Monday, September 16, 2019

Pathfinder 2E Skill Feats - more depth


My prior post felt a bit like a gripe against Pathfinder 2nd edition in a way I'm not really in full alignment with. There's a bit of frustration there but it's mostly because I (being an old, crusty gamer stuck in his ways) get annoyed when a new thing pops up and demands I read it instead of relying on my old sense of familiarity. Such is the main issue with the way skills and skill feats work in Pathfinder 2nd Edition.

Here's a few examples: the first one is Perception, which they deliberately took out of the "skill ecology" of the game. Perception is now essentially a special stat, which is not actually a bad way to approach it (and is in alignment with how perception has worked --often as a houserule-- in prior editions back to 1E's Unearthed Arcana).

The problem is, Perception is still essentially tied to "skill actions." For example: if you want to discern whether an NPC is telling the truth or not (this happens plenty of times at my game table), the way to do it is to roll deception for the NPC (lie action using Deception skill) against the PC's perception score (which not only covers awareness of the senses but apparently also awareness of the character and tone of others).

A second problem is that, while the book is exceedingly well organized for the most part, it has weird moments where the procedure for an action is buried in the details. For example: lying is covered as an action you can do, but discerning lies is buried within the text of lying. So unlike other iterations of the game, you don't have a "Intuition" or "Sense Motive" or "Insight" skill or feat to go to; if you want to detect lies you need to read up not on detecting them but how to lie. This seems like a tiny oversight...even a "Sense Motive" skill action that just says "see Lie" would have helped.*

Skill feats then come in to play to allow a player to distinguish their character's abilities in more detail. Under this system, the way to get better at detecting lies is to actually get trained in deception yourself (learn how to tell lies), then pick the skill feat "Lie to Me" so you can use deception to detect lies instead of your perception score. This means that perception is really just everyone's "baseline" ability to detect lies or see/hear/detect things. The skill feats are where you can distinguish this stuff in more depth.

A really good skill example of how this granularity breaks down is the Society skill. On the surface society lets you recall knowledge, create forgeries, decipher writing and subsist (three of which are general actions; which is to say, skill actions more than one skill might deploy). You can uniquely create forgeries with this skill.

Things you can't do with Society as a skill without a skill feat: behave as a noble (Courtly Graces), build or use connections (Connections), gather information or recall knowledge (Streetwise), and a bunch of language stuff that does make more sense (and also demonstrates that the old Linguistics skill was rolled up into Society). Note that learning new languages are Society skill feats, though; there's no "Learn a Language" skill action that tells you this, though.

As a GM, you need to consider whether or not the skill check you are about to have your PC make on the Society skill might conflict with those things that you need skill feats for. A character trained in Society still can't mimic noble conduct (I think this makes sense, but it means if you play a noble you need this feat), and you can't use it to build connections with a skill check. You can't gather information or recall knowledge since you need Streetwise as a skill feat. What does that mean in the context of a skill check?

In one sense, this is all fine....it's a nice way of parsing out skill abilities and defining what they can and cannot do. But in doing so, it becomes an interesting game of tracking two sets of data: the skills you are trained in, and the skill feats that let you do different things with them.

I am personally of the view that having a skill called "streetwise" or "Etiquette" would be easier then having to track skill feats....but that's just me. Heck, even just making these specializations of the Society skill that a "skill feat" slot lets you pick would at least organizationally help out as I see it. The PF2E devs did not go in this direction, though.

I'm ultimately fine with this; it's not a Big Deal after all, and in the end at least you can define a character by his focus through the skill feats this way. But....it feels a little clunky if you don't get extremely familiar with the system. Luckily for both myself and the game I am sufficiently interested in it that I feel the desire to do so. I'm enjoying the overall extra level of depth that Pathfinder brings back to the games, something I have been missing with D&D 5E for quite a while now.

Anyway!

I'm trying to talk my players into running a few weeks with a level 12 mini campaign in Pathfinder 2E. I'd like to see how the higher levels play without waiting for the ongoing campaigns to get there. I'll keep you all apprised if this happens.


*Speaking of things where the developers came up with a neat new thing and then buried it in the details, read up on the uncommon items rules. They are buried over multiple pages. Then, consider that spells have uncommon varieties, and other things may be so restricted. Then read on the classes to discern how that applies to class advancement. Then read through the GM's section to see if you can find clarification on how you, as GM, should adjudicate uncommon spells and features. It's a great idea, but apparently no one thought that it deserved an entire special chapter addressing to the GM what this means and how to handle it, insetad leaving lots of little clues to you and the players to try and figure it out. GAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Contrasting Pathfinder 2E against Dungeons & Dragons 5E

We're approximately 8 games in to Pathfinder 2nd edition between two groups now. Both games have inched along to 3rd level and I think (depending on whether or not I'm interpreting the XP rules correctly) it seems safe to say that a fairly active group of players accomplishing a lot will advance at least 1 level every two sessions or so.

After last night's game I think, at least for the low level experience I am getting a similar vibe to my initial exploration of D&D 5E at low level: the experience feels very consistent, the combats can be quite dangerous, and risk/reward is quite noticeable. There are some distinct differences, though, which I'll point out about combat, skills and GM resources.

Combat 

Right now combat in Pathfinder feels tight, intuitive, and the action point system lets you do things you can't accomplish in PF 1E or any version of D&D; you can make iterative attacks as long as you are willing to accept the penalty to hit, and the increased change of a fumble on your successive tries. There's a more strategic element to it even if you aren't using a map and minis (which we have not used except for basic map reference). Combats don't last long, and thanks to the 10-point differential which allows for normal attacks to convert to fumbles and crits combat often has some interesting and swingy results. It's interesting and I like it.

D&D 5E's main issue by contrast is that while combat flows well from level 1-4, as you advance it often feels more and more like "big bags of hit points try to deal enormous amounts of damage." Players and creatures alike in 5E have too many abilities that boil down to damage dealing without enough distinctly interesting effects (PF2E has lots of interesting effects at the low levels for contrast).  Despite this, D&D 5E combat isn't bad by any stretch.....if I ranked it vs. PF2E I'd call it a "good combat system contrasted with a great combat system."

If 5E had mor interesting effects and wasn't so obsessed with Hit Points as the catch-all I think it would hold well in this comparison. But so far: Pathfinder is a clear winner when it comes to the feel and flow of combat.

Skill Systems

As I see it, there are three modes of thought on skills: you love them and no game is sufficient unless it allows for maximum granularity; you hate them and want to know why any skills are really needed; or you recognize that there are "things you need to do" in any given game that can best be handled by skills and so try to find a modest compromise for handling this.

PF2E and D&D 5E both seem to fall in to this middle camp on the surface. 5E gives you a list of skills that I would call "the minimum decent list of skill thingies you will probably do in a D&D session." Pathfinder 2E technically also takes this approach, but then ultimately makes it enormously granular and complex....which should in theory make the "guy #1 who loves skills" happier, right? But it doesn't....it's actually making a skill system for "guy who recognizes a compromise mechanic but also wants tons of detail on what the compromise skill system does."

On the one hand, I like how specific the skill actions in Pathfinder can get, but on the other hand as I have delved deep into the skill feats I have sort of grown to dislike it. The problem is best described like this, starting with a D&D 5E skill challenge:

1. Player wants to do action X.
2. GM looks at the 5E skill list and thinks skill Y is a good choice.
3. Roll and resolve!

In Pathfinder 2E so far it goes like this:

1. Player wants to do skill action X.
2. GM suggests rolling on Skill Y.
3. Someone points out you can't really do that the way the player wants unless you have Skill Feat Z. GM reminds himself he needs to memorize in great detail all the skill feats because they are lots of "special exception rules" that are in reality hard limiters on the "what you can and can't do without this feat" take which PF and 3E are known for taking to insane extremes.
4. GM manages a compromise on the action, but then realizes he's not asking for the right skill because it turns out that by trying to reduce the skill list as much as it did (while also not looking too much like a copy/paste of the D&D 5E skill system) has led to Pathfinder making some really strange and counter-intuitive choices in skill consolidation. Do they work? They will, once you accept that this is how they are meant to work. Or you could go play another game with a more intuitive skill system, and that is a problem for PF2E.

Now, Pathfinder does some stuff incredibly well with the skill system as provided. Key items of note include: a better and more consistent approach to how to identify and figure out the use of magic items; a simpler crafting mechanic that, while losing granularity, is still easier to use as written; and the perception mechanic no longer being a skill but an ability. Most significant is how initiative is a skill-based thing now which can play off of perception or a relevant skill (e.g. stealth) as suits the moment. That's the most innovative thing I've seen in a game in a long time, so simple yet so logical.

