Monday, December 31, 2018

Deathbat's Tabletop Gaming Predictions for 2019



Ah, this is going to be a tough one because the game industry (for RPGs, at least) is fairly stable and predictable these days. But I'll give it a shot with some suggestions for what may come to be:

1. D&D will see an official sourcebook for at least two of these: Spelljammer, Dark Suns, or Eberron

It's clear that Wizards of the Coast has been setting up all three for a return at some point, the question is just: when? And will we see more Ravnica/Planewalker stuff for Magic soon?

2. Far West will not appear this year, and therefore not appear this decade

I have no bone in this failed Kickstarter that is somehow still in limbo after something like seven years. Follow Erik Tenkar for occasional "updates" on the Kickstarter, but the only certainty anymore is that clocks are right twice a day, and this Kickstarter kicked the bucket a long time ago, but the author manages to keep stringing it out to hopefully run out the statute of limitations on lawsuits, I am guessing. 

3. Modiphius will hit some sort of Criticality this year

Modiphius is a prolific publisher and distributor, and just acquired the controls to the entire World of Darkness line in the wake of some shake ups at Paradox/White Wolf over poor editorial controls. As a result Modiphius now has a ridiculous number of titles and IPs under its belt, possibly more than they can handle, although I admit I have no information on total staff size or arrangements.

In general Modiphius has been brilliant at handling high quality print and PDF distribution, Kickstarters and distribution deals. I don't know how long they can sustain, and given that they were the only retailer online I ordered from in the last two months that was not quite able to fulfill their orders within the same month that the orders were placed, I suspect that they may be a bit overwhelmed. My prediction is that this year Modiphius could do very well, but it is possible --likely, even-- that they have bitten off more than they can chew at last, and I wonder if some of their product lines are maybe not moving as fast as they should? Even Cubicle 7 seems to have streamlined their product schedule, for example.

It could be that Modiphius is effectively sliding in to a new category of publisher/distributor and maybe is closer to Fantasy Flight Games in terms of scope now than, say, Cubicle 7. But I predict either way that we'll see some sort of impact on their high volume of product output this year.

4. D&D will see more than four major releases from WotC this year

D&D seems to be doing well enough that we're seeing more product creep, which is either a good thing or not depending on who you are. I predict we will see five major releases this year instead of four like last year, with some clever tie-ins to work it all together.

5. Pathfinder 2.0 Release will please the hardcore and capture the curious but fail to expand market share

I don't think this is a brave prediction, unfotunately. I think that the open playtest led to an unfortunate feedback loop in which players turned off by the playtest simply bailed out, and the ones willing to embrace it stayed in, and as a result the playtest will be a solid refinement of what that core likes, while missing the information necessary to expand the game to include the larger overall audience. Will it be playable? Absolutely. Will it be worth playing? Only if it offers an experience that is competitive with D&D in a way that is going to capture new players. Unfortunately I think it's going in the opposite direction.

6. Palladium may go belly up

Possibly not until 2020, but I have a feeling that Palladium will hit rock bottom and finally go kaput this year. Too much negativity from burned fans over Robotech may be the cause, but it's chiefly due to the fact that while many could argue Palladium's games have been stuck in the nineties, now even their business practices are stuck in the nineties, and this along with what seem to be perpetual financial woes may be it for them. I could possibly be wrong here.....but only in that this may not happen until 2020 or maybe 2021, but since I need something contentious for my list this is a good bet.

7. The Fantasy Trip gets a serious revival

This is a no-brainer: TFT is being released, in print, by Marchish. Steve Jackson Games is providing an encouraging online storefront for new product. We'll see the release of classic TFT lead either to serious expansions or a 2nd edition announced before the end of the year.

8. BRP revised finally appears

Fingers crossed, we will see the new 32 page BRP book and maybe an updated Mythic Iceland in PDF at least before December 2019. Of course, Chaosium still needs to get print versions of the Glorantha Bestiary and GM Screen out, which I sincerely hope does happen....even if you're not a Glorantha fan, the game is amazing and deserves attention. It will MAKE you a Glorantha fan!

....okay, that's enough of that! I'll do one for Computer Gaming next.




Wednesday, December 26, 2018

2018 Movies in Review


This was a long and movie-filled year. Were they all good movies? Nope. Were any of them great movies? A few. This was also the year predicted by some Youtube Nostradamii as the movie apocalypse, a time in which a big budget tentpole/AAA release hits every week through the whole year and leads to the collapse of multiple film studios and/or publishers. Which did not happen...imagine!

2018 does, for me, mark a couple significant changes in film viewing, though: my son is old enough now to enjoy movies in a more sophisticated manner, meaning the palette of movies he can sit still for has grown exponentially; movies are indeed coming out with greater frequency that tick that box which says "kids and family want to see this, and don't want to wait for it to show on Netflix," and finally I still just love seeing movies in the theater, and theaters locally are really making the experience more fun and easy thanks to luxury assigned seating. So yeah...overall we saw more movies this year than I have in, well, forever.

Here's the best movies in 2018, according to the Realms of Chirak household (so YMMV, of course!):

BEST HORROR FILM: Overlord

If you haven't seen Overlord, you are missing out on an unexpected great, if not entirely monumental film. The movie manages to be a compelling, at times nerve-wracking tale of Operation Overlord on D-Day (so, A World War II movie) when it abruptly dives into the deep end of weird Nazi scientist zombie super-soldier horror. I knew very little about this movie before going in to it, and was rewarded with one of my most enjoyable film experiences in years.

Runner Up: there were actually quite a few good horror movies this year, believe it or not. I'll tentatively suggest that Annihilation gets this billing, albeit with the caveat that it was just as compelling as an SF film (see below). So let's also nominate A Quiet Place for runner up!

BEST COMIC BOOK FILM: Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

I chose the title "comic book film" because this isn't just about superheroes, it's about a comic book style of tale telling writ large. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse manages to be a great superhero movie but an amazing comic book movie, possibly the best of its class. It takes a relatively incredulous core conceit (the spiderverse), a fan favorite from the comics (Miles Morales) and then tells a tale that does a bunch of things right that not many superhero films pull off: compelling character arcs, plot with resolution, action sequences that you can follow and make sense, surprises all over the place that felt carefully designed that way, and all topped with a CGI cartoon style(s) that blend remarkably well for a perfect package. If you only see one comic book film this year, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse should probably be it.

Runner Up: that easily goes to Deadpool 2, which thankfully had no backstory to worry about this time around, and made for a hysterical take on the Marvel universe through Deadpool eyes.

BEST SUPERHERO FILM: Avengers Infinity War

You could argue all sorts of reasons for why this is a good movie, but it is inarguable that Avengers Infinity War pays off on eight years of Marvel Cinematic Universe buildup and cashes in on that with great success. The sequel will be just as big, as Marvel and Disney left this movie with a cliffhanger that had the entire audience of children in tears, with adults quickly confirming that their beloved characters who appeared to have been destroyed still showed future movies in development, or actors with future movies still on contract.

Runner Up: Black Panther, which was a brilliant film and a unique exploration of Wakanda in the cinematic universe. One could argue that it deserved top billing and Avengers Infinity War get runner up, but the truth is neither film would have been as effective without the years of world building that went in to laying the groundwork, and both benefited greatly.

BEST SCIENCE FICTION FILM: Annihilation

Yes, the best movie in SF this year is the one no one saw. Natalie Portman and a team of scientists enter an anomalous region where life and reality are being warped into strange symmetries by an alien presence, and the film is all about the eerie exploration...at times terrifyingly so, of this event. If you haven't seen it yet, go get a copy or find it on Netflix or something, you have missed out.

Runner Up: Ready Player One deserves this credit for its Spielbergian depiction of a futuristic dystopia in which life is so grey and miserable that even your grandma has retreated into the virtual space, but somehow that's okay because this is an upbeat tale of dystopian futrue romance. Well worth watching, whether you liked the novel or not, for its straight-forward depiction of a future that is unfortunately far more likely to come to pass than the happy singularities optimistic futurists promise us.

BEST COMEDY: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

It's a Netflix exclusive, and it's also a western, and also it's a surrealistic black comedy, but this was probably one of the most enjoyable films I've seen this year. A series of western vignettes, each one a story of tragically arbitrary failure with only two of the tales resolving in a manner equatable to a happy ending, the Ballad of Buster Scruggs should be seen by anyone with a penchant for Coen Brothers films or subtle, dark humor in general.

Runner Up: oh this is a tough one. I guess Deadpool 2? It's the only movie which made me laugh as hard as it did (and also my son, when got to see the slightly less raunchy Once Upon a Deadpool).


FILM OF THE YEAR: Black Panther

Black Panther  deserves high praise for its depiction of the super-science hidden country of Wakanda. Even more significantly, it handled an interesting trope in the depiction of black characters on film, with Killmonger being a serious contender for best villain in the MCU who represented a sort of depiction of the way that black characters are all too often handled in American cinema, vs. the deadly serious, deep and utterly self assured Black Panther and his many supporting characters.The result is a film that manages to portray a subject in a manner that defies conventional racial depictions in western storytelling and, frankly, just crush it. Black Panther may have benefitted from being able to do so as part of the MCU, but it also managed to demonstrate that this can be done..and should be done, from here on out.

