Grinding to a Halt: Battle Maps

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With my recent uptick in presenting audio RPG enjoyment to the masses, I’ve also come across a few stumbling blocks pertaining to the hobby, necessitating occasional bouts of serious audio editing. This has occasionally been warranted by a player ordering a pizza on mic, and henceforth potentially giving out his credit card number to the internet or, more frequently, the constant segments of dead air accompanied by miniature play with battle maps.

Let me preface the rest of this post by saying that I heartily enjoy battle maps, both as a player and a GM, and in games which employ them I find that my immersion level absolutely increases due to the additional visual stimulus. However, this is not the case for listeners of actual plays, unless there happens to also be a camera present and recording. For listeners, even listeners who happened to be there, the visual aid is gone, replaced by players either actively voicing their enjoyment of the visual aids, or staring dumbly at them; neither adding to the roleplaying in general or to the voices in the recording for the actual play.

I find that the extra stimulus for the players ends up slowing their reaction times and creativity, because they are busy converting what is shown on a table in front of them into three dimensions, rather than working from a constant mental narrative. There is also the difficulty in some players making the full transition into three living, breathing, dimensions, and thus are stuck in what I am going to call the Chess Mentality, where pieces can only move in certain ways and act in certain ways.

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This is, of course, partially to be expected in games where combat mechanics work through very structured rulesets, where x number of feet translates into y number of squares. However, this thought process tends to ignore the z axis entirely. Players assume the roles of their static, plastic (occasionally metal), posed figures, rather than using them as a stepping stone for their own roleplaying. Eventually this thought process became the norm, and we began designing games with that concept in mind, creating imaginative terms, powers, feats, and skills for jumping over an enemy or running up the side of a wall, rather than having a player ask a question like “What if I were to slide between the giant’s legs and try to end up on his back side?”

As stated above, don’t take this to mean that I dislike miniature combat or battle maps. They do offer wonderful visuals for players, good reference points for hand-drawn maps, dimensions, etc., but I’m curious to see what a combination one could manage with a part imagination part map game, where you draw maps, but to a smaller scale than the players’ miniatures, so that they can have an idea of how they are moving, and where they are going, but at the same time not just be moving pieces along a board game.

I hope to test out this theory sometime. Hopefully it’ll cut down on some of my audio trimming time.

Actual Play: Pathfinder’s Mummy’s Mask Episode 02

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This week we continue with the Mummy’s Mask Adventure Path! This session players progressed through a few rooms of the Tomb of Akhentepi, and encountered some truly horrible creatures. Good times.

Players:
Jesse - Solaire, Human Paladin
Jade – Rukka, Tengu Oracle
Russel – “Farmer” Farmair, Dhampir Inquisitor
Buck – Beduir el Siwat, Human Rogue
Susan – Ipera Blue-Eyes, Half-Elf Bard

Sir Not Appearing this Week:
Shane – “Ginger-Forge” Smakkerson, Dwarf Ranger

GM:
David Schimpff

Enjoy.

Actual Play: Pathfinder’s Mummy’s Mask Episode 01

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This past Thursday I began what will hopefully become a weekly Pathfinder game, running friends through the Adventure Path Mummy’s Mask. In this session, players convened in Wati, the half-dead city, and entered the lottery to see which part of the necropolis they would have the pleasure to loot, for fun and profit.

Players:
Shane – “Ginger-Forge” Smakkerson, Dwarf Ranger
Jade – Rukka, Tengu Oracle
Russel – “Farmer” Farmair, Dhampir Inquisitor
Buck – Beduir el Siwat, Human Rogue
Susan – Ipera Blue-Eyes, Half-Elf Bard

GM:
David Schimpff

Enjoy.

Iron Kingdoms RPG: Multi-attacks

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So I’ve been pondering Iron Kingdoms RPG for a few days now, mainly because it’s been more than a week since my last game and I made a decision at the end of my previous session that, despite my absolute love for warjacks, I would instead focus on giving my character, Benjaemin Gallaster IV, as many attacks per round as humanly possible.

Looking at the rules, this turns out to be a shit-ton.

To start things off right, Benjaemin is a Skilled Human Duelist/Aristocrat.

Attack 1 (Base): Characters in Iron Kingdoms make one attack during their activation

Attack 2 (Skilled): A Skilled character gains an extra attack during his Activation Phase if he chooses to attack.

