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RPG

In Which A Masks: A New Generation Game Optimistically Labelled A One-Shot Is Created And Run

During Lockdown I’ve been doing a lot more RPGs and GMing than before, most recently, I ran a one-shot of Masks: A New Generation for friend Robin, and I’m going to talk about the process of putting it together, partly because writing stuff down helps me internalise it, and partly because it helps me stay present in the process and do things deliberately, and therefore maybe repeatably.

Plus, evidence suggests people like this kind of thing.

Last week I sent Robin a message offering to run a one-shot RPG game as a birthday present. It’s something I’ve done before, and something I enjoy doing for people. I’ve got far more ideas than time, and one-shots are a way of getting the New Thing energy boost without commiting to a campaign, plus I want more experience in putting one-shots together. But mostly, I enjoy doing fun things with people I like.

Robin suggested Masks, and while I’ve never played or run it before, I’ve heard good things about it, and I know roughly how it runs already.

Masks: A New Generation

Masks book cover

Masks is a Super-hero RPG by Magpie games. Its focus is on teenage superheroes (Teen Titans style) fighting the good fight right alongside teenage drama, living up to expectations, managing their own lives and who knows what. It’s “Powered By The Apocalypse”, which means it uses a system of Archtypes (“Playbooks”) all of which have a series of mechanical approaches to situations, as well as a general set of moves that’s available to everyone.

One of the things I like about PBtA games, especially for one-shots, is that because they’re class-based, and all the available options are right there, they’re fairly quick to get up to speed on for new players.

Structure & Scaffold

Armed with a system, I picked up the source books and read through them, thought about hero narratives and four-colour comics a bit, fixated on colour printing and the historical importance of certain colours, free associated, and then wrote things. This is the “How do you come up with your ideas” bit, and if I knew how it worked I’d bottle it for later. Anyway, I splurged forth some words in the right order, which became the pitch document, because editing is for other people:

The dust hasn’t fallen. Particles of the Lyceum’s infernal dust float in the air, turning the sky over Halcyon city a brilliant shade of violet. Champion Park is still torn up and large chunks of it are still floating gently between five and a hundred feet in the air.

But the city – and AEGIS – say the air is safe again now, and the civilians and the rest of the heroes of the city step out of their homes and bunkers to face a new world. A world without the Pinnacle League in it, as thousands saw the news broadcast where they were blasted through dimensions in a last ditch attempt to stop the Lyceum’s monsters from rising.

They’ll be back, eventually.

Probably? Yes. Certainly.

But it’s the beginning of the Summer Holidays, and things are weird, even for Halcyon.

Sadly, we’ve got some bad news for the beleaguered citizens:It’s gonna get weirder very shortly.

Inherent Violets, Pitch Document

I thing I often think about with regard to fictional universes is whether they function without the main character. It’s not a positive or negative attribute of a universe, but an interesting thought process. The universe of Rick & Morty functions without either of them, the characters would probably live easier lives, but schools function, things exist. People have relationships to each other, and events happen, without the title characters needing to be there. Everything in Doctor Who is defined by the presence of absence of the Doctor. Gotham generally revolves around Batman, either in his actions or absense. There are examples where this isn’t true (Torchwood might prove me wrong about the Doctor, but I only saw season one; Harley Quinn is an example of Gotham not needing Batman, while the series Gotham is pretty much the opposite).

What happens to a Superhero city when the main Superheroes are smeared across twelve dimensions? The answer is, in this case, a story that’s not about those heroes.

It’s about these ones.

There’s only so far I can go with a basic pitch document. I drew up a structure document, divided it into three acts, and put in a vague superstructure to hang a plot off, which I’ve uploaded.

A lot of this is just random jelly thrown against a wall, but it gives me some shapes to put some antagonists into, though who and – more importantly – why is going to have to wait a bit.

