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
API 8.1 (27)
FAMILY Cortex-A35
CLOCK_SPEED 598 - 1500 MHz
MANUFACTURER southerntelecom
API 8.1 (27)
FAMILY Cortex-A35
CLOCK_SPEED 598 - 1500 MHz
MANUFACTURER southerntelecom
API 8.1 (27)
FAMILY Cortex-A35
CLOCK_SPEED 598 - 1500 MHz

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.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Doctor Futurity and the League Universe (Cypher System)

The League Universe is the official unofficial setting that I have run all comic book-styled super hero campaigns in for the last 33 years. These adventures include events from the 1985-1987 era of Crossover Earth (a play-by-story post I ran in the eighties), numerous DC Heroes Mayfair System (MEGS) adventures from the late 80's and early 90's, the lengthy DC Heroes 3E campaign I ran in 1992-1993ish, a medley of Mutants & Masterminds 1st edition campaigns, and more recently my Cypher System Superhero adaptation. Here's the basic timeline (so far), and the key NPC protagonist/patron, Doctor Futurity (thanks to Philip K. Dick for his novel of the same name and my friend from way back when, Quentin Long, for using it as one of the names of the fragmenting Liberty League that became the basis for all that was to come....)

The League Universe

This world had a few major events in recent decades:
·         In 1986 The Liberty League fell apart when a gang of villains conspired to kill Captain Liberty; his sidekick became Arbalest, an assassin who hunted down many of the League's old villain roster and killed them before being captured.
·         In 1988 The League reformed to face a major threat, as dozens of heroes fought off an invasion of other-dimensional Cthonians, mythos-like monsters from beyond the stars who invaded New York. After this the world's most powerful occult hero Dr. Futurity went AWOL for many years, to appear only occasionally.
·         In 1992 The new Liberty League fought an invasion of other-dimensional "bug men" and won.
·         In 1995 heroes of Earth were kidnapped by galactic pirates and sold into slavery as gladiators, eventually winning their way free and impressing the Empress Theda of the Thiir Star Empire. They contacted the Star League, a coalition of worlds working against Thiir and other oppressors. Some of these heroes became secret envoys to the star League; word of this reveal was kept hidden, top secret.
·         In 1996 Dr. Richard Desorius discovers the secret to transgenic modification and accidentally splices his genes with a reptile, becoming Saurian. He is later recruited by the ancient secret society called Eschaton.
·         In 1998 the League disbanded, not to be restored until after 9/11
·         In 2001 the new League was formed by a UN council and became the World League, led by American Agent (the first true super soldier success), fighting terrorist organizations such as Project Titan, PYTHON and others. It lasted until 2009 when American Agent was killed in Afghanistan and the League quietly disbanded. An independent organization, Agents of Steel (led by a hundred year old hero named Talbot Steel who may have become immortal after drinking from the Holy Grail) picks up the slack.
·         In 2002 The Metahuman Intelligence Agency is quietly formed to track methuman appearances and activities, and to either recruit from or seek to apprehend meta criminals.
·         Between 2001 and the present many scientists notice a steady decline in the number of new metahumans appearing. 
·         In 2007 The Metahuman Intelligence Agency (MIA) uncovers an incursion from the Bleed beneath Hell House in New York. The occult team code-named Eclipse is formed to defeat the god Typhon from exploiting the rift.
·         In 2014 evidence of a stellar war in neighboring Alpha Centauri was observed. In 2016 Project Titan becomes funded through backdoor channels my MJ-12 to observe and capture metahuman specimens for an army they are recruiting. 
·         In 2017 word arrives that a flotilla of refugee ships from Centauri are on the way, fleeing a threat from a conquering force called the Marauders. Word of this is kept hidden from the general public, but it is getting harder to conceal the information about dangerous advanced stellar civilizations. Project Space Force is publically announced as an ingenious cover to the actual Space Force which will take engineered tech from the Star League to prepare for the arrival of a fleet of aliens, and possible interstellar war. Behind the scenes, MJ-12 is tied in and using Project Titan to recruit, though no one knows this.
·         In 2018, Doctor Futurity reappears in New York for the first time in nearly twenty years....

Doctor Futurity (known alias Devon Maxwell)
Superhuman (Arcane Origin) – Level 8 (24)
Motive: protect the world and the timeline, no matter the cost
Environment: Wherever trouble arises
Health: 80
Damage Inflicted: 8 points or 11 with ranged Onslaught attack
Armor: 1 or 4 (arcane armor)
Movement: short; flying long
Modifications: Arcane Powers at Level 10, Intellect Defense Rolls at level 10, +3 damage with Onslaught Attacks (ranged, 11 damage)
Powers: Doctor Futurity can call upon arcane sorcery to project illusions, manipulate time, create devastating force blasts, hover and fly, and teleport around the world. His power set includes:
Illusions – intellect defense roll level 10 to penetrate the illusion
Time Shift – Can project himself forward or backward in time; can project forward or backward in time up to 10 targets. This is a lengthy shift (not minutes, hours at minimum).
Teleport – Can instantly transport himself and up to 9 others to any location in the world.
Sorcery Immense: Futurity can call upon and use any identified power in the core rules that an Adept would be able to deploy, including tier 6 powers.
Ally: Alan Morn, MIA Operative (Secret Agent template for stats)                                

Doctor Futurity is one of the premiere investigators and occult sorcerers in the world. He has worked with numerous organizations, though most famously the League in its various forms, and is said to have first appeared in the mid nineteenth century as an occult investigator, though his chronomantic time magic allows him to appear during any epoch of history.