What list wouldn't be complete without some raspberries? Here are some duds for the awards:

BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE YEAR: Venom

Venom deserves no special awards other than somehow being a Sony movie that was actually fun. For bonus credits, watch Venom, then watch Once Upon a Deadpool, and notice how the latter demonstrates how clearly the former film edited itself for a PG13 rating when they realized their R rating would lock out 90% of their target audience.

Runner Up: Aquaman! Who knew they could get Aquaman right, and also make a movie where a thousand laser sharks on screen was a serious moment?!?!?

LEAST INTERESTING MOVIE: Ant Man and the Wasp

It was fun, okay? But this movie was the very definition of playing it safe, and demonstrated (I feel) every case study in what people were afraid would go wrong with the MCU under Disney. It had a toothless villain, a lack of any real sense of gravitas, and a general focus on "feel good but don't think too hard" at it's core that made this the least interesting fun movie to watch in 2018. I get it: they need these kinds of films for the series; but this one was just uninteresting enough that I could (and may very well) sit out the next one and wait for it to show up on streaming somewhere.

Runner Up: Bumblebee! I loved it, but this movie was all about making a family-friendly, earnest, heartful course correction for the Transformers franchise, which it succeeded at, but it left very few surprises in place; when your biggest surprise is that the appearance of the transformers matches their appearances from the original cartoon, then....well, yeah.

BIGGEST FRANCHISE IMPLOSION: The Predator

Look, I can't call it the worst movie of the year because it is technically proficient, and there are worse films out there. But The Predator demonstrates that just because you played a bit role and did some minor dialogue rewrites in a film from 1987 does not mean you are in any way qualified to follow up on it decades later. The Predator effectively killed the franchise and demonstrated that it is completely possible even in this year of 2018 to misunderstand the core conceit of a film franchise in such a manner that you destroy it for the fanbase.

Runner Up: Solo, but not becuase it was a bad movie (it was a lot of fun) but rather because it suffered the backlash of The Last Jedi and demonstrated that Star Wars fatigue had already set in.

WORST MOVIE I SAW IN 2018: Monster Land

So here's the problem with doing a list like this when you're not a hardcore film buff or paid critic: I avoid movies that get bad reviews, or which I suspect I might not find that engaging. The movie doesn't have to be bad (I'm avoiding the Return of Mary Poppins, for example), it just has to be off my radar. As a result, I often don't see the bad movies of the year. However, I may see some truly awful movies within the year, just not films that were released in 2018. For example: Monster Land, a truly miserable little collection of indie vignettes which for the most part are as irredeemable as any Amazon Kindle selection of random short fiction rudderless and without an editor to steer it into some sort of readable direction. So if I elect a truly bad film this year: Monster Land deserves it, even though it was released in 2016.

If I had to mention a movie in 2018 that was truly horrible, I guess I'd suggest Gotti. I didn't actually see the film, but the clips I have witnessed suggest strongly it deserves this honor.









Wednesday, December 19, 2018

2018 Computer Gaming in Review


Like the tabletop RPG gaming post, I find myself amused by the fact that far less of what I did this year with computer gaming was actually from 2018. Even worse, I have indulged in plenty of 2018 releases, but to be honest....not too many were all that impressive. This is not a great year for gaming, to be honest....especially not AAA gaming.

So without further delay: here's the Realms of Chirak Household Gaming Top Six List for "Things we Played and Liked" in 2018:

#6: Vampyr
 
   I think this came out a year ago, but it is notable for being the only 3PS role playing game I have bought this year that is not a distinctive Sony exclusive. It's a great story about Victorian London during a rash of sickness and plague and the physician who finds himself an unwitting vampire. Very much enjoying this one, check it out!

#5: Fortnite

   As a family we have played a lot of Fortnite in the last year. It's ironic because back in 2017 (or was it 2016?) I bought the zombie-killing fortress building retail version of this game for my son and I to play together. We weren't so excited about that mode it turns out, but Battle Royale ended up getting us back in to it.
   This game has the following features going for it:
--it's basically family friendly as shooters go (if you mute the snotty kids in squads)
--you can group up in the game as a team (great for mom, son and dad to play together)
--it's Battle Royale mode is free (but yes you will end up wanting to spend money on v-bucks Just Because)
--just when you get tired of it, a new season starts; also, if you give up the idea of actually being good at it you can instead play the "challenges and achievements minigame" which is honestly the only way to get anywhere in Fortnite anyway unless you are aged 15-25 and stream on Twitch.

#4: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands

   Did I review this game last year? I played a lot of it, but I kept on playing in 2018 and finished the full campaign then dived right in to the weird DLC. I don't know if this game is ultimately a "reccommend to all" sort of deal, but Ghost Recon: Wildlands uniquely exotic and fun version of fictional Bolivia is a pleasure to explore, and filled with interesting open world content. I continue to revisit the game even months after completing the content.

#3: Watch Dogs 2

   Yeah, over two years since it was released and I finally finished this game, but continue to love it. The theme of millennial hackers vs. the evil cyphers for Google and Facebook is a fantastic open world experience, and I really appreciate that the game let me play a non-lethal character for 95% of the experience. The multiplayer component is singularly unique and digital San Francisco was loads of fun to explore. I am done with it now, but I spent a lot of time getting to this point in 2018.

#2: Diablo III Eternal Collection

   Speaking of family games, Diablo III Eternal Collection on the Switch has also proven to be a household hit. Remember, the family that slays demons together stays together! We all have copies, and have engaged in lengthy demon-slaying sessions. I think my wife and son are way ahead of me, however. Once again, though....this game is several years old, but thanks to a new release of a very good port to a dedicated handheld-optional game console, it's well worth playing again.

#1: The Switch

   This location gets reserved for the portable hybrid console which Nintendo has championed. The Switch is loaded with content that just works for fun entertainment, as only the Switch can deliver. There are games on the Switch (such as Dead Cells, Bayonetta and Octopath Traveller) that I will happily engage with on the small screen in the comfort of bed or on a lawn chair that I would never bother with on a big screen with a regular console. And when I want to play the Switch on the big screen, or on co-op with the family? Piece of cake. I started with one months ago, and now we have three Switch consoles in the house, one for each of us.

Dishonorable Mention:

A lot of new and ongoing franchises just crapped the bed this year. In no particular order I feel that AAA gaming did itself little justice....at least for me. Here's the list of shame:

Call of Duty Black Ops IIII: buggy, crashes often, and needs lots of tweaking to make the Blackout mode ultimately worth my time as a filthy casual who can't compete with the hardcore leets. I load it up periodically and think about how cool it would be if they had a single player campaign I could enjoy, but then remember that they decided I am not their target demographic (solo player who likes a story with his FPS game). I need to make sure not to buy CoD anymore, it's like the game dumped me, but will still take my money.

Destiny 2: well, the problems with Destiny 2 are many, and I think they stem from the fact that Bungie doesn't know how to do a living world MMORPG. The fact that Destiny 1 content is gated off from the new game is an example of how they fail to do this right. The newer game has too much hardcore content and not enough stuff for filthy casuals who just want to do missions, have fun and NOT grind for armor and weapons. It has too many locations on odd worlds, asteroids and moons that are singular in their lack of interesting details (contrast with the much more interesting locales in the first game), and a restructured questing format that is just not at interesting as it used to be. I'm still playing, but only barely.

Star Wars Battlefront 2: As this game chugs on it continues to avoid re-introducing loot crates after the debacle last year, but they have added more content. Unfortunately most of the content is just not as good, and often leads less to strategic and interesting experiences on the map and instead leads to confusion and random nonsense. I am sure, if I had the energy, I could find the sweet spot for this one and get it to click, but I find it interesting that I found Battlefront 1 so accessible and fun, and the sequel is just so.....painful and random. I may delete it entirely (although my son might object so maybe not).

The Future:

There are a few games I look forward very much to playing in 2019, but I haven't gone far enough in to these games in 2018  to be able to speak on them much yet. These include:

Pathfinder: Kingmaker -- a computer game in Golarion, with Pathfinder rules!
Numenera: Tides of Torment -- I have it, and my interest in the RPG will get me to try this at last
Assassin's Creed: Origins and Odyssey -- yeah I'm two games behind on this now, still trying to finish Syndicate, but both of the new games I would like to visit in 2019.
Anthem: please EA don't let me down here.
Resident Evil 2 Remake: I can't stress how much I desperately want this game.
Division 2: absolutely looking forward to this one.

Monday, December 17, 2018

2018 RPGs in Review


This was a strange year for gaming in my household. Notable this year was my son's reaching an age where gaming "clicked" for him; dad reached a unique level of gaming burn-out even as son hits his first stride; all of my top gaming discoveries this year were older games for the most part; and I significantly reduced my game collection earlier in the year via ebay.

