To Boldly Nerd…

Video games, pen&paper RPGs and other nerdery

25/07/2016
by Kadomi
1 Comment

RPG Tools: Campaign Management using Scrivener

As mentioned in my Numenera post, I am currently creating a campaign from scratch. This is very exciting to me. However, it’s led to me re-evaluating how I organize the games I am running. With now three different games, I felt that I definitely need to keep my notes straight. I felt I needed a way to plot outlines and story arcs.

Previously, I’ve always been using Evernote. I extensively use the Web Clipper to yank ideas from websites straight into my notes but also, to add the campaign newsletter that I send around for my Runelords campaign. The advantage is that I can use Evernote anywhere I have web access or wifi. This means I can jot down ideas during my lunch break. You can use different notebooks to organize your notes, and tag them. I still don’t feel very organized using it though. Sure, I can favorite notes, and create different notebooks, but I still have to click through my notes or use the search, without having any real way of adding structure. It is however still a great tool for simply taking notes. A ‘jot down your ideas anywhere’ tool.

Evernote in action

Evernote in action

I would like to note that their new pricing model kinda blows. Thanks to my ISP I had Premium access for free for a year. I definitely do not need 10 GB of notes every month nor use all the business features. It would however be nice to sync on all my devices, which was always free until now but which would cost me 29,99 € a year now. Certainly not a pricing that would kill me but a bit over the top just so I can sync on my 3 devices. I deleted it off my phone, and now only use the clients on my PC and my tablet. The web version will have to do when I am not at home.

The search for the right client

So what to do for campaign management? There are several solutions. There’s Obsidian Portal, but for me, that’s less about campaign management but about being the chronicle of a campaign. It offers a wiki for worldbuilding, a blog, etc. I am doing something similar using a WordPress.com blog as adventure journal for my Legacy of Fire campaign: The Adventures of the Cactus-Slayers. I have lots of plans and little time for this site, but it’s wonderful for showing the creativity of my players and their campaign diaries. What I need is a tool that allows me to structure and plot my campaign, without any worries about player access.

I was looking for a software solution. I briefly looked at The Keep, which actually looks to be a fantastic piece of software, but the screenshots didn’t quite grab me. It looks clunky? I dunno, I am probably wrong. There was only a trial version of 1.0, which I didn’t care for.

I had long lusted after Realm Works from Lone Wolf Development because based on screenshots and videos I had seen, it does everything that I was looking for. As the software is by the same guys who created my beloved Hero Lab, I was very tempted. However, there were three issues in my way: high price point, no trial version, no way to export data. The last is really the deathblow. You can’t even print any files! I want to be able to add handouts and print them. I want to be able to export notes as PDF or whatever file format I need. Not offering any of that, plus no trial to even look if the software is what I want killed my interest. Which is a shame, it still looks awesome but export is really a requirement for modern software.

Scrivener, for writers and GMs

During my hunt for a campaign management tool, I stumbled over a post at Gnome Stew, which is an excellent RPG site, btw. It gives a comprehensive overview over using Scrivener for managing an adventure. Of course an adventure is only a part of a campaign and thus, you can use Scrivener to structure more deeply.

So, what is Scrivener? It’s a creation suite for writers, offering a full word processor, a way to structure writing, create character outlines, revise your writing, keep your research handy, use a name generator if you can’t come up with names, index cards and so on and so forth. Unlike Realm Works, it comes with a free 30 day trial. Not only that, it only counts down 30 days of actual use, so if you really want to give it a spin, that’s a long trial period. Despite its focus on writers, don’t be disparaged, because what is a GM but a storyteller, a writer. Unless you are one of those crazy improv GMs who fly by the seat of their pants. Major kudos to you.

I must admit that after first starting the software, it is incredibly overwhelming. It takes you through a tutorial template that is very extensive and will likely take 45 minutes to an hour of concentrated reading and testing. The learning curve seems steep, but it’s really not that bad. Once you understand cork boards and the difference between folders and files, you are really good to go. Also, there are about a million Scrivener tutorial sites out there. Just don’t fall for the ones that want to sell you tutorials, because there’s a lot of good free training stuff out there.

Using the RPG template

Scrivener is template-based. There’s a default template you could work with, or you could do what I’ve done and grab a ready-made RPG template, kindly created by Ricardo Signes. I loaded that into Scrivener. Then I started fiddling, making adjustments, and before I knew it, I was deep into plotting my campaign and prepping adventures.

A very bare-bones cork-board for my planned adventures.

