To Boldly Nerd…

Video games, pen&paper RPGs and other nerdery

30/09/2017
by Kadomi
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How zombies are changing my life

I know, the title of this blog post sounds like clickbait, but it really isn’t. Today, I want to tell you about how I have been changing my life this year, with the assistance of zombies.

In my mid-fourties now, I have been overweight all my life. Sometime last year, my doctor idly mentioned to me in passing that he’s participating in a weight loss program of the local sports club. This program is called ‘From XXL to L’ and is about changing your diet long-term and exercise to go along with it. The program runs for a year. Twice a week there’s exercise, in the form of 60 minutes of Walking and 90 minutes of various body shaping exercises. Additionally, there are shared cooking nights and lectures about nutrition, the psychology of being overweight, motivation training, etc.

Because it was important to my wife, I signed up for this program, and have been participating since January 24. Quickly, I found out for myself, that Walking within a group simply does not work for me. In a group of initially more than 20 people, the levels of fitness of each participant were hugely different. I was frustrated quickly, because I was more out of shape than others, and so usually walked far behind everyone, with a lone trainer trying to motivate me. It was hard, and it sucked. I enjoyed the Walking, but not the group experience.

But there was this app that my dear friend Fi from Scotland was raving about. It had made her get out of the house and get into shape. I kid you not, she’s training for a half-marathon now. This app she mentioned is called Zombies, Run! The concept is as simple as it is genius. GPS-Tracking meets an audio story about the zombie apocalypse.

Fitness App with a gripping story, that works?

In Zombies, Run! you are the protagonist, Runner 5. When you start out, you crash land near a small community called Abel Township, somewhere in post-apocalyptic England. There, you assist the community as Runner, someone who goes out into the wilds to find supplies for your township, without being eaten by zombies.

When you start your training, you choose the mission that you wish to do as Runner 5. To go along with it, you pick a playlist with music that you already have on your phone. As alternative, you could use an external player like Spotify for music. There are now six seasons of story missions in the app. The first season has 23 missions, newer seasons have more than 40. Additionally, you can pick if you want to run a certain distance, or if you want to run a specific time. Each mission has a default time, which I usually go with, something between 30-45 minutes to complete the story.

Here’s where you can select your story mission.

Once you start, you get your mission briefing and off you go. It only takes a couple missions until you’re deep in the story. Characters are memorable, like nice-guy Sam who is your operator, grudgy Janine as head of the township, or fellow runner Runner 8, who doesn’t seem to trust your character much. You start to dislike the neighboring community of New Canton, investigate causes of the zombie apocalypse or set out to chase the final adventure modules of the most popular tabletop RPG of its time, D&D. Which stands for Demons&Darkness, of course. 😉 The story is multifaceted. Sometimes funny, thrilling or heartbreaking.

After the first mission briefing, your regular music playlist will start playing. As you continue your run, you will receive additional story snippets inbetween songs, until the mission is completed. If you then want to continue running or walking, the app turns into radio mode. Your playlist continues normally, and between songs you can listen to the banter of Jack and Eugene, the two DJs of Radio Abel.

One of my personal highlights is that the doctor of the settlement, Maxine, turns out to be gay, and her partner Paula was very involved in the zombie apocalypse. There’s a fantastic episode where you find a farewell CD from Paula to Maxine. A goosebump moment! The two DJs from radio mode are also in a relationship. I love a nerd app that isn’t afraid to have LGBT content, thumbs up from me.

I found a bra?

During all the time that you are out and about, you collect supplies, which is announced as you walk. USB-keys, water, clothing, sport-bras (wtf). etc. These supplies come into play in a minigame in the app in which you can improve Abel Township in a sort of city-builder. It’s a nice gimmick but doesn’t really influence the story in any other way.

Once your training is complete, you can look at a map of your route, check your average pace for each kilometer. It doesn’t really matter if you casually stroll, power walk, jog or ride your bike when using the app. If you do not want to go outside and want to use a treadmill instead, you can switch from GPS-tracking to counting steps instead. If you prefer a more strenuous training, you can activate chase mode. During a chase, you will be hunted by a group of zombies and have to increase your pace from your average by at least 10% to escape. If you do not manage to escape, you lose some supplies, but are otherwise unscathed.

I have been using this app since late January. I haven’t attended the group walking since spring. Instead I head out for Nordic Walking with the zombies once or twice a week. I completed season 1 and am about to start season 2. If a year ago anyone would have told me that I would walk more than 170 kilometers, just for fun, I would have laughed. Exercise is now part of my life. When I walk through the nature preserve in my area, in great weather, I believe all the tales about endorphin highs while exercising.

My level of fitness has changed drastically since January. I worked on my speed and stamina, and I can feel the huge difference. When I started out, I huffed and puffed, could barely break 3k, and had crippling back pain. I have none of that now, and am actually training for a possible 10k walk. I actually have arm and thigh muscles, for the first time in my life. Combined with my consequent change to a low carb diet, I have lost a total of 27.5 kilograms since January, that’s 60,1 pounds for you non-metric folks.

Here a direct comparison of my first mission in January, and one from last weekend 🙂

Virtual Racer

End of October I will participate in my first ever ZR Virtual Race. For an entry fee, you receive a package of goodies, including a medal for completing the race. You receive two new story missions for either 5 or 10k. If you complete either of those missions during the two weeks of the race, you are entered in a world-wide leaderboard and may proudly wear your medal. My two running friends from Great Britain are participating as well, and I am looking forward to earning that medal, in my very first 10k walk.

The app is available for Android or Apple phones, and is free. However, in the free app you may only do a story mission every 6 days or so, and then have to wait for the next mission to unlock. If you still want to do runs in the meantime, you can do supply drops that do not give you more story, but at least you earn supplies for your base. I didn’t feel like waiting any longer and so signed up for a pro membership for a year for 24,99 Euro. It’s not necessary to enjoy the app.

There’s a sister app, Zombies, Run! 5k Training. It’s an 8 week program that is supposed to get you off the couch up to successfully run 5k. It has its own story missions and training instructions. As I am not actually interested in running and am fine with walking, I have never tried it.

So, if you think this sounds intriguing, you better run off to the Play or Apple Store, Runner 5!

26/05/2017
by Kadomi
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First Impressions: Star Wars – Edge of Empire Beginner Box

Two weeks ago I had time to test another RPG system: the first Star Wars RPG by Fantasy Flight Games. FFG currently holds the Star Wars license and is publishing a truckload of games in this universe. Three different RPG systems that are compatible with each other, a ton of board games, e.g. Rebellion, and so on and so forth. The emphasis of Edge of Empire is not the conflict between rebellion and Empire but everything on the edge of the empire, in the Outer Rim. You play explorers, colonists, bounty hunters, smugglers, mercenaries, technicians. The force does not really have any role in this.

I have to admit that I am not a hardcore Star Wars fan. Of course I have seen the original trilogy many times and love it. I have also watched Episode I (meh), and have yet to watch the Episode VII blu-ray on my shelf. The setting is great, but I hardly ever watch movies, a true nerd deficit of mine. I would like to watch Rebels sometime. When the time is right, I suppose.

Many many years ago, in a time period far far away, I played a couple sessions of the D6 Star Wars game from West End Games, as a Rodian bounty hunter. That was a ton of fun, and I really cannot remember why we stopped playing. Nowadays, I listen to the Campaign podcast, which is outstanding, and it made me curious to try this system myself. I wanted to play it at the table, with its unique dice system, and drummed up four players. Two players dropped out however. No matter, we still played anyhow.

