I know there are areas in both CoH and WoW I just won’t want to linger for long (they’re DEPRESSING), while others I enjoy (Talos waterfalls are neat, and there’s something very relaxing about doing some deep sea hunting with a potion of water breathing for a few hours.
As they say in the post, “You can take the person out of the real, but not the real out of the person.”


When shall we get our reality-bending Amber Pulp on, chilluns?

Mayday, mayday

Although they are just as flammable and thus, just as fun, the zeppelins of World of Warcraft are quite a bit smaller than the Big Uns folks then to think of when they think of Zeppelins for pulp games. The ‘passenger’ section (which is basically water-going ship design, handing from the hydrogen balloon on ropes) is only about 20 or 30 feet from stem to stern, with a top deck and an enclosed lower deck — in the Amber game or the regular SotC game, it’d be a ‘personal zeppelin’, which right there is a concept I hadn’t even thought of, and kind of love — an aerial houseboat. 🙂
Also, this shot of a downed ‘mini-zeppelin’ caught in a tree in WoW’s Stranglethorn Vale gives me ideas. 🙂

More Amber Pulp!

Jvstin of long-time Amber DRPG fame just finished up a pulp-Amber game using Spirit of the Century at “The Black Road” Amber-con. Details at The Children of Amber in… the Machinations of Duke Icarium.
I like the implementation — unlike the very detailed complete rewrite of the rules I’ve seen elsewhere, his implementation changes relatively little in the core rules themselves: renaming a couple skills, dropping Science and just leaving the Medicine aspect of it, and breaking Riding out from Survival (which I didn’t do simply because Riding just seemed too narrow a skill to me, in comparison to the rest of the list.
All in all, it totally works: I think TCoA is more of a traditional Amber setting, so dropping stuff like Science makes sense, as does lumping all Vehicles into one gestalt skill (though again that makes Riding seem kind of narrow) — for NPiP, I’m injecting a lot of non-canon technology, weird science and pulp trappings, as WELL as the pulp ‘feel,’ so those differences are understandable.
Either way, it demonstrates that Amber/SotC is an easy-peasey hack.
I like his take on Art as both the core skill behind a “Trump Artist” stunt (which I’m doing in my NPiP game) and the idea that the art skill also equates to a USER’S level of skill with interacting with Trumps (which didn’t occur to me); that’s kinda hot. Daddy like.
All in all, great stuff — I’m looking forward to finding out how the session itself ran.

When you know the indie designers are doing something right

“Story Game” (400 page, hard-bound, beautiful, hard-crunch, sci-fi blaster, smacking) Burning Empires won Origins’ RPG of the year award, beating out Exalted, 2nd Edition and the new RuneQuest.
There is a vanishingly small difference between a mainstream RPGs and indie productions in terms of print quality (since most use Indie Press, Lulu, or another POD), and has been evident in the last couple years, no difference at all in quality of design.

The new Holy (long, with a smile at the end)

Okay, so a few days ago, just for my own lazy-bookmarking, I linked to a guide on making a “AoE”-specced Paladin. The reason for this was because the instructions on that post (and here )revitalized my enjoyment of playing my sub-main, a dwarf paladin who’s been gathering dust for awhile now.
I’m going to talk about that in more detail in this post, because I keep thinking about it.
It was a great, fun day of playing with her, and since she was unceremoniously booted from her guild a month or so back for not being logged in enough (writing a book, helloooooo), those moments of enjoyment with this character have been few and far between.
So anyway, it’s Tuesday. I’ve hit level 59 with Grezz’k and I’m 1001 points from 60 (in one-third the play time it took me to hit 50 with Hangtime, and half the time it took me with Hype. *coff*), and I don’t want to level any further with him just yet — there were some lower-level quests I wanted to finish with him before dinging, so I left him sitting.
I’d been reading the paladin thing, so I logged on Kayti and followed Ze Instructions.

Continue reading “The new Holy (long, with a smile at the end)”

A game within a game

Last weekend, the WoW Insider guild on Zangarmarsh “It Came from the Blog” (200+ low-level alts and going strong) ran a scavenger hunt. The idea was to get screenshots of the following items:
1. A parrot
2. A Wanted Poster
3. An Ogre
4. A Yeti
5. A Well (water-type)
6. A Waterfall
7. A Kodo
8. A chemistry set
9. Lava
10. Dragonkin
11. An Outhouse
12. An Armor stand
13. A Tapestry
14. A Tiki mask
15. A zombie
16. A Boat
17. A gate
18. Hanging boxes
19. A Coffin
20. A fountain
21. A siege engine
22. Intestines
23. A Dead tree
24. A crashed flying machine
25. The rez angel
You don’t have to know WoW to (a) see how that could be pretty fun and (b) how such an idea could be ported easily to other games.
The results? I did horribly — and after looking at the collections from the two guys who tied for first with 24 of 25 — realized I should LOOK at the landscape more.
Cool idea. I think I might rip it off later. 🙂

Burning Aspects

This is a SotC rules tweak. I didn’t come up with it, though I am tweaking it.
FATE and Spirit of the Century already let you change a character’s aspects whenever it’s appropriate or interesting or just plain cool to do so. That’s well and good. It’s a kind of ‘staying put’ character advancement.
I want to put a spotlight on that, when it happens. Some of the most dramatic moments in stories come when characters experience a radical change of heart. In SotC, the character is exchanging one aspect for another. In the Shadow of Yesterday (which has MANY things in common with FATE and SotC) it would be when you Buy Off a Key, which is a pretty awesome thing in that game.
So combine the two.

Continue reading “Burning Aspects”

In a highly volatile nutshell

Fred Hicks asks:

What do *you* think needs to be in a 15-minute demo of Spirit of the Century?

The best, though not necessarily most useful response:

Small mook group to be scared/confused by the talky types, then mowed down by the brawlers, but not before the BigVillain joins in.
On a Zeppelin.
Which is on fire.
Over Manhattan.
With a bunch of cute socialites on board as passengers.
And the Zeppelin is heading straight down for an orphanage.
That you finance with your immense wealth. Someone stop me!

That would be an awesome 15 minute demo.

Too much awesome for a single sentence.

So one of the players coming by on Friday to make up a character for our spirit of the century game “The Century Club Presents…” writes:
“What year do we start in? I need to know if soap operas exist yet.”

*blows some dust off*

I’m finally done with all the stuff that’s been keeping me from playing any WoW or CoH — I’ve been offline so long (coming up on 5 or 6 weeks?) I’m not sure I remember how to log in.


I think, assuming that Birdwell Island is a Chancel (which is clearly is, otherwise all the mortals would have gone insane by now), Emily Elizabeth must be the Imperator.
I’ve tried to work it with her as a Noble and Clifford as her anchor, but it just doesn’t work, since he’s got like… three anchors himself.
So she’s the Imperator. Obviously aligned with the Light — no one else could be that positive.

And… Action!

As I already mentioned, we played some Primetime Adventures this weekend — this was the first episode after the series premiere of our “Weird War Two” show — and ***Dave has once again done fantastic work in putting together a great game log of Strange Allies, Episode 1, “Djinn”.
This was a revelatory session for me as a PTA producer — somewhere in there, I went from “okay, I think we’re at a conflict” to realizing “Oh, THIS is how you play Bangs in this game. WOW!”
Great stuff.
My only coulda-shoulda for the session is that I should have suggested that the climatic scene conflicts for Margie and Randy should have been more about their characters’ issues, but that’s a relatively minor thing.

Man, I am loving Primetime Adventures

So I’ve run two sessions of PTA now (the Pilot and now Episode One of “Strange Allies”: fighting the arcane plots of the Reich in WW2), and played in one.
Really, REALLY feel like we’re getting the hang of this system.
– Don’t say “okay, I think this is a conflict, the NPC wants this, you want that.” Think to yourself, ‘the NPC wants this’ and then have them DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT, right in the character’s face, and say “Okay, given that situation, what do you want, player?” In other words, SHOW, don’t TELL. Awesome.
– Cut to the next cool thing, drop the scenes that you wouldn’t show in a TV show. This might be the best ‘rule of thumb’ to apply to really help you cut to the important stuff in a game.
– You can always squeeze the scenes harder. 🙂
Great parallels between Randy and Margie’s character’s storylines: rejected loves, dangerous beasts within, facing off against things that each represented the worst of what they might become…
… and poor Dave, the one human anchor point in this mad little storm.
I prepped three lines of text before the game, and we made a TV episode out of it, with demonic djinn and fascist Italian sorcerers and “I love yous” and marriage proposals in Paris and…
I’m very very pleased with how we’re figuring this game out. It’s like all the tough choices of Sorcerer, but playing characters you actually like. 🙂

“Now a regular weekly publication!”

