Friday, January 31, 2014

Comparing the BRP family of Games


If you've never played any of these games before and want to figure out where to break in, then I suggest you start with asking yourself what are your most important needs in the game? In terms of layout, art, learning curve, support material and complexity, using a 5 point grade where 1 is abyssal and 5 is perfection, with 3 being the neutral middle ground standard for average, I would rank the various BRP-based game engines as follows:

Game                    Artwork   Layout   Learning Curve   Complexity   Support 
Legend                          4           4               3.5                      3.5               5
Open Quest 2                 1          3                3                        3                  3
Runequest 6                   5          4.5             4                        4                  3
Magic World                  3          3                2                        3                  2
Basic Roleplaying           3.5        3.5             4                        3                  5

The Unique Thing: each of the above systems have something that makes them stand apart. Here's what that thing is:

Legend: Legend is designed to be portable, and to have lots of plug-in modules of historical and fantasy settings. It's already got its own distinct flavor of fantasy going, and also has the World of Xoth in its corral. Even though it and RQ6 are functionally the same base game, Legend's written in a more conservative, matter-of-fact style that makes it more accessible.

Open Quest 2: it's designed to be a sort of cross between an introductory fantasy system and a faithful house-ruled variant of MRQ with some Legend and BRP mixed in (see Wednesday's review). It's got a few supporting books, and the core conceit of its design is Glorantha friendly.

Runequest 6: this is one of those "loveletter" games (I hate that term) but it's also the best damned version of Runequest made to date. It's learning curve and complexity ratings come from my assessment that the book's eloquence of design and presentation is nonetheless quite complex in presentation; it is effectively no more mechanically complex than Legend, but it demands that you spend more time with it, savoring it like a juicy steak, while Legend is that same steak put in convenient hamburger format. It's hard to explain....I find Legend eminently readable and quick to explain, but RQ6 requires extra care to read. Think of Legend as "Cliff's notes" to the full academic text that is RQ6.

Magic World: the fastest pickup and play experience of the lot, and keeps the core magic system focused on a retooled version of Elric's sorcery. For this reason it is the easiest to introduce outsiders to. MW's tight focus on getting the Elric system back in print as a generic setting has the side effect of making it a de facto quick-play version of BRP. I've had great success introducing completely new players to the BRP family of games using MW.

Basic Roleplaying: it's strength is in its multi-genre approach and its toolkit design. You can't go wrong here, but the other systems on hand are all the best choices for sword & sorcery fantasy gaming. However, if you want to do planetary romance or something really exotic, BRP is your system of choice.

Crossing Games

These games each have a lineage. BRP may be the grand-daddy of the lot, but here's how the actual relationship breaks down:

Legend and Runequest 6: No surprise here as both games were designed by Lawrence Whittaker, and both come from Mongoose's RQII. While terminology and some ideas changed from Legend to RQ6, the core conceit of each game is precisely the same, and so the supplements are compatible to a 99% degree of cross-play effectiveness. Ultimately you could buy both and use them all together with minimal fuss. In fact, that's probably the best way to go about doing it until Loz and co. finally release some more supplements for RQ6; until then, Samurai of Legend, Blood Magic, Spider God's Bride and the "Cities" books are on the Legend side of the fence, but deserve to be on the RQ6 side as well.

Open Quest 2 and MRQ: While the first edition of Runequest published by Mongoose (MRQ) is no longer around, much of it's DNA exists in OQ2. This means OQ2 has a reasonable degree of cross-compatibility with Legend and RQ6 (call it 80%) but since it also borrows from BRP, it sort of runs both ways. OQ2 stands out for this reason as being the edition I most closely associate with a "homebrew version" more than anything; an example of how anyone can mash these different games together to make their own stew, so to speak.

Magic world and BRP: Magic World is BRP, just retooled and in a few spots simplified to create a focused fantasy game with a very low bar of entry. It is BRP, just eyes on the ball.

My Personal Choice: If I could choose only one, I think I'd give RQ6 and Legend some weapons and let them fight it out, then go with the victor. For me, it depends on which of these two get the most support over the next year or two. On the surface it looks like Mongoose is winning that side, but each supplement Design Mechanism releases for RQ6 so far has been a power house of cool and new stuff (especially Monster Island), which beats out Legend's retooled reprints. Still, it helps that the core mechanics of these two games are essentially identical, so one could ostensibly pick either and use material from the other game with minimal fuss. It would not be hard to use RQ6 with Pirates of Legend, for example...or port over the Monsters of Legend II beasties as well. Conversely, Legend is OGL and if I wanted to publish content that was fully OGL compatible that's dirt simple to do....so...yeah...

But you know, if I have a group that just wants to have a fun game for the night, and doesn't want to worry too much about their cultural identity and special place in the universe, I think I'd have to grab Magic World or Legend for the job. RQ6 is serious business; it requires time and dedication to savor. You could pull off fast and dirty with MW or Legend easily enough. OQ2 could do this as well, but as I've indicated before, its art is hard for me to get around, when I have other equally good better looking games lying around. And BRP will as always remain my preferred system for modelling modern day zombie apocalypses.


Index by Site: 

Open Quest 2
Cost of Entry: $15.00 PDF, $31.64 print plus PDF

Magic World
Cost of Entry: $21.42 PDF, $38.95 print

Basic Roleplaying
Cost of Entry: $11.95 quickstart edition $0 for the free PDF of the quickstart edition; $44.95 for the big gold book, PDF is $21.97

Runequest 6
Cost of Entry: $60.00 in print plus free PDF; PDF only for $25.00

Legend
Cost of Entry: The core rules in PDF for $1.00; Print copy $19.95. However, you'll also want Monsters of Legend ($11.99 PDF and $19.95 print) and probably Arms of Legend ($11.95 PDF and $19.95 print) so the total PDF entry cost is $24.90 and print cost is $59.85.

By price alone Open Quest 2 wins, but if you look at the list in terms of sheer volume of content for price then it's a toss up between Runequest 6 and Basic Roleplaying, with RQ6 winning because you can get the PDF and core print edition for $60.00, a better overall deal than buying both the print and PDF versions of BRP from Chaosium.



Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Microsoft acquires All the Gears of War

Story on Forbes here. Looks like Microsoft has secured Gears of War in its entirety as an exclusive IP now and forever, a smart move since GoW and Halo together are 99% of the reason many people (like myself) ever bothered with an Xbox 360. I can safely say that my Xbox One purchase will be tied to whichever of the next releases come out in these franchises....unless the next gen iterations of GoW are awful, which while theoretically possible (let's not forget the lesson of the Tomb Raider franchise over the last two decades) seems somehow unlikely to me.

I've quite enjoyed (well, sometimes) catching up on the Resistance and Killzone franchises on the PS3 and PS4 (Killzone Shadow Fall is a great game) but I'll be honest....the over-the-top space marine vs. aliens antics of Halo and "lost colony gears vs. monsters from the earth's core" themes of GoW have been a lot of fun for me over the years.


Open Quest 2 vs. Runequest 6, Legend and Magic World


I have a physical copy of Open Quest 2 from D101 Games now, so it's time to crack it open and see what's different about OQ2 from it's sister games...namely Legend, Magic World and Runequest 6. Of the three OQ2 has features and rules which extrapolate from all of its sister systems, but the core conceit is a variant of the Legend and MRQ OGL with occasional BRP loans. There are a few things in OQ2 which are distinct, including some GM friendly content to aid in generating scenarios that would be of use in any BRP-derived game system. Anyway....the comparisons! I'm going to look at OQ2 in terms of how it's different, since to be honest, the choice of this edition over one of the other BRP variants is going to boil down to the nitty gritty.

