Tag Archives: RPG

Where I Got my Roleplaying Fix: WWE 2K17

I don’t think I’ve ever really talked at length about my love of professional wrestling. I watch it every week and generally adore everything about it: the goofy characters, the athleticism on display, the sheer LOUDNESS of it all. As soon as I could, I picked up WWE 2K17 for my Xbox One. And I, surprisingly, ended up scratching that RPG itch I get from time to time.

The WWE games are mostly what you expect; you choose a character, choose an opponent, and get to fighting. It’s fun if played that way, and my son and I have faced off quite a few times as our favorite wrestlers (currently, mine are AJ Styles, Zack Ryder, and Chris Jericho).

But there’s also the “My Career” mode, where you’ll find a surprisingly deep RPG. It has everything that you would expect from an RPG: you create a character by designing his outfit, raising his attributes and skills, pick his move set, generate an entrance (complete with video and music), and decide if he’ll be good or evil.

Honestly, creating a character in WWE 2K17 is a deeper, more involved experience than in some RPGs I’ve played (looking at you, Fallout 4). Granted, this might appeal to me more because I’ve secretly always had this dream to be a professional wrestler. I even wanted to go to wrestling school. I do think, however, that it’ll be fun for anyone who likes to spend time rolling up characters.

I ended up creating Tommy “Showtime” Johnston, a heel (wrestling for “bad guy”) who was a bit of a lone wolf and was being held back  by his crappy tag team partner. So I betrayed him, breaking up our tag team so I could pursue my own championships.

Yup. You can betray your partner in this game. You can also try to get in feuds with other people, entice someone to back you up on a tag team, get in fights back stage or in the crowd, hire a manager, and tick off the authority figures in the WWE so they stack the deck against you. You can even cut promos during shows, making the local crowd either love or hate you.

For each event in which you participate, you will gain you Virtual Currency, which is basically just a fancy term for experience points in this mode. With VC, you can raise your attribute stats, buy skills, or purchase new, more powerful moves. The only thing missing for it to be a true RPG is a level-up sound when you rank up.

Currently, Showtime Johnston is working his way up the ranks to win the WWE World Title, and he currently possesses the United States Championship, ruling over that division with an iron fist.

It feels like a really well designed wrestling RPG. In fact, it makes me want to create and host a tabletop wrestling game. I never thought that a wrestling video game would inspire me to want to make something, but there it is.

The game is sometimes kind of glitchy, and it’s not perfect, and there’s a lot of DLC to buy, but honestly, when I get that urge to be a fantasy hero for a few hours, I doubt I’ll be picking up Skyrim, Dragon Age, or Fallout… I’ll be playing WWE 2K17.

 

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7th Sea Second Edition Review

7th_sea_cover_v1When sitting around the table with an RPG, I am the game master probably 95% of the time. I don’t have any qualms about it; it feeds into my sense of self worth and importance (kidding). In the 20 years or so that I’ve been running games for people, I’ve become pretty good at reading them at the table, reacting to what they’re going to do, and doing my utmost to maximize fun.

Sometimes, though, you need a challenge.

The good folks at Gamerati and John Wick Presents were gracious enough to provide me with a review copy of 7th Sea, a role playing game set in a Europe-like land of swashbuckling and backstabbing. Here’s where the challenge comes in for me: the holidays are coming, and that means that for the next two months, it’s going to be difficult to get a group together to play. I had a play session coming up, though, and a player had to drop out of our regular D&D game, so I invited the others to play 7th Sea. The challenge: I only had 36 hours to learn the new system, be able to teach it to others, come up with a story, and run the game… Oh. And I needed everyone to have fun.

36 hours for a married guy with two kids and a job, actually becomes about five hours. Luckily, the presentation in 7th Sea is beautiful. The art is very easy for your eyes to fall upon, and the text is uncluttered and uncomplicated. I also love learning gaming rules, so flipping through the rule book was a pleasure.

That said, I’d often completely forget about learning how to actually play 7th Sea when I’d get caught up in reading about the ins and outs of the setting. I love alternate Europe scenarios, and this one combines the Renaissance with mythology in an easy-to-grasp package. This is a very fluffy game, and that’s fine by me. I’m much more of a storyteller than a dice roller; I revel in lots of world-building information.

If I’m to be honest, I’m still not entirely sure how the dice mechanic works in the this game. I know, I’m a bad reviewer, but again, I had five hours. It doesn’t look complicated, but it definitely takes a backseat to building solid, believable characters and a setting that feels fresh and real.

