Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 RoC MMO Year in Review




Green Armadillo at Player vs. Developer did a sort of cost-analysis/overview of his 2012 MMO expenditures and time, and I thought it would be fun to do something similar, with more of a focus on my "year of MMOs" and what they amounted to (if anything). So, here goes...



Star Wars: The Old Republic
TOR may have come out in December 2011, but I didn't get my copy until late January. My wife played this game continually for close to a year, but it seems that her interest (and that of her highly dedicated RP guild) waned dramatically after the game went F2P, at least partially due to the over monetization of the game going forward (paying for content previously announced as free, for example, and the souring of the community due to the flood of F2P gamers who are sight-seers and gawkers, and presumably not very RP-friendly).

For my own purposes, TOR has a great single player experience wrapped in a world of MMO suck. It has padded regions (Coruscant, for example) that drag on and on, and feel very tedious and grindy to someone like me who approaches this game less as a new Star Wars MMO and more as the KOTOR 3 single player experience we really wanted. Still, the free to play option opened it back up to me, and I find that being able to jump in and play occasionally is making the game more accessible and fun, now that I don't have to worry about a monthly fee. If Bioware/EA could just realize that a person like me would prefer to pay for a couple extra character slots and not have to subscribe, then we'd all be a bit happier.

Conclusion: SWTOR moving F2P was a smart move for certain types of players, but the game still has problems. That said, it's a casual friendly MMO if you can avoid falling asleep during the long slog through boring padded areas like Coruscant.



Tera
Tera was billed for its action MMO combat and its unique revision to an otherwise very Korean style setting. The game was pretty compelling, initially....but some odd hiccups left me cold in the end. A major problem was its early billing snafus; I signed up for six months on a deal when it first came out, but after four weeks I realized this wasn't a game I was going to care for in six months, so I tried to cancel the subscription. Surprise....they didn't provide for a way to cancel! I did get my money back, and in a twist of irony that changed my opinion of the matter from "they are sleazy con artists" to "they or their billing service are merely incompetent" I still got my six months of play time. Which I barely used until the tail end, in a bid to revisit and see if my feelings had changed. They did not.

Conclusion: Tera is a weird action MMO that is fun to play but it has some unfortunately disturbing undertones, a bit too much of the Korean Cutesy for my tastes, an excess of BDSM inspired armor and for all it does offer it just doesn't seem to feel as satisfying as other, better games out there (among which I would include Rift, GW2 and TOR). And their crappy billing issues soured me from ever letting En Masse have credit card or paypal info again, period.



Guild Wars 2
Guild Wars 2 was heavily anticipated and I was ready for it on its first week or so of release. It's timing was atrocious, however (for me, at least), as I had gotten sucked into Rift and so found my precious game time seriously divided. GW2 is a fantastic game, but thanks to its Buy-to-Play model I have been able to safely play it just a bit, and othewrwise set it aside for now while I concentrate on the two other games worthy of my attention.

Conclusion: all MMOs should look at GW2 in the future, for both the payment model and for ideas on how to innovate. Not too closely...a future full of GW2 clones would be sad.



World of Warcraft
Blizzard sent me a 10 day "please come back" trial to Mists of Pandaria. I logged on, tried a pandaren monk, then jumped to the original Kalitherios who was still stuck in that god awful fhsibowl undersea region, was reminded why I left WoW during Catalyclysm and deleted the game, again.

Conclusion: WoW is getting very long in the tooth, and the only way to appreciate it these days is to be stuck with a low end PC, or otherwise avoid other games entirely.



Dungeons & Dragons Online
I was a HUGE proponent for DDO when it went F2P, and it was the first F2P game I also decided to invest in. I rationalized that if I spent $15 a month for a year, I'd have spent $180 in that time, and if I spent that (or less) on in-game purchases over time, then I'd be ahead.

In the end, I spent more than that (and in fact bought about $50 of turbine points plus the expansion pack at half off on a Steam sale this year) but I also played it heavily for more than two years, and only in the last year did I lag badly. DDO has a huge disadvantage over other MMOs, that outweighs (for me) it's advantages: it has a major grind component, and it's XP is (except for slayer/explorer missions) tethered to mission completion. You can spend a long time leveling in this game if you play in the way I do, which is slowly, mostly solo, and with a methodical pace in mind. I have friends who can blast through this game from level 1 to 20 in weeks. I envy them, because they have a system. The system necessary to earn XP at the fastest rate in DDO is beyond my time frame or network of friends, unfortunately.

Conclusion: DDO is still great, but my love for it has been replaced by Rift. Still, I like to revisit on occasion, even if I've given up hope of ever getting to max level.



The Secret World
The Secret World is everything I want in an MMORPG with a modern horror theme, short of it being a single player experience. It has immersive, thoughtful storylines (with key stories fully voiced), a mature theme that's not just "adult" (although it delves in that direction occasionally, too) and a smart world that really meshes well with the modern urban horror/fantasy trend in fiction these days. However, it was subscription based for a while, and so like GW2 it was something I didn't feel I had time for with my Rift obsession.

Now, of course, that has all changed and TSW moved to a Buy to Play model just like GW2. This was a very smart move, and it has revitalized my interest in the game....more so even than for GW2, because while GW2 is an innovative drwarf-and-elf free fantasy MMO, TSW is a modern horror MMO that ditches the Tolkienesque fantasy entirely.

Conclusion: I'll be playing a lot of TSW in the future and plan to focus my money on their planned future content.



Age of Conan
I've tried to get back into AoC a couple times. Unfortunately their cash shop was pricey, the play mechanics felt clunky if you stayed away too long, and the game can't survive its main crippling issue (one that TSW fixed) which was that 90% of its primo A game content was front-loaded in the first 20 or so levels, and everything after that right up to level 80 suffered from a "rushed to finish" conclusion. I recently tried it--again--in the wake of some changes that opened up previously gated instances to F2Pers and I was shocked at how empty the game was (okay not really) and how it just doesn't hold up to today's crop of games.

Conclusion: AoC is a game I want to play, badly. Just not the one that actually exists.



Champions Online
When this went F2P two years ago I was in on day one, took advantage of their first two weeks of excellent discounts, and basically absorbed this game (as did my wife). Then we burned out as the game dragged along; the momentum could not be sustained by the title itself, which still needed more...sometuing...to make it better.

Perfect World Entertainment came along and snapped Cryptic up. At first this was bad; a merge of accounts between Cryptic and PW made accessing their games problematic for a while, enough so I gave up on trying. Eventually they got their act together, and by the time I got back in Champions Online was sporting all sorts of impressive new features. It now remains, like DDO, a game I like to keep installed even if i only jump in once every couple of months or so. Unfortunately it's not really that exciting to play (for me) anymore, and I hate the crafting/equipment mechanics of the game with a passion, but the character generator is bar none the best there is (now that CoX is dead).

Conclusion: it's worth vacationing in Champions every now and then, and Perfect World made Cryptic respectable again...a miracle!



Rift
Rift snuck in toward the start of the year and snagged me first with its Lite F2P through level 20 and then with its mixture of interesting story content and compelling mix of traditional and innovative gameplay. It is officially the first game since 2005 when WoW and the original Guild Wars sucked me in to grab and keep me for the long haul. The core game is so good I continue to mainly play it while I occasionally log onto my level 50 guardian warrior and explore the new Storm Legion content at an excessively leisurely pace.

Anyway, I don't need to blab on about how great Rift is, as I've done that a lot already this year. Suffice to say it's my top dog in the kennel right now.

Conclusion: I bought a one year sub along with Storm Legion. That's about as dedicated as it gets for me in the world of MMOs.

Next Year
I'm looking forward to Elder Scrolls Online. I think some new titles like Firefall and Wildstar may be dark horses ready to sweep in and change everything up. I suspect more publishers will eyeball the B2P model just as much as the F2P model, and if industry analysts like Michael Pachter are right we may see a decline in the number of MMOs being pumped out as publishers grow wary of entering a saturated market.




Post-Mayan Non-Apocalyptic Blog Day



Okay, it's a week late but I just wanted to say, "hey, look, that was a whole lot of nothing. Hope some film makers and book writers got a decent profit out of that one." So I guess the next big event...which ironically is actually something worth noting, unlike the entirely fictitious non-event we just breezed through, will be the 2037 near-miss from asteroid Apophis. I predict many more book and movie deals in the future, culminating in a more interesting level of mass hysteria if the History Channel gets lucky.