First off....a bit about the art. Some people don't like the older recycled art in Magic World. Many people absolutely love the art in Runequest 6, which is stark but clean and evocative of the old-world "adventures in antiquity" feel. Legend's art is all over the place, but tends to rest on the good side, with occasional forays into the nebulous realm of cheesecake art. OQ2 has a fantastic cover by Jon Hodgson. The interior is illustrated by Simon Bray, who has excellent coloring techniques but problems with anatomy and perspective. You may like the mix, and I think the excellent coloring makes the art work better than it would in black in white (hard to say), but every time I see another flat pair of saggy, oddly-drawn monster boobs or a muscled warrior with....weird anatomy....stuff that looks worse than the doodles I was drawing when I was 14....it's disconcerting. But I'm not going to be too hard on it, because for some reason my two-year-old son loves pouring through this book and naming all the monsters before smacking them down (he hits the page with his hand); the art works for him, apparently, which makes me think that my ten year old self of yesteryear might have had no issues with it, either. My nearly 43 year-old self however far prefers the RQ6, Legend and MW look in that order. I have unfortunately been conditioned by Paizo to expect art I can show my players with pride; I would be embarrassed to show them the art in this book.

Character Generation

The core skill mechanic, along with the resistance/resilience mechanic from Legend are intact here, with some simplifications. You now have just three core combat skills, for example: there is only one close combat and one ranged skill, rather than an array of attack/parry skills in RQ2, or the more abstract and culturally specific list of possible combat skills in RQ6. This system has the advantage of simplicity, at the expense of a quicker leveling process to high skill levels over time.

Attributes are distributed by a point buy process in OQ2, and interestingly it keeps a separate process for random character generation in a different section. A notion of "concepts" is introduced with ten such concepts on hand (archetypes or classes, if you will) that fill the roles seen in other sister games for culture and professions. OQ2 does not use cultures or professions, interestingly.

The OQ2 system eschews hit locations and especially veers away from the "HP by location" methodology of Runequest and Legend. Instead it adopts the BRP/MW method of a core hit point total and a major wound threshold (provided as optional).

OQ2 introduces Legend's hero points, which is a fairly common mechanic in most games these days. It does not port over Legend's Heroic Abilities, however.

Skills

The core skill system functions very much like Legend does, but there are a few interesting differences. The strongest difference is how high level skills work: when you've got 100% or more in a skill, and enter a skill contest, the only chance your opponent has of overcoming you is with a critical success. This is a simpler but less mathematically elegant system than the way Legend and RQ6 handle it, but the advantage of a quick and dirty process that works well enough, I suppose. The problem with this is that skill advancement is potentially a bit easier in OQ2, so it is likely characters will reach high skill levels faster in this system than in Legend or RQ6, which means having a more meaningful resolution system for high level skills would probably be a better idea...or so I would think. As ever, if you tend to run quests that last only 5-10 sessions this is a non issue. Since I tend to run year-long 52 session campaigns, it would be a bigger issue long term for me.

Sitting in the skill section is a section on relationships which is a short mechanic for providing rules on character relations with friendly NPCs. Following this is a wealth system (also optional) which provides for a wealth skill mechanic for generating income in down times. Interesting optional features that are distinct to OQ2 in function.

Equipment

Although there's a slight bit of streamlining, the equipment rules follow the core conceits of the Legend approach to gear. Armor is a bit simpler since you don't have to buy it piecemeal, as OQ2 does not have hit locations.

Combat

There's an emphasis on how deadly combat can be, and how its not at all unexpected to break and run from a fight if needed. Combat is a streamlined version of MRQ (Mongoose's first edition of RQ) with some BRP modifications thrown in. Here are the big differences:

Combat Actions: OQ2 uses the action economy of Legend, but removes the variables; you no longer get more combat actions for high stats; everyone gets one combat action and one defensive reaction, plus a chance to move your movement rate. So it's Legend, but with a locked number of actions.

Maneuvers: The maneuver mechanic looks closer to MRQ, with a series of options such as charging, disarming and great attacks and associated modifiers. The attack vs. defense rolls work on a chart that is a simplified version of the same from BRP, rather than the maneuver-granting mechanic of Legend and RQ6. YMMV here, as anyone who has gotten used to the Legend and RQ6 maneuver system may find it hard to go back to the dull and ordinary old methodology. On the other hand, this is definitely a simpler approach to BRP-styled combat, so there are fewer variables to worry about for those who prefer to get combat out of the way as quickly as possible.

Overall this is a nice redux of the BRP and MRQ combat systems, with less Legend/RQ6 DNA in it. If you're used to another BRP game's style this one may seem a bit stripped down, but if you just want something quick and dirty it will work well. Restricting the action economy will help GMs who dislike tracking multiple phases for high combat action PC and NPCs in other games like Legend.

Worth noting: I think the strike rank system, as presented in the classic RQ2 and RQ3 along with the optional rules for such in BRP, is more or less dead now in terms of modern BRP iterations. No one seems to want the old strike rank system around anymore.

Quests

This section basically explains how you play a quest....the whole point of the game, essentially. It's old hat for the vets but if one of those vets bought this and gave it to a fresh new player it could prove helpful to them, I suppose. Improvement points as an experience mechanic are addressed here, and this is one of the spots that's changed a bit for the easier: you simply spend a point to gain a 5% increase in a skill,  removing the "improvement roll" and its variants in the other BRP editions. This does mean that as GM in OQ2, if you are too generous then characters could rapidly outstrip the environment you have created in terms of ability...but the expectation of OQ2 is that everyone gets 1 improvement point per session, plus 1 extra point to the person who "pushed the plot the furthest" and 2 points to the person who made everyone have the most fun. I've seen breakdowns like this in other editions....and tend to think it creates a rather weird playing environment where the players become subject to what the GM thinks of their performance, something which could have unhealthy repercussions for how players act in the game. Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer the classic BRP methodology of "if you used it, you get an improvement roll" approach, which directly rewards the player for in-game actions, and encourages them to be engaged without also making them feel like they have to perform for the GM. This isn't a problem exclusive to OQ2; it's problematic for other games, as well. Note that this is all from the perspective of a GM: I want players feeling like they can participate and get rewarded even if they're wallflowers, and I don't want a style of approach that favors only the vocal special snowflakes.

Toward the end of this section is all the variable environmental damage rules along with some cool and simple rules for handling mental damage (i.e. from madness or terror). It's a simple but effective mechanic. Following this are about ten pages of charts and rules for setting up your realm quests, figuring out who is what, planar (otherworld) realms and even handling warfare in the course of the quest. Interesting stuff, and regardless of what BRP system you use this could be poached for setting up quests in Legend or other editions.

Magic

OQ2 has three magic systems: battle magic, sorcery and divine magic. This should come as no surprise to anyone; it's sort of a requisite that a BRP-powered game divide magic up in this fashion. Even Magic World, which started with just one system (the Stormbringer/Elric-derived sorcery system) has a sequel in the works with more magic systems. There's no escaping it.

Battle Magic (once known as spirit magic) is the core "anyone can learn this" magic system. It's got variants in most other BRP editions, so the differences are the interesting parts. For example, you have the magnitude of spells, which you can learn by spending improvement points to gain higher magnitude magic. I actually kind of like this approach, and it means players have more stuff to spend improvement points on, which will slow down skill progression a bit for longer campaigns.

The spell list for battle magic is also pretty extensive; there are more spells here for battle magic than is seen in Legend's core, RQ6 or BRP's system. Magic World does not have battle magic (yet).

Following battle magic is a bit on the ever-present but always underrepresented shamans and their spirit magic, followed by hero cults and a quick dive into divine magic. Cults are discussed, along with holy warriors (rune priests) and a nice selection of generic deities to choose from and customize as needed. Interestingly, POW costs common to other BRP systems to gain divine magic are here replaced by spending improvement points, instead.

Up next is sorcery. Sorcery has a single casting skill in OQ2, and a simplified approach to magnitude/duration/range effects (and the rest of Legend and RQ6's options are gone). The sorcery spells here appear to draw from a wider range than just the standard RQ spells, such as "Create Godform." I don't recall seeing that one before (though I could be wrong).

