Category: Games

I write about games! I write a LOT about games! Everything I do about games is here, in this tab, in some way.

5 Dual Wielding 4e Characters

You know what’s cool?

Dual Wielding!

No doubt your favourite professional full-time know it alls have told you that dual wielding is unrealistic and bad and sucks and deprives you of a shield, but my counterpoint is shut up nerd. And when I’m thinking about extremely cool things where the realism doesn’t matter, I think about Dungeons & Dragons: 4th Edition

Which is the best edition.

Here then are five different ways you can wield it both ways:

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CoX: Vent

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


 

“So, are they fire, or rock?”
“Oh my god, they can’t be both,”
“Or something else, in between?”
“They’re going to have to make their mind up.”

It’s tough being a lava-powered enby. Humans can handle the ‘my skin turns into lava’ part but they get all weird about the ‘gender’ thing, like that’s somehow the big deal. Elementals don’t know what the gender thing is even about, but they’re also really bad company when you talk about music and fashion.

Vinn’s doing the best they can, with what they got.

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Queerer City

You know that game I talk about, from time to time, that game I play, that game, you know that game, that lets you play a character that you create, made through an immersive character customisation system, then you get to choose how they look, get to pick their graphical representation, get to choose maybe how they relate to the world, some beloved contacts and friends and factions that mean a lot to them, and how there’s a lot of fanart of characters made in that game and how they’re all about getting to express and explore this element of a wonderful world with this really exuberant kind of approach to expressing yourself? That game? You know? Final Fantasy XIV?

I kid, I kid. Final Fantasy XIV is a fascinating game full of interesting stuff, I’m told, and it’s fun, I’m told, and I should give it a shot, I’m told. It’s definitely got all the makings necessary for this particular phenomenon – though I don’t imagine it will cross the final threshold necessary any time soon.

See, what I want to talk about here is how a game dies, and what rises out of it.

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MTG: Pride

Magic: The Gathering, a Wizards of the Coast product, a Hasbro Partner, is doing things for Pride this month. As they do. As they have done. And it’s hard to grapple with Corporate Pride and this game as a material space doing deliberate actions to include more people.

I think it’s important to remember there are three basic layers of ‘Pride’ at work here. And every detail about Wizards of the Coast as it relates to pride, as a deliberately inscrutable internally silent business, is going to have to be filtered through the fact that this is still the company that treated Orion Black Like This.

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Shacking Up: Queer Compatibility Card Game Ideas

Okay, so, basic little card game idea: I’m thinking about a game about hooking up at cons.

Now let’s be clear, this is not a game about salacious details at cons. I am not, and have not been, a casual con sex haver, and queerness is not explicitly tied to queer sex. But queer sex is a thing many queer people do, from time to time, in between getting milk and playing Fallout: New Vegas. And when it comes to queer furry cons, I understand that a lot of people, without people to connect to in their home places, will take the opportunity to have some low-commitment, experimental and experiential up-shacking with people who make them feel connected and related to. And so, a game.

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How To Be: Illidan Stormrage (In 4E D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

Now, are you prepared?

No.

No, you are not prepared.

We’re going to talk about how you can become Illidan Stormrage.

 

4e: Mind Control

Content Warning: I’m going to discuss some mind control stuff in ways that violates consent. Not any specific outcomes from that, but if you find the whole vibe icky, that’s what this is about.

Also, other, I guess, content warning: This isn’t about the horny topic of mind control, so if that’s the vibe you’re hoping for, sorry?

Rather what I want to talk about here is the way Dungeons & Dragons uses Mind Control across its multiple iterations and how, as tends to happen when I talk about it, 4th Edition did it in the best way.

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CoX: Boss Rush

Time to time, I write up an explication of characters I’ve played in RPGs or made for my own purpose.  This is an exercise in character building and creative writing.


All the power in the world doesn’t matter if your mind can’t bring it to bear. There’s this whole study of the way brains ‘chunk’ information, neuroheuristics, the way the brain sets up tools for learning and managing what it’s learning about.

Rush was able to make the system containing the hardlight point nanites – but she needed a heuristic to manage the information. The result is her immensely powerful, immensely flexible tech rig, a kind of super suit made to be lightweight, transportable, and heavily adaptable, as long as the wearer can manage to explain to the device what she needs.

The gamer nerd and the tech geek collided, and thus, the hero identity Boss Rush was born.