I've taken a break from blogging for the last week or so. In a nice change of pace I've been relaxing at home, but that's only half true; it's been a bear of a week at my place of employment as I do an office move, which has been an interesting and time-consuming task, with a lot of overtime in the mix. Hopefully by next week things will be back on track, though.

I did manage two minor accomplishments this week: I watched the movie Salt, and I finally got finishing achievements on all campaigns in Left 4 Dead 2. I don't feel a lot of compulsion to continue playing L4D2, which means I need to find a new game to play for the Holidays (it's been a tradition now for a couple years that I played marathon L4D and L4D2 campaigns during all major holidays). Hmmm....I think I might start focusing more on Arma II soon (although I am still holding off on Day Z until the official edition comes out next year).



I also watched Salt, the Angelina Jolie action film from a year or two back. It was actually a lot of fun, and I got to see the extended edition, which means I have no idea what was cut from the theatrical release but it held together just fine. The film did an admirable job of focusing on a character (Evelina Salt) without necessarily giving away her character's motivations. It had a few "unpleasant" moments in it, the sort of stuff that European and Hong Kong cinema don't bat an eyelash at, but which most Summer time American audiences cringe over, so I wonder how well it did when it was fresh on the scene.

Anyway, it was a good movie, had fewer "suspension of disbelief being tested" moments than is normal for an Angelina Jolie movie, and a compelling narrative with more than a few plot twists. Worth watching if you are into action and espionage films.

Amidst all of this, I would like to thank my son, Marcus, for being such a good sport while dad tried to watch a movie, as he only made a mad dash to turn the TV off once, and otherwise played with his ball with dad, the cats, and anything he could bounce it off of for close to an hour and a half before mom arrived to put him to bed.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Starships & Spacemen 2E



I grabbed this today, one of "Dad's Xmas gifts" to himself: Starships & Spacemen, 2nd edition from Daniel Proctor and co. at Goblinoid Games (PDF here). It's the official second edition to a game which came out back in...ah...1979? And which Goblinoid Games bought the rights to and rereleased in all its typewriter-font glory a little while back. The 2nd edition is a classy revision, with the rules heavily upgraded and made compatible with Labyrinth Lord, although it looks like the rules, while compatible, aren't sacrificing SF-flavor just to be easily meshed with LL.

Anyway, it's a rip off...um, homage to Star Trek, and even includes things like a random alien forehead bump generation table so you can find out what your alien of the week looks like. Great stuff, I feel like running a campaign with this By The Book already, set in the mysterious parallel universe of Space Fleet!

It's also gotten my mind off of the horrendous tragedies of late, so another big plus. Goblinoid Games continues to deliver fun stuff that prays on nostalgia but in a good way....Rotworld was my last purchase from them (also a great game), and I have been waiting to see what was next from them, and S&S 2E was well worth it.



A reminder of what happens when common sense is overruled by fear

This site is a fascinating look at what happens when common sense is set aside in favor of fear-mongering. It's worth reading, because much of the 2000's were all about this sort of crazy extreme-reactionary behavior toward the threat of terrorism, and we're well into the 2010's and still paying for the consequences of our extreme responses.

There are several highly-reactionary approaches to the mass shootings in our society today which people are advocating. One is gun control; only the most paranoid and diehard out there are going to see restrictions on what sort of lethal firearms citizens can own to be a bad thing. Only the most peace loving idealistic liberals are going to see a total gun ban as a worthy goal (and for the record what I want isn't so much as a gun ban as a progression of society toward a state where people do not feel the need to own or defend themselves with guns, and therefore abstaining from the ownership of weapons become a voluntary thing; or in other words I'm a pie-in-the-sky hippie liberal-libertarian weirdo).

Anyway, the idea of banning all fireams is (at least in a world full of conflict and trouble) a bad thing, just like the idea of arming everyone and their children, their teachers, and even the janitors is a bad thing. Restricting free speech and expression through the banning of video games simply because the depiction of violence offends some people is a bad thing, because that's a fine example of a slippery slope which really will lead to a cessation of everything I hold dear about living in the United States. Indeed, the rationale appears entirely to be based upon people who are disturbed by the violence of some video games, and yet seem to feel that because they feel distress with such depictions of video game violence, that if someone else seems to enjoy it then something must be wrong with that person. It never occurs to them, apparently, that people who are immersed in games may react and feel differently about it than they do, or that its possible (as it is with me) to enojoy depictions of fictional violence while being repulsed and sickened by real world violence.

For me fictional violence almost cathartic; I intensely dislike real world violence, was sickened and disturbed by what happened a week ago, and am generally in favor of any policy in our country which moves away from real world violence as a solution to problems in favor of building toward the idealized future society that no longer needs violent action for conflict resolution. Yes, you could call me some sort of Roddenberryite if you like, but I am shameless in my belief about this; we are all capable of being more enlightened secular beings in the future who work toward a common good, and the ultimate common good is one achievable without violence, and with the free will of individuals who can apply a firm, rational understanding of a cogent and nonviolent social contract toward our future. We're a long way from that, unfortunately, but we're still so very much closer now than we were even 53 years ago, or even 25 years ago.

Review: Resident Evil - Caliban Cove




Resident Evil: Caliban Cove by S.D. Perry

The second published novel in the Resident Evil series (and third in chronological order) is also the first original tale S.D. Perry got to pen in the weird Biohazard universe, serving as a sort of filler between the events of the original Resident Evil (presented in Umbrella Conspiracy) and Resident Evil 2 (novelised in City of the Dead, which I am presently plowing through). Caliban Cove gets a unique opportunity to break away from the video game restrictions on the story and elaborate on a few bits and pieces that are otherwise missing from the games.

Rebecca Chambers (the perky young genius biologist who was a fresh recruit into the Special Tactics and Recon Squad-STARS-stationed in Raccoon City) gets to be the focus of this tale as she and the other STARS surivors of the Spencer Mansion incident are now being hunted by Umbrella hitmen while the press and local investigators dance to Umbrella's publicity department and place suspicion and blame for whatever the hell went down at the Spencer Mansion squarely on the STARS' shoulders.

Rebecca gets an opportunity to do further investigating when David Trapp and his aspiring team of STARS agents from another district step forth with rumors of an accident at another secret Umbrella facility in the unfortunately named Caliban Cove in Maine. David is a handome British gent which means we get to hear about flashlights being called torches for a while.

I'm glossing over some of the surprises, should you wish to read and enjoy this book spoiler-free, but here's the gist of it (spoilers): Caliban Cove is the reclusive haunt of a gaggle of mad scientists who were working with the deranged evil genius Nicholas Griffith, a man who's vision of what the T Virus can do led to a perfection which both allowed him and his team to organize zombies into armed "tri-squads" and also to create true zombies, with a sort of "muscle memory" of their intellect but totally lacking free will. And Griffith, being quite mad of course, has taken advantage of his co-workers to set about his own special plans of zombie-driven world domination.

Luckily, the STARS, always gifted with an impeccable sense of good timing, arrive on scene to disrupt things, suffer horribly, and triumph in the end.

Because the book is not following any sort of game-directed script it deviates slightly from the pacing and style of the other novels, and we get a lot more setup and exposition than is normal, perhaps even too much of it (we're sixty plus pages in before anything evil-lab and zombie related starts hopping). The disaster at Caliban Cove, while suitably appropriate for the series, is also toned down a bit...we get some good, creepy moments, some action bits, and so forth, but its all more measured, more subdued than the novels ripped directly from the games. S.D. Perry does introduce a measure of puzzlers into the story, however, in keeping with RE tradition.

This book wasn't quite as good as, say, Zero Hour (which was written much later) but it's definitely a fun read and adds some background to the setting, as well as providing a great framework in the first half of the tale to explain just what the heck sort of an organization the STARS are, and how deep their membership is in Umbrella's pockets. It also demonstrates how the core conceit of the Resident Evil universe -that of a world in which evil Pharmaceutical Companies generously sprinkle secret bioweapons test labs in the dark corners of Amercia, to be found by daring law enforcement mercenaries- can sustain itself rather well outside of the video game environment it was birthed in.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A tiny bit of politics

I hate to include a bit of politics in my blog...this is supposed to be my refuge from reality to talk about fun things, after all....but the recent shooting has been part of a tragedy that has affected many, and a lot of people are up in arms (figuratively, unless you're on the far, far right) as to how this could have been prevented...how it could have happened....and how we could stop it in the future.