Wrestling with what has felt to me like close to a year of burn-out has been tough. Part of me is certain the burn-out is tied to the exponential increase in my responsibilities at my business, which does indeed take much more time out of my life than it ever has before. Some of it is a more general genre burn-out, and discovering a game like Cypher System which let me break out of the D&D box a bit actually framed just how long I had been running D&D, and perhaps how uninspired I was now feeling as a result.

However, I have a great crew of long time friends and family I can game with, and that alone makes it all worthwhile. I have (due to work and other issues) taken more time off than usual this year on gaming nights, but with any lucky 2019 will be less arduous and I will rekindle my creative juices.

So in looking at 2018 in review, it's hard to pick out five or six things to address that are topically new. Instead, I'll do a "this was important to me this year" list instead.

#5: Starfinder

This year I tried running Starfinder multiple times, managed a campaign on an off day for a few months, and got several stalled games running that I wish could have gone further. The general consensus is that Starfinder has a great premise and style, and manages to pull off a fun game in a Pathfinder frame. However, due to my difficulties this year it has been very hard to remain committed to Starfinder for the lengthy period that it deserves.

#4: Call of cthulhu 7E

My campaign for 7E CoC wrapped earlier in the year, and it was a truly spectacular event. Call of Cthulhu's latest editions has captured my attention and this was a highlight of gaming for me in the last two years (the campaign started in 2017). I definitely need to run more CoC in 2019.

#3: Dungeons & Dragons 5E

Despite being burned out on it, D&D 5E remains an important staple for me in gaming. Two events keep me inspired going in to 2019: first, my son has active characters (see an earlier post on this) and we are really enjoying this very simple, very straight-forward 5E game. I actually hope it will help me to start enjoying the game more generally again. I am also inspired by the Ravnica setting which WotC released. This is the first genuinely new setting for D&D in a very long time, and I hope it does well; D&D needs new and innovative going forward; it's got the "classic stuff" well covered already, perhaps too much so.

#2: Numenera

I haven't run it yet, but Numenera as a setting is one of the single most unique and fun settings I have encountered in a long time. It's material is inspirational for any fantasy or SF setting, and I have pilfered from it for my Cypher System games. I hope to finish reading through Discovery and Destiny (the new edition of the game) and have a a campaign lined up for this next year.

#1: Cypher System

Discovering and then figuring out Cypher System was a major revelation to me. Just as I found myself getting tired of the old classics (or 5E's version of the game genre), while finding myself without the time or energy to wrangle the more sophisticated modern offerings (Pathfinder, Starfinder) or the dedication to learn new and unfamiliar things (Genesys Core), Cypher System arrives just in time for me. A game designed to be player-facing, loaded with things for players to tinker with while being written specifically with the time-limited or lazy GM in mind who wants to use RPGs for creative release but maybe isn't too interested in the stat block mini game, Cypher System is the best game find I've discovered in the last twenty years.

...So, going in to 2019, I realize I have some interesting things to consider. I want to keep running Cypher System, for both my fantasy-SF campaign I designed for it as well as my super hero setting and more I am working on. But I also want to run Numenera (same game system, so doing this is all about absorbing the volumes of content for the Ninth World), and really want to get back to Call of Cthulhu. I frequently feel a desire to return to Traveller, or something like it....and a couple oddities such as the Everywhen RPG and Fantasy AGE still command my interest.

It is possible, outside of my family game, that I might actually be able to stay away from D&D for a while. We'll see....a few more books like Ravnica and I will probably cave and dive back in.

Games not yet released, or games I am in the process of reading and thinking about using, could finally get some time next year. I still would like to run Cold & Dark, for example. I'd like to experience Elite Dangerous RPG, which looks really interesting in a "totally like yet not Traveller" way. Kult will eventually show up in print one day, and that is a game I very much enjoyed back in it's 1st and 2nd edition days.

A couple new games next year: the "new" Fantasy Trip, for example, deserve attention. Cypher System 2nd edition, of course! Over The Edge 3rd edition. I could easily get derailed with any of these three. But beyond this? I think I may be set, honestly. Such is life as an older gamer....getting stuck in my rut, if you will!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Looking at my January Predictions for Gaming in 2018

Seems like as good a time as any....unlikely any misses will turn in to hits with 16 days left on the clock! Back in this post in January I made some predictions for how the RPG industry (and others) would shape out for 2018....or at least, certain companies. Here's what I predicted, and here's where it landed:

1. KULT: Divinity Lost Will Arrive in Print (or maybe just PDF)

I suppose this wasn't that risky since the new edition of Kult was pushed to a summer release, but it was also a long delayed Kickstarter so....yeah, you could go either way here.

Result: True, for the PDFs for sure

Kult is out, and I have most of it in PDF, but the books were supposed to ship November 21st and I am still waiting to even get notice they have been shipped. I've emailed the distributor and Modiphius on status, but silence makes me wonder if the print copies actually showed.

2. No Pathfinder 2.0 in 2018

Heh.

Result: FALSE

We got a playtest announcement and book. Next year's prediction gets to focus on whether or not the final release will be a hit or sinks Paizo, I guess. (Yes, I am one of those people who was gravely concerned by what I saw in the design of 2.0).

3. Melee/Wizard and/or The Fantasy Trip get Kickstarted in a big way

Well, this one was pretty well all but implied once SJG acquired the rights to TFT, but I guess back in January they hadn't formally announced any plans yet.

Result: TRUE

And how! The Kickstarter is full of TFT goodness, the "I want it all" option gives you a ton, and from all updates I've read the final product is on schedule for March 2019 release, maybe even just a bit ahead of schedule. Ancient TFT fans, who are almost as numerous as Greyhawk fans, can at last get their just due for hanging in there. I've looking forward myself to getting to play a game again that I haven't run since 1985.

4. A new Marvel RPG will be announced

This was my "out on a limb" prediction. It was predicated on the idea that Marvel/Disney would be willing and interested in letting their IP get licensed for a tabletop game.

Result: FALSE

Oh and how! Marvel has killed various video game tie-ins (notably a fun to play Marvel Diablo spinoff that I enjoyed for a while) and studiously avoided anything that isn't a mobile game. A video game exclusive for next year on the Switch has been announced, but I don't think the Mouse with the House of M really gives a crap about tabletop RPGs.....sigh.

5. WotC releases four books, and brings back Eberron

Well, I think there were hints suggesting they would revisit something not Forgotten Realms so that wasn't too much of a stretch. As for the additional books....again, its all haruspicy using Mearls' and other WotC personalities' twitter tweets to decipher their plans.

Result: TRUE

Yeah, so they actually released more than four books this year (yay), especially if you count map packs and stuff, then a lot more....Waterdeep, Dungeon of the Mad Mage, Ravnica, Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, and lots of peripheral tie-ins like Endless Quest books and "hook 'em when their young" books, too. WotC is starting to look like they're confident in their product, at last. Well....except for Eberron, which got a PDF release as a living document on dmsguild.com. So technically back? Yes. The way we wanted it? Not really.

6. Movie Apocalypse in 2018

What is this doing on my RPG predictions? Hmmmm I must have just had nowhere else to stick it? Well...

Result: FALSE

Did not happen in the manner described by sundry youtube vlogers and amateur film critics insisting that the industry was going to murder itself with a flood of weekly blockbusters. This year had a lot of good movies (and more than a few stinkers, too) but it didn't implode any studios or distributors, near as I can tell. And stranger even, Sony released two Marvel Spider-Man tie-ins in a row worth watching! Now predicting that would have been impressive prescience!

7. Loot Crate Apocalypse

At the start of the year loot crates were a popular topic thanks to EA's ability to egregiously overreach and stay off message with their audience, and Star Wars: Battlefront II was too high profile not go unnoticed.

Result: TRUE

I suspected from the negative feedback in 2017 with games using loot boxes as their in-game monetization scheme that this would have repercussions, and it definitely has. EA got the hairy eyeball in some countries, the practice is under legal scrutiny, and while the concept of the loot box lingers on, video game publishers seem to be trying to keep it lower key and focused on purely cosmetic options. Some (such as Epic Games) don't even bother with them (Fortnite's Battle Royale mode, for example). I suspect that good publishers will realize that being up front with what you're offering will work if your product is worth it and your fans are loyal. Meanwhile the crappy publishers will try to hide substandard purchases behind their loot crates (fyi Epic Games get rid of the damned loot lamas in Fortnite's co-op mode, the seventeen people playing co-op fortress defense could use a break!)

8. Still no Fantasy AGE Companion in 2018

If you love Green Ronin it is easy to be forgiving of their schedule. But when in doubt, just look at what Palladium fans go through!

Result: FALSE

I wanted this one to be false, and it ended up coming out like three months later. Joy!!!

9. Runequest will release

Result: TRUE

This was an easy prediction...it was late, but they were clearly pushing on a release. The book did get in to print before Greg Stafford's passing.