Ground Zero

Next thing is to organise and run a Session Zero. Nearly all the players are people I’ve GM’d for before, which is handy as I already have an idea of things they like. So we did a session where we built the characters and the team in general. Out of this fell a couple of obvious antagonists, and with the character powers and motivations I made some notes on the themes and thesis for the game. Some of which even fit in the structure I came up with before-hand, though the middle act no longer holds its weight. Also from the S0 comes the lines and veils stuff, aspects and themes the players don’t enjoy playing with. So now I have the characters, some emotional beats to hit and conflicts to bounce on, a rough structure, and some notes about terrible things I can do. Next step, split this down into scenes and encounters – some more likely than others – and start writing things…

I’ve got a week between the S0 and the game, which is plenty of time, and I’ve got three days off that week, so there’s no chance I’m going to procrastinate enough not to do it…

Careful Planning

… yeah, I write nothing. I read the player backgrounds as they come in, and some ideas bounce around in my head. Saving the adult heroes goes to the back of the box for the moment – I don’t want the teen heroes to be outshone in their big battle – and before the session starts I fill in some rough drafts for the three act-level villains.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm at the virtual table, Robin’s put together some character art for most of the team, and the Discord chat has been simmering away with background detail for a bit, some of which I’ll use against them later.

We’re using Roll20 for game management – I’m used to the interface, and the character sheets for Masks in it are really nice and easy to use – and Google Meet for AV (Works, doesn’t require a download, and again I’m familiar with it). I’ve set up some handouts in the app with background on some of the NPCs and basic rules not on the character sheets. I’m not using it for maps, but I’ve got a selection of example images for mood setting and demonstration. Plus I’ve used a free logo designer online to draw up some symbols and logos for supers and organisations in the world, to help them pop a bit more.

I’ve also created a Roll20 version of my X-Card modification, and set it up so any player can throw down a card onto the virtual table to signify distress. Added to this is an explanation, and that “x” in chat or me being able to physically see you panicking will also have the same effect. The idea is to play on character’s insecurities, not players.

Let The Game Begin

I give them the opening scenario – the pitch document from above, plus the coffee shop bank robbery from the structure doc, which has survived nearly intact. I give them Moonshine (Small Green from the doc) as a villain from the get-go, as defeating a minor villain is a good start for a team.

After that I’m mostly winging it. I’ve got the situation and the world status sorted from the structure document, and I can swing the spotlight towards characters and give them things and clues as they use their powers. The bank robbery led them to a drop-point for the stolen stuff, and a letter from the supervillain (because a couple of goons escaped and warned her). Kit the Doomed does some nice deduction on the paper, Maddy the werewolf’s super senses picked up the villain’s perfume and tracked it to her home in which they hacked her computer (there was a postit note for the password, but the username was harder, because they’d missed a clue earlier), found the masterplan and a link to the Doomed’s Nemesis, and a giant portal back to a 1960s government funded organisation that had a solution for when heroes when rogue: a city-spanning nuke-style missile that negated everyone’s powers, and a few special rings that would protect people from the blast.

By this point we were running long. I’d estimated about three to five hours including breaks, and we’d hit five before Act 3. I’d underestimated roleplay time by quite a bit – and Masks relies a lot (thematically and mechanically) on time to have discussions, arguments and earnest discussions with each other. Instead of putting the fight with the second level villain at the end of Act 2, I ended that at the emotional venting and release scene, and spent a break upscaling “Senpai”/Big Bad with some of her hoped-for patron’s powers and raising the epic level of the fight with her to be a final fight.

Happily a number of handy things fell in place right here, including an idea of how the depowering missile worked metaphysically and Senpai’s ultimate plan, and there was a big fight involving anime robots, time travel, heroic sacrifice, acceptance of fate and declarations of love, and everyone lived temporarily ever after.

Of course, not having got to the big Galactica fight, and leaving the big adult superheroes in limbo, as well as not touching quite a lot of background detail or relationships, there’s a whole lot unresolved. So I’ve kind of agreed to run a few more of it, leaving my ability to run self-contained one-shots at it’s record high of “once”.

Categories
RPG

Campaign Notes

Words are hard. The Current Situation™ isn’t great for my head, and I’m finding it hard to write about anything else, and I really don’t think I need to add to the current covid chorus. So, here’s some stuff around how I put together an adventure for the Torg Eternity campaign I’m running.