I think the answers are fairly evident: better gun control and an effort to improve the way we treat the mentally ill in this country, and the resources for those in need. But a popular meme running through the media right now is the idea that video games are somehow responsible. You may hear this as you saunter on home to friends and family this holiday weekend, so keep this link handy:

The Washington Post: "Ten-country comparison suggests there’s little or no link between video games and gun murders

It might help you too keep your sanity as people cast about for a scapegoat.

I love Mass Effect...Black Ops...Left 4 Dead...Max Payne 3....these are all great games. But I am a nonviolent man who appreciates violence where it should be: in fiction, on screen, and in the realm of fantasy and make-believe. I am not merely pro gun control but have harbored a personal desire for the banning of gun ownership in a country where such a view is regarded as crazy talk, despite the fact that half the people I know who own guns are (with evidence aplenty) not fit to carry a device designed specifically to kill.* The other half are hunters who seem to have some measure of responsibility. Anyway... Just felt the need to share this.

Lets keep gun ownership in the hands of virtual avatars, who need them to wipe out zombies, and out of the hands or real people, m'kay?


*Qualifications: born and raised in Arizona, lived ten years in Seattle, and am in New Mexico for the last 6 years. I've seen the rural southwest attitude toward guns as a "god given" right and I've seen the harsh realities of big city living and can safely say the pro/anti gun attitude can vary precisely based upon population density. I can count the number of people I know who own guns and who I would trust to continue owning guns on one hand. I don't have enough appendages to count the number who own guns and really have no business doing so.

#7RPGs

The Other Side started it (from the source at Google+), and Really Bad Eggs continued it so I figure hey, let's do this thing:

Preface: I am 99% gamemaster, so when I say played, I really almost always mean GMed.




1. Dungeons & Dragons
   This ought to come as no surprise. D&D is ubiquitous and the gateway for most tabletop gamers. I'd have to say that the majority of my game time in D&D is tied up between my 2nd edition years and my 3rd edition years, but 4E comes in pretty close by volume due to a lot of twice-weekly sessions over a three year run. If you factor Pathfinder in (and I am treating Pathfinder as a 3.5 variant of D&D for purposes of this count) then 3rd creeps up closer to and maybe exceeds the volume of play from every other edition.




2. GURPS
   GURPS wasa go-to system for all my non-fantasy gaming from 1st through 3rd edition, and while 4th edition was for mysterious reasons the one that derailed my regular use of the edition, it is still a game I will buy and read even when I never get time or opportunity to play it anymore. Aside from D&D, it is my second-most played RPG.



3. Call of Cthulhu
   CoC grabbed me with the GW hardcover version around 1983 and I kept running it as a personal favorite for many years. I haven't had a chance to run it for a while now, but in sum total volume of play, not to mention its indirect influence on how I run other games, CoC is definitely #3.



4. Runequest
   Runequest in its various incarnations is the only fantasy RPG to get close to my volume of D&D gaming, with occasional campaigns once every few years manifesting when the stars are right, and my obsession with writing about and its cousins (BRP, Legend and so forth) is just as strong.



5. Cyberpunk 2020
   I played Cyberpunk 2020 to death back in the early nineties, it was my most played game in College and had a run for a while in which CP2020 campaigns were more numerous and longer than my AD&D 2nd edition campaigns. CP2020 fell to the wayside after College, but for those few years it was a top-dog staple of my gaming circle, and I look forward to its planned revival.



6. Traveller
   Traveller has just always been there, albeit without the intensity of other games. Like Runequest, its a system that occasionally bubbles up from the ether and takes hold of a game group for a while, then disappears for sometimes years at a time. It's in a lull for me right now, but who knows...



7. DC Heroes (MEGS edition)
   Another classic, the 1st through 3rd editions of Mayfair's DC Heroes RPG was my go-to system for comic hero adventures back in the day, and one of the best campaigns I ever ran was powered by DC Heroes. I wish the MEGS system would get a proper revival, and also that it wasn't dead and buried with the Blood of Heroes people, wherever they are today.

Not on this list but deserving honorable mention is BRP (which I wish I'd have more opportunity to run), Dark Conspiracy (which was not far between Cyberpunk 2020 and Traveller in my College years of obsession) and Gamma World, which I have not run enough of consistently over the years but remains one of my favorite read/collect games.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday Blaaaaaaagaggghhhh! Rage: The Scorchers, Goblinworks Begs for your Money and more

This is one of those "filler" blogs to keep up with my personal quota, so no cool game articles, no controversial off-the-rails rants (unless it just happens, heh) and only a little bit of news. First off:



Rage gets "The Scorchers DLC

So id, now owned by Bethesda, has been quietly trying to get more DLC ready for release for Rage, a beautiful looking game with some very, very tight shooting mechanics strapped to the rotting skeleton of a Fallout 3 wannabe environment, with some "so-so kinda okay but not really" driving events tied to it. I downloaded it last night, but it essentially tacks on a new campaign and opens the game up for some modest open-world post-endgame continued gameplay. I somehow still haven't gotten to the end of this game, so I have no idea how that meshes, but the existence of this DLC smacks of Bethesdian influence on id, and also suggests that a future Doom 4 might look less like the conventional style of shooter that id has refined to the point where it is methodically by the numbers and may instead have a dash of Fallout and Skyrim mixed in. Hopefully more than a dash...either way, imagine a Doom 4 which provides for the open-world environment of Fallout....hmmm. It could be cool, but I admit, I'm suddenly having a hard time imagining Doom in an open world environment. Maybe Quake, yeah, but Doom....? Naaah.



Goblinworks Needs Your Money

The Goblinworks Kickstarter Round Two is still going and just under halfway through with less than half its goal of One Million Dollars. Lots of discussion about this on rpg. net, but I have to say, the more Ryan Dancey discusses the Pathfinder Online plan the less I care about it. I'm not a hardcore PvPer (despite what my wife's Rift guild thinks....they are constantly making me PvP on my Bahmi rogue to earn their guild quest goals) and in fact have found every conceivable description of the old days of Ultima Online or more recent games like EVE to be unpleasant, to say the least. Call me a carebear if you like, but unless hardcore PvP comes with hardcore consequences (i.e. when you die your character is permanently deleted and you are kicked from your account permanently) then we'll never have a game environment which can even come close to creating the sort of immersion and visceral sense of realism that I feel such an element could otherwise achieve. Then again, the hardcore PvP crowd that likes this sort of thing could care less for immersion, so I may be missing the point of what games like Pathfinder Online, Darkfall, EVE and others are trying to achieve, anyway. Which still makes me "not a part of their target demographic" despite the fact that I would love to play a Pathfinder MMO that...you know...actually felt like Pathfinder the RPG that I've enjoyed for a few years now. But what I play at the table bears not even a glimmer of similarity to what Ryan Dancey is describing in his discussion of this game.

Either way, the current MMO kickstarter keeps heaping the promise of book content for money. It seems that motivation and interest in the MMO alone is not enough to motivate donations. Still, it is about halfway there...almost...and has several weeks to go.

Resident evil 6 Campaign #2 Update

I'm playing through the Chris Redfield campaign now, and making good progress since I set the game to "casual" mode. The description of casual mode is basically, "You just want to enjoy the ride." The game suddenly got fantastically more fun and engaging without the stress. I am now remorseful that I didn't play the Leon Kennedy campaign on casual mode, because I suspect my aggravation with it would have been considerably less. Anyway, a proper review of the second campaign soon!

As an aside, RE 6 for the PC is slated for March 22nd next year. As an aside, the earlier RE game from this year, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, recently got its DLC released for PC as well, and has been showing up discounted in various areas. Despite assertions by some that it wasn't that great (expectations will influence this view) I found the game to be quite enjoyable. Then again, I rather liked the idea of playing as a squad of Umbrella mercenary black ops agents, and also expected the game to be exactly what it was: a co-op themed riff off of the Left 4 Dead subgenre. As a result, I've actually enjoyed RE:ORC more for its game play than RE6, because RE:ORC at least handles third-person action smoothly (and better on PC, I should note) than RE6 does (at least until I flipped the casual switch on).



