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: abad1dea

Last year, I wrote about abad1dea, and this year I wrote about her perspective informing her books. I’d like to just go on about why my friend is really cool –

so I will.

abad1dea is one of those people with a huge wealth of expertise outside of mine. She’s not a card game or board game person, and her love of videogames is for a period and strata of games conspicuously different to mine. I learn a lot listening to her, about not just things that mattered to Americans, but about things that mattered to her.

She’s interested in very specific technical system problems of videogames – the way glitches work rather than just how to get glitches to happen. That’s stuff that can sometimes involve extremely complex computer science, and it’s not just that she understands it, but she understands how to talk about it in common language.

And boy, is that something that computer nerds are awful about.

It feels like every day or so whenever abad1dea talks about anything technical on twitter, someone is there to smarmily ‘correct’ her. It’s alway commafucking too – the kind of more-precise-than-thou unhelpful idiocy that assumes the speaker knows what she should have said, because they know what she should have meant, which inevitably, they don’t, because they’re not listening to her.

Being a woman on the internet, especially a visibly competent one, sucks.

It sucks especially because I’m not in that field of expertise and sometimes when she explains something, it’ll immediately click to me what she’s saying, and then I’ll watch her descend into ‘kindly rack off’ conversations with people who insist that it would be better if her statement had been more obtuse and less useful. That annoys me because it’s bad communication, but it’s definitely not my place to wade in.

abad1dea has focused on her music composing this year, and I’d like to share a link to her soundcloud here. Check it out!

MTG: Kamigawa Revamp, Part 5: Betrayers of Kamigawa

Wizards of the Coast Employees, this article is going to feature custom card designs.

Goodness me, this project took some time. The opening documents you’ve read so far have all been done, weeks, no, almost months in advance, but as I sit here and pen this, it’s only two weeks before it goes up – and my goodness it has been a time to get this project finished.

First, let’s introduce you to the cards, and then we’ll talk some afterwards.

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Decemberween: Lucy Morris

Odds are good you might have seen this tweet, if you’re around my circles.

The woman behind it isn’t just a game developer, though. Lucy is an artist, a podcaster, a streamer, event organiser and games educator, and this year she’s been spending time building up her twitch following over at Party Shark.

Talking about a streamer is always tricky because like, mostly, streamers are just people and you just interact with them? But for the particular kind of content Fox and I wanted at several times this year, someone who was available during Australian evenings, actively moderated the chat, and wanted to include the audience in the experience, Lucy’s been a wonderful creator to watch.

I’d like to recommend her Vods of the Witchers 1-3, where you can get a solid experience of the whole game without having to play them, as filtered through a squawky New Zealander who knows a lot about user interface and design.

Game Pile: 2018 in Review

One full year of game reviews down, with 51 articles written, refined, processed and posted. If the actual size of The Game Pile as it relates to my Steam library has been of concern to you, well, this year marks the point where the Completed category on my Steam Library has sharply overtaken the Uncategorized. I’m at 294 completed games, 275 uncompleted.

Still, it has been a whole year. What’s changed? What’s improved? Continue reading

Decemberween: Calvin and Dee

Uh oh so

So uhhh

One of my friends turns out to kind of be a movie star?

A little bit?

Not really, but not not?

Calvin Wong Tze Loon, or, to me, ‘Calvin,’ is a writer, board game enthusiast, journalist and… in the movie Crazy Rich Asians? Which is pretty odd as a thing to just, you know, have happen in the middle of a year when you didn’t know it was coming. Oh hey, look, there’s the news, and wait why is Calvin sharing this.

But the glitz and glamour of… whoever made the movie aside, though, Calvin and his partner Dee are two very impotant people in the space of tabletop games, games journalism and games culture. They love what they love, but they’re also willing to hate what they hate. But unlike your typical game reviewer who wears those feelings out loud, the things they love are games and the things they hate are fucking racism.

I know full well I don’t have great sources in Malysia for anything. Between a language gap and a contextual hole, there’s a ton of stuff I simply don’t know and can’t get. And that means that when I find someone who is both of a place and willing to talk about it, I want to hear what that means.