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Game Pile: Hard Wired Island

Disclosure: I backed this book on kickstarter, and contributed art to it. I designed the flag of Grand Cross. I was not paid for this work, and asked for my payment to instead be given to charity. I’m friends with the developers – like, we know what kind of anime one another likes.

You can go get Hard Wired Island on itch.io and DrivethruRPG.

 

Fundamental, Parallel, Synthetic

There is an ongoing struggle in how we want to talk about games when it comes time to talk about their complexity or accessibility. And even there, in that sentence I’ve already kinda fouled up, because there’s an assumption there about what makes games accessible.

There’s this term we use a little bit called gateway games, which tends to get used to describe games that are reasonably approachable, often in a small box, and don’t tend to need a lot of emotional or narrative investment. These games tend to be abstract, though aren’t always – you may see Coup or Resistance referred to this way, as well as other games like Werewolf.

Now, the term ‘gateway’ isn’t honestly very nice: it’s primarily used to evoke the phrase gateway drug, which is itself, a dumb term because it was used to try and demonise Marijuana, and that’s all fraught with the racism of the war on drugs. And games aren’t, despite what you may jokingly say, drugs. Drugs are drugs.

There have been some attempts to get different terminology for this kind of game. Introductory games is one common category, but that creates the impression that the games exist to get you into other, ‘better’ games – there’s an implied progression. I also have heard foundatoinal game, where the games serve as a solid foundation for understanding game mechanics. That’s not a terrible term, but it also has that implication of progression.

What I use now, when I talk about this to students, is the three terms of fundamental game, parallel games, and synthetic games.

A fundamental game is a game where there is, essentially, one system. Again, Codenames and Werewolf fit in this space. There’s a very limited amount of stuff a player can do. It doesn’t have to be simple – after all, games like Crokinole and Bowls are games of a single system, but anyone who plays them will tell you the enormous challenge represented by just getting better at the games. Most sport games are fundamental games: One major mechanic, with everything just in service of that.

Parallel games are where there are numerous systems but they don’t necessarily interact. A Parallel game may let you focus on a single element, like your victory point salad games. A parallel game may also be a game where those different systems are things you can learn and focus on in your own time – consider how in American football, there’s a distinct set of skills for defensive and offensive play. Those are two systems that work in parallel with one another. Still, you can check out a host of games where players can ignore systems to engage with what they like to see parallel games.

Finally, there’s synthetic games. A synthetic game is one where all these mechanical entities are working in synthesis, where it’s impossible to extract one from another – where each system is used to mark or relate to another system. Complex games like this tend to be hard to tease out for separation. Look at Minecraft, where any given system is being made to the demands of another system, or Agricola, where all the systems are constantly tugging against one another to meet needs or create new ones.

There you go. A simple little bit of game language.

The First Queen Controversy

What do you know about Chess?

It’s a well known ruleset, with layers of knowledge. There’s a set of strategies that are often treated as rules by high level players. Then there’s the layer of official ‘rules’ like castling and first pawn movement and how kings can’t check kings, which you find out if you play enough, and the first time you find out about it is embarrassing because the other player has to convince you, that, uh, no, they can totally do that. Then the layer above that is the way the pieces move, then the layer above that is what the pieces are.

And that’s kind of where this anecdote comes from.

I don’t know what Chess piece is, as it were, ‘the best known’ piece. I could run a study, but I don’t care, and neither do you. If I had to guess, I’d assume the leading piece is the Rook, probably the Knight after then (‘the little horsey’ being a joke), and the pawn is probably the one most used.

But famously, the most powerful piece on the board is the Queen.

She’s also one of the newest pieces to behave the way it currently does. Originally, the piece we call the Queen was ‘the vizier,’ and it basically operated as just King 2: Not As Good. The Vizier didn’t give you a lot, and it is generally clear if you run lots of math that it’s basically the worst piece in the game – it starts out locked behind a pawn and your reward for it is a worse piece than an aggressive king. It’s not a good piece. They experimented with giving it the ability to hop over a piece, but broadly speaking it wasn’t that important a piece.

Now, the name of the piece did evolve over time: It went through names like ‘tsarina’ and ‘king’s daughter,’ but its rules didn’t get updated until around the 15th century. That’s when Spanish players introduced a variant rule where the Queen moved as far as she could. This idea became known as, I kid you not ‘Madwoman’s Chess,’ because the sheer remarkable ridiculousness – a woman! Capable of doing that! Amazing!

On the other hand, this variant was really good, and it added strategy, games ended faster and more decisively, and the Queen piece was suddenly worth the effort it took to peel her out from behind a pawn.

And then the complaints started.