Character creation in this game is so deep. Characters are heroes and can’t really die without good reason, and that’s okay because this game forces players to really think about their hero. There’s even a section of 20 questions to more deeply consider the role you’ll be playing at the table. Yes, there are skills and talents and attributes, but while playing the game, it didn’t really feel like they mattered very much. What matters in 7th Sea is creating a character with a soul. The attributes might say that your character is strong, but these 20 questions will tell me if your character is meek, or bombastic, or prone to boasting. Your hero will end up having defining character traits and virtues  This, to me, is so much more important than what the numbers say how many dice a player gets to roll. These characters get to drive the story in a meaningful way, and the players get to create heroes who are more than just a math problem.

I spent five hours frantically reading and learning 7th Sea, and game time finally arrived. My confidence in my ability to learn the system may have been misplaced, but I understand storytelling and had enough of the setting information under my hat that I could fake what I needed to.

I had two players that evening: people who were experienced role players ready to try out the brave new world of a brand new system. We started with character creation. We didn’t get super deep since this would be a one-off game (for now), but they created two characters: one was a soldier from a terrible war that destroyed his homeland. The other played a sailor who had made a Faustian deal to bring retribution upon his enemies.

We played the game on November 5th, and with the Gunpowder Treason fresh in my mind, our intrepid team was drafted into saving the queen of Avalon from a mysterious plot by Church loyalists who were unhappy with her stance on religion. Both the characters were imprisoned for piracy, but the Crown’s agents knew of the heroes’ competence, so they were willing to cut a deal.

This plot quickly went off the rails. The characters, as created, were  pirates, so they chose messy freedom over having to work for someone else. They picked locks, they let out terrible criminals…

And then I had the idea that maybe their tower prison wasn’t exactly what it seemed, so they began to descend an endless stairway, dotted with rooms that would confront the “heroes” with their sins. I got to play with English mythology, introducing a character based on Merlin, a giant talking baby, swamp witches, and other barely sane characters as they moved deeper into the rabbit hole.

The game basically ended up as a way to just let our imaginations run wild. There were a lot of laughs, a lot of careful moves and counter moves, and we all had a ton of fun.

I know I’m not the perfect reviewer here, but I want to say this: 7th Sea is really, really good at facilitating fun storytelling for mature role players. As my two friends and I started getting lost in the story we were telling, the dice and mechanics took a back seat to pure role playing. I actually found myself exhausted by the end of the session, but I was also exceedingly happy from having such a good time.  There are very few games where I found that to be the case.

In a world where throwing dice seems to be the main point of RPGs, 7th Sea gave me a breath of that fresh ocean air of storytelling. I cannot wait to visit it again and dig a little deeper into the rules.

 

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The Taken King Took Me In

WarlockI’ve written before about how much I love Destiny, the “shared-world” shooter by Bungie. It scratches every itch I have when it comes to video games: first-person shooter, co-operative, competitive, MMO, RPG elements. The newest expansion “The Taken King” has leveled up my love for the game even further.

I came into Destiny a little later than a lot of people. I bought it after the first two DLCs had come out, so some of the things that people had been complaining about had been fixed. I played the game all the time. Got my Warlock to Level 33 and was preparing to do raid stuff in the weeks before The Taken King released. I also got involved in a clan, The Dads of Destiny.

TitanLet me just make an aside here: the Dads of Destiny are a great group of dudes to play with. They are all polite, most of them have children, and they mostly play when they are able to, which can be pretty random. The other day I was playing with a couple guys, and we were all commiserating about sick kids who refused to sleep. It’s part gaming clan and part Dad support group.

Anyway, The Taken King takes Destiny and makes it better. The story is more coherent, the enemies are more challenging, some of the events are more epic, and the NPCs actually feel like characters rather than a means to an end (and I actually remember their names). I also like the fact that Light Level (the measure of how powerful you are in the Huntergame–an aggregate score of your defense and attack values) and character level are separate, so you always feel like you are improving, even after you’ve reached the maximum character level.

The meta also hasn’t reached the point where one load out beats everything else. Right now I can play the way I want to play, and it’s just fine. I don’t have to worry about having a certain loot drop to go into a raid; I can just play. It’s beautiful, and I hope it stays that way.

That’s not to say that everything about the game is peaches.
I really don’t like that so many of the high-level activities don’t include matchmaking. I get that Bungie is attempting to go for tight-knit groups of friends, but I have to play pretty randomly, and mostly late at night. And, let’s face it, most people are using looking-for-group websites to connect with others to play endgame content with. If people are going to a website that Bungie owns to do this… why wouldn’t Bungie just include it in the game?