Using the Beginner Box

Each FFG Star Wars game has a beginner box set. I thought it would be a good idea to try this, as I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to the core rules for a one-shot. The box is half the price of the core rules, and the contents are quite sumptuous. I paid 26 Euro and for my money I got the following:

Zu den vier verschiedenen Star Wars-Spielen von FFG gibt es jeweils eine Einsteigerbox. Da ich das Spiel mit alten Freunden antesten wollte, aber mir nicht sicher war, ob es auch als System einschlagen würde, kam mir die Einsteigerbox sehr gelegen. Im Gegensatz zum Grundregelwerk ist die Einsteigerbox recht günstig, und doch reichhaltig ausgestattet. Für die knapp 26 Euro, die ich bezahlt habe, erhielt ich folgendes:

  • a 32 pages adventure
  • a rulebook
  • a glossy fully colored poster map of Mos Shuuta and a YT-1300 light freighter
  • 4 fully-colored character folios with pre-gen characters
  • 14 special dice
  • 35 cardboard pawns of characters, NPCs and enemies
  • 5 spaceship pawns, e.g tie-fighters

Furthermore, you can download an additional, much longer adventure called The Long Arm of the Hutt and two more character folios on the website, a sequel to the beginner box adventure.

That’s a lot of stuff for that price. The dice alone cost almost 16 Euro over here, which makes the box a real bargain. The pawns can definitely be used in future adventures, and the dice are absolutely necessary to play. The only downside is the box itself. I am not sure if this is limited to the German edition. The box is totally flimsy, very cheap, thin cardboard. Nothing you can use to permanently store the game materials or to put on your shelf.

ARdI Einsteigerset unboxed

Many goodies in the box

Escape from Mos Shuuta

My two players had the choice of four archetypes: colonist, pilot, mercenary and bounty hunter. My friend Kirsten chose the wookie Lowhhrick, a mercenary, and my friend Stefan picked Oskara, the twi’lek bounty hunter. The two characters complimented each other as a team, and at no point was it an issue that I ran this adventure for only two characters. The story of the adventure is relatively simple. The characters are working for a hutt in Mos Shuuta on the desert world Tatooine. However, for various reasons they want to shake off his yoke and try to escape. The adventure begins with a battle in a cantina between the henchmen of the hutt Teemo and the two characters.

The character is fairly linear and consists of 7 encounters that are meant to be done in order. If you do, the adventure is easy to beat and the characters can easily flee the planet. Furthermore, you will have been confronted with all the relevant rules. The encounters build on each other, and with each encounter you learn more in-depth rules. The first encounter teaches ability checks, the second encounter details combat, the third encounter introduces opposing checks, etc. In the final encounter you learn the space combat rules, in an exciting battle against Imperial tie-fighters.

As GM you receive a lot of help how to use the different rules. I read the adventure before we played, but I think I would have been fine if I’d read it as we played.

The dice system

The FFG Star Wars games require special dice. This may frighten off the D20 crowd, as you do not roll any values here. I really enjoyed the system, because at no point will you have mathemetical dice sessions like Pathfinder where you need to read and add up various bonuses. There is a total of seven different dice: green ability dice (d8), yellow proficiency dice (d12), purple difficulty dice (d8), red challenge dice (d12), blue boost dice (d6), black setback dice (d6) and a white force die (d12).

To roll a check, you first have to determine your dice pool, consisting of green and yellow dice. You roll your dice pool together with the difficulty dice. Based on the difficulty of a check you add difficulty dice, up to 5 for nearly impossible tasks. There are no numbers on the dice. Instead you have to deal with 6 different symbols: success, triumph and advantage or failure, despair and threat. Goal of each check is to roll more success symbols than failures. Each failure negates a success. To succeed at a task you need to have at least one success left over. This holds true for whatever you do in the game, be it hacking a computer, haggling with a merchant or firing a blaster.

The most interesting element for me are the other four symbols. They allow turning simple rolls into narrative, exciting moments. Same as with success and failure you also have advantages and threats. Those negate each other. What’s left over counts for the roll. This means you can succeed at a task but it may still end up with a threat. On the other hand you may ‘fail forward’ by failing at a task with lots of advantages. Triumph and Despair are stronger versions of advantage and threat.

Threats and advantages may lead to the next die roll receiving a setback- or boost-die. For example the mercenary can fail a roll, but gain three advantages, which then gives the bounty hunter who rolls next a boost die for her check. Or you get a set back. Exciting!

Many colorful dice and symbols

Narrative turns

For me as GM this meant I had to be sharp-witted to think of new turns and twists. The players are supposed to choose what they want to do with their advantages and threats. However, the system was new to all of us, and I have at least experience listening to Campaign. Which meant I helped with picking results of those rolls. The longer we played, the easier it got. We also improved our speed at deciphering the roll results.

I don’t know if I did well or if I even made the right decisions, but it was fun.  An example: the two characters sneaked into the hangar bay by convincing the guard droids that they were junkyard workers who arrived to deliver a required engine part to the spaceship in the hangar. Arriving in the ship, the owner, a trandoshan slave trader, came to investigate. The bounty hunter tried to lie successfully again that they were technicians. The check ended up as two failures but four advantages. I decided that the slave trader did not fall for it at all and attacked them, but in order to get a clean kill, he closed the ramp of the ship. Which meant the four guard droids outside would not join the fray.

Cinematic Moments

The finale of the adventure was a short but exciting space battle just above Tattoine. There are several jobs available in ship combat. The bounty hunter took over as pilot, the wookie mercenary controlled one of the guns. I thought the fight was fun and exciting, just like you imagine Star Wars as space opera. Very enjoyable.

The adventure itself didn’t take us very long. We skipped two of the seven encounters. As the characters did not go to the spaceport first and instead went for the hangar bay, there was no hacking attempt, and the attack of the stormtroopers following that never happened. That was okay for me. The bounty hunter had a penchant for swindling and managed to convince the spaceport officials to give her permission to depart. I made it very obvious that stormtroopers were swarming Mos Shuuta looking for them, which made it very urgent for them to depart with great haste.

As summary, we all decided that it was a ton of fun, especially because of the unique dice system. Therefore, we spontaneously decided that we will continue with The Long Arm of the Hutt. They expressed the wish to roll their own characters though, so I might have to get my greedy hands on the core rules. I will try to convince a friend of ours to join us as 3rd player. May the force (of conviction) be with me!

 

7th Sea

11/05/2017
by Kadomi
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First Impressions: 7th Sea

Thanks to Twitter I know some of the German online RPG community which is totally awesome. There are nice people out there, and it allows me to be introduced to new, fresh RPG systems I have never tried before. The first system I tried was Trail of Cthulhu, and now I had the opportunity to be a player in a second one-shot, the game system being 7th Sea. I had never played the first edition of this game, but it was hard to miss the most successful RPG Kickstarter of all times.  The core rules were just released in German by Pegasus.

Pirates, musketeers and courtly intrigues

The setting is certainly the standout feature of 7th Sea, a setting bursting at the seams to tell stories of high adventure. The campaign world of 7th Sea is Théah, very similar to real world Europe, and it brings together different historical periods and nations of our European history. It’s not difficult to immediately associate a nation in Théah with its RL equivalent. In 7th Sea you don’t play a low-level character, you play a hero. A pirate, a musketeer, someone at a royal court playing at intrigue or being an ambassador for your nation. Inspirations for this game are Pirates of the Caribbean, The Three Musketeers, The Man with the Iron Mask or The Princess Bride.

7th Sea

In our one-shot, our GM Sal had prepared an adventure he created himself, based on the character concepts we had come up with before the game. He created the characters for us after we had come up with our character concepts.

Vive l’Empereur!