But both Pathfinder and D&D 5E fail to a degree when it comes to how much verisimilitude you want in your game systen. To 5E's credit you can use the DMG rules to add as many skills as you want in, and learning skills is a matter of time and investment and totally untethered from leveling. Both systems wisely add some sort of RP-focued background mechanic (profession/background) which helps flesh out the role-play element that your character will otherwise suffer a bit on with a less granular skill system. And both do this the way they do because they are trying to find ways to solve the mechanical issues on skills imposed by 3rd edition design.

In the end....D&D 5E wins here.

The Gamemaster's Resources

This is a tough one, because to get the full experience with D&D 5E you need three books, so you're spending a fair amount of cash. Pathfinder 2E, despite having some rules to run the game in the Core Book, has offloaded a chunk of what used to be in the core and bestiary in to the upcoming Gamemastery Guide. If you want decent NPC stat blocks, rules for making, scaling and modifying monsters, rules for lots of "GM adjudication" stuff....we have to wait until January next year. Once it's out, it will be a 3-book core system. This is on equal footing with D&D 5E so I have to call this as a draw.

But! The problem here is key items (NPC design, monster design and more depth in the GM rules) were all in two books in PF1E. It is a shame to see this drawn out. One of my players thinks they were forced to rush PF2E to release. I think maybe they just wanted to get it spread out more; but I gotta be honest, I'd have much rather had some NPC/monster design rules in the core books than the goblin ancestry and alchemist. Oh well.

Pathfinder 2E is proving a lot of fun, but it is also making me appreciate some of the design choices put in to D&D 5E. I am thinking that a perfect version of the game could be found in a system with PF2E level combat and action economy, D&D 5E level skill mechanics, and some blend of the spell systems.

Another contrast is the "gradient of success" mechanic in PF2E vs. the advantage/disadvantage mechanic in D&D 5E. I feel like both are interesting and equally innovative. I wonder if one could implement some version of both in a hybrid version of the two games.....hmmmm.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Cypher System Revised Is Out!!! - Best Game Ever


Yesterday I got my notice that Cypher System Revised was being released and my Kickstarter claim was ready, so I now have the PDF and am waiting for my physical shipment. A few comments for those interested in what this new edition brings to the game:

Same System, New Look

It's the same game system. Much like with Numenera, the revised edition is more complimentary to what has come before. Nothing about Cypher Revised will negate your current collection. I intend to keep my 1st edition book for the game table as it will still be fully functional for players who need to roll characters or rules reference. Monte Cook Games needs to be commended for this practice, it is very much appreciated.

Additional Core Content

I'm still parsing through it all (though I spent most of last night reading this monstrous tome), but so far I have noticed that some content previously reserved for expansions is incorporated into this new tome: post-apocalypse and fairy tale genres are now in the mix, existing genres such as horror get an extra boost on ideas and rules, as well as additional creatures and options. The rules on cyphers are discussed in a bit more depth and some of the "how to implement" ideas are expanded upon in interesting ways. Additional GM content on how to run games is quite welcome. Some of the new rules options which were introduced in the revised Numenera core books are now also available here. The art is a mix of classic and new. Slidikin are in the Cypher bestiary (yay! I have them as recurring major foes in one campaign). Lots of good tweaks and changes.

Clarifications Abound

This rewrite, much like the Numenera rewrite, has given MCG a chance to revise how some rules are explained, aiding in clarification on those moments when it maybe not 100% clear what the rules intent is. Anyone who has played Cypher for a while knows what I am talking about; the adjudication process is very simple so it rarely causes issues, but lots of specific exceptions occasionally give one pause for thought on deciding how best to handle a given situation mechanically; the revised rules so far seem to be cleaning up these odd spots.

So...if you are like me and love Cypher System, this purchase is a no-brainer. If you have been on the fence, I suggest you start with this book. If you own the old book and wonder if you need to upgrade.....well I am a bit biased but I feel it is worth the purchase; that said, if you're only occasionally playing Cypher System, have limited funds, or just want to know if a table using this book will let you use the old book instead, I think you'll still be just fine.

A+++! I love Cypher System, it is the first game system I have ever encountered that feels like it was specifically designed for my GM play style, and I cannot get enough of it.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Film Review: It: Chapter Two - The Funniest Thing Heard Leaving the Theater


The best part of watching It: Chapter Two wasn't the movie itself (which was fun and a fairly decent if overly long sequel to the first movie) it was these two guys leaving the theater, both maybe around 27-30 years of age if I had to guess, complaining that the cast of older actors in the movie all looked in their twenties. I could not help but exclaim, "But every adult actor in this movie is actually in their early forties..." and they looked at me like I had deliberately listening in on their conversation just to rain on their RLM-themed* gripe parade. Priceless.

Aside from that.....a fun movie! Not the most eloquent of horror films, but a far sight better than the original film, and in general on the "good" side of the evil ancient cosmic murder clown film spectrum. My son continues to be obsessed with It as a film series and a concept. He's vowed to read the novel, just as soon as he's at that reading level (he has also made me keep a copy of Pet Cemetery  on the shelf for when that time arrives.) Until then it's all Goosebumps and eventually Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark (which was apparently a thing when I was a kid and I do not recall ever reading, unfortunately).

Since this post is turning in to a mini review I suppose I'll mention that while the movie was in general quite entertaining it really could have benefited from being 20+ minutes shorter. There are a few scenes (several being gratuitous CGI scare moments) which simply served no purpose, even the --MILD SPOILER-- homage to The Thing moment (you'll know it when you see it) which as best I can tell was primarily there to give one character his "moment of overwhelming fear" sequence despite the same character rather effectively demonstrating an ability to conquer that fair just a bit earlier. Removing some gratuitous moments like this would have tightened the film and made the actually interesting scary bits more significant.

I've never read the novel, but I am now tempted to. It is interesting to note that there are definitely some common "beats" which Stephen King utilizes repeatedly in his novels, and as I have gotten in to King recently (I have spent decades considering King too popular for my tastes...yeah, yeah, old hipster in action here I guess) it has become impossible not to notice that there are some very common recurrent themes in his books (and films by proxy). It is also impossible not to be intrigued by King's weird universe and its interesting recurrent themes, locations, entities and generally eerie cosmology. He does seem to have a problem with tight endings, I have noticed....and so has the movie, which makes this notion something of a recurring joke.

Anyway....fun film, not the deepest or most profound but arguably better than a lot of other horror being produced these days (certain key exceptions do stand out), worth watching especially if you have an 8 year old Stephen King-obsessed fan in your house. Solid A-, would have been rated higher if it had tightened up the story to something closer to 2 hours.




*I love Red Letter Media but often Jay and Mike (and the rest) are profoundly skewed and biased in their perception of some films. I do think they represent the tip of the "critic culture" iceberg that permeates society today though. 




Monday, September 9, 2019

Returning to World of Warcraft Classic



I came back to Blizzard specifically for WoW Classic, I admit. I wasn't sure if I would or not....but yep, I resubbed for one month just to try it out.

I am trying to pin down what the attraction is, and it seems (for me) to be the following items:

1. the specific way the game fostered a social environment at that very specific point in its implementation resonated well for me;

2. the mechanical elements were more enjoyable than later changes made to the game (I always liked leveling weapons, saving up to buy skills from the trainer, deliberating over skill choices, and having to factor in these resource needs in level-up process);

3. and (probably most importantly) the game felt exceedingly new and different back then, and oddly enough this time capsule experience now feels unique compared to today's market.

That said.... graphically it feels less exciting now (duh), but somehow it looks way too good for the experience I remember.  I realize now that running it on max graphics with a 4K resolution wasn't helping with my nostalgia parade, but at this point I'm not going to dig up an old pentium PC with a CRT monitor and a 56kbps* connection to maximize my trip down memory lane, so I'll just keep having fun with the specific "re-enjoyment" of it and then bail as I usually do. In my defense, I bet I've played WoW in total 1/20th the amount of time everyone else pining for Classic has, and I have never raided in the game, period.

All things considered I am probably enjoying this most of all because it takes me back to a time when WoW and indeed the entire MMORPG genre was young, new and intriguing, especially to me. I'd never played an MMO before WoW, and this game set off a lengthy number of years exploring the genre. While I greatly enjoyed Burning Crusade and Wrath of the Lich King, after Cataclysm the game changed too much, became a little too self-aware of itself and focused too much on a mix of "easy casuals" vs. "hardcore elite" type players, while I fell somewhere in the middle. The leveling game abruptly became too boring and unchallenging even as the endgame became too laborious and demanding, and my interest gradually died. Blizzard wanted people to power-level through to endgame content, but for players like myself the leveling experience and accompanying exploration was the sweet spot, not the endgame raids and events.

So yeah...it's kind of fun getting to see the version of the game where I had the most genuine enjoyment again.