Okay, enough ranting for Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

D&D 5th Edition Latest playtest package is up - and it's starting to look good...



The latest playtest package went up yesterday, and it's starting to look kind of...good....! It's not that I didn't expect it to eventually shape up into something playable and persistent; despite reservations at times I do have confidence in the designers at WotC that they are sincere in their efforts to make a game we can all appreciate (or at least one that I will).

The latest playtest has twenty levels defined for the core classes plus monks (what happened to sorcerers and warlocks??? They are missing, it turns out). It's got lots of backgrounds, specialties, and tons of expertise dice for every class (it's now a core feature everyone can employ). It's got feats that seem to stop at level 9 (some speculation on whether feats will continue to accrue with prestige classes?) and it's got a massive bestiary of around 180 or so monsters to kickstart playtest campaigns in to gear. There are four modules now for those who don't do their own, or feel more comfortable keeping the playtest on guided rails.

There's still lots of D&D yet to appear in DDN, but as of right now this playtest offers more content and ready material than most other fantasy RPGs out there.

Anyway, I've started the discussion with my local group, and the plan is to take this puppy for a full playtest ride beginning in January. I guess 2013 will have some dungeon delving and dragon slaying in it after all (and plenty of Pathfinder still for Wednesdays!)


Monday, December 17, 2012

A Post Hobbit Pre-Mayan End-of-Cycle Day



We're five days away from the end of the Mayan Calendar, a phenomenon which has been excellent fuel for the Judeo-Christian obsession with End Times, and for which, had the original Mayans who crafted the calendar still been around, would have signaled that it was time to roll out a new large chunk of stone to...make a new calendar.

The Hobbit Part I came out last week. It would be a great and terrible irony if the world did end in a few days, with The Hobbit Part II still a year away from release, but luckily I have unshakeable faith in Occam's Razor, which says that it is a far more sensible explanation that "people are dumb" than that "Mayans knew the world was going to end two thousand years ago."

Anyway, the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was a fantastic movie, and you should probably go see it. I had a couple revelatory moments while watching it: first, it showed so clearly how indellibly the book influenced gaming at an early age, no matter how much people like to pull out the Gygax quotes about how he only added the Tolkien stuff to appease some of his players, but the truth is much more likely that (regardless of how he felt about the presence/absence of Tolkien in the game) that Gygax was at least mindful of how litigious Tolkien's Estates were, and that his game had an uncharacteristic level of influence by it in the final print form we're all familiar with (as so much fantasy did in the 70's and on).

So as I was watching it I was impressed at those bits that evoked childhood memories of The Hobbit for me, and also of how much of the structure of the book is embedded in pretty much all of my RPGs and specifically D&D) experiences ever since. We have the overland journey, the dungeon, the discovery of magic items, the wandering monsters...all of it has been indelibly embedded in our fantasy gaming ever since. The Hobbit is incredibly iconic for practically the entire hobby; it, along with Howard and a handful of others are practically the sum definition of D&D's roots, and their tendrils spread out from there.

So yeah, I liked the movie, although it did make me wistful for a time when this was all new to me, when the excitement of reading The Hobbit, or the Conan novels, or playing D&D for those first times was still a genuinely exciting experience. I do look forward to seeing what my son discovers in the future that will "grab" him in the same way. It could be literature and tabletop gaming for him like it was for me, or it could be something else, but ether way, I envy him his youth and appreciate that I get to see his interests and curiosity manifest.

Actual reliability for Predictions of Doom may vary


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Secret World is Suddenly B2P (not F2P)

Got the email today....with no fanfare or announcement I was aware of, The Secret World has opened its doors wide for everyone (announcement here) who buys the game with a one time purchase (correction from earlier, I did not realize this initially!) This is actually a very good game, even if I couldn't justify the expense of an extra sub for a game (with the limited time I have to spread between so many of them). In terms of "Secret World F2P vs. Star Wars: TOR F2P" The Secret World will win hands down.

The release info indicates that merely playing the game as-is is now totally free. You can buy the game before Expansion #5 and get all expansion content for free (so I guess further expansion content will be paywalled) and if you sub monthly you get perks, including $10 of cash shop money, a distint item, a cool-down XP bonus generator and a 10% discount (a membership discount, I guess) in the game store. Unlike SWTOR, this is, I feel, the smart way to run a F2P franchise: give them everything, then make them want to buy the extras.

I'll be reloading The Secret World tonight, I think! Guess I'll queue it up next to Rift, Guild Wars 2, Diablo III and my never-ending obsession with Fallout 3 and Mass Effect.

Tales from the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil: Anton Dainasere, Demon Hunter


Well, it looks like my hiatus from writing game content is over! Sarvaelen and its haunted lands return in full force this week, this time with a profile of a member of the Order of the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil for use as an interesting NPC or ready-made PC. I am still statting everything out in BRP, my grand plan to read through RQ6 still hasn't come to fruition and I think consistency with the setting as a BRP-statted campaign is probably for the best at the moment, anyway. I am hoping Magic World comes out eventually, I plan to use that book specifically with Sarvaelen for a campaign sometime in 2013.


Anton Dainasere is a human male, 6’6”, 165 lbs., of Aeronostic descent, born in the city of Catalone along Lake Vunares, abutting the border of Esrenor. He is striking in his tallness, for most Aeronostic people are much shorter than him, usually averaging 5’9”, and his height also contributes to his gaunt, sallow features. With rough wind-blown dark brown hair, and a haunted look across his gray eyes, Anton does not blend in will with colorful crowds.

Anton’s childhood was punctuated by poverty and violence, as he was born to a young woman of ill-repute named Etria, who found she could not take care of him and so abandoned the boy when he was only three years old at the steps of the Monastery of Veramaine, a famous enclave along the eastern rural stretch outside of Catalone proper. The monastery was a place of holy learning for those who had felt the calling to give up their old lives to live as chaste students of the teachings of Nevereth, the ubiquitous goddess who had become the center of the multicultural monotheistic cult which spread like wildfire after the fall of old Camrinal. Even in the days of the old Empire it is said that the Monastery of Veramaine had thrived and prospered, a remote but prestigious location for those who felt the enigmatic call of the goddess to seek out her wisdom and teachings in one location.

The boy Anton was treated much like any other orphan placed in the custody of a band of pious and chaste monks, subjected to beatings and strenuous daily labor, with moments of schooling and education making the day more interesting. As Anton grew in years his appreciation for the knowledge he was given access to as a ward of the monastery eclipsed his hatred of the callous cruelty of so many of the monks, who seemed to believe that children were born with the sins of the Empire in their veins, and that it was their duty to beat it out.

Anton did befriend one monk who took a keen interest in him, named Garados the Humble. He learned that Garados had once been a nobleman of Aeronost, but a suspicious murder of a woman he fancied drove him into exile and eventually into the care of the monastery, where he heard the words of Nevereth one evening and was converted. He had been with the monastery for five decades now, and as an old man had not once traveled more than a mile from the monastery in all that time. Despite this isolation, Garados was well-read and still liked to recount the adventures of his youth to Anton and the other boys in the monastery, and Anton grew envious of these adventuresome tales. As he reach his teen years, he plotted and schemed of ways he, too, could embark on great adventures.

When Anton turned sixteen, Garados took the boy into the city, with an assurance that he must truly experience life outside of the monastery before deciding if he was destined to remain their forever or not. Garados knew that Anton had a lust for life that would not readily be sated, and his confinement at the monastery was only making things worse.

Anton was surprised when Garados delivered him to a brothel, one of many in the heart of the debauched and wicked center of Catalone. There he was introduced to a young woman named Nyrasel, a vibrant and beautiful young emoniae from the far west with fiery hair and stark green eyes. She took an immediate liking to the awkward young man who was only a few years younger than her, and as much as Anton was interested in her as woman he was even more fascinated at her origins, being  a daughter of the exotic lands of western sorcery beyond the Wastelands of Camrinal.


Nyrasel for her part was equally fascinated with the handsome young man presented to her, both because of his vivacious personality despite his unusually tall and sallow features, but because she sensed within him a spark of magic, a talent for sorcery. As she spoke with him, she offered to show him some of her magical talent, and in turn she prodded him to try the same.

