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.

Decemberween: Brinkwood

Okay, so around this time each year I and my friends sit around and discuss a weekend game of D&D that we’ll play when they come around. It’s a highlight of my year, even if it lands – typically – smack dab during GDQ, meaning I miss a bunch of the celebration at the end of that event. But that’s not what’s important.

A few years ago, I proposed for this event, to my friends, a game with the short pitch of Robin Hood vs Vampires. The idea got a bit of meat on it, and I served it to my friends, and we wound up playing something else.

But it got a name.

The name it got was Brinkwood: Blood of Tyrants.

 

 

I threw this name out there on the internet at one point because I was happy with the logo I made for the game even though nobody was actually super interested in it. And then Leastwise saw it.

My friend Leastwise, aka Erik the Bearik (and he’ll come up again later this month), saw this pitch, and straight up asked if he could have it. Or more specifically, he had his own idea inspired by this idea, and he asked if he could use my logo.  What resulted is a game that’s been streamed, played by multiple groups, run at cons and may even get to be a major project from the San Janero Co-Op. It is amazing work, and it has all these great, thoughtful pieces at the root of it, like addressing the philosophical vision of what trauma means in Blades in the Dark. The game seems to have coined the term Castlepunk, the idea of ‘hey, that kind of mish-mash of medieval-seeming things we all associate with general fantasy without getting into a long argument about what really counts as medieval.’ It’s great and it’s cool, and you get to adorn these twisted wooden masks with fae blessings on them as you go out on missions to drink the rich.

Time to time when talking about the game, he’ll mention me, as it relates to this idea because I mean it kind of works as an origin story, it’s as good a place to get started. But I need to stamp a stake in the ground right here: This is Erik’s idea. It’s 100% his idea and all of this beautiful, thoughtful, engaging, exciting and creative writing about this idea is his. All I did was make a logo and a name and he went ‘oh, I would do X with it.’ Part of what excites me about this is it’s a kind of fanart? I had an idea, I put it out there and someone else who was inspired by it was able to create with it and make their own thing, and I get to see my little logo become something amazing.

You can go check out the playtest kit over here, on itch.io, and please, I recommend you do.

Game Pile: Fax Machine

Normally, when I write about games on Game Pile, I’m writing about games you can buy, or maybe games you can have for free. I’m not often talking about games that are more practice than they are objects. For some of you, this time of year is a time when you go visit people you kinda like but don’t like much and there’s inevitably, someone who wants to ‘play games’ so I want to equip you with a really good game so you’re not stuck in an hour long slog of trying to remember how mortgages work in a dusty copy of monopoly nobody likes.

Now, then, our basics. First, a fax machine was a kind of email machine that could send a complicated text message over a phone line to a specialised device. These machines are pretty outmoded now, but for a while there they were fundamental to businesses and even had people doing ‘spam’ calls by randomly sending faxes to different phone numbers in the random hope they’d be picked up by a machine and you’d print something in a stranger’s workplace. They were also slow – a fax could take ten to fifteen minutes to arrive when they were new, which means fax correspondence always had a sort of slow stop-and-start nature to them. They were faster than mail, but they still had a sort of asynchronous communication feel to them. That’s the core of this game: People communicating badly with paper.

Okay, with that in mind: Fax Machine is a drawing game. Some people don’t like drawing games, they don’t like being put on the spot like that. That’s fair. Don’t try and make anyone play if they don’t like this kind of game. In fact don’t try and make anyone play games they don’t like the sound of. It’s just a dick move.

Okay, so, rules.

  • Give ever player a way to draw (pen, pencil, texta, whatever) and a pad of paper or stack to draw on. They need to be able to turn the page, so whatever is on the previous page is hidden. You can make booklets using staples and typical printer paper.
  • Every player writes a phrase, word, or name on the first page. People can get hung up on this, so for the first round you may want to ask people to write their favourite movie quote or their favourite vegetable.
  • Then each player passes their work to the next player.
  • Each player turns the page of their work and tries to draw what they just read. This will almost always be hard because nobody went into this thinking they’d have to draw that.
  • Then, players passes their work to the next player.
  • Players turn the page and try to write what they think that picture was trying to describe.
  • Continue as long as you want.

Now I don’t mind drawing and I hang around with a family that are all pretty crafty so it’s not a game that goes badly for us. What it means though is that we don’t think of the same turns of phrase or the same ideas expressed by pictures, and so we get steadily more and more silly pictures. I’ve seen ‘All’s well that ends well’ concluding with ‘a microbe travelling through space and time.’

It’s cheap, it’s fast, it can be played with a big group or a small group and you’ll usually get a good laugh out of it, and if you don’t like it, you’re not out an expensive setup fee.

Decemberween: City of Heroes!

City of Heroes is back.

City of Heroes is back and based on these past six months, it might be able to last.

I don’t know how to tell you how unnecessarily happy this makes me.

The game is still a clunky, 2004 content churn of a game. It’s a space full of people who, like me, didn’t get over losing it last time, and have kept their personal roleplaying stories going, or just brought back old ones, and that means I get to see a bunch of people I genuinely hate and never wanted to see again running around and having fun but it’s okay because City of Heroes is back!

As far as free games go, a customisable superhero MMORPG is a pretty sweet one to offer, and here’s the link. I don’t think it’ll be to your taste – it’s a limited appeal kind of work at the best of times – but it’s something I’m so glad to see around, and part of what I love about it is that I get to play this game again and it somehow survived.

There was a lot of anger at the discovery of a secret server this year. It was a big deal, and a lot of people close to me were super pissed about it, because the idea that they didn’t get to play, but someone did was really unpleasant. But what stood out to me was the idea that a population of what, a few hundred people were able to keep this kind of thing a secret, even through breaches on Reddit and multiple attempts to attack it.

I don’t think Corporations are good. I don’t think NCSoft, despite making a thing I love, are a good company. I don’t think that Nexon, the company that owns NCSoft are good, and I don’t think Tencent, the company that wants to buy Nexon are good. Simply put, I do not see a reason to want to defend a corporation in face of people taking things from that corporation. I don’t like the Disney Vault for example, and I don’t feel there’s any shame to be had in making a corporation surrender control over something. Corporations aren’t the heroes. They don’t need us to stand up for them.

We sure don’t want to be their unpaid enforcers.

Instead, for years, years, people kept that secret.

Like you would, for a superhero.

Bad Balance: Races of Destiny

I’ve made fun of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 a lot, and I do it because it’s easy, and fun, and it’s funny, and let’s do more of it.

There were two sets of the first wave of expansions for 3.5, the class style books, known as the Completes, and the race books, known as the Races of books. The Completes touched just a tiny bit on the early days of the class role system – with the first wave being Complete Warrior, Mage, Psionics, Divine and Scoundrel, but expanding into things like Adventurer and Champion. The Races Of books gave you a run down of three races at a time, linked by a common theme, and that was a theme that was routinely straining at the edges. Halflings got treated as a ‘race of the wild,’ and gnomes as a ‘race of stone,’ as opposed to their proper place they shared of ‘races of hobbits fans.’

