Monday, June 30, 2014

Review - X-Men: Days of Future Past

I had an opportunity to see X-Men: Days of Future Past, which was nothing short of amazing because I'm in that nebulous zone of parental life where my child is old enough to enjoy shows on TV but too young to take to the theater to see a film, thus meaning my wife and I are trapped at home most nights unless we get really fortunate with a sympathetic relative babysitting.

Anyway, it was a great movie, and a strong performance by most characters. The script was complex and well was a smart story, perhaps a bit too smart because it tripped up a lot of people if you dig through conversations about this film in the interwebz. Practically everything that is regarded as a fallacy or plot hole in this movie is not, in fact, what it seems to be, and in many ways this movie may be the best hardcore comic adaptation I've ever seen, even if it's all about the alternate reality cinema X-verse and not the even crazier and more complicated comic universe that also likes to get mucked up with frequent and egregious time travel plots.

Hell, I'm starting to think that time travel is to Marvel's reboot button what the multidimensional parallel earths are to the DC universe.

Anyway, this movie is a sequel to X-Men: First Class and also a end-cap to the original X-Men trilogy, managing to simultaneously make the future of those films fit into the continuity being defined by First Class and now Days of Future Past, and also conveniently erasing some or all of whatever happened in X3: The Last Stand. I actually didn't have many problems with X3, for the record; but I've learned long ago not to take anything for granted when it comes to X-Men, film or comic.

The plot is basically this: future X-Men in a worst-case apocalypse scenario are working to save history. Professor X (who is back, but more on that later) has figured out that Kitty Pryde has developed the ability to push consciousness through time late in life, and has been using this ability to keep pushing Bishop (who gets his first screen appearance) back a few days in time every time the new super sentinels show up to massacre them. Bishop then shows up forewarned in the past and they move to a safer location...rinse and repeat. Xavier convinces Kitty to use this ability to send Wolverine's mind deep into the past, to the moment when history went sour: the murder of one Mr. Trask (played by the guy from Game of Thrones) who creates the first sentinels in 1973. His murderer? Mystique, alias Raven, the hearthrob and third wheel of the young Eric/Charles love/hate bromance.

Wolverine can do the jump because his mind can fix itself through his healing factor....he can reorient faster. This leads to the usual tale of escalation, done in gorgeously well rendered early seventies' backdrops (with a barely passable Nixon) leading up to a massive confrontation in both past and future...and a possible permanent change to the timeline for the better, presumably.

So, that's the summary. Well done movie, gripping, great characters, "feels" right to me, and a spectacular rendering of the X-Men in their own universe, free of Avengers and other stuff.

Now for some short spoilers, with explanations for why I would argue that these not only aren't plot holes, but their mere existence as questions shows how genre savvy the screenwriters were for Days of Future Past:

Professor X is Alive: barring my explanation, he shows up and already discusses this with Wolverine in his own films, being deliberately cryptic. At the end credits of X3 we know he at least transferred his consciousness into a comatose body, possibly one which was ready for him (and which in the comics could have been his comatose twin brother iirc). Things get weird in X-Men stories, you know?

But the explanation is actually really simple: we don't know how he came back, we just know that he did. The thing is, the events in Days of Future Pasts's 2023 scenes are taking place 17 years after the events of X3....that is an insanely long time in comic universe years, enough time for many, many characters to die and come back under myriad circumstances. Enough time for Rachel Summers, a rebirth of the Phoenix, a resurrection of Charles Xavier, for him to die again, and a second resurrection. Seriously....the easiest and most logical answer to this tale is: we had the film universe equivalent of 204 issues of Uncanny X-Men, never mind all the other titles, to fill in the gap here. Some stuff changed, obviously, including Wolverine regaining his admantium claws and Professor X returning to life.

So why didn't Days of Future past bother to explain it? Because it was not relevant to the point of the film, which was that the timeline of the new movies starting with First Class is now the official timeline....and the future movies are now just potential future events. This is right in keeping with how the X-Men future timeline stories in the comics have worked, too.

Anachronistic Technology: some people on various forums have argued that all this future tech, no matter how retro they try to make it, makes no sense. Well, here's something to consider: the first sentinels, in terms of real time, actually appeared in stories in 1965. I think we can at least consider that tech develops at a different rate in the cinematic X-verse, but honestly....the whole concept was already laid out whole cloth 8 years before the time this movie takes place, let's just grant our ficitional universe the right to exist in and define its own space, okay?

Scott and Jean are Back: well, in the future they are. All that means is that (once again) some untold story remains out there, though admittedly it exists in place of X3.

Weapon X Conundrum: Stryker grabs Wolverine at the end but it's really Mystique. This is a no-brainer, but a lot of people are suffering through this one. Short answer: the film plays a trick on you, to get you to think, "here's how Stryker gets his hands on Wolverine for Weapon X." But we know that's not possible, and the film's efforts at weird timeloop continuity bear this out. First, recall that Stryker from X2/Wolverine is not a young man. In fact he's in middle years. The Stryker of 1973 is a young radical military guy. Second, Stryker was no longer an official military officer or agent when he went to create Weapon X; he was working on a different structural level, and crossing boundaries into Canada; he had the clout to do a lot of highly illegal stuff in the name of international security, though how much was recognized by Canadian or Us governments remains unclear to me (from the movie perspective, anyway). So A Stryker who's 20 years older works a lot better for the timeline, placing the Weapon X events around 1990-1995...roughly 5-10 years before the original X-Men film. Makes sense to me...

So why the Mystique appearance? to screw with audience expectations, of course, and to insure that we can be tantalized with the prospect of a Wolverine appearance in X-Men: Apocalypse.

Which, by the way, is definitely going to be about Apocalypse. Stick around for the post-end-credit reveal of Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen.....I'm very keen to see what the next movie looks like now!

So yeah, go see this film, far and away the best X-Men yet....a roller-coaster tribute to just how unhinged and weird the X-Men universe can get.


Friday, June 27, 2014

D&D Monster Stat Blocks in 5E

Check out these stat blocks for monsters posted on ENworld....first glance, that hobgoblin looks deadlier than ever before.....!

The ogre, nothic and ochre jelly are a bit harder to read due to a smaller sample (I'll have to dig around and see if a bigger jpeg exists) but it's clear that hitting an big deal. Getting hit by an ogre? Ouch!

Nether Day Two

I did not get much time last night to play Nether, but I did log on for a bit on a mid-pop server. Turns out I only have one character at a time going, or if there's a way to start a new one and park an old one I couldn't figure it out (magic eight ball tells me if there is a way to get another character slot it probably is in the cash shop, will have to look). So I picked a 20-odd pop server and wandered around.

I actually did run into other players twice. One when I was looting what seemed like a lot of great stuff, when a very tough looking dude in a gas mask with a rifle appeared behind me and I ran like a rabbit.....he could have been there to give me a ham sandwich and a promise of safety but I wouldn't know, the stories on the forums had me convinced I'd wandered into a trap where someone staked out a lucrative drop point and was ready for murder. I escaped, so I suspect he wasn't out to get me.

Second was in a safe zone. I guess you can't murder people in safe zones, but a few people were standing around, presumably shopping.

During all this sneaking around, it occurred to me that I had no idea how to talk to people. Not even sure if there's a chat window to bring up. Will have to review their wiki. If there is no talk, that will lend to the notion that violence is the key language of Nether.

So......while I've still got lots of time to get ganked, so far the forum hype isn't quite living up to the actual play reality. Yet.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Steam Summer Sale Review: Nether

As I accumulate yet more games on the Steam Summer Sale I thought I'd provide some mini-reviews on the stuff I grab for those interested. Keep in mind these "reviews" are based off of a few hours' play but when talking about games on sale for $1-$6 apiece that may be all you need to decide:


I started Nether thinking I would possibly deeply regret spending $3 on it. The Steam forums are rife with people pissed off because they can't get the game to work, and they are not wrong: the process from making an account to playing the actual game is where Nether needs the most work, and clearly whoever is making this game has a lot more energy invested in the graphics and play experience than the user-hostile interface.