It’s a Spirit of the Century-palooza. First, we had a character generation shindig down at Lee and De’s for Nine Princes in Pulp (Amber, with a thick layer of pulpy goodness), and now…

“The Century Club Presents…” is (a) a fictional pulp periodical that tells the heroic tales of the Century Club and (b) a pulp pick-up game using the Spirit of the Century system. That means a game influenced by the pulps — serial adventures of the early Twentieth Century starring iconic characters like Doc Savage and The Shadow and echoed today in movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Rocketeer.
We’re aiming for each session to be relatively self-contained, so that the players participating each session can change with no real problems. The characters are all affiliated with the Century Club, and this loose structure provides continuity, while allowing the freedom to create nearly any sort of adventure and include whomever shows up that week to play.
The idea here is to get a regularly scheduled game going for which the specific day of the weekend, the locale, the participants, and even the GM change as we go, depending on who can make it that week.
As of Sunday, we’ve got seven characters mostly made up, but WE NEED. MORE. POWER.
I’ll be sending out another message today, organizing a “There’s still time to SAVE THE WORLD!” get together for this weekend. The more players we have, the better the chance that there’s always enough people to play. 🙂

Bang bang bang

I’ve talked (a lot) in the past about running games that are essentially built on nothing but Bangs (or as SotC would have it, decision points). In (very) brief, this is a mode of GMing in which (most commonly) you come up with dilemmas that the character has to deal with, somehow. That’s actually simplifying it: Bangs are about creating a situation in which the reaction says something interesting about the character.The elements of this situation (and this is important) have no ‘right’ choice in mind.
In game, play progresses up to this situation, then the situation is presented, then the player(s) look at their options (probably inventing new options as well), and make a decision. We all (even the player) learn a little something new about that character in a backhand way, and play continues in the direction their choice and actions dictate. *
I haven’t always explained the technique very well, despite using it pretty much exclusively for a number of years. Thankfully, someone else stepped in to talk about it.
Mike Holmes is one of the best GMs I’ve had the pleasure of playing it, and he is something of an expert in this style of play. During a recent discussion of ‘what a Bang is,’ someone asked Mike to start up a new thread in which he breaks down all the different kinds of Bangs you can bring into your game.
He took up the gauntlet here: Story Games for Everybody – Bang Types. Good stuff, presenting even more variations on the theme that I plan to shamelessly rip off, because there’s a BUNCH I hadn’t really considered.

Continue reading “Bang bang bang”

Hell did not freeze over, but it did get a little brisk down there.

So I went down to Lee and De’s yesterday and, with Randy, Meera, and Kingsley, made up characters for a run of Spirit of the Century, in an Amber-that-never-quite-was.
Yeah. Amber.
An Amber with ray guns, planes that flap their own wings, clockwork-driven trump machines, a steam-driven monstrosity called Morgenstern, and growing fleets of zeppelins with Unicorn and Silver Rose emblems on the side.
The Great War is over, and things have changed.

Continue reading “Hell did not freeze over, but it did get a little brisk down there.”

Conflict Resolution vs Task Resolution: FIGHT!

So there’s a conversation on Story Games about “Conflict Resolution” systems and “Task Resolution” systems, and asking which one people like better.
I liked the conversation. I’m going to distill my thoughts here.
The whoza-what-now? (where I explain what I’m talking about)
See, there are two main kinds of resolution mechanics talked about, because there are two main kinds identified in extant RPG systems, today.
Conflict Resolution: these kinds of systems are “Specified Intent” systems. That means, when the GM asks what you want to do, you say “I want to find the important papers.” or “I want to find out who knows the Emperor.” or whatever. You specifically state what you want, and the rolls that follow determine if you get it.
Task Resolution: these kinds of systems are “Unspecified Intent” systems. That means, when the GM asks what you want to do in those same two situations, you say “I want to open the lock on the safe.” or “I want to use my Charm skill on the princess.” or whatever. You specifically state what you are doing, and the rolls that follow determine if you successfully do that specific thing. Whether you get what you really wanted is not considered.
Got that? Hope so. I’m moving to the last bit.
What’s my point?
Well, I have a pretty strong preference for conflict resolution.
Why is that?
Here’s my thought: Everything interesting in RPGs is about resolving a conflict. Everything. Do I get that thing? Do I get away? Do I find my dad? Whatever.
The problem with task resolution (specifically, conflicts where ‘what you really want’ isn’t specifically … considered) is that the mechanics don’t resolve that conflict for you — they just tell you if you performed an action successfully.
The two have nothing to do with each other.
You can roll for all the successful tasks you want, but ultimately, succeed or fail, whether you actually achieve your goal is left to — well, 99% of the time, it’s up to the GM. Maaaybe opening the safe was what you needed to do to find the papers, maaaaybe the princess is the person you need to give info from. But maybe not, and if not, you just keep rolling meaningless rolls that waste time and do nothing, until you finally “click the right pixel” — something that has nothing to do with all the rolling you’ve been doing in first place.
In short, the task resolution whole system is there to keep you busy until the GM’s ready to let you have what you want. Or not.
That’s pretty shaky game design right there.
Foot notes:
((1)) “My GM wouldn’t do that,” is not a relevant argument. A good GM can counteract a bad design. The bad design, however, still exists.
((2)) Why yes, this does go back and touch on both “I want to play with all the rules” and “What do I need a GM for anyway?” (The answer, of course, is “for the FUN stuff.”)
((3))This isn’t about ‘story games’ versus ‘trad rpgs’ or anything like that — it’s about cutting right to the honest heart of the conflict and doing something with the system that RESOLVES it. Roll one die (like Trollbabe). Roll fifty (DitV). I don’t care; just so long as what we’re doing is honestly determining “do I get what I wanted or not?”

Wierd internet gestalt

So, I was at the Forge forum, and reading down the forum thread: [Forge Midwest]Interview with Ron Edwards, and promised myself to listen to it, cuz I met both the participants for the first time at the con, and that was really cool, and apparently the interview is good also.
Then, down toward the end, there’s this:

We all wonder, ‘why are you [story-game proponents] so pissed at systems like White Wolf? They inspire rich story in their setting and flavor text, and the rules are simple enough to get out of our way and let us tell our story.” And it becomes a badge of honor to say, “there are lots of times we don’t even ever roll dice, all night long!”
Hey, I’ve been that guy and part of me still is. But the thing is, what I think The Forge and Ron and so many others who’ve been growing the story games movement over the past seven years, what they’re saying is, “If you have to get your system out of the way in order to go into story mode, then you need a new system that actually can be used IN story mode.”

And I look at the last couple posts I’ve made and yeah… that’s at least part of what I’m saying.

I want to play with all the rules.

I’ve had a chance to play in a couple games outside my normal list in the last couple weeks, and they reminded me of some things I really prefer in my gaming.
One of them was very much a classic homebrew basement game — lots of combat system, and all the roleplay success hinging on the interpretation of the GM. The other was something that was sort of a mix of that with the more current hippie games, but still with a strong leaning toward “GM Fiat” as the means of determining difficulty levels and like.
Did I enjoy them? Yes. Excellent GMs made the experience enjoyable. Did I care for the games in the LARGER scheme of things? No, I didn’t. Largely because of the way the games depending on the GM’s personal take on whatever was going on to determine success. It meant that, if I played the same game with another GM, not only would the play be different (obviously), the acutual GAME SYSTEM would be different. I would not, in short, be playing the same game.
Lots of players will tell you “I don’t like having a set system around the roleplaying scenes. Yes, maybe a big character or a notorious character should have an effect on the NPC’s reaction to me as I roleplay but I trust the GM to judge that fairly and take it into account; I don’t want a system to do that. ”
First, to those players: you DO have a set system around your roleplaying scenes. A “system” is “the thing that we use to give one or more of us the authority to say ‘this is what happens’.” In the example above, the “system” is “the GM decides what happens.”
That IS a system. If you don’t think so, I direct you to the Amber DRPG — that’s the only system the game uses.
And I don’t mean to make a whipping boy out of ADRPG — LOTS of home campaigns replace the WRITTEN rules from published systems for at least a portion of the rules — whatever they don’t like — with that “the GM decides” system; they either do it consensually as a group, explicitly within the rules, or the GM is doing it behind the scenes and not telling anyone. Or the system does it explicitly. It happens all the time. Either way, the group probably trusts the GM to take on that job.
I don’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong I may trust, say, Dave or Randy or whoever to wing something like this, but the don’t trust “the GM” as a generic person to do so. There are a couple reasons.
1. I play with lots of GMs. This kind of ‘system’ basically boils down to me trying to convince/charm/cajole the GM into giving me what I want. I don’t want to fucking argue (in the legalese sense) for something — I want to declare an action, engage with a mechanical system, and roleplay the result. If I wanted the quality of my arguing/roleplaying to be the thing on which my success hung, I would have become a lawyer.
2. Consistency. I want a mechanical, written down system that we use for every situation. The problem with this “GM decides” system is that it only works the way you expect if you’re playing with *your* GM. What happens if your *other* friend is GMing? You have to adjust. Do you still trust him? Sure, but it’s going to be different. How about if *I’m* GMing? Or you? Or that other guy? Every one of those changes means that any encounters (social, usually) that use “the GM decides” System are going change, sometimes dramatically, and “what will get me success” is also going to change, dramatically.
I mean, you wouldn’t want that to happen in combat, right? “Oh, Bob’s GMing, so I have to remember that the 5 of every suit is wild, and anything above 7’s are an automatic hit if I’m using a shotgun…” because that’s the kind of thing we’re talking about.
I want a system in place when I’m striving for a goal.
A written-down system.
A consistently 100%-used system, so that if one week I’m playing with one GM and the next week I’m using the same rules with another GM (or if I am GMing) the game is essentially the same, apart from how the GM plays the NPCs and what sorts of conflict-laden Decision Points they hit the players with.
This point is particularly important to me right now, as I ponder a new Spirit of the Century game in which several people, perhaps many, will sit in the GM seat. If one week we have to think “oh, we’re playing X’s version of the rules” and the next week we have to think “oh, we’re playing Y’s version of the rules… they won’t use this and this and this rule, but they will use this…”
Well, I won’t play very fucking long.
Use all the rules. In these games we’re talking about, you can.
People look at games like Dogs in the Vineyard or Dead of Night or Heroquest and see very lean rules. They look at D20 and see really thick books, because d20 has more rules. D20 has lots more rules.
In practice, however, I think the NUMBER of rules actually being used by a d20 group and a DitV group is about the same.
Percentage-wise, a lot less of the d20 rules set is actually being used; it’s been replaced; this isn’t really anyone’s fault — I don’t think a normal human person CAN run that game with all the rules — there are too many, even in just the core 3 books, to remember, and some are just too much of a pain. Anyone use encumbrance? How about the NPC-reaction tables?
Dogs (compared to D20, for the sake of common familiarity) is small and lean because 100% of the rules are meant to be used, all the time. * Nothing in the game is optional. Period.
((At least with the homebrew game I was in this weekend, the rules aren’t ignored — whatever is there, IS used — there just aren’t rules written down for a big chunk of what people typically do in an RPG: an alien coming to earth and reading the rules wouldn’t know there was any part of play that involved portraying your character; it’s not mentioned, you just have to know that part. 🙂 ))
And I’ve played in good systems that effectively and enjoyably build a real system around even roleplaying scenes — a system that makes those scenes as interesting and involved as combat. It does happen. It’s not even that unusual anymore. Some of them aren’t even “Story Games.” Heroquest and Spirit of the Century are very very traditional games, yet they do this.
The equally good part? These games function exactly the same, regardless of who’s running the game, if the person in question USES ALL THE RULES.
There is an almost automatic, trained instinct in GMs who’ve run a lot of traditional games to pick up ANY game and look for “the thing that can be ignored in this system.”
These ‘little’ games just don’t have that part.