This year, with Netrunner announcing its conclusion, Dee and Calvin spoke at length about how much they loved the game. They spoke not about ‘loving the community’ because anyone could do that, they talked about a vision of a future that wasn’t absent of people like them, a future that recognised a world of culture, that drew in everyone all over in the cyberpunk dystopia.

They’re also annoyingly hard to convince they need like official sites or places for their own stuff. But oh well, step by step.

Decemberween: Echoes in the Dark

Last year one of my earliest Decemberween entries was the work of my friend Leastwise, aka Erik, aka Big Scrumples Downtown*. If you don’t want to click that link (and well, hey, who has the time), I talked about how we met playing The Secret World and more specifically, in its player-driven roleplay fiction space. Leasty showed in this case that he had both an appreciation for weaving the mystical with the real, and a historical leftist perspective that was a little more conducive to recognising just how much of our world’s bastardry was directly connected to extremely bastard people getting what they wanted, and how many interesting stories there were in a history that wasn’t written by the winners.

Leasty and I bemoaned how The Secret World didn’t really have an audience interested in our kind of storytelling and roleplaying, and while I went about my business here, Leastie was doing something about it.

Leastwise made a Blades in the Dark hack, called Echoes in the Dark. It’s a system, it has lore, and it’s designed to focus on desperate efforts in desperate times, but instead of the fixation on how that’s traumatic and breaks you, Echoes in the Dark wants to focus on how small groups of individuals against impossible forces can still make change, make things good, and lift together.

The principle borrows from the urban fantasy origin of The Secret World; you have these large conspiracies with their competing interests. They’re much like the factions of Blades, but instead of a dozen small groups of potentially varied character, these conspiracies are large and powerful but fractured into their many groups.

I think Leastie’s idea is great and I want you to check it out if that sounds interesting to you at all.


* Nobody calls him this

Game Pile: Axiom Verge

Alright, look.

This game, Axiom Verge, is a Metroidvania. Do you know what that term means? Do you know that term in a way that makes you use it instead of the term ‘exploration platformer?’ Okay, cool, good. If you don’t, there’s this great genre of interesting platform games and I’ve covered a few of them in the past; particularly, I really like Shantae, if you can handle a game that’s pretty horny and Cave Story, if you can handle a game that’s pretty hard.

I’m not saying that Axiom Verge is a bad game by bringing up these other, more approachable games. Axiom Verge is really pretty damn good. But as a game it feels to me that you probably need to have experience playing a Metroid game specifically to get your head around the way this game handles its spaces, enemies and resources. You want to know how videogames can glitch, about how things can fail in a way that games largely don’t do any more, except when it’s done deliberately. And you want to know how big a world can be, how to remember seeing things you can’t quite make work yet. It’s not even assumed knowledge – it’s just that Axiom Verge builds in a genre like few games I’ve ever played.

Axiom Verge is, as a game, a game for people who like Metroid games, and I feel like it’s pitched at the kind of player who can appreciate what this game does differently. It feels like a game that wants literacy in what it’s doing, because it can’t explain itself to you the same way other games in the genre do.

So, there’s your Videogame Review spiel. Axiom Verge is a videogame/10, I’ve mentioned Super Metroid and maybe implied that the game has enemies and resources and such. You can go buy it here, if you want to.

Okay?

Now then.

Spoilers ahead.

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MTG: Kamigawa Revamp, Part 3: Legendary

Wizards of the Coast Employees, this article is going to feature custom card designs.

We’ve talked about the structural problems of Kamigawa 1.0, but just to recap, the whole set is about six conflicting factions – five mono-coloured groups against the five-coloured omnishambles that is the Spirit faction. With that problem ‘examined’ last time, it’s time to attack the next structural problem: Legendary.

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Decemberween: Desert Bus

This year, I contributed a print-on-demand game, The Pipesm’n Conspiracy, to the Desert Bus for Hope 2018 event. I’ve shared some pictures of this game, both in development and once it was finalised.

The game was made over the course of a month, and printed at Gamecrafter, then sent to the LRR folks. I have never handled a copy of this game, but I’ve tested a prototype I made myself.

