Browsing the archives for the RPGs category

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

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Games, RPGs, Tabletop

For those who hadn’t heard, D&D 5th edition is in development. My reaction is at once unsurprised, but interested. Dungeons and Dragons players tend to be a bit cynical, and so when 3rd (or 3.5) edition was killed off in favor of 4th edition, many players predicted that it wouldn’t be long until Hasbro / Wizards of the Coast killed 4th edition to force players into purchasing another set of books.

I’m not sure if they were right, but it sure looks like it.

It’s a shame, because I liked 4th edition a lot. I personally thought it was a pretty well designed system that resolved a lot of my problems with 3rd edition. Of course, I also liked 3rd edition a lot, and thought that it was a good improvement over 2nd edition (granted, my recollection of 2nd edition is very fuzzy). Both 4th and 3rd edition had their problems, although I would argue that a lot of my perceived problems with these editions simply arise due to the constant production of power-creep enhancements and the ability of the internet to disseminate it all.

I’m currently running a 4th edition campaign, and I’m often surprised at what my player characters can do. Why? Because my players subscribe to the online D&D service that provides all the latest munchkin book goodness for player characters in a handy web application. I am willing to work with players to let them do what they want with their characters and the campaign (it’s a collaboration after all, not my own little lordship) but it’s somewhat annoying to find that players are airily grabbing this and that to min-max their damage and to-hit bonuses. I’m pretty convinced that the sheer volume of crunch leads to the swift decline of the game system as a whole. When the game is mastering the system, then mastery of the system is the end of the game.

In any case, there isn’t much information about 5th Edition out there yet, but Mike Mearls’ letter introducing it seems to indicate that 5th edition will have a modular design whereby players will be able to decide for themselves what they want to use. The goal seems ambitious but also infeasible. There’s a lot of different ideas out there on how D&D should work, developed over the last 30+ years. In that time frame D&D has gone from the archetype to the grand-daddy to the computer-game-simulator. I don’t think it’s possible to bring everyone in under one tent, at least not without essentially publishing a bunch of different rulebooks.

Myself, I’m skeptical of their goals but I’m hoping it goes in an interesting direction. My hopes are especially high that this edition of D&D will focus on delivering a good product that will really embrace new technologies (like phones and tablets) that are becoming ubiquitous and could totally replace reference books for most players.

If I’m feeling ambitious I’ll elaborate a little more later on what I’d like to see in a 5th edition, as a “Best of all Worlds” approach.

Tolkien

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Culture, Literature, RPGs

Last night I listened to the new episode of Fear the Boot, and I felt compelled to have a little rant. The episode itself was conducted by guest hosts, and one of the guest hosts mentioned that she had trouble reading Tolkien. Some of the other hosts were sympathetic. “The descriptions are so long!” and the usual other litanies were repeated.

It always irks me when I hear this. Tolkienis bad? I guess if Tolkien is hard to read then Dickens must be impossible to read. Heck, all Victorians are right out. And before that? Well, anything earlier than that may as well be hieroglyphics. Even though I don’t consider myself a part of the “geek” subculture, or whatever you’d like to call it, it’s always irksome to encounter these attitudes in people identifying as belonging to a subculture which ostensibly has higher intellectual standards than pop culture. I guess the bar has sunk so low where something that requires even the modest intellectual effort of reading is too much to ask.

It’s not like this is purely a matter of time either. Looking to George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series will show a series of fantasy books with a tremendous amount of attention to description of things like heraldry, armor, and lineages. These are pretty common elements in fantasy literature that’s any good. It strikes me that objecting to the very methods by which authors craft their fantasy worlds for their reader is about as sensible as objecting to science fiction for having too much science in it.

I once knew a woman who loved Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, but thought Tolkien was dull. Wheel of Time is cool! It’s got a hip, tormented hero (who has like 5 women fawning over him)! Tolkien is dull, it’s got a hobbit. Wheel of Time has exciting battles where its main hero uses Goku’s Kamehameha technique to wipe out entire armies! Tolkien just has some helpless hobbits, guys with swords, and so-called wizards with some knowledge of chemistry.