Torg Eternity is a game where our world has been invaded by some other realities. Each new reality is overlayed on top of our existing world, and each one has slightly different narrative laws that change the mechanics of the game to encourage different styles of play. The Cyberpapacy is more of a Cyberpunky-Oppressed-Masses setting, The Living Land is high danger action world where you fight dinosaurs, but currently we’re playing in the Nile Empire, which basically Indiana Jones meets the original Stargate movie meets the golden age of comic books. High trope, high action, masks are magic and your identity is secure, the villain always gets his monologue off, etc.

DM Notes, Dice & Whiskey. The basic components of a session.

In this campaign, my players are looking for information about Terra, the original world of the Nile Empire that invaded this one, and they are finding the Mouseion, nine libraries based on the muses.

Today was the Terpsichorium, the library of dance. The dances of ancient Terra, recorded with Pulp Technology onto slates to be performed by enchanted mannequins, with special rooms to teach others how to perform them. Of course, when the player party tried to get into the service areas without permission, it activated the other programming of the mannequins, as is traditional.

And now, with mannequins pulling arms off themselves to batter the party with, the players hear the voice of the other thing Terpsichore is responsible for, traditionally. A Siren approaches.


I am, I admit, pushing at the edges of the Nile Empire’s pulp-ancient-egyptian setting. I’ve got some in-character justification for it, but in-character justification for being off-brief is very much the “Bob doesn’t have to do P.E today because he is ill. Signed Bob’s Mum” of roleplaying design.

In reality it’s because I spent a while mucking around with the more obscure edges of the ancient Middle Sea area when I was helping run Odyssey LRP. Stuff like the Mellified Man was the kind of left-field-yet-historical plot that left happy memories and weird google histories for years to come.

Duke Humfrey’s Library, Oxford. Bookspiration.

One Part Truth To Two Parts Lie

In this case, the Mouseion, or Musaeum, at Alexandria is the institution that the famous “Great Library” was said to have been part of. Now, it’s a thing that would be a university, a library, a museum (it’s where the word comes from) and a school of philosophy itself. It caught my imagination, the idea that the Great Library was only a part of something bigger, especially since the myth of the Great Library Of Alexandria Being Burned is so large a lie in our culture (in reality, it had been declining due to underfunding for a century before Julius Ceaser (accidentally) burnt part of it, and continued to drift apart until by the time it was burned down under papal decree, it was probably empty. It is an important lesson about the destruction of culture, just not the one it’s known for).

After that reality starts to be bent towards what I want to have happened in the invading reality of the Nile Empire. In this case, Alexander never invaded, so it’s still Rakote (A different transliteration of the more common Rhacotis), and the Mouseion is literally a set of Great Libraries dedicated to each one of the Muses.

In theoory, then there are nine of them. I don’t intend to use all of them, but it’s nice to have options. So I started with the Terpsichorium, the museum of dance. The idea is that each museum is specifically built by an ancient and technologically advanced (though in an ancient and magic way) civilisation to maintain their culture for what they hoped to be forever. How do you make sure the dance of your culture is kept alive.

This is where the mannequins came in. The dances are all stored in books and scrolls, with careful descriptions and diagrammed steps. But they couldn’t be sure the language would last, so they used a form of storage and enchanted mannequins that could perform the moves, and even teach humanoids how to perform them. Magic dance studios with walls that look like mirrors, with mannequins that know the moves and guide you from place to place.

In Which We Turn Lore Into Game

The Nile Empire symbol

The mannequins come to life idea was so tropey that it was irresistible – the Nile Empire setting in Torg is built for this kind of adventure – and moving faceless human bodies is so obvious even Doctor Who knocks on the fourth wall before it uses it these days. But this only happens if the characters try to get though into the “private” part of the museum, a door clearly labeled “Please Knock” which – in a complete afterthought on the designer’s part – is only in their language. Never did it really occour to them that there wouldn’t be someone there to run the place, to turn off the security system.

And, indeed, there is.