Once you make it into the game, however, you're in for an immersive post-apocalyptic treat of surprisingly high magnitude. Nether places you as a survivor in a hostile ruined city, in a future where civilization has collapsed after (I guess) an alien invasion of creatures from the nether, warping/teleporting monsters of various types that like to hunt you. Surviving these creatures requires stealth, patience and occasional furious button mashing or escape skills (but they are dogged pursuers, being teleporters and all). Avoiding combat is usually the smartest action.

The game is a permadeath experience. They worked around some of the permadeath problem by letting you level on two tiers: character (the guy who might die) and account (the meta-character, you). By level 2 on the account I gained a permanent health boost that affects all characters, for example. The character leveling is a skill-based expansion that I really like, but it all goes away, messily, if you die while playing. So....don't die. Surprisingly I had no problem with this; when the game makes permadeath the default, it's pretty much just something you either accept for what it is or pass on to other games.

There is a problem with the permadeath approach, and that is that my understanding is Nether is full on PvP, anything goes. Most of the forum complaints seem to boil down to "I was going along and got head-shotted, WTF!" type stuff. I can see how on a permadeath game that would be frustrating. My entire Nether play experience so far has been to log on to a server offering zero population and enjoying it as a solo experience. I the time I played no one showed up on the server to start hunting me; it looked like those players clustered on high-pop servers, which was fine with me. If I can, I'll make a new character and drop into a high-pop server (it looks like one server can support 64 players), and let you know how that goes. Resources are scarce and necessary to build weapons, so I can see how the temptation to kill a fellow human for his nice machine gun must be overwhelming to some people, even at the cost of their own lives.

Again, I'll comment on the awesome, insanely well-done audio and visual ambiance of the game: creeping around in the ruined city was a real pleasure, and it was strongly reminiscent of Fallout 3 or other equivalent games like Metro 2033. In fact it sort of felt to me what a true open-world version of Metro 2033 would feel like. Even the monsters remind me a bit of Metro 2033.

Now for some of the issues and problems:

Getting in to the game is a huge ordeal. It prompts you for a login and you set up an account. Then you watch the game go to a server screen which appears to be loading from an old spool-tape player. The first two or three times I thought it was crashing and freezing; I'd back out, see Task Screen showed Nether was no responding, and kill it. After the third time I decided to let the server screen pop up and just left it alone for a long time (several minutes). When I checked back it appeared to have loaded up and was now working. My guess is they have an overlay that's not loading first, but is bouncing between server data and overlay load...or something. This is a hideous optimization issue and if the creators of Nether are serious about making money they should fix the server screen ASAP. Too many people in the forums clearly got to this point and gave up, either because it really did freeze on their rigs or they didn't have the patience to wait for the thing to load.

Once you're in the game runs well. There was motion blur that I turned off because it was annoying, but the game ran smoothly after that. If you're used to really polished FPSes you will notice occasional oddities in movement of your character, but beyond that it's surprisingly smooth. I don't know if the servers demonstrate lag with large player pops yet, but I'll find out; on a 1 player : 1 server basis I was having no issues.

The game has a story, but it's not obvious. The team making this game is strong in graphics and design, but weak on script and user interface. The in-game interfaces are all okay, but when talking to vendors its possible to start moving your character while trying to click on the menu options. As for the story: they need a decent writer who can take the bland mission text and clean it up; no one should have a mission or courier package that says "Take the CRT to the MDR" while one is left scratching their head at what that all means.

The game in the first few hours is all about grabbing packages and hauling them to merchants in other safe zones. Occasionally a boss monster shows up and starts trashing a safe zone, or marauding through a region. World events get announced, and much braver souls than I have the option to respond. From reading through the wiki there are solo-friendly and group focuses tasks and objectives. I never ran into group objectives, but possibly because those are obviously things to avoid when you're armed with a butter knife.

In terms of open-world content, just exploring was a cool experience. There's stuff to be found if you'll look for it. Curiously it all appears to be stuff at the same locations, so when you see abandoned ambulances you can periodically return to re-loot those areas, they will always have new random content. There are occasional locked locations (cars I ran into) that require keys. Which gets to the next issue....

There's a pay store. It suggests that the end result of Nether is to be a F2P experience, one in which you then buy in-game gold to get cosmetic and other items (some useful, I think). I haven't explored the pricing yet, but I've heard accusations that Nether is P2W (pay to win). If this is true, then it could be problematic....if you're not playing on an empty server, anyway. I'll follow up on this when I look at the high-pop servers; if the game is rigged to make money on the need to advance artificially through RMTs then that's a huge problem for Nether; it needs to place players on more equal footing, or it will never live up to its potential. Hell, if it was designed specifically to be a single player or co-op experience with a more detailed storyline I'd put down $40 to play this.....but if it's geared toward P2W PvP gaming then I consider $3 worth it for as long as I can find empty servers or get lucky and play with friendlies.

Bottom Line So Far: If you can get it for sale like I did and the thought of a multiplayer Fallout 3/Metro 2033 environment tantalizes you, then this is a must-buy. But prepare to be very patient trying to get to the server screen. However, if a permadeath open-world game with possible PvP sounds painful, then beware! But I'll report on the pvp/high-pop server side of it all tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Further Adventures in Savage Space! Erasmus and the doom of Dante

I just gotta follow my here we go, more Savage Space! Not on any timeline, just at my leisure....but I've got a lot of leisure to offer....except when noted otherwise these entries are all in the Savage Space setting built in February. This one is based on some random world generation rolls from the Savage Worlds SF Companion:

Erasmus and the Threat of Dante

Name: Erasmus
System: Tycho 66789ES
Gravity: normal (1.09 gees)
Dominant Terrain: Desert (83 F)
Atmosphere: Normal
Population Density: Sparse – roughly 1.5 million on Erasmus and 300K in Tycho System
Dominant Government: Theocracy – The Court of Man
Dominant Law: Average – personal defense acceptable
Military - significant clothing, never cut hair; the Soldiers of Man are stoic protectors of their people, rangers of Erasmus 
Scholars/theologians – children named after significant events/individuals; the enlightened seek to preserve the past through the memory of names.
Spaceport: Basic – minimal FTL resources in-system
Tech Level:  Renaissance earth (Erasmus); Slightly Below Average (Tycho System)

Erasmsus was a colony world settled in the early years of the generational STL ships that left earth prior to the discovery of skip (and transitional) drive. The planet was named Erasmus after the theologian and scholar Desiderius Erasmus.  The name was befitting of the many tempered and pacifist religious expatriates onboard who had agreed to the journey to start a new life of religious freedom and introspection away from Earth.

At first Erasmus looked to be an idyllic world, and efforts to deconstruct and cannibalize the generational ship GCS Descartes went well. It was not long in to the colonization process that the colonists realized there was a problem: Erasmus contained a dearth of requisite rare materials and useful fuels that were readily available on other worlds. This slowed the development of the colony as solar power and other resources became more relevant for speedy development. There was only one other concern that the colonists could not account for: when the journey began, long rang study of Erasmus and the rest of the Tcho 66789ES system showed that Erasmus had two moons; on arrival, the colony ship found no moons at all, nor any evidence of what had happened to them…

A century in to habitation the colony was doing well, if somewhat behind the curve due to the need to find alternate fuels and resources. The rich arboreal life of the planet was more than sufficient to make up for the hardships. That was when the first local astronomers spotted what came to be known as Dante. A white dwarf, Dante was so named by the religious people of Erasmus in recognition of its sudden and inevitable role as the bard that would lead them all into the inferno. Though it never passed especially close, it became clear that the white dwarf was on a highly eccentric orbit, the first half of which had pulled it through the system two centuries earlier, creating an effect on the local stellar bodies not unlike pool. The consequences of Dante’s trajectory was unmistakable: the white dwarf was not a stellar native to this system, but had become trapped gravitationally to Tycho’s main star. As it spiraled back and forth it became apparent that every two to three centuries the white dwarf would migrate through the star system creating an potential extinction level event to all who lived on Erasmus.
The colony made great haste to recover the remaining , carefully preserved shuttles to the orbital remains of the GCS Descartes, and a plan was hatched to preserve the best and brightest in space while the main colony, which had grown immense, prepared for the possibility of destruction.