Our characters were:

  • Rémi Chevalier – a musketeer from Montaigne, serving his king and country
  • Tamara Ilyanova – an Ussuran spy who had the power of witchcraft
  • Vivienne d’Estival – my character, an actress/spy working for the Marquis Duc de Marchinaud in Montaigne.

L’Empereur in Montaigne was expecting a new ambassador from the rival country of Avalon, Quinn Leord. However, this ambassador never arrived, instead replaced surprisingly by a woman called Sybill Shawn. The Marquis, who was to bring the ambassador to the king, he asked our three heroes to travel to Avalon for him, to the capital of Carleon. There they were to investigate the disappearance of the original ambassador.

After arriving in Carleon, Rémi ended up in a tavern fight in which he proved he was the stuff of heroes by jumping onto 5 guards and knocking them all out in one blow. Just as you expect from a musketeer. During the fight, a suspect who appeared to be involved in the ambassador’s disappearance tried to flee the scene, but Tamara pinned him to the floor with the skillful use of her throwing knives.

After the informant was questioned and intimidated professionally, he told the travelers from Montaigne that a merchant and friend of the ambassador had given him the task to sit and wait for the arrival of investigating parties from Montaigne, so that he could alert him and the Montaignans could be disposed of. The group took the informer’s carriage and an invitation to a party that said merchant was hosting for a group of traders from Voddace.

It turned out that the merchant was holding the ambassador captured, and had the ambassador’s daughter jailed in his cellar as a hostage. Thanks to the heroes from Montaigne, the ambassador and his daughter were rescued, in a dramatic flight. The Queen of Avalon was informed about the machinations of this merchant.

A dramatic system

7th Sea wants to make sure that the characters feel like heroes right from the start. You’re not some level 1 adventurer who has to crawl through dungeons, no, you are a valued hero. When you roll dice on tasks, you have a large dice pool that allows immense successes. The dice pool system takes some getting used to. For checks, you roll one of the 5 main attributes Brawn, Finesse, Resolve, Wits or Panache, plus the fitting skill. You add up the points you have in those two. Per point you get to roll 1d10. Furthermore, 7th Sea wants you to do heroic, non-repetitive tasks. In every scene, you get a bonus d10 when you use an action/ability for the first time.

Let’s assume that my character Vivienne is trying to convince an informant to tell her everything. I could roll Resolve or Wits plus Convince. With Resolve 3 and Convince 3, that’s 6 dice, plus a bonus die for the first use of Convince in that scene. Let’s roll 7d10. Now, from the results of those dice, you try to get the value 10 as often as possible, a so-called Raise. Raises are your currency for dramatic actions, the more you have, the more successful your action.

You pretty much end up with very high dice pools. That means you can end up being very successful and heroic. I think the biggest pool I saw for a roll was when our musketeer used a hero point during the end fight as we tried to make our escape with the ambassador and his daughter. He got to roll 11d10!

Hero Points for grand moments

Each character in 7th Sea can create hero points that you can use for special abilities. My character had the ability to use a hero point to draw the attention of an NPC to her. Another option would have been to sweet-talk someone into giving Vivienne an item of her choice. You receive hero points for playing your character according to your two backgrounds. I had the courtier and performer backgrounds, which e.g. would have gotten me a hero point if I stopped a violent confrontation with the use of my charm. Furthermore, each character has a Virtue and a Hubris. If you play out the latter, you also gain a hero point. In my case, this would have been if Vivienne had done something foolish because of an old grudge.

As we only played a 4 hour one-shot we didn’t actually use the hero point system much. There’s another way of gaining hero points. The GM can buy Raises from the player for hero points. The GM can use those Raises at a later point to introduce difficulties for the characters. It reminded me very much of GM Intrusions in the Cypher System.  There, players receive an XP for accepting an intrusion.

We didn’t actually use the magic system because we all kinda forgot about it. Time was running out for us due to the late hour.

Duell in 7te See

Summary

The one-shot whet my appetite for this system. I think 7th Sea is probably great as a campaign system and not for one-shots. In limited time you simply cannot experience all the intricacies of the system. I could easily imagine a mid-length campaign of high adventure. Especially as every character has to pick a story with a goal when creating the character. The system is easy to understand and we only scratched the surface. The focus here is action and drama, and the one-shot showcased that very nicely. The German hardcover is extremely cheap (20 Euro, wtf!) so I think I will soon add this game to my hardcover collection.

If you want to get a free look at the system, you can download the Basic Rules for free on the John Wick Games website.

I have invitations to two more one-shots soon. Expect further reports as I get to play Call of Cthulhu and Beyond the Wall! 🙂

06/05/2017
by Kadomi
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RPG: Noir World – First Impressions

I am not the world’s biggest fan of backing projects on Kickstarter. For example I would never back the development of a video game. However, I find crowdfunding for pen&paper games generally interesting. Monte Cook Games do it extensively, and some of the most interesting indie projects (e.g. Blades in the Dark) were born on Kickstarter. That’s why I dabbled in backing Kickstarter projects by throwing my money at two games: Dusk City Outlaws and just recently Noir World.

A game like a film noir

As the name suggests, this pen&paper game leans on Film Noir as a genre. The other inspiration for this game is Dungeon World. Together, those two elements form Noir World, a roleplaying game Powered by the Apocalypse. It does a lot of things very differently than classic RPGs like, say, Dungeons&Dragons. As backer I received the quickstart rules, and highly anticipate the rules PDF sometime this summer.

PbtA games generally use playbooks for the different character classes. In Noir World they are called Roles. The quickstarter introduces 6 classic Roles, the complete set of rules will contain 20 Roles. The Roles from the quickstarter are: The Dirty Cop, The Good Cop, The Fatale, The Private Eye, The War Veteran and The Mook. Character creation is a shared endeavor. Everyone picks the role they want to play, and then chooses a motivation, a secret and a goal from the playbook. Furthermore, you select 2 actions that your character can do, basically like moves in Dungeon World. Then we move on to an exciting bit of storytelling: hooks.

Joint creation of a setting

Each Role has different hooks that you choose to link yourself to the other characters at the table. In the character creation session every player has to pick two hooks to other characters, and they in turn have to pick a hook as well. At the end of character creation every character should be linked. The lists of hooks are long and pretty exciting and IMHO can shape the tone and direction of the following game session.

Hooks in Noir World

A few sample hooks.

Once the characters are linked with hooks, the crime of the ‘movie’ aka the session, is rolled. This crime may be the center of the story, but also might just be something that’s happened on the side. Finally, every player can create a location or an NPC. Those are written down on index cards and are the setting of the movie. The movie has different acts, so locations and NPCs may change.

A roleplaying game without a GM?

What makes Noir World stand out for me is that there is no GM. This means it’s only a game for people who really are into collaborative storytelling. A Noir World movie has scenes with different directors. Every player gets to be director of one scene. Once it’s a player’s turn, they have to pick one of the created locations, and which characters and NPC are present, and set the scene, much like a GM would. Every director has three actions, e.g flashback, presenting a difficult choice to a character, or adding another character to a scene. The director may not have their own character present.

The scene ends after those three actions, and the next player to the right starts the next scene. Once all players directed a scene once, the first act is over. In the interlude, new locations and NPCs may be created, characters may switch out equipment or NPCs are removed from the movie. You continue with the next act, rinse and repeat, until you are ready for the epilogue. The epilogue allows each character to come up with how their character fared after the main story ended.

As you can imagine, such a game will only work with people who are really into roleplaying, or who already have experience as GM. Players who are usually experiencing games in a more passive capability will likely not find the director system to their liking. The podcasters of the One Shot Podcast played Noir World, and in that game I found that Paulomi, who plays a Russian mook, was directing a lot more tentatively than the other three players. As the improv style players of One Shot really play along great, it doesn’t matter much but I am assuming it could be different for other groups.