A very bare-bones cork-board for my planned adventures.

Scrivener has a so-called Binder as left side-bar. That’s where you create a structure. In my case, I have a campaign section, where I will outline my campaign in broad strokes. There, I also collect story hooks and track major NPCs that will impact the whole campaign, like the Big Bad Evil Guy.

There’s a so-called Research folder, which you can use to add external files like images, PDF files, etc. I’ve used that to add images of the maps I am using in my adventures. I’ll also add the PDF files of the character sheets of my players. It will be awesome to track that between sessions. I need a good long look at everybody’s skills and abilities. This will allow me to create GM intrusions and RP situations utilizing those abilities and skills.

An imported image file that I am using as an adventure map.

An imported image file that I am using as an adventure map.

Not only can you bring structure into your campaign management, you can also visualize the structure, by assigning icons to folders and files. For NPC folders, I am using a mask, e.g., or for rules sections and GM intrusions I am using a d20. I am sure there’s probably tons more icons out there that could be added to this template.

Changing icons in (my German version of) Scrivener

Changing icons in (my German version of) Scrivener

It’s definitely a much more streamlined and organized way of structuring game information than what Evernote offers. I will continue to use Evernote for what the name suggests: taking notes. The fine tuning and detailed planning will happen in Scrivener, which I will happily purchase.

In case you have any questions about using Scrivener for RPGs, I am happy to answer. If I know the answer, hee. 🙂

13/07/2016
by Kadomi
0 comments

RPG: Numenera, my new infatuation

Life’s busy, and so once again there’s been little to no time to blog here. I wanted to write a lot during my time off work two weeks ago, but my computer decided to make my time off a nightmare. Result: I am now using a 256 GB SSD with Windows 10 as OS, I bought a 3 TB Seagate Expansion external USB disk and lost all my campaign prep that I had stored on my fairly new Lexar USB flash drive. At least I didn’t lose my main hard drive and was able to back things up. Still, a nightmare. There were tears, let me tell you. Tears.

But now I am back and kicking, and I am actually liking Windows 10 quite a lot.

I need to finish up my coop boardgames posts with a look at Cthulhu-flavoured games, but for now, I want to talk about my current gaming passion: Numenera.

numenera

I’m a huge fan of Science Fantasy, a mix of Fantasy flavoured with Science Fiction. Usually formerly advanced worlds fallen back into feudal systems, with remnants of advanced technology out and about. Examples of fiction like that that I used to enjoy are Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books (admittedly those jumped the shark at some point in the series) or Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor Chronicles.

I was delighted when I first heard of the Numenera setting. Earth, in about a billion years. Eight major, highly advanced civilizations have risen and fallen, and humanity now lives in the so-called Ninth World. Some civilizations were space-faring. There are tantalizing hints that for a while humans weren’t living on Earth anymore, but now they are back, living in a world that’s full of mysterious remnants of the previous 8 worlds, full of utterly bizarre things no one in the Ninth World actually understands. It is up to the players to discover the mysteries that were left behind.

Imagine Mass Effect’s Protheans, and Shephard hard on their trail. That’s Numenera, only that the players are less capable of actually dealing with what they discover because the other civilizations were so far advanced. Monte Cook, the author of Numenera, quotes Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the SF author, right in the introduction to the corebook: ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. This is where Numenera is at. And it’s all very weird. This weirdness is what makes Numenera so compelling.

Given that the setting fascinated me a lot, I had no idea if the actual game system would actually play well. I’ve been groomed with D&D and compatible systems like Pathfinder and have only dabbled in other systems like Shadowrun and World of Darkness as a reader. I am most familiar with the D20 style of D&D 3e and higher. Players receive bonuses, GM sets a difficulty class, players roll a 20-sided die and add those bonuses in hopes of cracking the target difficulty class which is usually 15+. The Cypher system uses a similar, yet in practice very different system. As GM you still set a difficulty, between 0 and 10. 0 is an automatic success and doesn’t require any roll at all. For the other difficulties the player needs to reach a target goal on a d20, which is always the difficulty multiplied by 3. A task with a difficulty of 1 is simple, and thus the player needs to roll a 3 on a d20 to succeed. A task that is demanding and requires some focus is a difficulty 3, so a player needs to roll a 9. The highest normal difficulty a player can roll for is 6, which requires an 18 and is considered intimidating. Difficulties 7-10 cannot be succeeded at with a normal die roll.