The first pass of Dante was destructive, and enough for scholars of Erasmus to realize that the white dwarf most likely had stripped Erasmus of its moons two centuries ago. Erasmus was hit by a cluster of comets disgorged from the disrupted Kuiper Belt of the system, pummeling the planets of Tycho. Despite the bombardment no single comet was more than a quarter kilometer across; the devastation was vast, but the survivors of Erasmus dwelled in carefully stocked subterranean cities and managed to live on. The death toll was less than it might have been had no one been forewarned, and the survivors on the colony ship’s skeleton observed the entire event. Afterwards, the colony picked itself up and resume life, though this time on a world where deserts ruled supreme as the explosive effects of the bombardment had devastated the ecosystem and wiped out the planet’s protective ozone layer.

With two centuries to consider the prospect of a future bombardment, the colonists on the generational ship considered carefully the survival of their people, and decided to stay in space, working to colonize or extract resources from the rest of the system to aid their planet-bound bretheren. In time this colony of spacers took on deep religious significance, and were to become the quasi-mystical rulers of Erasmus called the Court of Man.

There would be two more visits to Dante before the system was rediscovered by the FTL-powered ships of the Commonwealth. Each visit was devastating, and the second event bombarded Erasmus back to the stone age. But for the efforts of the Court of Man humanity would not have recovered. Today, the system lives in a fierce détente. A research station sponsored by the Stellar Academy rests on the fringes of Tycho’s space, for direct contact with the people of Erasmus has led to trouble, as the locals refuse to recognize Commonwealth rule, or aid. The Academy scientists have instead taken to studying the path of Dante, to determine if there is any way to prevent the star from causing its two-hundred year cycle of destruction as it spirals toward Tycho Prime to become a new binary star locked in relativistic destruction. Some “heretics” of the Court of Man have taken to fraternizing with the foreigners that they call Outsiders, but most feel that there is a divine providence to their situation and that they must remain in-system as stoic observers and protectors of man to see it out, that it is a test of the divine.

Either way, the first event happened when the colony ship arrived in 2217. The second was in 2423, and the third was in 2629. It is now 2820 (CT) Commonwealth time, and the next visit is due to arrive in a mere 13 years, give or take. A number of proposals are on the table for how to stop Dante from destroying Erasmus…again….but there is one other hidden faction in the system, the so-called Naturalists who believe that Dante is a necessary destiny, and they will stop at nothing including sabotage to prevent the Commonwealth from attempting to help… 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Steam Summer Sale in Full Swing

It started a few days ago but the Steam Summer Sale is once again upon us. It's not as exciting as it used to be....they sort of got all my money (and I got all the games) a long time ago. Now, games worth getting are still too pricey to be "deals" and Steam's array of new content seems to waver between trash that even Gamersgate is apologetic for and an endless array of risky-business "Early Access" games that seem to be stuck in development hell --but which I feel is a variant of the Kickstarter program, which boils down to this: once you have suckered someone into buying your unfinished product, what's your incentive to complete said game? That aside, there do seem to be a fair number of early access games that look like they are making progress....tempered by those that don't.

As a rule I've been careful to avoid early access games, as I'm not a beta tester and I don't like messing with unfinished product unless I'm being paid for it (I actually did get paid for it once, when I worked for two excruciating weeks at Nintendo in Bellevue, Washington as a QA tester).

But.....I'm breaking my rule on a few hard to pass up Steam sales this time. I grabbed Nether (despite some suggestions in the forums that the game is vile, it sounds more like its a PvP game with some disgruntled buyers who didn't realize that), as well as StarForged (loading, will let you know what I think). There may be a couple more. Project Zomboid came and went on its sale, but I'm sure it will be back and I may take the plunge. If the price is right, I'll risk "early access" territory for a chance to try out these sandbox survival games.

I also picked up Betrayed, which is a fascinating game and also an example of a successful escapee from the early access pit. The game is a cool, polished experience and worth the price of admission if you snag it on sale. Betrayed places you on an island, sometime in the seventeen hundreds by my guesstimation, surviving on an island of ghosts, mysteries and mad zombie spaniards. It's a very atmospheric game that utilizes black and white visuals with occasional colors (reds mostly) to create a unique experience (though a color slider lets you add color to the game if you really must). Worth checking out.

Aside from that, I picked up Insurgency and the remaining Saint's Row IV DLC content I didn't already own. My wife and I actually played some SR IV co-op last wasn't as exciting as we'd hoped, if only because the missions for co-op only were basically cat-and-mouse or pvp games, and she's been playing a lot longer than me so her character just kept mopping the floor with mine.

Not sure what else I'm going to grab this time around.....the pool is ankle deep for me now; I own too  many games on Steam already and lack the time to play any of them. The few AAA titles coming out this year are all optimized for machines greater than mine so it's easier for now to pick them up for the PS4, which will give them a fairer shake than my PC can. I may need to consider upgrading sometime soon....!

Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion and Super Powers Companion 2nd Edition in Print

Over the weekend my hard cover deluxe copies of both the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion and the Super Powers Companion (2nd edition) arrived. Some of you may recall that I was pretty impressed with the SF Companion in PDF format, and I spent all of February writing up stuff for it (compilation here). Well, the books are both gorgeous, and I'm now thinking about new stuff I can do with both the SF Companion and the Super Powers Companion, which by the way is a lot closer to my vision of what I'd like Mutants & Masterminds to look like....a slim, digestible, to-the-point compilation of all things four color --not that comics are four color anymore; bonus points if you are reading this and have no idea what the term means without googling it!

Anyway, so I know I said I'd get around to focusing on the ten or so games on my list a week or so ago....but I gotta follow my muse if you will, and right now that's telling me I'm not done with my Savage Space setting.....or the percolating supers setting I am now thinking about (thanks to a recent overload reading the Bendis-written New Avengers run)...

Monday, June 23, 2014

Traveller: Liftoff - Beginner's Edition

Neat idea: Mongoose is going to publish a beginner's set for Traveller aimed at a younger audience. The intro to the concept (and the beta test) to Traveller: Liftoff is here, and the free downloadable beta PDFs are here. The developer is 13Mann which is apparently Mongoose's German affiliate/licensee. Interestingly they've apparently already done this with a beginner's set for Rolemaster that gets kids into the game.....forget the kids, I'd love to try out a beginner's Rolemaster! Long before the modern era of D20, OSR and Indie games there was a time when complex games weren't kidding around, and Rolemaster was leader of the pack (right next to Chivalry & Sorcery). The idea that they could make a kid-friendly version intrigues me. For Traveller it's a no brainer.....Traveller at it's core is a fairly easy game system (MGT in particular).

Anyway, check out the beta playtest and decide for yourself....

Friday, June 20, 2014


Keloid is the best concept movie trailer I've ever seen....really hope this becomes a real film:

Keloid from BLR_VFX on Vimeo.

Best D&D 5E Satire Ever

This post at may be the most amazing satire that I have ever read on the whole edition war/pre-edition jitters thing. I am linking it, but I would like to preserve it in amber as well, so here is the text. I did not write this (though whoever did is using what looks to me like a low thread-count special log in just for such things which might be seen as "bannable") but I wish I had:

NEWSFLASH: New Version of  Dungeons and Dragons Doesn't Please Everyone!
by moonkids on
A fortnight of previews of the forthcoming edition of the One True Game has culminated in the release of a sample character sheet and a picture of some goblins. Almost immediately, several role-playing messageboards were “critically hit” by dozens of protests.

While ordinary folk went about their business today, the “heroes” of the Forgotten Boards leapt into action. Like all groups of people who have interests that are almost-but-not-quite identical, they were quickly at each other’s throats. 