All in all the magic systems as presented here seem to work, and the differences are negligible. You'll probably find this to be the least controversial of OQ2's distinct rules variances from other BRP editions.

Creatures

There's around 60 monsters presented in this section. Aside from the specifics of the OQ2 system (i.e. no hit locations) the stat blocks are all straight-forward and you get a decent range of monsters to choose from, including a few demons that are distinct to OQ2. About the only negative I can say here is that there's no "chaos mutations" list which feels like a weird oversight for a game faithfully aimed at acting as a fan-modified Runequest. Oh, and there are ducks here, which is just plain cool. Ducks are sort of a Runequest "thing" and I still think it's a same that RQ6 felt like it had to hide them (and Legend had to redact them just in case for licensing reasons I guess). Also...there are illustrations for most of the monsters, but only a few are not cringe-worthy in terms of the amateur look of the art. Even if you're drawing saggy dessicated harpy boobs, if you don't know how to draw boobs, even if they are saggy and dessicated....just....don't. Please!

Plunder

Every edition of BRP/RQ/Legend ever needs more on plunder. It's what adventurers want, and GMs need to hand out. There are seven pages on plunder here, including some conventional magic items. Worth stealing from for your preferred edition.

The Empire of Gatan

The book concludes with a short introction to OQ2's default setting followed by an introductory adventure. It's a brief but interesting introduction to what I presume is Newt Newport's home setting, and would serve as a decent springboard for someone who needs a default locale for his or her OQ2 adventures. The module is a decent introductory quest that a GM could have running with nominal preparation.

Conclusion

The goals of OQ2 is to streamline a number of features and make the game's core focus on a basic adventure engine that avoids any needless clutter whenever possible. The problem of course is that one man's needless clutter is another man's sacred cow of gaming. OQ2 does a good job at what it sets out to accomplish, but it doesn't really do anything that's simpler than Magic World, for example; MW succeeds in providing a very quick introduction to a system that remains true to the BRP core rules, while OQ2 feels a bit like an OGL rendition of someone's house rules. Choosing OQ2 for your default D100-powered game engine is going to work best if you want a version that avoids the Legend HP/location mechanic, and avoid the more complex combat skill systems, and especially the impressive and hard to forget maneuver system which Loz and co. introduced to RQII (now Legend) and RQ6. Put another way: if you like the things OQ2 does differently, it's going to work for you. But if you like the way the other BRP games handle these features, OQ2 is going to disappoint. I think the best and quickest introduction to BRP still rests with Magic World right now (keeping it limited to one magic system and an easy skill system is a huge plus), but OQ2 is probably quicker to pick up than Legend, and is definitely more accessible than RQ6.

So...my chart on the BRP family of games so far:

If you want a quick to pick up and play game that is still robust then get Magic World.

If you want a customized MRQ/Legend/BRP variant that aims for simpler combat get OQ2.

If you want a gorgeous, extensive treatment on simulationist gaming with a strong classic vibe mixed with explorations into new angles on pulp adventure, all with the best art of the lot then get Runequest 6.

If you want a great and smooth system with a cool combat system and a very portable design with lots of different plug-in modules for historical and fantasy gaming then get Legend.

If you love Glorantha and want to use it as a setting then grab RQ6 or OQ2 as your best bets.

If you don't want to play fantasy then get the gold cover BRP book.

If you want the prettiest game get Runequest 6. if you want the ugliest game then get OQ2. if you want the one with the most nostalgic art then get Magic World. If you don't mind cheescake now and then, Legend is a good bet.

Next: a more precise breakdown of the D100 games.
Nabbed from Akratic Wizardry!
Alas if OQ2 was full of art like this it would have won, hands down, in the looks dept.















Tuesday, January 28, 2014

FPS Warriors Bundle and some free Steam Keys

The FPS Warriors Bundle 2 over at Bundle Stars is going on and there are 8 decent FPS games (well, some of them) for $3.98. Hard to resist....but problem is I have a few already.

So! If you do not happen to have any of these, please help yourself:

Hard Reset Extended Edition | Steam Key: TPJE2-7XPI2-XVBFD 
   A traditional shooter involving cyberpunks vs. a robot revolution. Good graphics and gameplay but light plot. 

Zeno Clash | Steam Key: NXJN3-30ZYE-AD9CJ 
   Crazy FPS melee-combat based weird fantasy adventure, worth the experience if you've never tried it before. 

Chaser | Steam Key: 5BBEG-ZXBRJ-I4MQF
   An "older school" FPS with a tough learning curve but interesting story, if you can survive the difficulty. Runs well on lower end machines (I played it long ago on my old Acer Netbook)

Would love to hear who succeeds in nabbing these in the comment section! Or do what I did and just buy all these keys for less than a latte and distribute the extra codes to worthy souls...



Savage Worlds Deluxe


This is a very nice definitive edition of the Savage Worlds system. I'll be writing more about Savage Worlds soon....I think it's won out as my "go to" game for multigenre gaming for 2014. I acquired the Horror Companion along with the Deluxe hard cover edition of the rules, Weird War II, Nemezis, and of course I have Realms of Cthulhu. The Fantasy Companion and Supers Companion are on the way. I downloaded the Science Fiction Companion from rpgnow since it's not out in print...yet.

These new Companion tomes to the new(ish) Deluxe edition are excellent full-feature toolkit books. Savage Worlds seems to rest perfectly on that line between "ease of access" and "robust detail" that I like. I've run earlier versions of it in the past, and enjoyed the campaigns I did get to run quite a bit: one was a Space Marines adventure that demonstrated that Savage Worlds was a natural fit for space opera. The other was a weird sort of "A-Team goes to the Lost Island" theme with a mix of zombies and dinosaurs...it was a brief campaign but crazy fun.

My motivation to get back to Savage Worlds is simple: I was tired of noticing that every time I saw a really interesting new campaign setting for an RPG it was invariably for Savage Worlds. GURPS, much as I love it, is all but dead except for some "fan maintenance" PDFs and a semi-annual single print release. I don't know what's going on with Hero System and it was always a hard sell anyway. Savage Worlds, however, pumps out an endless array of gorgeous, genuinely exciting settings with a lot of adventure and imagination baked in, and a majority are available in print. Hard to resist....I'll do some reviews of these SW books soon so you can get an idea of what you may be missing if you're not up to speed on Pinnacle's multi-genre system.


Monday, January 27, 2014

13th Age After Action Report III - an extended conversation with a mind flayer, a sprite, a god and a drow prisoner


Saturday night's session of 13th Age was a pleasant change: we had a few cancellations, which might have been valiant sacrifices for those realizing the group was bloated (last session had nine players in attendance, about one over my comfort zone for Pathfinder and 3 more than my comfort zone for a new game would permit). With six players at the table the group was now ideal, and the plot moved smoothly and with great pace once more.

Not, however, to suggest that it went quickly. The players, realizing I think that they were playing a game where progression was divorced from violence, proceeded to role play, explore and discuss everything on a level unparalleled. There were only two incidents of violence, the first being when they worked up a ritual to create a "thumper" next to a stack of all the orc bodies they had slain last session near the feeding ground of a purple worm they needed to distract; some poor horsemanship rolls (Dex plus relevant skill plus level) led to the ranger almost being devoured, but a lucky 20 spurred his horse to make a grand escape at the last moment. Much later the group, now in partial command of an airship, stumbled upon a drow rogue trying to sabotage it; quick action and they bagged him in short order.

I had twenty pages of plot notes and encounter stats lined out; we're getting there, I'm sure, but the group is deviously and in Very Old School Fashion coming up with multitudinous ways around actually engaging in battle. They're planning to hose the next batch of enemies down with a greek fire pump they found in the airship. It's very interesting.

The background skills continue to be interesting, but the unique descriptors, while making it hard for me as GM to call out a universal skill to tell everyone "anyone with this skill...." instead prompts me to ask questions like, "anyone here who studied in a cult or a mage's guild...?" instead. And the info I can provide is quickly customized for the receiever...the priest of Karn, god of ancestral dead gets a very different answer than the priest of Set does.