10. Genesys Core Will Expand a Lot

When this released late last year it was a fascinating game and I got a chance to run a campaign in 2018, extracting from the Terrinoth sourcebook. Since then....well, I guess it's subject to interpretation.

Result: BOTH TRUE AND FALSE....FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW?

There's an Android universe book on the way. FFG only released some card sets following Terrinoth, but a lot of talk on various forums revolves around this game (and usually, inevitably around whether people love or hate the dice). I have come to the conclusion that the game won't catch on due largely to the dice, but it will likely serve to gateway Star Wars gamers in to broader role playing. People either get the dice and find it natural or they don't. This is a sticking point for a lot. Hell, I've already decided I won't even bother with the new L5R since I hear FFG has symboled up it's dice. I will likely try playing Genesys Core more in the future, but admit that my discovery of Cypher System really makes that future uncertain now.

11. Starfinder will make or break in 2018

What kind of prediction is this? What the hell was I thinking?

Result: TRUE (I guess)

2018 showed that Starfinder is a game a lot of people like, enough so that it's gotten fair amount of new material and support from Paizo. Yay!





Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Gamma World: Legions of Gold and Famine in Fargo

Gamma World 1st Edition is now nearly complete in Print On Demand:

Legions of Gold is up:



And Famine in Fargo too:



At this point, if they can get the GM Screen and Albuquerque Starport scanned up or even set for print, then pretty much anyone can have a modern, complete edition of classic 1st edition Gamma World in their library. This is cool for me, as Gamma World 1E was actually my first RPG, and the first game I both played and ran as a GM.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Designing RPGs for Kids - Some Thoughts and Ideas

There are a few RPGs out there specifically designed to be kid friendly, although what they interpret those words to mean can vary a lot from one product to the next. With my limited sampling of one, I have noticed that --for my household, at least-- there are some minimum expectations I (and my son, and wife) have for what a good kid-friendly RPG should look and behave like.

First, and this is the sad part: it should look good. Like, really good. It doesn't need to be wild and crazy full color art (though if you can manage it, please do) but it needs to be evocative and interesting. It should help spark the imagination of the kids, who in many cases have arrived at tabletop gaming after plowing through video games, tablets and other venues.

Right now, two of the games my son is most interested in are Pathfinder and Starfinder. The reasons should be obvious: Paizo knows how to make a good looking game, one with iconic depictions of the kinds of characters you can meet or play and the kinds of monsters you can fight. Everything in the game, to a greater or less extent, has an illustration accompanying it that just begs for the PC, NPC or monster (or starship) to jump off the page and join the story.

There are some kid-focused games that do the art well. Monte Cook's No Thank You, Evil! is a good game written specifically for kids that is full of great, evocative illustrations and lots of parts and pieces. It's main issues is one of thematic content and it's actual intended audience, about which I will discuss in a moment, but the game fits the bill here. It is also written at a sort of "parent level" for most of the text. Older kids will get it, but for younger kids there's no supplemental booklet I am aware of that you could hand them right now to help learn the game without parental guidance.

Unfortunately, and this is the second point: Paizo writes games for older teens, college kids and full on grumpy old adults. Their books are not written to be introductory, and in fairness not even the Beginner Box for Pathfinder is a good introductory book for kids, although it makes admirable steps in that direction. That said, some games are written well enough for a nine or ten year old to pick it up: Tiny Dungeons has a version intended for this purpose (though the core rules are accessible to a kid of 9 or 10 just fine). Tiny Dungeons has some cartoony, somehwhat evocative artwork to go with it, but pales in comparison to its big budget adult competition (however I'll note that Tiny Frontiers: Mecha vs. Kaiju solves this problem with some awesome art, fyi).

Now, when I think of "kid gamer friendly" I am thinking of rulesets that are written for kids, and intended to teach the kids without requiring any more than minimum adult intervention. In my day, at age 10, I was able to figure out Gamma World 1st edition on my own, but only after spending months trying to parse out the Otus cover D&D Basic book, while begging my dad to decipher it for me. In the end, for some reason Gamma World spoke to me in a way D&D Basic was missing, and my first RPG game ever was a Gamma World scenario as a result.

Neither of those books were terribly kid friendly on a certain level; but kid friendly doesn't mean "dumbed down" so much as "accessible to read and figure out." In fact, if my own life experience is any measure, a certain amount of esotericism (the Gygax effect, if you will) in the text is useful to engage the young reader; it's why Harry Potter books are so damned successful, for example. They challenge the kid, and also offer him new and strange concepts that he can feel good about figuring out.

I'm not sure many games out there do this well right now. If there are any, I haven't quite found them, although I will label Tiny Dungeons and its lot in the short stack of games that I think are on the right track. Lone Wolf could fit this bill as well. D&D 5E, believe it or not, is definitely more accessible in this regard as well.

Oddly, I don't think OSR does this well. Most OSR games, while simple in design (and providing exactly the right level of complexity for what my son could learn) are written by old men (also called "dads" or "granddads") writing for other old men. Very few are written with a kid in mind.*

Likewise, a game like No Thank You, Evil! is not so accessible. It's actually targeting adults who want to game with their kids in a carefully sculpted environment, while overlooking what the kid really wants or needs.** It takes great pains to focus on a game experience that an adult (dare I say, helicopter parent) might want to curate for their kids rather than, perhaps, the kind of game the kid really wants.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: if you as a parent want to play a game with your child in which they solve problems with their magic hot-wheel trike while making friends of enemies and exploring a Candycane universe, then No Thank You, Evil! has that sort of sanitized child fiction setting down pat. It alludes in the rules to the idea you could do more....but refrains from actually suggesting anything.

But, if you as a gamer parent want to let your kid kill a giant goat and skin it, then save their friend from murderous bugbears by hosing them with fire, then D&D is kind of your best bet.

Put another way: I want my child to have experiences which challenge him with interesting but realistic decisions, and allow for the game to grow in complexity and meaning as he grows. D&D can do that. No Thank You, Evil! can't (well, it can --a bit-- but not in the sense I mean). At least, not in the broader sense that I want it to. Would my kid have fun playing NTYE!? Yes, he has and would. But he's going to want to have Punk Rock Demon blow up candyland if it doesn't play nice, and if we're going that direction, why not play the game where you can actually do that?***

I think Tiny Dungeons could do this, too....but ironically I suspect the rules would eventually fall behind the desired complexity over time. I mean....I've seen the games my son's generation loves. Minecraft only looks simple. It is, in fact, a remarkably weird and complex game of crafting, and my son is already pushing D&D to see what he can craft (e.g. goat meat).

Okay....enough rambling.

My notion here is that there is a market for a game which accomplishes the following, all in one package:

1. Provides a graphically engaging and evocative portrayal of its shared universe in the art

2.  Is written or structured to provide a progression over time in learning the rules and method of play (think Basic vs. Expert)

3. Is written with a kid in mind, rather than an adult, and assumes the kid is smart and can figure things out, or really wants to

....there may be games out there I don't know about that do this. I would welcome suggestions! But that said, I think my son will greatly enjoy D&D going forward, and I may adapt Starfinder content to the D&D rules, or perhaps reskin content for White Star, so he can enjoy the graphic universe depicted in the one game with a ruleset that will be explainable to him by dad (who frankly has enough trouble remembering all of Starfinder's rules without one of my rules lawyers at the table to assist!)





*Here's an example of what I mean: Swords & Wizardry Complete has some good source books with evocative art (3rd edition reprint is nice, although I prefer the 2nd edition look ultimately as an old grognard of sorts). Monstrosities and Tome of Horrors Complete both provide an illustration for every monster by decent artists, for example. However, try reading the S&W Complete book. A version aimed at kids would not need all that exposition on what the Founding Father Gary and Dave intended with initiative, to give one example, or the exposition behind intent of class limits or multiclassing. That's valuable space that you could place working examples of play or add additional useful content to game with. A good take on this is a ruleset that is instructive and provides plenty of exciting examples, but does not cut content; I'd argue that Beyond the Wall is a game that moves in this direction, though it is still written for adults and not kids....ironic, given it provides some of the best tools yet for aiding a new or young gamer in playing. Moving away from the "historical reference" that some OSR games provide, as well as the "OGL reskinned for OSR" format of others would help a great deal in accomplishing this sort of goal. 

**Your mileage may vary, a lot. I could see NTYE! working well for some kids. Others? Not so much.

***I'm showing a little bias here. I just feel like NTYE! is the sort of game written for parents who are aggressively trying to control the sort of content their kid experiences. Any parent should do that, but there's a difference between "You're too young for this stuff," and "I am shielding you from basic life experiences and complex decision making scenarios." I feel like maybe NTYE! contributes more to the latter than the former, by design, since it is aimed at the sorts of parents who maybe worry that Little Johnny shouldn't be fireballing bugbears. The same sort of parents who won't allow their kid to play Fortnite or Call of Duty, maybe, but Candy Crush --a downright evil game by addiction design--is somehow okay. But I could be wrong. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Starting D&D at Seven (Family D&D Night Actual Play)


Age seven, that is!* Last night I ran a game of D&D 5E for my son (and my wife, who joined a bit late) for a game designed with several overt and covert intents. It was not my son's first game night by any stretch, but it was the first one specifically designed with him in mind.