PS: There's one significant thing I realized over the weekend that's different from current WoW that I really like: when you see someone with a pet, mount or suit of gear you know it's both what they earned and what they actually "have" at that moment. No one's buying stuff in a RMT shop and accounts do not have account-bound critters and stuff, meaning that once again I can balance the weight of "accomplishment on this character and this character alone" against the convenience of "now I can share all crap on all my PCs and learn to ignore how immersion breaking that is."

I can't stress enough that when games in general went the direction of "account-wide unlockables" I was torn between liking the convenience but feeling like it destroyed the "story experience" of the actual characters in your corral. I accepted that the latter must be a distinct issue only to the subset of gamers like myself who seek verisimilitude and continuity (even in an MMO) but truthfully? Yeah, this transition for most MMOs badly damaged much of my enjoyment for the genre by degrading the accomplishments of the character's story that I could experience as the player and diluting it to the "player's experience with his account and all stuff attached" which pulled the story-feel right out of the game and turned it into a metagame experience. As a player it was nice to have those unlocks, but it also demotivated me to enjoy my alt characters as much as I wanted to....the rewards had been earned, if you will, and the desire to continue on them was lessened as a result.



*Blizzard has had enough wonky lag and a weekend DDOS attack however, so they've accurately simulated the old days of crappy latency in 2005 Seattle I experienced.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Death Bat Update!

I've been too busy to post much recently, but here's a brief update as to what all is going on in the circles of gaming I try to weave through:

1. Pathfinder 2nd Edition going strong

We're running it weekly right now for Saturday nights and every other Wednesday (it replaced the D&D 5E game I was running). The system continues to intrigue though I think some of my players are eager to see more content for them to work with for chargen purposes. As a GM I am really keen to check out the Gamemastery Guide in January, the system will feel a bit more complete once it is out. Beyond that....I continue to really like the flow of the system, so far.

2. Cypher System in the Works

I'm planning to get back to this and my ongoing weird fantasy-SF mashup campaign, once I can get the Pathfinder craze to calm down. Hopefully by the time Cypher Core Revised edition comes out!

3. Also, Savage Worlds...

Our off-Wednesday game night is a Savage Worlds supers/horror mashup with some Twin Peaks-meets-Schlock Horror influence that is proving to be a great deal of weird fun. I should be seeing my copy of the new edition of Savage Worlds soon, looking forward to the upgrade.

4. World of Warcraft Classic

I've only managed to find time for a couple sessions, but WoW Classic's return hooked me back in to the game. Part of me is all "why am I doing this??" but the other part of me is, "Ah, I am genuinely enjoying this nostalgia trip, so shut up rational side of my brain."

5. The Switch Rules

When you're on the move a lot, having a Nintendo Switch along for the ride is valuable (expecially if you are in a hotel and hate local TV surfing). Also, has anyone noticed how amazingly the Switch is dominating remasters and retro adaptations of classic games from the not-too-distant past? I'm mostly playing stuff like Assassins' Creed III, Pillars of Eternity, Saints Row III and Dragon's Dogma on the Switch these days, and just added Bulletstorm and the surprise awesomeness of Deadly Premonition: Origins to that list.

I have to be honest....if I could only hold on to one console right now, Switch would be it.

Okay, more soon, I promise/hope!!!!

Sunday, August 25, 2019

R.I.P. Rick Loomis

I just saw this, and am very sorry to hear Rick Loomis passed away. Rick will be missed.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Eberron Returns!

I'm excited for this announcement...details here.

Check this alternate cover out:


The thing about Eberron is: it's the best "modern" iteration of a D&D setting that WotC has tackled, and offers enough of the "different" from Forgotten Realms to stand out. With any luck, this portends more cool sourcebooks bringing back other key setting in the future, or alternatively it sells well enough we see some Eberron-focused adventure books in the future.

Either way....this is good! It's the first D&D book to tear me away from my Pathfinder 2nd edition obsession that has gripped me this August.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

First Impressions of Remnant: From the Ashes



I'm only a few hours in to the weekend pre-access of this title, so my rating is subject to change, but for those interested, here's some initial impressions of Gunfire Games' and Perfect World's Remnant: From the Ashes, a third-person perspective co-op action RPG game:

1. RftA is 25% Dark Souls, 25% Diablo III, 25% Fallout (thematics mainly) and 25% PvE standard co-op shooter style (like Borderlands 2 or Destiny). It seems (so far) to have captured all the good parts of those games with none (so far) of the bad.

2. It's Perfect World, so I keep waiting for the monetization scheme, but nothing yet.

3. This is kind of addictive so far. I haven't enjoyed a game this much since Resident Evil 2 Remake. What is going on??? I am not used to a $40 title which feels like a solid experience, isn't trying to gouge me with microtransactions (I am wondering if those will come after full release?) and is actually a nice product with tight game play. This is very confusing.

Anyway, when I compare it to other titles, this is what I mean:

RftA has a structural similarity to Dark Souls (tough bosses, dungeons which reset if you rest at a checkpoint, an artifact with limited health restoration that replenishes, and a methodical timing-based combat mechanic). It is missing bad parts, such as corpse running to recover lost stuff, repetitive experiences when areas reset, and janky, pointless accicental deaths due to losing patience with the game's rigorous, almost fetishistic focus on forcing the player to repeat actions until they get it exactly right or figure out what they are doing wrong. RftA does not do this, not like Dark Souls. It is faster paced and so far I've only run into one baffling encounter which left me wondering what the hell the correct tactic was.

It's like Diablo III in that there are intermediary checkpoints where you can clear a boss or location, you can get zerged by hordes of monsters, and you can group with other players for a good co-op experience. You have a similar approach to finding loot, or in RftA's case lots of scrap and iron to develop your loot.

It's like Fallout in that the game feels thematically --almost suspiciously-- like a spiritual relative. The grim remnants of the apocalypse have a Fallout-ish vibe, although the monsters are more alien. The RPG bits you run in to and the music are very evocative of the Fallout vibe at times.

It's "standard PvE" co-op shooter in that you can get together in a team of three to tackle these tasks. It's perfectly fun solo, too....but the co-op will appeal greatly to those who have friends with like interests. Given the low cost of the game ($40) I am tempted to grab copies for the whole family so we can play it, although I don't know if the souls-like elements will frustrate them or not.

The souls-like portion is sufficiently absent serious aggravation to me for two reasons: you don't lose progress, and when you re-enter the area you died it seems to mix up the threat a bit, so you can't reliably predict what you will run in to, but you could also get lucky and find a lesser threat waiting. However, most importantly for it is it isn't as painfully slow paced as Dark Souls and I like this fact a lot. Also, just as important, I've only encountered one mystifying bad guy encounter. I'm at the first major boss right now, and while I haven't defeated it (yet) I can see the path to victory, just need to find the time to do it.

Anyway....Remnant: from the Ashes officially releases on Steam Tuesday, but if this sounds like your cup of tea I suggest you check it out!

Monday, August 12, 2019

Pathfinder 2E Progress Report - Two Games In

Last week was insanely busy so I didn't end up getting to post anything about the ongoing Pathfinder 2nd Edition experiment, but I at last have a few minutes so I figure a follow-up is in order.

We've had two Saturday sessions now, and I am pleased to say that the experience is going well so far. Except for one moment where I spent a fair amount of time trying to establish that the Monk's Wolf Stance trip trait worked as I thought it did (which required looking in the index, the section on a trip action, the wolf stance feat and the weapons section on what it meant for a weapon (e.g. teeth) to have this trait), it was otherwise fairly smooth.

Here, so far, are the top three "things to look up" as we've been playing:

1. Spells (make sure we're doing it right) are the easiest surprisingly....the spell descriptions are very straight forward and sometimes lead to questions but the interpretation has so far proven consistent; the devil is in the wording, but no wording has tripped us up yet.

2. Feats, those devilish things, have sometimes required look up and adjudication. This is mainly for player benefit, and happens less than it should, which any GM knows means one of two things: the players either know their stuff well and are already indexing the stat blocks, or they do not know their stuff at all and are overlooking useful feats.

3. Skills. Yes, skills are where I spend most of my time studying the rules right now, believe it or not. The reason is simple: the skill list, while consolidated, still contains a plethora of specific trained and unique actions tied to different skills. Some of what is going on here is also learning about the subtle nuances of the system.

Have you heard about the idea of reading an RPG for its "implied setting," the concept of the world the system described through its rules? Well, Pathfinder 2E has a lot of that, stuff which you don't necessarily see spelled out in any singe spot but when taken as a whole paint an interesting picture. For two good examples of this, read up on Crafting and Alchemy skills, and look in to the magic items rules with the idea of crafting in mind. You'll quickly realize as GM that you cannot apply your experience from prior editions of D&D or pathfinder 1E to the new system....it has different expectations.

The other one I noticed is in magic detections. Go read up on how the skills affect this, the spells that relate to this, and the feats which modify this information. It's consistent, but the different parts contain a compelling new picture of how this information should be doled out by the GM based on what method and level of expertise is at play....it's very different from prior iterations in my experience.