In a D20-system game, the players try to stack bonuses to get their rolls as high as possible. As feats and certain conditions can add or subtract from these bonuses, Pathfinder is a very math-heavy game. I will admit to being unable to quickly calculate all this in my head as GM and am using Hero Lab as a formidable yet necessary crutch. The higher the character’s level, the more numbers to crunch. The Cypher System has a different approach. You set a difficulty, and the players now have to try to lower this difficulty with the means they have. For one, they can spend effort which lowers the difficulty by 1. Assuming the character is trying to convince someone to give them some kind of information, and the NPC is very unwilling, making this a difficulty 5 task with a target roll of 15. The character can expend effort and use points from their stat pools to lower the difficulty by 1, making it a difficulty of 4. The character has a descriptor of Charming, which means they are trained in positive social interactions. This lowers the difficulty by 1 again. The difficulty is now 3, and the target roll is a 9, which the player decides to go for.

That’s a lot less math than Pathfinder.

On top of that, the GM doesn’t do any rolls in Numenera. The GM sets the difficulties, and tells the story, but all rolls are made by the players. In combat, the GM doesn’t roll the dice for enemies. When enemies attack, each player gets a defense roll. Difficulties in combat are determined by the enemy’s level. A level 3 monster does 3 points of damage, to attack it players need to roll a 9 (or lower the difficulty) and to successfully defend they also need to roll a 9. Isn’t that easy? Of course there are exceptions for some creatures, but it’s all still very manageable.

The Amber Monolith

The Amber Monolith

First Numenera session

Having perused the corebook, I decided I wanted to play a Numenera one-shot, and a couple we used to play Pathfinder with and my SO were willing test subjects. My plan was to run The Beale of Boregal as one-shot. This adventure is in the core rulebook and it was advised that it would be a great introduction to Numenera. The basic story is that the characters are all pilgrims on the Wandering Walk, a pilgrim route that supposedly goes around the whole of the Ninth World (which only contains one super continent). While on the route, it turns out that the whole area is in distress for an undisclosed reason. Normally peaceful creatures turn hostile, pilgrims get murdered, and nano-technology goes haywire. The PCs get involved when a teenage boy asks them to bring his sick sister with strange mental powers to Cylion Basion.

For this one-shot, I didn’t use pre-gen characters, because I also wanted to test Numenera character generation, which is really fun and easy. Despite only having three character ‘classes’ or types, as they’re known here, the options are basically limitless. Any character can be different. A Cypher System character is created with a sentence: I am an adjective noun who verbs.

The descriptor is an adjective that describes the character. The ones in the corebook are all positive, which is why I also allowed the ones from the Character Options book, which also adds negative descriptors, making for richer, fuller characters, IMHO. My players agreed and exclusively picked descriptors from the Character Options. The noun/type is one of the three different classes you can play: a glaive aka warrior/fighter, a jack aka rogue/hybrid or a nano aka magic-user. The last part, the focus, is the character ability that makes the character special and stand out. Once you’ve picked all three, you add a number of free points to your stat pools, write down your skills and abilities and off you go. We also used the table to come up with a character hook.

My players came up with the following characters:

  • Ophelia is a clumsy glaive who exists partially out of phase: a warrior who is so clumsy that she gets an asset to breaking things. It also makes her more charming, in a self-deprecating manner. She looks oddly transparent and at first tier has the ability to walk through solid objects, e.g. walls. Her story hook is that she deserted from the army of her native country and is on the run.
  • Lemy is a weird jack who fuses mind and machine. Born with a long lizard tail, Lemy is a strange brainiac with very high intellect who’s always been cast out because people are creeped out by him, which makes social interactions tougher for him. He’s used nano-technology to enhance his brain capacity and will continue to do so. He leans more on the nano-side of the jack. His story hook is that he used to be a member of a travelling circus and is a wanderer.
  • Sam is a vengeful nano who employs magnetism. With her only goal in life being total revenge, Sam knows how to employ nano-technology in a way that seems like magic. She’s also able to control metal objects with her mind, serving as a magnet. Her rolled story hook was very cool. Sam once killed a crime lord in self-defense, which made her a local hero. It also forced her to leave her home town, fleeing from repercussions from the crime syndicate. Just like Ophelia she’s on the run.
A nano in action against Broken Hounds

A nano in action against Broken Hounds

My observation was that it was very easy to create unique characters with interesting story hooks for immediate play. I left the players alone for a bit to discuss how they ended up traveling together on the Wandering Walk and off we went with the adventure. The adventure is quite fun though it offers very little hooks why people would actually investigate, simply assuming that curiosity is enough to move them on. Especially if you have a party of people who are fleeing to the Beyond region of the world to escape the army and criminals. They didn’t go off the track anyhow. We didn’t actually manage to finish the adventure in one session, as it runs fairly long, and so quit just after they got to Embered Peaks to investigate the final section of the adventure.