Because why was a woman piece being given that kind of power?

There were complaints, in letters and in forums, about this chess variant, about the idea that it was terrible to give a ‘queen’ that kind of command over pieces that were male (they were?), and that this would open the door to abuse and maybe even convince women rulers they were in charge, and then, then, why… why what would we do then?

Anyway, most of these complaints split pretty cleanly: Italian, Spanish and French players liked the rules variant, because it was fun, and most of the complaints were in English. And you’d be surprised but 15th century nobles found it really easy to completely ignore the opinions of people who spoke different languages to them. It wasn’t some enlightened feminist statement, not at all – it’s that the piece was already called the queen, a game could be made better by changing her, and the people who objected could be dismissed as being, you know, English.

Anyway, death to kings.

Game Pile: Usurper

I went on a bit of a rollercoaster with Usurper.

First, I backed the game on kickstarter because it had some very modest targets, and a nice aesthetic, and stated it was using Gamecrafter. I thought it looked like a very good early effort for a game designer, backed it, and forgot about it for a few months.

Then it arrived.

What arrived was, as a game, a really robust little draft-position-play kind of game, with a thematic space I can only describe as ‘excellently obtuse.’ I had a look, I considered how I was going to approach talking about this game, and I put together a little list of thoughts that I laid out in the template for this article. As part of doing that, then, I went to get my due diligance and the links to people’s works, and places where you can buy the game, and found, to my surprise…

You can’t.

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5 Alternatives To Classics

In literary circles it’s not uncommon for core texts to be seen as fundamentally important, perhaps because of their long-term impact, or their origination of important ideas to a particular grouping of texts. This is seen as one of those ideas that can legitimise a field – it’s not so much that videogames have been waiting for their Citizen Kane as much as is that they’ve been waiting for their advocates to be taken seriously inside and out of academia.

In board games, this conversation about a ‘canon’ is even harder to manage – it tends to be not about games as critically meaningful units of culture, because that’s… that’s real hard. Typically instead we get sales numbers, and that can create the idea that the gaming marketplace is itself fundamentally rational and never elevates anything bad and there’s no such thing as a distribution network.

Now, I think some of these ‘classic’ games aren’t… really interesting to me. And for me, as long as I have some games in my collection, I feel replace or displace other games in the same general field. Don’t think ‘I have to get these classics,’ just give them a play and see if you like them. There are almost always good alternatives, and now I’m gunna talk about some.

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Minecraft: XP Furnace Design

Back in the days of Minecraft’s 1.15 patch, I shared this picture on Twitter:

This is something I was working on in a creative world for a collaborative server space. What I wanted to make was an XP Furnace system that could be used for players who needed to repair their mending equipment conveniently, something that just worked on its own over time. This design was made to be tileable, where each piece could be put directly next to one another without interfering with one another, and to be user approachable. I didn’t want a user to have to do anything with it – just let them take the stuff out of the furnace and get the XP that the furnace had in it was the ideal.

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Bidding for Second Place

I have this game idea where it’s a bidding game, but the second place is the one that wins it.

That’s it, that’s the whole of the idea.

There are a couple of games that already work on this principle. The idea that you want to avoid overdoing your efforts to hit a target is something that’s been in games since, well, Snakes and Ladders, where you have to land on the last tile with the exact, correct roll. Curling and Bowls are both games about getting as close as possible to a target without actually touching it, which implies the same vision of doing ‘exactly enough.’

In the case of the auction game, though, you aren’t sure about what you’re trying to do; you aren’t just expending resources that you want to save, but you’re also trying to hit just behind the player who bids the most. I think there’s interesting tension there, in the form of being second.

The problem I’m wondering about is what kind of theme can fit this?

In an auction, the idea that the first place loses the thing somehow is confusing. I can’t imagine why someone would do this, unless the auction was deliberately set up to be unfair. Blind auctions in the real world sometimes have rules like buy-in, so you have to place a bid in the hopes of getting something and you may not even get all the money you bid back,  which is a great swizz for people engaging in these kinds of nonsense trades.

The problem is that auction games about auctions are… weird? They need something to justify the mechanics, why they’re not just, you know, an auction. Consider that many auction games rely on expending resources that are limited – like cards. In the real world, money’s fungible – so you can just make change and bid the amount you want. Once you start introducing game mechanics to auctions, you need to introduce enough that they explain why the auction is being run like a real mickey mouse outfit.