No time for gnomes or halflings, me, I know.

Continue reading

How To Be Hilda From Fire Emblem Three Houses (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.

The rules for these posts are going to be standard and yes I am writing something that’s going to be the boilerplate that becomes the core of how all these posts are going to get made going forwards, but here we go anyway:

  • 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, to give you a place to start.

Another thing to remember is that 4e characters tend to be more about collected interactions of groups of things – it’s less 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.

Continue reading

Game Pile: Shame Pile 2019

I don’t actually buy a lot of games.

Given that my job involves a lot of game literacy, that I’m constantly consuming games media on youtube and reading about it in books and articles and it’s just generally part of the media space that passes through me as I pass through it, it surprises me to track through a year and recognise just how few games I actually buy. My steam backlog for example is enormous but it’s also almost 50% complete, and that’s with my very rarely buying anything to add to it.

The fact is that the Game Pile is a sort of actual thing; for a time there, a friend of mine, who I now recognise struggled with anxiety, would buy me a game from my wishlist pretty often. If we had an argument, another game. If a sale happened, another game. My birthday? A few games. I didn’t really notice this pattern until I had a few hundred games stocked up in a library that once upon a time I hadn’t even considered something I’d keep running on my computer regularly.

What’s more, as an MMO player at various times, these purchases weren’t getting played. Some people talk about their game backlogs guiltily as if the person who they’re faulting is themselves, and I feel I should remind you that, no, in fact, that’s bullshit. You get to enjoy the experience of buying and owning the game and any time you treat the process as a sin that you have to exorcise by completing the game, you’re kind of doing the corporation’s job for you of putting control over things you bought in their hands. Buying a thing and having your interest change in it isn’t a sign you’re bad, it’s a sign that you enjoyed getting something.

In my case, however, the games I was being bought was by someone who loved me (and loves me!) very much and who was struggling with ways to show it. When I play my Game Pile games, it is in part to recognise that spirit in which the games were given, and in many cases, that’s led to me being more willing to consider a game for its best ideas rather than just lay into them for being bad.

(Not that I haven’t done that.)

Still, there are some games I bought this year explicitly looking forward to play them and I haven’t yet, not in a whole year, and that’s got me thinking as the end of the year draws up. Since the theme for this month seems to be games I didn’t actually play, let’s do a quick rundown of some stuff that I own, that is in my house and isn’t being played right now and what kind of reasons I have for that.

This is also something of a goal and a personal accountancy issue. After all, Christmas season is time to hang with family and maybe, just maybe get to play some of these boxes of cardboard I’ve bought. You might have seen me buy these, you may have seen me talk about how excited I was to play them, so consider this a followup.

I’m going to limit myself on this to stuff I purchased in the two big opening parts of the year: January’s Cancon and stuff I bought myself for my birthday. I bought Lanterns last month because it was cheap second hand, for example, and I’m not going to give myself guff for not playing that since it’s been a few weeks and I’ve played it before (just not my own copy).

Yamatai

I bought this game because I was at the time working on a presentation for DiGRAA about orientalism in board games and oh boy howdy did this game suggest it was going to be in that space. It was also however a big-box Days of Wonder hard euro with great production values and really pretty pieces, so I figured at least there’d be a solid enough game worth digging into there.

But when am I going to get a competitive hard euro to the table?

That presentation went off well in February, but I also went from having two people by my side on the project to doing it on my own (not complaining), which suddenly meant it just wasn’t as important, and that meant I just did not find the time to come in to the uni to play this.

I mean, I’m not going to feel bad if I never play it, I just would rather it be in the house of someone else who can appreciate this near-mint copy of a $60 game.

Korra Pro Firebending

I bought this at the same time as I bought Yamatai, for the same reason. This is a game about a – for lack of a better term – oriental theme with developers with actual cultural grounding in that space. That’s really cool.

Plus, I’m a big mark for Korra, believing it to be one of the many post-Avatar franchises that I like a lot more than I liked Avatar. This game should be an absolute breeze to get onto the table, right?

Well, again, the fallthrough on the paper meant that didn’t happen and this game is sadly a straight-up head-to-head one-versus-one sports game. My single most likely opponent for 2 player games is Fox, and we have something of a rule that it’s best not to play any head-to-head stuff outside of playtesting our games, just because neither of us handle losing all that well.

Now, sometimes I sit down at the table with other friends who are more for that kind of direct competition but that’s when I have three or more friends around and suddenly a 1v1 game means a bunch of people sit out. That’s a bummer.

Hero Realms

This is a game I got for Christmas last year, and I was so excited to get it. It’s a game I already knew I wanted, because it was basically a second edition version of a game I already liked called Star Realms. That game had a fast deckbuilding experience but lacked in individualisation in the base game, where both players started as tabula rasa and the resulting game that followed was all based on who picked what.

Hero Realms instead gave you character classes so your starting decks were different and you’d look at purchaseable cards differently. That’s great, I like that. And I was wonderfully gifted an amazing game that I know I like (I’ve goldfished it) and even gotten to play once, and then… nothing.

That’s because Hero Realms is again, a head-to-head builder. Fox and I don’t play a lot of games in competition with one another, like I said. But, I knew, there was a co-op expansion for Hero Realms, which meant we could sit down and play this game together.

Which I haven’t yet played, and I don’t quite know why. I’ve definitely had the urge, and it even handles larger groups? But the stars haven’t aligned yet for me to sit down with some friends and make decks as we fight an evil sorcerer trying to animate an undead dragon.

It’s a bummer. I’m hoping that my niblings will be able to handle this game soon because hey, it’s fully cooperative and that means we can help each other, but who knows how that’s going to go. I mean it’s a deck builder, I’m asking kids to shuffle a lot of cards.

Bloodborne

This game, ostensibly, was my birthday present from my parents, who gave me about the right amount of money that I then turned into a card game I knew I was really excited to play. Bloodborne has kind of haunted my 2019, a game that I couldn’t finish, informed one of my major creative projects in Hunter’s Dream and yes, sits on my shelf, wondering just why I haven’t gotten around to playing it.

It’s a co-op game! It’s about fighting monsters! It looks really cool! What’s stopping this one from getting to the table?

Wait for it…

Yeah, the minimum player count is three. I don’t tend to have three players. I usually have four (in which case we’re playing D&D) or I have two (me and Fox). And while Fox and I playing Bloodborne would be absolutely great fun, we are still ultimately two people, not three.

It’s a minor logistical thing, but it does mean I have to plan for who I’m going to play this game with.

Before There Were Stars

This is a game that got bought on its pure aesthetics. Fox liked how it looked and she grabbed it. This game is in that rare category of creative storytelling games that wants to be self-contained. Rather than a number of free improv games, though, this one builds itself around a number of really beautiful props made to set the tone of the game.

It’s not gotten to the table because… well, our main people who might want to play a storytelling game about mythologies are a little young to grapple with the idea of improvising a story on the spot with the idea of symbolism in cards.

This one I don’t feel too bad about being on the backfoot. It’s not my normal kind of game but I really want to play it with people who might want to enjoy sitting around in a circle telling stories, but not a story they already had in mind, nor a story that’s about getting a laugh.