Continue reading “I want to play with all the rules.”

SotC Hack

John Harper (author of Agon) is playing in a Spirit of the Century game and hacking in some things that I really find useful and interesting. over at The Mighty Atom: SotC Hack is a post about tweaking the Stress/Consequences bars to make Consequences happen more and generally speed up combats a bit. It’s a direct yoink from the upcoming Dresden Files rules.
Actually, he’s got quite a few insightful SotC tweaks discussed over there (and Fred Hicks is conferring with him in the comments), so it’s worth checking the whole thing out: The Mighty Atom.

For the record…

Spirit of the Century is a great game for high-adventure pulp hero gaming. It’s not so appropriate for Chandleresque pulp-noir games. Fly From Evil, however, is going to be six kinds of awesome for that kind of game, and I intend to own it, oh yes.
Just as soon as it’s out.

As though I needed another reason

[Breaking the Ice] – You proved me wrong!

When I initially heard about Breaking the Ice however-long-ago that was, my immediate gut reaction was “Oh, come ON! That won’t be fun!” I don’t know what it was about the game (or rather, the idea of the game) that rubbed me the wrong way. But there it is: me, monstrously predisposed to hating Breaking the Ice.
The flip side of have strong gut reactions to lots of things is that you eventually learn that your gut isn’t always right. So, when I had the opportunity to try the game out, I did.
It was really, really fun.

Someday, I hope to get a chance to play that game. Until then, I’ll just carry it around and reread it. 🙂

I have played Spirit of the Century and I am exited.

There are a dozen reasons why, but the bottom line is that I think this is quite possibly *the* game to use for a regularly-scheduled, everyone-makes-up-a-character-and-whoever-shows-up-plays, campaign.
In quick summation:

  • The Century Club is the easy background that ties everyone together and explains why [random list of this evening’s participants] were called in for [current problem].
  • The adventure setups can easily be resolved in one session.
  • The characters are very very competent (nigh on Amberite-level), so it’s really no problem if only a few people can play that week, or if a bunch can — the opposition can remain the same.
  • Character progression is comparatively slow and applied to everyone (not just the folks who show up a lot), so you don’t need to worry about falling behind if you’re busy for awhile.
  • The episodic nature of the villain-of-the-week, coupled with the fact that half of any GM’s prep will be making up a list of PC Aspects to compel in interesting ways, plus that fact that less-played PCs don’t fall behind means that (a) Anyone can GM if they want and (b) the various GMs can have their own characters to pull out and play when they’re not in the hot seat. It is EASY to switch GMs around in the same setting with minimal fear of stepping on someone else’s uber storyline.

Picture everyone with a character. A wiki full of the NPCs we’ve introduced… a list of all the pulp novels we’ve “written”… and the sure knowledge that, say, “Saturdays are a Game Day.”
I am excited. 🙂

Boiling down Theory

Most of the roleplaying game theory out on the intertubes that originated on the Forge is part of the Big Model. You won’t have heard me talk about the Big Model before, because frankly I don’t get it — I talk about small parts of the Big Model, because I feel like (a) I get those, or (b) I possibly CAN get those, if I work at it.
Over at Knife Fight, someone posted a friends summary of the Big Model that pretty much boils it all down into a nice simple glaze I can pour over whatever food I happen to be cooking. It’s tasty, it’s basic, and it’s (in my head) straightforward. I have appended that post, with notes, below the cut, because i would always like to be able to find it.

Continue reading “Boiling down Theory”

What I keep coming back around to:

I enjoy games that have more story-focus than DnD… Don’t get me wrong: I like tactical games. I really do. I love DnD when that’s what i want to do; I wish I was in a regular Savage Worlds game, or something else with miniatures. Seriously. But I want some game going where the system acknowledges “my whole ‘thing’ is about X” and have the game system actually care about that. Not just the GM or the players, but the system.
PTA is the EXTREME version of that, where you’re pretty much all issue. I like PTA, but I feel like I’ve had… so far… more extended success with games like Heroquest and Sorcerer which are closer to a ‘normal’ game, but which still allow for those story elements.
I don’t know how much that matters, but I’m getting so damned frustrated with games that only make it two sessions and then crash for seven months, assuming they ever come back to life, and I’m trying to find the magic bullet game that (a) gives me what I want and (b) lasts a few sessions, cuz… dammit.
And I don’t think it’s the systems. I’ve had good long runs of newer games — I have to hope it’s largely circumstances and not just me fucking forgetting how to run a fun game.

Old School Holocaust

The boys of the Durham Three go super-old school with a game of Twilight 2000 and discuss what about the game is definitive old-school and what makes that awesome.
Quote of the podcast: “I just don’t have a problem beating up feral children… in a game. You put a feral child in front of me in a game, I’m not going to feel bad about blowing him up with his own grenade.”

“I’m so making a post from this email.”

So Dave is getting ready to run a Primetime Adventures game, and in between bouncing actual Show ideas around, we’re talking about PTA’s system itself, and getting used to the weird parts. I’ve been thinking a lot about the stuff he’s been thinking about, and I thought the ensuing conversation was valuable, so I’m posting it here, somewhat rearranged from the emails so that it’s… umm… readable in this format.
Green is me, blue is Dave.

Continue reading ““I’m so making a post from this email.””

Theory, Hardcore

I was going to do two posts this morning; one about this, and one about someone using Spirit of the Century to run a Classic Traveler game, which is cool.
However, this is an important link, and I don’t want to distract from it.
Vincent’s Roleplaying Theory, Hardcore
This single page of posts, written by that Dogs in the Vineyard guy over the course of months, comprises the most lucid, easy to read, approachable discussion of ‘indie’ rpg theory you’ll ever find, period. Everyone who’s ever even kind of sorta looked sideways at all those Forge neologisms or dealt with one of those hippie games I play should read it. Everyone should read it.
More importantly, everyone SHOULD read it. Read, especially, “A Small Thing About Suspense” and “A Small Thing About Death” (I’m looking at you, Tombstone RPG!)
But read it all. It’s all good.

I hate that idea umm… Here’s what I like about that idea…

Remi, from the Durham Three podcast, posts some actual-play on Primetime Adventures, played at Camp Nerdly (which ran the same weekend I was all warm and sunny in Florida, so I don’t really feel bad for missing it.) [Camp Nerdly – PTA] Sexitricity.
Why am I linking it? Because in one part of the thread, Remi breaks down how he handles the Session Pitch — he said earlier that he disallows any negative input at that point in the game, and someone asks for more info, and he brings it:

First I ask everyone for something that’s gotten them jazzed in the last week or two. An idea, a TV show, a piece of music, whatever. I make it clear that the show is going to be a synthesis of what everyone’s excited about, and that I’ll be the one doing most of the formal synthesizing. I go around the table in whatever order people want to go. For this session Duty, The Bene Gesserritt, Babarella, and the Preacher comic book series were all mentioned.
Joshua mentioned the Bene Gesserritt and someone immediately picked up and said “Oh! We could be, like, the companions in Firefly!” and someone else said, “The companions were kind of cool, but the lame thing about them was . . .” and I stopped it cold, insisting the person only talk about what they liked about the companions, not disliked. The pitch session could have degenerated right there into people sniping one another’s ideas, which when you’re gathering material is death. The player immediately turned around and said what he’d like to see out of a companion-style idea, and we built from there.