So, the Plot so far: The adventuring groups, having reunited in their quest to find the vile expatriate drow lord Alabask Phenar traveled to the White Station, an ancient relic on which working airships can be found; his ogre buddy from two sessions ago said he was heading there. Only problem: the station is guarded by a monstrous purple worm. Solution: the priest of set concocts a ritual to create a "thumper" to create tremors the worm can sense, and places it next to a stack of dead orcs. They make a quick dash on horseback over the dunes leading to the White Station while the thumper does it's trick; ranger and horse almost get eaten, but everyone makes it to the steps of the station safely in the end.

The station is maintained by four squid-dogs and a white and gold clad "woman" that they soon figure out is something more (a mind flayer). But she's friendly, and speaks of her encounter three days prior with the ashtarth (drow) noble, who proselytized to her and convinced her to join his cult to some mysterious goddess of transition and corruption called Siny'Math. No one's ever heard of this goddess before. They talk with the mind flayer for a long time before offering knowledge and spices in exchange for the use of an airship.

The airship is controlled by a "sprite" called Azema, a small faeries spirit bound into a machine that is programmed to take them to certain locations. A small "key" lets them activate her. Leave the ship with the key and she will return to the White Station 24 hours later unless they get back first. Much interrogation of the sprite ensues; gaining ownership of the vessel apparently requires the Writ of Ownership....and she says the captain keeps it close.

Most of the ship is stripped clean, but heavy iron barrels rest in the cargo hold (along with iron balls) and the captain's chamber is boarded up. The gnome rogue and the ranger elf get curious and break in, nearly being shot by an enchanted blunderbuss trap in the process. In this era guns haven't been (re)invented yet so this is a new magic item to them; they find a skeleton in women's clothes on the bed, scrolls, books, a suicide note indicating the woman was the captain's mistress, angry that he left for the old Imperial Capitol to visit his wife. The clerics and sorcerer work to come up with a preservation ritual to keep the scrolls and books from falling to dust in their hands; everything has been baking undisturbed in the cabin for two thousand years.

Amidst their ritual the silly paladin of the Great Golden Mother Wyrm in the north beseeches her in her dreams to help him with the fine wardrobe...he'd gotten icon dice of 5, 6 and 6 for his friendly relationship....she reaches out to him speaking in draconic, and spells of preservation save the wardrobe. However, the mother wyrm demands he at last learn draconic if he is to continue to serve her! A book falls from a shelf...it just happens to be "Aulde Draconic for Idiotes." Her final dreamy command in his mind: read it, learn it. Two weeks. Or Else.

The preserved scrolls reveal some collectible gems, three ritual spells to invisibly cloak the ship and more, but no deed to the vessel. The group meanwhile has reached their destination: The Tower of Oblivion. Here, it seems, the dark elf Alabask has gone to the tower of the last living god of the ancient floating city of the gods, destroyed and abandoned in the final hours of the War of the Gods two thousand years prior. After a lot of debate about how to approach, as well as what to do about a brief sighting of the dark elven airship that cloaked in front of them....they enter. The living god Aurumurvox manifested out of dust, a caretaker god who freely offers knowledge to those who seek it, but who radiates such power that all but the dense paladin are trembling at the realization that the true mass of the god exists in entire other dimensions; the human form before them is like a sock puppet to this other dimensional entity. Beyond him is the murky brown and yellow light of the Orb of Oblivion.

Long story short, they talk with him for a very long time. They determine that he despises the goddess Siny'Math, saying she was a goddess of order and change who became corrupted by daliances with Chaos, seduced by the mad god Slithotep, and that she was one of the key betrayer gods who allowed the Abyssal Rift to open in the Old Empire, engulfing the capitol and allowing an endless hoard of demons to pour forth, sieging the city of Corti'Zahn for a year and a day before they were cast out of the mortal plane. He explains the Alabask wants to revive her, having found her dead remains and lingering vestige....he has learned from touching the Orb of Oblivion, an action any mortal may take, that ancient artifacts called the Flasks of the Nephilim from an ancient war between giants and seraphs are potent alchemical elixirs of change, and that any three of the six original elixirs could combine in a ritual to give Siny'Math a new form into which her vestige could be restored to life.

Aurumurvox wants this stopped, but he is forbidden to act directly in the mortal plane. The adventurers conspire to see how he can help. They show him the "key" they plug into the glassy table where the sprite manifests in the ship, and he says he can impart knowledge to the key which will convey to the sprite and "waker her up," freeing her from servitude. The paladin also asks if Aurmurvox can teach him to read draconic....so the god touches him and imparts into him the ability to read. period. The paladin hasn't figured out what this means, yet. Gotta look at a book first!

Amidst all this, the gnome rogue walks over and touches the orb. In what passes as a monent of shock as he is cast across the room the gnome experiences the lifetimes of all prior incarnations in life, back to a time when the gnomes were simple evolutionary boggan-like beings in a murky swamp. And beyond. The gnome's mind is too simple to accomodate or comprehend all he sees; this saves him, for it is known that those who have the fortitude to absorb the knowledge of the orb and understand it, usually perish, or lose all hope, or become truly mad. The gnome....keeps remembering his life as a boggan tadpole.

The group reconvenes on the ship in time to discover a dark elf spy trying to sabotage the sprite. They get the jump on him by blind luck and are able to subdue him. He is later interrogated with drugs and fear magic by the priest of Set and when the drow realizes how much he has spilled on his allies he suddenly knows he has no choice but to help this crew....for if his old mates find out how much he talked they will kill him for sure.

The group now knows from talking to Aurumurvox that the six Flasks of the Nephilim, each one embodying an elemental force that forges the elemental giants, are kept in one of the six sacred towers of the Gods of War. They now go to the temple-towers of the gods of war, including Hargameth, Vishannu, Hanahook and Morrigante as well as two others who are truly dead, both physically and in spirit. There is a station/hub six hundred feet up in the maze of floating towers that is the necropolis of Corti'Zahn....they have to approach from there, for Aurumurvox explained that each of the towers have defenses against aerial approaches.

Before they go to the Towers of the War Gods the priest of Karn convinces them to let her go there first to commune with her god. They find a solemn temple, with moving murals of shrouded dead figures carrying coffins to a very real hole in the back of the temple, which the priestess assures them is a very real planar gate to the Realm of the Dead. A well in the center of the temple with rivets for bloodletting is where she goes; a quick ritual sacrifice and she is grabbed by possessing spirits and suspended in the air....the spirit will speak through her, answering three questions.

The group mulls over their questions...how to remove the flasks? They can be taken far away, or given to the icons of power that look with interest upon their actions for safekeeping, or they can find the sacred World Forge and drop them in. Always a fun trip, that. What do the flasks do? They can imbue elemental might in giants and humanoids, changing them forever...or they can fail the test and become one with the elemental planes. Rituals can make them do so much more. They are primal, ancient power from a time before humans existed. And finally, they ask the spirit to get a message to Karn: her priestess needs his help. But the spirit says it can only relay the message; Karn has slept deep in the farthest reaches of the Land of the Dead for centuries, his interests in mortals long since having waned. But he will try.

The group gets back to the airship, and tries one of the invisibility spell rituals before leaving...it's an old spell and doesn't work right; the entire ship and crew cannot see themselves or the ship, and much air sickness and fear of heights ensue again. The spell has a safe word (the paladin suggested "papaya") and they use it...ship visible again.

They move on to discover the hub where they can dock and proceed to investigate the six Towers of the War Gods, and look for signs of dark elves...the fifth tower is missing, and the sixth tower, of a dead god, shows drow combing the area. Their prisoner drow says there were more than one hundred drow, scorpion men, a drider and a couple other odd mercenaries; they all decided to split up into groups to attack each tower in turn. There is evidence of mixed success visible at each tower.