The overt intent of the game night was:

--Have a fun family game night with RPGs that allowed my son time to process a story designed for his age (he shows up to my Saturday game night with mom, but it's a schizophrenic experience for me as GM to bounce between "adult group narrative" and a refurbishing of the tale for my son to enjoy.)

--Help him learn D&D. I settled on D&D 5E for a lot of reasons I'll discuss in a future post. But short version: he has a tiefling wizard he'd played before and wanted to play again, and he wanted to learn how to make a character this time, rather than have dad do it for him.

--Give old dad a chance to enjoy a really simple, fun D&D arc with a young player who is not jaded and does not metagame. Enjoy the game from the angle of an actual, completely new gamer to whom every single thing is new and interesting, and the sky is the limit; you old veteran GMs know what I mean: new gamers always, inevitably bring a fresh take to the table as they have no preconceptions at all; and young gamers are boundlessly enthusiastic and eager to boot.

But there was a covert intent, too! This included:

--continue to teach my son math. He's now doing addition and subtraction ahead of his 1st grade class, thanks to D&D.

--encourage my son to read. I made him a character sheet that was very "reader friendly" for his age, but as it turned out he really wanted to roll his own new character, and this proved just as effective at getting him to read. This has been an ongoing issue with his school; his teacher explains it like this: he is quite adept at reading, but he's not so great at retention. But his teacher is actively encouraging him to report on his D&D adventures since he seems to have excellent retention in the games. Our trick is "How to merge the power to pay attention to D&D with the power to pay attention to what you are reading." Maybe WotC could oblige with some junior reader books aimed at age 7-10 or something.

Overall, last night was a success for all overt and covert goals. My son played two characters:

Punk Rock Demon, the tiefling wizard necromancer bounty hunter
and his newly rolled character:
Test Subject 930 ("nine hundred and thirty"), the dragonborn wizard evoker

I asked my son about the origin story for Test Subject 930, and he explained that he was a normal guy who was kidnapped by a secret lab, where they fed him a magic potion that turned him into a half-dragon. Nice!

I ran the game in the Vosjin Wood (from Pergerron; scroll down for multiple links), but left the details basic: "You're traveling to the city of Samaskar, where you hear there are lots of mages, including a school for mages where you could learn new spells, when you camp overnight on an old hill. In the morning you wake up, and the road is gone....forest is everywhere, and in the distance lurks a single, huge mountain that was never there before. You see a tower two miles away, what do you do?"

And so began the adventure! He went to the tower, at least partially because I had already put down a beautiful wilderness map with a tower on it (a Paizo map) and he was eager to explore it. Along the way he discovered an abandoned mansion, possibly once inhabited by the tymardiae, so he went to the largest house to explore (new map).

As our trusty hero Punk Rock Demon and his henchman Test Subject 930 approached the mansion, they spotted a goat emerging from a large hole in the crumbling wall. Seconds later, as they hid to approach, a gigantic goat, larger than an ogre, emerged from the same hole and spotted Test Subject 930 (hereafter TS930) in his hiding spot! TS930 promptly fired a scorching ray at the goat, one of which hit a regular goat and sent it fleeing (minimum damage), while another singed the building side and a third angered the super goat. The goat charged, and after a brief battle it was goat meat.

TS930 spent time harvesting goat meat, getting 8 days of salted meat rations to carry with him. Punk Rock Demon entered the collapsing mansion where he luckily was not spotted by a lurking lizardman with more goats. After a tense exchange he approached and convinced the lizard man he meant no harm. "Oh, the forest got you, too. Where were you going?" the lizardman asked....and much to dad's pride, my son announced, "I was going to the city of Samaskar to learn more magic!"

...I have gamed with a lot of adults who can't/won't remember the weird names I come up with for fantasy cities. But my son remembered it after being told once in an intro narrative.

Anyway, the lizardman insisted they owed him 20 GP for killing his prize giant goat, so they paid him and he went on his way. The hero and his henchman then finished harvesting the goat, and then looted the mansion, finding a box in a hidden compartment behind an old stone throne.

Around this time my wife arrived from her finals and joined in with Sartorius the drow warrior, who had snuck up on the two after also being trapped in the Vosjin Wood. He had sisters from his drow clade who wanted him brought back, and two bugbear bounty hunters were on his tail.

After a brief introduction between drow, tiefling and dragonborn they were accosted by the two bugbear bounty hunters who tried to net the drow and tiefling, but botched it. A fight ensued, and Punk Rock Demon put one to sleep before getting clocked with a mace. As Sartorius pumped them full of bolts TS930 then fried them with burning hands. As the last one fled, Punk Rock Demon rolled a 20 on his recovery/stabilization roll.....fortuitous! My wife bought brand new dice and her D20 rolled a natural 20 four out of six times in its first use.....hmmmmm......

They finished looting the hidden treasure cache and the now dead bugbear bodies, and prepared to move on to the tower. The lizardman had warned them that an old hermit named Aruman had been lurking near the tower, and that he might be able to help them escape the Vosjin Wood.....

More to come!!!




*Not the first time I've introduced someone to gaming at a young age. Technically my sister was 8 when I introduced her to D&D (I was 10). Her first character was named Wormi. Wormi is an important NPC these days in the Ages of Lingusia setting. So who knows! Maybe one day Test Subject 930 and Punk Rock Demon will be prominent forces in Pergerron. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Cypher System Supervillain: The Demon



The Demon (alias Devon Sloane)
Superhuman (Bioenhanced/Tech Origin) – Level 6 (18)
Motive: Get rich, work the arms market, get revenge for the death of his uncle, the original Demon
Environment: Wherever there is wealth for the taking
Health: 60
Damage Inflicted: 6 points, by cypher, or gauntlet claws 12 points
Armor: 3 (armored costume)
Movement: short; flying long (with Demon Wing)
Modifications: 3 Shifts Strength-Might based defense and tasks at Level 9; 2 Shifts Attack (gauntlet claws) at +6 damage
Powers: Super strength, enhanced speed, gear (suit, demon wing and grenade shooting gauntlets).

The Demon has enhanced strength from the Metahuman Soldier formula after undergoing the treatment in the Army's Super Soldier program. Devon was discharged from the military after his body rejected much of the supersoldier treatment, leaving him with debilitating deformities that some likened to a “demonic mask.” It was with some irony following his discharge that Devon realized he was following in his uncle Jack Sloane’s footsteps….literally….he took to visiting his uncle in prison. Jack Sloane was himself still in peak physical condition thanks to his stolen supersoldier formula which he had used on himself decades ago, but he was crippled from the takedown in 2006 when the League finally apprehended him and would never walk again. During these visits, before Sloane mysteriously died, he left key information to his nephew about the location of his hidden base.

Devon took his uncle’s secret information and found the Demon’s old base. He uncovered the original gear of his relative, and after finding the last copies of the Demon Serum he decided to ditch the treatments provided by the military and injected his uncle’s formula into himself. The formula didn’t fix his gruesome, demonic appearance but it dramatically enhanced his strength and speed, at the cost of his remaining sanity. Now enhanced and geared up, he works in illegal metahuman drugs and arms trades.


The Demon makes a good low to mid level thug for a superhero game. He's not the end boss....he's the guy the end boss hires to do the dirty work. For most mission the Demon relies on his gang of personal thugs, who often wear demonic halloween masks and brandish assault rifles. A typical demon thug is a Level 4 or 5 ex-soldier or ex-con, usually hooked up on one of the synthetic chemical mixes that The Demon brews specifically to force loyalty and remove any sense of self-preservation instinct.

The Demon Suit (Level 1D6+2): this armored (3 points) suit is flexible and considered medium armor by weight. It's got a short cape, a demonic mask, and includes a respirator to resist toxins as well as breathe underwater. (Artifact, Depletes on 1 in 100)

The Demon Wing (Level 1D6+2): this monstrous jet-fueled air glider is a rocket waiting to explode. The original design was a black ops device designed for one-man insertions into hostile territory, but the small one-man glider wing is now a backpack-equipped set of vile looking metallic demon wings which allow for some mobility in flight. The wearer can move in a straight line a long distance and can make one positional change for the next round after that move. If a PC gets a lucky shot on the wearer of the Demon Wing then on a 19 as a special effect the wing can lose control; on a 20 the engine explodes, dealing it's level in damage. (Artifact, Depletes on 1 in 20)

Demon Grenades (Level variable): these are cyphers that the demon likes to use. They are usually Gas Bombs, Detonation (Pressure, Massive or Flash) and Poison (Explosive). He usually has a bandolier with at least 2 of each. (cypher, one use)




Monday, December 3, 2018

Robotech is going Savage. Savage Worlds, that is....