It was made into a silent auction, where it it raised a thousand dollars for Child’s Play, with a bid of $987.65. This obviously blows my mind and I’ve spent the intervening time processing the feelings as a result. I’m confused, I’m stunned, I’m honestly ashamed – because I know the work that went in to getting that stuff in place.

To tell you the story, briefly, of how this happened; I made the game, in my home, on cards and in GIMP. I then exported the files and sent those to The Gamecrafter, and had them print and send them to Vancouver, to my friend Hazel.  At this point, expected delivery was within the week, but something went wrong, and instead they were delayed on the way to her.

That means they arrived at Hazel’s place late. Hazel is in Vancouver, which for the Munchlaxen amongst you is basically the next city over from Victoria, its destination.

Hazel received the games, then bagged them as per Desert Bus requests. Then, with the deadline ticking down, as we fumbled through the records for address information, we did our best to find our shipping options that would get it to the right place at the right time. We almost got it right, but I want to shout out to Hazel here – she was willing to personally get on the ferry right there and detective work her way to the right location to hand the game over to people personally to make sure it got there on time.

She didn’t have to do that, as we got her the address, but I messed up on the information, and that meant the prize got there but wasn’t labelled for Desert Bus and went into general Mail Time.

What happened after that point was, thanks to encouragement on the Discord when my prize wasn’t showing up on the Desert Bus page, I contacted the Prize people, who then – while they were very busy– went digging through packages for my mislabelled one, found it, put it on the website, put it on the schedule, and that’s how it got to happen.

I feel awful about putting people out like this.

I want to thank Hazel so much for her part in this – she did nothing wrong, she executed on the information I gave her perfectly. She gave me tracking information which was invaluable for getting the right package. I also want to thank the hard work of Fugi (Foo-Jee) and Ashley Turner (and anyone who helped her, who I cannot name by name), in getting the prize into the pool. Everyone involved was doing other stuff, they were busy, and I made everything a bit harder, and a bit more complicated. I’m so embarassed by this messup and I’m sorry that it went the way it did.

I’ve been trying to approach LoadingReadyRun with my games for a while; you might remember the ridiculous way I got excited when they opened some of my games on Mail Time last year. Except thanks to a cock-up on my end, they arrived without boxes and therefore, without rulebooks, a point of unprofessionalism that also hugely embarasses me. I don’t like twitch chat very much, so I feel very bad being this person @-ing people on twitter like I’m an exciteable fan going oo oo Mr Stark, Mr Lauder, please pay attention to me!

Desert Bus is an amazing charity that does things that matter to me a lot; it aims to be inclusive and respectful and indulgent, which is what I want out of my games. This year they passed the $5,000,000 lifetime earning mark, brought in dozens of amazing people, and in a tiny way, in the tiniest of ways, I was part of that. Not only was I part of that, but people involved in that worked to keep my contribution from falling away. They didn’t need my thing to raise that money, they didn’t need it. They could have kept it for next year, or told me sorry, you messed up, or sorry, we’re too busy.

They could have and they didn’t.

I feel ashamed that it’s necessary, but I am so, so grateful to the people who spent their time and effort in such an incredibly busy time to make something like that happen, to let me and Hazel be part of this.

Desert Bus is wonderful and good and as much as I hate the way I lose a week of my life just paying attention to this stream, I am so blessed by the work and actions of the people involved to be included in it.

Thank you, Desert Bus.

MTG: Kamigawa Revamp, Part 2: The Kami War

Wizards of the Coast Employees, this article is going to feature custom card designs.

When you want to dismantle a set and fix it, it seems to me you should want to get down as close as possible to the basics of what went into that set. Strip it down, examine the central principles, and see what you can do to fix them. You need to find the things that made the set feel the way it did without, hopefully, carrying forwards the things that made it feel bad. Which means that you want to represent the same general factional struggle and strife, you want things to broadly still have the same boxes they can land in and in Kamigawa that means addressing the big flavour underpinning the whole thing:

The Kami War. Continue reading

Decemberween: Big Stevie Dee

First up hand on heart, I like Steve Dee‘s games. That’s a weird thing to disclose, because it’s normally the other way around. They’re not the kind of games I play, but I have bought some of them, because I like having them and they have good mechanical ideas that I can use for my own projects. That doesn’t reflect on my opinion of him as a person, though.