The verdict of the players was ‘Hell yeah, let’s turn this into a campaign!’ and I was very thrilled about this. It was very fun to run the session, and incredibly relaxing. No GM screen, no dice, no character management. I mostly told my story and explained the rules as we played. I loved it.

Since then I have been very busy. I have always used published adventures because I am not confident with coming up with my own adventures and encounters. However, I find Numenera so easy to run and so inspirational that I am coming up with my first very own homebrew campaign. I will weave some published adventures from Weird Adventures and other sources into the campaign but the main campaign story is my own. I have the first half of the campaign all written up and hope to keep you posted with story progress when we play.

With the campaign outline being fairly advanced already, I am in the process of translating Justin Alexander’s excellent Numenera Cheat Sheet into German, as a reference for my players as Numenera’s German translation has not been published yet. I also want to write three flash fics about events in the characters’ past, so they can get further into the weirdness of the setting. It will also serve as introduction to some major NPCs of the campaign. I am very excited about this campaign. It’s an incredibly creative setting. I can only recommend it. The core rulebook is probably the nicest rulebook I ever owned and it’s pretty much a 3-in-1 book: player’s handbook, campaign setting + small bestiary and GM’s guide. Plus four included adventures! And if you’re not planning on GMing, and only want to play, you can buy the much cheaper Player’s Guide, which only includes the player sections from the core rulebook, which you can buy for 7.99 USD as PDF. Very cool.

My follow-up adventure to the Beale will lead the party further towards the Great Slab on the Wandering Walk, using info from The Wander, a 3rd party supplement. My goal is for them to travel the world, always hard on the heels of discovering more information about a mysterious key that one of the party members is already carrying on them, with many opposing parties trying to stop them…

09/06/2016
by Kadomi
0 comments

RPG-Blog-O-Quest #9

When the German RPG bloggers Würfelheld and Greifenklaue started this monthly blog project, I hopped aboard the train and posted the first one. Then I stopped blogging again, and now I am back at it. So darn it, I missed seven months, but damn it, I am back now. Like the last time, the first segment will be in my native language German, the second part will have a translation. Game on!

blog-o-quest

So, nach langer Pause bin ich jetzt wieder dabei, und springe mal auf das Thema von Würfelheld auf: Science-Fiction.

  1. Wie bist du zur Science Fiction gekommen?

    Die erste Station war Raumschiff Enterprise während meiner Kindheit in den 70ern. Wurde bei uns regelmäßig jeden Sonntag geguckt. Ich fand’s toll, wobei mir schon als kleine Göre auffiel, dass sich der Frauenanteil der Serie irgendwie in Grenzen hielt. So mit 13 kam mir eine Ausgabe von Perry Rhodan in die Finger, und ab da war ich Hardcore-Fan. Hab alles gesammelt, was die Serie so hergab. Silberbände, die Lexika, habe fünf Auflagen parallel gelesen, und viel Zeit auf Flohmärkten und im Second-Hand Comic Shop in Dortmund verbracht. Heute schnupper ich alle paar Zyklen wieder rein, merke, dass ich gar nichts mehr schnalle, und hör dann direkt wieder auf. PR Neo hab ich ein Jahr gelesen.

  2. Warum ich da nie reingeschnuppert habe? Keine Ahnung. Ich wäre definitiv Arkonidin!

    Warum ich da nie reingeschnuppert habe? Keine Ahnung. Ich wäre definitiv Arkonidin!

  3. Was macht für dich den Reiz dieses Genres aus?

    Sense of Wonder ist ein Begriff, der sich nicht wirklich gut übersetzen lässt, für mich aber die Quintessenz von Science Fiction darstellt. In Fantasy-Literatur geht schon viel, in guter SF geht noch mehr. Ich liebe die Erforschung von neuen Planeten, neue Rassen, und ein auszeichnendes Merkmal von Perry Rhodan war für mich immer, dass nicht alle Rassen humanoid sind (wie es z.B. bei Star Trek der Fall ist). Es gibt Methanatmer, Insektoide, Plasmawesen, etc. Ich brauche keine Raumschlachten zum Glücklich sein.

  4. What a fantastic sourcebook this was!

    Was für ein fantastisches Quellenbuch!