It’s a little mystical, and I do love game experiences that take me to places I rarely go on my own.

Mystic Vale

I did an unboxing thread for this, so you may remember it. The basic idea is that this – well okay no the basic idea is you’re all nature druids trying to heal the land and build powerful connections to sites of sacred importance, but the way you do that is by getting points and prizes. It is a game where the cards are made up of transparent plastic with a few things on them, in sleeves, and when you buy powers, you add them to one of your cards, meaning that your deck never gets bigger but the cards in it still change over time to match your changing position in the game. Technologically speaking it’s a deck builder that never changes the size of your deck and it has all sorts of other cute mechanics, like a catch-up mechanic for the player who can’t buy anything.

And…

Yeah.

Never got it to the table.

I don’t know why. It might just be that it’s the kind of crunchy builder game that currently only appeals to me. I know I love deck builders a lot, and my go-to builder game at the moment for new players is my beloved copy of Century: Golem, meaning that the more ornate, more complicated Mystic Vale has to wait.

It’s a beautiful game, I even got a replacement card from AEG when I pointed out there was a slight mangling of one, and I really do like what this game promises, but right now? I just can’t find anyone to play it with in my friend circle. It’s always going to be competing with other games, which makes me a bit sad.

That means it joins the other games in this part of the list where I’m going to make a concentrated effort to play them with other people going forwards. Trying to prioritise these suckers!

MTG: The End Of Okotober

Well, there have been stannings in bandard again, and with it comes a new round of discourse. Discourse means arguments, arguments mean redditors mouthing off, and since I don’t like getting into arguments on reddit, I thought, hey, why don’t I have that beef here, on my blog, where nobody has the right to response, because the last thing in the world I give a damn about is arguing with Redditors who don’t appreciate my expertise.

Seriously, Reddit is extremely bad for these conversations.

Okay, so what happened today: three cards were banned, which means that they join Field of the Dead creating an environment where four cards are banned, which is a bit more than normal. The three cards are Oko, Thief of Crowns, Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer. Now, personally, I’m completely fine with seeing these cards go – but I wasn’t playing standard, because of these cards, and because I didn’t want to deal with ever seeing it when I went to play standard.

Now, historically speaking, Standard is a format that doesn’t tend to get bannings. There have been long periods, like, years at a time, when there weren’t any cards banned in standard. Cards like Umezawa’s Jitte weren’t banned in standard, despite the oppressive effect they had on decks at the time. Comparatively speaking, this is also a pretty fast one – Oko was legal for only a few months. It wasn’t one of the fastest bannings, but it sure was a big one.

What this mostly reminds me of is almost a mulligan on Darksteel’s bannings. Back in 2005, when the bannings came for standard’s beast, the Ravager Affinity deck, there were two sentiments Aaron Forsythe expressed: One, that merely banning Skullclamp and hoping that would fix things hadn’t been enough, and two, that they didn’t just do the bannings to fix the environment, but to make it very clear to anyone who saw it, that the deck they hated wasn’t just weaker, but it was dead. The turn of phrase Forsythe used has stuck with me; he referred to it as Slaying the Dragon.

Did Once Upon A Time need to go? Despite people pontificating about ‘linear play focus’ and ‘the london mulligan is the problem,’ there was probably still room to allow green decks the chance to push into their decks. If Once Upon A Time showed up in another broken deck, odds are good it wouldn’t be as oppressive as Oko, after all, and it could get gone in the next round. Same with Veil of Summer; it was a great tool for stopping blue and black decks that wanted to try and interrupt a green deck. If there was no powerful green deck, or blue and black decks weren’t liable to use tools that Veil of Summer stopped, hypothetically, Veil would rotate out. It wasn’t as important to protect an Oko and all.

But instead, all three of them went, and then some folk wanted to complain about Nissa, Who Shakes The World, suggesting that to some folk, this dragon wasn’t dead enough, and there’s a noisome voice that this problem is linked to how overpowered green is. Also, there’s people talking about how ‘bannings in standard twice in a year is a sign of a broken game,’ or ‘play design need to be fired.’ I don’t countenance these much, and I’m not all that bothered by these bannings and any potential impact they may have compared to older formats.

Why?

Three reasons.

Information has sped up. Right now, there are more people playing Magic in more interconnected ways in more tournaments than ever. Formats are going to get solved more aggressively than they used to. Tech gets discovered and tested and it’s less a question of if someone sees an interaction in the game space as when someone deduces the best way to deal with it. It’s a sad space for the rogue builder, but broadly speaking it feels to me like Magic has transcended the time and space when you could surprise the game at large even if you could outfox one day’s opponents.

This also means Wizards have access to a lot more information to make judgments. Felidar Guardian got nixed after seeing its tournament presence, for example, rather than having to try and make a called shot on something that could be fun and unimpressive or could be oppressive for three months.

Release speed have sped up. Wizards used to print more cards back in the day per year (sets were bigger), but those sets were packed full of lots of cards that you would not remember nor care about. Not even casual players are running around eager to buy up Spitting Gournas. Lots of formats were full of filler cards. Sets have gotten smaller, but they’ve also gotten more cards worth playing, across all rarities (see people complaining about commons being under-represented in tournament decks here, no I don’t care, shut up and go away).

This means there’s more chance that a single card released is going to be a problem, and that problem is just going to kinda… hang around more if wizards expect us to fix it ourselves (as above).

Wizards have more tools for fixing things. This is the big one. There have been times when standard has been sicker, but sick in a variety of different ways. Onslaught  through Kamigawa mirrodin was not a fun standard to get involved in because there were four or five decks that you simply didn’t have a prayer against with anything but one of the other four or five. There was variety, but the play experience was full of fewer decisions and there was a lot more of the game contingent on whether you or they got their busted cards. Tooth and Nail and Affinity were two decks, but they were both kinda ignoring you, even if there was no single card that overwhelmed standard.

But now, Wizards are in a position to make regular changes and updates to standard to try and address things, and as they showed today, they slew a dragon. Maybe standard can be cool now – I don’t know. I’m hoping so, but we’ll have to find out.

Once upon a time, Jamie Wakefield pointed out that by not banning Masticore, Wizards effectively banned every card that wasn’t as good as Masticore; that Flametongue Kavu being as good and ubiquitous as it was made every other 4-toughness creature not worth playing, because answers to it were too efficient. People rent their clothes about the Ravenous Chupacabra, but lo and behold, that wasn’t the thing that ruined standard.

One final point is that all the people complaining about ‘overpowered green’ seem to have neatly forgotten that Oko and Hydroid Krasis aren’t just green cards. I did see the hot take that because the Krasis was expensive, it was effectively a ‘mono green card.’ I’d like to call that person out and say: you’re a ninny.

In general, while people are crying doom and gloom and insulting – literally – Wizards R&D for making the best decisions they can to address the best decisions they were able to make earlier, and where we have old men who like Ancestral Recall hollering at clouds because Planeswalkers ruin magic, I’m just happy to see that the format was addressed, and they’re talking about ways to make these announcements and responses more fluid.