In my immediate circle of players I know two more passive players who I couldn’t really imagine having fun with Noir World. I might be totally wrong though because it might also make them really interested in narrative roleplaying. Players need to know from the start of the session that it’s going to be a shared story, more so than maybe a Pathfinder game. Not your average dungeon crawl! I highly recommend listening to the above podcast, their movie turned out great!

By the way, you don’t have to play in the classic 40s in Noir World. At the start of the game, you select the era of the game. Your movie could be a film noir like Blade Runner. As stretch goal, Cthulhu Noir will be available, along with more cyberpunk, sci-fi and wild west noir.

I am highly looking forward to the completed rules and will definitely give this game a try. As I only backed the PDF, I am hoping to receive the completed file in July. I’ll post more about the game once I have tried it.

 

29/04/2017
by Kadomi
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Easter is for Gaming Nerds

Finally time to sit down and blog again. I have a lot of things to say relevant to nerds because I devoted the Easter holidays to gaming on various platforms. The reason for this was the visit of a very good friend from England. Just like my spouse I first met Rach online in the late 90s, on a MUSH-Server called PernMUSH. We cultivated our friendship through all those years and met face to face multiple times. She’s part of my Brit gaming circle, we play Pathfinder online, etc. It was her third visit. A shared passion of ours is gaming, and thus we had the ultimate gaming-holiday. 🙂

Digital

Rach is the proud owner of a Nintendo Switch and brought this along from the UK. We didn’t play on it much, just didn’t have the time. We played Snipperclips, a charming coop-puzzler, where you have to snip your gaming partner into specific shapes with scissors. I wasn’t a huge fan of the Joy-Con Controller, but the size and portability of the Switch is awesome. We didn’t get around to connecting it to my TV, so I never saw Breath of the Wild, alas.

As our friend had brought her PS4 controller, we were able to play our favorite PS-coop game: Overcooked. I love culinary games, and Overcooked is the best one. My spouse and I had already beaten all levels but the final one, but found out that 3-players comes with its own challenges. We didn’t manage to beat all levels, but got pretty far. Seriously, if you want to play cooperatively with your friends in the same room, try this game. You’ll yell at each other a lot, trust me. 😉

Furthermore, we tried Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, which is one of the free PS+ titles for April. It didn’t take us long to really enjoy this game. You control a spaceship in hot pink, zip through the galaxy, saving bunnies and looooooove. The soundtrack is as wacky as the concept of the game. You have to coordinate who steers the ship, who shields it, or run around the ship to shoot your enemies that are threatening love! We quit at the first boss battle, but I definitely want to play this again.

Save bunnies in your hot-pink spaceship!

Escape Room

Escape Rooms are all the hype over here. As we had wanted to check this out for a long time, we booked one of the dozens of escape rooms in the closest city, Düsseldorf. We had decided on The Twilight of the Gods at TeamEscape. I didn’t want a horror-themed one, and the description made it sound sorta Tomb Raider like.

Rach had done an escape room before and took the lead, and the first puzzles were solved quickly. The setting was a temple in the Indian jungle. Many locks had to be opened, many codes cracked. Time just flew by, and by the time we opened the exit door, we had 2 minutes left on our 1 hour timer. It was a ton of fun. You should enjoy puzzles, if you want to try it. We had a great guide who explained the game in English, and all puzzles were bi-lingual. Will do again!

Board Games

My spouse loves board games as much as I love roleplaying games. As she’s also a very good strategist, we don’t play a lot of non-coop 2-player games. I get frustrated about losing in an endless chain way too much. But as soon as a third person joins, I love board games again. We played a bunch of games from our collection.

Starting out, we played our cooperative games: Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert by the author of Pandemic, Matt Leacock. We played multiple times and always won, which was very satisfying. Especially in Forbidden Desert we’ve had a bit of a losing streak. Additionally we played Elder Sign, my personal favorite among games from the Arkham Files series of games. Arkham Horror takes too long for me, and Eldritch Horror was a bit boring. Elder Sign plays fast and exciting. The Elder God of our game was Azathoth, and for long stretches of the game we had way more doom markers on the table than we had Elder Signs. Azathoth was only one Doom-Marker away when we were able to win the final Elder Signs. Sure, Elder Sign is mostly a Cthulhu-esque version of Yahtzee and not a deep strategic game, but I just find it super-fun.

Elder Sign

Aside from cooperative games, we played Agricola in the family version, and Isle of SkyeAgricola is probably the prettiest board game we own. The box is super-heavy full of wooden game tokens. You try to be a successful farmer and start with a family of two, to farm your land successfully without starving the family. You play in six successive phases, each phase getting less rounds than the previous one leaving you very little time to feed your family. Agricola is a game that always fills me with a certain sense of panic because I want to do everything, and you have such limited turns. Always fun, but for me a quite challenging worker placement game. As alternative I would love to test Lords of Waterdeep sometime, another worker placement game based on Forgotten Realms.

Isle of Skye won the Kennerspiel des Jahres 2016 award, so basically the connoisseur/expert game of the year as Board Game Geek translated it. Not fully deserved in my opinion, as I would have favored Pandemic Legacy but it’s a very entertaining game. You place tiles, just like in Carcassonne, but you only place the tiles in your own area. You don’t just draw tiles but have to buy them with currency. The game has an interesting bidding mechanic that I am not very good at. I can never price my tiles properly. Each round you draw tiles and secretly pick one for discarding and price two of them, either in hopes of people buying them, or in hopes of no one having enough currency to take it away from you. Each game has different victory conditions which gives this game a very high replayability.

The pricing mechanic in action.

Roleplaying

My spouse ran a 6-hour one shot Numenera adventure for us. I think I can say that Numenera is her favorite RPG-system. We played The Hideous Game‘, the first instant adventure of Monte Cook Games. My character was Faizetta, a Naive Nano who Bears a Halo of Fire. Rach played Ksiti, an Impulsive Jack who Consorts with the Dead. As the descriptors might suggest, we were a killer combo of sheer hilarity.

The adventure is set in Qi, basically the capital of the Steadfast, and is an investigative urban adventure. Faizetta worked as research assistant at the university in Qi, whereas Ksiti was her tosser friend in Goth-style who earns her bread by bartending in various scummy bars around Qi. After Ksiti once again dragged poor naive Faizetta through several bars, the two stumbled across a man in an alley who was hanging in an elaborate trap, obviously tortured. The two of them were unable to free the man from his trap. As Ksiti has the ability to speak with the dead, they were able to question him about his tormentors. A vicious gang was playing a hideous game of torture and violence, and it was now up to Faizetta and Ksiti to stop this game.

The Hideous Game

The cover shows a map of Qi.

I am not sure I ever laughed as much as I did in this one-shot. Kudos to my spouse who had to improvise the majority of the adventure as none of what we did was included. I thought she did a great job at conveying Qi as part of the weird Ninth World of Numenera. A speaking cube who whispers emotions to the heads of patrons at the bar ‘Emotions’, or the visit to a fetish bar where everyone’s kink is having Numenera prosthetics, stuff like this. We did a lot of roleplay, and the big final battle at the end was very exciting. A very cool one-shot adventure. I am saving those character sheets, in hopes of getting another adventure in Qi the next time we see Rach.