In this case, the mannequins just keep coming – new ones arriving from the basement to replenish the ones they kill, the song of the Siren gradually luring them somewhere they don’t know yet, until the one person who can read the ancient language sees the sign on the door:

“Please Knock”

So they do, and everything is still. Except for the siren’s song, which still pulls them towards the basement. Session ends.

So the adventure comes together, a collection of tropes based on something I half remembered from a LRP I helped run half a decade ago, plus some basic research for a framework, and some papier-mâché over that, all of which kicks heavily on the big Arc Themes of the campaign. But I’m not going to talk about those until the players get there, which might take a while.

Categories
RPG

The Auspicious Cycle: Part 2: The Leyton Buzzard

In our previous instalment, the party (and me) had gone through the Unknown Armies universe generation process, and come out of it with characters and a world, but not really a direction.

A pack of gold playing cards, a box of index cards, a box of blank business-style cards and envelopes they fit in, two sets of percentile (d%) dice
The GM’s minor stationery habit

Without an Objective, I decided the first session should be a prologue to get everyone (including me, having not GMd this before) used to the mechanics, and lead the players up to something I hoped to lead towards defining their first objective. Building on the pitch document, I created a fairly tropey “I’ll tell you what’s going on, but only after you’ve [Killed ten rats]” quest given by a Sleepers cell leader, involving a non-euclidean house to explore that had some specific targets for character skill sets, then dropped a couple of hints to the larger universe in it. To nobody’s great surprise, my GM style defaults to infocom-style (Well, kind of more Magnetic Scrolls) block-text for locations, some notes on possible outcomes and then winging it from there. I put the house in an area of London I used to live in (Leyton) and then named the quest NPC “James Buzzard” purely for the pun in the title.

The first real session went significantly better than I’d expected. Our final player – who couldn’t make the universe building session – built their character while I ran the first two thirds of the prologue, and then I was able to add them to the party (with a minimum of railroading). There are a couple of skill checks that I’m not sure I got right, and a coercion that I’m fairly sure I fluffed completely, but they hit the finale – the exposition and deciding of one of two no-good-options objectives just as we had planned to end. This means my content planning was slightly short, but as I’d under-budgeted chargen time ended up working out quite well.

I’m not generally going to be posting my GM notes here, but since the prologue was a fairly simple setup they found all of, Session 1 Notes.

A screenshot of Scrivener, my current campaign manager

The GM notes for UA recommends keeping NPC cards as index cards and not needing to look everything up on a computer, which always takes longer than you think; so my canonical reference for the NPCs in the world is some index cards. In the same recommendations set, it suggests adding photos for major NPCs, which I’ve done. This has worked well not only as an aide for me, but a good first-impressions guide for the players. But the contents of the cards, as well as my notes on the PCs, locations and sessions (as well as these GM diary things), are in the novel-writing app Scrivener, because it’s kind of designed for this kind of universe-indexing, and allows me to keep a virtual binder of information that syncs to my various devices.

The session went quite well, we hit the marks. I ended up throwing some hints and minor railroading to get the final character in the group, and then again to the point of exposition, and we ended the session with the decision of what Objective to follow.

The players – in backstory – released a dark miasma upon their borough of London, causing economic and social bleakness, which for various reasons is tied to the borders of Eldwick (the borough). The recently elected council are reworking borough borders, which will break the cage and allow it to spread to the rest of London and perhaps further. The characters were given the option of stopping the borders being broken, or doing something about the Miasma. They chose the latter.

New Objective: Contain the Miasma: 0%

Session 1 ends.

Categories
RPG

Auspicious Cycle Part 1: Starting A New Game

One of the reasons for the slowdown in blogging stuff has been the number of things I’m doing that I don’t really blog about. One of those things is that I’m getting more into Tabletop RPG, especially running games. Recently I read and fell in lust for the new edition of Unknown Armies, a setting and system that runs on the tropes of Urban Fantasy & Horror, vast magics, personal relationships and health. It’s a brand new – and extensive – revision of the game, so there aren’t many existing guides to how it’s “supposed” to work. Some people have expressed interest in the process of creating and running the game, so this exists.