At some point, I think, it might be worth it to just step back and say, “You know what? I like all these derivative knock-offs more than the original model. Maybe I don’t like what the original was trying to do at all.” And, hey, that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with popcorn entertainment like DragonBall Z or Wheel of Time. It’d be better for everyone if we were clear about our tastes instead of paying lip service to things we don’t like.

RPG Maker XP

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Games, RPGs

I don’t want to detail the long and boring story of how I came about it, but in my general browsings of the internet several weeks ago I came across an interesting little program called RPG Maker XP. RPG makers are nothing new; I’ve been seeing them for years. The catch is that, with the internet as omnipresent as it is, I can now browse projects created with these things online. If you check out the forums in the link above, you can see some of the finished projects — and some look pretty good! Although I don’t have the system, it seems to have a very extensible the system for scripting your own systems (to replicate Final Fantasy game mechanics, for example) or use original graphics (that they’ve snagged from Final Fantasy games).

RPGMXP1

Admittedly, a program like this does nothing I couldn’t do myself. But having it all delivered in a package like this might even be worth the $60 price tag. And despite the price, it’s enticing to think of creating my own little RPG game, with control over combat, character creation, dialogue… I mentioned it to an acquaintance of mine who is heavily invested into scripting Neverwinter Nights. From my understanding, Neverwinter Nights has a pretty powerful suite of tools for editing, so perhaps I should check that out myself.

RPGMXP2

Nevertheless, I’m uncertain if NWN offers the sort of control I want — I have yet to see anything for that game that wasn’t D20 system, and while I enjoy D20, I don’t see it as the supreme achievement of all RPGs past and future. A lot of people tend to [i]like[/i] being presented with new systems and finding out how to optimize their characters within that system, but D20 is pretty well mapped in that regard.

RPGMXP3

Right now I have downloaded one of the projects from the RMXP.org site and am [very slowly, since time is short lately] playing through the game. The game I’m looking at is Quintessence: The Blighted Venom. So far I’ve been impressed with the quality of the music, and the graphics, while obviously not 3D pixel mapped pixel bump voxel polygon shazam, seem nice. All of the screenshots I’m using through this post are from that. The writing gives the impression that the author is not a native English speaker, as some constructions are a bit strange, but I haven’t seen any outright Engrish yet.

RPGMXP4

I’m hoping I’ll be able to play through a couple of these projects so I see a good range of what the software is capable of. And, even if I decide not to buy it, which is likely since my free time is so limited, it’s still a repository for what looks like free sprite-based RPGs in that classic style.

The End of CRPGs

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Games, RPGs

So, apparently Electronic Arts has bought Bioware and Pandemic studios.

On the tail of this news comes a few more revelations about Bioware’s long-awaited Mass Effect. The title has apparently been renamed Mass Effect 2008. A bit of new information has been released about the main character as well: In order to provide a stronger, more story-driven experience, the developer has decided to give the main character a stronger personality and a more defined look, moving away from prior moves towards allowing players to be forced to “choose” appearance features of the main character. The new main character is a doddering old sports figure with a penchant for stating the obvious. His name has been released as John Naddem.

It’s also been revealed that the much-hyped story has been revamped for modern gaming audiences. Whereas previously, Mass Effect was slated to feature a grim story about a horde of alien robots descending on the galaxy to wipe out all sentient life, today it was revealed that, in fact, these alien robots are divided into 32 factions, or “teams” that will fight a ritualized combat to be declared the “champions” of the universe. A Bioware representative said regarding the change, “[It] is geared towards providing a more uplifting story of overcoming adversity for all our audiences. This move will also give us the freedom to allow those who have enjoyed the experience of Mass Effect 2008 to revisit the franchise in subsequent years with marginal upgrades and updated team rosters.”

Campaign Ideas: Star-Crossed

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Games, RPGs, Tabletop

This is a fairly simple idea, but it’s modular enough that you could work it into a variety of contexts. The major downside to this idea is that you’ve got less flexibility in dealing with character turnover, and so for that reason it probably wouldn’t work all that well in a gritty campaign, or one which people attend irregularly.