So far so good. Two attacks right off the bat, and using a Repeating Pistol means that I can go up to 5 attacks with a one-handed weapon. POW 10 isn’t really much to cheer about, but that can be somewhat fixed by Virtuoso. Regardless, I decided to move on and select Two-Weapon Fighting as an ability from my Duelist career.

Attack 3 (TWF): While fighting with a one-handed weapon in each hand, the character gains an additional attack for the second weapon. He suffers a -2 on attack rolls with the second weapon while doing so.

Bam. Third attack. While TWF has an Agility requirement of 4, anyone worth their Skilled archetype takes as much Agility as possible. The -2 on attack rolls can be problematic, but if you sacrifice your move action to aim, well, that pretty much negates that bad bit of business. Also, as a skilled character I have the option in the future of taking Ambidextrous, which negates that penalty. Continuing! For my third career I decided to go with Rifleman, as he has this wonderful ability called Dual Shot.

Attack 4 (Dual-Shot): The character can forfeit his movement during his turn to make one additional ranged attack with a pistol or rifle.

There are a couple hitches in this situation, I’ll grant you. First, you have to be using a ranged weapon. Second, when you sacrifice your move for the additional attack, that means you’re not getting an aiming bonus. However, if you’re fighting something with a low DEF, whether naturally or just due to some crippled values, you can get off four shots at it, and only ONE has to be at a -2 RAT.

Now for some conditionals. You’ll notice here that I’m currently sitting at 4 attacks on my activation. As a Duelist, I also have the option to take Quick Work as an ability. This will be my last on-activation attack, but gets me up to 5 attacks per round.

Attacks 5-6 (Quick Work): When this character kills one or more enemies with a melee attack during his combat action, immediately after the attack is resolved this character can make one ranged attack.

Of course, this means sacrificing one of my hands so it holds a melee weapon, but if I’m facing 2-shot enemies I can soften them up with a pistol shot, stab it to death, and then make another ranged attack against another enemy in range. Also, interestingly enough, Quick Work can activate multiple times per round, so if you’re surrounded by foes you may get a few more shots in.

Example:
Base Attack: Shoot
Skilled Attack: Stab (kill enemy, gain feat point)
Quick Work: Shoot 2nd enemy in melee
Two Weapon Fighting: Stab (kill 2nd enemy, gain feat point)
Quick Work x2: Shoot 3rd enemy in range
Dual-Shot: Shoot (and kill?) 3rd enemy in range (gain feat point)

There you go, up to 6 attacks per combat activation. Of course, this requires the Gunfighter ability as well. Also, you can possibly combine this series attack with an ability like Swift Hunter, which allows you to move 2″ every time you incapacitate an enemy with a ranged attack, potentially getting you into more melee situations and Quick Work potentialities.

Now onto off-turn attacks.

Riposte: Once per round when this character is missed by an enemy’s melee attack, immediately after the attack is resolved he can make one normal attack against the attacking enemy.

Return Fire:  Once per round when this character is missed by an enemy’s melee attack, immediately after the attack is resolved he can make one normal attack against the attacking enemy.

First of all, note that neither ability specifically states that you must respond with a particular type of attack. If you’re able, it’s possible to respond to a ranged attack with a melee attack, and vice versa. However, note that abilities like Quick Work only activate on your turn, not on an opponent’s turn.

So there you go. At first when I started playing my Skilled Duelist/Aristocrat I felt like I’d made some kind of mistake, opting to go for a middle of the road sucker rather than someone powerful. I’ve changed my own mind about that, at least.

Reaparing (ha!) a Broken Wheel: Diablo III Loot

Off and on, for the last year or so since the release of Diablo III and my disastrous affair with it over the course of its first 72 hours, I’ve shunned the game itself and all-but ignored any mention of it. My disappointment with the sequel to a game to which I could have counted my playtime in days before the era before World of Warcraft was more than palpable, as I found myself only spending less than a calendar week engrossed in the disappointment that was Diablo III.

I’ve struggled to figure out why I dislike it so much. I’ve considered its linearity, plot, mechanics, and aesthetics, trying to eliminate any nostalgia I may feel for its predecessors, but still find myself considering it a lacking iteration of the series.

If I find the time and inclination to really delve more into this, I’ll make this disassembly of Diablo III in its entirety, or as exhaustively as I deem necessary, but today I just want to talk about a revelation I experienced regarding the loot system.