Other than that, I’m pretty satisfied with the game. Will I still be playing when Halo 5, Fallout 4, or something else I love comes along, that I can’t answer right now.

 

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Princes of the Apocalypse Review

I really like Dungeons & Dragons 5th imageedition. Having sampled 1st, 3rd, 3.5 and 4th (as well as a long stint in Pathfinder) I’m happy to report that this is my favorite version of D&D. There is a simplicity and elegance to the system that was missing in 4e and, arguably, Pathfinder. At the same time, the uniformity of the mechanics is intuitive enough to avoid many, though not all, of the rules-lawyer-style arguments that I’ve… enjoyed with D&D’s more classic iterations.

Which is why it seems like Princes of the Apocalypse, Wizards of the Coasts’ third module for the system, is as good a place as any for me to try running the game. As an important note, I have never in my entire life run a game module– pretty odd for someone with more than a decade of RPG experience.

I appreciate that the book begins by giving a broad overview of the setting, plot elements and factions in the module–even if they are difficult to track in the beginning. Princes of the Apocalypse takes place in the varied locations found in the Dessarin Valleys, which is somewhere Northish in relation to Waterdeep. This section illustrates one of the beginning challenges for me as well: there are a lot of details to keep a hold of right from the outset. Some, like the relation a specific place may have to another point of interest in the world aren’t super important. Others, such as the names of cult leaders, faction motivations and such totally are, and it’s up to the reader, with the assistance of the book, to prioritize. 

This is something I don’t like so much, even though it’s a good start for a large, dynamic world. My temptation is to throw all of it at the players instead of pacing myself and, by association, the adventure. I like mixing it all up, which is a discipline issue exacerbated by all the options.

I do like all the different origin options for the players. Princes of the Apocalypse includes over a dozen different origins that are tangentially associated to a character or event happening in the valley. Some of these options would make a good preamble for an established party’s adventures or work as an origin for a new group’s formation. It also reminds me of Dragon Age: Origins.

I also like the accessibility. The campaign is set for groups from level 3-15, but it makes allowances for 1st level players as well. 

For me, it all comes together in chapter three, when the adventure portion of the book starts. I’m a completionist when it comes to RPGs–I want to know every little detail about the setting to make sure the players have all the opportunities possible to run into a stray plot thread or discover an interesting clue. So, of course, I’m going to read the whole book, and at specific parts of the adventure, I can allude to other interesting things or throw out components I don’t like. For the first time ever, when I’m running this campaign, I won’t have to keep meticulous notes about the plot I’ve written and what the players did in the last session. 

Overall, I’d say this book has a lot of potential. It’s kind of a heavy lift for DMs interested in chaotic, “wing-it” style adventures, but for the folks willing to put in that time and do their homework, this is a top-notch set of tools for a great adventure for beginners and experienced groups.

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Gemstone in the Rough

Let me take you back to a time when I was 12- or 13-years old. It was 1996. The internet sounded like this:

It was then that I was slowly turning into the dorky guy that I am today. Sure, I had already read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I was voraciously reading Star Wars novels and other fantasy books. I had been playing Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior/Quest for years.

But this was the turning point.

I was at my neighbor’s house, and he told me that I just HAD to try a new game he found. I immediately went to sit in front of his TV… but he instead booted up AOL and told me to sit. Then he started it: Gemstone III.

“What is this?” I asked.

“It’s an RPG. An RPG you can play with a thousand other people.

Mind. Blown.

He immediately took me to the character creator, and I built Lancastrien, a sorcerer with a penchant for blowing up rats with his magic. When the game finally started, I was ready for something amazing.

And then I was looking at a black screen full of white text. I was confused. Where was my sorcerer? Where was everyone else.

It was a text game. And as I started getting acclimated to it, I began to discover that the game was much deeper than the console RPGs I was used to. You could do almost anything, and I could interact with other people. Lots of other people. This was before the days of Everquest or Ultima Online, so people were congregating here to get their geeky RPG fix. It was great. So great. I was utterly sucked in. I was killing giant rats for experience, meeting internet friends at the inn for conversation about our adventures: I was making both friends and enemies.

I went home and begged my parents to get the internet. I wanted (NEEDED) to play Gemstone III. They finally relented, and we installed one of the AOL discs that came in the mail. The first thing I did? Create a Gemstone III account. I rolled a bard named Spumis, and my love affair with the fantasy bard class began.