Several posters quickly pointed out aspects of the rules that were “unrealistic” or “utterly broken”. Others disagreed, stating that “those are the bits that are actually good” and suggested that perhaps “the bits you guys like are actually what is broken”. 

While a few posters did try to preach patience and calm, they were quickly dispatched by their more combat-savvy brethren. We spoke to some of the posters to find out what was upsetting them about the new rules. User Tyler Gnoll had this to say:

“Well, extrapolating from this tiny subsection of the final rules, it’s safe to say that there are going to be some totally broken and over-powered character builds. It’s crystal clear that the entire edition has been lazily slapped together by people with gelatinous cubes for brains. I’m going to have to house-rule basically every single thing in the game, so what am I actually paying them for? I almost wish there was some way for me to not pre-order the books.”

While fifth edition has been built from the ground up to incorporate elements of every previous edition, and to be highly customisable to suit personal taste, this isn’t enough for some fans of the previous editions:

“The game is basically just Fourth Edition with a different number on it,” said user Manuel P. Lane. “I can tell because there’s a rule in there that I don’t like.”

User Metro Gnome was even more scathing:

“I don’t see why I should bother even looking at this rubbish. There are all these rules that are somewhat different to First Edition, which is clearly the greatest of all editions. If I can’t play a game that is identical to 1E in every respect out of the box, then what’s the point?”

When asked why he didn’t just keep playing 1E, he replied: “I will, of course. But it’s the principle of the thing.”

For others, the previews meant the reopening of festering wounds like the debate over what the completely abstract systems of Hit Points and Armor Class represent in the real world (they don’t represent festering wounds, ironically).

“I’ve worn heavy armour in real life,” said user pXX, “and my Dexterity definitely affected my Armor Class. I forgot to write the exact numbers down, though.”

“Hit points represent meat,” said user Claude N. Board, “When you reduce someone’s HP, you’re cutting arms and legs and steaks and sausages off of them. The only way to heal that jazz is by magic, in my experience. Of course, losing pieces of yourself never reduces your combat effectiveness, but that’s okay because it’s all abstract anyway, right?”

While D&D is ostensibly a “role-playing” game based in the collective imaginations of its players, other points of contention to arise have included the new edition’s focus on story and roleplaying elements that don’t involve any math at all(!), and the game’s “rulings over rules” philosophy: 

“There needs to be a good, solid rule for absolutely anything and everything that a player could possibly imagine wanting to do,” said user Raul Sloyer. “I don’t care if that requires a Bookshelf of Infinite Holding. It makes me feel really uncomfortable to have to think of things that might not already have been thought of and written down, and then really vulnerable to have to talk to my Dungeon Master about them and have her judge whether or not they might be possible.”

Some were incensed less by the rules, and more by the fact that the rulebooks might contain superfluous information:

“I just can’t comprehend how they could waste all that space on rules that I won’t personally ever use! I was in the playtest and I gave them my phone number, but they never even called to check whether or not I care about electrum pieces!” said a clearly anxious Trudy Six.

While somewhat less controversial than the rules, the previewed art didn’t escape the gaze attack of learned forumite Knot Evil:

“Those goblins look totally wrong. Have they ever even met a goblin? Our … I mean, their noses aren’t anywhere near that big!”

It’s all looking pretty grim for the messageboard faithful. Tyler Gnoll went so far as to declare that he might even bugger off and never complain on a D&D board again. Amid muffled cheering from his fellows, he eventually changed his mind:

“The way I see it, I could cancel my pre-order and stay away from these boards. But then it’d always be at the back of my mind that all of this complaining would be going on here without me. And they probably won’t even be complaining about the right things. I think it’ll better for everyone if I take one of those newfangled Second Wind actions and stick around.”

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Stuff: Rob Conley's Thumbs up to D&D 5E and OSR Today

Hats off to Tenkar for scooping the existence of OSR Today, a news site collecting all things onerous task when you consider that there's a lot of OSR spread out over a few hundred blogs and a few dozen retroclones (never mind the non-D&D-likes!)

One of the articles on OSR Today was a link to Rob Conley's actual play report of D&D 5E from Origins. The TL:DR* version is: it felt just like any other edition of D&D pre-3E and could as easily have been C&C or Blood & Treasure. I don't know about you, but on my dart board of OSR captains Rob is very close to the center, so I'll take his endorsement as a clear suggestion that 5E may well bridge a gap between D&D now and D&D then....though I also am sure the D&D 4E fans will continue to be agitated...Well, you know what they say about how you can please some people all the time or all people some of the time.....

Anyway, check the actual play report and OSR Today out, cool stuff.

*For true grognards who might labor over this and not immediately consider springing to google for answers (for example such as my uncle), it means "too long; didn't read." However a true grognard definitely read the whole thing carefully, perhaps in a printed copy, identified and marked the pedantic inconsistencies, filed a full commentary and then presented a follow up or rebuttal in the next print copy of his or her fanzine, next to the article on just what a travesty it is that we're not seeing more hoopla about the 199th anniversary of Waterloo. =)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The last word on female warrior armor

Thanks to Game in the Brain for discovering this....the couple in the video are hillarious, and make some damned good points about the problem women warriors face in melee....

Good News Everyone! Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls is looking good

Rick Loomis released a beta test version of the Deluxe T&T rules to backers today. If you're a backer check your email. I'll say this:

1. What's released so far is formatted and in layout with art and looks very clean and orderly.

2. It's already got 105 pages done but the page count says it should be 178 pages long plus a 16 page quickstart in the back ("short form rules")

3. I like what they did with talents in this iteration, it's a smart and not overly "baby with the bathwater" way to deal with it.

4. The art in the beta is awesome.

5. This looks like a version of T&T I really want to play. Like, yesterday. Right now. Damnit!

Since they still have the spell lists and other stuff yet to go, I'm guessing we'll probably not see this in time for August GenCon but maybe we'll see it before the D&D 5E DMG releases in November.

Games as Good Reads vs. Games As Good Rules

Expounding on my thoughts yesterday, I realized that you can really measure most RPGs on the market in terms of their readability vs. their functionality....that is, how fun it is to read the book, vs. how easy it is to figure out how to play from that book.

Most games seem to skew sharply in one direction or the other in my experience. If you're lucky the game will be both fun to read and as a side effect it will explain the rules to you along the way. More than a few contemporary games are fun to read because they are full of exciting fiction but the moment you get to the actual rules the game turns south, becoming morbidly dry text by comparison to the effective fiction it had up to that point been tantalizing you with. A few games suck horribly at the fiction, and those are unmentionables which neither entertain nor inform you of their intent in any meaningful way....they're the $1 bargain basement/ebay specials we run across on occasion in many cases.

In case you're wondering I'd label a lot of White Wolf/Onyx Publishing content in this category: fantastic reads, and with any luck the rules will become apparent as a side effect.

Of course...I'd probably suggest a number of FATE systems for games where the reading is great but the rules exposition is a nightmare of confusion. But I am self-identified as too "traditional" to grokk FATE so whadda I know.

Games which inform the reader of the rules extremely well usually do so by getting right to the point, being brief and clear. Only a few games in my experience really do this well. Savage Worlds is (in my estimation) the pinnacle (pun intended) of such design: clear, highly focused and lighting rod-on-the-money rules with no frills beyond lots of cool graphics and suggested but brief exposition by the author to keep you learning. Other games known for such flare include Tunnels & Trolls 5th edition, B/X Dungeons & Dragons, and Call of Cthulhu. It probably helps that the game systems for each is fairly basic.

More complex systems have given it a go, usually by refining their core rules into a lite package with generally okay results; Hero Basic does pretty well at condensing the whole game into a digestible package that's not too painful to read through, while GURPS has a fantastic lite edition which while ultimately short on enough content to use on its own is still the ideal teaching tool for GURPS. Speaking of which, as complex systems go I have to commend GURPS 4E for being fairly readable (imo) if'll enjoy trying to learn GURPS, even if the game still has too much crunch for most mortals to handle. Hero is similar; it's a fun read even if I never properly absorb any of it all for actual play.