Anton was mystified. Sorcery? Of his own? He had never even considered the possibility! Nonetheless, at her direction and prodding he tried, and much to his amazement he was able to generate some simple illusions, dancing lights, with little effort once she had walked him through the process, explained to him how to feel the arcane energies within his own spirit. You have blood from Old Camrinal in you, she told him. He couldn’t have Emoniae in him, not with such tall and dark features, but Emon was not the only land blessed with a high percentage of sorcerers; Camrinal destroyed itself and many more as a byproduct of such sorcerous talent.

When Anton returned to the Monastery with Garados, he was a changed man. Not only had he met and known a fascinating woman, she had helped him to see a hidden talent he never even imagined existed. He knew then that the monastic, chaste lifestyle of the servants of Nevereth was not for him. He confided as much in Garados about this, though he did not mention discovering his talent for magic, who nodded in agreement. Garados had, after all, sensed the wanderlust and unusual spirit of this young man, and knew he was destined for a different life.

When Anton turned seventeen the following year he was discharged of his duties to the monastery and granted the rights of a freeman of Aeronost. For the last year Anton had been stealing away at night into the city to meet with Nyrasel and others who held sorcerous talent, and learned of a coven of sorcerers and witches within the city walls who engaged in the study and practice of their magical arts in collaborative safety. The coven called themselves the Concord of Roeghast, named after an old entity which was said to have dwelled within Lake  Vunares ages before Catalone was founded. Roeghast was a center of much attention locally within the hidden cults and covens of the city, for it was said that this enigmatic elemental being could grant great power if studied long enough, revealing ancient truths that led to a pure understanding of the Hidden World. Anton, like his paramour Nyrasel, was fascinated at what this meant.

Anton lived a raucous and free-wheeling lifestyle by day, getting a job as a servant in the employ of House Elaron, which needed able bodied workers for a construction project. Count Aras Elaron had decided to build a new estate for himself on the lakeside coast west of the city, one which would rival the Duke’s own palace in the heart of Catalone, and he needed hundreds of workers to get the job done.

Anton initially was employed as a hard laborer, but he was quickly recruited by one of the chief masons as an assistant when it was revealed he had been educated in math and geometry at the Monastery of Veramaine, and within weeks he was fully apprenticed to Sir Marison Gafflows, a noted architect in the region who was personally overseeing the construction. Under Gafflows tutelage Anton learned much of architecture and design, and of new ways to employ his studies from the monastery.

Anton was twenty when the construction of Castle Elaron was near completion, and he had found less time for the studies with Nyrasel and her coven than he might have liked, but a Harvest Moon was looming and Nyrasel told him he must attend, for it was on that night that they would row out to the small island of the Starry Henge to enact a ritual of summoning to draw the attention of Roeghast himself. Anton was at first nervous, for his time spent meditating on the spirit of the lake had left him uncertain it even existed, but Nyrasel and her cohorts were convinced that this was the right course of action.

The night of the harvest moon, Anton excused himself in after nightfall from Sir Gafflows’ house where he had been living and made his way to the docks, where a dozen members of the Concord had gathered. The group found itself on the small island where an ancient stone henge of rocks, placed by the ancient druids of long ago was to be found. The ceremony was exacting in detail, as best they could construct from fragmentary texts that somehow survived the immolation of Old Camrinal, and a sacrifice of a lamb was made on the center stone. When the harvest moon suddenly eclipsed, it was then that everyone knew they had somehow succeeded.

Nyrasel was the target of unholy life, as she was drawn from the ground and held fast in the air by unseen forces, a chilling darkness entering her body and changing it in horrible ways as the sounds of flesh rending and bones snapping filled the air. Still alive, she gasped in agony and pleasure all at once as the spirit of Roeghast entered her, changed her, and made her his vessel of habitation.
Some of the coven fled at that moment, but grasping shadows dragged them to their death. Only Anton and two others stood fast against the manifestation, which leered at them through the form of Nyrasel, whom Anton demanded be free of the possession. Roeghast simply bellowed an inhuman laugh, and looked upon the three who had not fled. You are my chosen now, it said. You must go forth, to spread the word of the Old Gods, to spread the word of Roeghast. I am once more alive, and I shall require many more souls before my time is at an end.


Anton was disgusted, horrified to realize that Roeghast was no ancient druidic spirit of old, but a demon of the worst sort. He was about to rebuke the demon’s offer when a silvered arrow struck Nyrasel’s suffering body in the chest, ending her life and the grip of the demon. The shadows writhed in agony, striking out at all around them, slaying the rest of the coven to a man save for Anton, who rushed to the battered, broken body of Nyrasel. It was too late for her, for the bolt had only insured she suffered no more from the terrible ruination on her form.

Anton at last confronted the one who had fired the crossbow bolt, as the darkness dissipated, the demon banished without a host. He saw before him a rough, older man of many years’ toughened nature. He wore piecemeal armor of multiple nationalities, and bore a crude gray tabard with the mark of the Sullen Vigil upon it. His name was Sir Carver Drelos, and he was a knight of the order of the Watchers, a group which had long ago been appointed the protectors of Aeronost and beyond, to keep close watch on the thaumaturgical taint which had sprung from the old Empire and done so much harm to the land.


Carver Drelos took pity upon Anton, realizing that he appeared to be as much a victim of the demon’s wiles as anyone else, and instead offered to help bury and consecrate the remains of those who had been slain by Roeghast’s shadow fiends. He explained that he had actually been searching for evidence of cults worshipping Roeghast for years now, and had already dealt with a barbarian cult to the demon god in the North Mountainsof Esrenor not long ago, one which was far less naive about the demon’s desires and intentions.

Anton was at first hostile to Carver but quickly realized that the man had perhaps saved his life, and certainly put Nyrasel out of her misery. When they left the island, just after dawn, it was with the realization that his old life was over and he was now adrift, though Carver quickly realized this and explained that he could use a good hand in the coming battles. Roeghast, he explained, was always looking to seduce the unwitting or the power hungry into providing him with a vessel for his indulgence in charnel havoc, and he was far from the only one. When the Empire of Camrinal fell, Carver explained, thousands of such demons were unleashed upon the land. Many of his order saw fit to man the ancient garrisons which stood grim watch against the wastelands of the old Empire, but he was one of his order who chose to strike out and actively hunt down the demons. There were not enough of his kind, he explained; they needed more willing and hearty souls who would take up sword and crossbow against the evil that lurked in the land.
It was here at last amidst tragedy and horror that Anton found his calling, as he pledged his service to Sir Carver Drelos and the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil.

Anton Dainasere, Knight-Squire of the Sullen Watch
Human male, Age 21
STR 15, CON 14, SIZ 17, DEX 13, INT 17,  APP 12, POW 15 EDU 13; DB +1D4 HP 15 MW 7
Sanity 67 (Max 75) Madness Threshold 13            MPs 15
Notable Skills: Etiquette 25%, Teach 25%, Craft (stonemasonry) 40%, Knowledge (architecture) 35%, Knowledge (mathematics) 60%, Speak Aeronostic 85%, Speak Camrinalic 20%, Literacy (Aeronostic) 50%, Literacy (Camrinalic) 30%, Insight 30%, Research 50%, Ride 25%, Dodge 31%, Shield (full) 40%, Crossbow 50%, Sword 50%
Magic Known: Illusion 47%,  Light 37%, Perception 50%, Ward 29%
Weapons:  Long Sword (1D8+DB (1D4)), light crossbow (1D6+2, range 40)            
Armor: Lamellar (6 AP), helmet (+1 AP), plus Full Shield (22 AP/HP)
Wealth: 120 silvers

Notes: Anton did not start his career as a spellcaster and had no idea he had talent until age 16. As such, he is considered a non-magician by caster standards (so can only have 1/4th of his INT in spell knowledge in mind at any given time). Anton’s grimoire was abandoned on the Isle of the Starry Henge, so he has not regained new spells since he joined with Carver Drelos.

In Sarvaelen there is little distinction between common “hedge” magic and sorcery amongst most people. Sorcerers tend to practice both. It was Nyrasel’s belief that time would help expand Anton’s scope of power (i.e. a stat boost to POW) but that did not come to pass before tragedy struck.