For those who are unfamiliar with the game type, the Diablo series is a plot-driven excuse to beat up as many monsters as possible in the hopes that they’ll drop rare loot. You start out by picking a specific archetype of character, head into a dungeon, and hit things until they explode into gold and items. Someone once compared it to a combination piñata and slot machine, which is apt. There is absolutely an addictive quality to the game, reinforced when you kill a monster and something shiny drops to the ground, just waiting to be revealed to be something amazing. Where it really gets devious is that with regular slot machines, you know what you want: more money. With the payoffs in the Diablo series ‘money’ can be damage or defense, or buffs, but it can also shoot lightning bolts when you get hit by enemies, or cast poisonous clouds when you use an ability, or spawn glowing orbs of death around you at random intervals, or crush your enemies, see them driven your enemies before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.

Awesome money, is what I’m saying.

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There is, of course, a semblance of a plot, but after you go through it the first time it becomes window dressing, a backdrop to more looting and killing. The first Diablo had the beginnings of this addictiveness, but was hampered by rampant cheats and duping (an in-game glitch that allowed players to copy expensive items ad nauseam). There wasn’t much reason to look for loot when a friendly passing stranger could drop the best items in the game for you the second you spawned in town.

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Diablo II, on the other hand, perfected the system, by creating a tiered ranking of trash, regular, magical, rare, set, and unique items; each with their own specific color coding. From the get-go, you had a chance of seeing a random enemy drop an item in any of these colors, and the mad scramble between players in a game to click that one colored item became a hilarious rat-race, with one winner and up to seven losers. This created an inherent replayability to the system, because you were literally seeing someone else pick up an item that looked amazing, and the trading mechanic introduced into this sequel allowed the ‘finder’ to safely showcase the identified loot to disappointed ‘losers’, and potentially begin an insanely swear-ridden round of auctioneering. Unfortunately, this scarcity of items also created a faux ‘black market’ in Diablo II, where players sold virtual items for real dollars on ebay, and delivered the items to you in-game. Everyone viewed this development as catastrophic to the system but, surprisingly, nothing ended in flames. Or rather, nothing that wasn’t scripted to catch flames on its death ended in flames.

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At launch, Diablo III sought to resolve the issue of the black market sellers by creating their own official auction houses, both for real money and in-game gold; and in order to accommodate this new design, they had to alter the item drop rates. And, of course, by ‘alter’ that actually meant ‘all-but eliminate.’ Players could game for days (and did) without seeing anything rarer than yellow, which was sad, because the only thing rarer than yellow was now gold, or golden-red, or…whatever that shade is. Unfortunately they also created a system where the majority of unique (now called legendary) items would drop would be in the endgame. Therefore, throughout sixty character levels the only thing a player tended to see was an endless avalanche of white, blue, and yellow items. Which got old, fast.

This was coupled with a second problem, one which the new Loot patch has not yet resolved, and which has actually exacerbated. You see, in Diablo II, when I said from the get-go you could see any color of item drop, that didn’t necessarily mean that the dropped item was of any use to the character archetype you created. This was partially infuriating, of course, because you had your hopes resting on getting a shiny new sword/shield/helmet for your paladin, but ended up finding a ring that added levels to sorceress spells or amazon javelin skills. However! This, for me at least, ended up creating replayability, because now that I had this great loot for a completely different character and play-style, I had incentive to create that new character so it could benefit from this loot! It was an insidious, genius, mind-blowing game mechanic that Blizzard apparently completely forgot about.

Because now, in Diablo III, if an item drops, it’s going to be for your character type, and your character type alone. It cuts down on frustration by sacrificing incentive to explore another play style. And that’s quite the travesty.

Warmachine Wednesdays: The Lancer

IMAG0595 (1)For various factions in WarmaHordes, you have your iconic pieces. Whether through art design or in-game execution, some models just scream “MY FACTION IS X,” and for Cygnar, the starter that best represents their focus on technology is the Lancer. On its own, the Lancer is a dinky unit. Less speed than a Cryx bonejack, hit power equal to some infantry units, there’s really only one reason to take the Lancer with you into combat, and that reason is that it fucks up other ‘jacks*. A lot of people focus on the weapons a model has in WarmaHordes, which is pretty standard reasoning. Obviously, you’re going to be concerned about that thing that’s poking your units to death.

However, this thought process will get you thoroughly messed up coming against a Lancer, who has a Shock Shield. Every time the shield remains non-crippled and the Lancer takes a hit? That’s a box off your opponent’s ‘jack’s Cortex. Every time it hits with the shield? Another box off the cortex. Loaded with focus, a Lancer can permanently hamstring the capabilities of an enemy warjack every turn. And this is an ability only ‘jacks from Cygnar possess. Used with the base-box Stryker1′s disruption abilities, you can effectively neuter two different jacks in one turn.