The adventure couldn’t last forever, though. GS3 moved to a web portal and started charging to play. I quit after that. I couldn’t afford it, and I had plenty of N64 games to play.

Eventually Gemstone III upgraded to Gemstone IV. I kept track of the game, but never got back into it (I wasn’t going to pay for a text game when I could pay for graphical games and basically get the same fix.)… Until recently.

GS IV went free to play recently, so feeling the pull of nostalgia, I jumped back in. It’s still a fun experience. There aren’t as many people playing, but that only adds to its mystique. I still love the text-based game format, and the game is more intuitive now: the tutorials are better, the interface is much, much better.

Anyway, I can thank Gemstone for turning me into the D&D-playing dork I am today. It’s nice to be able to go back to the game and get that adventuring fix a few times a week. Since it’s free, if you’re interested, you really should try it. And look for Knotwind in Icemule Trace. I’m sure he’d be happy to show you around.

Gemstone IV

Knotwind fights a mutant crab.

 

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Dungeon Master’s Guide Review

DnD_DMGThe Dungeon Master’s Guide is always my favorite book of any edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  My established role at the roleplaying game table evolved into running games a long time ago, and I like the tools that the Dungeons Master’s Guide has historically provided. Back in college, I would use the third edition DM Guide to build fantastic worlds for my players (I was a massive dork, I know.). I’m afraid that if you looked through my Psych 301 notes, you would find sketches of cities, dungeons, and continents complete with “here be dragons” style areas to entice adventurers.

The Dungeons Master’s Guide for the fifth edition of D&D is a good starting point for new DMs. About half the book is dedicated to teaching a Dungeon Master how to build a campaign setting, an adventure, and how to string them all together. This section is liberally sprinkled with tables that help you randomize everything from dungeons to villains to what buildings are in a village. Also included are tips for the actual management of the game experience: ways to keep the game moving, how to deal with difficult players, and even the best way to roll dice.

As an experienced DM, I don’t really need tips on how to create campaigns or how to keep the game enjoyable for everyone at the table, but I appreciate the randomized tables and how they can streamline things when (not if) players go off the beaten path. Gone are the days when I would have to take a lengthy break to figure out what is going to happen next while I hide in another room. Everyone will appreciate the added game time at the tabletop.

My favorite part of the book, though, is the lengthy list of treasure. The Player’s Handbook was woefully lacking in magical items, but the DM guide rectifies that with nearly 100 pages of goodies. I’m going to have so much stuff to reward and plague my players with! And the treasure tables are super useful. I love giving out randomized treasure, so having lots of tables I can roll on to determine rewards is so great.

You know, as I’m looking at the overall picture of fifth edition, I’m ecstatic that I’ll be able to play the game without a laptop or an app on my phone. I love having a large toolbox to use right out of the books. I  dislike playing from behind a computer because it creates a mental separation between the players and the DM. I want to be “in the fray” with the people who are playing the game.

For people who want to play Dungeons and Dragons, the Dungeon Master’s Guide is a must-have manual. For a new group of players who are trying out Dungeons and Dragons for the first time, this book is a good primer for how to run and play the game. For D&D and RPG fans of all kinds, this is a recommended release. You can find the Dungeon Master’s Guide at your friendly neighborhood gaming store (and other book stores) on December 9th.

 A review copy of the Dungeons Master’s Guide was provided to The Cool Ship by Wizards of the Coast.

 

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Dungeons and Dragons: Tyranny of Dragons Adventure Path

Hoard of the Dragon Queen - Cover Art

I’m not a huge fan of published adventures in general because I really enjoy the world-building aspect of DMing and making a campaign. That said, I’ve run some Kobold Press adventures before and enjoyed their focus on mission-based storytelling, rather than the classic dungeon crawl.

When the books in the Tyranny of Dragons adventure path (Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat) came to my door, I was excited to look them over, and to eventually run them.

The first thing I noticed, as I tend to do when flipping through RPG books, is the art. And wow, it’s really great in these books. Like the D&D books that came before it, the covers are absolutely gorgeous, and the art inside deftly treads the line between overbearingly realistic and overly cartoony.

The Rise of Tiamat - Cover Art(1)

The adventures in these books will advance your player’s characters from levels one to fifteen as they investigate an evil dragon cult that seeks to resurrect its terrible dragon-god.

For the most part, the adventures are well-written and easy to follow. I like the mission structures quite a bit, and as an experienced DM, they’re easy to understand and to run quickly without a whole lot of preparation.