So far, Pathfinder 2E is full of lots of little "surprises" like this, interesting synergies and rules mechanics which reveal a different approach or way of thinking about the fantasy RPG genre. I like it. It leads to a new way of envisioning the game.

Here's another one: the new XP mechanics are surprisingly straight forward; you earn XP, and when you get 1,000 you spend it to get a new level. That's it for the player's side. For the GM, you have a base range of XP by party composition relative to creature level, and you award it as a flat package to the PCs (so if the encounter is worth 120 XP, each PC gets 120 apiece, you don't divide it out). Simple math. In addition any encounter or progression can be worth a decent reward....usually a better reward than many fighting encounters, in fact.

Though the game isn't overt in this statement, the net result is that you can have meaningful XP-based progression without ever feeling the need to lace encounters with fights just to boost XP. This is "normal think" for non D&D RPGs, but is a fairly innovative take for D&D-likes. Yes, 5E introduced milestones (as did 13th Age) but this is slightly different; XP is a reward system, and useful for that purpose....as any computer gamer knows, having a point system to track success and achievements is a nice addition to player mechanics; you feel like your progress is tied to your actions. So having such an elegantly simplified mechanic in place which still feels D&D while breaking from the tradition of murdering monsters for maximum advancement is very, very welcome.

A final note so far: I've been running without maps and minis, and using "theater of the mind" with the small but important sidebar in the book on how it advises doing this....which basically boils down to "state what you want to do, decide if it makes sense, and do it," sort of no-nonsense approach to TotM combat. It's nothing "new" but I cannot stress enough how useful it is to have it defined this way in the book, for the following reasons: first, if the rules say it's okay to do it this way and not fret as much about exact distances then it helps alleviate the unease of the rules lawyers at the table; second, by codifying the concept, however simple the approach is in the rulebook, it makes it a perfectly viable option and immediately allows for the GM to choose his flavor of the moment without feeling like something is being missed.

I have also noticed that in the combats I have run so far the various mechanics seem to play well with TotM combats. Though written so they can work on a map fine, the language translates equally well so far for most stat blocks to an equivalent effect in TotM encounters.

One thing which is puzzling me: the medicine skill allows for first aid, and goes in to length on using it and waiting an hour (with specific rules on what that means so you can tell it must have been contentious in the playtest). But can the skill be repeatedly used once it is successful? I need to read up on this, but to me it's noticeably effective at wiping out both hit points and wounds. The first aid element of medicine effectively makes most groups fine without a cleric as long as they don't mind not having access to immediate healing....but it also negates the value of gaining wounds over time. Must study more for answers.

A final item of note: lots of rules are actually now "case exceptions" tied to feats. GMs can now, for example, assume that a withdrawing foe is not going to get opportunity attacked....unless he's withdrawing from a fighter, for example. Many feats for different classes ave specific exceptions baked in. Skill feats are particularly interesting in this manner. So the next time a cleric fails a religion check, the GM should be ready in case she comes back with a "Ah, I am a Cleric of the Canon by my feat and so my failure is now a success!" moment. This "exceptions are baked in to the feats" concept is an important one for GMs to remember, and ultimately makes getting very familiar with this book a good idea. Players, meanwhile, do themselves an injustice if they aren't taking notes on what their various special feats let them do.....and you can do quite a lot.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Pathfinder 2nd Edition Here At Last!


I picked up my books this morning but didn't get to dive in until after work. I also snagged a second set of books at a convenient sale price with discount through Barnes & Noble.

So! How is it?

Well, the core rules are 638 pages long. Thankfully knowing how to read a RPG means knowing where to skim and where to dive deep....and I've spent the evening designing characters and exploring the action/combat mechanics. A few observations so far:

Most characters look and feel a lot like 1st edition PCs, but there are twists along the way. Ancestries make the racial component of characters more significant. Because of how ancestries work there are no optional character races in the Bestiary, unfortunately....they need several pages to flesh out the core traits plus ancestry feats. I predict a big, fat Advanced Race Guide 2nd Edition in the near future.

I've made a few characters so far...you can design a level 1 character more quickly (once you do it a couple times) than in PF1.

Multiclassing is using the feat mechanics touched upon in the playtest. They work, and they make multiclassing as a concept a more focused and easy to do thing.

Literally everything in the game is now dominated by the proficiency mechanic. It's not entirely unlike D&D 5E's proficiency system, but with the Pathfinder twist: you have a ranking of 0/2/4/6/8 based on being untrained, trained, expert, master or legendary. This mechanic impacts your weapon skills, armor skills, plain old skills, saving throws and even class mastery. It is the most unifying mechanic I have seen tackled in a 3rd edition variant; it makes Pathfinder 2.0's design distinct and I am very intrigued to see how this mechanic affects play over time.

The equipment section is comprehensive and well organized.

The proliferation of feats in the game is heavily cataloged and codified by when and what sort of feat you can take. The entire book is, at its core, extremely tight in how it organizes the data and this makes PF 2.0 feel much more accessible than its predecessor. Attention to "finding that thing you need" was clearly a priority.

The concept of the Class DC is cool and intuitive. It's basically the DC set by your class and key trait that applies to relevant class abilities. Smart design.

The action point economy and its symbol system is the first thing you are introduced to. It is easy to understand and follow their intent. I am plowing through the mechanics/actions/combat content right now and this feels, again, like taking and codifying prior edition rules into a coherent and consistent whole. This appears to be PF2.0's major theme: organize, categorize, and make it easy to follow.

A downside: so far it is clearly framed as "Adventures in the Age of Lost Omens" which is the next chapter in Golarion I guess. There's a chapter on the setting in the book. My issue is not with this element, but the utter lack of interest in providing discussion or direction to GMs who want to do their own thing....maybe they will reserve this content for the Gamemastery Guide 2nd edition coming out in January, but it's hard to say.....I think they are aiming for stronger brand awareness of their IP, but at the expense of the many gamers who prefer to do their own thing. Not a big issue; 99% of this book is usable just as PF 1.0 was for whatever you want, but even just a nod to the kind of gamer who doesn't follow the published setting material would have been nice. Starfinder has this same problem.

So far this has proven to be a familiar game with a face lift....and that's a good thing. It looks like I should be able to prep for a game on Saturday to test it out, see how PF2 feels now that its out in the wild. I'll have a "first game" analysis up after Saturday!



Monday, July 29, 2019

Pathfinder 2.0 Character Sheets Are In The Wild

The blog post about them at Paizo is here, and you can download the print-friendly version here. There is also a delightfully odd color version available which I think has a nice look to it but is too weirdly busy with the colors to be useful. No form-fillable edition (yet), I'm sure we'll see some soon enough.

One thing I like about these sheets right off the bat is that they are not that different from current Pathfinder 1.0, and it is clear that the majority of the obvious changes in terms of the information are organizational. This is a good sign as I see it....if this leads to a Pathfinder which looks and plays like the one we all enjoyed (assuming you are a Pathfinder 1.0 fan) then learning the new edition will mostly be a matter of adjusting to the cleaner structure of the math and progression, which I do see reflected on this sheet. Things I don't see on this sheet (thankfully) include weird new mechanics or extra layers of complication.

Now, it's still a very busy character sheet compared D&D 5E, so I think it's core fans are not necessarily going to be the "less is more" crowd....but we'll see! Either way I am really looking forward to the big reveal this week.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Classic Doom, Doom II and Doom 3 on Switch

This happened out of the blue:



And honestly, this is really very cool of Bethesda to do. You can now play the full run of the core Doom games through to the current game on Switch, which is honestly a great platform for this style of shooter, especially the originals. It also helps bolster Switch's modest array of FPS style shooters, of which there are a few good ones but not nearly enough.

Switch is rapidly turning in to a premiere system not only for fans of indie games and Nintendo properties, but for fans of  nostalgia and retro gaming (if we interpret nostalgia to mean anything from the 90's to the 00's and think of even Xbox 360/PS3 era titles as worthy of this title) these are great titles to have access to. But...hey, it works; I may be long done with Saint's Row the Third on PC, but the opportunity to play it in portable form at my leisure today on the Switch is great.

The classic Doom titles are priced reasonably (Capcom take note) at $5 apiece for I and II and $10 for 3. I'll continue to state what I long feel is probably an "exception to the norm" opinion that Doom 3 is the best and most underrated of the titles....Doom I and II were great for what they did, but Doom 3 was the game that actually got me seriously in to FPS gaming on PC, and the frenetic style of the 2016 Doom may be welcome to fans of the original, but Doom 3's attention to atmosphere and horror as well as story remains the best in the series for me. Playing it on the Switch is a very cool experience.