This is something I wish I’d read before the “Tarot Game” Mortal Coil session. As that did not happen, I’ll have to settle for enforcing that guideline unswervingly in future play, in any game, even in-game (especially with strong narrative-switching like PTA) — a kind of “never say no to the scene” improve acting rule/technique.

The “we just had a joke” timer.

GameCraft :: View topic – The Disruption Hourglass of Death (table rule, any game system)

Anyway, I do love our style of roleplaying, and it’s just a big habit of mine to, even in the middle of a serious moment, to break it up with a bad pun, or a joke, or a double-entendre or something. Rick has recently been doing the same thing, and even more so. This hasn’t disrupted things to the point of, “Shut up, you dick, you’re breaking my concentration!” or anything like that. But we all agree, even the comment-giver, that:
* Levity is AWESOME, and welcome in certain amounts.
* However, busting caps right in the middle of a dramatic moment with a pun can really take the spotlight from them.
* And more often than not, since the mood has a ‘crack’ in it, it’s very easy to follow it up with more jokes (Rick says something funny, Quintin follows up on it, I get in, and 5 minutes later we’re like, “OK, what were we doing again?”)
* Which leads to derailing the drama.
One crack every 5-10 minutes or so? Harmless.
However, we know ourselves better, and know that that first crack usually starts a chain reaction which derails the discsussion or roleplaying moment.

I’ll simply point out that the group Andy describes in the post sounds a LOT like the local Denver group, where one joke inevitably leads to another; or where one quote from a movie inevitably leads to another quote (or, more inexplicable, the SAME one, repeated, as though to confirm we heard).


I dreamt a game mechanic last night, based on the five Chinese elements and Rock-Paper-Scissors, as in “Fire scours Earth. Earth blocks Water. Metal slices Air. Like that.
Except I think almost everything beat Air and Metal, the way I dreamed it.
So anyway, the character sheet has a kind of pentagram on it, where the five points were the elements and the lines between them were arrows that pointed toward which elements they beat, creating a big star… and each point was a circle you could put chips in to show how strong you were in that element… though I don’t really know what being strong in that element would do for you — maybe let you win in a conflict you’d normal lose (like Earth turning around and beating Fire, or something) or the number of times you could “play” that element in a conflict, per session, or something.
I don’t know what the bloody point was, but it looked cool in my dream-head, and I don’t have time to think about it right now, or do anything about it, so I’m putting it here.
Click to embiggen.

Primetime Adventures: Finally!

Dave’s still putting up the AP from the Pilot Episode, but I wanted to get a link up to PrimetimeAdventures / Strange Allies. We finally got to play this game! Woo!
It was a little wonky, getting started, but we hit our groove near the end of the session and I do believe I’m still buzzing from this thing, a day later. Good good stuff. Some could-shouldas to consider, but good, good stuff.

When is a game “finished?”

Lots of talk in the last couple days about what constitutes a “finished” game. (My threads on teaching your game flowed out of that conversation actually.)
Matt Wilson, who wrote Primetime Adventures and Galactic, gives up the best rule of thumb on this I’ve seen so far:
“You need players to consistently be able to sit down and play your game out of the box, without help, without you available as an unpublished supplement.”
There you go. It’s nice that so many of these indie games have the author easily available to answer questions, but the best ones — Dogs and PTA spring to mind, as they have for a few days now, but Conspiracy of Shadows and TSoY are there too (they may not be in-game-referencing-friendly, but the rules make sense without lots of online help — are the ones where that’s not necessary; where you are reading Actual Play threads not to understand what the hell to do, but just to get cool ideas.

Teaching Your Game: Using Adult Learning Techniques to Deliver Game Content

In an email, Jason Morningstar wrote:

Hey Doyce!
Your comment:
“I’m a professional editor for technical publications and training delivery (which I’ve found game texts may benefit from stealing from, in terms of information delivery and teaching the game).”
was very exciting to me. I want to learn; let’s figure out how to make that happen. Mostly I’m interested in how your experience relates to a game text and play instructions. Want to start a dialogue at S-G about this?

And actually I was already working on (a) some learning materials for work and (b) a post that used most of the same stuff from the work document, applied to game design, so I started a series of posts on the subject.

Forge Con, the “quick” version

I left my journal/notebook at home today (along with a bunch of otther stuff I should have remembered), which included all my detailed notes on the happenings at ForgeCon Midwest, which I attended this weekend. Without the notes, I’ll just hit a few highlights:

  1. Contrary to my grandiose plans, I didn’t end up playing one ‘new’ game (defined here as ‘something I haven’t played before’, not necessarily ‘hot off the presses’). This was due partly to circumstances (I’d hoped to play Primetime Adventures or Agon, but no one was running it) and partly due to my own choices (since I had several options at times and chose games I was already familiar with over other stuff, for a number of reasons). With all that said, it was still really cool for folks like Ron Edwards to seeks me out and specifically ask me to jump into a session of It Was a Mutual Decision (the story of a romantic break-up, with wererats), even if I didn’t play it. This is also a good thing, since I won’t be coming back from the Con with my hair all blown back and white, proclaiming the next great game we GOTTA play — it reinforced my appreciation of games I already know I really like.
  2. So what did I play?
    • The Mountain Witch (GMd it) — this was during the first gaming slot, which got slarted late in general, and ended up being more of a two-hour demo of the rules than a full-on-and-proper session. That said, we had three ronin with some great abilities and neat backstory, a nice negotiation with my favorite tMW NPC, Uncle Tengu; a fight with some zombie soldiers in my favorite tMW ‘set’, the Black Meadow; an encounter with the Witch’s Mistress, and ended with a duel between a ronin with a sword, and a ronin with a rock. The one with the rock won. it wasn’t even close.
    • Heroquest (played) — this was a lot of fun for me, since I was playing with Mike Holmes, who essentially taught me how to run this game via his long-running ‘live’ IRC-chat-based game that is now into it’s third season, third in-game decade, and fourth year of play. We did a six-person horror-themed one shot in a traditional Glorantha village, and verily it was cool. I enjoy failing in that system as much as I do winning in other games, and spent a lot of time working out ‘bonus’ abilities like “bum hip” for my grouchy old sherrif. Tons o’ fun.
    • The Shadow of Yesterday: Brokedown Castle (GMd, with some actual prep) — this game took place in the evening and actually had a nice turnout, though pretty much no one who played were the people who’d voiced interest in playing prior to the con. Heroquest-Mike turned around and became the player for this session and proceeded to hand me a great NPC in the form of his Goblin translator named Glarb. Has Margie can attest, I have a lot of fun mangling the translation of things from player to the next, and Glarb became a plot-turning pivot on which several scenes hinged. Result: Lots of fun, lots of laughs, a good Bringing Down the Pain contest between the (PC) albino ratkin sorcerer and the (NPC) arcanely schooled nobleman. To contrast that, I should have prepped a stronger situation going in — I went in with some very sketchy NPCs with some leading bits of information about each of them, and asked the players to plug into that relationship map — that worked, and the stuff they came up with did (as I’d planned for) create a whole-cloth conspiracy out of the scraps I’d brought to the table, but just a leeeeetle more momentum from the NPCs would have helped things move a skosh more briskly.
    • Galactic
    • (Played — playtest) — Matt Wilson was down for the con and, once rested, wanted to try out his new version of Galactic. I GMd a playtest group for the game already, and REALLY wanted to see what he’d been doing with the game, so I jumped at the chance. This lead to some really great design talk with Paul Czege (creator of My Life with Master), Eric Finley, and Matt, and I think we really sanded down the last few ragged edges on that thing. Result: this is a tight, tight game. As good as the clunky draft of the game was, this is SO MUCH BETTER. Tighter. Cleaner. More focused. Gone or replaced are many of fiddley bits, leaving one system with a really unified, elegant feel. It’s not genius yet, but it’s totally fun and playable right now, and it’s going to get better — it cant not at this point, I think. Matt still hasn’t had a chance to playtest the system all the way through a whole ‘arc’ and into the end game. I pointed out that my play group is all ABOUT longer-form play and getting to the end game, and told him to get me the damn rules already. There was a lot of nodding.

  3. I should have brought Nine Worlds. My roomate Iskander/Alexander is very much in love with this system, which I’ve owned for awhile and haven’t read, and talked about a couple sessions they’ve played that seems to bring out a great kind of Nobilis-Lost-500 feeling that’s a lot of fun. Must go back and read that thing.