Thumbs up, here’s hoping the next round of standard is a fun one.

 

Game Pile: Doki Doki Literature Club

Gosh, hasn’t the visual novel been brought up a bunch of late?

It seems like only yesterday we had Dream Daddy getting conversations going about religious abuse, trans bodies, fatness in media, and gay dudes who knife-fight going. There was the Kentucky Fried Chicken Visual Novel that produced an eruption of conversation about ironically engaging with marketing and the way that our landscape of critics and reviewers is still ultimately a wing of advertising. Steam banned a Visual Novel (good) this year, there’s been a whole range of talk about where and how to get and market them, and all the while, the Visual Novel as a genre has just trucked on while discourse happened.

These past few years have basically not gone more than a month or two where someone in a position to pay writers has had their money return an article about The Visual Novel and the impact this one’s having or what this means.

The Visual Novel is even a weird phrase because just describing it, I know I’ve written about the way that the format can describe both a kind of game and a kind of amateurishly-constructed video. I’ve also compared them to mazes, where one of the most basic kinds of game challenges is made engaging by making the passages you travel down more interesting for their own sake than just the idea of ‘beating’ the maze. They’re mazes and they’re puzzles and they’re management games and they’re kinetic novels and they’re all these things.

But they’re also, definitely a thing called a visual novel, and we know what a Visual Novel is.

Right?

Spoiler And Content Warning: I talk about Doki Doki Literature Club; there’s a discussion of self-harm and suicide, and I’m pretty open about admitting I think the game is shit. You can just skip on if you don’t wanna see all that.

Continue reading

Half-Elves (But really Elves)

My earlier treatment of Orcs in Cobrin’Seil was intended, at first, to be a comprehensive examination of the half races. Elves and orcs and humans, the big three that show up in most of the editions of D&D’s player handbooks and most of the settings for them. As I did this though I realised that for all they may work just fine as different versions of the same thing for your setting, I don’t like them feeling so similar and especially not when I laid out my idea that Orcs are made of meat.

Continue reading

Half-Orcs (but really Orcs)

I have these in my D&D setting, and I have them because, removed from any ontological questions, they are cool things. An orc is like a human, but bigger and usually more physically brawny, and green, and being able to play a half-orc means you have a bunch of outcaster cred, you get to play with the way you look in a way that’s got meaningful signifiers attached to it, and you can funnel your intentions through the lens of ‘how people see orcs.’ The orc – and the elf, but more on that another time – are perfectly good fantasy tools that let you play around with the space of meaningfully physically distinct humantypes, and half-thems are great tools for giving players a way to play as outsiders learning about their world.

Interesting things happen at borders.

I like ’em! But they often, in many settings, don’t make much sense. Part of why they don’t make much sense is how they relate to the half that gets mentioned, the not-human part of orcs, and why they can breed with humans. Questions get asked, and I’m the kind of world builder who’s curious enough to want an answer, and an answer that doesn’t make me wrinkle my nose and go ‘well that’s stupid.’

Continue reading

Breath of the Wild Recipes And Assumptions

Okay, so, let’s face it, everything I put on the internet is just a vast extelligence of the various different ways I can manage of my thought process, my extrusive thoughts if you will and if you hear me opine about something in person you might see me tweet about it kinda in an adjacent way and then maybe you’ll see me blog about it. It’s a process. It’s a process that’s largely reflective of thinking a bit too much about media that don’t want to be thought too much about at all, of taking the frictionless experience of interfacing with reality and deliberately grinding away at it like a sandblaster until there is nothing to examine but the friction, and with that I want to mouth off about something in Breath of the Wild while simultaneously presenting you, my viewer, with what amounts to a youtube comment because I can’t just throw my words into that trashcan like a normal person would.

Plus, Brian David Gilbert is pretty much getting paid to do the kind of thing I do for free as a wheelie pop and he’s also annoyingly attractive and he’s talked about having love and support from his family since he was very young so it’s clearly only an academic opinion and not deep abiding jealousy that drives me to take this forty minute festival of comically missing the point to task for missing the wrong point, dad.

First, the context.

For those of you who don’t want to watch forty minutes of a wispy millenial beaurocratic wunderkind show you that he can compile a list and fail at cookery (even though the video is extremely funny), I’d like to take an issue with the premise of this video in a way that I think would be way more interesting but also feature less of Anime Gomez Addams choking down milky carrots.

BDG premises this article on the question is Link a good cook, a question that seeks to extrapolate that by having Brian – a bad cook – attempt to replicate the food Link makes – badly – and then present Brian’s findings as to what those foods should restore based on how good a job he, a person I want to remind you is very bad at this, can do at it. There’s some winnowing of the expansive recipe list done for this, and he allows himself a small handful of concessions, including the addition of a neutral oil. Attempts at accuracy fly out the window at the first post, because, as he points out, Link doesn’t have to deal with potential salmonella. While making these recipes, he presents that a number of the recipes Links makes are impossible to make the way they’re presented in the game.

The rationalisation is thus: If a recipe has ingredients involved, that is all you can use as its ingredients. That means only the recipes that call for rock salt can have any salt; only those recipes that call for Goron spices can have spices. The bread cannot have a yeasting agent, the fruit cake cannot have icing or cream and the pie cannot have a crust.

Here’s the thing, though: Those game objects, as much as we see them, do have those things.

When you make a recipe, you don’t list the things you already have. Recipes always come with a degree of assumed availability. Salt, pepper, basic spices, oils and tools are generally left out. In fact, you can tell a lot about a chef about what they don’t assume they need to list on the recipe. I know a patissiere who didn’t think they needed to mention how much butter you’d need for a recipe, because you’d just add more until you had enough. I know a family who do not think they need to tell you to have onions and cilantro because they are givens for everything. Many recipes require water, and never mention water as ‘an ingredient,’ because it’s a staple.

And that’s what I find more interesting. Because Link can make a baked, crusty bread, with tools available to him in the form of a wok. And the thing is, you can turn a wok into an oven: Assuming you have a circular stone and lid for the wok. A number of the recipes require mixing in a variety of different ways, require combining components in separate containers, and they all are displayed in a variey of bowls and breadboards. The apple pie is flecked with cinnamon, the fruit cake is adorned with some variety of frosting and has fruit on it rather than through it, suggesting it is a sponge cake with fruit on top. There’s rice, which again, is pretty difficult to prepare in a wok without water.

Here’s the thing, then. Here’s what I’d rather, and which would have no doubt made a much less interesting kitchen-based video and instead been about visiting people who are good at cooking and talking to them about what they can do and their tools: I want to see a clear breakdown of all the various bits and pieces of cooking equipment Link is always carrying on his person, so much so that it isn’t even worth mentioning to him that he’s got it.

Making Draft Complicated To Simplify Draft

You know drafting games? I like drafting games. Magic: The Gathering is a drafting game, and it’s really good at it. You draft a deck, then spend some time playing that deck, and that’s fun. We made LFG, a single box card game where you draft a group of heroes to go on an adventure, adventure pending.