Anyway....Switch continues to be the most oddly enjoyable console I've got, mainly due its embrace of these retro ports (and no doubt other games if you're a more traditional Nintendo fan). It still suffers from having a ton of crappy indie titles on its roster (sure, there are good indie titles, too but you have to wade through a lot of garbage to find the gems), but with these tried and true classics on Switch it continues to be a fantastic console experience.

Now: Bethesda, release all the Quake titles on Switch next! Pleeeeaaaase! Doom is fun but Quake is better, and I'd kill for a good port of Quake 4 on Switch.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Samuel L. Jackson as the Ghost in Destiny 2

If you've played enough Destiny 2 you will likely find this hysterical as I did:



I feel like this should be a mod!

Friday, July 19, 2019

Talking about Reviews

ENWorld has a good post about reviews...a plea for more, really. I posted a comment there and then realized I have an open post spot for today's blog and should relay that thought here, too. So:

My general experience with reviews in this hobby (and no doubt others) has been along these lines, however: people usually post reviews of product they like, or were predisposed to like. It is not too often that you see a critical or negative review unless the poster was already predisposed toward disliking the product, or was so amazed at how much he disliked it that he needs to share his experience. Gamers seem to be notorious for judging a product after reading it, but far less often actually discuss the product from an actual play session, or even just attempting to work with the mechanics. On my own blog I tend to string out game discussions on product to several posts, exploring facets of the rules and leading up to an actual play experience. I have found I am rarely disappointed that even the cleanest ruleset reveals some interesting warts once actually engaged with at the table. For this reason, review posting online is good....but the typical results of those reviews do tend to follow Sturgeon's Law in both directions (for both the quality of the products and the quality of said reviews).

I'll point out one thing, though: no one has quite managed to capture the lighting-in-a-bottle with a review process that is Amazon. Hell, I may buy mostly on site X, Y and Z but I always go to Amazon first to read the reviews. Every online site that aspires to provide useful reviews should look to the way Amazon does it as a model to aspire to.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Book Review: The Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff Vandermeer


At the time that the movie Annihilation came out I had not yet started the first book in Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach Trilogy, and to be honest I didn't actually pick all three up and finish them over a couple weeks until recently when I had my mass conversion back to basic print over ebook format. Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance (the three acts of the trilogy) were my first reads getting back in to Plain Old Print fiction and a very good choice for this exercise.

The first thing to know about this trilogy is that it is slow, and while it arguably can be labelled science fiction or possibly even fantasy, in truth it's more of a genre bending transitional form of fiction, stirring the pot of surrealism, with a healthy does of the unreliable narrator to help obscure any sense of objectivity to the process. The first book in the trilogy after which the movie was very loosely based is the shortest, and also takes the greatest advantage of the concept of the unreliable narrator through the perspective of the Biologist (played by Natalie Portman in the movie). The second book moves to a third person format, but still tells the tale of a certain perspective (the man self-identified as Control) and with it comes his limits of understanding and perspective. The third book breaks form somewhat by moving between multiple perspectives, all of them equally flawed in their ability to process and understand what is happening around --and to-- them.

The Movie vs. The Book 
It has been said that the movie version of the first book is something better watched without having read the novel. I agree, to an extent, but consider this: when you are familiar with the novel, it both  shines a light on the similarities and the differences between the book and the film, but in a weird way the two compliment each other. By the time you've read the whole trilogy this will make more sense; the universe of the Southern Reach is one in which countless obscure expeditions have been made into a region called "Area X" and part of the process of many of these expeditions has been to remove contextual personalizing traits from the volunteers, as too much personal identity is considered something risky, something that can be exploited. The movie, from a certain point of view, could have been about a very similar expedition to the one actually in the book (the key exception being the role of the Psychologist, who is also the director of the Southern Reach, and the only such director to have attempted to enter Area X). So....if you just take the movie as it's own thing, complimentary but not necessarily intended to be consistent with the book, you will enjoy it on its own merits.

Is This Mythos Inspired?
I've read comparisons of the Southern Reach Trilogy to being Lovecraftian or Mythos inspired. From a certain point of view this interpretation is understandable, as the core conceit of the trilogy is an unknowable, unnameable force or entity (the Anomaly) that may or may not even be "alive" in any sense we comprehend affecting the region (Area X), and the books focus on the experiences of those trying to understand what is happening. Events in the trilogy at times are strongly reminiscent of the concept of the mythos....horrors and nightmares that are purely such because of how capricious and beyond caring or even seeing humanity they are. However by the end of the trilogy it is clear that the only true similarity or point of comparison is how beyond human comprehension it is, but not because we are like bacteria on the surface of an uncaring universe in comparison to the Anomaly as you might imagine we are to the monsters of the mythos, but rather because the point of the mystery in the trilogy is that there are things that humans can never truly comprehend...or be comprehended by. Some of the core conceit in trilogy is, to me, akin to a human being trying to relate to what it means to exist in the universe as a geode; and conversely, what happens if that geode were to wonder what it means to exist as a human. The point of interaction on such a stage would be so unfathomably alien and difficult for either side to grasp that any effort of necessity must create a sense of terror and misunderstanding.

So...it's got some similar DNA to mythos horror and Lovecraft, but the context is distinctly different.

But is this Series Good?
Absolutely, and well worth a read for anyone who is in to: science fiction, mysteries, surrealism, tales from unreliable narrators, strange mysteries and psychological horror mixed with a bit of body horror, with a very slow burn. By book three (Acceptance) I felt like there was maybe a bit too much push to provide some semblance of closure for the characters and reader, enough so that when we finally did get a reveal on the nature of the mysterious Anomaly and Area X that it felt at least a bit to me like a cop out....but, admittedly, one which was well within the limited narrative allowance, when you recall that all the details we know are filtered through the perception of the characters, so the reveal itself is still tainted by a potentially unreliable perspective.

The ride to get to the third novel is a weird, wild ride despite being such a slow burn. The first book (Annihilation) is the tightest and most interesting since it focuses on an expedition in to the wilds of Area X and is the most exotic of the three novels by comparison.

Book two (Authority) tries to read more like an espionage or spy novel to some extent, and while it hints at the depths of chicanery going on behind the scenes with the organization tasked with containing and researching Area X (The eponymous Southern Reach) it is as much a deep dive into the personality of "Control" who is a deeply scarred product of the world his parents forced him in to as the actual operations and people of the Southern Reach. Much of the suspense and horror in the second novel is an exceedingly slow burn as well, riveting to me but it might be too slow for some readers.

By book three (Acceptance) the story winds around to multiple narratives from different time periods, focusing on the Psychologist from the first book, the gentleman we learn is Saul the lightkeeper from before Area X appeared, and the actions of Control, the Psychologist now self-identified as Ghost Bird and the assistant directior of the Southern Reach (Grace). Together their narrative wind down to something approximating an end, at least for each character, even if the ultimate reveal is purely an interpretation by one particular character which also feels (to me, at least) a bit like the author realized that if he didn't offer up some bone then it might not feel like a proper resolution. I won't give any of it away....if you read through books one and two, you owe it to yourself to finish book three and decide for yourself how you feel about the end.

Overall this is a brilliant trilogy, roughly self-contained, demonstrating to me that Jeff Vendermeer is a consistently good author (I have enjoyed every book of his I've read so far). If a deep, careful slow burn of a novel with an obscure, almost surrealistic apocalyptic mystery at its heart sounds like your cup of tea than I suggest you read this as soon as possible.




Monday, July 15, 2019

Alien RPG

Just in case it seemed odd I hadn't posted about this...yes, I am totally stoked that this is a thing that is happening. Check out the Alien RPG here, and see the video they put together below.


Alien - The Roleplaying Game Trailer from Free League on Vimeo.

I haven't preordered it (yet) but I plan to when I have a $100 lying about (and I'm not preparing to shell out a ton of cash to Paizo for Pathfinder 2.0). Still time before December!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Brainstorming on Presenting the Realms of Chirak in a New Print and PDF Format


As some of you know, I have an ongoing world (Realms of Chirak) which I have tried to produce a working final published document for for a few years now. The timeline for Chirak as a publishable D&D setting has kind of looked like this:

1992-1999: The dark ages, in which I started with a basic 20 or so page document that was my springboard for campaigns in Runequest III and AD&D 2nd edition during the nineties.

2000-2008ish: during this period I did more work solidifying and updating a massive accumulation of notes and bits from prior campaigns into two working documents. The first was a 50 page document that was my GM's gazetteer which rapidly grew to about 150 pages, and the other was a 32 page player's guidebook. I kept a working document for both D&D 3rd edition and whatever version of Runequest was extant at the moment. These saw publication as chapbooks but were only made available to players in my groups.

2008 -2011: One major problem with 3rd edition D&D for me was that it was nigh impossible to do a custom homebrew setting in the system without breaking or mashing some rules. All to often what worked just fine for my own game table would be considered blashphemy in the D&D 3rd edition community, and as a result I never felt comfortable completing a working document for publication. 4th edition D&D changed all of that, with a very codified ruleset which made mechanical implementation pretty easy. I managed to upload a finalized document for sale, and a version on lulu for print in this time period. To date it remains the "print" version that is pubically available, outside of what I have released on the bog.