The settings are pretty fantastic, and you will go through mountains, floating fortresses, frozen wastes, and just about everything in between. Good settings are essential for great campaigns and these venues are sure to stir excitement among your player characters.

In the appendices, you’ll find MOST of the information you’ll need for these adventures, including magic items and monsters. The offerings seem pretty sparse, though, from the D&D I’m used to. I kind of miss having an overabundance of magic items around. However, you’ll still need the free pdfs from the Dungeons and Dragons website to get the full experience of these products. Personally, I think that’s a bit of an oversight, but it’s probably a minor one. It’s easy enough to put a pdf on your iPad or Kindle.

All in all, I think the Tyranny of Dragons line of adventures are competently written and the art is beautiful. I would recommend them, but I think a moderately experienced DM is probably needed to run these adventures. I’m not sure if they are intuitive enough to run without having played before. Actually, I think I’m going to discuss just that in my next article.

The Tyranny of Dragons path is a strong start to the Wizards of the Coast’s adventures for the new edition of D&D. I’m excited to world-build, but I’ll definitely be running these adventures for my friends. Now, let’s go out there and slay some dragons!

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Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay

Warhammer_fantasy_roleplay_coverI needed a roleplaying game to play while a portion of my main group is off doing some real life important stuff, so I pulled out an old favorite of mine: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (2nd Edition).

My history with Warhammer is a lengthy one. I’ve never played the tabletop wargame (though, I wish I could. I’m just too cheap), but I’ve read many of the books. John asked me one day to come play the game with him and some of his friends, and I fell in love with the system.

It’s just so simple. The mechanic is percentile dice. Roll 2 d10s (or a d100 if you are a snob), and try to roll lower than the number on your character sheet plus modifiers.

It’s easy, but it has so much depth. There are, literally, dozens of careers for your character, all with different abilities and skills. They even have a system where you can randomize EVERYTHING about your character, even down to distinguishing marks (like a bald spot or a snaggle tooth).

I ran a small group of just two characters. They decided to play dwarves, and our journey into the grim world of dark fantasy began.

Dark fantasy. Did I mention how dark the game can be? The setting is a gloomy one, for sure. Think of middle-earth and Grimm’s fairy tales/Hans Christian Anderson’s tales had a baby… but then throw in every superstition you can think of from the middle ages and make it real… and that’s basically Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Your character will probably die a horrible death… but it’s the adventure that counts, right? Not the ending.

As a DM, this setting gives me a lot of opportunities not to screw over my players, per se, but to bait them using common roleplaying fantasy tropes. For instance, I gave the dwarves a magic sword that they needed to present to the dwarven king in order to save their town. They were explicitly told NOT TO USE THE SWORD, but RPGers being RPGers, they used the sword.

Which disintegrated their enemies, but also turned to dust. So now they have no magic sword to present to the dwarven king in order to save their town. Should be fun seeing how they pull this little caper off. I’ll keep you updated.

If you can find a copy of WFRP 2nd edition, pick it up! It’s really great.

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And Another Thing About RPGs

I’m gonna tell you what I hate about MMOs, and why I think the industry is going to continue a year-long decline into mediocrity. I’ve gone over it before, but in light of some recent experiences, and TJ’s post, I want to get into really specific detail about what bothers me.

And to do that I need to talk about tabletop role-playing games.

Tabletop RPGs are, broadly, a collective storytelling device with a probability mechanic. The most ubiquitous being D&D or some other iteration of the D20 game system. It’s fair to say that without the tabletop pioneers of yesterday, digital RPGs wouldn’t exist today.

The singular element of any RPG, whether a single-player adventure or a massive online world is that you can chose the general direction your character takes. This is usually represented with class and character building options, being able to decide where your character goes, and sometimes being able to impact outcomes in the game.

That last one is becoming more and more important.

I’ve played quite a few RPGs since high school, and whether it’s an online game with thousands of players or just 4 friends around a table, I’ve only seen two approaches to world-building. Ever.

I’m going to call the first approach the Static Setting Approach, which I would like to illustrate with a story. I played a game with some friends once where we had to go somewhere and stop some guys from exploiting some folks. So the party met those folks, got the mission and went to the place to have it out.

FiatThrough the process of trying and failing (or otherwise not being allowed to try) it became clear that this fight was inevitable. This was the way the adventure was written and, like hitting the invisible wall in Skyrim, there was no getting around it. Nothing we players could have done would have changed the fact that we had to fight.

This approach is sometimes called the railroading because the Game Master is keeping his players on the rails to do what he or she wants.