Futurity is noted for his tendency toward a red/white/blue motif in his costuming, and his suits never appear the same twice. He is prone to changing his fashion over time to reflect the era in which he appears, but he always wears some form of mask and is otherwise unidentifiable; he has a persona when incognito that is a man of middle years with greying temples named Devon Maxwell, but this is also assumed to be a false image.

Futurity’s main purpose is the protection of the timeline from extra-dimensional occult threats, but his greatest challenge was the Cthonic invasion of New York in 1988, when he aided the League in stopping the mythos invasion. However, he paid a price; the cthonians left Earth alone, but he was forced to agree to a pact of limited interference going forward. Some think much of his power is focused on insuring the barriers in the Interstitial Dimension are kept strong to insure the cthonians do not return.

Today, Futurity conspires with MIA (Metahuman Intelligence Agency) operative Alan Morn to keep track on the activities in the mortal realm, and has provided him with one of Futurity's unique disk-like artifacts that lets him contact the sorcerer telepathically in the timestream and interstitial realms. Agent Morn is a tall, middle aged operative who was recruited into the MIA after an enounter with the legendary Hell House of Maddison County, NY, leading to the revelation that it was in fact a paranormal rift into the bleed from which the nebulous dimension of Purgatory had gained purchase. In 2007, during one of Futurity's rare visits to his home plane of existence at Morn's request the two managed to stop the ancient Titan Typhon from entering the mortal realm through the rift beneath Hell House, with the assistance of the Unknown Soldier, Adam the Created Man and the Fire Below (in her last incarnation). For a few months they were known as "Eclipse," a code name MIA assigned to the occult adventurers who worked to stop Typhon's incursion. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Quiet, but things slowly going on...

I've been relaxing a bit from the old standard I once held of 3 posts a week. I'd like to get back to that --discipline is good!-- but I actually have too many demands and too much discipline in my life right now so letting the blog slip a bit from the routine has been okay in my book.

That said, my ongoing games, which include two homebrew Cypher System settings, intermittent Starfinder and a new D&D 5E campaign have been generating content....just nothing I want to post (yet) until it's played its purpose in the ongoing campaigns.

One thing I admit I've done a lot less of this year is buy new game systems (and then spend time reading those systems and distracting myself). Despite this, I did get the new Alternity and have been reading up on it....also Modern AGE (which is an interesting system that looks anemic compared to it's Fantasy AGE predecessor or....say...Cypher System), and some other odds and ends like Numenera's 2nd edition, the Unity RPG and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 4th edition (which I am told is shipping now, at long last).

So yeah, maybe I'm doing better from a certain point of view, but still buying too many systems given how little time I have these days to absorb or run them!

Anyway, I've been running a lot of Cypher Supers and plan on posting more heroes and villains from that campaign soon. Also, a talk about the interesting potential in the new Alternity....

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Game Systems: It's all about the toys they offer

I have thought a bit recently about how I might reconcile my general love of Cypher System, which rests firmly in a more streamlined, narrative-friendly camp of the rules spectrum, and my ongoing fascination for Starfinder (and by proxy Pathfinder 1E) with their elaborate systems and deep-diving level of detail and minutiae. How could I enjoy one so much (Cypher) for its ease with which all actions and conflicts are resolved while encouraging a deep layer of narrative fun and yet also enjoy Starfinder and Pathfinder for their rigor and minutiae, with mechanical depth of design that sometimes allows for emergent storytelling, but in a much more structured fashion....?

Then I realized what it is about these (and other) games that I like so much: the toys. The pieces and parts that they both provide to let you construct your game and make it run with minimal effort. Here's what I mean:

With Cypher you get a minimalist, narrative-driven system, sure. But you also get thousands of building blocks, including a robust bestiary, cyphers, artifacts, and plenty of character choices. It's a cornucopia of goodness, and it's cross-compatible with all the other Cypher System books (The Strange and Numenera) so when you combine it with those resources you have a metric ton of read-to-use tools which require little to no effort to deploy in the game session. In other words: it makes actually constructing the game (and running it) easy.

With Starfinder and Pathfinder, you essentially have the same scenario. You have massive bestiaries, magic items, tech items, gear and equipment, spells, all the stuff you need to seed scenarios. Yes, I have griped (and will continue to do so) about the time consumption in designing custom content such as new monsters and NPCs, but Starfinder fixed a lot of that, and Pathfinder technically "fixes" it by simply offering you so many books full of ready-to-use content (e.g. Monster Codex, Villain Codex, NPC Codex etc.) that you really don't need to do that sort of work at all if your game isn't demanding it. And these days, when I do run Pathfinder, my games are definitely not demanding that I keep up with a mess of hyper-focused min max players at my table, thankfully.