Draft is very appealing to me as a designer because it has some virtues like simultaneous turns, and it inherently presents players with choices. Drafting is often used as a component in games, but the drafting itself can be really exciting. Drafting does have problems though, like you need a number of cards and players to make those choices interesting. If you’re drafting, say, four cards between two people, thoes choices need to be extremely difficult to make that interesting, and when you do that, you have a really small number of cards and therefore the game has only so many ways it can be replayed, and that’s risky. I have made games that don’t replay well on purpose, or games with incredibly hard choices that can feel dreadfully unfair (hi, You Can’t Win), but those are hard, thorny games for people who like challenges, and they’re also really small.

There’s also a mastery depth problem when it comes to draft. If you know the most cards, if you remember the cards that are going to be in the pool and potential application with other cards, you’re going to make the player with the largest amount of possible information and the best understanding of ways the game can fork be the player who has the most chance to win, and that’s not great for getting new players involved.

With that in mind for a small card game I’m working on at the moment (one of our $15 range), which is going to be about recruiting your own group of superheroes, I’ve come up with a new drafting technique I want to share.

  1. Deal out all the cards to each player not as a hand, but as a deck. So the player gets their cards, and they don’t look at them and don’t know what they’re going to do.
  2. Set these decks between each player – I’m right handed so when I do this test I intuitively put it to my left, so the player on my left can reach it.
  3. The drafting begins. Each player draws two cards from their deck, chooses to keep one of them, and puts the other card on the top of the next player’s deck.
  4. Repeat step 3 until the decks are only one card.

This means that players still have some specific choices; you know what you’re handing to the next player, but you don’t know all the choices they have. You have to choose between two cards each time, rather than have to manage seven then six then five and so on. Also, you don’t have the chance to determine, at the first draw, everything that you’re going to do, other people’s strategies based on what you’re passing. You’re presented with much more limited information. The draft unfolds a little more, without being all presented up front.

Game Pile: War Wind

They see the outposts being built; the lines of communication falling from the the weapons of war moving slowly into position, the empires’ weapons being simultaneously sabotaged and subverted. Mystics preach to the mercenaries and the common folk doctrine about the fall of an old order, while that same old order strives to shore up what remains. What it has must be kept, what cannot be kept must be destroyed.

Chaos reigns. Tumult rises. The winds of war roll across the land of Yavaun, and there is no escape.

Continue reading

MTG: Rally Vincente

Time to time, Frank Karsten will release lists of combos that exist or have been made possibly by new additions to an environment. In Modern Horizons, he showed two that I really like: Vesperlark and Phantasmal Image allow for infinite sacrifices and so does Saffi Eriksdotter and Renegade Rallier.  He forwarded the Saffi/Rallier combo with Altar of Dementia, as a sacrifice outlet that immediately eats your opponent’s whole library.

It’s that latter one is really interesting to me because it’s in the same colours, all the cards in question are pretty aggressively costed, and they’re cheap to play with.

What can we do with them?

Let’s break it down into three basic bits:

Continue reading

Muruganda!

Hey, if you’re a Wizards of the Coast employee, you’re not in a position to read this article. There’s a custom card or two in here, and I know you’re not allowed to look a those. Don’t worry, I don’t expect it’s anything you haven’t come up with on your own.

Continue reading

MTG: Blockness in Ravnica 3: The Secret of The Ooze

When making my Kamigawa remake, I used the term blockness to describe the way that a single card related to the time and place it was printed. The idea, as much as I described it, is that you can consider a card in terms of how much it belongs to the specific block and environment into which it was printed; that is, for some cards there just aren’t that many opportunities something like that card can be printed.

Now, sometimes it’s the flavour of the card, but usually blockness is tied to mechanics. You can always just re-flavour a card with different art, name, and creature types, like we saw in the the beautifully basic Kami of Ancient Law. In Kamigawa block, the Kami of Ancient law’s spirit creature type meant it interacted with other creatures and spells in the set. When Ronom Unicorn was printed slightly over a year later, it had no particular impact, and then when Keening Apparition was printed, another six years later, there was no particular relationship between the card and its environment. Wizards actually has their own take on this idea – sometimes you’ll hear a card referred to as Core-Set Ready. Core-Set ready cards are cards that can be put into a core set, sets made up of less complex cards that are designed to be approachable.

The fact is most cards don’t get reprinted – just sheer numbers work against it – and most mechanics are shallow enough that there’s only a small number of cards they can be used to make. Some set mechanics really aren’t going to have much chance to ever be seen again, so when it comes to some keyword mechanics like Mentor or Exploit or Living Weapon, the best cards of that mechanic are really the best cards we’re likely to ever see. It’s kind of a bummer, because you see a lot of those cards

When I first discussed this, I complained that the (then recent) Guilds of Ravnica mechanic for the Golgari guild was extremely lacking in blockness – that of those cards, literally all of them could be printed in basically any given set; the ability word of Undergrowth was so generic and so flexible it could have been printed anywhere. I didn’t think so little of the other mechanics in the set, mind you, and I have no idea how well these mechanics play with one another in limited.

Ravnica is a weird place. It’s weird because it’s a place that wants, as much as possible, to have continuity between three blocks and more, and hypothetically to make cards that at least supposedly can work with one another. There have been hits and misses on that front; Batallion cards and Mentor cards work just fine, and Batallion is one of those mechanics you can print without putting the keyword on it, meaning there’s a Batallion card in War Of The Spark. At the same time, lots of Golgari decks can get value out of a few Dredge cards, even if it’s just one-ofs like Dakmor Salvage.

I feel that it’s kind of hard for the Golgari to ever escape the fact that their first mechanic is mathematically one of the most powerful ever printed; of the fourteen dredge cards, about eleven of them have seen serious play. By comparison, Scavenge, the next Golgari mechanic, kinda doesn’t actually have any cards that are worth much of anything at all. Varolz, the Scar-Striped has his place in CEDH, but other than that, there’s not a single Scavenge card I have seen see play outside of oddball formats like Canlander. It wasn’t a mechanic exciting enough to see return, and it’s tied to the Golgari, and that meant there was a whole block of Golgari cards that don’t really matter much to a Golgari deck. Then we get Undergrowth, which doesn’t feel like it needed to be a keyword at all.

It’s a challenge I don’t imagine it’s fun to try and deal with. Particularly because Ravnica blocks are so tight on space, the limited environments are so bound around the challenges of synergy, of wending each set’s colour pairs so they draft well together, and making those mechanics fun and interesting without becoming a Lorwyn-style overcomplicated turbo-mess.

And the thing is, I kind of wonder if part of what’s going to haunt Ravnica, the plane, is its own success. It’s beloved, in flavour terms; it’s what finally seems to have broken the boundary between Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering in a big way, and every Ravnica set seems to bring with it a lot of energy and hype, because it is one of the most popular settings for the game.

It is a setting where each mechanic demands high blockness, but low complexity; it wants cards that can only come from Ravnica, and it wants them to have mechanics that are not confusing and alienating.