  5. Welche SF Rollenspiele hast du schon gespielt und was war das besondere an ihnen?

    Vor gefühlt einer Million Jahren (also Mitte der 90er) habe ich das Star Wars RPG von West End gespielt. Da ich mich bei der Namensgebung von Charakteren fast immer an Objekte auf dem Tisch vor mir orientiere, wurde aus I love Milka-Pralinen eine rodianische Kopfgeldjägerin namens Aklim Evol I., aus einer rodianischen Adelsfamilie. Gerne hat sie Graffiti in Form von Beleidigungen wie ‘Alte Hackfresse’ hinterlassen. Eine tolle, wenn auch kurze Zeit.

    Derzeit spiele ich Numenera, bin ein Riesenfan. Dazu aber mehr bei anderer Gelegenheit. Nie gespielt habe ich Shadowrun, habe aber zu First Edition Zeiten viele Quellenbücher besessen. Unter anderem auch Deutschland in den Schatten, für mich eins der besten Quellenbücher aller Zeiten.

  6. Welcher SF Hintergrund, ob Rollenspiel, PC-/Konsolengame oder Roman ist dein absoluter Favorit und warum?

    So ähnlich hat meine Shep ausgesehen...

    So ähnlich hat meine Shep ausgesehen…

    Mein Name ist Commander Shepard, und Mass Effect ist meine Lieblingsserie auf der Citadel, oder insgesamt im Universum. Keine SF Story hat mich je so gepackt wie diese Trilogie über den Kampf von Shepard und Gefährten gegen die Gefahr der Reaper, die jegliches organisches Leben in der Galaxie auslöschen wollen. Tolle Charaktere, im ersten Teil noch viel Erforschung von Planeten, spannende und abwechslungsreiche Rassen, Raumschlachten, vergangene Zivilisation und mysteriöse Geschehnisse. Scheiß auf das Ende, die Trilogie ist herausragend und sollte von jedem, der Computerspiele mag, erlebt werden.
  7. Welcher SF Hintergrund sollte unbedingt in einem Rollenspiel umgesetzt werden und warum?

    Ähnlich wie es bereits Dragon Age tut, sehe ich bei Mass Effect auch die Möglichkeit eines Rollenspiels. Die verschiedenen Klassen wie Ingenieur, Vanguard oder Biotic gibt’s ja schon aus den Spielen. Schönes Settingbuch für die pre-Reaper Milchstraße und das könnte echt toll sein. Könnte man aber z.B. mit dem Cypher System auch selber machen, wobei man dann viel Arbeit mit den Rassen und dem Setting hat. Bei dem Gedanken läuft mir aber ein freudiger Schauer über den Rücken.


And here’s a translation from the above. This month’s topic is Science Fiction!

  1. How did you become interested in Science Fiction?

    My first contact with SF was when I was a little kid. Every Sunday, classic Star Trek was on TV, or Spaceship Enterprise, as the show was called in German. I liked it. It was campy even back then, with the terrible special effects, but I loved the Trek technology. In my teens I started reading Perry Rhodan, which is the longest-running SF serial in the world. They started publishing in the 60s and still release an issue every week. There’s more than 2800 issues now. I didn’t just read, it was my first real collector passion. I spent hours on flea markets and in second hand book shops trying to find issues I had missed. I think I had almost all issues between 1-1200 at the time. Nowadays I occasionally try to get back into the series and give up after a couple issues.

  2. What’s the appeal of the genre for you?

    The sense of wonder, no joke. Even more so than in fantasy, the possibilities are really limitless. One of my first memories from reading Perry Rhodan was a planetary story based on a planet of a race that breathed methane, the planet being completely hostile to human life. The unknown, the weird, exciting places and races, that’s what I like best.

  3. Which SF tabletop games have you played and what was special about them?

    About a million years ago (sometime in the 90s) I played the D6 Star Wars RPG by West End Games. I was Aklim Evol I., a Rodian bounty hunter, and she was as awesome as her name indicates (read it backwards). Her callsign was leaving insults engraved into walls with her laser weapons. We didn’t play very often, but Star Wars is a fantastic setting for any RPG, for sure. I am looking forward to a test game of Edge of Empire, eventually.

    I am currently playing Numenera, which is not hard SF, but instead the genre Science Fantasy, and I love it. But that I’ll post about in a separate post. From the same genre (sort of), I also used to own a lot of Shadowrun books, which is science fantasy + cyberpunk, but I never actually played it. I do love the setting a lot, though. Especially the Germany books were absolutely outstanding.