And that was about it. Lots and lots of visiting, and talking about gaming and games and stuff we liked and what we didn’t, about the direction the indie scene is going, and the fact that people in the indie scene don’t use editors, and really really should… and good things like that.
If nothing else, the con let me meet some people I should have met ages ago (Jae, Matt, Mike, Ron, Aaron, Eric, Blankshield… just off the top of my head), meet some folks I really enjoyed and have only recently become aware of through the forums (Clyde, Keith, Thor) and really get a sense of the people behind the UserIDs. Great stuff.
Also, there was a lot of talking about Space Hulk and Warhammer — that’s always good. 🙂
And I’m now totally okay with not liking Capes. Or Shock:. I know I’m not alone, and I know my reasons are much like the reasons that other people have — people with whom I share many other gaming preferences. It’s not this thing that i don’t get — it’s this thing that just isn’t for me, for a number of reasons both artistically, enjoymentally (a new word) and just plain TECHNICALLY.
Like any of these sorts of things — it was a lot of time spent with folks who enjoy the same fun you do, talking, playing, and just enjoying being a part of a really grand hobby.
That’s a good thing. 🙂

Bringing Down the Finnish Pain

The Bringing Down the Pain “Group” rules from the Finnish version of TSOY, translated back into English. It’s worth noting that the guy who translated the game is also a very good rules wonk and tweaked things here and there in the rules, so seeing his version of the rules are really interesting and often enlightening.
At any rate, it’s not that his version of the Group BDtP rules are different than the English version, they’re just looking at the whole situation, and explaining it, from an very different angle (134 degrees rotated horizontally, 32 degrees vertically :). It might be useful to get your head around it.

Random Thought on Tweaking a Game System for a ‘weird’ setting

So here’s a thought, grown from an offhand comment in a podcast last week.
If you’re going to run a game in a setting, and plan on tweaking a game system to run it — specifically, a game system that’s designed for something else — you should first, foremost, and without exception run at least a short game with that system, in that system’s default… let’s say “genre.” By that I mean:
– If you’re going to use Sorcerer to run kid’s fairytales, use it for a normal game first.
– If you’re going to use Dogs in the Vineyards for a Vampire game, use it normally first.
– If you’re going to run Conspiracy of Shadows for a Delta Green/Resident Evil game, do the dark fantasy game first.
– If you’re going to use Spirit of the Century to run a 18th century swashbucking game, play a standard Pulp thing first.
– If you’re going to use Heroquest to run Firefly or Star Wars or Amber, use it to run some kind of fantasy game first.
– If you’re going to use Shadow of Yesterday to run Jack McGraw and the Mind-Kings of Jupiter or Shadowrun, use it to run a fantasy game in the world of Near first.
What I’m saying: access the system as intended before you decide what comes and goes during a customization; drive the car before you try to rebuild it into a 4×4. They don’t have to be long games, but they should dig deeply into the system’s conflict mechanics and the reward system and how progression works, before you pull an Italian Job on the system and start tearing off ‘unnecessary engine parts’.
This isn’t relevant to any particular game or situation — I’m as guilty of jumping right to the Modified Version as anyone (Petrana, and that’s fairly mild; Firefly, which wasn’t), but I think it’s a good rule to keep in mind.

Organizing my game books

Specifically, organizing each book, internally. I’ve done this a lot in the past, simply because the games I was running (DnD 3.5 , Star Wars d20, Nobilis, BESM — all for different reasons) sort of required some quick-reference tabs to keep in-game rules-checking moving as quickly as possible. Need to look for Combat? Flip to the RED, FOR THE BLOOD OF MY ENEMIES tab.
Now that we’re getting rolling into some new games, I’m looking at doing something similar, for different reasons:
– The Shadow of Yesterday: Great game, but laid out… you know, it’s actually not organized that poorly, but there aren’t PAGE BREAKS where there should be (at the start of key sections). This is probably to reduce the overall page count, and I appreciate that need in an indie publisher, but it makes finding the sections on Attributes, Skills, Keys, Secrets, and Conflicts (almost all of which start somewhere mid-page) a pain in the tuchas. I’ll drop some tabs in there to make such look-ups go more quickly (as well as tabbing some parts of the section on Near that I find useful), but I actually don’t expect to need them forever — while I’m looking a lot of stuff up now, I don’t expect that I’ll need to do that forever — I think the rules will internalize quickly, at which point I won’t need the tabs anymore.
– Conspiracy of Shadows: Similar reasons to TSoY, only moreso — the layout for the book is simply wonky as all get out.
– Primetime Adventures: Tabs should not be necessary — the rules can be summarized orally in about two minutes.
– Agon: I expect as many tabs in this as my DnD books, and that’s a good thing. Nothing wrong with a little crunch.
– Savage Worlds: See Agon.
– Dogs in the Vineyard: despite the organic layout, I simply don’t think that any additional tabbed references should be necessary, except MAYBE for the rules on Demons and Possession and the like, which I don’t use enough to just remember. Again, it’s such a pretty book that I don’t want to add some permanent technical tag to it.
For my older game books (the ones I mentioned previously) I used those colored plastic tabs that you insert little cardboard slips into. They were both annoyingly permanent additions to the book, and simultaneously temporary, because the little cardboard tags would slide out and get lost, leaving only the ugly empty plastic tab.
My new weapon of choice: these things. Non-permanent, yet less likely to just fall off and get lost. My boss at my last job used this all the time in his notebook/journal to flag stuff he was currently working on, then tossed the tags as that particular note became irrelevant.
Tabbed reference points that stick around as long as I need them, but not permanent additions to the book’s pages — I find this combination appeals to me immensely.

Not-so WoW

WoW PvP Frustration — not coming from where you’d expect.
There’s some pretty cool stuff you can get for your character by gaining honor in the various PvP Battlegrounds in WoW. The battlegrounds work a bit like an Arena match in CoH, except you pretty much just sign up to play in ‘the next one available’ and get teleported there (with a confirm window in case you’re no longer interested) when it comes up. Everyone getting sorted into similar-level matches broken up as 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, et cetera.
So… these rewards you can sort of bank on your honor to get from the battle masters? There’s a really cool mount I’d like to get at level 60. To get it, I need 30 ‘honor tokens’ — denoting participation — from each of the three battlegrounds that someone who’s level 60 can participate in. The three BGs are Warsong Gulch (the first BG: a bog-standard capture the flag game on a smallish map), Arathi Basin (a really neat one where you try to capture and hold as many of the five resource-generating spots on the map as you can, for as long as you can, until one side or the other racks up 2000 resource-points), and Alterac Valley (which I know nothing about, since I can’t get there until level 51).
And honestly? I’m enjoying myself — otherwise not even the cool mount could keep me in their — playing against live players makes me a better player in PvE as well (and vice versa, I’ve found), and it’s actually really fun to fight people for awhile before going back to the content-driven quests. Also, I just I like seeing my ‘lifetime kills’ number go up. 🙂
So… where am I on the quest for the cool mount? I have all the 30 chits I need from Arathi Basin — it was the first Battleground I tried, and I liked it a lot, so I kept doing it. Each “win” got me 3 chits, so 10 runs in there got me all the chits I needed.
I have about a third of the chits I need from Warsong’s capture-the-flag. I started doing this BG later, plus it’s not as much fun, but I’m doing it. This part is also taking longer because Horde doesn’t WIN as much in this battleground (we tend to win most of the time in AB), and each match, which should be fast, instead takes AGES, and Losing only gets me one chit instead of three. 😛
Lee assures me that Alterac Valley is even cooler, combining the best parts of both previous Battlegrounds, so I don’t worry that I can get all the chits I need from there, before sixty.
The problem?
I just hit level Fifty, which means I get sorted into the next highest tier of combatants (levels 50-59). This has caused me two problems:
1. It takes ages for a Warsong match to start up in my new tier. I assume this is because people in the fifties are instead running in the AB or AV battlegrounds, having already gotten all the Warsong battle honors they need, and also probably fed up with running those matches.
2. At fifty, I’m the lowest level guy in any given match, while my average opponent is 8 or 9 levels higher than me and doing commensurately more damage (and taking less from me) — this means that even when I do get into a match, I’m getting wiped out in seconds when I actually go up against someone, and spend a lot of time running back to the fight from the resurrection point.
What I need to do is just wait until I get about five more levels, and then go back in. What I WANT to do is run Warsong until I get the 30 chits, so I never have to do it again, but at this stage, that could take as many as 20 more matches. 😛


Grezzk (my first/main character in World of Warcraft) dinged level fifty a few nights ago. Almost simultaneously, he achieved Exalted relationship status with his first faction (and I’m closing in with a couple others). He has his Skinning skill maxed out, my First Aid skill (invaluable for solo pet- and self-repair) is nearly maxed as well (284 of 300), and I’m finally making decent headway on Leatherworking — cranking out some pretty neat magical bits.
That’s all nice, but more important are my play-time stats. WoW lists them in Weeks, Days, Hours, et cetera, but it boils down to 256 hours of playtime to get to level fifty. That’s less than a third of the time I spent on CoH getting Hang Time to 50. I’d have to log in to check, but it’s less than half the online time (at least) that it took me to get Hyperthermian to 50. This has been rewarding time spent, as well: I can’t think of a night of ‘serious play time’ (where I’d play from say seven to bedtime) where I haven’t either dinged or made some really significant headway on some skill or talent or side project or something. In general, every good night of play = a level up or some equivalent. That’s fun. Best of all, there’s a PILE of stuff to do after you hit 70 (which is why they didn’t make leveling progressively harder), and also good: I know I only hit about half of the content available to Horde players during my time playing Grezzk, which means I could level another Hordie up and see very little redundant content… and that doesn’t even address Alliance characters.
All that’s nice, but here’s the important part: those 256 hours of online time with Grezzk were spread out from mid-December (starting the weekend of the First Big Blizzard) to mid-April, which works out to about sixteen hours a week. Sixteen. I can’t even begin to convey what a change in time-involvement that is for me compared to my time on CoH (where something closer to 40 hours was a low week for me), especially since on any given week I’ve got one day that accounts for a big chunk of time. I’m very very pleased with myself about that.
Even if you factor in my other characters (one at level 34 whom I haven’t touched in at least a month), and five characters between levels 10 to 16 that amount to a net effort of maybe 20 hours, total for all five of them… I’m controlling my MMO time pretty damn well.
And having fun with the time I spend.