This also explains why Savage Worlds is so nice as a system, and Call of Cthulhu too. And it explains why some other games, despite liking them so much, remain second fiddle to these more robust "toybox" offering type game systems....GURPS for example being better described as a set of tools you make your own toys with, for example, or Genesys Core wanting to be a toybox but not offering enough toys for each genre (yet). We all probably can think of game systems that show up with a rule system and a smattering of content attached, with cool concepts in principle but a dearth of actual content to work with. Hero System is my personal favorite example of a system with a metric ton of rules and design features but no core box of toys to play with.*

Moreover, Cypher System is particularly cool because it gives you enough in one book to work with. Starfinder does require purchasing a couple books to get there, but once you have the core, Alien Archive and Armory you've essentially got years' worth of content with minimal effort at your fingertips.

Not everyone needs (or wants) a game with a toybox approach. I use "toybox" here because I feel "sandbox" if a different kind of style.....it's the kind of game where you get lots of content, but you still need to build it all up (make the sand castle, if you will); GURPS is better described as a sandbox game, for example. Some people prefer that.....they don't want these toys, they want their own. But for me? toybox is definitely what I need these days to get that gaming in.

*With the caveat that by Hero 6th there are some very thick resource books you can expand the game with for certain genres if you want, so even Hero can provide a robust toybox if you're willing to pay for it.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Savage Worlds Adventure Edition Kickstarter

It's in the wild, and as expected it's already funded! Savage Worlds will have its first new edition in 15 years...take a look:

I'm in at the $150 level for sure. Savage Worlds remains one of the "go to" games in my arsenal.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Catching up: Clocks in Walls, Venom, Android, Chronicles of Future Earth, Cypher and Other Stuff

It's been a busy month for me, as all Octobers are....work accelerates at an exponential rate for me around September and doesn't let up until mid December. In years past I have preloaded blog posts to simulate a presence, but over the last couple of years I just haven't got time for that sort of stuff anymore...

Anyway, here's a sort of truncated scoop of the last couple weeks:

Shadow of the Beanstalk

In case you hadn't heard, Fantasy Flight's first SF setting book based on the Android universe is being released soon. The link above takes you to the preview page, and it looks like a great setting, and an excellent choice for the system's first foray into non-Star Wars themed science fiction. I'm definitely looking forward to this.

Although I've had my reservations about the system after a campaign earlier this year, overall I enjoyed it a lot, and I am thinking carefully about the idea of running another campaign again soon. I may stick with fantasy for now, and then explore SF once the new sourcebook comes out. We'll see.....I've been debating that, or possible (finally) exploring Fantasy AGE in more depth.

The House With A Clock In It's Walls

We saw this movie at my son's behest two weeks ago and it was quite fun, more fun than I would have expected it to be. For a "kid's movie" it did not pull many punches, but still managed to be a creepy fun dark fantasy film with surprisingly tight pacing. I am still perplexed that I never knew of this series of books growing up, as it would have been right up my alley in the seventies.


Then we saw this one (also by request of my son, who is a big Spider Man and Venom fan) and guess what, it didn't suck like all the critics said it would. I went in expecting a trainwreck and came out genuinely enjoying the movie. It had some odd moments, but the actual pacing and style of the movie worked well for me, and the banter between Tom Hardy's Eddie Brock and Venom was a high point of the movie, well worth seeing. We'll be adding this movie to our permanent collection once it's out on blu-ray.

This is another example of a movie where you can see that the interests of critics do not always align well with the interest of the general audiences. Critics (especially on Youtube) have a habit of denigrating the general audience when they seem to like things that they "shouldn't," but maybe in this case the critics should take a moment to try and figure out why this film works so well for the non-critic crowd; it's sitting at 89% audience approval on Rotten Tomatoes, for example, vs. a 31% critic score. Many of the complaints I have read about this film now seem trite and petty having watched it....and I have no bones at all in this fight; I went in to Venom expecting to hate it!

Cypher System Combat with Low Levels vs. High Tiers

I was running my Cypher game Saturday when I realized I had put my party up against a foe which they essentially roflstomped, and I realized that as they are hitting tier 3 I need to pay more attention to how I design encounters to be challenging. It did demonstrate for me a slight problem....that lower level foes, against higher tier characters, can be viciously wiped out and the only cost of the combat to the PCs is time and maybe a few points out of the pool.

I need to read a bit more in the sundry Cypher books about encounter design, see if it offers some advice. One comment on a random post I read suggested that grouping lower level foes into higher level mobs (so take 20 level 3 orcs and make them one level 7 mob, for example) might be a good solution. It would definitely feel a bit epic.....but also provide a better challenge.

This is why I like Cypher....the game system is very flexible, but demands you think outside the box.

Chronicles of Future Earth Kickstarter

If you recall the Chronicles of Future Earth for Basic Roleplaying, this is the successor. I'd be tempted to back it for the reading value alone, but the new edition will be powered by FATE....a system which I ultimately learned to play a while back and even found intriguing, but realized that in the end it is not a good fit for my GM style (unlike Cypher, which very much does fit my GM style). Still, if you are liked me and loved that BRP book this is worth checking out.