These are being posted some weeks after the session they’re about, because they’ll go into a bit of detail around how I built encounters, and I don’t want to affect the actual game that much. For the same reason, the metaplot will only be revealed as the players find it.

Unknown Armies is a weird setup for a game. There are aspects of an official setting, elements that exist in the world, bits of the metaverse, but the GM book – “Run” of the three book base set “Play”, “Run” and “Reveal” – goes through a detailed method of generating characters and a collaborative setting to put them in. It turns out – to nobody’s great surprise – that I’m a bit too much of a story-teller/control-freak to follow that completely, so I started off with a basic concept for a world with the expectation that if the players ended up circling around something I could either bend it to fit around them or abandon them for something else. These were a couple of ideas about the state of the “Cosmic” level (ie, the metaphysic), and a trigger at the Local level (the city the characters grew up in). The entirety of the local level was caused by seeing some solid-gold playing cards on Amazon, and buying a (cheaper) version. I then wrote a hook microfiction, and asked my Facebook feed if anyone was interested.

I was mildly surprised by how many people were.

Another game I’m involved in got put on hiatus as I was doing this, and I ended up giving the first few players from that who expressed interest first refusal, as well as my primary partner, primarily because I knew they’d have the same evening free. Wanting to keep my first GM attempt in A Long Time to a smaller group, I wasn’t able to invite the whole of the previous game to mine, and then failed to communicate well enough to avoid that looking like an exclusion. Lesson learned there is to either be more transparent or more opaque about finding people for games. A couple of my players had played previous editions, but none had touched 3rd Edition Unknown Armies.

Before the planning session I asked the players to fill out a Google Forms version of Bankeui’s Same Page Tool, to make sure our expectations weren’t vastly out of whack.

The initial list of features of the game that the party were interested in

As I alluded to above, UA’s campaigns are a little more structured than most. The Run guide has a process for generating a world collaboratively with your players, the party then set an Objective. Sessions generally work towards completing that objective in mechanical form (succeeding nets you X% towards the goal, when you hit 100% you do the thing), and the Run guide starts with getting rough concepts for characters and then digging in to details and stats and universe links as the first session goes on. This worked fairly well, although relies a bit on circular knowledge, you need have a solid concept going in for the process to work well. The players settled on a shared backstory – an Incident during a shared sixth-form video project – and some paths for who they’d grown into in the ten years since.

Initial notes on the character party

The UA process brings with it locations and background NPCs, and in the end we got to most characters 4/5 complete, and one mostly in notes form. The universe had some locations and NPCs as defined in character backgrounds, and at the start of the next session we filled in those. We didn’t really get deep enough to define an objective for the group, though.

I’ve put the resulting initial universe (slightly retconned to add the character who joined during the prologue) up on Google Drive.

The collaborative game building system in Run worked well for creating a sketched out universe to go through, but as I say, it kind of needs a paradoxical combination of going in with a strong concept and a balanced party, but without the players having built out those characters at all so you can workshop the details. You also kind of need to know the game to some depth to be able to steer towards a good objective, which makes it hard to bootstrap people new to the game.

So we had a universe, some characters, and a vague idea of what to do next.

Next up: the first actual gameplay session.

(Header Image: A photo of London (from the Shard) tinted a menacing gold, original photo by Henry Be on Unsplash)

Categories
Computer Games Gaming Personal Piracy Inc RPG Shebang WRPL

Week Ten – Once Is Chance, Twice is Coincidence, Third Time Is A Pattern

Work

First weeks at work are generally a bit chaotic, new accounts, new processes, new people. This combined with a few other complexities (We had a Virgin Engineer around to fix the fact that every so often my ping times hit 20 seconds or so, a side effect of a fix of an issue a few months ago, when some gas engineers took a back-hoe to the fibreoptics) made the week slightly less relaxing than ideal.