There are games which fail at all of the above....some quite good, but nonetheless coming up short in terms of their ability to fullly engage the reader with either prose or clarity for obscure reasons. It's a bit of a personal call on what systems fit the bill, but I have a few of my own: I've always been baffled at just why I, a guy who reads a lot of modern SF and transgenic fiction, can't stomach reading Eclipse Phase. I similarly find Numenera hard to get into despite liking everything it seems to offer. Edge of the Empire might be a fantastic system but the little symbols the game uses are hard for my brain to pronounce/reconcile so I will never know. Similarly I know I should love Runequest 6 but my nagging visual disorder which prevents me from tolerating its odd font loops stops me cold. Then there are games like Mutants & Masterminds which feels like an enormous word count for what should be a more wiz-bang get-to-the-fun sort of game. MnM desperately needs a 64 page lite version that gets to the point....

There are some games that are just badly written and maybe even poorly designed, though it's hard to discover that if you're too busy suffering in pain at the prose. I honestly label a fair chunk of the Pathfinder/3rd edition D&D body of works under this label; there's a lot of stuff out there that's just not fun to read at all, and anyone who tells you otherwise is just trying to justify their obsessive collection habits in the face of crap. Most games that fail to be entertaining or illuminating usually die or get buried....there are a quite a few out there, lingering like the onerous beasts they are, hulking in the wilds of used book shops and PDF sales events.

I happen to have a short list of what I believe are the five coolest, most smartly written RPGs on the market. These are the five games I feel do the best job of both telling you and teaching you what they are and how they work. In no particular order:

Tunnels & Trolls 5th edition - the definitive T&T, and the one most people think of when they take a trip down nostalgia lane.

Cyberpunk 2020 - Mike Pondsmith's (NOT Richard Talsorian) engaging street samurai prose made this game come to life big time, and was fully integrated with the rules. Every game he wrote was great, but CP2020 was far and away the most engagingly written, fun read in an RPG before or since, and the reason most other cyberpunk genre RPGs fail is because they couldn't figure this part about CP2020's success out.

Savage Worlds - as I said earlier, Hensley writes to the point and keeps you on target. Anyone can take the Explorers Edition and run a game in thirty minutes, or be world building in two hours.

13th Age - nestled somewhere between old school and very, very new school 13th Age is an interesting beast. It's got a huge thing going for it: the game is well written, with an engaging tone and ease of style that makes figuring out the game very easy. This is probably the only full RPG I've bought in the last year that I have read cover to cover and thoroughly enjoyed. It's only flaw is that they are taking too long to get new books out.

Call of Cthulhu - the core rules are elegant and simple; the subject matter compelling and detailed. This horror game has survived as long as it has for a reason.

And now for the Best of the Inversion, fantastic story that conveys the rules, even if by accident:

Over the Edge - in a curious inversion, the engaging dialogue teaches you how to play with little effort at all; the rest of the game is all prose and fiction about the bizarre world of OtE on the island of Al'Amarja, and that's where most people will spend their time puzzling crap out...

Blood & Smoke (or anything WoD): The Strix Chronicles - a excellent reimagining of 2nd edition Vampire: the Requiem in which every page drips with suggestions, ideas, story and character. The game is in there somewhere too, I think.

And four games I love which are fun reads but terrible at teaching their own game (or making it interesting, anyway):

Legends of Anglerre - the only FATE game I got close to understanding. Well written and makes me want to play it, but even LoA didn't quite have what it takes to explain to a FATE newb how the hell it works (or at least how you can shed old school sensibilities and embrace the structured chaos of the FATE mechanics).

Conspiracy X and AFMBE - I have always found Eden Studios' wonderful games (Conspiracy X and All Flesh Must Be Eaten) to be awesome reads but the actual rules component is dry, sterile and uninteresting. I love both games but have never bothered to run either due to the agonizing, jarring contrast of the bland rules text vs. the amazing story text of those systems.

Mutants & Masterminds - oh god how can such a cool game be so boring to read?!?!?! Is it just me? I refer to the 3rd edition, which mechanically looks like exactly what I want out of a superhero RPG, but oh my god I can't suffer through reading the damned thing.

Finally, I give Hero System and GURPS 4E a pass, because I've learned (and run) both albeit with a strong desire not to devote more time to either game in the future without lots of pre-made stuff to cut down the "work time" it takes to make either system function.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fiddling around with DCC: The time/energy problem in absorbing Big Huge RPG Books

Not much to blog about just yet....spent a four day weekend enjoying life away from the real world for a bit, with only my cell phone as a tether. While on vacation I did get a little time (not much) to poke at DCC a bit before the sheer volume of "stuff" overwhelmed me and I turned to easier entertainment. It's hard to find that energy when you have a 2 1/2 year old kid (or kids, as the weekend worked out; lots and lots of kids everywhere).

Before I say anything else: it's not that DCC is voluminous (though it is big and wordy) nor is it complex (though it is designed to do a lot of fiddly bits well). It's not even a very dry read (it tries hard not to be). Rather it's an issue of age and familiarity; DCC is another D&D-like in a long and venerable line of such games, and it's particular take is quite entertaining, but in the end it's still another rulebook with a bunch of rules that you need to learn to go from " look at this book" to "I'm playing a game." So that was the wall I ran into; I run into the same problem with Numenera, Shadorun 5th, Edge of the Empire and others....they are big, fat books that require a lot of free time to read and digest. They are also games which (for me at least) are just different enough mechanically that I can't just jump around and skim the books to start playing (not anymore, anyway); they need me to actually read them, to invest time and energy....something I'm in short supply of.

DCC has a slightly different issue, though: it's a big book, but it feels very familiar at times. It's got lots of rules that are sort of like or very close to other D20 system rules, and as such it's a game which you have to learn by virtue of determining "how we do things differently round these here parts." One problem I have run into with D&D-likes is very common for me: at a certain point you get rules fatigue; you get tired of trying to remember how which system does Initiative this way, or how which game handles dual-weapon attacks that way, and so on and so forth. It was a serious unspoken problem back when I ran 4th edition D&D and Pathfinder at the same time; you could get tripped up by the similar but slightly different rules all the time. It was why my C&C games always ended with us moving back to AD&D 2nd edition, which ironically was different enough from the post-D20 era of D&D that it felt like a different game entirely, and triggered none of those expectations.

Anyway, this is a lot of writing to say that I made a level 1 fighter in DCC, got about midway through the combat mechanics, stared a long time at the magic rules and thought about how they looked easy enough if I could find a quick summary of how it worked somewhere, and then I realized my graphic novels and PS Vita (with Killzone: Mercenaries and Borderlands 2 begging for attention) were just sitting there promising less work to achieve more immediate fun.

I'm still going to figure out DCC, though. Just need to find the necessary energy and time....

Tomorrow: Void Core, maybe!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Games to look at in the coming weeks: Remnants, In Flames, Mutant Epoch, Over the Edge, DCC and more

I've been accumulating RPGs (in print) at a dangerous rate over the last year or three. I once had a vast collection of games in the past, but various interesting bottlenecks in my life led to times when it just wasn't prudent to haul a metric ton of books around, and that left my collection fairly bare. These days, I focus on what looks interesting...and also what turns out to actually be interesting.

Anyway, I figure as a sort of "official unofficial" theme for the next dozen or so weeks until D&D 5E is officially a thing I plan on looking at these games and see what sort of blog posts they inspire. My list is focused mostly on games that have that ever important intangible that makes even considering this action possible: readability, close cousin to the number two requirement for a good game, which is accessibility. For me to enjoy the game it needs to be readable. For me to see the game as something I can play it must also be accessible. If the game's mechanics are baroque and obscure, hidden or convoluted in mechanisms that defy my preferred style of gaming...then it's probably not on this list. A few games I love won't make it for this reason: despite a keen interest in Hero System, I don't have the energy to devote to making that game work (though I am reading Star Hero and liking it).