The group found one tower missing: the fifth tower, of another dead god, had plunged to the earth when its magics failed long ago, leaving a craterous mess; they see scorpion men commanded by drow hammering at a vault-like obelisk amidst the ruins far below. The group figures out an ancient greek fire cannon is nozzled in the front of the ship....they fire it up, and prepare to go to war...

So next session's probably going to have a bit of battle, by the looks of it...

I'm starting to really like 13th Age. A lot. As GM it's got that same thing that 4E had in terms of ease of use, but it's missing all the mechanized parts that killed creativity (or turned it into an afterthought, anyway). And it's very easy to make quick judgement calls on unexpected situations. We're using the incremental increase system now (the one player who really wanted a ten games, ten levels approach is moving away so is no longer in this group) and everyone likes it. Experience no longer being tethered to killing things has liberated the players to experiment with solutions that do not involve violence.

Once the ongoing plot is resolved and my group migrates on to new adventures I'll publish this scenario on the blog. For a game built by the two guys behind 3E and 4E respectively, 13th Age plays a lot more old school than I expected...and is dramatically encouraging my players to be very creative in finding unusual solutions to tough problems.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Friday, January 24, 2014

Alternity


Anyone remember Alternity? I ran a few campaigns with the Alternity rules back in the late nineties; I recall it was a very solid system, with a few rules that were a bit complex for the time (calculating skills in particular caused much frustration for my players, as I recall).

Among my many acquisitions recently I snagged a new condition copy of the Alternity Player's Handbook, Gamemaster's Guide and Stardrive setting for $8.00 each. That was actually better than the typical price for these on Ebay so it was a real steal.

Alternity didn't really get the respect it deserved back in the day; it lasted about two-three years as I recall with a decent run of sourcebooks (including an Alternity-powered Gamma World and the Dark Matter setting), but when D20 arrived on the scene Alternity was laid to rest and some of its content was later regurgitated as material for D20 Modern.

I have to say, if WotC really wanted all my money this is one game system they could post on dndclassics.com in PDF format.

If any system could pull off Mass Effect in paper and pencil, I'd put my money on Alternity. Hmmm...

Alternity has one interesting tie to the OSR, after a fashion...at least what I might call the "second generation" of the OSR, alias AD&D 2nd edition: in the back of the Alternity Gamemaster's Guide in the appendix is a full discussion on converting AD&D 2E characters to Alternity, as a way of uplifting medieval adventurers into the universe at large. Alternity was one of the last such games to do this, I believe, something that was a more common practice in games prior to the 2000's and the arrival of the omnivorous world-devouring D20 SRD and OGL.

The Mechalus

The Fraal...experimenting on humans since 1947!


The Alternity sourebook on alternate worlds and realities
Really more of a "Gamma Seattle" sourebook than a full GW game

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Review: Underground Adventures for GURPS

Underground Adventures is one of the many short PDF sourcebooks released for GURPS 4th Edition since Steve Jackson Games moved to an almost exclsuively PDF model for supporting the game through their e23 site. The supplement is 37 pages, prints out easily for those (like myself) who prefer to read game books in print over PDF, and is written by William Stoddard,  a noted GURPS author who has contributed to many other fine GURPS tomes.

A lot of gamers know of GURPS as the game that you can buy and read the sourcebooks for with the intent of borrowing them for use with other games. Since 4th Edition GURPS came out this has been ever so slightly skewed; few of the 3rd edition books got a proper 4E reprint (for reasons too laborious to bother discussing here) and many of the 4E books now released skew a bit heavy on the mechanical design side, a side-effect of the way 4E repackaged itself, I suppose.

Underground Adventures is a GURPS tome focusing on exploring the subterranean realms of Earth, or places much like it. As with most GURPS supplements the appeal is in the focus on real world myth, history, esoteric lore and how one can derive ideas from it to enhance your own games or create something with a firm root in real-world origins. In this case the subject is on a historic and mythic perspective on the underworld, how it came to be, what it is comprised of, and how that knowledge changed over time until our scientific understanding eventually took over. From there it's all about the tools and means of exploring the depths of the earth.

One thing this book is not is a proper an detailed manual on spelunking. I'm no professional spelunker, but I've known a few and I think they would have been disappointed that a book professing to be about underground adventuring did not also include some meaty details on cave systems and how to navigate them. For GURPS, a system known for its tendency to expound at great length on technical bits like this, it seems like a weird oversight.

Contents:

The book is broken into five chapters. Chapter one discusses the old world myth and history of the underground, from the stories of Tiamat and Ymir (along with amusing and useless stats on the world giant) to the views of natural philosophy and at last the modern geological understanding of the earth. This is all fit into about six pages, so geologists and mythographers alike may be a bit disappointed at this broad overview, but for casual gamers looking for ideas there are a few to be had.

Chapter two is "Tight Places" and discusses the mechanics of navigating through the underground. Most of this is just factual discussion of the process, and the rules bits while useful to GURPS players are easily ignored or extrapolated by gamers using other systems. There are about five pages in total; this is where I might have expected a bit more depth on the art of spelunking, but for most non-spelunkers the content will be more than sufficient.

In chapter three we look at explorers of the underground, including five templates and a bunch of advantages, disadvantages and other notes relevant specifcially to GURPS. Templates include the caver, cthonomoancer, geologist, lurker and miner. There are about eight pages on character options, and this is all pretty specific to GURPS so will be of limited use to gamers using other systems.

Following you will find four more pages on equipment, which is more broadly useful, and a bit of discussion on the specific gear and items which would benefit the modern or archaic traveler in the underground. Most of the entries refer to High Tech or Low Tech, two other GURPS supplements, so the best material is on the new scientific equipment discussed, including seismic instruments, drills and samples, methods of detecting exterior fields and deep imaging systems. Some bits on dowsing rods followed by vehicles (the nuclear subterrene, tunnel-boring machine and segmentary burrowing vehicle) top it off.

Chapter four has four pages on dwellers in the darkness, including the speleid (cave nymphs), living fossils such as gryphons and zwerg (cave neanderthals), scuttlers (cave centipedes), nightfolk (sort of like derro but not referenced as such) and crystalloid extremophiles. A smattering of monstrous ideas, hinting at many not addressed.

Chapter five concludes with three pages on adventures underground, touching on caves, hidden underground sites, excavations, and a few brief campaign seeds. After this we get an appendix with recommended reading that is probably the most useful portion of the book for those who were looking for more meat on the subject. Following that is an index, because SJGames books are always properly indexed, a rarity in this industry.

Summary:

Overall it was a brief and fun read, with a few cool ideas, but I suppose this would have to have been a much larger book to accomplish the depth I would have liked. For $7.99 I am not sure I can really suggest it to any but those who specifically would like some supplemental material for their GURPS games, which is a shame because the core conceit of this book has so much potential for further exploration.

C+ (for non GURPS players); B (for GURPS players)

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sine Nomine - Happy Birthday to Me

My birthday's not actually until February 2nd, but I decided to put the order in anyway. In a fit of glorious excess I have ordered the majority of Sine Nomine books in print, including Spears of the Dawn, Stars Without Number (a second copy), Other Dust, Red Tide, Polychrome, Darkness Visible and Relics Lost. If I didn't order more it was simply because I overlooked something. Actually there appear to be three other print books I overlooked, will have to add them next time.

Honestly, if I had to point to three "major movers and shakers" in the OSR community who are identified by their quality, consistency and universal appeal, it would be Goblinoid Games, Frog God, and of course Sine Nomine. Sine Nomine especially since the whole ethos is that the core conceit of old school gaming can exist and thrive across a diversity of genres and settings. The only reason Frog God doesn't get more of my money is because their books are damned expensive. And huge....I've found that I am much likelier to read a 200 page book than a 500+ page book, Pathfinder core excepted.