And that was out, our gaming Easter holidays. We also did a bunch of sightseeing. For example we did a short trip to the Netherlands, to rent bikes and cycle around the tulip fields. I highly recommend doing that, if you find yourself in the Netherlands between March and May. The tulip fields are about an hour away from Amsterdam, towards the coast. Beautiful vistas, and the hyacinth fields smelled amazing. I hope your Easter holidays were as cool as mine. 🙂

 

08/04/2017
by Kadomi
2 Comments

Numenera Play Report: Shopping in Nebalich

Last Saturday, we continued our Numenera campaign. It was a perfect exercise of my detailed session prep evaporating into thin air. I spent all Saturday morning prepping the session meticulously. The base of the session was one of the adventures in Weird Discoveries, a volume of 10 ‘Instant Adventures’ that you supposedly can play without any prep at all, if that’s what you want. It’s a fantastic book with very creative adventures but they’re not in-depth enough for me to run them without any prep. So I sat down to create more NPCs, elaborated on the ones the adventure mentions, set up future plot hooks for my group, embedded it into my campaign, etc.

As maps are the weakest spot of Weird Discoveries, as Justin Alexander points out in his excellent review, I tried a different method to set up the adventure. I snagged this idea from Brass Jester’s blog, which basically creates an encounter flowchart, and I used all the encounters and keys from the adventure. I’d rather use this narratively than the crappy map of a really boring maze that the adventure itself contains. I mean, how exciting is it to describe over and over again that they step into a ruined room? Anyhow, with all this prep, I was convinced I was prepped for at least two sessions.

Example Map

See what I mean about the maps?

The Flying Fish

The main plot of my campaign began with a mysterious winged fish. Sam, the nano of the group got their hands on a wooden box with a mummified fish with wings, which they got off one of the captains of the Ductrono syndicate, a criminal organization in the Steadfast. This fish gave off a signal, and Boregal, the petrified brain companion of the group, convinced them to follow the signal. Since then, the group has been travelling to figure out this signal, which ultimately led them to the Narthex, the traveling temple of the Cult of the Vortex.

They aren’t really any closer to understanding it, but every time they find a new location, they receive more information about a large threat to the Ninth World. Apparently this threat led to the collapse of the civilization that left this trail of signals. Their next trail is leading them to Matheunis, the Cold Desert, but that’s about all they know.

The Cult of the Vortexlings

At the end of the last session our heroes returned from their adventures through the vortex portal, and the cultists living in the Narthex switched their allegiance from the portal to the four heroes. They found it very helpful being worshipped as living gods and quickly organized the remaining cultists to fulfill tasks around the Narthex. Only the two cultists who had been forced to join by the previous leaders were left without a task and received permission to leave the cult at the next station of the Narthex.

As the cult appeared to be all out of means for obtaining supplies, the group decided not to travel to Matheunis just yet but to travel near a larger city to sell off some oddities and cyphers. The party noticed that there are very few points in the settled parts of the Steadfast the Narthex can travel to, but many points in the Beyond and beyond the Beyond. The group chose to travel to Seshar, to travel to Nebalich, the capital.

Seshar

Seshar, land of canals

Seshar is known for its canals that are running through the country, as drawn straight with a ruler, the water flowing both ways, not just towards the Sere Marica. Due to its perfect network of waterways, with life flowering on their banks, the country is well off for a land in the Beyond. Travel is done almost exclusively on the canals because away from them, the countryside is barren and dangerous.

The great show

The temple brought the vortexlings and their cult directly to the banks of one of the canals, about 2 hours distance from Nebalich. As the party owns an aneen-drawn carriage, with one lone aneen as the other one was stolen, they used the carriage to travel to Nebalich. On their arrival they immediately noticed the wealth of the city, with the beautiful palace of the royals directly above the sea, and manors of white marble. The vortexlings had few shins to their name, so they decided to save costs for their stay by offering their showman services to one of the inns by one of the ports.

Lemy, as former circus artist, formulated a plan. He grew up in Ossam’s Traveling Menagerie and Soaring Circus, where he learned hedge magic and a certain flair for show. The owner of the inn ‘The Blue Canal’ was convinced quickly to give the four of them a chance.

Lemy used his ability of Far Jump to jump across the canal and amazed the audience with his artistics. Ophelia changed phases to walk through walls and doors. Sam did a demonstration of their knife throwing, the placement of the knives around a half-naked Tidus controlled by their use of magnetism. Unfortunately Sam flung a knife so hard against the wall it scraped over Tidus’ forehead. It will likely leave a permanent scar behind. Once Tidus had recovered, he used his Frost Touch to create ice in people’s drinks. As last act, the vortexlings presented Boregal, the petrified, telepathic brain as mysterious numenera artifact that would allow Lemy to read minds. All in all, the show was a grand success, for both the group and the innkeeper.

The next morning, Ophelia was up before her companions and decided to spend her shins on new clothes. She bought a dress because she wanted to dress up more feminine without losing her touch with a weapon. Upon her return to the inn, a situation developed when her companions responded in disbelief upon seeing her in a dress. Sam in particular seemed unable to handle suddenly seeing Ophelia’s knees. Was Sam actually interested in Ophelia? Sam ran out and left the inn after the innkeeper jokingly suggested they should visit a whorehouse if knees are that exciting already.

An assassination attempt and fist fights

The vortexlings went out without Sam to try and get as many shins as possible for their oddities. Hungover and cranky, Tidus fought with Ophelia about her knees as well, while they were shopping. This saw them kicked out of a shop. Upon the street, they noticed Sam passing by, ahead of them. Suddenly, a man in grey backstabbed Sam with a hidden, poisoned blade, in the light of day! The group tried to knock the assassin out to question him. Apparently he had a poison capsule in his mouth and died right there in the middle of the street.

Before he breathed his last breath he warned Sam. Raphe and the slidikins would tear Sam to pieces with thousands of mouths. Boregal described the images he saw in the thoughts of the assassin. A ghostly pale creature with mouths all over the blind face, gruesome. Furthermore, the assassin seemed to have the order to take a mummified fish off Sam…

 

Slidikin, ein Numenera Monster

Oh my, many mouths

The city guard arrested the vortexlings because of all the ruckus. As the assassin wore a symbol of the Ductrono syndicate on his body, the city guard agreed that it was likely the group killed the man in self-defense. This was the second hint that the Ductrono are hunting Sam or are looking for them. Sam was still not ready to share anything about why this might be.

Back at the inn there was more stress. A silent admirer of Ophelia had arranged that she received a package of high heels with platform heels. Filled with water, the heels had strange pink miniature squids swimming around in them. Ophelia, as former soldier, did not think this was funny or cute. She lost it when she found out that Sam had sent her those shoes. A fist fight ensued and the stronger glaive broke the nano’s nose with a punch. Only when Boregal told Ophelia that Sam had meant this gesture kindly and not to make fun of her, Ophelia stopped. She apologized, a bit embarrassed.

This was too much chaos for the innkeep who told the group to leave. Kicked out twice in one day! Done with their errands, the group traveled to the outskirts of town to sleep in their carriage. A shadowy person came to the carriage in the middle of the night, to apparently sketch the carriage. Boregal was the only one to notice this through the eyes of their watch drakka. He assumed it was someone who just enjoyed art. But what if it was an informer for the Ductrono?

At this point we ended the session.

GM Remarks

Oh shit. Hours of prep, and none of that happened. I falsely assumed the group would be eager to travel to Matheunis. I spontaneously had to decide which city they would travel to. Nebalich seemed like a safe bet because it’s a very classic fantasy city. On the other hand it meant that this session wasn’t full of ‘weird’. I tried to add elements, explaining the presence of the visitant varjellen and lattimors. Plus I added other small descriptions like a woman walking around with an insectbaby in her arms, etc.