 

Game Pile: Kingdom Hearts (But So Not Really)

I guess as a disclaimer up front: I haven’t played Kingdom Hearts. The research for this video kinda means I wound up wanting to, even though it would be a kind of hate-play. But it’s about games, it’s about using Kingdom Hearts to talk about something in games, and it’s a chance to put forward some work I like.

The perfect is the enemy of the good. I know when I say this I’m going to be giving voice to some academic idea that someone in my circle either knows better than I do or that I’m going to come across sometime months from now and I’ll finally have it crystallised by people who are more focused on, more marinated in the field. Or maybe I’ll relisten to a podcast and find the quote – probably by Michael Lutz – explaining it.

For now, I want to get this out.

Continue reading

Hunter’s Dreams – Defining the Hunt

This is more work on Hunter’s Dream, a 4th Edition D&D-compatible mod made to enable a Bloodborne style of game, where players take on the role of hunters, who have to first research their prey before going out to the tactical combat stage of things where players get to have cool fights with werewolves and whatnot.

Something I really like from Blades in the Dark, something that I am shamelessly trying to bring to Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition in Hunter’s Dream, is the degree to which players have a sense of agency over the game they’re engaging with.

There’s an existing mindset for D&D that games are basically one of two different kinds of play space. The first is often known as narrativist, where you treat every session, every encounter, as a sequence in a narrative, and so the whole game can be seen as a string of beads. This vision can be sometimes presented as a weakness, where the players are always confined by ‘the story’ that wraps around them like a tunnel. I’m not really here to criticise that, because hey, even the most railroaded game campaign can still be an interesting ghost train.

Then there’s a position, often called ‘simulationist’ which presents the idea that the players are just operating in a world, there’s stuff for them to do, and they can go do stuff at that world, and if it does all relate or connect to things, that’s just because the DM’s job is ‘running the world,’ and any narrative that ensues is emergent. I don’t think this is true either, but some people are fond of talking about it like that.

Neither of these perspectives suit well Blades in the Dark‘s style of player-driven fiction roleplay, and they don’t quite do the job of what I want for Hunter’s Dream. What I want for this is a hybrid model, with a Narrative running as a timer on a simulation, and a large part of that is formalising a system whereby players have direct agency over the tasks in front of them, and the order they handle them.

Now, 4ed is good for this because 4ed D&D is designed to handle a lot of small tactical encounters that are reasonably well-balanced with one another, where the alchemy between monster interactions are less likely to result in catastrophic failures. You’re not likely to find a lot of total dealbreaker combos if you throw enemies together semi-randomly, which means one of the things that it handles really well is generating sequences of small quantities of conflict without necessarily a lot of elaborate construction.

This asks for a robust system for constructing incidents quickly, giving DMs good sources of inspiration, and a clear vision of how they can execute on these encounters interestingly. Now I’m a sucker for this: In 4e, I’m a fan of using the same monster configurations from fight to fight and just changing the terrain around them and watching as players have to formulate different strategies to deal with them.

Continue reading

3.5 Memories: The Kaorti

Now, while I may be on the record saying that Dungeons & Dragons can do horror scenarios, doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with the way that the default books angled towards horror. One can point to the ‘mature’ Book of Vile Darkness (more like vile dorkness, boom, gottem) that tries to be shocking and edgy and it’s just kind of insulting and basic. But the BoVD wasn’t the only book of its type that tried to be creepy and horrifying, nor was it one that strived to be mature.

For example, the Fiend Folio is the only book I own with nipples.

Here, check it.

After this point I suppose it only bears to mention: Content warning, creepy monsters and horror imagery after this point.

Continue reading

Game Pile: Bloodborne

 What is there to say about this, the longest night?

Bloodborne, for those unfamiliar with it, is a 2015 PS4 exclusive videogame by From software, the makers of Demon and Dark Souls, and joins those games as part of the genre we hamfistedly call ‘Soulsborne’ games, because videogames are a space where it’s very important to constantly reinforce brand loyalty, I guess.

The game starts with you as a hapless person dropped context-free into some space or other whereupon a game kills you repeatedly and gives you infinite chances to avoid dying again. It is largely considered to be one of the greatest videogames ever made, which doesn’t seem to be wrong per se but as I played it, seemed more and more to be an insult to videogames in general as a medium.

I took notes as I played the game, which is a transformative thing with a From software game. The experience of these games often melts away so you don’t really know – you don’t know – how many times you try things, how difficult a game experience is until you really look at it in a numerical context. I did, so I have a very reasonable measure of how much of my life I was spending on this game, and whether or not the progress I was making made me feel good enough to merit that exchange. It’s very easy when you don’t quantify these experiences to think a game is ‘hard’ and just let that one word cover all your sins, as opposed to having clear information about how many days of effort it took you to deal with boss monsters that, amongst other things, do behave semi-randomly.

I also haven’t finished this game at this point. I got the game in January of 2017, and haven’t finished it as of October 2019. I don’t think this colours my opinion of the game at all, and I think it’s actually very important to look at the game from this position, rather than from the perspective of someone who having finished the game, is able to dismiss all the time spent as being ‘worth it’ in the end.

Continue reading

Being The Monster: 5 Horrible 4e Heroes

Everyone I know has some hypothetical interest at the very least in playing a hot monster in their local tabletop game. I am willing to recognise that this is a selection bias, possibly due to the overwhelming presence of the queer monsterfuckers in my social circle, but the long and short of it is that I know people who regard the Monster Manual as less like a threat and more like Tinder.

The problem with making monstrous characters in most D&D games is that all the monsters you might want to be are gated behind a lot of rules baggage, like the hellscape of imbalanced garbage that is Savage Species back in 3rd edition. But what if in this season of spook, you want to make a monstrous character and just get rolling in my edition of choice? Here then are five spooky characters you can play from level 1 that let you get in the spirit of the season without needing to jump through a dozen hoops.

Continue reading

Game Pile: Tides of Madness

Tides of Madness is a drafting game for two players by Portal Games that retails around $15. In the interest of not just being mean to this game, it’s made of very pretty parts. Each card is fully illustrated in postcard orientation with a full-art depiction of some generic Lovecraftian thing. Additionally, each card has a set it’s from, and a mechanic that says what set it rewards. This is a basic kind of set collection mechanic, where you get X, but it rewards Y. This divides your incentives, and you’re limited you to five choices each round, presenting the game’s tension.

I am personally pretty pleased by the challenge of making a game with such deliberately narrow constraints. I’ve made other games with eighteen cards, including drafting games, and conceptually, it’s an exciting design challenge. It’s not like ‘X feeds Y’ is a bad game mechanic, asking you to track the pieces. The puzzle then is what to pick, to force your opponent’s hand and deny them potential points. Of course, a problem that follows there is how obviously separated or clearly presented those pieces are. The set symbols are ambiguous and small, making it hard to keep tracking them during the game.

The first time I played this game, my opponent and I immediately complained about its generic feeling. Not just the Lovecraftian monsters theme – though you can bet I’ve got views on how that’s handled. We felt that all but three cards were very obviously just permutations of cards in other sets. When the art is so indulgent and the cards so large, this lack of depth stands out. This game retails for very little so it can seem reasonable to be charitable about its failings. I’m not feeling charitable, though, and you should buy my cheap drafting games instead, like Winston’s Archive.