I've been toying with the idea of some SF gaming this year, but it's very likely GURPS and Traveller will lose out to Stars Without Number. Either way, expect some detailed reviews of all these books soon!

Love this cover, BTW:


Review - One Year in the Savage Afterworld for Mutant Future


One of the many items of phat lewt I acquired during the holiday season was a print copy of One Year in the Savage Afterworld, a tome of short scenarios and encounters for Mutant Future by Tim Snider. Tim's name is one of several I have come to associate with the various OSR titles that spin out from Goblinoid Games and this book is worthy of being added to one's ever-expanding collection of Labyrinth Lord/Mutant Future/Pacesetter titles.

What you Get:

One Year in the Savage Afterworld (hereafter OySA) is a 106 page OGL tome that contains 52 short scenarios and encounters you can use in Mutant Future. It's pretty specific to MF, but you could probably adapt it to use with your preferred post-apocalyptic game if you applied a bit of creative finagling. Each scenario presents a place, a "start" that motivates or propels the players into the event, a location and threat/problem/foe to overcome and a resolution (usually in the form of loot and salvage). Tim indicates in the intro that he was inspired by his weekly MF group to come up with an encounter-a-week and from this idea the book materialized.

The book also includes a medley of new creatures (about 16) for some encounters, as well as a variety of robots and other items found in the book's many locales. This is appreciated; I've always felt that the core MF rules always suffered a bit from too many OGL reskin creatures and not enough distinctly "gamma-world-esque" monstrosities, Spidergoats not withstanding!

The Scenarios:

In reading the book I found that the scenarios within range from 30 minute to 1 hour encounters to serve as fill during travel times to scenario outlines which could easily take a session or three to complete. The scenarios all fit the same general core conceit of the MF universe so you could run them in any sequence without running into problems. Some example scenarios for reference:

Poached Eggs - a merchant hires the PCs to collect heomfowl eggs, but the local hemofowl nesting grounds are under assault from a crocotinae.

Out To Sea - the scavengers are looking to loot some coastal military bases, but it turns out great white gulls and cephalopoids are already occupying...

Living Nightmare - a local town is terrorized by an extraplanar creature which feeds on fear.

Dusk of the Dead - living dead terrorize the local clan and the PCs get to re-enact everyone's favorite movie house stand-off....except the twist is that the "survivors" are the walking dead!

The Ghost of Aisle 17 - a seemingly haunted ancient supermarket is actually infested with hyper-intelligent mice.

The Valley that Time Forgot - a Lost World valley in which a tribe of devolved humans with a unique mutation to devolve other creatures have accidentally repopulated the region with prehistoric beasts.

...and there are many more. Each scenario ranges from very short to quite elaborate, but the core conceit for each is that they are well-written, thoughtfully present the range of options and information necessary to run each adventure, and ownership of this book makes GMing Mutant Future--even without prepared material--dirt simple.

How to Use OYSA:

Personally, I'd work out a map/region Fallout 3 style, maybe a hex map, and then populate it with 52 event locations....then start it off with the PCs of some lowly little community finding a map and being asked by the elders to go on a grand quest to explore the world and report back to them in one year. This book would be fantastic for such a campaign.

Alternatively, you could draw from this at random for one-shots, or string two or three scenarios together for a longer night (or nights). The presentation is highly modular, and the hook to get PCs exploring is usually very simple (i.e. they are passing by on the old road when... type stuff).

There's one potential issue depending on your tastes and needs. First, there are no maps. I think Tim GMs much as I do...maps are something I keep copies of in spades for when I need them; the old days of my youth making endless maps are mostly over, so these days I snag floorplans, maps online from better artists than I, or just use common sense as needed to provide detail when it becomes important. The descriptions themselves contain everything you need to run the scenario without  map.

A note about the art: it ranges from okay to decent, and most of it fits the mood of an OSR product well. I think any potential customer for a MF product is going to be aware of the fact that the art is going to have that special late 70's/early 80's "thing" that makes it special.

Overall this is a great book. If you're at all into Mutant Future or don't mind adapting scenarios to use with your preferred post-apocalypse RPG, then you should check out One Year in the Savage Afterworld. It's emminently readable, filled with great ideas for fun games and will make your life as Mutant Lord much, much easier.

A



Friday, January 17, 2014

Guest Post: The World of Entin

While digging around on the ol' hard drive for something to post (a common practice when I find myself a bit on the writer's block side of the blog equation) I stumbled across a short write-up my wife wrote on her fantasy campaign, Entin. I thought I'd post it here, a snapshot of my wife's weird fantasy realm that she runs games in when she gets to GM, and also one of the few places I get to roll up characters to explore, since there are so few willing GMs in my area. Most of her campaign is hand-written in thick notebooks, but the below excerpt was from an introduction she worked up for her last campaign to orient new players:

Necrotic Nald
   Here are a few things you might know if you are a denizen of Entin.  The world is flat with no ocean or great sea.  Humans are found within three great population areas.  First is Farpoint, which is a city of explorers, trappers, and Neanderthal like barbarians.  Farpoint has two specific factions that fuel its economy: The F.E.A.R. Company, standing for Farpoint Exploration and Recovery, and the Second being Lar’s Company.  Run by a gnome named Lar.  Lar’s company is mostly the justice of far point, as well as the port authority to prevent uncataloged relics from leaving Farpoint.  This is where you will begin.

   The other two human settlements are Griffin’s Roost and Bordertown.  The Roost, for short, sits atop a massive plateau and is only accessible via the lifts from the ground patrolled by the guard or Airship.  Bordertown is on the cusp of the Deadlands:  a desolate and blackened place that is slowly spreading, the epicenter being the last great battle between the race of Giants and the race of Elves.

   Orcs are located east upon the Plains of Passage.  Orcs are descended from half giants that slowly over time became their own race. They were the brutes of the Giant army, once thought to be too dumb to do much else.  The Orcs now prosper, having a matriarchal society and followers of an old goddess known as The Hag.  They are incredibly tribal and their youth must leave the clan to follow a spirit quest to reach adulthood, only allowed to return when they have something that can contribute to the clan.

   Elves are few and far rarer than most any other race.  Their war with the giants left them scattered and decimated.  When an elf is identified chances are he wants you to know.  They are an old race of people with a lost history and no sense of time.  Many elves that have ventured into human lands are the Isca, Wood Elves from the southern forests whom are rather promiscuous and often times create the many half elves that seem to live in Griffin’s Roost.

   Gnomes are common, as are goblins, each being their own individuals. Not all are evil or good.  Most never reach a height of 4 feet. That is a rarity.

   Equiess are a strange and old race.  These are horses that have gained sentience and given the ability of magic and speech.  They still roam the eastern plains in vast herds ruled by a legendary horse lord.   Only within the city can Equiess be found to wear barding or clothing.  Most inevitably dabble in necromantic magic. The most well known Equiess among the two legs is Necrotic Nald.


   Gods are split into three specific groups. The gods of Chaos, The gods of Order, and the Neutrality.  The gods of Chaos are: Hasani-Lust and excess of the 7 sins; Korgan- death and decay, the repose of the dead, necromancy; Alandris-goddess of the mind flayers, psionics, deception and thievery; Massivious-God of war and masochism, Blood and combat.   The gods or Order are Sol-God of light and paladins; keepers of weak; Marna- Beauty and grace, Kindness;  Cali-Goddess of the wilds, Nature and animals;  Artial-Goddess of tactical battle, fair combat and healers.   The Neutrality consists of only two members:  Asmodeus, the sone of Alandris and Sol. He is the keeper of secrets and lover of puzzles;  Gaerdwynn, She is the goddess of passage, or travel and time.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Ouya


I may have mentioned it already but I also got an Ouya for the holidays. The machine is a $100 android-powered console device and one of the few successful Kickstarters that I know of. Like successful Kickstarters its also a mixed bag of shattered dreams and hopes swirled in with a bit of something new and interesting.