A printed list of names for NPCs and shops and taverns will be a lifesaver next time. I do not use a laptop to actually run Numenera, or I would have used donjon. If you do not know the site,  it has the best random RPG generators. Next time, I will have to grab some stuff from Urban Dressing, one of the amazing resource books from Raging Swan. I own it for Pathfinder, but adapting it for the Cypher System should be incredibly easy.

I was really blown away by my players who really were into roleplay this session. At one point we had to close a window in a scene with Ophelia and Sam shouting at each other. Lemy’s player feared the neighbors might assume a case of domestic violence…

I don’t regret the trip to Seshar. Sure, it wasn’t a very adventurous session. But I think it was important for character development and group dynamics. I was able to insert the Ductrono syndicate. The syndicate concept I snagged from a great 3rd party published supplement, Wits Alone. Furthermore, I already had a great idea for a follow-up adventure in Seshar. I really enjoy Seshar as a setting, with the canals, the desert full of nasty creatures and margr tribes.

I also love it that the group totally ran with the cult thing. It means I can go in depth with the various personalities of the cult. This worked well with Boregal, and I think the group will form attachments to the different people. Misguided and naive people, but also interesting.

As one of my issues is that characters level relatively quickly, I decided to award less XP. This means running less GM intrusions. We haven’t played a year yet and the first character hit tier 3. This is a bit fast in a game that caps at six levels. As my players aren’t power gamers, I don’t predict any issues with slowing it down.

 

Tales from the Borderlands cover

31/03/2017
by Kadomi
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Completed: Tales from the Borderlands

When Tales from the Borderlands was released in late 2014, I didn’t really care about this game. I’d been a fan of the previous Telltale-Adventures that I had played (The Walking Dead Season 1 and The Wolf Among Us), but I thought the newer IPs they had acquired, Game of Thrones and Tales from the Borderlands, seemed pretty uninspired. However, I am an addict to Steam and PS sales, which means I inevitably picked both of them up for my PS4. Which is good, I can say for TftB at least!

Like all Telltale games it’s an episodic adventure in 5 parts. Adventure is a generous term, because you shouldn’t expect to find tricky puzzles. Tales from the Borderlands is action-packed, with a ton of Quicktime-Events, and fast dialogue decisions that may have consequences about the survival of some characters. The good ol’ Telltale principle. Either you like it or you leave it.

Return to Pandora

As the name of the game suggests, the game is set in the zany world of the Borderlands games, which makes the genre somewhat post-apocalyptic science-fiction. The graphics use the same Cel-Shading style that the three previous Borderlands FPS have, with the same crazy, black humor that the shooters also use. The tone of this adventure is over the top right from the start, very funny. The plot is set after the events of Borderlands 2. A group of vault hunters just defeated the evil head of Hyperion Corp, Handsome Jack.

We have two protagonists in this game that in turn get to control. First, we have Rhys, an employee of Hyperion Corp who comes to Pandora in order to get revenge on his archenemy Hugo Vasquez, who saw to it he was demoted to janitor at Hyperion. The second character we control is Fiona, a con artist. She works as a team with her mentor Felix and her sister Sasha. Their current project is to sell a forged vault key for a lot of money, and that’s how Rhys and Fiona meet. That’s basically the plot of episode 1, and the story takes off from there.

Our heroes with…Handsome Jack?

The story is told in flashbacks, because a strange man/machine has taken Rhys and Fiona prisoner and wants to hear their tale in detail. It’s a story full of contradictions, because both have a flair for exaggeration or untruth, especially Rhys, who’s kinda a loser who you just have to like.

Until you learn the truth about the kidnapper in episode 5 and then create a team to enter the Atlas vault, a lot of crazy things happen. A wild race event against midget psychos and bandits, exploration of an old Atlas research station, infiltrating Hyperion’s HQ on one of Pandora’s moons, and a battle of a titanic robot against the vault security.

So many characters

If you have played any of the Borderlands games, you will meet familiar characters. Scooter the Mechanic, Zer0 from Borderlands 2, Athena, and so on and so forth. It’s really the characters that make this game great. Rhys and Fiona, Sasha and Vaugh are fun. The dialogues are witty, especially when Rhys and Fiona interact. The humor is black, if you loved that about the shooters, you’ll feel right at home. Besides, Tales from the Borderlands has the two best robots ever. Sorry,  Claptrap, I’ma let you finish, but Loader Bot and Gortys are the best Borderlands robots of all time!

Gortys

Sorry, BB-8, Gortys ist der süßeste Roboter aller Zeiten.

What’s possibly missing is that you don’t really feel the consequences until the final episode when you have to create a team to storm the chamber. For example, a bunch of characters were greyed out for me, because of decisions in previous games. You get no hint this would be an option. So, my advice: if you like an NPC a lot, treat them well, hah! That’s about the only consequence that really matters throughout the series.

I want to remark on the exceptional quality of all voice actors. They really brought some top stars of voice acting on board. It was a bit strange playing Uncharted 4 first, and then come to a nearly identical main cast in TftB: Troy Baker as Rhys, Laura Bailey as Fiona, Nolan North as August, etc. For RPG fans, you get to listen to two cast members of Critical Role, with Laura Bailey and the outstanding Ashley Johnson as voice of Gortys. Really stellar performances all around.

TL;DR

My ranking of episodic games is currently as such:

  1. Life is Strange
  2. Tales from the Borderlands and The Walking Dead Season 1
  3. The Wolf Among Us
  4. The Walking Dead Season 2

If you enjoy episodic adventures and do not mind an abundance of relatively easy Quicktime Events, I highly recommend TftB. Especially the last episode really rocked, tons of fun. As it is a Borderlands game, it’s more action-packed than other Telltale games, which means time just flies by. Thumbs up!

 

22/03/2017
by Kadomi
0 comments

Play Report: Pandemic Legacy March

One of my favorite boardgames is Pandemic. I generally love cooperative board games. When Pandemic Legacy was released, however, I let it pass me by, just like I never bothered to pick up any expansions to it. An expensive board game that you might possibly only play a dozen times? I didn’t understand the allure. Yet, Pandemic legacy ranks at number 1 board game at Board Game Geek, and was nominated for the prestigious German award Kennerspiel des Jahres. It had to have something. That’s why I gave it to my board game fiend of a spouse for Christmas. We played the first month, and I finally got it. It’s amazing!

Pandemic Legacy

It doesn’t matter which color box you buy, btw.

What’s the difference between Pandemic and the Legacy version?

Immediately upon opening the box you will notice a number of things that are different. Sheets of stickers, secret dossiers with letters and numbers on them, 8 black boxes with who knows what inside and much much much room for new rule additions in the rulebook. Additionally, you get a stack of Legacy cards. In Legacy you play a campaign, and Pandemic with a real plot is revolutionary. The plot stretches over a year. You start with January and get two tries to beat the objective of the month. This means that with 2 tries per month, the maximum amount of times you will play this game is 24, before the campaign ends.

The adjustment of the difficulty level is genius. You start with a funding level of 4, meaning you get to pick your choice of 4 event cards to be shuffled into the deck for drawing. Each time you win, your funding level goes down by 2. Each time you lose, your funding level goes up by 2. After each round, no matter if you lose or win, you pick 2 permanent upgrades. You improve your character, have positive mutations to your diseases, permanent science centers, etc.

The first month starts out like every other Pandemic game, just with different jobs available, and you can name the characters. I am playing the medic. His name is Harry Petersen, he’s from Hamburg, and out to eradicate all diseases in the world. The game changes quickly, however. After the second epidemic you have to draw a Legacy card, and the game changes. Legacy cards will include narrative, and then instructions what to do. Open dossiers, draw more cards, until you get to the next Legacy card in the stack, etc. Opening dossiers and seeing all the new stuff is incredibly fun.