This makes me happy

Capcom Entertainment, a leading worldwide developer and publisher of video games, have been given a license to produce a digitally downloadable version of Talisman. The game takes place in a fantasy realm and is based very closely on the Talisman board game through a 3D representation of the map with animated productions. Players scour dungeons, attack other creatures, cast effects-laden spells and use magical items and weapons to enhance their actions. Talisman will be rolling this winter, to complement the highly anticipated launch of the board game in October 2007.

I used to love playing Talisman in college — we’d save for months to get the expansions.


In this post, I wrote:

I don’t think I have too many ‘headspace’ or ‘immersive’ characters to begin with. Of those, it’s unusual for me to have one that’s notably opposite from myself — in the cases where that’s happened (and I can think of three) they reflected some strong negative emotion I was feeling toward the game itself.

That actually provides me with a very strong indicator that I can use to analyze myself when I’m making up a character for a game — if I’m making up someone who’s really a negative of myself, it would seem to indicate that I’m reflecting some negative thing in myself out on the paper, which in turn indicates that I’m feeling some kind of negative emotion toward the game in question, apparently subconsciously.
Recognizing that, I can stop and figure out what that is, and maybe do something about it.
(Granted, this is a hypothetical practice/benefit at this point.)

I totally stole this from Knife Fight

But I don’t care: it’s a really interesting question.
1) Name a roleplaying game character you can think like, outside of the game, like right now sitting at your computer. (If you can’t name such a character, say in the comments that you can’t, that’s more than okay — that’s really really interesting and valuable information.) Also, name the game.
2) Say a few words about how that character thinks, or how different it feels to think like that character, or something.
3) How much backstory did you create before you started playing that character?
I don’t have a hypothesis or agenda, I just want to know how you play. I honestly don’t know how many people I play with really socket into their character’s headspace that way — more to the point, I don’t know how many players I play with would like to. I have a sneaking suspicion that my ‘look at the wizard behind the curtain’ method of GMing might make that difficult at times, and frustratining.


So a couple weeks ago, Alexander the Hoax (long story) talked me into going to the Forge Midwest gaming convention. That’s good.
The scheduling of games for the convention, which usually numbers about fifty people, is REALLY informal. Totally. There’s a thread on the Forge forum where people say what they want to play, and what they want to GM, and a list of the time slots, and the con organizer (wisely) just lets everyone find similarly interested folks and sort out what they’re playing and who they’re playing with, in the thread.
So I post to the thread and list off all those neat games that I have that I haven’t had a chance to play yet, and then I list a couple of the games I think I’d be willing to GM — Sorcerer, Mountain WItch, Mortal Coil, Dogs in the Vineyard, and Shadow of Yesterday.
The next guy who posts says he’d be willing to run Agon (yay!) and would be really interested in a Shadow of Yesterday game.
Okay… I wasn’t expecting that, as it was basically an afterthought on my list, but cool. I mean… yeah, it’s cool. I’ve never REALLY had a group fire on all cylinders with that system, yet (largely because we can’t seem to SCHEDULE GAME SESSIONS), but I’m sure it’ll come together, and hey, that’s just one guy? Maybe no one else will be interested in that.
The next guy posts that he’d like to play TSoY.
Then there’s a few other posts…
Then another guy says he’d like to play TSoY…
So I jump on the thread and say “Hey, this is cool, we’ve got three people interested in Shadow of Yesterday. Awesome. What time slot? Also, I’ll take one, maybe two more interested people — any takers?”
The very next post says “Doyce, I’d like to play in that TSOY game with you guys.”
The post author? Clinton R. Nixon.
The guy that WROTE THE GAME.

I’m not panicking. I’m not. I swear.

Continue reading “*Gulp*”

Mortal Coil

This weekend, Kate’s in town and I wanted to have a social kind of gaming thing — while both she and I game, we really haven’t done much gaming together at all — basically two games I’ve run had a few too many players and were both kind of chaotic (either as a result of the group size, or intentionally, or both).
So anyway, due to the super-creative nature of the player’s we’d be doing this with, and the fact that the my regular group’s history involves a fair amount of diceless stuff, I decided on running Mortal Coil, which I’ve been excited to run, and seeing what happened.
The problem: I haven’t actually run MC before.
The solution: test run with two of my ‘regular’ players (Dave and Margie) to go through the whole ‘pitch session’, character creation, and a sample conflict to see where the hitches and questions arose.
The result: [AP] From the Casebook of Donne & Donne, Detectives — lots of fun and, as you can see from my post to the Forge, lots of rules questions.
The whole thing DID prompt me to go back to the Mortal Coil section of RandomWiki though, and reread MortalCoil – Conflict Examples. These were all written by the game’s author; I thought they were cool and useful before I’d run the game — having now run it, I think they’re damned near invaluable.

Minions Assemble!

Minion Cards!

Minions, being the salt and bone of Spirit of the century, need heavy use and lots and lots of variation. For this I think Minion Cards are good help for hard-pressed Game Masters and the reason for this Thread.

I’m such a visual person. It’s totally stuff like this that gets me revved up to run or play in a game. MAN this would be cool! I want to engage in wrestling and fisticuffs with Ape-man Scientists!

Awesome… (and yet, ‘wary’)

((With thanks to Andy Kitkowski for the post title.))
How… interesting.

Wizards of the Coast is offering a limited supply of advanced reading copies of:
Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress
A Girl’s Guide to the Dungeons & Dragons Game
By Shelly Mazzanoble
With tongue-in-cheek humor and plenty of self-mockery, Shelly Mazzanoble chronicles her unexpected descent into the world of Dungeons and Dragons. Shelly’s a girlie-girl through and through, but when a friend asks her to join his D&D game as an 134-year-old sorceress named Astrid Bellagio, she agrees, never expecting to actually like it. In spite of all the stereotypes—or maybe because of them—she actually finds herself getting game.
Part Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, part D&D for Dummies, this book lays out how to create a character, make D&D-themed snacks (Magic Missile Meatballs, anyone?) and play the game, all the while taking a light-hearted look at the myths and realities of gamer stereotypes. For teen girls who love reading fantasy, for librarians running gaming clubs, or for those of you who want to figure out how to start one, here’s your stepping stone to a fun, rewarding, and totally geek-chic experience at the library, at school, or at home.
Coming September 2007
ISBN: 978-0-7869-4726-3
Nonfiction—YA to adult

Advance Ordering
Author Bio:

Shelly Mazzanoble believes her childhood was too functional to become a really good writer, so she has decided to go insane. She likes to think of herself as the Snow White of Seattle, living among loads of personified inanimate objects and imaginary friends, including her teddy bear Pooh and her condo, Betty. When not playing with and feeding her ghost dog tuna sandwiches from Subway, Shelly is busy fending off slander lawsuits from family and editing her collection of short stories about a girl who lives in Seattle with loads of imaginary friends and ghost dog. Shelly loves binge-eating, over-exercising and HGTV.

I’d almost buy the book on the bio alone.

Captain America

Marvel’s Civil War storyline (which directly addresses things like 9/11 and the Patriot Act) makes a pretty bold move. (Huge spoilers if you haven’t been keeping up with the story, but plan to read it later.)
I found the article pretty interesting for a lot of reasons: it talks about the way a story for a supers character can develop, why certain things sort of *need* to happen, and it involves one of my personal favorite characters in comics (along with Wolverine and Spidey).


Related to that last post: steampunk magazine – putting the punk back into steampunk

Before the age of homogenization and micro-machinery, before the tyrannous efficiency of internal combustion and the domestication of electricity, lived beautiful, monstrous machines that lived and breathed and exploded unexpectedly at inconvenient moments. It was a time where art and craft were united, where unique wonders were invented and forgotten, and punks roamed the streets, living in squats and fighting against despotic governance through wit, will and wile.
Even if we had to make it all up.

Also Steampunk Rayguns!

A little of this and a little of that.

Linear vs. Gestalt vs. Emergent Play
Very interesting post from Brand. One of the reason I really like the “Gestalt” kind of game (as he defines it) is because of the players I know — assuming you’re all setting out to tell a story (granted, not always the case) — what better way to harness the creative power of so many cool people than a game where everyone has the right and ability to influence the setting and story?
Interesting stuff.