There’s this idea I have as a game developer that I want to hear from people who have something going on other than games development. Games Development As Identity is kind of how you wind up with these small, insular groupings of games that feel similar, even if they have huge or small budgets. There are lots of Games Developers who got into Games Development by being Games Developers.

Steve Dee came to my house this year, and he spoke to me about dogs.

He spoke to me about dogs, because he was here to give us lessons in understanding and helping our dog. Elli, who is a beautiful but somewhat silly dog. And in one afternoon, Steve was not only able to explain to me behaviour from our dog that bore out as true, but he was able to do it in a way that made sense to me.

That’s an under-appreciated skill in game design. You’re trying to communicate a way things work to people through rules, through game play. Steve has it, but crucially, Steve works at it.

Game Pile: Blades in the Dark

It took a lot to get me out of 4ed D&D.

I’ve been playing D&D 4th edition since 2008. Our playgroup has a two-DMs policy, so the DM doesn’t have to wear out only ever playing; so we have two campaigns running side by side. This year, I sat down in the heat of a summer night with my friends, pulled out some printed sheets, and asked if we could give Blades in the Dark a try.

I’ve been running this game now for a year. My players’ crew, the Six Towers Station, a gang of daring smugglers, who I sometime tease for their lack of interest in smuggling. They have pulled off bank heists, woken up in a shipping container, relocated the bodies of ghostly lesbians, sold a soul in bits to the eletrical grid, created the myth of a refugee goddess, and ensnared in their web of crime a tanner’s and an undertaker’s.

I planned exactly none of this.

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Unintentional Optimisation

Let me complain about a problem I’m having.

One of my games, currently titled under the genius name Boat Game is about shipping containers. I’m very proud of it, I did the art myself, I’m liking seeing the bits come together etcetera, and I have a lot of system stuff done for it, but it’s not in that turbo-get-it-done stage that led to games like Winston’s Archive being blurred through.

What’s holding me up is that question I vented about earlier of procedurality. I’ve made a bunch of procedural games, where everything that exists exists in a specific set. You know, n hands of cards, or cards exist in these two-part combinations.

For Boat Game, I was trying to avoid that. Which means that while there are a bunch of shipping container cards that show two containers, I don’t think I want it to be as simple as ‘every combination of containers shows up the same amount of time.’ This then puts me in the next challenge.

How do I divide this up?

What I’m afraid of, at core, is the idea that by distributing these things unevenly I’m going to create a scenario that’s unfair. This is a card game – shuffling cards tends to increase variance, so if the distribution of cards has an unfairness in it, it won’t show up readily or easily. That means if I do create an unfair game state, it’s entirely possible I won’t catch it in the game development and playtesting.

I’m paralysed.

I am writing this to exorcise this, to some extent. After all: These things are distributed on markets and player behaviour. If there are some things super expensive or super valuable and rare, then the odds are good that players will still scrabble on it. The question is about whether or not things get too desperate, if things become too high-stakes.

m hoping by the time this publishes, the game is out, but hey.

MTG: Pet Cards XIX, Amonkhet Block

I guess… this is the end?

The most recent set to cycle out, the most recent set I can think of as having ‘gone’ from Standard. A set I played a lot, with my fistful of change, a set I watched streamers drafting. A set that I really did like.

I might go back and look at Odyssey block again, because, I mean surely I should? But I’m going to enjoy digging into Amonkhet in the coming weeks, to play with it out of standard, to see what casual modern feels like in the MTGO playrooms.

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Minecraft, MMOs and Word Counts

I write every day.

Well, okay.

I wrote every day. I write every day, most every day. Sometimes things will interfere with that. These past two weeks, the thing that’s interfered has been being sick.

Oh don’t worry, it’s not now now. This is back in September. September I got a flu so serious it knocked me flat out and resulted in a giant pile of just forgotten paperwork. I got things done, but there were all these small things I was on top of that I’m not on top of right now, as I write this – in October.

