Friday, March 28, 2008

WAR

I have had a hard time reading up on the Warhammer MMO. For some reason none of the press releases, preview articles, or sneak peeks have been able to hold my attention so far. The writing always seems cheesy or the subject matter boring. I have not found the videos released so far to be all that enjoyable to watch either. This is odd because I love MMOs and I also love Warhammer. Finally there is an article that I enjoy reading over on IGN. It is a description of the path an Empire army will take to sack a Chaos city. It has me pretty fired up for the game. Here it is.

Cool Gamebook Site

I found out about the Fighting Fantasy gamebook site while reading GameSetWatch this morning.
You can find the site and register here.
After you register you can check out a cool article on writing gamebooks here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

4th Edition Thoughts

I am conflicted about the 4th edition of Dungeon and Dragons. I am a long time D&D player, as near as I can figure I have been playing for about 20 years (maybe a little more). During this time I have seen several different versions of the game and I have branched out to many other games. D&D has been a mainstay during this whole period even though at different times other games have been featured front and center.

You won't be reading that I think the whole thing is a sell out and a money grab. It is time for a new edition. It is time in the sense that 3.X is nearing a decade old, and it is time in the sense that the cracks have been showing for a while and are starting to widen.

First edition was a mess, a fun mess, but a mess none the less. There really isn't much more to say about it. The rulebooks were disorganized and chaotic, the modules were all over the place with no real overall sense of theme and setting. This was great for the time, as they were still defining what a fantasy RPG was. In a way D&D was helping to define what generic fantasy was. It brought together many different kinds of fantasy and melded them into a whole. Obviously The Lord of the Rings had a huge impact on D&D but it flows both ways. If the LotR movies had been made in the early 80s they may have looked very different than they do now (and not just because of technology). D&D has had a profound impact on the way we imagine what fantasy objects look like.

Second edition was in much better shape, but was still pretty rough. The spell descriptions were god awful from a gameplay standpoint. They were often vague and easy to exploit, leading to many arguments at the table. Second edition was in many ways all about the role playing part of the game. There was a lot of feel even to the core rulebooks, and there were boxes and boxes of setting information. It was here that generic fantasy was really codified, it was Dark Ages England, France, and Germany with magical powers and monsters grafted on. It was a lot of fun. Some of the settings were hard to tell apart. Honestly, Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, Mystara, and Birthright could have been different continents on the same world. Dark Sun was different and darker and Spelljammer was a great idea ruined by early 90s camp. Planescape and Ravenloft were different and very well done. I have little experience with Council of Wyrms.

By the end of the edition the weak links were obvious. There were too many systems that were too much alike, and many of the ones that were different (Dark Sun) made heavy changes to the rules. The rules were too chaotic and confusing to start with.

Overlapping first and second edition was the D&D Basic Game. This is my favorite edition of D&D. The rules were pretty clear and easy to use. It played quick so that it actually felt like the pulp fantasy adventures that GG had been reading when he made the game. The other editions had drifted towards LotR inspired epic fantasy, which is fun, but it was weighing down the rules and frankly the powers that the characters had in those kinds of books were not very fun powers game wise. The default setting for the Basic D&D game was completely generic fantasy (Mystara in 2nd edition) but it managed to hold to the sword and sorcery feel a bit more. The Grand Duchy of Karameikos was loosly ruled with towns separated by dark dangerous wilderness. The Black Eagle Barony was not some secret cabal of demi-gods it was a harsh baron. As you grew in power you hit on other real world inspired locations and the cool Isle of Dread.

Third edition came with major rule revisions and not always for the best. The rules were much better organized and much better balanced then ever before. However, the game had a board game feel to it that it had never had before, and not just because miniature use increased. The whole style of the game played more to the munchkin set. Combats took a very long time and were often reduced to "I hit, you miss, I miss, you hit" affairs. Every effect was well defined, which was good, and every action that could cause an effect was defined, which was not so good. The first removed some of the ambiguity from the rules that second edition had. The second made it feel like you were playing in a straightjacket. When your turn came up you had a limited number of things you could do, and you picked one. There was very little room for off the cuff actions and improvisation.

Another problem in third edition was that the definition of generic fantasy started to get boring. There were a lot of logic errors in the cosmology and alignment system that started to show and the rigidness of sticking to real world history with magic grafted on was really constraining. Eberron was a bit of a change but not really enough.

My third edition days are over. I had not really been using it for a while. I preferred the two alternate players handbooks put out by Monte Cook (especially Iron Heroes by Mike Mearls). I fiddled around with the Everquest RPG but mostly I just went sci-fi and stuck with GURPS. Recently, at Fear the Con, I played in my first Savage Worlds games. Savage Worlds is a pulp action game that is very faced paced, rules light, but stays out of the way of player improvisation and fun. The whole time I was playing, I was reminded of Basic D&D. When I got home I grabbed the Fantasy Toolkits and quickly converted my upcoming D&D game to Savage Worlds. I'll talk more about the game in an upcoming post, but it went very well.