2011-present: all of my ongoing work, ideas, future and current campaigns and so forth have made their way in some form on to the blog. By not monetizing the blog and keeping it free and "you get what you pay for" this freed me up to offer my take on content without worrying too much about what people would think of it for their own needs.

2013-2019: My Pathfinder 1.0 document is a shambling mess of material and notes but I never came close to a definitive rules doc with Pathfinder like I did with D&D 3rd, probably because Pathfinder didn't really need it. However with D&D 5th edition I found the task of editing the book for 5E mechanics to be fine (but boring; 5e stablocks: "easy but boring")....but the real task is that the sum total of a unified document reflecting the campaign over 27 odd years of weekly gaming totalling what might well be somewhere around what I estimate to be at least 6,000 to 8,000 actual game hours spent in Chirak, with thousands of pages of loose documents and files to draw from, to be a horrifying challenge.

So....here I am now, with a rough draft of a final 5E update that is close to 500 pages in the edit and I'm still far from done. Where to go from here?

Well, recently I decided to start breaking it down in to discreet pieces to see if that let me focus more specifically on sections of the setting without getting too bogged down. So far this has worked well, and after I complete five or six "pieces" I think I'll try releasing them in smaller setting books which then unite over a larger scope. Eventually I will have enough that I can then turn them into print-ready compendiums without much effort....but at least I can get them in to some working format!

The trick now is what systems (if any) to focus on. 5E is easy enough, but I have been adding Cypher System mechanics to literally everything these days (I have a complete working document of the Sabiri Lands statted out in Cypher System, for example) and it's hard not to, given how easy and liberating Cypher System is for GMs. Also, there's this little thing about Pathfinder 2.0 coming out soon....but I suspect that if I were to try including that, I might run into some of my old problems. We'll see.

What I could do is release different versions of each piece for specific systems. A version for 5E and a version for Cypher System are both easy enough. If Pathfinder 2.0 is a forgiving system to write and design for, then I can add it in. Doing these doc piecemeal may indeed make such tasks less onerous.

In the meantime, my current plan is as follows: before close of year, I'd like to release these short books, each ranging from 30-50 pages for Chirak:
Espanea and the Kaldinian Isles
The Sabiri Lands
Mercurios
A Guidebook to the Cults and Religions of Chirak
Xoxtocharit 
Kasdalan

...With more planned. Some regions haven't been developed enough for a 30-50 page treatment (I've never had more than a couple pages on Adenach, for example), so some of these books could incorporate neighboring smaller kingdoms/regions as well.

Another advantage to these focused location books is that they can string into the intended campaign, but could also be used "as is" by GMs looking for a specific location, or could be dropped in to someone's own setting to fill a niche or corner. My plan is to make sure that everything you need to fill out the detail on the local setting is provided in each book.

I also need to think about the art direction. Plenty of decent stock art out there to be found and paid for these days, but many other publishers are also using that stock art. I have a lot more income to mess with now than I did 10 years ago, so a little money spent on good art for a vanity project might be worth it. I could try Kickstarting, but not unless I do it the Sine Nomine way (also known as "The Smart Way") so I'll need to go read over the excellent publishing doc he provides, as it is well worth any small publisher's read through before tackling any project, let alone a Kickstarter.

Stuff to ponder!



Wednesday, July 10, 2019

FIlm review: Terrifier (Netflix/streaming)


The film Terrifier has been sitting around in my Netflix queue for a while after reading a recommendation a while back that this was an indie slasher flick worth catching. The Terrifier focuses, apparently, on a malevolent clown who previously appeared in a series called All Hallows' Eve which I had not as of yet caught, and luckily did not need to see for this film to make sense.

Right off the bat: if you're not in to gory, splatterpunk style slasher flicks, then just skip this movie. Got it? Okay, for the rest of you....

This is a brilliant and horribly awesome B movie slasher flick! If not for others talking about it I would never have known to look for this one, and it was well worth the watch. The lead villain (the Terrifier, I guess?) is a sadistic serial killer who dresses up in the gruesomest black and white clown garb imaginable, easily a contender for freakiest clown outside of maybe Pennywise in the It remake (and even then only when Pennywise starts transforming).

FYI some Spoilers ahead!

The story is basic and to the point: two gals out for an evening on Halloween are effectively stalked by a madman dressed as a clown, and there's a lot of collateral damage along the way. This film is absolutely about the tale of the Terrifier, and make no assumptions that there's a protagonist for us to root for as the murder clown disembowels and slaughters those who get in his way; the story is not about who survives, but what's left of any survivors at the end....it harkens to the splatterpunk genre with great efficiency as a result.

One of the better bits about this movie is that the guy playing as the Terrifier sticks to a wordless, almost soundless approach to the villain, with only occasional grunts and just once a scream when taking injury. For all his horrifying bits, the Terrifier is (for most of the movie) a mortal human, just so disturbingly freaky that he unnerves his victims into desperation. His facial emotes with the mask are memorable, though you may wish they weren't (unless your a jaded old horror fan who can't be scared by anything anymore, like me). This adds an element of uncertainty to the film, as it is always possible that a victim could finally gain the upper hand on him.

Speaking of splatterpunk, the gore in this movie is over the top, and sufficiently gruesome that I had to watch this with kid in bed because it was just Too Much (and this is a kid who is obsessed with Friday the 13th so much he can tell me the whole tale of Jason Vorhees). Unlike the guy with a hockey mask however, which is mostly a film series with "conventional slasher" gore, Terrifier is definitely much closer to the more visceral and disturbing splatterpunk style of the genre.

The Terrifier has a few "odd moments" which I still haven't quite reconciled. There's a moment when it is unclear if he's wearing a victim's skin and prancing about, or if he's merely placed the mask on her corpse and she's under his control somehow. It's a freaky effect and I can see why they went with it, but there's never any clear resolution as to what was going on in this sequence. Toward the end of the film, in true form to the tradition of serial killer films he's brought back as a terrifying, unkillable revenant specifically so we can appreciate that there will be an inevitable sequel.

Anyway, it was a good, terrifying, dismemberment-filled romp, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The movie is currently playing on Netflix and probably other streaming services. A+ for horror and splatterpunk fans! Non-horror fans and the squeamish should probably avoid.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Getting Seriously Excited for Pathfinder 2.0


As the teaser articles roll out I find myself increasingly excited for Pathfinder 2.0. I've certainly enjoyed my time with D&D 5E, but I continue to admit that there has always been something really special about the years I delved deep into Pathfinder (and 3rd edition before it), warts and all. The idea of a streamlined, retooled version which (it seems) dropped the weird stuff from the playtest I didn't like has me really excited.

Yeah, I hope that the final product holds up to this excitement, too! I would hate to go all in (as I plan to do) and then find myself bummed out at the final product.

We shall see, though....I have a good feeling about this one, don't know why, I just like the cut of Paizo's gib, y'know?

The product will probably only fail for me if it does more than one of the following:

1. Integrate too deeply into the default world of Golarion making it hard to use the game with my own settings;
2. Did not actually get rid of annoying and cumbersome rules seen in the playtest (such as the essence mechanics for magic items);
3. accidentally introduces too many new rules in the name of streamlining that are counter-intuitive for verisimilitude-focused play (the "4Eification" of PF2.0 if you will; a valid concern since the devs have occasionally suggested that 4E had its influences here).

I don't want to be disappointed though....I really want a viable, interesting, intuitive but more flexible and detailed game system that provides me with a permanent alternative to D&D 5E. Again....I am not denigrating D&D 5E, I am just saying that I want something that innovates in this space and moves forward in new and fun ways for me as a jaded veteran gamer. I'm a "old gamer who wants to see interesting new ways and mechanics to play in the D&D space," essentially...and I'm betting my chips on Pathfinder 2.0 doing this.

Ten Steps on How to Play Fortnite as a Dad


Ten easy steps to gaining deep satisfaction in Fortite if you are an actual adult with children who also play Fortnite!

10. See that cool skin? Buy it. See that cool dance? Buy it. Now equip it and watch as everyone goes insane in the waiting zone attacking you for having what they want but can't afford because they're, you know, kids.

9. See that skin your kid wants? He will do an insane number of chores to earn the points to afford it. Use this wisely! It's an excellent motivator.

8. You can teach your children critical thinking skills with Fortnite by explaining to them that 99% of the Youtube videos espousing Fortnite secrets and reveals are all a bunch of conspiracy garbage.

7. In the same vein as #8 you can also teach them a bit about game design by explaining that sometimes when you glitch into an area you shouldn't be and see a big block it is not Kevin returning but just a polygon artifact that the devs didn't think anyone would be able to find.