During this time I did climb back into feeling okay, and started looking at my dwindling backlog of writing. It sit usually somewhere around 30 to 40 posts. As I write this, it’s dipped down to 27 – but I was really riding high when I got sick, nearly 45 posts, all on schedule. I’m very happy with my blog productivity, and I’m happy with how often I write.

While I was sick, I reinstalled Minecraft. And that resulted in something… interesting.

See, back in 2017, I thought that I had to stop playing MMO-like games because they were sapping my creativity. I’d spend a lot of time on grinding and building and learning lore and all those things to roleplay in these spaces, and that work was, in general, pulling me away from my blog. I kept anxiously shifting to writing tasks or creative work, because I was afraid of all the time I was losing to playing the MMOs, and I found myself in this awful loop of just refreshing two or three websites endlessly in a loop for hours at a time, to make sure I didn’t miss opportunities to RP that I might enjoy.

Right now, I have Minecraft open and I have basically been running around in a small loop for most of the afternoon. It’s 3AM now. That’s not sensible. That’s not healthy. And part of it is that I kept breaking my attention from the tasks I wanted to do to run around in Minecraft, move near a farm or set up a thing or check what I was doing, and that, that’s where I put a handle to the problem I was having with MMOs. The problem I was having with my blog.

October has a theme of spooky games. I, as I write this, still haven’t got my final spooky game lined up and writte up. This is really late for me – I’m usually a whole month ahead of time, so I’m a bit bummed out that I haven’t done a good job there. Even as I sit here writing this I feel the urge to tab across and double check things, to see if I missed things, to see if there’s something important I need to do.

I realise that the problem isn’t that MMOs are failing me or that Minecraft is too addictive.

I’m just anxious.

And I’m so anxious I’m losing whole days on the same simple mental loop.

This sucks.

Term: Traitor Mechanics

With co-op and semi-cop already introduced, it sort of seems a natural flow from that point that there are traitor mechanics. Traitor mechanics are mechanics where one individual player can choose to change their allegiance to the rest of the group. Traitor mechanics are important to separate from semi-co-op, because a traitor needs to have had some reason to be in the cooperative group in the first place.

Utility

Usually, traitor mechanics are best deployed when there’s an incentive for players to succeed together, but also an incentive to succeed alone. This can be a challenging puzzle when you deal with it in a larger scale – you want to design things so the traitor is an option without it being a natural endgame. You can also use traitor mechanics as a way to introduce surprise and spice to an existing game structure (and it shows up in some co-op Legacy games, but I won’t mention which ones because that’d spoilery).

Note that a game with a traitor mechanic really isn’t too different from ‘a semi-co-op game.’ These arent pure descriptors of mechanical language as much as they are trying to be useful guides to what someone means when they mention a thing.

Limitations

I tend to think that traitor mechanics want to be part of larger games – games like Archipelago and Battlestar Galactica, where if one player is a traitor, deducing that they are and routing around them still has enough game to it. That’s not to say they’re totally necessary to make traitor mechanics work – after all, you can view poker as a game based around a traitor mechanic, and so to our small game Pie Crimes.

I think myself, I’d avoid using the term traitor mechanic too broadly. It isn’t just the idea of competing, unsure teams like The Resistance – it’s about giving a player a reason and a choice to prioritise themselves over others. Dead of Winter does this by giving players secret goals – stockpiling medicine, for example – without necessarily making it break the whole group at large.  This isn’t Betrayal At The House On The Hill either because it’s not like a player ever has to choose between competing rewards.

Examples

Mafia De Cuba and The Game Of Thrones board game.

Working in Layers 2

A while back I wrote about working in layers for the design of a card, in Good Cop, Bear Cop. Thanks to the work of a friend, Vivienne, I got a nice 3d representation of this.

This here is a card from Sector 86. In this case, the card can have different names (under the ‘AKA’) and flavour text (italic at the bottom) with the same artwork and mechanical information. Now, this is a simplified version of the card, made out of parts, but here’s an example of how layering lets you make parts of the card art interact.

Work in layers is extremely basic advice, but it’s very good basic advice.