This got my attention!

Robotech powered by Savage Worlds seems like a no-brainer. If you've played around with the battlesuit and mecha rules in the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion then you know this is perfectly doable. If you love Robotech and all its anachronisms then you know its a perfect fit for Savage Worlds. I am totally on board with this!

In case you had not heard, Harmony Gold and Palladium had a falling out last year (which led to a major Kickstarter implosion). The game rights to Robotech properties now currently reside with Strange Machine Games. It sounds like they are partnering with Battlefield Games to do this, and I hope they have the resources to make it as cool as so many of the other Savage Worlds books out there look.

On the plus side, if you haven't dived into the deep end of alt-history crazy that is Robotech but you love Savage Worlds, this will be a good time to do so. 2019 just got a lot more interesting.




Sunday, November 25, 2018

Prepping for Fantasy AGE, and a Brief Intro to Ensaria


I'm back home after a mini-vacaction to visit family for Thanskgiving, and I've come to a conclusion:

It's time to dive in to Fantasy AGE.....for reals, this time!

I have no excuses....everything that I felt was absent on release with the Fantasy AGE Basic Rulebook has since been squared away with the Bestiary and Companion books. The game now sports 35 archetypes and 10 playable species out of the gate, plenty of optional rules to customize to the preferred play style, more spells, and lots of interesting options to make the game one's own. Also, you can borrow and crib from Modern AGE RPG as well if you want.

This isn't entirely without some competition. I am still delving in to Numenera: Discovery & Destiny, the immense two-volume revised rulebook for Cypher System's far future setting. It's a great setting and system, but I know it will take me a long time to plow through it....and it may still not win out over me simply doing what I feel like with Cypher System's generic version, anyway.

Despite several new books for D&D in Waterdeep and some place called Ravnica, I find myself almost palpably unable to consider D&D as my mainstay any more. I never thought I'd reach this point....but I really do need a break from D&D. A prolonged break. I want fantasy gaming, 100% for sure, but I need it to be a little different from "classic D&D." Unfortunately D&D 5E does "classic D&D" so well that I feel like it is a game about well trod territory. Totally nothing wrong with that....but for me, I want something these days which gives me tools to work with that are new and different. I want a game which directly supports weird, exotic and different concepts, things which you don't find in D&D.*

I'm sure after a break I will be back, though.

It was also a close call with Mythras. But I think Mythras will wait a little longer while I take time to explore some of the sourcebooks available and settle on one to run straight up as-is (either Mythic Rome, Mythic Constantinople, After the Vampire Wars or Luther Arkwright). So, something to look forward to later in 2019, maybe.

But....for now, anyway, it's going to be Fantasy AGE. In thinking about choice of setting I've considered but ruled out my "old faithfuls," because unfortunately they tend to be very much worlds which were built within the parameters of D&D settings, and that's the sort of thing I want to get away from. I want worlds that fundamentally do not assume "D&Disms" on various levels.

I considered taking my long-running blog project, the world of Sarvaelen, and finish it off for proper use at the game table, but I am just as likely (maybe more so) to keep exploring the weird world of Ensaria which I developed at the start of this year for a five part Genesys Core campaign, migrated to a Cypher System campaign that is after 16 sessions still going strong, and have also explored with some random games in Pathfinder 1.0. The core conceit of Ensaria (which I have not posted much about on the blog yet) is as follows:

There are cultures with a belief in gods and there is ancient history but nothing is quite as it seems; Ensaria is at its core a secret "lost colony" of an ancient star empire which was cut off due to an ancient war, which the orcs may or may not have precipitated. The world (called Ansaere) was cut off abotu 27,000 years ago, but it was only the start of the planet's strange history.

The main region of Ensaria (the eponymous culture of same name) are a cluster of city states united by a common cultural pride and a dedication to three orders known as the "Wrotes," which are ancient magical guilds/schools that carry the traditions of ancient magic along with a moral and political ethos. They stand in opposition to other realms such as the Kalazat, a militant, fanatical theocracy dedicated to a monotheistic deity, but torn apart into multiple factions itself about how to revere that deity.

Most species of the world are either humans, human-like beings who may have been uplifted entities from the lost star empire of the old days, or other-dimensional refugees or invaders who got stuck here (orcs and elves notable for this). Some are aliens from other worlds who also ended up trapped her as well.

The planar realms of this world are composites of the "Interstitial Realms" which are sometimes also called the Bleed Between Worlds. It's a space of infinite possibilities and strangeness, through which the actual universes of existence can be reached. Most perceived gods are actually beings from this "space between universes," or from those other universes.

There is a lot more of course, but this is a basic overview of the key bits that make this setting different from other fantasy realms. I think Fantasy AGE could support "weird fantasy with sci fi elements" quite well --see Titansgrave for example; but with the concession that Cypher System does this almost by default! I'll plan to post more soon....and possibly even with dual stats for Cypher System and Fantasy AGE.


*I may write more about what I mean by this in a future blog. But safest to say that it's the tropes of D&D are what has me tired of it right now. 

Monday, November 19, 2018

Nook Tablet 10.1 Review: a Damn Fine Machine


Barnes & Noble released the newest Nook earlier this month, and it's already garnering some much deserved attention as a $129 budget tablet for reading. I bought one Friday, and spent the weekend exploring it. For those of you who are like me (a tabletphile? Tablet Hoarder? Tablet fanboy?) the Nook may in fact be a tablet/ereader well worth checking out.

Here are some basic details derived from the new Nook's page:

It's manufactured by southerntelecom, which when you go their site is a Chinese producer of products that are designed for (and branded by) other companies. I have no details on their reliability, but this is worth noting given a couple years ago the very cheap entry-level Nooks briefly cam preloaded with a lot of viruses.

The specs for the device include its processor (MT8167A), which is seen in other Acer and Lenovo type tablets. It has four cores, 2 GB RAM, 32 GB of onboard storage, and an expansion port for MicroSD cards (I have a 128 GB card in my new machine right now). The screen resolution is 1920X1200 and holds up rather well for a 10.1 inch screen. It's otherwise playing in a current version of the Android OS and includes all the normal features you expect, plus an overlay with widgets (that you can remove) that is Nook store friendly.

The tablet has some optional attachments that are really interesting. A docking station lets you watch and work with it as a viewer while the tablet recharges ($34.95) and while you can pick up a $30 cover for it, you'd be crazy to do that when they offer a fantastic cover with magnetic-locking keyboard for $40 that functions very much like the Surface keyboard (powered by the tablet, magnetically connects). Even better the design of the keyboard is amazing. I have large hands, and on my Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 keyboard often accidentally bump the screen while typing, knocking me out of the app or moving the cursor around. This does not happen with the Nook keyboard, which provides enough room and provides an excellent tactile sensation....easily one of the best tablet keyboards I've used so far. The only downside is that it doesn't appear to disconnect the keyboard when you fold it back (very annoying).

The tablet itself is a fully featured android tablet, and you can dive right in to Google Play with all your existing apps. I haven't run across anything (yet) that won't run on the tablet. Other features of the tablet worth noting: it uses a conventional 3.5 mm headphone jack( yay) and it's bluetooth functionality is smooth and I had no issues pairing it with speakers. Basic but important stuff.

Some oddities I have encountered: the system seems to like making you log in twice (once to wake it up when it shows the Nook logo, and again to log in to and OS). It's sound system is not great; you will absolutely want to pair it with some speakers or plug in a headphone set as the onboard speakers are very cheap and tinny. It strikes me as overly sensitive for the touchscreen, and likes to send you places you didn't intend to go. Finally, at least until the system caught up with OS and app updates it was a little wonky maneuvering the Nook store and library, which frequently reset me back to the top. This could be due to my excessive library however, which is almost at 1,000 books now.

All in all, despite those complaints this is a really nice tablet for the price, and an excellent addition to any ereader's collection. Once again, unlike the Kindle options out there, you can load both Kindle and Nook up for access on the tablet, something you can't do with Kindles without jumping through hoops.

MANUFACTURER southerntelecom
BRAND Nook
MODEL BNTV650
PLATFORM mt8167
API 8.1 (27)
WIFI CONSYS_MT6630
CPU MT8167A
CORES 4
FAMILY Cortex-A35
CLOCK_SPEED 598 - 1500 MHz
RAM 2 GB
MANUFACTURER southerntelecom
BRAND Nook
MODEL BNTV650
PLATFORM mt8167
API 8.1 (27)
WIFI CONSYS_MT6630
CPU MT8167A
CORES 4
FAMILY Cortex-A35
CLOCK_SPEED 598 - 1500 MHz
RAM 2 GB
MANUFACTURER southerntelecom
BRAND Nook
MODEL BNTV650
PLATFORM mt8167
API 8.1 (27)
WIFI CONSYS_MT6630
CPU MT8167A
CORES 4
FAMILY Cortex-A35
CLOCK_SPEED 598 - 1500 MHz
RAM 2 GB

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Battle of the Royales: The Battle Royale Genre


Battle Royale, if you somehow aren't either a video gamer or related to kids somewhere who are, is a style of shooter gameplay where a large number of people (usually 100) are dropped on to an island somewhere and must scavenge for liberally sprinkled gear and weapons to survive. Winner is the last man standing; and unlike many other gameplay modes, there is no respawning (normally).