Our first game did not go so great. We won by the skin of our teeth in the first try, but it was super-close. We had a total of 7 out of 8 possible outbreaks. In Legacy, cities that had an outbreak receive a sticker indicating their status. The higher the level of unrest, the more dire the consequences. Airports close, science centers get burnt down, and in the worst case the city is completely destroyed. So, good job us, 7 unstable cities in one go. We’re currently stuck with two cities at level 2, Los Angeles and Milan. Oy!

Once you successfully meet the objectives of a month, you get an advantage in the following month, which is cool. Starting from month 2, you get your first rule changes that you really do not know from the base game.

Currently, we always play the mission matching the current month, just happened that way. On Sunday we finally had time to tackle March.

The ides of March

We were expecting March to be tough. We beat both January and February first try and so had a funding level of 0. Also, the board shows how many objectives you have to meet. March is the first month with two objectives.

During setup, we drew terribly when it came to which cities got 3 cubes. We had no clue how terribly our luck would run. Within a few turns, we had lost our first game of Legacy. If you know Pandemic: yes, the cities with four cubes would all have chained, but we had already run out of yellow cubes. :p

Pandemie Niederlage

The day the Americas died… It was bloody awful

I mentioned above how much I like the difficulty adjustments. We were able to pick 2 permanent upgrades after try 1, and our funding level went up to 2. After picking 2 nice event cards we braved it again. Huzzah, we managed both objectives very successfully, plus we only had a single outbreak.

A turn before our victory, Mo had to join us.

March added another mechanic, and a new character, which we didn’t use. We currently are using medic and quaratine specialist, and that works pretty well. I am looking forward to our April game, where we might possibly have a guest player. It’s going to be grand.

Even my cat can’t believe it, I am shredding cards.

The toughest moment of each game is when Legacy tells you to destroy cards. It really requires something to actually go ahead with it. In Legacy, the characters may die, and you’re supposed to rip up the cards. I am not sure I could, if Harry ever dies!

One thing is sure, once Pandemic Legacy Season 2 is released and we have finished the first season, it will be a mandatory purchase. It’s really the best coop game I could imagine. It should have won Kennerspiel des Jahres. The actual winner, Isle of Skye is very good, but it’s just a Carcassonne variant with flexible victory conditions and a bid mechanism. It doesn’t really bring much new to the table. That’s IMHO, of course.

To finish this off, here’s some bonus kitties, because they also seem to enjoy this game.

Pandemic Kitties

Yes, he’s a big derp.

 

 

13/03/2017
by Kadomi
0 comments

Completed: Uncharted 4

Aside from pen&paper roleplaying games, I love videogames. Since I am back on an MMO break (again), I finally have time to tend to my immense backlog of PC and PS4 games. In my new category ‘Completed’ I will write about games that I actually completed for a change.

One of my favorite PC-games from 2013 was the Tomb Raider reboot. Back then, I always read that it’s close to the Uncharted games in quality. A series of games that can top Tomb Raider? I wanted to play them! I had no Playstation at the time, but when I got a PS3 in 2015, I got my hands on all 3 Uncharted games. They were my absolute highlights, together with Heavy Rain. If I have to pick a favorite, I will always say Uncharted 2: Among Thieves from 2009. The developer Naughty Dog only produces PS-exclusives, and they always get the best out of the console with each of their games.

Uncharted 2

The intro has you dangling from a train wreck, it’s amazing.

Last year saw the release of Uncharted 4, closing the saga of Nathan Drake, the most exciting archaeologist since Indiana Jones. Unlike Indy Nate mostly has altruistic motives for his treasure hunting and has been a scoundrel since his youth. You find out more about young Nate in flashbacks. Anyone who wants to avoid spoilers should probably stop reading here.

The pirate treasure of Henry Avery

The first chapter shows a younger Nate in Panama. He’s in jail, but for a purpose, together with his elder brother Sam, hitherto unknown, and their financier Rafe Adler. The trail of the largest pirate treasure ever is leading to a tower that can only be accessed through the prison. From there, the trail leads to Scotland. When the three try to get out of the prison to continue their hunt, Sam is shot and left to die.

UC4 Jail

What an idyllic prison.

15 years later, following the events of Uncharted 3, Nate has forsaken life as a scoundrel for his wife Elena. He’s working as a salvage diver, which is not that exciting. But one day his brother Sam suddenly shows up. He wasn’t killed but instead spent 15 years in that prison until he was able to get away when his cell neighbor, an infamous drug mobster, was broken out by his goonies. However, Sam had bragged about the pirate treasure, and the drug mobster is now blackmailing Sam, setting a deadline until Sam has to bring him the treasure of Henry Avery. Sam is now looking for Nate’s help. The younger Drake agrees, but does not divulge this to his wife Elena.

That much for the basics of the plot. Uncharted 4 is full of exciting locations full of amazing graphics. Italy, Scotland, Madagascar, and the paradise island Libertalia. The latter really knocked my socks off, it’s that gorgeous. The latter locations are a bit similar to Nate’s hunt for El Dorado in Uncharted 1 and yet show how much Naughty Dog are pushing their game.

New Devon

One of the gorgeous views on Libertalia

What’s new in Uncharted 4?

Those who played the 3 previous games of the series, will be directly familiar with the gameplay. The series usually consists of three elements: climbing, puzzles and 3rd person gunfights with a cover system. Furthermore, there’s a number of Quicktime Events in action sequences. The whole package is wrapped in cinematics. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s a cut-scene or actual gameplay. Uncharted really is the videogame equivalent to summer action blockbusters. A popcorn game. If you don’t like those, you might not like these games.

Uncharted 4 adds three new ingredients to this recipe. Stealth, a grappling hook and a climbing hook. Stealth takes some getting used to, but it really grew on me. You hide in the rich flora and stealthily kill your opponents, a mercenary band called Shoreline. This makes the battle sequences a lot easier, my least favorite part of the Uncharted games. If you manage to kill the majority of enemies from stealth, it’s definitely easier to get rid of the other mercenaries once you are detected. Furthermore, even on Moderate difficulty, you can turn auto-targeting on, which really makes gunfights a doozy, which I like.

UC Grappling Hook

The grappling hook in action, Tarzan-style

Most climbing sequences now require the use of two tools. You are introduced to the grappling hook in one of the early chapters. Pressing L1 you throw the hook, climb down the rope or swing across chasms. In the final third of the game you find a climbing hook that you can hammer into porous walls mid-jump to continue climbing. I didn’t care for this tool because it didn’t really add more difficulty to the climbs nor make it more exciting, opposed to the various uses of the grappling hook.

The puzzle sequences were easily solvable and I enjoyed them quite a bit. Maybe a bit too easy, alas. My personal highlight was the clock tower in King’s Bay. The 17th century pirates led by Henry Avery really had quite advanced technology, hah.

An (more) open world

If there’s one element all games so far share it’s their linearity. You basically ran down an invisible tunnel with no alternative routes. Uncharted 4 does things a bit differently. It’s not a sandbox by any means, but I was stunned in some points. On Madagascar you drive your jeep through the landscape and there are no invisible walls, you can drive around, with sometimes no immediate hint where you are supposed to go news. Fear not, after a while the game points you into the right direction again. Driving the jeep is a ton of fun. The views are amazing.

It’s not an Uncharted game if there is no crazy action sequence or chase. In Uncharted 4, Nate first flees in his jeep, then on a motorbike. The maps are enormous, and gorgeous. It’s definitely a wild ride. All maps are far bigger than the maps in previous games. Still, the chase does not beat the famous trainride from Uncharted 2, IMHO.