A third requisite tends to be the unique/original/interesting spin factor for a game. There are games I like (anything by Sine Nomine, for example) which won't make this list because despite being good games they are still homages, creations designed to emulate or inspire others based on the memory of another, different game. Retroclones, in other words....the closest anything on this list gets to a retroclone is Dungeon Crawl Classics, which I believe is decidedly not a retroclone, although its core seven classes may confuse people into thinking so. DCC in recreating a vision of the past is extremely, weirdly modern in its own right (but more about that soon).

So over the next twelve or so weeks through August I'm going to focus on these games in no particular order:
In Flames
Savage Worlds
Mutant Epoch
Over the Edge
Dungeon Crawl Classics
Wild Talents
Blood & Smoke
Cryptworld (okay, I'll make an exception for retroclones here)
...and possibly others if there's time.

I'll try exploring each in the context of a mixed bag of reviews, useful material and ideas. Who knows! It's another one of those "writer's exercises" I like to engage in to force myself to produce content outside my comfort zone. More to come...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Pergerron: The Vumaskans and Atakans of Ruined Gatana, and the Freeport of Kordalos

The inner city of Gatana shrouded in darkness beneath the great towers
Gatana was a vast and impressive city in ancient times, a monument to the power of the ancient civilization which worshipped the Primordials, though not part of the Empire of Sar, believed to be a frontier city along the westernmost border of an eastern empire sometimes called Striasha. As Sar is believed to have been populated by the ancient elves Striasha was said to have been the dominion of the now rare vumaskans, tall blue skinned half-giants of great strength and intellect. The vumaskans were noted for their six-fingered hands and feet as well as their exotic cobalt blue skin. Some say vumaskans were gifted with a third eye granting them mystical sight by the primordial Vos Kar, but that this gift was just as quickly stripped away by the enkanneth Suliversa. Today one in twenty vumaskans are born with the mystical third eye, which they can manifest or dispel at will; this orb manifests as an actual third eye upon their forehead.

The vumaskans are a sparse race, for their numbers were devastated in the old war between enkanneth and primordial; the purging magic of old bathed Striasha in eldritch fire and killed many of their kind. Today they are an unusual race of scholarly wanderers and nomads, plying their trade as merchants and explorers of the rare, unusual and occult. Wanderers….except for two locations: a vigilant tribe of vumaskans have made an unusual home out of the young Freeport of Kordalos, formed by the ataskan warriors who proudly follow their leader, Kord. Kord is an ataskan warlord and magician who claims that he is in communion with a young new god named Shuutol. Though some believe Shuutol is one of the primordial spawn, Kord claims that Shuutol is the first of a new generation of gods to rise to power, birthed centuries ago from an ataskan mother in virgin birth, he grew to full adulthood in one day and became a great prophet among his people for nearly two centuries before one day building a vast tomb for himself in the ruins of Gatana. There Shuutol entered, proclaiming that through his magic the path to true enlightenment lay at the end of the maze-like structure of the tomb complex beneath his pyramid. Those who were pure of spirit could enter, either in spirit after death or theoretically alive in the flesh and follow the true path to heavenly paradise; if, of course, you were truly enlightened. Kord is a high-priest and sorcerer dedicated to the Way of Shuutol, and his flock strives to follow the teachings of Shuutol as revealed through Kord’s spiritual communion with the demiurge.

When the atakan tribes following Kord arrived in the region twenty years ago they found that the city of Gatana, which had been occupied by atakans in Shuutol’s time, had since been overrun with serpent men, lizard men and other monsters who served another of The Ten, the demiurge Sibitsen Muukol. The atakans were strong but not numerous enough to drive out the monstrous squatters in the ruins, who had spent a great deal of energy erecting a great monument-pyramid to Sibitsen Muukol on the eastern edge of the city. They established the Freeport of Kordala, named after their leader, thirty miles south at the mouth of a tributary and formed a new community. It was only a few years later that the vumaskan nomads led by imperator Hamagas happened upon their growing community and asked for permission to settle in the region. In short order Kordala became the largest local city of primarily nonhuman citizens in the River Anansis region.

Two decades of hostilities, truces and periodic efforts at invasion have led to a constant state of conflict and tension between the river port of Kordala and the denizens of Gatana. Many human mercenaries have traveled to Kordala, driven by the prospect of easy money in service to Kord or Hamagas, and still others arrive with an eye to steal the guarded wealth of Gatana.

Where once there was a handful of atakan settlers there is now a prominent young city with great walls being constructed and farmland for miles around. Kordala today has a population of roughly twelve thousand atakans, 1,500 vumaskans and a medley of other races, including roughly four hundred elves from the Sybariti tribe which migrated into the area after the orcish raids out of Mt. Gol left them homeless, and a tribe of halflings called the Glimmerwrights, known for their staggering artisanal skills and intimate familiarity with the vast delta region of the coast. As is inevitable, perhaps five thousand human men and their families have migrated into the region, though they are required to acknowledge Kord as their proper ruler and swear fealty to no human king.

Western Gatana on a sunny day
A mere thirty miles from Kordala rests the ominous ruins of Gatana, a great and largely intact array of skyward-reaching ruins noted for their ancient, alien architecture and the immense earthenwork pyramid to the eastern edge of the city that appears to be under endless construction. The nominal rulers of Gatana are the serpent men priests of the ophidian demiurge Sibitsen Muukol. Their leader is the grotesque chaos hybrid called The Hydra of Draedas, a serpent man born of the taint of chaos, said to have been fathered by Sibitsen Muukol on the night of a blood red moon during a profane alignment of the stars. This serpent man stands taller than most and has three heads, each of which moves and speaks independently….and can cast spells independently. Rumors that his very blood is poisonous are told as well, that no one can strike him lest they succumb immediately to the vapors emitted by any wound upon his body.

Despite their dominance in the ruins, the serpent men willingly let other monstrous kin occupy the area, so long as they recognize the greatness of Sibitsen Muukol. The lizardfolk of the coast serve them as cheap labor and soldiers, while other monsters such as trolls, ogres and orcs occupy the city in some sort of tragic pantomime of reali civilization. The monsters of Gatanas seem decidedly primitive, even wild compared to their kin elsewhere; orcs can be very organized and even cultured (from a certain point of view) but the orcs of Gatanas are little better than wild men and thieves.
Serpent priest of Sibitsen Muukol
Gatanas holds many secrets, few of which have been plumbed. The two-century old pyramid of Shuutol is one, resting near the heart of the city alone in the center of a vast plaza. The pyramid is regarded as a dangerous place haunted by the spirits of the dead, and left alone by most monstrous denizens in the area. The immense ruins themselves, some of them creaking frameworks of ancient buildings that rose a hundred stories tall, loom large throughout the city like jungle-draped canvases of decay, suggesting that the power of the ancients was vast. The skeletal frames of these ancient buildings appears to have been made from some sort of material similar too but lighter and stronger than metal, and does not decay. Many of the monsters of Gatanas have built elaborate layered lairs using wood and other materials to stretch out between the girders of these skeletal ruins.

Artifacts always drive interest in the ruins, for both monsters, tomb robbers and the atakans of Kordala. The artifacts of the ancient people of Striasha were truly wondrous; weapons of great destruction, devices which no longer work but hint at unimaginable magic and the relics of other impressive devices clearly suggest a command of technology and magic far beyond modern understanding. Whether the ancient vumaskans were technomancers of the highest order or something else is unknown; not even the vumaskans, who while long-lived by human standards (up to 150 years old) remember much of their old ways, only that the fall from their peak of civilization was great, and when it was all said and done 99% of their people had perished, their history, lore, culture and technology all but lost.

Imperator Hamagas

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On Dungeon Crawl Classics

I've been reading Dungeon Crawl Classics lately. I looked into it when it first came out and (at the time) found it wasn't what I needed at that moment....but time has a way of changing one's perspective, and after my recent B/X D&D binge I decided to give DCC another look-see. Glad I did; I secured a copy of the Easely cover edition with the art insert, and a couple modules (with a bunch more on the way). I also recently snagged DAMN! issue one in PDF and the first two issues of the Crawljammer fanzine in print (still not sure how to get my PDFs, need to ask), which really is a weird blast from the past.....I was "cutting edge" in the world of fanzines in the 80's and its really interesting to see the form come back into existence. Tempting me to try my hand at it! That way lies madness. I'll stick to the blog. Still.....