 Anton’s sanity is lower than base, due to the traumatic experience on the island. Likely with time in the service of the Watchers it will degrade even further…

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Punktown Kickstarter

Ahhhh crap. I wanted a new Tablet for Christmas, but then Jeff Thomas's Punktown Kickstarter for CoC/BRP comes along and makes like hard for me. I've been reading his short fiction and novels for years, it's among the small list of really good future Lovecraft Mythos blended with SF out there, and the prospect of a BRP-powered book is pretty well too much for me to pass up, so I think I'll back this one after payday, call it my XMas gift.

Tales from the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil: A Map of the Lands of Sarvaelen

I have finally made a map (or the beginnings of one) for the haunted kingdoms of Sarvaelen from the Watchers of the Sullen Vigil! It's still in the works, and there are open areas yet to be filled (will do that as I keep developing it), but its both useful to get a good picture of what the region looks like, and will help me to frame further narratives in a sensible way without accidentally tripping on what has come before. So...enjoy!

Map of the Haunted Kingdoms of Sarvaelen



Monday, December 10, 2012

T&T Deluxe!

Ken's got a video preview up now:

State of the Mongoose 2012

It's been a hellish week and a half now for my poor wife, who started December with a bad case of strep throat, and has since been to urgent care and then the ER multiple times. She's in general care at the hospital now under monitor, as the infection simply kept getting worse and worse. She looks like she may be on recovery now, but it was scary for a while there.

Aside from that, I thought I'd share this really interesting assessment of the gaming industry for 2012 from the Mongoose point of view located here. Matthew Sprange seems to be sticking a fork (mostly) in the print RPG industry. Not totally done....POD and electronic seems to be Mongoose's expectations for the future, so it sounds like they are joining Steve Jackson Games to some degree in the camp of "companies who have decided the time, cost and effort to figure out how to expand the hobby is too much effort" and instead will now focus on their shrinking base. At least, that's how I'm reading it.


On the one hand I think this is probably a pretty accurate perspective. Matt mentions an unnamed publisher who's sales matched one of the bigger guys. If the unnamed fellow is Mr. Goodman and the game is Dungeon Crawl Classics (which did indeed get some high sales marks) recently, and the competitor is D&D 4E, then I could see those numbers. If he'd have named them, and they were....say....Barbarians of Lemuria vs. Pathfinder, then I'd have been shocked and worried.

One thing he also mentions is the contraction and disappearance of hobby shops (or was that only discussed in the other forum section talking about the State of the Mongoose? Ah well, will check later). This, I think, is probably something publishers need to consider: they can get "the hardcore crowd" online, a handful of guaranteed sales, no problem....or they can have a meaningful venue to expand the audience from, but without physical locations for a traditionally very hands-on, physical hobby they're not going to get it. And unfortunately the hardcore base for RPGs is fairly enamored with PDFs as a medium, and generally somewhat asocial, so the concept of "face time" with a broader public that is already getting a ton of face time from other media is anathema.

In short: I wonder if the hobby's contraction is because its core is too out of touch with the idea of how to go about publicizing and grabbing a share of the larger, fresher crowd of non-RPGers (I say "non RPGers" because there are more gamers now than ever; just most of them aren't playing tabletop RPGs anymore).

Then again, maybe its inevitable....in the world of fiction as entertainment, we've been stretched pretty thin, and its just possible that only the very specialized crowd of gamers who like tabletop RPGs can keep it going in the face of much flashier and more accessible entertainment media like video games, which strike me as the top dog in terms of siphoning off potential new players. In 1980 when I started playing the video game competition was the TSR-80 and the Atari 2600. Today it's WoW, Rift, and Skyrim, which offer some remarkably compelling experiences with zero hassle.

Anyway, something to think about.


ADDENDUM

There are two additional thoughts I had on this subject.

First: I still wonder just how much of the print and even PDF share of the tabletop RPG market is reduced by PDF piracy. I still feel that the single greatest factor in the devaluing of RPGs boils down to the rampant and pervasive tendency for gamers to grab something to check it out for free. This is probably related to the issue of shovelware, and how the RPG hobby also has been known, in the past, to dump torrential levels of cheap and easy splatbooks and other products on the market that we might have been willing to buy in ages past "just because" but for which there simply is no longer any disposable income to toss toward now.

Second: this isn't meant as a knock on Mongoose, but I also have to wonder to what extent Mongoose Publishing's own perspective isn't skewed by the simple fact that too many years of known problems has left their reputation damaged over time, such that their dedicated fan base has contracted out of a lack of trust. I still believe in Mongoose and will support them on the Traveller books I want, and anything Legend of course (but see below)....but my FLGS won't even stock their games anymore because of the reputation from years past involving editing and printing issues; people just don't but the stuff they sell around here, basically (except Traveller, and even that has diminished). So I sometimes wonder if Mongoose's reputation doesn't make it look just a bit worse off than it might otherwise be.

On Legend...even as I read about their "Cities" plans, for example, I know, from seing Skaar, City of Orcs, that they are probably just looking to retool old minimal-quality D20 era books for Legend. Most of the Legend releases are just reprinted/reformatted Runequest MRQ books so far, too (and not even edited beyond the basics, judging from books like Pirates of Legend that have errors/omissions that go back to the original RQ version still intact for legend). And the Monsters of Legend missing traits gap, for example. I mean, Mongoose might be looking at a core base that is (like me) willing to overlook all of these issues for the good meat of their games. I think a larger body of tabletop gamers are not so willing to accept so many editing and quality control issues these days, and when Mongoose's reputation for more than six years now has been synonymous with "poor editing and high errata" among almost every gamer I know, that's got to have an effect on their sales over time.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Humble THQ Bundle



Usually they're Humble INDIE Bundles, but it turns out the Humble Bundle system can work for big publishers in serious financial trouble, as well. Either way, this is an amazingly good deal, and I wish I didn't own all of these games already. Instead, I point it out to those of you who might not already own all of these games (going for 5.60 as of the time I write this):

Metro 2033 (Best Russian post-apocalyptic shooter/adventure out there)

Titan Quest (an aging but very good hack and slasher that kept the torch burning during the dark years between Diablo II and Diablo III)

Saints Row The Third (you know how much I love this off-beat parody of the GTA Sandbox style games)

Three Company of Heroes Titles (okay I don't own these but I don't play RTS's either)

Red Faction: Armageddon (and it's DLC pack; a decent if unoriginal alien space marine shooter accidentally grafted onto a setting known more for being a "humans on Mars with hammers and highly destructible environments" style of game, thus why it flopped)

Darksiders (a game that many people seem to like but which I was unable to personally get any joy out of)

And a bunch of soundtracks.

Six days left as of 12/6/12....$5.60....hard to beat!


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ingress

Well work has not abated in intensity, and my poor wife is suffering from a severe case of strep this week, so I've gotten zero gaming and zero blogging done, and even cancelled my Wednesday session since I need to make sure she gets back to the medical clinic to see if she's recovering or if they need to deal with some strep-induced cysts. Man I hope I don't get it next....immune system don't fail me now!

But I did stumble across something weird and interesting that I want to try and get into, called Ingress. The wiki about it is pretty concise, and I discovered this by accident reading the morning XKCD:

Ingress: Foursquare With Space Noises.
XKCD


....now all I need is a smart phone!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Flight to the White Wyrm - Part Two


Continuing the Tale...


2.

   “Osamande, are you so sure it is not one of your own?” The man named Eldenar squinted in to the distance, but his vision was not good enough to see the distant cluster of figures on the far horizon. Eldenar, wrapped in white linens and a thick rabbit-hide coat, was one of a handful of foreign men among a large contingent of native mercenaries, men he had hired with the aid of Osamande to carry him northward to the great mountains. He looked for one particular peak, upon the Mount of the White Wyrm.  Osamande alone among the guides of Khulinon claimed knowledge of that dreaded peak.

   Osamande snorted as he squinted in to the distance. “They wear armor of plate metal, and ride their horses like foreigners.” Osamande was a swarthy, dark-skinned Hoagarit with a thick, braided beard and long, snarled mane, coarse like the horse he rode. Laden in padded armor lined with thick curbolli plates, a wicked tulwar belted to his waist and a long recurve bow across his back, Osamande was as typical a horse warrior of the Hoagarit as could be found. “They are definitely foreign,” he said again. “And a woman rides among them. I can tell. She carries herself at the front of their procession. No Hoagarit man would ride beside his woman, let alone follow her. The women ride in the rear.”