The idea is that each player character was born under a specific star sign, a sign under which few are ever born. This designates them as people who have great destinies. In game terms, you may also wish to expand this idea further to say that their special attunement to the stars grants them an increased affinity for magic. You could then use this as a possible explanation of how PCs could be readily healed and resurrected, but important NPCs, such as kings, may not be able to be. The explanation should facilitate creating a game world where dramatic actions have consequence on the game world, but which don’t overly penalize players.

As a campaign, once you have set forth that the players are all bound to this same destiny, you have a plethora of ways to get them together for a story. I suggest that you create an NPC character, an astrologer/astronomer, who has sent a summons to each character. When they arrive, the characters will be informed of the common bond between all of them.

At this point, with the characters assembled and, bound, however tenously, you can easily begin any adventure you like. There are a couple of ideas which I believe may work better than a standard-issue “Clear out the nearby goblin village” sorts of quests, though.

-The player characters are only part of the group that was sent a summons. There remain several individuals who did not manage to heed the astrologer’s call. The PCs are instructed to seek out these few remaining individuals. The conflict here would be that someone else has learned of these individuals’ special destinies and has been hunting them down and killing them. The villain himself could be one of these individuals, who has realized that only others born under this star sign may have the potential to stop his plans.
-The player characters have learned of their destiny, but must complete a ritual to complete their attunement to the stars. In order to do this, they must undertake a quest. This particular possibility would not pit the players against a specific enemy, but rather against a series of trials. Ideally, this line would focus on building the bonds of trust between characters as they face the obstacles.
-The astrologer may have nefarious plans, and is attempting to subvert the PCs into doing his will by posing as a mentor-type character. The PCs may be instructed to carry out various plans, but hints should be dropped that not all is as it seems.

Solid Suggestions for RPGs

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Games, RPGs

Yesterday I looked at the pitfalls of abstract (and moving) goalposts when talking about great RPGs. But I want to riff off of that previous post to be a little more constructive about what I think can lead to a great RPG.

I said: “I just don’t know why they’re RPGs, what that is, or what makes them great other than being really enjoyable experiences.” Lets ignore the issue of what an “RPG” is. Enjoyable experiences — I don’t know why I find certain activities in games more enjoyable than others, but I do. I have a solid set of preferences when it comes to games, a set of things that I enjoy more than other things. If you want to go about building an RPG that some people will consider great, then you need to look at the sorts of experiences people enjoy.

It goes without saying that you probably want: An amazing storyline, superb writing, memorable characters, a world whose mood fits that of your storyline, and music that will convey and evoke the emotions of your game. Lets just say that these are some of the most important aspects of a game, but I’m skipping over that. Any one of these elements can make or break a game on its own, but I want to talk a bit about gameplay.

Chances are, if there’s a game that’s considered great by a group of people then it’s gameplay is hitting multiple areas of enjoyment for people. So looking at games that are already considered great is an excellent starting point. You might also want to use Bartle’s taxonomy of four player types as a guideline for targeting player groups. Simply listening to what players want is probably your single greatest resource in making a great game.

It’s not quite as simple as that, though. The trick is sifting through the dreck of “What I want because it will benefit my character in this specific circumstance,” and “What I want because it would be kewl!” to find out ways that you can create new gameplay that hits the areas of enjoyment you’re targeting. And then you’ve got to look two steps forward to see how this gameplay element will affect your game, what it can interact with, and how that interaction will affect your game.

Easier said than done, that’s for sure. But if you’re an RPG fan or seasoned developer, if you’ve got a good sense of what your target players want, then you can probably innovate in some really clever ways. Make no mistake: Even though doing research into player types, targeting the desires of specific player types, and expanding on those desires may seem systematic, when it comes time to actually create your game, it’s all art. A game that is considered great is going to innovate in multiple areas and it’s going to do things in a way that might not be expected, but is internally consistent. There’s no way to quantify what’s going to make it great, you just need that fortuitous note of doing all the right things in the right way at the right time — But with a smart research and design process you may be able to narrow things down enough that you can greatly increase your chances of that happening.

Campaign Ideas: Shipwrecked

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Games, RPGs, Tabletop

Basic introductory campaign idea designed to introduce players to the setting, establish the group without relying on “You all show up at a tavern” tropes.