Ouya is basically a console for people who....hmmm. People who meet one of the following criteria, I guess:

1. Gotta have it all (that's me, I guess)
2. Are in that special zone of existence where buying a real tablet or real console is too expensive, but still want to play some games on the TV
3. Consider themselves hipsters but still want to play video games, so the indie slant of the Ouya is a natural fit
4. Like small, square-shaped electronic devices
5. Want a very simple console device that can serve up some easy party games

Now, my general impression of the Ouya bounces back and forth between "satisfaction once I came to terms with what it was" and "mild curiosity that I even own the thing, let alone use it." It's not a bad game console, and I did find a good dozen or so games on the machine that I enjoy, including the following:

Ravensword: Shadowlands - a sort of android version of Skyrim, powered by the Unity Engine (the same engine, fyi, that Pathfinder Online is being built with; so consider the prospect carefully that PFO is being designed with an engine specifically most suited to android games....). I've logged many hours in this game now murdering goblins and boars while occasionally prodding my way into deadlier territories; much more fun on Ouya than it was on the Nexus 7 by virtue of the controller and big screen.

Killing Floor: Calamity - an isometric top-down remake of the Kiling Floor PC game that is actually more fun to play this way. Devious zombie-murdering mayhem.

AVP Evolution - arguably as good as Aliens: Colonial Marines (how's that for a left-handed compliment?), an official franchise title in which you play as aliens or predators in yet another post-shark-jump era Aliens game. Play it like it's just a random game and it's quite fun.

Meltdown - a fun little isometric shooter/adventure title which feels vaguely like "Crusader: No Remorse, the actually playable 2013/14 Android edition" to me.

Order & Chaos Online - a lite WoW clone that plays better on Ouya than it does with a touch screen on android tablets.

Shadowgun - an android clone of Gears of War at its core, but quite fun on Ouya. Also powered by Unity.


This is just a sample of the the titles I downloaded and actually bought. Ouya lets you download everything on a trial basis first, so sampling the available range of titles is pretty simple. The system also has a variety of odd apps, but services such as Netflix are not on the list so don't consider the Ouya as a substitute for some other device that can put various subscription viewing services on your TV.

Ouya's controller is also an issue. I've gotten used to it, but if you're used to a slick modern controller....or any controller made after around 2001 really, this one's going to feel a bit clunky. I've heard that they are revising the controller along with the Ouya for a second round. Either way it doesn't matter; you can easily use an Xbox 360 controller or even a PS3 controller with a bit of effort. It's very open to external peripherals.

Ouya has 4GB of on-board memory; plugging a thumb drive in to the USB port can net you more room. Most Ouya games are designed to be small downloads, so even with the 4GB limit you can get around 8-12 games loaded easily, more if you abstain from downloading Order & Chaos Online (it's a huge download, the modest size the Ouya lists is just for the downloader to get the main game).

Aside from the onboard memory it comes with a HDMI port, a short cable and an optional ethernet plug in in case you are not wifi ready (it's easy to set up the wifi connection though). Then: park it somewhere and try to remember it's a console and not a door stop.

So far, despite my reservations about it I'm enjoying the Ouya and hope more games appear worth playing. Right now for every cool game like Shadowgun or Ravensword there are two dozen tiny indie games that look (and sometimes play) like crap, but there are quite a few gems to be found in the mix with a bit of discovery and exploration. Titles such as Mirrormoon EP may not appeal to me, but you might find it to be a weird breath of fresh indie air. Likewise I make no apologies for my enjoyment of Amazing Frog and its freakish physics-testing amphibian.

If you get an Ouya, just accept it for what it is and enjoy the experience of a very low key small-budget gaming environment. It's weird fun, and a sharp contrast from its big box cousins. Ultimately I have no regrets, and more than a few of these titles have me firing up the Ouya every night now for a few more rounds.


Monday, January 13, 2014

13th Age - Round Two


Played 13th Age for the first time since the holiday season descended upon us; the last game was at the end of November, if I recall correctly, so it's been more than a month. This session drew an unanticipated nine players, which I did not expect (I thought I'd have five). A second round of character generation ensued, followed by a skirmish with a party of orcs and dire wolves to get everyone in the spirit of the game's style and mechanics.

It was an interesting session for a few reasons, which were eclipsed by a prolonged combat.

Nine players is a lot to handle for my second session of the game. I can, after three years of Pathfinder and six years of 3.0/3.5 run large groups in D20 without too much trouble....but it was a chore to do so with 13th Age due to the fact that it's relatively new to me. The engagement mechanics were put through the grinder Saturday night; I ended up regretting that we did not use a board to track the action. The whole fight took close to three hours.....something I wished never to see again from the old 4E days, alas.

I don't think 13th Age was the problem, overall, although with groups this large the heftier HP totals in 13th Age stand out in the same way 4E's did. It's got a great set of mechanics for quick play and the players present for the prior session agreed that that game had a lot more going on and moved very smoothly; but nine players, most unfamiliar with the game, was a nightmare for obvious reasons; 13th Age just isn't built for this level of duress.

Debating asking everyone to cap the group at 6 players for next session, but not sure how to go about kicking three players arbitrarily.....everyone in the group is a decent person who I enjoy gaming with, so the sad reality is we've got a "too many players, not enough GM to go around" situation here.

Hmmm!


Friday, January 10, 2014

Microsoft Surface

A rare light day for Friday.....so far! Just a quick note: I picked up a Microsoft Surface 64GB variety on the cheap, with flexible keyboard (Surface 2 keyboard) and I have to say...after the thing spent a day and a half updating to Windows 8.1 it is officially a great little device, I absolutely love it. I'll talk more on this machine later, which I think is probably a better deal now than it was on release. Note that it's the "bottom tier" entry in the Surface world (heh)....but it did it's job, this thing makes me keen to upgrade to a Pro edition when I feel like spending the money.

After the staggering (but not unexpected) disappointment of the Ouya, it was nice to get something that impressed me. Note also that this means I have already violated one of my New Year's resolutions (though technically I am just replacing my Nexus 7 which my son accidentally annihilated the other day).


Thursday, January 9, 2014

State of the MMO Nation


2013 was a weak year for MMOs in my household. My wife, who plays MMOs almost exclusively, began to migrate to other titles with her online gang such as Borderlands 2, Saint's Row III and IV and even League of Legends. I played a few on and off....here's a recap:

Defiance

For me the highlight of 2013 was Defiance, which despite being a game you'd think I would love (open-world third-person SF themed shooter with MMO design) I didn't play nearly enough of. The fact that Trion Worlds seems to have forgotten about it (only one of the five promised expansion packs was released in 2013, a bad sign if I ever saw one) doesn't help. I will continue to play Defiance at my usual measured pace, but suggest to future developers working on shooter/MMO hybrids that they consider carefully what the audience of both games might expect out of such a merger. Defiance could use something....I'm not sure what, entirely, but something....more diversity in explorable areas, maybe, and a better hub setup for people who just want to jump into the action? I will defer to Warframe as an excellent way of handling a multiplayer shooter experience online. Defiance, with it's MMO trappings, is still a different beast, though. I expect it to hang on until Destiny arrives and squashes the competition like a tiny bug.

Status for 2014: I will continue to play it casually and hope we see some of the promised future content.

Rift

2013 was the year Rift went free to play, and in doing so it changed the core feel of the game from the comfortable subscription model I enjoyed to a typical overpriced freemium model which I have now abandoned. Despite getting an enormous number of in game credits for my lengthy subscription time I was disenchanted with the way they structured the game and how they priced the "subscription equivalent" option to continue to get leveling perks (there was no longer a discount for buying in volume, basically). Moreover, after buying all sorts of cool looking armor with my given points I realized I had once again made a serious error in my play style: I now had blinged out characters who had done nothing in-game to earn the gear. For someone like myself who plays for the story and experience this is an unforgivable tresspass.