This brings me to 4th edition and the potential it has. Through their many communications with the fans the designers has claimed that they want to make play faster, more fun, easier on the DM and with more options. If they can pull this off in a way similar to Savage Worlds, they will be in good shape. However, they need to do this without "dumbing down" the game. My biggest fear is that it will become even more board game like than 3rd edition. There have been some things released that have hinted that this might be the case.

On the other hand, there have also been some really exciting things released:
  1. Nothing is sacred: They are shaking up the cosmology, the overly constrained settings, the way magic and player powers work, even the way healing works.
  2. They have put a lot of thought into how they want generic fantasy to be defined by this edition and it looks like guys like Rich Baker have decided to run with the ball. The overall feel could have more in common with the Grand Duchy of Karameikos and Fritz Leiber than with Elminster and the shire. I like the sound of the points of light surrounded by darkness.
  3. Mike Mearls. Iron Heroes was, in many ways, the game third edition should have been. In my opinion he is the best designer of d20 variants out there.
  4. Integration of computer based tool sets from the beginning. This will make the DM's job much easier.
I really like the things they are saying about changing the feel of the setting it is more in line with what I enjoy. I am concerned and excited about the rules changes. If they can streamline the game while opening it up to player creativity I am in. If they make it more Hero Quest like and force you into preset "best" builds for each class... well I already found a system that does D&D better than 3.x.

Rocketship Empires

OK so I have read all the way through the first three Rocketship Empires books and I am impressed. The core book is awesome, just overflowing with fun gameplay ideas and cool setting. The Gunslinger Betty is one of the most in depth, single subject sourcebooks I have ever read. The whole thing is on one plane and he even gives diagrams and pictures from a real B-25. With this much information players can make meaningful repair decisions instead of just a bland roll. In Fury Triumphant does a good job of laying out the Spanish Civil War in space and really sets things up for the upcoming adventure module.

Even as I finished reading those three the next book, Starship Compendium, dropped. I tell you the man is a machine. I will be reading this one this week.

There is a little bit of strangeness with the setting though. It is obvious that it is meant to be pulp action, fast and loose. However the ships cry out for a high level of fidelity in the rules system. A lot of time has been spent to offer many, many awesome ship options. A rule system like Savage Worlds would be perfect for everything outside of the ships. The problem is that Savage Worlds, and similar systems, does not offer the granularity to distinguish between all the different ship options. Also skill consolidation in these kinds of systems means that you will have blanket repair and piloting rolls, when the setting supports many more choices.

Obviously this is not a deal killer, people who use Savage Worlds probably are not looking for tiny differences in ships so they can just gloss it over. The ship creation setup in the books will make it mesh nicely with GURPS, Hero System etc. The problem is that the out of ship parts of the setting do not go into this level of detail (yet). It is more just an annoyance with the continuity of level of detail than an actual complaint.

There is some spelling and layout ugliness but it is not too bad, and I know from reading the forums that he is working hard to eliminate this from future books. One of my main complaints is organizational. The books read great. As you read through the setting he fills you in on bits and pieces of how things work and then jumps back to the setting. While this is a fun way to read it, it will be hell when I need to find something. Information on related subjects really need to be together. Since the book is systemless I can understand the desire to make it a smooth read, but at least there should be a solid index.

These are nitpicks, as he develops his style more I am sure that all of this will be smoothed out. These books are all very, very good. The setting looks like a blast and I cannot wait to play a game in it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Which MMO would I unmake