Wouldn’t it be Nice

Okay, I haven’t done a lot (read: any) gaming of pretty much any kind in the last few weeks, due to a couple important writing deadlines, so instead I’ll tell you what I’m pining for.
WoW. Since starting up the Blood and Thunder guild on Farstriders server with Grezzk as a way to group up all the characters being run by myself and the NYC guys, I haven’t been able to do very much play, due to the deadlines I already mentioned. This means this has been the first week where Grezzk hasn’t dinged at least two levels since I started playing. Ditto Kayti the paladin, who got a cool new axe that’s gathering dust.
Mountain Witch. All posting for that game is on hold until I’m done, so it’s languished a bit — I’d like to wrap that game up with one or two ‘normal’ gaming sessions, using a text chat tool. I think that would let us wrap things up nicely.
Shadow of Yesterday: Petrana — I see a lot of good stuff for that game, potentially. Scheduling problems keep pushing our second ‘real’ sessions further and further out, however.
Mortal Coil — my brain keeps coming back to running a Mortal Coil game — something about the dynamics of that diceless system… it just calls to me.
Primetime Adventures — this just seems like something where, once we play it, we’ll slap our foreheads and say “why did we wait so LONG?”
And for come nice old-school tactical battle crunch… I want to play some AGON.
So… there. Wistful longing for now… and gaming later! (I hope.)

“It’s a Seeeeecret!”

The Durham 3 talk about Secrets in Gaming — very specifically, in the first couple minutes they talk about secrets in Shadow of Yesterday, which makes it REALLY relevant for the players in the Petrana game. To whit: if you have a ‘big secret thing’ that you’re character’s all about, and you don’t tell anyone about it, there’s no way to get awarded for it by the game system, which is how ‘big things my character is all about’ are measured.

Just in general, though, I think it’s an excellent discussion of how to HAVE secrets as character, NOT have them as players, and still ENJOYING them in the game.

Generally, as a ‘nothing up my sleeve’ player/GM, I like this approach a lot, I support it — I like having that kind of open discussion and open work on character Secrets — we’re using that level of openess in The Mountain Witch, to an extent, and I think it helps everyone socket into the game. Also, discusses GM-secrets and how to approach that.
It’s just a good podcast. Recommended.

Week in Review

Can’t seem to get the momentum back up to pre-holiday rates on the Mountain Witch. Not sure what to do about it, as I’d really like to get that sucker moving again — it’s not like a play by post game needs any help being slow.
Got (I’d say) about half of the first honest session going in the “City of Petrana” steampunk TSoY game. I’m not thrilled with the amount completed, but I’m not surprised either, and I think we actually did pretty well — we made the characters up almost two months ago, haven’t touched them or the system (which we didn’t really use this go-round anyway) since, and haven’t seen each other really in almost as long — I felt a strong urge to just sit around and chat, compare notes on children’s programming, and share steampunk invention ideas with Margie for her character. 🙂 That said, the scenes (all of which were freeform roleplay) had a lot of zing to them, especially with the ducal heir (Leo) and Dave’s Pietro — which is as it should be, given their relationship. I’d really like to get a much richer, thicker cast of NPCs introduced, and to that end I really need to sit down and get a solid relationship map for the Ducal palace worked out. The first mini-arc — call it the pilot episode — doesn’t really help me with that, since it takes them away from the city, but this is the pilot and lets us look much more heavily at the main characters instead.
Wouldn’t mind a couple more people in this one — should see if Lee and De are interested or something.
Timing: Saturday and/or Sunday afternoons are, I think, the way to go at this point — I might eventually run (or play?) in a Friday night game, but that’s only a realistic option on alternate Fridays, so I don’t have Kaylee. By starting in early afternoon on a weekend day, we don’t have as many interruptions (meals, bedtimes, time to travel home), and that theoretically allows for more focus. The requisite bedtimes and ordering supper can then mark the end of the game-play and the beginning of ‘visiting and being social’ — this might be the best thing, since we know that we’ll be ‘digressing’ LATER, and can focus on the game NOW.
Anyway — I was the worst digresser of the lot this week — just felt like an age since I’d seen anyone. Only one way to fix that. 🙂
Didn’t do anything in the way of CoH this week. Only have a few toons in regular rotation as it is (Aeric, Markov), and they tend to get some playtime mostly as a social conduit more than as a game avatar.
I’m not really doing much on WoW at the moment, either — I’m essentially not allowed to play Grezz’k much, or I’ll level past whatever we’re doing with the NYC people, and I’m limiting my playtime on Kayti: when I run out of ‘double xp time’ I log her back off, and I’m basically following the same rule with the ‘little’ warlock I have as well. This means not a lot of time on, but I usually ding when I do log on — a level on Grezz’k, two on Kayti, and five or something on Kessana the Faith-look-alike warlock. I’ve got a few truly low-level characters I’m just screwing around with, but those are my three main ones.
I still don’t feel like I have a very good handle on group dynamics in WoW — even small groups — this is in part because I almost never get into a PuG when I’m playing (unfair to the other players, since KK could wake up at any point and pull me AFK — I’d rather that particular event only regularly killed *me*), except with the NYC group, and we only group when we’re doing an Instanced Dungeon, which doesn’t happen often and usually means it’s been two or three levels since the last time we grouped, and everyone has a new trick they want to use, so the tactics keep changing. That said, I’ve found that the game is quite satisfying solo, if (obviously) not as social — I compensate by cracking wise on the public channels.
At any rate, I’ve a lot to do in the next couple weeks with writing anyway, so it’s all probably just as well. Related: I’m not going to get the Burning Crusade expansion until I’ve sent out my next revision of Hidden Things, so as much as I’d like to try out the new races, it isn’t going to happen soon.

Week in review.

In brief:
No face to face gaming.
No CoH.
A little progress on Mountain Witch, but I’m still working to get the momentum back up to the pre-holiday level, but for myself and the players.
Did some WoW stuff with Grezzk (who’s now level 30 and was ‘halfway’ for about three days… until the new expansion came out and made the ‘halfway’ point level 35.) Ran Blackfathoms Deep with him and the guys from NYC, using Ventrilo, which was really really cool — sped things up tremendously, allowed for quite complex tactics, and really eased the delivery of good smack talk.
Also played some on Kayti the dwarven paladin. She’s level 26 now and heading into the same zones as Grezzk, but from the Alliance side of things — it’s really impressive how much the contested areas of the world really FEEL contested — I’m told that on a true PvP server the areas I’m in now with both these characters are effectively non-stop killing fields… feels plenty dangerous to me anyway.
Anyway, The Burning Crusade expansion came out today, so I took all my characters and moved them to Inns and/or major towns so that they will accumulate Double XP time for being well rested, so that when I get back on they’ll get all ‘caught up’ to where they will be.
Subject change: that double-xp system for logging your guy out in ‘safe’ areas is just genius. To put it in CoH terms — if you log out in your Supergroup Base — assuming that was possible — and each chunk of time your there, online or offline, you’ve got X amount of ‘combat’ xp that will double when you get back on. Instead of ‘double xp weekends’ when you feel like you HAVE to log on, you can take a week off to get other stuff done, knowing that when you DO get back on, you’ll ‘catch up’ super fast because you’re xp will be doubled — that means you’re leveling faster, per hour spent playing, getting more quality out of your play time, and DON’T feel compelled to be on every single minute.
It’s so smart — Blizzard gets paid the same amount of money whether I’m on every single day or two days a week, so why not give me (almost) the same amount of leveling progression, either way, provided that my character was resting up somewhere safe between adventures? Contrast that with “It’s a double XP weekend… On Valentines!” and I think there’s a clear marketing winner there for people with grownup stuff to do.
ANYWAY: I’ve got two major and one minor writing project that I either MUST or really want to get done by the end of this month, and since the WoW servers will be getting hammered for a week or two thanks to the Burning Crusade, with level 60’s trying to get to 70 and a slew of brand new characters of the two new races (available via an expansion pack that I’m not getting right away), I’m taking a break and writing writing writing.
… and reading Odd Thomas. *Creepy* book.