The genre started with a movie, which in turn was based on a book, called Battle Royale, about a murderous game committed by a dystopian future government in Japan to pit children against one another for a duel to the death, winner takes all. The games generally don't go too deeply into the "whys and whats" of the scenarios in question: in each case there's an implied assumption that there are reasons for this never ending fight, even if it functions purely in the logic of the video game world.

Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBG) technically kicked this all off, but Epic Games (which was tied in to the devs for PUBG) quickly stole the idea and took the fairly average zombie defense shooter Fortnite and added a Battle Royale mode to it. It might have looked a bit like a rip off if it wasn't for the fact that, overnight, everyone everywhere was attempting to do the same thing....from N1Z1 to the newest additions in the form of AAA blockbusters Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII and (I am led to believe) Battlefield V will have a mode like this out eventually as well.

So what's the basic appeal? Why do Battle Royal games capture such a large share of the gamer (well, shooter) fanbase? I've played three of the above titles so far: PUBG on PC and later on Xbox One, as well as Fortnite in almost every iteration possible (I haven't wasted my time on the phone version, though) and finally Black Ops IIII's "Blackout" mode on PS4. N1Z1 exists, but I was less than impressed with its old survival horror edition, hard to care about whatever it's become now. I've also chosen to ignore countless knockoffs floating around in various stages of incompletion of Steam.

My experience has been that these games offer a range of appeal, but they all share the following in common:

1. Battle royale experiences are visceral but short survival experiences. You get the thrill of struggling to survive against the odds for sessions that (in most cases) can last only a few minutes though they often feel like they are longer, albeit not in a bad way. It helps greatly that most offerings are quick to get you in to new games after you die. And you will die. A lot.

2. The battle royale genre removes a lot of the safety nets commonplace in most FPS and 3PS combat modes. You don't get respawns. You may or may not get a team mode, but at its basest you're effectively in a hardcore loner simulator where seeing any other player at all means imminent kill-or-be-killed decisions must be made. Unlike most survival games out there, there's no ambiguity in place; unless the game offers a squad mode (and most do), so you need never worry that an approaching player is friend or foe; they are all foes.

3. All of the battle royale games so far keep the conflict to a localized island or region which is large, filled with secrets and oddities, and is the same map every time, for the most part (although PUBG is adding new maps). This might sound boring, but in reality the maps are so large and diverse it takes a long time to familiarize yourself with them. Each game handles this a bit differently, too; in Fortnite there's a subtle recurring theme of weirdness that continues to change the map slowly over time. Black Ops IIII injects high occult zombie weirdness into the map at odd spots. PUBG has two or three map variants, I think. The important thing is that the repetition of large maps means it takes time to figure them out, but ultimately you definitely can figure them out; playing over and over rewards you with that familiarity of terrain for future games.

4. PUBG invented a mechanism for driving the action: a shrinking zone of control in which the players are safe. Every few minutes the zone gets smaller, and anyone else outside the zone is caught in a bombard of fire and fury that kills them rapidly. This element, which works well to force players into confrontation, has been mimicked in Fortnite which uses a glowing magic shield of doom, and Black Ops IIII's Blackout does much the same, although exactly what it going on there has eluded me so far.

5. Finally, since no modern game can escape some sort of reward/tier system that incorporates possible RMT for extra cash, this is also a feature common to all of the battle royale genre. The most subtle and pervasive element is tiers that award the player with new unlocks...all cosmetic, of course, but in a game where you're engaging in constant repetition of gameplay, changing elements of how you look becomes all the more important.

Each of the main offerings so far do provide some unique features that set them apart from the others. So far, for those I have dived in to, these include:

Player Unknown Battle Grounds: you have a mix of odd vehicles, a scarcity of resources (and bullets), and a hit detection system geared tightly to PC gameplay. Being the first, PUBG's main "feature" was that it was a battle royale game. Since it has been copied, it's the competition that has worked harder to provide unique elements.

Fortnite: The battle royale mode in Fortnite uses the mechanics of the zombie survival fortress building game it spawned from. This means that Fortnite dives deeply into a unique gameplay element that no other battle royale offers right now: instant building tools, all you need is the dexterity of a hyperactive 17 year old twitch streamer, a keyboard, and the inhuman talents of Ninja and you are all set. Despite this sounding negative, the build elements of Fortnite are a big chunk of why the game is so compelling, and I aspire to get better at figuring out how to integrate real time building with staying alive (and shooting other players at the same time). I've seen it happen, I know it can be done....

Black Ops IIII Blackout Mode: Black Ops IIII offers a lot of other gameplay modes, but it's ditched a single player campaign in favor of its own battle royale mode. The key selling point is "like the other battle royale games, but in the Call of Duty engine." The better selling point is that it's a well tuned machine, and it provides you with a pretty decent survivalist playground. It's weak points so far include being very, very glitchy (I sometimes have every other game die on me for no discernable reason), and it's tier advancement system is painfully slow compared to the other games on offer. Also, it's what we got instead of an actual campaign. Sigh.

Which Batte Royale to Play

If you think about diving in to this genre, Fortnite is the no-brainer. They have wisely made the battle royale mode completely free, and you need never spend a cent if you don't want to; thing is, you will like it enough that you'll eventually want to give them some money for those cool models and gear skins that are usually amusing, cool and adorable all at once. Plus....there's a lot to explore and discover in this game, and each season morphs events on the map just enough to keep you wondering where it's all going.

Black Ops IIII is also a strong contender right now, and guaranteed to keep a strong player base being a Call of duty game. However it's budgeted as a AAA title, still expects you to grind tiers to gain unlocks, and then entices you with RMT to buy tiers to unlock. If you got the game for all its modes it would be worthwhile.....but hard to suggest on the merits of Blackout alone.

Player Unknown Battle Grounds is the granddaddy now, but hard to recommend. It's $30 to get in to the game, more if you want cosmetic unlocks, and my experience was that after a few hours of play it seemed to me that the game suffered a lot from being a lower budget design, caters to twitchy shooters with keyboards, and ultimately the simplest way to live to the end was to find a car and drive around until you make it to the final five.

So yeah, I'd suggest that if you dive into this genre you take the safe route and pick up the perfectly priced free version of Fortnite. If you love it enough, then you can dive into one of the others, preferably the one you're going to enjoy the most based on what you like as a gamer....for me that was (barely) Black Ops IIII and even then I feel like I got ripped off just a bit, for reasons I could rant about in another post some time. So....if you must try out a battle royale, my official suggestion is Fortnite.


Thursday, November 8, 2018

Starfinder Report


We're back to Starfinder, this time with a new campaign I started on Wednesday.....the old D&D campaign, and the newer one which I just didn't have my heart in, are going to take a break. I think I need a D&D break, it's been a long, long time since I went a week without running D&D.

Starfinder is kind of like running D&D, except with more elaborate mechanics, explicit adventuring in space, and lots of wild, thematic imagery and setting material that borrows from the best elements of Pathfinder to create an experience that (once you embrace it) is just a lot of gonzo fun. If you had to ask what game systems Starfinder is closest to in theme and feel, I would readily advise that you put it in the same basket as Gamma World, Star Frontiers and Spelljammer. Sure, Starfinder is more sci fi than Spelljammer....but it's only different in that it depicts a future fantasy universe where tech also arose, and the net result is a lot of genre mashing fun. Don't try to make too much sense of it from an SF perspective....keep it strictly in the space fantasy zone and you can't go wrong.

Last night's session involved a missing sky city, a turbulent Venusian world, silicon-based life forms and a gang of ysoki PMCs called the Orbital Watch. The plot will continue soon, and I will post the scenario after they've ploughed through it, but I continue to owe a debt of thanks to www.sfrpgtools.com which provides excellent utilities for Starfinder GMs. Take, for example, these fine statblocks I generated on the site:




...Cool stuff! It includes treasure generators, system and settlement generators, a starship creator, and the most useful tool of all, the monster generator which created the entries above.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition Back in Print!


A couple weeks ago it started with the Monstrous Manual (the Premium cover edition), and today it is followed by the Dungeon Master's Guide and Player's Handbook. This is pretty much the edition of D&D that was my sweet spot from 1989-2000, the version of D&D that defined more closely than anything what I think of the game, and what I expect of it. While people feel nostalgic for D&D in the 70's and 80's, I tend to feel that nostalgia for this edition more than any other. As a teenager my time with AD&D 1st edition abd B/X D&D was formative, but I was never quite on board with the specific assumptions of the earlier edition....I wasn't a fan of much of the hard-coded limits and default expectations of  1E, with weird class/race restrictions that were justified due more to implied expectations of the genre that wouldn't necessarily fit all instances of the fantasy genre regardless; barely a nod to skills until well after I had stopped playing AD&D 1E, and lots of grizzly little mechanical systems that were tiresome.