I’m going to call the second approach the Dynamic Setting Approach. This is an approach characterized by unpredictability and the appearance of choice. I say appearance because a good GM can probably get you where he wants you to go (most of the time) while making it seem like the player’s idea. A great GM responds to your choices with lasting changes.

It’s a harder road for a game-runner. It may entail meticulous notes, multiple endings, personalized relationships between characters and on and on. But, going back to the example above, it would have been a lot cooler if we could have bribed the thugs. Or joined them. Or avoided the combat altogether and changed the trajectory of things.

There’s nothing wrong with either approach. Both are totally legitimate, but my leading descriptions have probably telegraphed my preference.

Railroading begs certain questions. Like, if you’re forced into a fight by design, the GM isn’t really allowed to build a fight you can lose because he made you have it. Is the fight really anything other than a chance to roll some dice? If that fight had never happened at all, would anything really be different?

And that’s how all MMOs have approached world-building. Instead of a dynamic world full of people that need things, it’s an environment where players click on one faceless NPC after another. Every MMO is on the railroad, which is too bad because I think tabletop static settings are mostly a result of time constraints. Some folks are good on the fly, but the rest of us don’t have endless hours to fill a sandbox play area.

But companies have time. And money. And there is an opportunity here to spend less and get more. Pathfinder Online is in the works and they have a novel approach. What if all the non-starter armor comes from player crafting?

It seems innocuous enough, but if done right it could be a huge deal. That’s the foundation for a player-driven experience. Instead of killing the same mob over and over again for a drop (excepting material collection), you have to engage in business with other players. Players who have built characters to be skilled laborers. Characters who maybe ask for payment in services rather than money.

DragonBall

Yes, it’s still just Wow in a different flavor.

Those laborers could be other adventurers, but with some MMO creating permanent housing, why not allow them to have shops in villages or remote areas? Throw in some deadly serious PvP, and you’ve got the makings of a world where the players are cooperating in a community with each other – creating their own stories instead of following quest chains.

So what am I getting at? Well let me just quote me in a recent chat I had about Bungie’s Destiny:

That’s what I want. I want this game, with skills that I can use to create an in-game business to found a city. And then start an armada to protect my city. And then get impeached by my councilors. And then take my stolen imperial dreadnought and bombard my own city.

#@&%! That’s what I want!

And on and on I go. Look, what I’m really saying is I want off the railroad. Until that happens, I’m willing to say that all MMOs (possibly excluding EVE) are the same tired trick. Even the ones that look kind of different from each other. Instead of a game that asks me how I want to customize my outfit as I bounce aimlessly between exclamation points, how about a game that asks me how I want to customize my community?

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Gen Con II: The Wrath of Con

In which we avoid crying cat girl, meet John’s GenCon crush and defeat the scourge of metropolitan parking.

Day One of Gen Con is always a chaos. You always forget something. Sometimes something really important. And you always struggle with Indianapolis traffic, regardless of day or time.

However, yesterday was delightful as me and TJ, and newcomers Tyler and Miranda, got our bearings at Gen Con 2013.
Per the usual, parking was a 40 minute affair. Not one, but two garages put “full” signs up only minutes after we entered. Still, we did find something for only ten dollars. Having defeated parking, we strode into Gen Con like the kings and queens of promise.

We started the Con in a line. The line, however, was much shorter than last year. I was able to pick my badge and tickets very quickly, and by the time I was done there, the others were finished in their queue.

So, we hit the exhibition hall. So much stuff to buy. And I couldn’t believe the lines. Paizo, the makers of Pathfinder, had a line around the booth, and Fantasy Flight Games and Privateer Press had some of the longest lines I had seen outside of Space Mountain and Disney World. (Hyperbole!)

After wandering about and buying things we didn’t really need, we tried our hand at learning Mage Wars. It’s an awesome combination of a board game and a card game. I really wish I could have spent more than an hour with it.

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I was also haunted by a living meme. We saw a crying girl in cat cosplay and immediately became fixated. Why are you crying, crying cat girl? From where does your suffering come and is it part of your costume? Will you still take photos with my friend or is it weird now?

And then she vanished into the throng of people.

I would also like to take this moment to begrudging compliment Indianapolis. The core of the city is a beautiful, bustling metropolis that does a great job masking the horror that is rural Indiana.

Except for the homeless girls sleeping in the church doors across the street from The Con. That hurt my soul.

 

We also got a photo of TJ with my GenCon crush, Marie-Claude Bourbonnaise. We saw her last year in full anime garb and failed to get a photo with her. NEVER FORGET.