6. Don't play it consistently. It's better to play it once every few weeks and clear out an entire three weeks' worth of weekly challenges in one sitting, and prevents you from learning to hate the game a tiny bit less.

5. You get to learn that among the average Fortnite players "mid twenties" is damned old and where everyone not ages 7-13 is grouped. Rest easy knowing that age 23 or 48 or 56, it is all the same to the youngest generation Z!

4. Appreciate that the skins in Fortnite are at least amusing and creative. Contrast with Black Ops IIII (sigh) in which it looks like Serious Bizness Mercs all got caught in a paint store when it exploded, or Apex Legends, where it doesn't matter because these ridiculous avatars should all be ground under the heel of my Titan mech and what the hell Respawn.

3. Appreciate the fact that you can get 3-5 games of Fortnite done in the time it takes you to play through one game of PUBG and then get sniped from across the map.

2. Watch and learn as 11 year olds build twenty story tall fortresses in a matter of seconds. Do not despair! It turns out that the reason they can do this is because no one told them not to. Also, their brains are younger and more adaptive. You can still figure it out, though, just give up any pretense of your fort making sense and you'll be fine.

1. Most of all, enjoy the modern 21st century equivalent of the bonding experience in computer gaming with your kid(s).



BONUS! What System should I play Fortnite on?

You can play Fortnite on anything, possibly even your microwave if Epic has anything to say about it. Here's how your choice of system matters:

Mobile: Fortnite on the phone is for your kid, or if you are desperate for entertainment and don't mind being put down like a dog repeatedly and often.

Xbox: Although you can have a good experience here, Xbox supports keyboard and mouse, and seems to group (heavily) with the leet PC gamers so you will feel constant and never ending disappointment as you die repeatedly.

PC: the leet gamers and streamers linger here. If you want to at least know for certain that the guy who killed you was A: amazing, B: streaming your death, C: maybe actually cheating, who knows; and D: mocking you while A through C happen, then PC is your game.

Yes, you could keep playing PC in the hope you will "get good," but it won't happen unless you're under 25 and can explain to me what the f*** the dab police are (or more specifically WHO he is).

PS4: My preferred choice for gaming in Fortnite, it is the only place to get good graphics, less lag, and a smug sense of superiority as the very high casual play base on PS4 means you can actually shoot someone else first occasionally.

Switch: The Nintendo Switch is the secret weapon for People Who Want to Get Things Done. You play on the Switch not because it's a good iteration of the game (it's not) but because the low res graphics (720p), limited draw distances and potential for your opponents to be operating with joycons and a tiny screen mean you can DOMINATE them. And you'll see how, easily! No one builds in the Switch sessions...hardly anyone seems to have gotten used to how to build quickly with the Switch arrangement, and its the only game where Rumble mode can feel like Gettysburg as everyone charges each other in wide open fields. It's crazy, but it works. The reason for this is simple: without at least a Switch Pro controller the game's difficult to aim in, and Epic cordons off Switch and Mobile players in the same corner. You will almost feel sorry for the mobile players as you watch them clumsily try to swing their touch screen aim around to shoot you as you gun them down.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Film Review: Hellboy (2019)


If you blinked then you probably missed it, and that's probably a good thing because it will be on Netflix soon enough to suck up precious moments of your life.

Hellboy for 2019 was a magnum opus for the series, an intent to kick off a new film "expanded universe" while aiming for a stronger depiction of the creative core of the Mike Mignola created character Hellboy and his comic universe. It got a lot of the visuals right, and to be fair the film had some great moments....but it managed to fall flat in so many other ways.

In terms of genre, Hellboy wasn't so much a "superhero film" as it was in the special genre of "campy, somehow not self-conscious action franchises that often have Milla Jovovich in them." That includes the Resident Evil movies for those keeping track...except not as unintentionally funny, alas. Hellboy actually does star Milla as the chief villain, and her performance in this film is pretty good, actually. There is a decent attempt at meaningful performances from most other actors in the film including the new Hellboy, who does the best he can behind the prosthetic makeup he has to wear to convey the gruff and disgruntled Hellboy almost as well as Ron Perlman did.

Unfortunately the story they are trapped in is convoluted, sometimes pointless, often lacks any sense of threat, tries too hard to go over the top when it should have gone for a more subtle approach (living in the shadow of prior Guillermo del Toro works has that effect), and ultimately feels like not insignificant portions of this movie were specifically filmed to fit the trailer they imagined would bring the audiences in droves.

On opening day my family saw and enjoyed it, but the theater was mostly empty. This film was at best pushing a C rating due to such an obscure property with such a failed effort at a script and far too many nonsensical set pieces mixed in with far too many characters we didn't learn to care about. This movie was doomed from the get go and I don't think anyone saw this until it was too late. C-

Thursday, July 4, 2019

What Advent Horizons Needs

I've thoroughly read through Advent Horizons now and have grown to appreciate its unique blend of 3rd and 5th edition on character generation. However, I have been unable to motivate myself to run it....and that can be a real issue for getting any game off the ground. Here's the two reasons why AH is as yet unplayed by my group, and what AH needs going in to the future to attract more players. I hope this happens, because I think it's the best iteration of D&D 5E in a science fiction context I've seen so far, but it still needs some serious fixes.

GM Book

The AH core book includes a barebones approach to system generation, plot generation, a handful of foes and that's about it. There is not enough to get a GM properly up and running here....at least not one like me, with limited time to design a lot of content. The background provided is a good skeleton, but it could also use a sample area with more detail and maybe a starter scenario. Really though it needs an "AH DMG" tome to supplement the core rules.

Editing

The book needs a serious edit from a proper copy editor, not merely a word processor proof-read. I think the straw that broke my back on this was reading about an NPC's "quarks." I closed the book at that point and gave up.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Film Review: Spider-Man Far From Home


The first thing that Spider-Man Far From Home does is get details of the "snap" and the five year gap which leads to the "blip" out of the way. It's simultaneously the most "comic book" of subplots even as it defies the traditional logic of comic book universes, which is that nothing dramatic like this normally ever happens--and if it does, it's to an alternate reality and the main continuity stays the same, or maybe it stays that way for a few years and then the stories quietly resume the status quo when the idea has been exhausted and the novelty has worn off.

This, however, is the relatively uncharted waters of a cinematic universe derived from the comics,  so we instead get to see what happens in a post-event version of the Marvel universe. Spider-Man Far From Home is uniquely suited to this task as it conveniently seems to have insured all of Peter Parker's core gang blipped out with him, and then addresses the general social ramifications of a universe which lost and then regained half of the population of sentients over a five year period. Interesting stuff, and weird, but I admire that they were willing and able to engage with their fictional universe at such a level. It doesn't necessarily hold up under scrutiny....but it absolutely holds up under the rules of comic book logic as applied to the four-color realm of human psychology and norms in a universe where cosmic threats happen with sufficient regularity that it becomes mundane.

Indeed, much of the movie focuses on exactly that: what happens when dire threats are potentially all mundane now, and existential threats must be had to get noticed, especially if you are --say-- a wannabe hero like Mysterio? The plot revolves around this notion and does a great job exploring the concept (again, within the highly defined scope of the MCU) while also telling the story of a teenager with super powers who would really like to continue life as a teenager if only the super hero business didn't keep dragging him back to it.

Overall I loved this movie, it was a really well paced, carefully structured movie with a medley of engaging and likeable characters, a great twist that even I as an old comic fan thought was suitably interesting (and yes, this relates to Mysterio's "reveal.") The best parts related to Peter Parker's long running interest in Mary Jane Watson, and the interplay of that process with their friends. Overall a great, fun, relaxing summer movie and maybe the only one I could really advise people "don't miss." Also my favorite Spider-Man movie to date. A+++!


Film Review: Men in Black International


So the good news is this one was fun! Actually my favorite MIB movie outside of the original film, and honestly if you haven't seen any of them then I suggest watching the first, then this one, and pretend like 2 and 3 don't exist.

I went in to Men in Black International expecting a mediocre film made better by the likes of Thor and Valkyrie, and came away pleasantly surprised. It wasn't a great movie by any stretch, but it was more engaging than several other films this summer and I did not feel ripped off afterward. Overall, a lot of fun to be had. Here are some highlights (some spoilers ahead):

Yes, Thor and Valkyrie as Men in Black, a perfect combo for the most part!. Chris Hemsworth plays himself (the best and only way to take in a Hemsworth, I assure you) while Tessa Thompson (of Valkyrie fame from Thor: Ragnarok) plays the new up and coming MIB agent. Their chemistry works well, although this film lacked any meaningful romance or tension....Hemsworth and Thompson both come off like they are testy brother and sister than anything else. It's an odd thing for me to note....I generally am not that interested in seeing romance on the big screen in action films since it can be done so terribly, but every now and then a movie like this comes along where it sort of feels like it would have been fun to see.