3.5 Psionics

Maaan, this system was cool.

Okay, so it’s twenty years old or something so I’m assuming you don’t really know what this was or how it worked. Psionics was one of those things that D&D 3.5 seemed to pick up because it was in 3rd edition and there was something similarly back in 2ed and then going back. It was never something the rules prominently featured, and was always meant to be its own little contained system that ‘couldn’t work the way that spells worked. The older systems, back in 2ed used ‘power points’ instead of ‘spell slots,’ you know, one of your rudimentary mana systems.

These required rules, coupled with the way they were sequestered meant that the Psionics systems got handed off into a small number of books, which were focus work by a small number of developers who not only really cared about them, but weren’t competing with anyone about it, like the core rules’ Druid, Cleric, Wizard and Sorcerer problems were.

The result is that the Psionics system is made up of a smaller number of powers that have to be flexible, because they just weren’t going to get a lot of different psionic powers the way that every different version of a fireball got to have its own fancy special effect.

It also meant the psionic powers had to be designed to scale much better than the spell system; rather than the tight restrictions of spell slots that force you to wind up collecting a large number of choices, and be aware of all of them as the best least tool for any job, you instead had the powers that you could do, and the choices were made at use. You could spend points to make your powers scale, and you could even choose the way they scaled.

That meant that yes, you still had fiddly spells, but you chose how fiddly they were, how fiddly they could get. You could pick your powers to get a wide variety of oddball stuff, or you could focus on a consistent theme, using your power choices to make one power you were absolutely great at, and small utility powers to go along with it.

There was something to the aesthetic of it, too. Rather than your typical wizards and robes and swirling lights, Psionics played in a realm that was more purple and crystals, with a sort of Cthuluhoid Lovecraftian horror to the enemies. Rather than drawing on the idea of old lore and ancient history, of things written in books, the storytelling of the psionic character was more tied into really primal knowledge, things that were born out by doing rather than learning.

This still put the books in some odd places, of course; mechanically, there still needed to be wands and scrolls, because those were considered essential parts of balancing the needs of a flexible spellcaster, so there are Dorjes and Power Stones (or ‘sticks and stones’ as they were known). There were psionic dragons, because of course you need dragons, and their gimmick was, well, they’re dragons, but they’re psychic.

Yet when I think back on this system, a thing that really sticks with me is how in 3.5, there were just so many builds you could make for psionic characters that weren’t constrained the way that wizards and clerics were. You could afford to lose a caster level or two, you could pick up other effects to build on what you had. You could share spellcasting skills between different psionic classes, and there were interesting, oddball prestige classes that gave you a niche, interesting way to craft your character.

Normally when I think back on 3.5, there’s a pretty clear hierarchy system that kicks in. Fighters form a sort of basement where everything that’s worse than it is seen as really hosed. Then there’s the crew of weird classes that aren’t bad for any specific reason, but because they have a niche that usually can be replaced by a spell from a wizard. Then there’s the really good renewable resource types, the powerful melee hitters, the prestige class complex builds, and then there’s the spellcasters, and then just at the bottom end of the spellcasters there’s the rogue and some gish, I guess. It’s a complex space and most of them, the best thing you can do is one thing.

But when it came to psionics – classes that mostly sacrificed variety of effects for flexibility of application – there were just so many different ways to build, just based on the powers you took.

Kinda preceded the Book of Nine Swords, too, and formed the foundation for the way 4ed worked.

Huh.

Funny that.

MTG: Jeskai Catgirls

Okay, Modern is a silly place. This is not going to be about a cutting edge deck. This is the kind of deck I like to write about and play, because it’s not trying to be about playing in a specific metagame environment, about being in a tournament space. It’s a combo deck, but it looks a bit like a control deck, and it uses an interaction that’s probably too slow for standard, but also gets to do stuff I tend to enjoy – flickering permanents and making memes.

Anyway, here’s the basic gimmick.

There’s this card, Felidar Guardian. There’s this other card, Saheeli Rai. Together they form a combo that generates an infinite number of hasty artifact cats, or rather, an arbitary large number of hasty artifact cats, so you can stop when you want. It differs from a lot of combos in that the cards are actually good on their own, with Saheeli being a planeswalker that scries through your deck to find things, and the Felidar Guardian resetting a lot of possible permanents.

Now, I like Felidar Guardian decks, because I like flickering things. I like when my value creatures give me more value, and I’ve liked that since Astral Slide, a deck that isn’t actually good anywhere any more, but let’s not get bogged down in that. The thing with this combo, known as Cat Lady for a while, was that it was pretty powerful in Standard (so much so it got a sort-of emergency ban?), and my love of durdling and flickering creatures is kind of weak when compared to ‘just winning the god damn game out of nowhere.’

Also, flickering creatures with the Felidar Guardian is fine, but also not particularly impressive these days. You want stuff that’s already on the field with the Guardian around, and flickering wants to be cheap, and so it’s not good for recurring on the battlefield, and so on. Still, War of the Spark gave us a bunch of planeswalkers that tick down and you can use the Guardian to flicker a bunch of them. Funnily enough, in these colours, there are a few really good Planeswalkers for this, and they seem to all be girls.

And thus, from Cat Lady, we now have:

Modern Jeskai Catgirls, October 2019

Creatures (8)
Felidar Guardian
Wall of Omens

Planeswalkers (9)
Chandra, Acolyte of Flame
Saheeli Rai
Narset, Parter of Veils
The Wanderer

Spells (24)
Lightning Helix
Lightning Bolt
Remand
Sleight of Hand
Hallowed Fountain
Serum Visions
Lands (19)
Sacred Foundry
Glacial Fortress
Clifftop Retreat
Steam Vents
Plains
Island
Mountain
Sulfur Falls

This deck could be improved massively with the addition of Snapcaster Mage, because at its root it is a 1-2 mana spell based control deck that wants to dig through a deck and win reasonably quickly. Chandra, Acolyte of Flame is a pretty decent kinda-Snapcaster who has supplied some games with an extra few points of damage, but it’s very clear to me the difference between 3 mana and 2.

You make lands and planeswalkers, protect yourself, slow your opponent down, dig for cards, kill threats, then find Saheeli or a Guardian or whichever you don’t already have, then win the game immediately.

It’s not great, but it is fun!

Five Reasons You Should Try Running 4e

Typically when these edition conversations come up, I come at it with a certain kind of defensiveness. This is in part conciliatory – after all, I don’t think the conversation is useful if it’s about whether or not you should play 5e or 4e (or 3e, or Pathfinder, or whatever). It’s not useful, because I have a straightforward answer that I think 4e is better than all of those other games, and I don’t care about hearing about those other games at all.

I know, it’s so unreasonable of me. I just don’t care.