Of second note is the Storm Legion expansion content, which suffered greatly for casuals like myself who found the story hard to follow, the quests insanely grindy, and the overall experience just plain tedious. The magic of Storm Legion shortly after launch did not stick, unfortunately.

Status for 2014: Rift is now on hiatus until further notice. I have even deleted it from my computer. I may return if the itch grabs me. This is a real shame as I loved this game a great deal pre-F2P.


Guild Wars 2

I have hardly played this one at all, and I don't know why. For reasons I can't explain at all GW2 did not grab me as consistently as I expected, or as it honestly should; non-MMO open world titles sort of stole the show in 2013 for me, so games like Sleeping Dogs and Saint's Row III dominated my time, and as a side effect structured and ironically "less involved" worlds offered by MMOs like GW2 were simply less intriguing as a result. For a sharply contrasting example on GW2 see here, though.

Status for 2014: I will continue to periodically fire it up and see if I can get motivated. Meanwhile I will continue to be enamored by much more interesting open-exploration titles like GTA V. Saint's Row IV and Skyrim. One approach I am going to take is to follow Zubion's advice on how to hit GW2 for an hour a day and still feel like you're making progress/doing something. Zubion seriously loves GW2, and I'd love to be into this game in the same way.

World of Warcraft

I reloaded it late in November, finally purchased Mists of Pandaria (like two days before it went on sale) and enjoyed it immensely for about a week before experiencing severe WoW fatigue again. I really want to have some characters ready to go at level cap for the forthcoming Warlords of Draenor, which on the surface appears to get WoW back to its roots somewhat while finally offering a graphical overhaul to the geriatric character models of the original races. But....I just can't muster enough interest to devote the time. It is a "been there, done that, can't stomach doing it for hundreds of hours again" problem. Sorry WoW.

Status for 2014: we'll see if Warlords of Draenor motivates me to slog through the game to get ready. I....think this may be the end of my relationship with WoW, however.

Neverwinter Online

Something about the whole Neverwinter experience is just off. It's got some fun gameplay, but the game keeps you on such a tight rail that the freedom of choice in character design it offers is purely illusion, the characters will all suffer from the same narrow pool of gear choices in terms of looks unless you pony up to the store, and Perfect World's method of handling freemium means you'll have to navigate a treacherous web of purchasing confusion on numerous levels. I am very done with Perfect World managed games, and even though I enjoy the gameplay....they're just too greedy for my tastes.

Status for 2014: I may try it again if they magically manage to add several more classes into the game.

Dungeons & Dragons Online

My burnout on DDO know know limits. The ability to reach the high level content where all their new expansion modules can be found is an onerous and soul wrenching task for one such as myself. I have given up on DDO entirely, the grind was just too much.

DC Universe Online

The surprise end-of-year discovery was DC Universe Online. I recall playing this a bit shortly after it went F2P and my wife and I were more into Champions then so we ignored it. When I got the PS4 I noticed DCUO was available on it, so I downloaded it. This game was meant to be played with a controller, for one thing. It's got very smooth, fluid and fun gameplay. My recent resurgence of interest in DC Comics has helped keep me interested in DCUO as well. I bought the expansion packs on sale over the holidays and have been enjoying leveling up my small gang of oddball characters, including Doc Futurity, Doctor Tachyon, Bowman Thirteen, Ladybot Moxietron and the Smouldering Demon.

Status for 2014: I expect to play a lot of DCUO as a place holder until Elder Scrolls Online arrives.

That's it for the 2013 wrap-up on MMOs and the projection for 2014....see you in the game!








Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Over the Edge Bundle

Over the Edge was one of the best of the 90's era of gaming, a weird minimalist game system about surreal adventures in the vein of Burrough's tales of Interzone, on the enigmatic island of Al'Amarja. There's a ton of PDFs now available for around $17 (at last check) over on the Bundle of Holding. OtE remains one of my favorite games that I've inexplicably never actually run....I think it was a game ahead of its time, and Atlas would do well to consider properly re-releasing it in a new edtion in this era where indie and experimental RPGs are all the thing now.


Shopping Around: Price comparing Nook vs. Kindle storefronts


Some discussion has been had on more than one occasion about the issue of pricing in the Nook and Kindle stores. The general consensus is that the Barnes & Noble storefront for Nook is more expensive on average, and the Kindle usually has slightly better prices across the board. I thought I'd put this to the test with a comparison of books in both storefronts.

To make this work I'm going to compare three sets of titles: popular current titles, new titles, and obscure titles. I tend to buy heavily from option #3 (obscure) and as a result may see more savings on average with Kindle than Nook....or so my buying experience suggests. So lets get on with this!

1st Comparison: Popular Current Titles

For this entry I'll look at the "top listings" for each store and pick a sampling based on subject mater: sci fi/fantasy for our purposes will be the control measure, using the top seller listings on each site as of 1/3/14. To qualify each book below must be on one of the two top seller lists:

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card: Both Kindle and Nook list it for $3.99.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin: $4.99 on Nook, $3.99 on Kindle.

A Song of Ice & Fire Five Book Set: $19.99 on Kindle, but $28.47 on the Nook. Interestingly, the Nook has the four-book Nook set for $34.99.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss $6.74 on Kindle and $6.74 on Nook.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. Kindle has this listed for $7.69 but the one-volume Lord of the Rings set for $10 (bwuh?) while Nook has the same exact prices, including a $10 one-volume set.

Result One: the prices match, with a couple exceptions. Kindle comes out ahead a bit due to Martin's books.

2nd Comparison: New Titles

For this entry I look at "newly listed" to see how the prices on these shiny new tomes appear. The source is this and this list as of 1/3/14. To be on this list it must appear on at least one of the two new lists, and be available now or preorder in both stores. Bias of Note: I am excluding any book that looks like a "urban fantasy vampire chick" novel from the test set:

The High Druid's Blade: The Defenders of Shannara by Terry Brooks. $13.99 on the Nook and $11.84 on the Kindle.

Words of Radiance by Brian Sanderson. $12.74 Kindle edition and $14.99 Nook edition.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (fyi this book sounds very cool). $13.99 Nook and $10.99 Kindle edition.

Halo: Mortal Dictata by Karen Traviss. $9.99 Nook edition vs. $8.89 Kindle edition.

The Walking Dead: The Fall of the Governor Part I by Robert Kirkman. $11.99 Nook edition vs. $9.83 Kindle edition.

Result Two: It's like this across the board....in terms of new, Kindle really wants your dollars, and B&N hasn't quite figured this out apparently.

3rd Comparison: Obscure Titles

I am a master of the obscure, as I expect many tabletop gamers are. What follows are a sample of my library, taken from both the Nook and the Kindle, for comparison:

Heavy Metal Pulp: Pleasure Model by Robert Vardeman. $7.59 on Kindle and $7.99 on Nook.

Revelation Space by Alistair Reynolds. $7.59 on Kindle and $8.99 on Nook.

Resident Evil: City of the Dead by S.D. Perry. $6.59 Kindle vs. $7.49 Nook.

Weird Space I: The Devil's Nebula by Eric Brown. $4.61 on Kindle and $5.49 on Nook.

Punktown by Jeffery Thomas. $5.99 on Nook vs. $3.99 on Kindle.

I tried comparing recent favorites of mine such as Zombie Pulp and The Hive both by Tim Curran but they aren't even on the Nook store it turns out.

Result Three: the Nook isn't as interested in discounting these mostly obscure titles. The selection I picked was random, but I could unfortunately just keep listing and listing and listing...and it would still be the same; virtually all these obscure titles are a bit cheaper on the Kindle.

The question I might pose to those who self-publish and release books through both storefronts is: why is this? What policy is in place that ends up with a higher mark-up on the ebook at B&N than at Kindle? Do authors and publishers have much control of their pricing, and does Nook have a more difficult "discounting structure" than the Kindle, assuming that's a tool available to publishers? Is it just a market share issue? According to a recent article Amazon holds a 67% market share....could this be the reason?