Here then are some thoughts about what this ‘hit second’ auction may be all about:

  • You’re bidding on religious iconography, and the church keeps identifying the richest person based on the high bid, swooping on them to demand tithing
  • You’re extremely exciteable idiots, meaning that ‘winning’ the auction results in you throwing a huge party immediately, and forgetting to pick up the item
  • You’re raiding hackers, and the first person to break a server are the people who are immediately driven away – you get prestige, but not resources
  • You’re all contingents of a raiding army – the highest value represents the biggest army, which is put to the task of destroying enemies, while the second biggest must do the work of developing the land
  • You’re Canadian, and too polite to take the thing if you win
  • You’re artists working in a fragile medium like ice, and the person who tries to do the most has their artwork collapse
  • You’re dealing with rallying Australian voters, and Tall Poppy syndrome syndrome means the top position loses
  • You’re cultists rousing Cthulhoid horrors – and the cult that gets too much attention gets eaten
  • You’re smuggling stuff past cops, and the people who move the most product are the ones who get caught.

What about you? Got some ideas?

Game Pile: Syndicate Wars

The rain rattles down against endless shimmering towers of silver and glass, black sludgy water, stinging on the way down, even the treatments making it ‘safe’ leaving it bitter, acrid, and faintly radioactive. No-one who knows better would be about in weather like this.

But nobody knows better.

The people mill around you, chips on their necks keeping them docile. What are they seeing? Do they even see the rain and the lines it leaves on the glass around them? Probably not. Every city runs its own sim, its own explanation for the world around them as the citizens move about, processing information and doing jobs and not noticing the world as it really is.

Imagine keeping a labor force like this in pods.

A world sized prison for humans, plugged into a vast wireless network of perception manipulators? Unnecessary. After all, if there’s ever a serious problem, they solve it with agents. Heavy, boot-and-coat wearing walking battle platforms, with no personality and big scary fuckin’ guns.

Agents from one corp, agents from another corp, they clash, and everyone else is left dead. More now we got the cult weirdoes, and the gangers who fell out of the network trying to stage an uprising.

This is the world now.

You fell out of the system, after that virus hit. And you get to see the world, as it is – as it tears itself apart.

This is Syndicate Wars.

Content Warning: Drugs.

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4e: The Ardent

I write a fair bit about 4th edition D&D. There’s at least one article a month, with the How To Be series, and I think they’re lots of fun. They’re exercises in character construction, working from a character aesthetic and trying to find a way to make that fit in the power boundaries and existing options of 4th edition D&D. Part of why I like to do this is to attack the idea that character creation in 4e was boring.

Stil, there are some things that are just… very much from D&D. They’re just things that fit within the universe of D&D as it is, and don’t really translate well to other sources. One such class is the Ardent. The Ardent is a psionic leader; it does team support, healing and buffing and positioning, but powered by the power of the mind.

Psionics in D&D has a weird place, because for some people (like me) it feels like a clear intrusion of science fiction into the fantasy landscape of D&D and therefore makes all the arcane and divine importance of magic as a discipline less important, and for some people (like me, now) that’s 100% correct and rules. Complaints about psionics from back in the day tend to be about how the system was broken not about how the system broke the fiction of the universe after all. Psionics has come to be a favourite system because it tends to be contained in a way that magic isn’t. Magic gets expanded constantly, while there’s an understanding that the psionic system is going to get a limited amount of space, and the psionic classes tend to get a small number of tools they need to make hte most out of. That creates a depth of mastery, where you want to make choices that give you a toolkit you then have to maximise, rather than the disappointing feeling of a wizard’s infinitely wide toolkit, or a sorcerer’s maximally efficient one. It strikes a middle space – and it stands apart from the wizard.

The Ardent takes this idea space and looks at psionics as a way to express the self. It is literally a romantic class (though no Ardent I’ve played has ever had a successful romance) – a class who can use their feelings, their love, their rage, their will to succeed, their excitement at avoiding an attack, and turn that into a tangible force where they can use it to punch an enemy in the face. I love this stuff – I love the idea of a literal avatar of your own feelings. It’s like the thrill of a cleric, where your ideology drives your actions, but you don’t have to have a Dad who is also a Cop on hand.

Ardents use weapons; Ardents wear armour. I like that. These are both things that will cost your character somewhat, but they get you to have a big physical expression of what kind of person they are in their aesthetic. Robes tend to be robes – but armour can look like a lot of different things. Using an axe or a hammer or a polearm or a sword – they also express different ideas. Plus, weapons have a big space of fun synergies that you can pick up if you want to find something interesting to do with your feats, but also don’t demand it.