Types: Semi-Travelogue, Fish out of Water

Scene 1: Fight scene. This scene establishes a villain/antagonist for the characters by immediately pitting them up against the antagonist and/or some of his henchmen. Premise for this fight is that the antagonist is trying to retrieve X, where X is an item or components of an item.

Scene 2: Flashback to the initial party meeting, which is on a ship. Each character has been hired by the Captain, and their mission to deliver X to [some location or NPC] is explained.

Scene 3: A storm strikes, and the ship is under attack by [pirates / mercenaries / unknown]. A battle ensues and the ship is wrecked.

Scene 4: The characters wake up on the shores of [some location on the same landmass where they were headed]. The majority of the crew seems to be lost and only the PCs are fit for travel, so they head on to finish their mission.

-After roughly another scene or two, the PCs should be ‘caught up’ in narrative time with Scene 1, after which they continue onward in ‘real time.’
-Subsequent scenes introduce the characters to the setting [mood/themes] and set up different factions of antagonists / allies. Since all characters are from a different location, play up customs and other elements that may seem strange to the PCs (and also to the players).
-By the end of the mission the PCs should have forged a bond with at least one faction, which will offer them some sort of ongoing relationship at the end of the initial scenario and possibly serve as the basis for further scenarios.

Selling My P&P Account

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Games, Personal, RPGs, Tabletop

Currently I’m involved in a pretty mediocre pen and paper D&D game run by one of our group hangers-on, the guy who shows up every few weeks unannounced and doesn’t even bother to try and contact anyone if he’s coming or if he’s not coming. It’s not great, but, still, someone stepping in as DM keeps pressure off of me as I’m still too busy to do serious DM prep. In our first session it was decided one of our other players, whose character is a Paladin, was going to be the prince of a country. Everyone else would just be hangers on.

This is a pretty typical newbie DM mistake, but it doesn’t stop there … The first NPC we encountered was a ghost of a woman (we don’t know who) who gave our Paladin Prince a rather serious magical item. At the time we were all equipped with 7,500gp worth of equipment, and the first thing that happens is the Prince gets an amulet worth 36,000gp, at sixth level no less.

Our next session has us going to a mausoleum in the city. The Prince is selected to under a series of trials while the rest of us sit on our thumbs. Then after he defeated a giant skeleton he was rewarding with a dancing holy avenger flaming burst sword of brokenness +5. And, yes, that is not rules legal. He was also given an artifact-level amulet that basically makes him immune to death.

The session after that one we were attacked by a Cleric in the forest who was wandering around with his retinue of skeletons and death knights (Encounter table entry #3 — I kept pressing him to throw Nazi Zombie Bugbears at us, but I guess he thought they were too difficult of an encounter for us.) So we defeat this group of undead, and then slay an bronze dragon (ECL 17. Party average level: 8.) At this point we all decided to just give all the equipment, including a suit of armor with DR 15/good to the Paladin. As a friend said, we’re just going to twink his Paladin out with epic gear and sell his account.

I thought this was a pretty funny idea, and I bet’d actually be something you could make [some] money off of. I mean, in a world where someone sells a pixel on a webpage, or sells stuff on eBay by claiming it’s “haunted” a precreated Pencil & Paper D&D character sheet is downright utilitarian. One of these days I’ll get around to trying this out.

4DVENTURE

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Games, RPGs, Tabletop

4DVENTURE1

Yesterday I was talking to one of my Pen and Paper gaming friends and he, for whatever reason, loaded up the Wizards of the Coast website. When he did, he was greeted with a little countdown to 4DVENTURE, which we immediately guessed was an announcement for 4th Edition.

I’m not entirely sure yet, but there are a few articles so far claiming that Wizards is coming out with 4th Edition next year. Although I’ve been expecting 4th Edition for awhile, I’m kind of surprised at how this announcement is being done. I’d actually expect to hear about playtesting accounts or design goals from the designers before we get a deadline for release.

I already outlined what’d make me buy the new system, but after looking over Star Wars Saga Edition a few weeks ago, I don’t think it’s going to live up to my expectations. Well, either way, we both agreed that we’d probably be sticking with 3.5 for some time to come (or move to something homebrew / true20 / etc.).