Sunday, November 25, 2018
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
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.
API 8.1 (27)
CLOCK_SPEED 598 - 1500 MHz
RAM 2 GB
API 8.1 (27)
CLOCK_SPEED 598 - 1500 MHz
RAM 2 GB
API 8.1 (27)
CLOCK_SPEED 598 - 1500 MHz
RAM 2 GB
Sunday, November 18, 2018
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
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
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.