It should be noted that the Lancer also comes with an arc node, which can come into some use during battle, but if your Lancer is using his Shock Shield engaged in b2b, remember he can’t be used to channel anything.

*Warbeasts do not have Cortex boxes, and therefore the only reason to bring a Lancer into battle with them is for its arc node which, as stated above, has limited functionality.

Worldbuilding: 20 Questions to Ask Yourself When City-Building

12065714091051345832nicubunu_RPG_map_symbols_City_2.svg.hiSo this April I’m going to be going insane prepping a Magic World game and, because I’m a crazy control freak, I’m going to make everything up from scratch. But it’s been a while since I’ve sat down to do some worldbulding, so I’m a little rusty. I came up with these questions after about five minutes of thought, and they aren’t in any particular order.

1. What’s special about it?

2. What’s the weather like?

3. Who rules/makes decisions?

4. Okay, who really rules/makes decisions?

5. What’s their chief export? How do most of its non-merchant citizens make money?

6. What’s crime like?

7. What’s the law like?

8. Who can you ask about in town that everyone has some kind of rumor about?

9. Does the place have any holidays?

10. What’s the population like?

11. Is there diversity?

12. How does the place get along with neighboring settlements?

13. Where is the closest tavern? What is it called?

14. How do most people enter the settlement?

15. Is there a marketplace? A market day?

16. What kind of recurring troubles does the settlement have?

17. What happens if a character is caught committing a petty crime?

18. What happens if a character commits a murder? What if he/she is caught?

19. How do people talk here?

20. What/Who do people who live here believe in, religiously, for the most part?

If you have any suggestions for more questions, feel free to post them in the comments!

March Madness OGBC: Day 31

“What out-of-print RPG would you most like to see back in publication? Why?”

mouseguard Because I don’t want to pay $100 on a hardcover sourcebook for this game.

I’ve already done a semi-retrospective of this March Madness, and honestly I can’t think of a sourcebook I’d really like to have back in ‘publication,’ because DriveThruRPG exists and they sell .pdfs of everything I can literally think of. I mean, Mouseguard goes for $20 bucks on their site. I think I just want a hard copy of the book because I like having them.

Zing, I know.

Regardless, I’ve had a really great time blogging this month about what I’m just realizing is a sore lack of a spanning gaming experience, and am looking forward to rectifying this for what will hopefully be a yearly 31-day challenge.

Next month, look forward to me possibly following through on at least campaign planning for Magic World and beginning conversions for Dark Tower Pendragon (Working title Arthur Eld: The Dark Tower).

Thanks for reading, I’m sure some of my posts were likely spastic and incoherent, but I appreciate all the input!

Lastly: I’ve created an alternate site for Crit This at www.atomicbananapress.blogspot.com, which will update with the same info you find under the Crit This! category of this site, so if you just want to read about Roleplaying Games, you can go there…or really just click on the Crit This! header at the top.

See you next month!

March Madness OGBC: Day 30

“Which non-D&D supplemental product should everyone know about? Give details.”

"Cat-thulhu" by Gamegeneral

“Cat-thulhu” by Gamegeneral

Now here’s a game I can talk about, and that I want to talk about, and holy shit people Lovecraft loved cats so much his name has love in it and someone decided to do something about it and I’m totally not talking about the GenCon Kickstarter I totally backed and THIS IS THE INTERNET PEOPLE SO GET EXCITED ABOUT CATS!

Ha, I bet it would get really annoying if I kept writing in that voice for the rest of this post.

In all seriousness, when I’m talking Cathulhu, I’m referring to the Worlds of Cthulhu #4, which introduced CharGen rules for creating feline investigators. The mechanics of doing so are super-involved, and focus on what breed you are, as well as what adorable tricks you may have up your sleeve.

And Wash is a skill. I’ve homebrewed a rule, thanks to my buddy Scott, that if a catvestigator (heh) fails his roll to wash, he loses Sanity, now called Sentience.

s822 sherlock watsonHeh. Catvestigator, get it? Well, when one loses Sentience, they start experiencing adorable cat problems, like toilet troubles, upset tummies, or spontaneous spraying. If they lose all their sentience, cats go feral.

They can also cast spells. Cat sorcerers!

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Dammit Google not that kind of cat sorcerer!

Seriously, though. Find a copy of Worlds of Cthulhu #4 and run this. It’s totally worth every bit of adorability your players will create in-game.