MTG: Karador and the Decisive Combo

Some Commanders create a robust structure around them, a sort of general-purpose space where you can use them to construct a solid but not unreasonable deck. Sometimes a Commander is a back-up plan, who can come in to bat clean-up after your deck has done its thing. Sometimes a commander enables a slow, grinding playstyle and sometimes they are the sword which you plunge into other players’ hearts.

Maybe we’ll talk about some of those soon.

Anyway, one of my favourite Commanders, a commander who helped really crystallise me as a Commander player on MTGO, is Karador, Ghost Chieftain.

I may just be a sucker for playing dudes with antlers.

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Game Pile: Sprawlopolis

I’ve talked about lawnmower language when it comes to talking about games. It’s the idea that sometimes we talk about games as if we’re talking about products for a task and sometimes we talk about them like they’re art for consideration. Normally, I don’t do that here – even the games I really love, I tend to love with caveats, big asterisks that tell you hey, I may like this game, but don’t go thinking you should. Sometimes, some game reviews are basically advertisements for the game.

In this case, I don’t mind advertising this game because it’s very easy for me to tell you how much you should want it. Hell.

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MTG: Pet Cards XVIII, Kaladesh Block

When I started this series, it was on a whim, and I did not map it out at all. I picked an arbitary start point (I mean, Odyssey was legal when I started, why not start there? I played Extended, why not reach back to the start of that? I play a lot of cards that predate myself, etc etc) and just kept going bi-weekly. I wasn’t aiming to be relevant or timely. I try to avoid that!

I didn’t realise Kaladesh and Amonkhet would have just rotated by the time I got to them.

Kaladesh is a bit too fresh, and it was in part something that edged me out of Standard, even as it pushed me into playing with my cube a lot. This set had one of the first mechanics I’ve ever seen that made Fox – Fox! – actively happy about the way a limited environment played. It had a huge cultural importance, I got to watch the rolling waves of cultural imposition, accusations of mistakes, cultural insensitivity and the fascinating question of what respect to faith in this context.

And also, a bunch of busted, busted cards.

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3.5 Memories – Singh Rager

Sometimes playing Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition was like playing a game under a Mexican standoff. Part of it was our maturity as players and part of it was a very programmatic view of the game rules. There was a fairly widespread, commonly seen vision that there was a correct way to play the game, and you could use precedent and rules and various senior authorities to make your position the correct one. The thing is, these arguments weren’t fun and they’d eat all day and you’d get sick of them, so you wanted to avoid them.

What’s more, the game was so big that it wasn’t very easy for a DM to be sure about what their players could do, and it was often very awkward to roll with it when a player did something unexpected. If you were particularly strict about things, you’d sometimes watch as the game juddered to an almighty halt as you nerfed a player in-action, putting your foot down at the right moment to make a player feel bad. Especially bad when players had common goals, but you had to reign one in while leaving the other unrestrained. Rightness of it notwithstanding, it felt bad.

It wasn’t like the design didn’t encourage this kind of mindset, too – there were all sorts of monsters which were made explicitly to shut off particular abilities of player characters. Golems often were immune to magic in all but extremely specific ways, many monsters had totally unreasonable damage reduction or really weak saves in one category, and that was meant to represent a way that the players could prey on weak points, or, that you could punish players for their failings. DMs knew they had ‘the nasty stuff’ they could bust out, and it was stuff that almost never had any meaningful reason to be the way it was. You didn’t need to put Gricks anywhere, Gricks didn’t have powerful resonance. You didn’t need a Golem, representing a wizard’s hubris, you could just use all the other more interesting things wizards could do. Wizard players would never flipping bother with making a golem, too.

DMs stayed away from these things unless the players got uppity, and the players, in order to avoid arguments, tried to avoid getting uppity. One of the easiest ways to get uppity was to show off that you could exceed the challenges presented by the DM – which really, in hindsight, is such a silly thing. If a fight’s over fast, just implement that knowledge for next time.

Anway.

What this meant is that if you wanted to min-max, you kind of wanted to min max within boundaries of what the DM could handle. Combat was a good place to stay, because even the nuttiest combat build still tended to be limited by where it could physically stand and how many actions you got in a turn. Wizards could sidestep entire combats with utility spells, or scry-and-die boss monsters. Clerics could make armies and take over dragons, and druids were all that on rocket skates. The Artificer and Archivist waited nervously in the wings, hoping nobody would notice them, because they were somehow more busted than the other spellcasters.