Nonetheless, I often get asked afterwards, ‘hey, would you suggest I try 4e?’ and I usually say something to the effect of ‘hey, I don’t know, why not.’ This is in part because organising a tabletop game is a big pain in the ass. If I’m suggesting you branch out, is it really best to suggest you start by trying 4e, when there’s other, less difficult games to get rolling on, that will broaden your palate and give you a better appreciation for more games, and maybe even give some money to a deserving soul. Is it better to suggest you try 4e D&D than try Dog Bear or Brinkwood or Monster of the Week?

But let’s set that aside for now. Let’s assume you’re curious about a D&D game and are deciding between your options. Alright then, quick and dirty, here’s five reasons why you should try 4ed:

5. It’s Cheap

Perhaps thanks to its reputation and perhaps thanks to being a ‘dead’ game, 4th Edition D&D’s core rulebooks can be had for $10 each in pdf form, giving you a total of $30 to get started. The 5th edition Player’s Handbook is $50, and isn’t even all the resources you’ll need. You could buy the 3.5 PHB for the same $10, but I will point out, that game is really bad and falls apart when you look at it too hard. 4e, on the other hand, works, and that’s what we’re talking about here, geeze.

4. It’s Convenient

Hey, do you like homework? I don’t like homework. Other editions of D&D are set in settings with really specific tones and rules about how the world works, so if you make a character thinking about their flavour first, you have to double check rules to see if that’s true. This can be a real pain in the ass if you want to play something like a cleric or a druid and need to know how magic and your powers interact with your worldview.

4ed D&D doesn’t do that! There’s no pre-established setting you have to learn about while you’re just finding your feet. The world could be dense and rich in lore, it could be an existing story space you like, you could just use it to jam in another setting if you want, because it’s mainly concerned with making sure things work and not being too fussed about how.

3. It Works Great Online!

The 4ed resource set is one where the biggest complaint people have about its primary mechanical axis (the miniatures and tabletop space) is stuff that a lot of online tabletop spaces already cover. If you use Roll20 or Tabletop Simulator to run your game, you won’t need to do anything fancy to get the resources required to set up or play, because all those assets are easily googled and slapped on the tabletop  conveniently.

This means that if you have a problem with getting players to the table, like people have commitments at home and the like, maybe you have a slot in your normal gaming group for a 4e game that lives in those downtime weeks.

2. It’s Fast

Combat in Dungeons and Dragons games is pretty slow, no matter what; there’s always some friction lost to checking initiative and turns and the round of the combat it’s in, and people considering their options and that’s just there. 4ed D&D combat is still about as slow as the editions around it, but 4ed does what it can to push that friction down.

When you’re making characters, roles let players stay out of each other’s ways and when you’re playing, roles let you get a clear idea of what your allies might need. What’s more, it’s pretty easy to make a character who, at level 1 works pretty much fine, and all your standard stuff you need to do your character’s job is guaranteed.

1. It’s Amazingly Easy To Run

The 4ed encounter builder is so robust that you can literally pick monsters at random, and there are even online resources to do that for you, and you will have your encounters pretty much put together. You can even use this to give you an explanation for the session – these four random monsters are in this level 1 encounter? Okay, why are they working together?

The back end of 4e D&D is really, really solid. If you’ve never run a game and want to try it out, 4e D&D is one of the systems that I hold out as a system that knows it has to explain things to you when you get started, and it puts good, useful tools in your hand.

So there!

Game Pile: Time Fcuk

You’re walking down the street, when a cardboard box opens, and you step out. You immediately impress upon yourself that you are, yes, you, and they need you to get into the box because that’s how the time travel that brought them here works, that you will appreciate it, that you will enjoy it, that you will understand such amazing things when you get in the box.

Get in the box.

GET IN THE GODDAMN BOX.

Time Fcuk is a game about time travel and being in a box.

Continue reading

3.5 D&D Heroes of Horror

When you sit down to play a game with your friends, you are ultimately looking to have an experience. That experience can be built around so many feelings, so many ideas, and it is just as valid an experience to seek out the tension and catharsis of a horror scenario as any other. The horror campaign, the macabre fantasy, the tangle of feelings you get when you find yourself pressed in the thorns and consider how much you’d give to just escape, even if it means leaving behind a little of your soul – this is absolutely something you can do in tabletop games.

It’s not even at odds with Dungeons & Dragons’ vision of heroic fantasy, which we can argue about, or wait, no, we can’t argue about it, because I find having to define the narrative parameters of a heroic fantasy or really deal with people who want to try and define the ‘genre’ of a game that’s as broad and flexible as D&D to be a task more akin to pulling teeth than having fun. Accept then that it is entirely possible to run a horror game using Dungeons & Dragons, because even if it’s not to your standards of horror doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve to wear the genre label.

And Wizards of The Coast recognised it too, releasing the 2005 supplement for D&D3.5, Heroes Of Horror.

This book is, let’s say it reaches the lofty purchase of fine, I guess. I’m not wild about the content it offers (in no small part because my players have been horrified by things I made without any such guidance), but I’m also not against what it’s doing for the most part. Particularly nice is that the book contains an attempt to discuss player boundaries and emotional needs, even if it’s a very surface, a very 2005 discussion of those boundaries. I was going to give this book a treatment, only to find I already did a thread on it, and then saw how that thread kind of cooked away into just making fun of one thing in the book.

Even while the book is a thorough examination of a theme space, it’s not all one way of looking at it. There’s talk about player options, about how to handle ideas of tainted powers, kind of a Moorecocky thing. There’s some monsters meant to be more horrifying, there’s some discussion about the use of the inexorable, about the notion of the destruction or opposition of hope itself as component of horror. There’s also some horror scenarios, which I’ll admit I don’t find very engaging because they start at ‘murder clown mind-controlling orphans,’ and I don’t really need any kind of special rules to treat clowns as kill-on-sight targets in games. They’re up there with viziers.

Nonetheless, this is a 3.5 book and what that means is at least somewhere, you’re going to find a big list. In this, the list is a gigantic, 100 entry list of what it calls Creepy Effects. These are meant to be things you can dot into the game to give players a feeling of something unsettling being afoot.

There are three problems with this list. The first is the kinda fucked-up time issue; some of the list’s things can be singular moments, abrupt and dramatic arrests in the vision they have of normal – all the wildlife in an area falling silent to no effect, for example. Some of them are long-term problems, like fiding a persistent object you were sure you disposed of. These events aren’t really comparable – one is best when it comes out of nowhere, the other requires regular poking and prodding to make a repeated effect.

The second problem with the list is how many of these ‘creepy’ things are in fact very ordinary. One creepy happening is meeting a person who has a voice like an adult, but are as tall as a child. That is to say, meeting somone short. Another is a player hears something that none of the other players hear, which is a really common real-world experience, not to mention hearing voices or smelling smells nobody else notices. I get it, it’s horrifying to experience those things if you’ve never had to deal with doubting your own perceptions, but for people who have experienced that, it’s just kinda a reminder of how precious the writer must be. There’s also a bonus point here: in a world where there are Sending spells and Psionics, how is it weird to hear a voice? The real trick is trying to work out who sent the messages.

Finally, the third problem is this table ends on the entry: One Word: Fog, which made me laugh so hard it broke all chance this game had to ever act like it was going to lead to spooky games ever again.