Going to a new place is often a point of comparison, and it’s possibly worth writing up some of the practices and theories of operation of doing AWS stuff at enterprise-grade that I didn’t have the mental energy to get permission to write about before I left. All theory, anyway, since I can’t refer it back…

Play

This week we won a RL battle of getting all the people lined up to play the third session (And first with everybody there) of Doug’s Trail of Cthulhu game, the Charybdis Protocol. I’ve got an IC writeup of the second session (my first. Scheduling is hard), and I’m working through the writeup of the second (Slightly harder. I’m attempting to walk the line between “useful session notes” and “one-sided account” in a session where I kind of lit a jerry-can of explosives on fire and threw it at the rest of the character party) (In my defense, shit got weird). Those will appear on my IC Diary site – The Hero Diaries – assuming the rest of the PCs don’t mind, and I’ve got their character names right.

Video-Game-wise, I’ve mostly been playing Warcraft, as I’ve been attempting to get my Monk to the end of the levelling campaign. Right now I’ve hit one of my least favourite bit of WoW end-game mechanics, the “Do tiny repetitive missions that reward junk and reputation to get through the reputation gateway” bit. Happily, I’ve managed to get my gear up to the level where I can do pick-up Heroics, so I’m balancing that with knocking out low-level achievements (Explore these zones, Poke this NPC, Poke that interactive object) while watching Twitch channels.

Twitch is my current background noise. Annoyingly I can’t get my old username back – I had a Justin.TV account before they were Twitch – but I did just realise that I could do the same thing as I did for this, so my new Twitch channel is Twitch.TV/Aquarionics. My first experiments in streaming had some mic-quality problems, but it is something I intend to experiment more with.

This may be combined with the fact that SWTOR is picking up speed in my local community again, so might end up doing more of that, and the idea of live-streaming a character path appeals. We’ll see.

Rest

I’ve had no beer explode this week, which can only be a plus. Brain-gremlins are down, sociality is up. I never really realise how badly stressful environments screw up my headspace until I’m out of them.

The lack of Odyssey meetings and discussions is kicking in to my calendar, and I’m kind of itching to run something game-like. This, coupled with Torment coming out and a block of Cipher-system/Numenera setting content that I backed with Kickstarter years ago turning up all at once is making that look like a short-run Numenera campaign. Tempting.

However, existing projects exist. I tidied up a bit of The Book, and it’s looking a lot better than I thought when I gave up on it. I almost don’t feel the urge to ditch it all (again) and rebuild. What I probably need to do is go over the first few chapters, redraw the arcs, and get a second opinion on whether the style actually tells the story. And then: Pirates.

Categories
Personal programming RPG

Competence

Every so often, it occurs to me that Dungeons and Dragons models an extremely schizophrenic variant of competence.

“I use Vicious Mockery on the guard”

“Okay, you fire off a stream of insults which [Clatter] hit him square in the psychosis, dealing [Clatter] 19 psychic damage and knocking him prone. Crying, actually”

vs

“Okay, I’d like to track where the goblins went.”

“Roll on Nature?” [Clatter] “The ground is some kind of dark brown stuff. You doubt the existence of trees”.

And then I have days where..

[Clatter] You rewrite the app notification code. All the tests pass. With this and the database optimisations, test is running 55% faster.

[Clatter] You have flooded the kitchen, the water is blue, the washing machine is still locked, and now your socks are wet.

So maybe it’s not so far off.