Liam Neeson is great in his role as Agent T, director of London operations. SPOILER! He is also obviously the secret villain reveal and this is painfully obvious despite their making no initial effort to tip their hand just because a key failing of this movie is its strict adherence to trope and cliche with the script. When you see him show up it is fairly obvious despite vague attempts to pin the possibility of a traitor on another character that it was Liam all along.

Speaking of villains, the big bad at the end as a great Cthulhuesque monster, and a great special effect. I very much enjoyed the reveal at the end even if it was obvious thanks to the terrifying transformation and the overall plan to drag in the enemy known as The Hive from some other region of space. Also, the finale was mercifully short....no prolonged, needlessly long fight scenes. It was too the point, refreshingly so.

The overall plot of MIB International may have been predictable, but the road trip to the end was great. It felt at times more like a James Bond movie with aliens in it, filled with lush locales and interesting areas to explore, all on earth no less. The locations and filming were great.

In the end, this was a fun movie, well worth my time to watch with the family, although I think you would be happier with discounted ticket prices (I did luckily see it at a matinee price). Solid B+!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Alternity RPG - Where are the Forums? Why is Sasquatch Studios so bad at website updates and support?


While diving in to my recent excursions into the various D20 sci fi games out there (Starfinder, Advent Horizon) I noticed that a game I had enjoyed reading but shelved due to the fact that it needed more content to be useful suddenly had more content. Specifically the Alternity RPG from Sasquatch Studios, the spiritual successor to the late great Alternity of 20 years back.

So if you haven't seen them, Alternity has some products in PDF and two in print here, including the Xenologist's Guide and the Protostar Mission Guide. The core rulebook can be found in print with a bit of sleuthing here. I think I've blogged about it before (maybe not?) but it's a decent system with a good core mechanic, but it lacks some of the depth you can get in Traveller and clearly needed more content out (and soon) to sustain interest. That hasn't really happened since 2017 until now.

I was rooting around looking for some evidence of fan support on forums, and noticed that Sasquatch Studios doesn't seem to be all that good at keeping up on their web presence. They have a webstore, but it's hard to find and not even close to the first search link when looking for the game. The PDF products aren't easy to find unless you know to look at drivethrurpg.com. There's no forum or fan place to post right now.

I did recall that the game was Kickstarted, so I went over there to see what activity was on the web page and noticed that it, like so many other Kickstarters, appears to have been behind on its promises or not fulfilling to the expectations of backers. Some of the comments on the Kickstarter are nice, but some are mean-spirited in that special way only backers can get (and rightfully so, sometimes; when you sink money into a project with promises on the content delivery you expect them to come through).

Unfortunately, I suspect that the side effect of a mixed bag when it comes to the core fans who backed a project being vocal in their displeasure at the KS's follow-through is that it means there's probably less incentive for the developers of the game to provide forum support which leads inevitably to more places for people to gripe and bring it all down. Ironic, given that the game is at least fulfilling its goals, albeit slowly from the looks of it.

On the other hand, Sasquatch Studios release Primeval Thule a while back and didn't provide support for it online either (no forum or regularly updated website). But that was also a Kickstarted project and I also recall some fans being unhappy with at least the 13th Age iteration of the game. I personally really liked the 5th edition version of Primeval Thule. Soooo....hard to say if the problem is that Kickstarted games with release issues lead to fewer venues for forum support, or Sasquatch Studios just isn't good at (or has the time for) making sure they have website support for their games. Either way it's a shame.....I like Alternity RPG and would love to see more content and discussion about it online.

Another thought has crossed my mind, too: could this decent RPG be suffering right now because it took the popular name of a beloved SF rpg that inevitably will be held up against it in scrutiny? There's no disputing that while the new Alternity is a good game with a design that I find better than the other game of the same name, it definitely lacks the graphic style and design of the original. But if all the attention surrounding the game came from the title, then it's inevitable that it will be judged not by what it is, but by what it claims to succeed.

If I'm wrong about this and there is forum support somewhere, let me know! The closest I could find was at the traditional original Alternity website which has a corner for "Altenity 2.0" that appears to be quite out of date.

Either way, I will try to write more on this one soon. Alternity RPG 2.0 is a nice game system, and accomplishes more with what I am looking for in an SF RPG right now than the other systems I was messing with, so I may finally try to play it soon.

Monday, July 1, 2019

The Current Final Word on Starfinder


So I decided to shelve Starfinder for a while. Here's my basis for the decision:

1. When I start running Starfinder what I really want is a Science Fiction game with Paizo's brilliant graphics and appearance. I am not in love with Starfinder so much as I am in love with how Starfinder looks.

2. When I run Starfinder I find it hard to take seriously because I am so innoculated against the core conceits of the D&D/Pathfinder style universe that blending it with science fiction is hard to do. As a result, I can construct a universe but it feels more like a universe with trappings of Red Dwarf and Battle Beyond the Planets than something more serious, which I desperately want in my D&D types right now.

3. The reason I feel an incongruity after every game is because what I want is to run a hard/serious science fiction game. Starfinder is not the game for such a task. When I run it, I feel like I am distracting my precious life minutes away from a task that would be better suited to the use of said time. Traveller, for example, would fit my needs much better than Starfinder.

4. When I am in the right mood, it is a lot of fun, but I can't sustain it. I haven't pinpointed exactly why this is so (beyond points 1-3) but it is enough to know that if I don't get excited to run it every single week that a session is up then that is enough to shift my focus elsewhere. To contrast: I am always excited for a Call of Cthulhu or Cypher System night.

Also, blame Advent Horizon to a certain extent. It was while trying to prep for AH that I realized that my problem with Starfinder was rooted in the fact that it neither embraces the fantasy nor the science fiction enough to truly become one or the other. And since I've never been a big fan of "mixed genre" SF/fantasy mashups, I lack the critical requisite interest necessary to know what to do with it.

But, most importantly of all.....

5. I have limited time in my life, so even though there's a lot in Starfinder I like, it takes too much time for me to prep, and as a result I need games which cater to that limited time I do have. This is sad....Starfinder makes excellent headway in the "ease of access" zone of D20 based gaming, yet my life is so booked up these days that even with the improvements SF offers I just can't find the proper time to invest myself in it. This, in the end more than items 1-4 above, is the main problem.

You might ask, "Why not read the modules?" and I would point out that for my style of GMing I take far less time to prep a game I design than to try to read and prepare someone else's work. And that's a big part of the problem....I have not got the time (or inclination) to sink into absorbing the enormous amount of Starfinder content I have on my book shelf. And that includes either world building or reading and learning the default Pact Worlds setting.

Doesn't bode well for Pathfinder 2.0.....crossing my fingers and hoping it is excessively user friendly!

Friday, June 28, 2019

Zweihander Revised - the Retail Edition

I was shocked to discover two copies of Zweihander Revised sitting on the shelf at my local Barnes & Noble, truly something that I would ordinarily never expect --and with B&N being bought by a hedge fund that is putting a guy in charge on the record for wanting to cut down on the "hard to sell" books, unlikely to be a thing in the future, either.

Anyway, I'd only been acquainted with the POD version previously, so was shocked to see such a pleasant, high-quality bound tome, with ribbon, full color interior and incredibly nice design qualities for a paltry $65 so I grabbed a copy. You should look for a copy of this edition if you can, it's well worth it. I might plan to actually run a game soon, as the grim and perilous standards of Zweihander suit my gaming mood a lot more these days than the happy and heroic form of D&D 5E. This is also a good version of the game for fans of the system (like myself) from the old Warhammer 1E and 2E days who have never cared much for the Games Workshop Warhammer fantasy setting as such....liked the aesthetics if you will, but not the execution.


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Film Review: John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum


Two great things came out of this movie experience with John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum. The first one was when my son turned to me in the middle of the film and declared, "Papa, you know, this movie is made for combat fans. And you know what? We are combat fans." He was spot on....if you've ever wanted to watch a movie with just enough fill between the amazing action sequences to justify the next action sequence, John Wick (all the movies) fit this description perfectly.

The second was the moment I realized that John Wick's charm comes about from the fact that this is basically Male Romance in film format. The John Wick trilogy (soon to be a four parter) is about Keannu Reaves as the embodiment of the middle-aged man who had found his purpose, had it stripped away from him, then rekindles that purpose in the only way he knows how: by some serious murderation. It's unabashed in its revelry of the violent form as the medium of expression. It does not question its own universe, which appears to be one dominated by a heirarchy of assassin cabals who run the world. It sprinkles just enough world building in to make you feel like there is some structure and purpose to the universe, but not enough to trigger the weird fans who must have answers to all questions. It's not about that. It likes to entertain a bit of mystery....but once again, only enough to get you to the next major combat scene. 

So yeah, this has been my favorite film of the year so far. A+++!