   Eldenar, who was awed at the eagle-like sight of his guide, nodded. “You are a good guide, Osamande. What should we do? It is most likely one of my sisters. I can only pray it is not Arvillia. She is a vengeful one. We should make all due haste.”

   Osamande nodded. “We should take to the low river-beds. We should stay low on the horizon. Let us not wear our mounts out, lest they take us when we are tired and worn. If your sister is a witch, as you say, then that would be bad.” He spat a thick, gooey chunk of tobacco upon the tundra. As he scooped more from a pouch, he offered some to Eldenar, who shook his head in disgust.

   “Then lead the way. I pay you well for this service. I expect to arrive safely at the Mountain.” Eldenar turned away from his guide, then, and returned to the procession of warriors. He sought out the small cluster of his own, men from the south who, like himself, sought refuge in the distant north from the matriarchs of their dreaded southern kingdom. He called back to Osamande then: “My sister is ferocious and her witchery is frightening. You do not want to meet her.” He did not wait for Osamande’s reaction.

   Back amongst his own, Eldenar reigned in to their midst and spoke quickly, in his native tongue. “The guide says they are foreigners, and a women rides at their fore. It’s her, I know it is. We have doom at hand.” The other men reacted with a mixture of fear and anger.

   One older man, with a bald pate but the lengthy, graying, braided beard of a philosopher spoke up. “We are many miles ahead of them, and we have native guides and mercenaries, who know the land well. It will be close, but I would not count this fight lost, yet, m’lord. We can yet lose them in this forsaken land and make the Mountain, I am sure of it. The spirits are on our side.”

   Eldenar looked scornfully at his mentor, the elder Quitarnus. “I doubt your wisdom here, my friend, but I suppose all we can do is push on. Mayhap we should offer some sacrifice up to the spirits of this land. The Hoagarit seem to have a strong faith in the demiurges of their land. It couldn’t hurt.”

   Quitarnus nodded. “You would do well to cull all the favor you can. But remember, she is far from her home, far from the seat of her family’s power. She has hired foreigners to serve her. They can’t be as familiar as the native guides we have. We have an edge, I assure you. And if we get to the Mountain first, then all the power of her lineage can’t possibly save her from what we will come to possess. Keep hope!” He pumped his arm in a gesture of strength.

   Eldenar and the other men seemed somewhat heartened at Quitarnus’s speech. It had long been his job as mentor and teacher to Eldenar to raise spirits when needed. Few remembered that the elderly scholar had once, long ago, been a general in the Kasdalani army. His time as a fighter was long past, but here and now, he felt young, once again, in a way he had not felt for decades.

   “We will survive,” he finished. “We will find the Mountain and we will steal its power. And then the Royal daughters and the Dark Queen herself will fear you, m’lord. It will be so. It must be so!” Around him, the men cheered, a sharp cry of victory for the homeland.

   And so they rode on, following their Hoagarit guides in to the deep, frozen riverbeds of the endless tundra.

To Be Continued...?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Flight to the White Wyrm - Part One


I wrote the first two chapters on this some time ago. Maybe putting them on the blog will encourage me to finish it...


Flight to the White Wyrm

1.

   The landscape was a bleak vista of endless scrub plains, stretching far in to the horizon. Distant, bluish mountains shrugged their way up the horizon like lethargic titans. The landscape was not entirely devoid of any character. An occasional riverbed meandered its way across the tundra, frozen now but slight testament to a time when warm weather would thaw the frigid land, bringing back flowing water and possibly even life. An occasional hillock would rise above the featureless plains, from which jutted old, quarry-worked stones marking the remnants of some long-lost ruin, suggesting a time when men could live in this land. That time was too long ago for anyone to remember who or what they were.  

   Draelon Ghorst grimaced, squinting across the barren land atop his gaited Hoagarit stallion. Behind him were a modest company of men, mercenaries all, adorned for war in a harsh winter. The stallion snorted, steam rising in the chill mid-day temperatures. He focused on a thin black line in the distance, what appeared to be no more than a curious blot of moving figures, men on horses, moving quickly toward the distant mountains.

   Draelon was a man of modest height, perhaps no more than five and a half spans high, but what his frame lacked in height he made up for in girth and mass. His arms rippled with lean muscle and sinew beneath fur-padded splint-mail. His wide, chiseled jaw was crisscrossed with long white scars visible beneath his thuck stubble as a beard worked to set its way in. He still held most of his teeth, despite evidence of a split lip and broken nose. No one could confuse this man for anything but a fighter, a warrior born.

    “We have them now,” Draelon muttered. He reached for his wine skin, took a long draw from the nozzle and offered to his nearest companion, a lean woman with raven-black hair drawn back in to a tight braid. Her form was hidden beneath thick smoky grey fur hides decorated with copper plates and raven feathers.  Bright silver and gold circlets were visible along her exposed wrists and neck. She took the wineskin and up-turned it for a quick drink, then returned it.

   “We will catch him soon,” the woman’s voice was quiet, but commanding. Her mannerisms spoke of aristocracy, and contrasted sharply with the vicious line of mercenaries she held company with. Yet no man among them looked upon her with anything less than fear. Something about her very manner evoked a sense of uncertain and lingering dread amongst the mercenaries.

   Draelon remembered the last night they spent in the port city of Khulinon. The story, as it had been told by Draelon’s master-at-arms Khorvish, was that a drunken lout of dubious Kaldinian heritage had affronted the woman. Khorvish, along with a handful of men, were posted as guards by the Lady’s request. They were slow to react when another patron, who had previously been seen sulking in the darkness of a corner stall, rushed the woman and drew a knife on her.

   Khorvish remembered the man vividly, when he recounted the tale to Draelon: “He was a lean, wild-haired sort, with the tattooed marks of a southern Thrall, perhaps a slave soldier of southern Kasdalan. He reeked of fish and goat. I took him for a madman, perhaps some escaped criminal from her lands. He had the same accent as she.”  

   Khorvish continued with his tale. “The man, he had madness in his eyes. He spoke to her. ‘Lady Poe, I have longed for the day I would take my revenge upon you and your kine.’ Spittle ran from the man’s quivering lips as he looked intensely in to her eyes. The woman moved not an inch,” the soldier said, “as we ordered the man back lest he be cut down. He seemed not to hear us, consumed with the inner madness that had been unleashed by Lady Poe’s presence.

   “’You are a good man,’ she said. I could barely hear her. Her lean, fair fingers reached up to stroke the man’s rough and scarred cheeks. Aye, I realized then he had the marks of many a lash upon his form. He gasped, he did, and let slip his hold on the knife at her neck.  ‘You are a loyal man to my family, and to my mother. But you will not harm me. You cannot.’ She meant it. The man seemed to quake in fear, then, and backed away from her in a burst of furious energy.

   “A’fore we could grab him, the madman fled in to the night, a strange, keening wail slowly emerging from his throat as he dashed through darkened, dirty streets, until he was found sometime later, before the pier upon which the Lady’s ship rested, where he had doused himself in lamp oil and set himself a’fire. The men, we watched and waited as he burned. He had stopped making any noise at all. It was eerie, a man dying silently in flame like that. Afterwards, I had the men dump the body. But no one about cared. A nearby old woman, a Hoagarit seer, came out and blessed the body. She said he was ‘Kasii’tin.’ I asked her what that meant. She said, ‘He was touched by the witch’s sight.’ His soul would never rest, she said. I believed her.”

   Since that night, when they set out on this journey in service to the noble princess, Lady Arvillia Poe, Draelon had kept such knowledge carefully in mind when dealing with her. She was Kasdalani, he knew. The women of the Poe family ruled that southern kingdom, and all were said to be necromancers and witches. No men of that distant land ever gained the power of sorcery, and indeed it was said that if a male child showed evidence of magical talent at birth, they were slain on the spot. Such was the way of the southern lands.

   Draelon’s musings were brought back to the present when he observed the thin, distant line of men on horses. A handful of figures seemed to break off from the trail, gathering at a high ridge. “They see us,” he mused.

   Lady Poe nodded. “The game is on.” He noticed that no vapor of chilled breath emerged from her mouth when she spoke. “My brother will now know that I have found him.”

   Her brother, Draelon mused. Ah, yes, it makes much sense now.