Categories
Computer Games Gaming RPG

Neverwinter

Wizards of the Coast were really mean to Neverwinter when they released fourth edition. We’re talking full Sigil level, someone in the dev-team just doesn’t like you, burn to foundations and salt the earth, Robin Hobb protagonist levels of mean. With the world shattered by itself, it was personally visited by apocali and, at the beginning of Cryptic’s new Free to Play MMO “Neverwinter” it is under attack by an evil necromancer in highly impractical armour, atop an undead dragon, with her hordes of equally undead zombies and other things. You are the only competent person in the entire area, so it’s now your job to fix everything, one area at a time.
It’s D&D4 mapped to an action-adventure MMO engine, mechanically, with everything sped up. At-Will powers map to left and right mouse buttons, Encounter powers to rapid cooldowns, Dailies to something akin to Final Fantasy Limit Breaks, where fighting gains you Action Points you can spend on making a very loud, destructive bang.
Some traditional D&D mechanics are twisted for traditional MMO mechanics, like the Dungeoneering skill which allows you to mine some of the craft-item notes you will find, where Nature or Arcane will allow you to use others. More usefully, Dungeoneering will find you shortcuts in some missions, Nature will advance you in others. Skill checks also come up in conversation, but rarely.
As a game, it’s a decent enough MMO. The missions flow well and vary enough to keep life interesting, levels come fairly thick and fast as you repair each area of the city in turn, each area finishing off a weaving storyline of Kill-X-Rats, Find-X-Glowies, Protect-X-From-Harm area missions with instanced areas ending in a large boss. Combat is viceral and kinetic, with a number of Big Hit animations to dodge, warnings of area-effects to keep out of, and special skills (both yours and theirs) to trigger and watch out for. At the end of each zone the story is wrapped up save some loose ends, which clear up in a multiplayer dungeon.
If you don’t have a guild in play, or enough friends playing to put together a team, the queue system for the various requires-multiplayer bits works well enough, allowing you to play on until it has enough players to go for the thing you asked for.
The game is pretty enough, and well animated. The areas are well realized, if a little generic (This is a graveyard. Yonder is slippy slidey ice world, and afar is The Forest Where There Are Werewolves), and draws upon the rich world of D&D 4th edition, including mind flayers, Beholders, and the king of the esoteric monsters, the Gelatinous Cube
A Gelatinous Cube
The problem is that it doesn’t matter. None of it matters. There is no… effect on the world. You go off on an adventure in a new area, you complete the soloable missions, you group the skirmish, you mob up and defeat the dungeon… you collect the box and move on to the next zone, which has no relation to the previous one at all.
The overarching story pokes in a couple of times, and it’s all against the giant world-defining backdrop of the spellplague and the rest of the state of the D&D universe, but apart from a couple of NPCs who reappear later in the game, there’s no feeling of the greater world at any point. Areas are self contained, and no choice that you make in one will ever move over to the next.
There’s an argument in MMO design between Sandboxes and Theme Parks, where in a Sandbox you can go anywhere, do anything, and you find the stories you find when you get there. In a Theme Park, you get on a ride, which takes you around on fairly static rails, and drops you at the exit point handy for the next ride. Neverwinter feels more like the latter paradigm than anything I’ve played in depth before, and while it means the plot and story are easily followed and the path before you is obvious, it seems ultimately shallow.
Even the area plots, the evil big bad guys who have taken over what ever area you’ve fought, don’t have much depth behind them. The game falls into the trap of putting all the character exposition into either mission text – and there are some astoundly badly acted ones – or optional “journal” entries of walls of text. The ability to *interact* with the major villains in any way that isn’t sword first would benefit the game hugely and give you a context as to *why* they must be destroyed, save the reason that their name’s red and they have a health bar.
That said, the gameplay itself is fun, and while the basic attacks you have on any class don’t change a lot over the run, your build choices over the course of the game affect your role dramatically.

Do It Yourself

The biggest new feature of the game, though, is the Foundry. City of Heroes – one of Cryptics’ previous MMOs – included a custom mission generator which was very much the ability to put your own parameters, characters and mission text into a procedural mission generator and play the results. The Foundry is an advance on this, more like the Neverwinter Nights Aurora engine in scope, with the ability to define your own environments and characters from any of the monsters in the game. As you play the MMO, you gain access to deeper aspects of the Foundry, new maps, new enemy types to use.
There are some astounding missions in the Foundry, stories that stretch the edges of the mechanics of the games, that tell vast overreaching stories of good and evil (with you on either side); Comedy goldmines that use the fantasy engine to tell stories of secret agents and nuclear secrets; Badly written gore-waders where every second apostrophe is three words from where it was needed. The discovery tools of the Foundry are decent, but I worry about discovery of new content as much as the burying of last weeks’ classics under an avalanche of the new.
The game is, arguably, worth playing for the Foundry alone, and I hope that some of the grand epics started – which eclipse the “main” storyline in scope and depth already – can come to a satisfying conclusion.
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Raising Money