If you wanted to min-max a melee combat type, though?

Well, boy, you could go buck. wild. there and it wouldn’t really matter too much. The most broken melee combatant in the game you could make was probably a wizard or cleric, after all, so if you got there without doing any of that nonsense, you were usually seen as ‘playing fair.’

So let’s talk about the Singh Rager, a 3.0 orphan that got nerfed by 3.5, and was good enough even after the nerf.

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Mad About Adam Jensen

I really don’t like Adam Jensen. The character from the Deus Ex franchise, and based on games’ count alone, the main thing the franchise is about. The guy who never asked for this. This guy.

Adam Jensen’s only limitations represented by his cybernetic augmentations are the moments when someone calls him out of a lineup to tell him that he, the cool looking super badass who doesn’t have conspicuous augs and has special privileges that keep him from being seriously detained, has been noticed. There’s inklings of his physiotherapy, of the recovery, shown in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but it’s invisibled. It’s on his desk in his home and you never have to do it.

Adam Jensen isn’t in debt for his augs. He gets a super cool job that lets him do all the things he was doing beforehand, and the guy who could hypothetically charge him for the augs, repeatedly tells him that hey, no, it’s okay, it’s okay, you’re not in debt. The guy who gave him his augmentations basically is his dad, and that dadness carries through in how how kindand incredibly permissive that dad figure is. Cyberpunk stories are so often about alienation and destruction of conventional support networks through technology, but instead we have Adam with his beloved Dad taking care of him, even if he is doing shady stuff on the side.

Adam Jensen isn’t dealing with the medical disabilities of everyone else with those augs, and it’s because Adam Jensen is the human being this universe created to be the one person immune to those problems. Like, that’s the point. The reason augs can happen at all in a widespread fashion is because Adam Jensen is immune to glial build-up. And what he did for this is literally less than nothing.

In a cyberpunk universe, worlds defined by waste, corporate power being expressed through things like private police services, and the grinding complexity and difficulty of human interface with technology, Adam Jensen is the person who is exempted from these problems or benefits from them.

Adam Jensen is the least cyberpunk thing to ever be created for a cyberpunk universe.

Game Pile: Lords Of Madness

I rarely hold up Dungeons and Dragons books as being good books for general gaming purposes. They’re all very much books about Dungeons and Dragons, and even Elder Evils, last weeks’ offering for campaign-ending threats, was a book jammed full of systems for explaining weather, big dungeon designs and complex fight mechanics. When you bought a book for Dungeons and Dragons 3.5, you were often getting a book that was some 30%-50% system information, information that’s dead weight if you’re not using that system. Some of my favourite books from that time, like The Tome of Battle and Races of Eberron are absolutely steeped in mechanical information, and if you’re not using it, you really aren’t getting enough book for your investment to be worth your time.

But let me show you a book that I want to recommend to anyone making or playing with horror even if you don’t want to use D&D or even fantasy settings, that also has the on-theme matter of being a spooky book about spooky stuff. I don’t mean Heroes of Horror, which devotes a lot of its space to trying to systemitise horrifying things, no. I want to talk to you about a book about putting things in your world that are horrible.

I want to talk about Lords of Madness.

That said, I would issue a content warning, beyond the typical this is a book about spooky stuff. This book has a lot of humans being eaten, brain parasites, descriptions of people being seen as prey, but all that stuff is very passe for D&D monsters. Here be tentacles, goop, puppeteering and meat.

The other content warning is that if you’re Dissociative or plural or have DID or any of the related fields of mindset complication, Lords of Madness attempts to write numerous ‘alien’ psychologies that may look familiar to you, imagined as alien othered.

I’m personally reluctant to use the term ‘saneism’ because I don’t feel qualified to make that call, but there’s a lot of language in this book that assumes a very simple mental health binary and puts things like plurality or low-empathy living in the ‘bad’ bucket. Note that this doesn’t really take into account that most D&D adventuring parties are composed of homeless murderers.

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