I thought it was gonna be a whole thing where we search and search and keep missing each other and just at the end, when we are both leaving, I see her and walk up. She would look at me and I would look at her…

And I would come up with a really good lie about liking whatever cartoon she was dressed as and then she would take a photo with TJ.

But I spotted her in the first 2 hours and we got it done.

So I guess I need to ratchet up my bucket list.

We also played Magic: The Gathering and I actually won all three of my matches. My winning strategy was to take all the green cards and black cards I booster drafted and add land. And now I’m the champion (one of several) of the 5pm Beginner’s Level 2 No Elimination Tournament. No doubt I’m blowing up on Twitter (@jcal101) right now.

Today’s recommendations:

Skull Kickers by Jim Zub (@jimzub). Though freely available on the Internet in web comic format, a hard copy is worth a look with beautiful art and extras in the Image Comics hardcover version I think it’s worth the investment.

Star Trek: Attack Wing by WizKid Games. I have to qualify this by saying I haven’t actually tried this game yet, but it looks great. For fans of Star Trek that want to do miniature battle without actually having to paint them this is worth a look.

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Playing Tabletop on the Internet with Roll20

roll20 Last night, I ran a Pathfinder game using the Roll20.net virtual tabletop. While I don’t think it quite compares to having everyone present in the same room, I think it went pretty well overall. Since Roll20 has opened up so many possibilities for me to game with people, I thought I would talk about some of the pros and cons of playing tabletop games on the internet.

1.) The tools are versatile enough to use with a wide variety of games.

Want to play a tabletop wargame? An RPG? Wanna just play some board games? Roll20 can handle it. It has a built in dice-rolling system, and you can import maps/terrain/boards to cover just about any kind of game you want to play. During play, I had no problems importing maps on the fly. My only complaint is that moving the PCs tokens (the virtual tabletop equivalent of miniatures) from map to map was a ponderous task that slowed the game down. Being able to mass select tokens would really help in that regard.

2.) Like any Internet-based video chat, there can be problems.

That annoying pinging sound from microphone feedback can happen quite a bit during a game, and that can really make the experience difficult for everyone. Cross chatter can also be a problem. As well as mic problems, video problems, internet connection problems… basically anything that can normally mess up your technology could be a potential problem while playing an internet-based tabletop game. It’s not Roll20’s fault, but it is something that has to be overcome.

3.) It brings people together:

I played a game with people from five states and two time zones. Most of us are people that wanted to play Tabletop games but couldn’t find groups. Some of us were beginners, some of us were veteran gamers, but we all were able to play thanks to Roll20 and the Internet.

This is really what I imagined doing when I first discovered the Internet back in Jr. High and was playing MUDs and primitive MMOs. Finally, I can play a game on the Internet where my only limit is my imagination. Sure, somethings from the rulebooks have to be streamlined, but that’s okay. I can’t wait to play again.

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Review — Midgard Adventures: The Raven’s Call

RavensCall-231x300It’s not often that I make my players start at level one in a Pathfinder game. I have a couple of reasons:

  • First level characters never seem to have enough options.
  • They’re so…smooshy. It takes nothing but some unlucky die rolls to take them out.

In other words, it’s hard for first level characters to feel truly heroic. But, worse than that, they often feel ineffective!

When I got a copy of Midgard Adventures: The Raven’s Call, though, I got pretty excited. Finally! A chance for first level PCs to feel a bit of agency in a dangerous and deadly world!

Most of the time, published adventures are not really my bag. I’m not a big fan of dungeon crawls, and I really hate being constrained by adventure modules that (in my experience) are pretty linear. When I create my own adventures, I try to keep them as open-ended as possible; you never know what kind of monkey wrench the players will throw in your plans, so having a less linear approach generally helps me come up with things on the fly.

That’s why I was so surprised by The Raven’s Call! It wasn’t linear. In fact, it set up a fun sandbox for the players to adventure  in and gave them multiple possible motivations to move things in the right direction.

Here’s the premise of the module: A group of nasty raiders has taken over a town, displaced the townspeople (or imprisoned them in a barn), and begun consuming all the supplies. The players are motivated in some way (there are options in the book for creativity when it comes to said motivation), and it isn’t a hard leap for the adventurers to want to right the wrong.

Saving a village from a bunch of raiders might seem like a daunting task, but Wolfgang Baur’s design in the adventure really shines. With a bit of bravery, luck, and some well placed magical items, the PCs can be the heroes they were meant to be. With multiple ways to approach the adventure, there are many opportunities for characters with different skill sets to show off.