The game uses Perfect Worlds’ cross-game currency, Zen. Some things are sold for Coin, some for Astral Diamonds, some for Zen. You can convert Diamonds to Zen and vice versa, though the rates are astronomical, and you can earn Diamonds in play by the tens of thousands. In theory, this means that anything in the shop is buyable by just playing the game. In my experience, normal gameplay will net you enough Zen to keep you in keys to open Lockboxes (Random loot drops which can only be opened with Zen bought keys) and very little more. The higher level Companions all seem to be Zen only, and while there’s nothing in the shop that could count as being “Pay to Win”, the fact that I’ve only ever seen inventory bags purchasable by Zen makes me consider it an annoyance tax. Nothing in the shop is required for you to play the game, but getting a decent companion by play only is a grind to make a windmill go on strike.

Arts & Crafts

The game has a number of features I like a lot. It takes from SWTOR the abstracted crafting system, where you set timed tasks and they happen in the background. So far in the background, in fact, that you set and collect them on the website without entering the game at all. The same website gives you game mail and auction access, and this is all useful to keep you “Playing” the game even when you’re far away from your gaming rig.
That said, the level flow of the crafting game seems odd. At level 48ish, I’m still not producing anything within thirty levels of being useful to me, save the XP it gains.

And the end

The game is worth playing. For starters, it’s free to play, and there are no content restrictions on that. You can go from 1-60 without ever touching the Zen store, and while dropping some cash will grease the rails a bit, it doesn’t approach the sector of Pay to Win.  The community isn’t too dickish, though it’s not perfect, and there are some awesome things happening in the Foundry.
If you give it a try, I’m on Beholder, and my global nickname is @Jascain.
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Categories
Computer Games RPG

The point I stopped playing Dragon Age

This post contains spoilers for Dragon Age. Do not read on if you do not want to read them. Specifically, it talks in some detail about the city of dwaves and some party members.

Categories
RPG

Misquotes from a D&D Session

“You’re supposed to use Vicious Mockery on the enemy”

“I run up to the guy and I hit him with a big sword”

“Suit of chainsaws. Vulnerable to… the on switch”.

Categories
RPG

Let me tell you about my character…

Yesterday, five people met in a tavern, and were recruited for an adventure by a tall man in black.

I started LARP a few years ago while I was living in Bedford. It’s been pretty good for me in general, as it saved my sanity while I was there and has provided many hours of fun and a few dozen new friends.

Also, in direct oposition to stereotype, I have a girlfriend as a direct result of RPGs, which is always nice.

But that’s Live Action RP. I haven’t actually done the Tabletop version since I was about 14, and that was D&D DragonQuest, which has roughly the same Roleplaying level as the average game of Monopoly. It’s something I’ve always meant to do, but have lacked people around who wish to do the same. Having unlocked the local Geek Nexus as location, this is no longer true, and this weekend the Estemed Mister Cooke ran a game of 4th Ed D&D at said geek nexus.

Well, we started there. The Pembury has a live music licence roughly twice a year, and we picked exactly the wrong weekend to do our adventure, so we decamped to our flat to continue…

… and the lift broke down somewhere around the 13th floor. We did not end up playing D&D in the lift as we waited for assistance, because that would have been far too sitcom-like. We were rescued, life went on.

The thing CC ran yesterday was a pure hack & slash, no plot game with pregenerated characters, purely to get us to speed on the system. As it happens, this turns the game pretty much into a modern version of DragonQuest.

The Warcraft-Style-MMO inspiration for the new system is clear. All character abilities have been turned into Powers that you can use Whenever, Once per fight, or Once Per While. Combined with stuff coming from the other direction (From Tolkien to D&D to Every Fantasy Game Setting Ever), and together with the charsheets that the GM put together (precalculating the maths for our skill checks, weaponry and defenses) the game flowed pretty smoothly after the first few combat rounds.

It’s fun, interesting, and will be done again soon. With plot, this time. For the pregens, we had six page character sheets with pretty much everything on them, but this is the page of my notebook I was using to keep track of stuff:

D&D character tracking