Tipa posted another one of her great question posts today. This time she asks if we could erase one MMO which one would it be? See her full post here. She wants to unmake Dungeons and Dragons because she feels like it forced stat heavy MMOs on us and killed creativity. I share her frustration with ExelMOs but disagree about why we have them.
Because the players had to roll the dice and the DM had to figure the results himself the numbers had to be upfront in D+D. Players had to know how much damage they did and how many hitpoints they had left.
The same was true of many of the early computer RPGs. To know how many hitpoints they had left because there was no way to represent it graphically. However these days are gone. There is absolutely no reason for this anymore. Computers can give us qualitative clues to our condition instead of quantitative information. Allowing the players to know their exact strength and damage is, first of all, unrealistic and, second, counterproductive. By supplying large amounts of quantitative data to players we signal that numbers are the most important thing. We give players the ability to parse their performance and the performance of others and determine the "best possible path".
I think the main problem with MMOs is that players should not have all this numerical data, they do not need it and it is couter-immersive. They are always going to be numbers games due to the fact that they are computer games and this is the way computers do things. Even if we distill it down to whether or not they have a skill it is still a numbers game either you have a 1 in the skill or a zero. There are really no good ways to do combat in an interesting fashion without the numbers to some extent. But the players don't need to see the numbers. We can leave them guessing. Street Fighter has numerical values for its health and attacks but we are barely aware of them and it is far more immersive for it.
I think the other major problem with MMOs has nothing to do with their roots in D+D but the solution comes straight from D+D. The problem with MMOs isn't that they are like D+D it's how they are unlike D+D. They are like one of the cheap boardgame knockoffs that have cropped up over the years with a limited number of scenarios. MMOs can't make everyone feel like a hero because the designers cannot make enough content for everyone to have their own personal moment of glory. Computer generated content of real quality is still too far off. The answer is to do what made D+D so successful: player generated content.
There are many ways to do this, the obvious one is to allow players to build dungeons and make quests themselves. But other MMOs have been utilizing player generated content without givng content creation tools to the players. Games like EVE and UO managed to harness the actions of the player community with complex systems to continually generate things for the players to do.

So what MMO would I erase? One of my favorites: Everquest Why? It set the standard for putting the numbers up front.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Saw this test on West Karana

I Am A: Lawful Good Human /Sorcerer (3rd/2nd Level)


Ability Scores:

Strength-15

Dexterity-14

Constitution-12

Intelligence-16

Wisdom-13

Charisma-14


Alignment:
Lawful Good A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He tells the truth, keeps his word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion. However, lawful good can be a dangerous alignment because it restricts freedom and criminalizes self-interest.


Race:
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.


Primary Class:
Monks are versatile warriors skilled at fighting without weapons or armor. Good-aligned monks serve as protectors of the people, while evil monks make ideal spies and assassins. Though they don't cast spells, monks channel a subtle energy, called ki. This energy allows them to perform amazing feats, such as healing themselves, catching arrows in flight, and dodging blows with lightning speed. Their mundane and ki-based abilities grow with experience, granting them more power over themselves and their environment. Monks suffer unique penalties to their abilities if they wear armor, as doing so violates their rigid oath. A monk wearing armor loses their Wisdom and level based armor class bonuses, their movement speed, and their additional unarmed attacks per round.


Secondary Class:
Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.


Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

No Videogames

I have not had a chance to play any video games for quite some time. I have been able to keep up with my tabletop gaming, in fact I have too many projects going at once on that front.
  1. Introduction to Spelljammer 2nd edition game that my players have been requesting. After this weekend at FtC I am seriously considering converting the whole mess over to Savage Worlds. I have a feeling it will work much better. The game has not even started yet and my players are already asking me about ways to exploit the rules regarding various spells in 2nd edition (damn invisible servant). I will be converting an island chain campaign I made but never used over to asteroids and small moons.
  2. My own Star Wars d6 campaign that I will be running on the weekends that Chris cannot make it to our games. This is an alternate universe where Luke Skywalker died on the Death Star in RotJ and Mace Windu lived through his fall and is in hiding. The New Jedi Order, run by Leia, is in a struggle with Jedi Knights trained by Mace Windu over the very meaning of what it means to be a Jedi. The New Jedi Order tends to stick to Yoda style elitism and prophecies while the Windu faction is less strict.
  3. Traveller: A History Phase 3, this section will take place a few years after the launch of the Generation Ship Pometheus. It will cover the adventures of the crew of the Starleaper Two, mankind's first FTL exploration mission. I am planning on having many different political factions on the ship with different agendas, kind of like if the West Wing was set on the original Enterprise. I am planning on somewhere between 5 and 10 missions for this campaign.
  4. I have to get an adventure ready to run for Swords and Steel a rules system by fellow 'booter The Scribbler that I am dying to try out. It is a planetary romance game and I am thinking about doing a take on either Herland or The Seven Samurai. The Seven Samurai is without a doubt the most useful movie to steal from for games. I ran 3 different games ripped off from it in one weekend for the same group and they never realized it.
  5. I am working on several rules conversions for Rocketship Empires, a super cool WWII in space systemless setting. I am looking at GURPS, Savage Worlds, and Classic Traveller for now but will probably do more later. I want to post them so people can play this game that I will be shamelessly plugging at every chance. I already have an idea for how to do an adventure based on The Bridge On The River Kwai when the war gets to that point in the game.
  6. I would love to get a Battlestations game in again soon.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Fear the Con

OK, I just got back from Fear the Con last night. For those of you who do not know Fear the Con is a gaming convention based around the Fear the Boot podcast. I have done the big cons before but this was my first ever small con (approx 100 people). What follows is random thoughts on my trip. They will be confusing to people who were not there and even more confusing to people who are not on the FtB forums.