DCC is probably a familiar game to most bloggers and blog-perusers in this neck of the woods, but if by some miracle you are not familiar with it, here's six points worth noting about the game:

The Weird Dice: You probably know it has weird dice. It also has conversion notes for how to play without them in case that's not obvious. However, I discovered that this guy sells DCC dice sets and so there you go (I plan to order a couple sets).

The B/X Classes: DCC uses B/X styled classes, at least at the core. So elf, dwarf and halfling are races. This is something I was not keen on until the last year or so when my mind about this gradually shifted from one of intense dislike at the concept (dating back to 1981 when I hated the concept even more) to a weird sort of acceptance.

The Crazy Random Spell Effects: DCC is nothing if not determined to make every potential spell cast a deadly or weird event if you don't do it right...or luck is not with you. This is pretty much half the book; spells and their enormous, sometimes complicated, always interesting unintended side effects and escalating craziness based on how good (or bad) you roll. The first time I saw this I thought it looked like work. With my more recent reading I realize it's a stroke of evil genius.

An Effort to De-Typify Monsters: There are a fair number of standard monsters in the book, but DCC makes a special effort to randomize whenever possible, or provide suitable direction on how to make every humanoid, demon, dragon and other weirdness just a bit hard to identify, or unique in its own right. This is part of the philosophy of making the game feel "new" in the sense that it works to defeat player expectations that they can identify and type/categorize creatures.

Appendix N as the Weird Fantasy Mashup Genre: This is what D&D would have looked like if Appendix N was gospel rather than just an interesting reading list of fiction at the time. A lot is made about Appendix N from the original AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide, but one thing which is often overlooked is that back in 1978 there wasn't nearly as much constant, never-ending output in fantasy and SF as there is today. For this reason many people interpret Appendix N as some sort of holy grail as to what AD&D was defined by, and they are partially right in so far as when you look at the broad swathe of fantasy fiction in the 1960's and 1970's Appendix N isn't a niche corner of that selection: it's a good representative sampling of everything that was available. Indeed, one could argue that if Appendix N was meant to be the "special secret sauce" tp AD&D then you could learn just as much about what AD&D was not by looking for fiction from the time period that was excluded from the list. But here's the catch: it really wasn't "all that was D&D" for the time, it was an example of what Gary Gygax liked, and what inspired him; but I like to think he realized his game was bigger than just him, just Appendix N, and all that....and also that Gary in all likelihood never stopped reading fantasy fiction...right? So from a D&D historical perspective Appendix N is an interesting myth and parable of how someone can historically go back and find greater meaning in something than perhaps was relevant at the time the subject was young and new.

So what does that have to do with DCC? Well DCC is what I would call a alternate history D&D in which AD&D was built specifically to emulate Appendix N, by someone who specifically called out the most delineating features of weirdness and the exotic from the tomes on that list. It's a fascinating study in just what D&D could have looked like if it had been bult from the ground up to be a sort of 60's/70's weird fantasy genre mashup emulator specifically aimed at drawing out those tropes, and not what D&D actually was: a wargame turned into the first RPG with an effort to encapsulate fantasy fiction in a broad manner which allowed for a wide array of interpretations (for the time).

Anyway, the thing about this is that it makes DCC a very interesting modern variant on D&D. DCC is D&D viewed backwards in time through the lens of a modern viewer, who is seeing fantasy that was once the default, the norm....and realizing that in the last forty years we've moved quite a distance away from it all, such that an artifact like Appendix N now stands out as a unique benchmark of something that while unique today was at one time "no big deal" if you will (other than that between the age of 10 and 14 I used that list in the DMG to read every book I could get my hands on by every author on the list....)

The Modules are Great: I love the DCC modules I've read so far, and I also like that I think I could port them over to pretty much any variant of the game (and if I don't actually get to run DCC I will almost certainly adapt the modules to either D&D 5E or Pathfinder). I'm not a big fan of most modern modules....but DCC's style hits the right spot for me. If you never buy DCC the game, at least look at the modules.

About the only thing I don't like so far in DCC is that damned warrior in his bell-bottom striped pants. What the hell....I may have been a kid in the 70's, but I don't recall anyone actually liking bell-bottoms. Some fashion trends need to stay buried in the dungeon.....

Monday, June 9, 2014

How to make enemies of the local major wizard - a Magic World fable

My Magic World game on Saturdays was a hoot. The players had wrapped up the previous scenario and were spending some time purchasing goods in anticipation of their extended road trip plans, escorting a Vumaskan merchant to his home in Kordala, a lengthier journey than it needs to be since the vumaskan in question owes the harbormaster a princely sum and he is barred from access to the docks on pain of he's going to hoof it to the freeport of Vespas to the south and then hire river transport from there. Yes, this is all in the Pergerron setting I've been sticking a lot of content about in my blogs recently.

Anyway, one of the stalwart adventurers, a city elf spellblade by trade with a keen interest in all things necromantic sought out a local scholar or mage who could help divine the secrets of her recently acquired evil-looking (and behaving) gems, the Eyes of Hox Nagor. This, as they say, ended up being a very enjoyable "plot derailment" moment in which the PCs charged off to aid her in what started as a "find the wizard and see if he can identify these" into a "help the wizard find his stolen book and missing apprentice, who may have run off with a local floozy or possibly a rival wizard." Evil bat-men, a tunnel to the underworld, the discovery of a dying apprentice who was then "parted out" by said necromantophile, a haunted cat said to be possessed by something which self-identified as a passion spirit (hint: it's much more than that) which taught them some magic in exchange for freedom of movement letting the spirit take control of the earlier aforementioned floozy....a displeased mage learning of the "parting out" of his former apprentice....a golem in the mix, sudden fire at the mage's house, stolen horses and a quick escape later and we had a full evening's entertainment. Yikes!

We left off with the adventurers following a spirit-possessed prostitute on stolen horses heading to the ancient haunted Hill of Giants, where they can find the landmark that marks the trail that leads to the ancient, evil hut of the legendary Lich Aruman.Because y'know, things happen.

It was a crazy evening.

I'm really starting to love my new setting, and Magic World is proving to be a stellar system for the unique flavor I wanted to achieve in Pergerron. I could (and would) use Runequest 6 for this world as well, and may do so in the future, limiting only theistic magic which has no place interestingly in Pergerron's weird cosmology, where all magic comes from one source. Whether the caster wants to think the power comes from the gods or not is entirely up to him...

Off the Grid

I posted the following over on a couple days ago but expect it will be buried deep in the middle of a long thread on why we all hate the grid/mini mechanics. Started, of course, by one of the 4E fans who doesn't understand why people might have issues with the 4E methodology, or why a system which gives you an immensely elaborate combat system and then skimps on everything else might seem a bit weighted toward a certain style of play. preserve my response, I offer it up here:

I never, ever used minis for any game prior to D&D 3.5, and only then it was because I started a group with an emphasis on minis gaming that went back many years. It was my first experience with a group of D&Ders who saw minis as an essential component of the play experience in 2003, and it was quite a contrast from the way I had played the game for two and a half decades, in which the only time I ever gamed with or knew anyone who ever used minis for anything was an occasional old crusty DM at a convention using his ragged tape-bound 1E AD&D manuals. Still, 3.5 seemed to need it, so I worked minis in to the experience and even got into collecting the prepainted ones.

My experience from that period (2003-2005) was a mixture of fond memories of the overall game coupled with what I considered an unavoidable slowdown of the actual game experience due to the time and energy that setting up and carrying out the grid combat took. Battles were no longer a part of the story, they were a separate deal unto themselves. Still....I got used to it, even though I felt like I had migrated to a different universe where my favorite game was strangely different and a bit hostile toward the way I wanted to enjoy it.