Ardents are a Charisma-first class. That is, you make attack and damage rolls with your charisma. I wrote about them a while back, about how you can be hot and hit people with your hotness, which I still find fun. Charisma as a way to express a driven character who, whether or not they have social anxiety or stress out over public interactions, can use the force of how they feel to change the world. That’s cool!

Also, it’s a leader. I like playing defenders, because they get to be tough and I can make a big, tangible showing of what good I am contributing. I like protecting my friends. I get some of the same with the leader’s job – making people better at what they do, contributing to their wellbeing, and, with the right build, absolutely wielding the strikers in the group like a bloody blunt instrument.

They get this power? Forward thinking cut. You can fire it off in three versions:

  • Hit someone. Your ally next to you gets a bonus to hit rolls. You can do this when you charge.
  • Shift 1, charge, then you can hit someone, and an ally next to you gets a bonus to hit rolls.
  • One or two Allies you can see can each charge creatures other than the target as a free action, with a bonus to damage equal to your con mod.

Now that, that escalated quickly.

Being able to charge in quick for free, as an at will power? that’s grand. The boost being until your next turn means you can charge next to a tank, stand in their defensive space, and watch as the bonus applies to all their attacks of opportunity or mark punishment. That power, on its own, is fine. The second version lets you shift away from someone holding you in place, and then charge off away from them, to join another ally. That’s also great, a tool you want in the toybox.

The third version is fucking nova gas.

It can be hard to concentrate these attacks – you may notice this means you, the Ardent, charge at a minion or buddy next to the villain, and you throw two of your allies at the villain as a free action so they start their turns mixing it up with them. You can use this to deploy a defender into the middle of a bunch of enemies.

Oh and did I mention that you give pepole a bonus to damage rolls based on how many attacks of opportunity they provoke?

And that this is one power?

And that you have other stuff you can do, including a conga line power where you pinball an enemy around between all your allies and let them all get an attack in?

I think about this a lot when I think about this class. It’s very D&D, but it’s also this very beautifully Tactics Game at the same time. It’s a game that lets you play out the fantasy of being a battlefield commander, inspiring and invigorating your allies. It’s so perfect for a lot of things I want out of characters I play.

Oh, I have no doubt that I’ll be able to find some builds in the future that use the Ardent. I like it a lot, and there are some characters who can probably be represented by a physically violent but emotionaly driven, armoured weapon wielder. I mean if she didn’t have such a loud ‘hit it harder’ theme, Chandra Nalaar could have done it.

Game Pile: Ai The Somnium Files (Again!)

Last year, I did a video about Ai: The Somnium Files. That video was mostly about the game as a top-down experience, and what you can learn from making that kind of game, and how it was deliberately unsubtle. I didn’t spend much time just talking about how much I love it and the things in it. Because I like it so much, I wanted to spend some time talking about it again and also platforming a beloved friend, Nixie!

In the video, Nixie mentions this video by Dr Cullen PhD, so there’s that link. Nixie has her own Twitter, and her own Patreon you can check out.

If you want a full size version of the thumbnail, here!

How To Be: Rock Howard (In 4E D&D)

In How To Be we’re going to look at a variety of characters from Not D&D and conceptualise how you might go about making a version of that character in the form of D&D that matters on this blog, D&D 4th Edition. Our guidelines are as follows:

  • This is going to be a brief rundown of ways to make a character that ‘feels’ like the source character
  • This isn’t meant to be comprehensive or authoritive but as a creative exercise
  • While not every character can work immediately out of the box, the aim is to make sure they have a character ‘feel’ as soon as possible
  • The character has to have the ‘feeling’ of the character by at least midway through Heroic

When building characters in 4th Edition it’s worth remembering that there are a lot of different ways to do the same basic thing. This isn’t going to be comprehensive, or even particularly fleshed out, and instead give you some places to start when you want to make something.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s not that you get a build with specific rules about what you have to take, and when, and why, like you’re lockpicking your way through a design in the hopes of getting an overlap eventually. Character building is about packages, not programs, and we’ll talk about some packages and reference them going forwards.

It’s April, it’s Talen Month, and that means we’re going to talk about a character I’ve wanted to talk about for a long time, and a character who I have a deep appreciation for. There’s not a lot of characters that fit in that mould and work well with 4th Edition’s heightened adventure reality, but when I had the idea to tackle this character, I did so with full and wholehearted knowledge that damnit, I wanted to take care of this character in my month.

We’re going to talk about how you can become Rock Howard.