The various elements of the module are detailed enough to help the game master if the players get off the beaten path a little bit, but they’re not so detailed that the information gets lost in a morass of text. It was also really easy to fill in small details with some of my own information, which helped set the stage for further adventures.

The art and included maps were both very well done. The sketch of a trollkin on the final page of the adventure really stood out to me. I have to admit there were a few times when I’d be scrolling to that page to get some information, and I would find my eyes drawn to the sketch rather than the info I needed. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, though.

What victory looks like.

What victory looks like.

Overall, I’ve never been disappointed by the art in any Kobold Press release, and this adventure module continues that great tradition.

What’s the most rewarding thing about The Raven’s Call? The fact that my PCs really felt like they had “won.” The adventure was challenging enough that they felt a real sense of accomplishment when they rescued the village. At the end of the day, that kind of euphoria is part of the reason why we play RPGs.

Once again, Wolfgang Baur and Open Design have impressed me with what they bring to roleplaying games. If you are looking for a low-level adventure for your party, this is one I highly recommend!

You can pick up Midgard Adventures: The Raven’s Call at Paizo and DrivethruRPG

Notes from the adventure:

My session featured four players, each with varying degrees of familiarity with the Pathfinder RPG.

-An elf fighter
-An elven archer (like The Raven’s Call, the elven archer is a Kobold Press creation that I’ll review in another column)
-A gearforged wizard (gearforged are clockwork beings specific to the Midgard Campaign setting)
-A human paladin

Quotes from the players (both during the game and afterward)

“Being able to play a gearforged character let me indulge in my inner steampunkery, and that’s awesome!”

I want to ride the crab!”

I’m an elf; I’m not telling you my name.”

Let’s just set it on fire!”

I’m not eating any of their food.”

I really suck at climbing walls.”

“The D20 is a cruel and fickle mistress.”

“The setting is fun and not too terribly difficult, which is good for a core group of level one characters missing a dedicated healer. Best results with full five-member band.”

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Hero Lab Review

Gamers and DMs are constantly looking for ways to make running and facilitating their games easier. As a DM, I love focusing more on plot than mechanics, so tools that can cut down on time spent building characters or looking up rules can be invaluable.

I’ve been using Hero Lab by Lonewolf Development for a couple months. I’ve bought the licenses for both Mutants and Masterminds 3rd edition (the game I’m currently playing most) and Pathfinder (the game I want to be playing most), and both versions work with very little trouble (that I’ve seen so far.)

If you’ve ever built a character in a video game RPG like Skyrim, Neverwinter Nights, or Dragon Age, you’re basically ready to build characters in Hero Lab.

It’s really simple, and Hero Lab automatically figures out the feats and skills you can or can’t have, and descriptions for every skill, feat, power, spell, or piece of equipment are included. The interface is easy to understand, too.

I’ve always enjoyed building characters, and now I can build characters (even ones with house rules!!) in minutes rather than hours.

Obviously that’s great for players, but Hero Lab has some features that make a DMs job easier as well.

Need a random encounter? You can easily load monsters, minions, and other baddies and modify them as needed.

Having a hard time keeping track of combat? Hero Lab includes a “tactical console” in which you can import all the heroes in the game and all the monsters, roll initiative, and keep track of status effects, spells left, and damage. It’s made my life so much easier as a DM… combat tends to get bogged down quite a bit, so anything that can speed things up is great.

Price-wise, as a gamer on a budget, I think Hero Lab is a bit pricey. It’s $30 for the initial program (this includes a license for the supported game of your choice, I chose Mutants and Masterminds). You can buy licenses for other games, but be warned, they can get expensive. I’m trying to build up my Hero Lab Pathfinder collection, and the money spent can really start to add up quickly.

That said, I can’t imaging playing RPGs without it. You can grab Hero Lab here.

 

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Gen Con Coverage!

John and I are going to the most magical place on Earth.  Not Disney World.

GEN CON!!!!

And we are going to play ALL THE GAMES!*

(*Editor’s note: We’ll be playing a lot of games… not all of them.)

So every day we’ll give you coverage of what we did, who we talked to, what swag we got, and other awesome things. Maybe a cosplay gallery? We’ll do what we can. We want to party with Wil Wheaton, but we’ll settle for partying with Nichelle Nichols.

So keep it your interwebz tuned to The Cool Ship (because we all still “tune” things, right?).

And if you happen to be at Gen Con, come say hello.

 

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