W3N4
I had a great time at this event. Highlights were meeting Unknown_Scholar and his wife Elizabeth. Hopefully we can get some Battletech going in the GA/SC area some time. Hanging out with Mike, RobJustice and Duke. Evidently I look like Henry Rollins. Meeting Chris and Tim from Wisconsin. Talking with Christian and Ardent Finder. Meeting Tony the Pimp of the Internet. He got this name because the whole internet seems to know him, this is because he is a really nice guy. Martian_Bob and GrungyDan at the dirty joke session. Meeting Phil, bringer of all things Stargate. Meeting Matt from FtB and talking gaming.

The Con
This was the most fun I have ever had at a con. 12 straight hours of gaming bliss. All of it Savage Worlds and all of it distinct. Tony was bringing around fruit, which was a stroke of genius. I got a chance to sit with Ardent Finder, Christian, and Ghostrunner and talk jobs and computer programming (I have forgotten the other guys name who was sitting there he was a 3D map maker and cool). I was in every game with a guy named Adam (forum name is like El Rav Delux?) and doubled up several times with guys like Omaejel and Mike Flynn (Mad Mike?).

Savage Dukes of Hazard
The premise was that Boss Hogg sells the Duke boys souls to the devil and we have to race to the courthouse to stop them. This was just pure two-fisted joy. I played Daisy and was allowed to use my feminine charms to stun the bad guys, this was GM genius on Luke's part to make sure the wacky character had something to do in combat. The whole thing climaxed with a crazy General Lee jump and a brawl with a giant pig riding devil who could shoot lightning from his heavy metal hands.

Savage Warcraft vs. Sims
This was John's humor game and it was a blast. I played a goblin with a bomb strapped to my back that I could not remove. The premise was that we went through a portal and found ourselves in the game The Sims. We had to scale the Sim Tower and defeat Will Wright. This is how comedy RPGs should be done. The combat was still fun, it was the world itself that was silly. The characters were all interesting (there was a two headed ogre played by two different players).

Danverse
My last game of the day was run by Dan. It was a far more serious game than the other two and was far closer to my preferred play style. Very few shots were fired and there was much intrigue to be had. It was set in a universe of Dan's creation that showed a lot of depth. A perfect was to cap off the night.

Savage Worlds
This was my first time playing in a Savage Worlds game, and all three games used the system. I am, at heart, a crunchy simulationist so I was concerned that this bare-bones system would no hold up with repeated play in different styles. Boy, was I wrong. All three games had a very different feel to them. I was most impressed with Savage World's ability to cover all the possibilities in Dan's game (and of course Dan's ability to pull it off). I don't know that I would use it for most of my games, I prefer the level of skill fidelity offered by GURPS for my less combat centered games. Also I am not sure how you could distinguish between many different types of ships/guns/vehicles with Savage Worlds either. That said, for my more pulp action games this will be my system of choice... I may stop using D+D for fantasy, there I said it, I may never use it again. Also this is the perfect convention gaming system because there is very little room in the rules for argument, they are that clear. I am converted to your cult Luke.

Tony Pimp of the Internet
I got a chance to talk to him a couple of times over the weekend and I cannot stress enough how nice this guy is. Also he seems very charity minded, he was selling a short story collection for charity and then went and donated the left over fruit from the con to charity. I purchased his Toasted Ravioli short story collection and very much enjoyed the story he wrote. Also he has multiple podcasts about movies and loosing weight (Fanboy Smackdown, Tony's Losing It, Scifi Smackdown)

The people who made it possible
This weekend was a great break for me so thank you to all the people who worked to get Fear the Con going. Carla, Stacey, Dan, Luke, Matt, Chad, John, Tony, I know I saw Mike and Omaejel's wife working the desk and others I am not thinking about. Also thanks to the the random drunk guy.

Downsides
Not a lot of these. St Louis airport is a pain in the ass. Our flight attendant forgot her ID so the flight home was delayed for two hours. I have no idea how there is no system in place for this. It took 30 minutes to get a hamburger from the Chilis there too. Sadly Adam is no longer with the podcast so I did not get a chance to meet him, hopefully next time or at GenCon. The only other down side was it wasn't longer, and really that is a pretty good downside to have.

DMing
Next year I will be. This was exactly the type of place I would like to run a game. And the type of people I like to run for.

$500
This is what it cost me, grand total for the trip. It was worth every cent. It has been a long, frustrating couple of months and this was the perfect break, just what I needed. I probably got less total fun from my Xbox than from this con. If you get the chance to go next year...GO!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gary Gygax

I cannot confirm this, but it appears that Gary Gygax, creator of Dungeons and Dragons, passed away last night.

Hit Counter