AD&D 2E didn't shed all the grizzly little mechanical systems but it made effort to shore up some of them (THAC0 becoming default, for example), and it tonally shifted to a heavy emphasis on narrative adventuring and heroic exploits over merely being a tool for exploring dungeons*. The game's 2nd edition actively encouraged people to think outside the notion of the murderhobo*, and it was exactly what I needed at the time it came out, when I was in my first year of college. Sure, I was deeply immersed in Runequest and Dragonquest....but everyone I gamed with desperately wanted the AD&D experience, and it turned out so did I.

Anyway, these reprints are soft cover editions of the premium releases a few years ago. The soft cover element is no doubt there to help collectors distinguish these copies from the actual high-quality premium hard covers, which is fine....it also lets you keep the price down on the POD version and have some easy copies for the game table. The other downside is these are the "2nd print" versions, which contained the later format and art of subsquent book releases from the mid-nineties, and therefore your appreciation for the look may vary. Although I never had an issue with the look and style of the reprint editions, I admit my personal nostalgia firmly lies with the 1989 originals. Except the Monstrous Manual! That was a major improvement in terms of art, and the mere fact that it was an actual book instead of a ridiculous three ring binder. I understand the idea of the three ring binder....but in actual use it took too much abuse too quickly, and frankly was never as useful as it seemed like it should be.

As usual, I am left wondering if I could talk my fellow gamers into diving back in to the glory days of AD&D 2E for a while....I feel like a campaign or two down nostalgia lane would be kind of fun, maybe...





*AD&D 1E was never exclusively about either, of course, but it's focus and underlying implied universe defaulted heavily to a playstyle that I equated with how I experienced the game as a kid and teen. As such, by the time I was in college I wanted campaigns that were more interesting than that, and 2E provided lots of tonal support to that effect. It was this tonal change that for many 1E fans made 2E a hard game to shift to, of course, but it was also what led to many others like myself returning to the fold.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Oculus Go - The Best Casual VR Set You Can Get Right Now

Prior to acquiring the Oculus Go about two months ago I would have described the VR landscape like this:

Oculus Rift and Vive - cool tech for early adapters that appears to be too much bother and too costly for average people (primarily in finding a PC and GPU equipped to handle them).

Playstation VR - The most accessible VR headset for most households, it's an impressive chance to experience what something close to a real VR gaming experience is like, with the caveat that the experience must still be dumbed down a bit for the PS4's somewhat leaner processing power; has lots of oddities and issues when you play it enough, most notably related to the free space you may (or may not) have and need for many of the games.

Daydream - the cheap phone option I found most convenient and enjoyable for VR gaming, but plagued by a variety of issues which included compatibility problems, phone overheating, limited processing power and or visuals depending entirely on your choice of phone, and lots and lots of fiddling around to get it all to work right.

All the other Phone VR Options - like Daydream but even less coherent and organized.

Then along came the Oculus Go.



Now I have the Oculus Go, which I decided to purchase after much deliberation and hesitation. It's essentially a game changer, especially for those who are unwilling to spring for the expensive PC option, but who want to see what a genuinely enjoyable, consistent VR experience is all about.

Here's the seven reasons that Oculus Go is absolutely worth your time and interest if you are keen on discovering what the VR experience is like (as of 2018):

1. It's self-contained. No phone or external PC needed. This is the first stand-alone VR headset of its kind, I believe. Next year the Oculus Quest is planned, which will be much like the Go except with more dynamic controllers and motion/spatial sensitivity. For now, however, Oculus Go lets you enjoy all the elements of VR from the comfort of a swivel chair, and provides you with its own controller, which is all you need.

2. It's light weight,and works with glasses. The controller has adjustable straps, but it's not much weight on your head (hardly noticeable after a while), and is a comfortable viewing experience. It includes a spacer for glasses. I have tried the unit with and without glasses (I wear contacts normally) and was surprised to learn that the glasses were actually easier to focus with, and the resolution snapped in much better for me....it turns out my difficulties with focusing in VR were driven largely by my contact lenses not quite force-correcting the extremely sharp near-sightedness in my left eye relative to my right eye; the glasses are not trying to force-correct my vision, however, so the experience suddenly felt normal and easy to focus on.

3. The resolution is great. I have no doubt you can get better resolution on Rift or Vive with a super computer and smoking GPU, but I can only afford the Go, so in terms of the experience of higher definition resolution I am very impressed. Downloading hi-res virtual films really hammers home just how relevant the experience is with crisp resolution. Oculus Go isn't 100% there (yet) but I will be shocked if in about five years we don't see a headset that can operate at close to 4K resolution. My son's desire for a Ready Player One future seems that much closer now, if they can eventually manage a self-contained headset that handles extremely high res graphics and imagery.

4. Dedicated OS Environment. Oculus Go's marketplace ties in to GearVR and I am told if you have stuff for GearVR it translates your purchases over to this store as well. The entire experience is exclusively aimed at the VR market and experience, so you're shopping for stuff you know will work on the Go. No guessing if this game or that game will work, and in almost all cases I've found that you can easily identify good games and apps from the reviews and ratings (many reviews are from customers buying the product for other phone-based VR options though and don't help so much).

5. Good Game Selection. It's not as amazing as I imagine the Vive or Rift have it, but Oculus Go has some games that work very well with the machine's hardware, and take advantage of the resolution capabilities quite nicely. If you've played some of these on other phones you will notice they look a little better here. If you've ever experienced any glitchiness on other phones, odds are you may see less of that here (I've only had one or two odd glitches so far). Most of the games are top notch; there are a few duds, and a few my son and I can't agree on at all, where dad loves X and he loves Y, but we hate the inverse....I'll talk more about the games in a future blog. There are a few duds, though, mostly amongst the free games I've tried, at least one of which was the worst VR experience I've had to date, just disgustingly unplayable. That has been contrasted by another ten titles we can't get enough of, thankfully.

6. The Apps and Movies. The Oculus Go shines with its range of apps and movie viewers. From Within to Wander, there's a range of apps that let you view 360 degree films, explore Google Streetview from its native 360 degree resolution (I Had no idea Google Streetview was intended to be viewed in VR, but it totally is) and browse the internet or watch movies and Netflix on virtual screens. The latter is amusing but I will continue to ask "why bother?" so long as the resolution is not as good as what I can get on my native 4K television, but the experience of watching actual 360 degree recordings or VR-viewable films is intense and unique; Oculus Go's graphics are just strong enough to pull this off and make the experience memorable. I can safely say I've now spent more time navigating with the Wander app to explore Google Streetview in exotic locales such as Teotihuacan or northern Alaska just to experience these places than I have (almost) anything else on the Go.

7. The Sound is Great. The onboard speakers are positioned to funnel to your eardrums without having to put on a headset, and the result feels very close to actually wearing headphones without needing to. People around you will hear the sound, especially if you crank it up to max volume, but it isn't nearly as bothersome. Put it at half volume and it's almost unnoticeable to everyone else. That said, there's still a conventional old headphone jack if you want to go that route, and you could easily wear a headset with the straps for this thing without any discomfort.

One other thing worth noting is the onboard Samsung browser is great for browsing the web, and it's easy enough to find VR content online as well that just plain old works (most of the time). It also includes a code-locked private mode if you're keen on discovering the dystopian, Kafkaesque out-of-body nightmare that is VR porn.

It's not 100% sunshine. Here are my negative observations so far:

Battery power could be better. I think three-four hours is the most you can get out of the device, depending on what you are doing with it, and two hours may be normal for some graphics-intense games and experiences.

Lingering Compatibility Issues. The storefront seems to share space with the GearVR, and you will find yourself wondering on occasion if the app or game in question will work right with the Go. I've run into a few apps that are built to assume no controller, and a couple free games that did not behave correctly at all. It does look like the games identified for the Go that cost money all seem to have been okayed for sale in the storefront, though.

Only One Controller. Oculus Go plays best when you are sitting in a swivel chair with the intended controller. I don't think there are other controllers available for use with the Go at this time, although the one it comes with is absolutely perfect for what most games demand.

No Spatial Recognition. Oculus Go is assuming you are in a swivel chair or standing, and all games/apps require you to use the controller to move or teleport around. In reading up on it, it looks like a major goal of the next iteration of the console...Oculus Quest....is to add spatial recognition and movement to the experience. Yes, I will totally snap that one up when it releases next year.

If you decide this is for you, I suggest the $249 64GB version. It's double the memory (I still haven't used all of it up) but given it has no expansion slot, you might as well spend the extra $50 and go for it. The set comes with a glasses-spacer and a hand controller, as well as a USB charger. For my money, this is the next best gadget purchase I have made this year, right next to the Nintendo Switch, and is currently getting more play time than conventional consoles.