   “We had best push hard, then. We want to get to them before they reach the mountains.” If they made it to the mountains, along the Maegar border, then it would be difficult to find them in that rocky maze. Draelon hadn’t fought in this region for more than decade. He didn’t relish a repeat of the old Border Wars, when the Hoagarit warlord Sennegit decided to raid the northlands of Maegar and Syrgia beyond. The warlord still lived, last Draelon had heard, and he was most likely still holed up in those mountains, with thoughts of revenge no doubt in mind. Draelon would rather not have to face old foes as well as new.

   Poe nodded. “He is afraid of me, very afraid. He will push his men hard. If we can time this right, he will tire them out, wear down their faith in him. Then perhaps we can take advantage of that.”

   Draelon nodded. Call the woman a witch, a necromancer, a cruel mistress. She knew tactics. He liked that. It was a good trait to have.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Most Unusual Bustiere EVER

I don't usually post pics here for the hell of it anymore, but this was recently circulated by my wife's online cohorts and frankly it's just...freakishly amazing:



My wife has declined to wear it....

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Secret World's Earnings



MMO Fallout has an interesting bit of news here. Funcom looks poised to sell itself off? The Secret World might reasonably have 50K subscribers, based on reported earnings and cash shop revenues? Interesting stuff. It tempts me to try harder to resub and get some playtime out of the game. My wife played it for several months but as of last month she's not renewing.....I'll have to ask her if its because she's exhausted the content of the game, lost interest in it, or simply can't justify it due to a weak community (she's ultra-social when it comes to MMOs). She's been playing a lot of Rift lately, too....the new expansion smell lured her back; also, I think Rift's got a really healthy community and a pretty decent RP crowd for what she's looking for.

I'd like to try The Secret World again but for the following problems I like to keep complaining about: Funcom ruined my trust a while back with Age of Conan and thus will never be allowed access to my personal credit card info again, but Paypal and Funcom seem to have communications issues, too, as whenever I try to pay that way Funcom seems unable to process the order, and their customer service people can only offer the suggestion that if I wait long enough it might actually process. Yesh... not gonna happen. Paypal has a very precise way it works, and timing is everything; if every other processed order I put through Paypal happens a certain way in a certain amount of time, regardless of whether its a national or international purchase, I expect Funcom to fall within those parameters. Since they don't, it leaves me suspicious that they are doing something different....and different smells funky when it comes to my money.

So yes, this was another thinly disguised Funcom rant, with my ongoing lamentation that I don't understand how two games I should be playing and enjoying a lot, both set in genres or based on fiction I love so much, could be in the hands of a company that has more than earned its euphemistic title of Failcom. Gaaaaaah!

Speaking of Conan, I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea that  Arnold will be reprising his role in a KIng Conan movie. The irony that Arnold himself is older than Conan was in his final tales (from Conan of the Isles) when he sailed off to the west and disappeared is probably, of course, entirely lost on whomever is working on this movie. The good news is that we can continue to treat the Conan film chronology as the funky alternative universe stuff it always has been...

Achievement Unlocked: Level 1!

My kid turned 1 year old on Sunday. He had a big party with relatives on Saturday, and of course got to be a stinker to his heart's content on Sunday. He's running...sprinting!....all over the place, he's inventing his own little language he speaks to his stuffed animals, and he's obsessed with all things electronic, or which have lights or make noises, or pretty much anything that Mom and Dad are holding because obviously those are important! And so he must have them.

Marcus in clothes for an 18 month old that just fit!
Anyway, not much productivity this weekend, otherwise! I can report only that for some reason I've gotten really obsessed with Diablo III and that sort of took me by surprise but I am enjoying it. This prompted me to spend more time with Torchlight II, which is also good, but I dunno....except for the always-online bit, Diablo III appeals to me more than Torchlight II's more cartoony aesthetic. That said, Torchlight II has a lot going for it, with more character customization than just class/gender, and a very open world. Diablo III, on the other hand, has an extremely engaging storyline for a game of this type, and polished game play so smooth and efficient it's eerie.

I started a barbarian warrioress on hardcore (normal mode)...it's not too risky, so far, but definitely adds an element of tension to the game! Do not even attempt to play hadcore until the kid is asleep, lemme tell ya!
I also watched The Expendables (at last) on DVD Saturday night. Ultra Mini Review: it wasn't all that exciting or original (surprise), although the later action scenes, when we got to them, were top notch. The  rest of it was a boiler-plate safe, run of the mill action hero plot line lifted straight from the eighties and nineties action film genre, right on down to some petty South American dictator, a CIA agent gone rogue (substituting for Soviets, I guess) and a mess of tough guy heroes who were in their prime in the eighties and are, if this film is to be believed, still in the thick of it as they all hit their geriatric years. Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis had bit part cameos just to say they were in the film, and I think the only saving grace I found was Statham, who remains my favorite action hero of the current crop. Jet Li had a couple decent moments, too.

More later!

If I had to rate it, I'd give the action scenes an A+ (they really were good), and the res t of the film a D for derivative--but with the caveat that Statham and Stallone both made this movie a lot more fun to watch than it otherwise would have been!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Socializing the Beast



The last few days have been interesting, as on Monday night when I returned home from work I found something called Mumble sitting on my computer, and my wife emphatically bringing me up to speed on the world of audio chat on a microphone. Apparently, much of her guild (which is spread out between Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2) had suddenly migrated to Rift. As I was the lone de facto Rift aficionado in the house, and also a known spouse to "The Wookie" as my wife is known by, it was now being made clear that I was going to socialize with other humans. Or else!

Mumble is a voice chat program, and of all those I've seen in the past (which amounts to Teamspeak and Ventrilo) it seems to be the nicest. I think my wife and her crew pay for their extra deluxe edition or something, not entirely sure. I don't own a mike...well, I didn't, so I picked one up yesterday.

Overall the experience of suddenly interacting on a voice level with humans on the internet was interesting. Nice people in my wife's online social club, so I definitely can see why she enjoys talking with people so much (and ergo spends enormous amounts of time in MMOs while doing so). It wasn't at all like the old Xbox 360 experiences I had back in my Halo 3 days when rampant swarms of 13-year old (either mentally or physically) racist homophobes would run in packs on voice chat, rendering the entire experience a bit akin to a metaphorical slog through a sewer.

The main problem I've noticed is: how the hell does anyone get any gaming done when you're too busy chatting or listening to chat to focus on the game? I guess I am an attention-focused person when I play, but I got zilch done Monday night and the only game Tuesday night I could focus on was Diablo III, part of the Blizzard family of "games that require no attention span whatsoever to play." In fact I was stunned to see I finally got through Act I on Diablo III, and I didn't get groggy once....amazing!

To Tony Harris and any other dumbasses  bitching about cosplay women: I officially revoke your geek cred cards and kick you from the clubhouse to make room for more female cosplayers. So there.

In Diablo III's defense I actually like the game, primarily for the aesthetics and attention to story. It also plays well (unless you're having a lag/connection issue, then it plays like tootin' monkey butts). What it doesn't do is keep me awake: it's almost certain that I will get drowsy while playing the game. No idea why, same thing happens with Dungeon Siege III and both Torchlight I and II. Someting about isometric hack and slashers has an almost metronomic, hypnosis/sleep inducing quality to their play mechanics for me.

So I guess the moral of the story is I'm trying hard to be more social online as my wife has never before been so interested in bringing me into her "secret circle," but I may have to mute the chat if I plan to get anything done in a more attention-demanding game like Rift or Guild Wars 2. Either way, it's an interesting social experiment she's engaging in, taking her husband who considers his time at work and his Wednesday night Pathfinder campaign to be all the socializing he can stomach, and adding this dynamic to my PC quiet-time. Maybe she's trying to stave off the grumbling curmudgeonism that seems to grip all men who are past their prime? Who knows...

The Rude Crude Badass Dude

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Zombies Meet Performance Art

Seriously, very nice. I sometimes wonder how interesting (or miserable) it would be to live in New York, but stuff like this makes me wish I lived in a larger, more cosmopolitan city no matter where in the US it might be:




But the important thing is that clearly New Yorkers can tell the difference between one of their own and the living dead! Decades of comedians have convinced me to think otherwise, but this video does an ample job of disproving such notions.

Thanks to the Post-Apocalyptic Blog for finding this one!