Summary

Uncharted 4 is great entertainment for everyone who loves a lot of story in their action games. There’s twists and turns, betrayal and romance, and it’s a fine conclusion to the Nathan Drake saga. However, he must have the most forgiving wife in the history of ever, which seemed really off to me. It really is Nate’s final adventure, I think the epilogue made that clear. I will miss the characters. The voice acting is absolutely stellar. The interactions between Nate and Sam, voiced by the veteran voice actors Nolan North and Troy Baker, their constant banter, I loved it. Same for Nate and Elena.

On my personal ranking, Uncharted 4 moved slightly ahead of Uncharted 2, simply because it’s so personal and extensive. Uncharted 3 and 1 are way behind those two titles. I am really looking forward to the really last Uncharted adventure likely to be published: Uncharted – The Lost Legacy. Without Nathan Drake, but with two female protagonists we’ve already met before:  Chloe Frazer from Uncharted 2 and 3, and the mercenary Nadine Ross from Uncharted 4, searching for treasure in India.

 

07/03/2017
by Kadomi
0 comments

Numenera Play Report: Vortex Part 2

Since summer 2016 I have been GMing a Numenera campaign. Originally planned as oneshot, I turned it into a campaign because we had so much fun. I came up with a crazy plot idea (think invasion of the body snatchers), which might be a touch too crazy for my players to follow. We started out with three players, and now there’s four, all tier 2.

The characters

  • Sam, a Vengeful Nano, who Employs Magnetism
  • Lemy, a Weird Jack, who Fuses Mind and Machine
  • Ophelia, a Clumsy Glaive, who Exists Partially between Phases
  • Tidus, a Curious Glaive, who Wears a Sheen of Ice

During the campaign I also use published adventures that I place within my plot. On Sunday we continued the adventure Vortex. This was the launch adventure that Monte Cook Games used at Gencon 2013 when Numenera was first presented. The adventure can be split into two separate parts that you can play independent of each other. You can stop after part 1 as the second part is not ideal for tier 1 characters. As my group is tier 2, I went ahead and ran both parts. Warning, spoiler alert from this point onwards.

In part 1, the group went hunting for a mysterious building, the Narthex. It teleports around the world, only ever staying a couple days, and inside it’s Tardis-style, much much bigger. Inside, they found a bunch of cultists that actually kidnap people to increase the site of their cult. To stop this, the group infiltrated the cult, got rid of the insane leader and kicked out his second-in-command. Shortly after those events, the group heard a mysterious voice, inviting them over to where ever it was. The voice led the group to a magical well, strange numenera grabbed the party and dunked them in the well. This covered them up in a strange armor. The voice asked the group to enter the Vortex, a weird glowing portal. The cultists worship the Vortex as the source of all life.

 

Vortex

Mysterious building plus cultists, check!

Enter the Vortex!

In the Sunday session, the group did actually enter the Vortex. They ended up in a room made of green synth that showed signs of destruction, and was extremely warm, despite the armor. The ground was trembling, in the distance material was groaning. The Radiant Citadel, as the voice had called it, seemed doomed. The voice invited the group to join it in the communication room, to talk to the voice.

As the group went down a curved hallway, Tidus looked out of one of the windows. The windows were partly shielded, but not all of them. Looking outside, Tidus stared into incredibly bright light, blinding him temporarily. The group found a control mechanism to darken the windows completely. Sam and Lemy were able to operate it due to their extensive numenera knowledge. Sam didn’t stop, and caused a loss of gravity, with the group floating around until Lemy was able to reverse it.

Upon further exploration, the group heard heavy steps. Apparently they had triggered an alarm. First they were able to evade the guard mechanism, but not permanently. In one of the storerooms, they engaged in combat against a metallic, armored guard with a glowing sword of energy and a shield. Only the heaviest of attacks, distraction and teamwork allowed the group to defeat it. Sam was able to remove the sword from the armor, and Ophelia now uses this broadsword of fire, a powerful artifact.

The group rushed through the citadel that was collapsing faster now. They avoid falling into tears or being sucked outside the building. Eventually they found the communication room where the voice turned out to be a creature of energy, Aerridomos. This creature asked the group to repair the citadel, or if that was impossible to send him and his fellow energy creatures into exile. The citadel turned out to be a station in the corona of the sun, harvesting energy, for an unknown purpose. In return for their assistance the creature offered an override code for the controls of the Narthex, the teleporting building on the other side of the Vortex. The group was very keen on such a code.

The group found a locked room. Ophelia used her ability of shifting phase to walk into this room. She was able to tell the others that a strange ball of light was floating in there. The Numenera experts figured out a way to open the door. Pooling all his knowledge, Lemy figured out that the floating ball allows the creation and modification of things. Risking his life, he used the ball of light to repair the citadel completely.

Bodily Needs

With the collapse of the station turned away, the group explored the rest of the citadel in peace, finding a couple cyphers and oddities. Aerridomos stuck with his promise and provided the group with a transparent slip of synth, for the override of the Narthex. The group decided to stay the night, so that Lemy would be able to return to use the ball of light again. The possibilities seemed limitless! One of the many items of their to-do-list were crab-eyes for Boregal, their petrified brain companion.

After a night’s rest, the group had an urgent problem: toilet facilities required! Only Lemy would have been fine peeing in an empty room, the others wanted facilities. Lemy used the ball of light again, to create two toilets and a rest area for the group. However, it seemed that using this artifact will not be feasible forever, as it made Lemy’s ears bleed, and the ball of light went dim. Was the artifact depleted?

As the group wanted to wait and see if the ball of light would receive energy, they decided to walk through the Vortex again. Upon their return, two cultists were praying in the Vortex room. The cultists took the armored party to be god-like beings from the Vortex, and called them the Vortexlings.

The rest of the cult joined to show their worship for the new gods of the Vortex, which was the end of our session.

 

GM-Notes

Radiant Knight

That was pretty fun! I wasn’t wholly satisfied, but then I never am. It didn’t feel as threatening as I wanted it to feel like. I created tears in the citadel, Sam was almost sucked into the sun, and yet. Just not as dangerous as I wanted it to be. The grand finale of the collapsing citadel with the party rushing to the exit never happened, due to the two Numenera geniuses in the party. The fight against the Radiant Knight was also not as exciting as hoped. Due to the heavy armor, he just didn’t really do any damage. I should have tweaked that. At least the group seemed to feel he was very threatening!

The party used a wishing well to repair the station, a level 8 Numenera. I had assumed they would not manage the roll, but I was so wrong. 2 effort, teamwork, and a book as asset, and the difficulty was down to 4. Lemy failed a couple of the rolls, but he used XP multiple times for re-rolls. Maybe I should limit the amount of times you can re-roll. However, I am finding that Numenera characters level really quickly. Just about every adventure they are able to improve their characters permanently. This means I am quite happy that players also use XP to re-roll.

I was happy to see that the players are ready to use XP and pools a lot. When we started playing, people were super-careful with their pools and effort, and now they’re not.

The party is now able to control the Narthex. Until now, it jumped to a random location every three days. The group can’t decide freely where the building will jump to now, but they have a map of fixed points that they can steer the building to. It’s powerful, but I really like this! I want the players to experience the wonders of the Ninth World, as written in the setting, Ninth World Guidebook and other sources. Maybe even Sagus Cliffs from the new Numenera video game. So many possibilities. I like world exploration, hoping my players like it too.

Looking forward to our next session in April. I think the players will probably turn back to the plot now, now that they have a traveling building they can control. On their search for an artifact to stop the impending end of the world, the group will have to travel to Matheunis, the Cold Desert.

 

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