Week in Review

Again, no Face to Face gaming, due to no faces to face with. Holidays are Suck.
In the Digital realms:
The Mountain With game continues apace. (A slow pace, but apace, nonetheless.)
Got Aeric (Bored/WalkingAbout Prince of Niffleheim Ice/Storm Controller) up to level 16. Ran the holy ice crystals out of the Winter Event, finally ran the King’s Row Bank/Safeguard mission successfully, got flight, got 15, started the shiny new Faultline Story Arcs with Sophie, and dinged 16, picking up Freezing Rain. (I respecced him somewhere in there to get closer to Stamina, sooner, and the loss of an Area Attack isn’t… TOO annoying. Just kinda.) Clearly, he’s gotten all my CoH time. I’m still working out the Controller-with-Scrapper dynamic (I think it’s funny that I have a Controller/Tank mindset that really finds scrappers annoying, and a Scrapper/Blaster mindset where I do ALL THE SAME STUFF I HATE.)
I would like to get Damosel Distress, Zero at the Bone, Dolmen, and Strat through the restarted winter event — Anyone else past that… like Gilly… is a bonus.
Grezzk (orc hunter resurrected from my time on Forest’s Edge) is about level 27 on the Kirin Tor server. I’m playing him mostly solo (inasmuch as a Hunter is ever truly solo), then teaming up with the NYC guys for running Instances (think CoH Task Forces with multiple goals that all take place in a single, large location — a mission map the size of a small city zone, maybe — it’s essenitally that kind of time involvement). Last weekend, we annihilated the Wailing Caverns (except for one TPK that my pet might or might not have inadvertently caused), and I think we’re doing Blackfathom Deep this weekend — I’m a few levels ahead of everyone else, so the instances are pretty easy, but with cool stories and good fun.
Kayti (dwarven paladin) is level 21 and has her sites set on the Deadmines dungeon instance. Due to the situation with her, this will be a PuG group, so I’m a little leery. I’m also working her through a paladin-only quest that teaches her a few new powers and gets her a cool shield and a positively FANTASTIC main weapon (which quest in turn will take her into two more instanced dungeons). I’m in a really good guild (a casual-player-friendly, RP-friendly-but-not-mandatory, we’re-all-grownups-with-lives-who-like-to-play, with a massive playerbase and smart people — called “Knights and Weekends”), but most of the players are higher level than Kayti, so I can’t get a lot of help on these missions from them at this point. And I really WANT to get into group things with her, because large fights in the middle of melee are a LOT more difficult to do than Grezzk’s “stand back and shoot them to ribbons while Tusker the Super Pig tanks”.
it’s very interesting comparing the two games — there’s stuff that each game does better than the other — though both are very interesting, fun games. I think the most impressive thing is how different the power levels feel on the game — I’ve gotten two characters into the 20’s on WoW MUCH faster than I could on CoH, and with less experience, but “one, maybe two, enemies at a time” is still VERY much the rule to live and die by in that game — it’s very harshly realistic in that way. If you don’t feel ‘super’ in CoH (where I routinely bypass large parts of a mission even with my wimpy controller by just running by guys and ignoring their attacks), then play WoW for a bit — you WILL. 🙂 Both games capture their genre (comics, versus gritty ‘every fight is a fight to the DEATH that could go wrong and kill you’ fantasy) extremely well.

Once more, with feeling

City of Heroes Official Forums: Winter Event returns.

A cold front on the horizon brings back winter to the streets of Paragon and outlying Rogue Isles! On Monday the 8th of January, the Winter Event returns! Cold weather is expected to last through the week, ending on Monday the 15th.
So put on your scarves and gloves back on! Old Father Time will be back with presents galore, and there’s plenty of opportunity to collect the winter badges you might have missed!

Here’s your chance to get badges for the last couple of your toons that might have missed it (or given it a mistaken pass).


With the holidays just winding down, there hasn’t been much gaming going on around the Casa, but I’ll mention what there has, and speculate about what’s coming up.
Current — and mostly MMOs
Kate brought her lappy with her on this trip to get some work done, and with the blizzard confining us for a couple days, we did do quite a bit of CoH playing — probably about 10 hours, all told. Generally, this all had to do with the Christmas event. I got most of the badges and powers on Hangtime (and Hang-time, with the Deepfreeze Debutante) and Aeric (my Ice/Storm controller, teamed up with Kate’s Sophie), who even got the Sekrit Fifth Badge and also dinged level 14 and got proper Flight (the only problem I’ve had with him is a 4 for 4 failure rate on Safegaurd Missions with him — the only toon I’ve tried them with so far). Hype and Pummelcite ran the winter missions enough to get the two “temp” powers (both of which have such a long duration on them they’re effectively permanent), which was actually a lot of fun. Pummelcite is fun to team up with Noelle, but Hype and Noelle are (and always have been) really fun and just plain EASY to team together. So many Hold Powers. 🙂 Pummelcite hit level 34 at some point in there, and actually got pretty far along the way to 35, thanks to running a couple of Noelle’s missions after we got all our wintry goodness taken care of.
Mister Brightside and Lady Optimism also got mixed up in the winter hijinx (and also ran a couple regular missions) — both dinged 15.
Markov and Shadowslip did the bare minimum of winter missions necessary for the powers, then switched to regular missions and dinged Shadowslip to 28.
During the weekend I tried to solo the winter mission with Strategist, Damosel Distress, Dolmen, and a couple others — absolutely no luck, and only Damosel and Dolmen really came close to having a chance. Only Aeric actually soloed the missions successfully (and several times over) — he was the first guy I tried to do it with, early on, and it left me really surprised at the survivability of that character in certain situations that killed lots of other toons.
Kate also did some solo work with Deepfreeze Debutante and Shadowslip, but I honestly couldn’t tell if she was running missions or collecting as many Christmas Presents as possible — she seemed to be having fun regardless. While she was doing that, I spent some time on Kirin Tor WoW server, mostly playing my dwarven paladin Kayti, though I did team up with the NYC group, playing my orcish hunter Grezzk — nice to team up with folks I knew.
The Mountain Witch Play-by-Forum game was on a bit of hold during the holidays, but we’re getting started up again today. Good stuff — lots of fun.
Starting Back Up
Dogs in the Vineyard Game, running regularly, with Dave, Margie, Randy, and Jackie. There’s at least a few more towns worth of play there.
The TSoY-based “Italiante Steampunk” game with Dave, Margie, and Randy — we’ve done chargen, now it’s time to start PLAYING.
A Dictionary of Mu game with participants undecided.
Alternately, I’m really interested in running or playing in Primetime Adventures, Agon, and/or Mortal Coil.
Looking forward to seeing what the new year brings.


Geek Omerta: talk about gaming like it’s a normal pass time like golfing or quilting? Perish the thought! Gush effusively with other geeks? Of course!
Don’t even bother debating whether or not that’s what 98% of most gamers do. The questions are: “Why is that?” and “How does one get around it and put gaming in that ‘normal hobby’ category?” How do you frame it to the straights so you don’t some bugfuck or fringe-culty?

Tis a day of podcastiness

Son of Kryos Podcast #27: Given everyone screen time (an ongoing concern of mine). Playing RPGs online, such as over IM, E-mail, and Forums (something I’m doing right now with Mountain Witch). Plus what to do when you pick up a game that you’ve not played in a long time (something that comes up alllllll the time). There’s just not anything in there that isn’t useful or relevant to me right now.

Play the GM

Have you never GM’d? Have you GM’d only a little? Have you just be kinda curious about GMing and, along those lines, GMing indie hippy games like Primetime Adventures or The Mountain Witch?
Are you a vet GM with lots of ‘trad’ experience, looking to spread the authority of the GM around a little bit, or just get a little more ‘play’ time?
Read this thread: Story Games for Everybody – Calling all Non-GM’s — it’s a good poll of folks who don’t usually GM who have tried out the reins with indie/hippy games of various kinds, what they’ve found they’ve liked and don’t like. Good, good stuff.

World Design Questions

Setting Design Jumpstart, from Tony L-B, who take Aria: Worlds and does it in a much more useable format.
I’m going to list the questions he suggested you answer about a nascent Game Setting down below the cut, but I think what I might do with it first is use it on the “Petrana” setting that I’m using for the Shadow of Yesterday Steampunk game we’re starting in January… maybe as a collaborative Wiki effort with me and the players.
In any case, it’s a very useful tool for world building.

Continue reading “World Design Questions”

Online Gaming Tool

Gametable: shared whiteboard/mapping/tactical space, plus die-rolling. Perfect tool to run alongside Skype, when your players are geographically dispersed.


I haven’t posted any screenies from CoH in awhile, so before I get into a bunch of costume changes with the i8 stuff (Bear is SO getting a kilt), here’s some older ones I’d been meaning to share:

Continue reading “Screenies!”

Snow! It was the Snow! I swear!

This has nothing to do with why I’m working from home today. Seriously. It’s because of the snow. I didn’t even hear about this until after I got like… whole HOURS worth of work done. I swear.

AP: tMV in PbP (Actual Play: the Mountain Witch in Play-by-Post)

It’s not entirely true that I didn’t get any gaming time in this weekend: I’ve recently started up Play-by-Forum-Post game of The Mountain Witch, hosted on a new forum install I put up just for this purpose. We’ve been actively doing stuff with the game for about 10 days, and already have all the characters created, backstories worked out, setting background sketched in, and have just finished our first scene (in which introductions and foreshadowing were done). The game plays fast (1 to 4 sessions) in face to face, so I believe the pace and short format will counteract the glacial speed of forum play. So far, it seems as though it has. Good stuff. Also, it lets me run something with a mix of Denver and NYC people at the same time.
Keeley’s talking about doing something similar with the forum and My Life With Master after Mountain Witch wraps up — I’m very very intrigued and interested in that — My Life with Master was, in fact, the very first “Indie” game I bought, and the thing that got me reading the Forge and the games that were coming out of it. I’ve always wanted to play a game.

Uneventful weekend

“There is no pleasure in having nothing to do; the fun is in having lots to do and not doing it.”
— Mary Wilson Little
Unfortunately, I didn’t have much to do this long weekend, and was kind of mobility impaired with Kaylee, so when I wasn’t watching Baby Einstein or playing with wooden blocks, I did something I haven’t done in a long while, and played a lot of CoH.
How many characters can you ding in one solid day of playing? Seven (or 10, if you count actual dings). Granted, one of those dings led to getting the Dark Melee version of Assassin Strike, finding out it was the same stupid, constipated-looking pose as most of the rest of the ATs (except claws and Ninja blade) and deleting the toon, but it still counts. Other than that, played around with the base builder alot, and read. Not a big gaming weekend.


No-prep, quick-start play using the 400+ pulp extravaganza, Spirit of the Century? Yes.