I threw myself wholeheartedly into 4E because it made the grid combat more fun (at least for the first few levels of play) but it was a "solution" to a problem that was artificial: it "fixed" 3.5 grid based combat by getting rid of the possibility of gridless combat entirely and making every rule, ever, about the grid. I could still do gridless with 3.5 so long as my players were up for it; I couldn't do it in 4E without serious house-ruling and chucking out entire swathes of the game design.

Still, 4E worked great as a grid/minis RPG but it became apparent after a while that the game's focus on elaborate combat was at the expense of everything else; it was a game about combat, with other stuff getting lip service. It had a minimalist skill system, few rules or guidelines for how anything worked outside of battle and a ritual spell system that was onerous in its application, discouraging players from using it to resolve conflicts. It was a game about providing all sorts of solutions to 3.5 problems that were only problems in the first place because 3.5 ignored the more pragmatic older edition methodology in favor of its own codifications.

As a non grid/minis example of how 3E chucked out old design limits that were effective: the spell caster as all powerful quadritic wizard phenomenon was created because of this. One of the reasons wizards got so tough in 3E was because the game effectively stopped paying attention to preparation times and the real, actual cost of spell ingredients that had been a requisite to casting so many spells in 1st and 2nd edition. These were in-game story limits, so they didn't fit with the design theme of 3E, but they were very, very good limitations when correctly enforced.

Anyway.....I am now of a mindset where I am used to a map and minis and we play Pathfinder fairly fast and loose, using the board when it makes sense and resolving other combats when it does not. However, the prospect of a 5th edition D&D where I can run the entire game the way I used to do AD&D 1st and 2nd edition, without ever once seeing a solitary miniature except for general tracking purposes, has me utterly smitten. I can hardly wait!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Runequest 6 free basic rules

Well this surprised me....Design Mechanism now has a free lite version of the Runequest 6 rules right here. Interesting....I sense an ongoing trend.....

Some points about this Basic free version of Runequest worth noting:

1. this is a full featured game. You get everything you need to run Runequest, for free, for a very long time.

2. This version has theism and folk magic, so other options such as sorcery are reserved in the main rules.

3. it's gorgeously illustrated. I suspect if they offered a POD version it would sell well.

4. It still uses that font that makes the damned book painful for me to read due to what I assume is some exotic mental/visual glitch in my brain (the damned curliques around the "sp," "st" and elsewhere make reading this font very annoying for some reason).

Check it out! The price is right...

Friday, June 6, 2014

Talking about D&D 5E with the FLGS

When the game wrapped Wednesday night I had a conversation with the store owners (my weekly Wednesday game always meets at the game center of the local game store). It was interesting, as they weren't clued in to many of the forthcoming D&D 5th Edition announcements or details which I talked to them about at length. Some of the interesting bits I gleaned out of the conversation were as follows:

1. 4E sales had been dead pretty much since 5th edition was announced. They stopped stocking 4E a while ago, as they couldn't move any of their product on the shelves.

2. Apparently they did not like the multi-volume Player's Handbooks and had a lot of trouble selling the game because the PHB 1, 2 and 3 served as an obstacle to buy-in for new players who felt like they had to make a huge investment to start playing in order to feel like they had the complete rules (not untrue by any stretch). The subsequent Essentials books just made things worse. They are fearful that the same will happen to 5E, although I told them Mike Mearls is on record as stating WotC doesn't plan to release more than one PHB and DMG.

3. No one locally is running any D&D Encounters stuff right now, but I suggested they get involved with the planned organized play for 5E, as it sounds like it's going to go over really well. Locally Pathfinder Society people say that they are apparently expecting to lose a lot of people to the new organized play for D&D 5E, and that the memory of the very well run RPGA events is a big driver for people to go back to D&D.

4. The FLGS owners are hopeful that 5E will focus on adventure modules for sales. They are also hopeful that some sort of OGL or convenient 3PP support will come out of all this, or they feel that 5E is doomed from the get-go without the ability to demonstrate the support of independent publishers. If WotC doesn't do that then they feel it will be dead by this time next year.

5. Apparently they hadn't received any promotional material or details on the forthcoming schedule for D&D 5E, planned events or frankly anything at all from Wizards of the Coast. Hmmmmm....

Food for thought!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Resuming Pathfinder

My Wednesday group decided that it was time to return to Pathfinder, so 13th Age is out for now and Pathfinder is back in 100%. However we're going for low-powered gritty Pathfinder, which is being done by starting at level 1, with a 15 point attribute spread instead of rolling or doing 20 point buy. Everyone used the Background path generator from the Ultimate Campaign book; that's a nice extra feature that I have at last seen in action and I liked it, as the random generation of a background history created some interesting story potential.

The game feels different....really different, actually, since playing 13th Age for a few months has created a strong sense of contrast between what we left off on last week and what we're doing now. 13th Age is a game about Big Damn Heroes who are Really Important. Pathfinder down-dirty-and-gritty like this is about the peons that 13th Age heroes use as stepping stones to greatness. While there's something to be said for a system that cuts to the chase and starts everyone off with cool stuff and amazing connections to the icons, there's an entirely different and meaningful feel to a campaign where you know you're going to earn every damn bit of power, every conection through blood, sweat and tears: and mortality is an ever-looming terminus to your success.

Yes, you could say we're going old school on this one, or more accurately we're going back to old school. Pathfinder may be a modern edition of the game, but you can still run it hardcore classic style if everyone is on board with the notion.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Meanwhile in Pathfinder News

Since the last few weeks have been pretty much all D&D 5E all the time when it comes to the spider-web of blogs and odd chat sites that comprise the news resources for all thing tabletop RPG, I thought I'd do something no one else is doing and talk about what Pathfinder has going. I have a vested interest, as my Saturday group is returning to Pathfinder next session, and my Wednesday group has already rebelled and is returning to Pathfinder this week.

I'm cool with it. If there's one thing I've learned from 13th Age it's that I like a slower and more methodical game system, with a bit more nuance. 13th Age handles a certain style of play extremely well (gonzo heroic) but it's pace and feel, while great for an occasional romp, is not suited to my default style of play.

So....what's up with Pathfinder?

Paizo of course needs to throw some stuff out for later this year that will look equally attractive next to the onslaught of D&D tomes about to hit. They've got the usual fine Reynolds art lined up, with a great cover for the looming Advanced Class Guide scheduled for sometime in August (probably for GenCon):

You can still get the Advanced Class Guide playtest document and take the ten new classes contained within for a spin. Each class is a hybrid of two core classes. It's an interesting concept, another subversive strike from Pathfinder against the 3rd edition method of multi-classing, right behind archetypes and the idea of classes that are more fun for 20 whole levels. Given how rarely my players multi-class, I guess their war against the habit is working.

Next up is the Pathfinder Strategy Guide slated for sometime in Octoberish:

Bound to be the ruination of campaigns everywhere as players who like to make interesting and role-play focused characters read it and learn how to min-max like a pro....

After that we have the Monster Codex, also scheduled for "October" so expect it by December:
This one has me excited. It focuses on twenty popular monsters from the Bestiaries, looking in great depth on them. It sounds like a combination ecology guide/race guide/stat block heaven lineup in which the GM can lean on this book for lots of pre-statted orcs and other monsters that make for interesting encounters without having to do all the footwork; the most excruciating part of Pathfinder and 3E for many a GM, of course, is those horrendous stat blocks. If this game offers up a mess of interesting pre-made villain NPCS, consider me sold.

Most of the slim books haven't been grabbing me, but this one is an exception- the Pathfinder Technology Guide:

The descriptions suggests that this book actually has some real meat to it (sort of what I wished Distant Worlds had been), with loads of equipment and useful material for adding sci-fi fantasy tech to your campaign setting, or blending it to make your own planetary romance/gamma world knock off. Could be interesting....the Technology Guide looms large this August. Maybe next year Paizo will pull the trigger and release a full-blown hard cover high tech planetary romance manual, a "Ultimate Space Campaigns" book or something......