  4. Which SF background, regardless if RPG, video game or novel is your absolute favorite, and why?

    Mass Effect forever! No fictional SF universe has ever grabbed me like Commander Shepard and her fight against the Reapers. It has all the elements I like. It has sense of wonder. Exploration. Compelling characters. Mystery. Ancient relics of lost civilizations. A space station with elevators (and elevator music). Cool races. Gigantic space battles. The end might be polarising, but I don’t care. The Mass Effect trilogy is a science fiction epic and it made me cry, which is more than I can say about any other SF movie or show I ever saw. My hopes are riding on Mass Effect Andromeda to see if a new galaxy will mean an equally epic tale.

  5. Which SF background should be turned into an RPG and why?

    Dragon Age has its own RPG, why not Mass Effect? Different classes we already got from the game, like Vanguards, Engineers or Biotics. The different races are cool. Give me a great pre-game sourcebook about the galaxy and this could kick ass. I think the Cypher system might be ideal to come up with something like this, but would require a lot of legwork with the setting. Still, entirely possible, and a very cool idea.

08/06/2016
by Kadomi
1 Comment

RPG: Roll the dice – a review

As a GM and tabletop player, I love dice. I think everyone who gets to play falls in love with dice. There’s something that really speaks to a gamer, rolling dice for something. My RL Pathfinder group, most of them newbies, get super-excited when it’s time to roll, and why shouldn’t they be? Dice are fun, and thanks to dice manufacturers, there’s an incredible variety of colors out there.

0030_12_BigBagODice

So color me super excited when I received an e-mail from the guys at Easy Roller Dice if I’d be interested in reviewing some of their dice. Of course I was! I had a fun time picking them up at the customs office. Try explaining RPG dice and reviewing them to a bureaucratic customs officer. But I was able to take them home and opened them in delight.

I received three sets of dice: The Black Ice 7pc set, the Purple Marbled 7pc, and the Legendary Copper Metal Dice.

The 7pc sets both came with a nice black cloth dice bag, with satin lining. The bags are fairly small, but they’re definitely a lot nicer than carrying them around in a clear plastic case, which is usually what dice come in. The bags draw cat hair like heck, but then, what doesn’t? I live in a very cat-hairy household, thanks to a very fluffy Mo.

Matches our African violet nicely, doesn't it?

Matches our African violet nicely, doesn’t it?

Of the two dice sets, I really enjoy the purple marbled the most. They’re really gorgeous, a nice, rich purple with incredibly crisp numbers. I didn’t perceive any flaws with that set of dice. We were testing them on Saturday, in our last game session. My SO used them and I sat across the room at my own GM table. I was able to read her dice rolls quite easily, which doesn’t happen with the Chessex dice she usually uses (for reference, she’s using Chessex Gemini Blue&Purple). They’re just not as legible as the Easy Roller dice. As consequence, my SO claimed them after the game, to keep as her own. sighs It was really noticeable, because we play in dimmed light sometimes, and the other players had to pick up their dice and look more closely at their die results.

The dice bag that comes with it on the right.

The dice bag that comes with it on the right.

I had no issues with the purple set at all, but I had some with the Black Ice set. They’re also beautiful, and just as crisp as the purple set, but there were some flaws. The numbers were not painted as crisply, as if paint was missing in some spots, and one of the dice had a white stain, as if from the paint used to color the digits. The color of the dice doesn’t quite match my expectations from the photo on the site, being a slightly different shade of blue. They’re still lovely but not my favorite set.

In this photo you can compare how well you can read the dice, compared to our Chessex dice

In this photo you can compare how well you can read the dice, compared to our Chessex and Pegasus dice

Which brings us to the Legendary Copper Metal dice. Presentation is awesome. The dice come in a leather display case that’s velvet-lined. The dice are protected by styrofoam. If you remove the foam, you can store a lot of dice in there, but I think I’ll keep the foam. The dice are pointy, with relatively sharp edges, but it’s not as if you cut yourself on them. Still, make sure the D4 is not near your eye when you slam your head on the table when your group is doing something you completely did not expect to happen. Ahem.

The Legendary Copper Dice in their display case and the dice cup

The Legendary Copper Dice in their display case and the dice cup

The dice, in a standard 16mm size, are absolutely gorgeous. I can easily say I have never owned such luxurious dice before. They have a rich copper finish. I think that will only improve with the years of use I hope to get out of those babies. The size seems a bit off, but that might just be my impression. The D6 seems incredibly large compared to the other dice, especially compared to the D4. The dice are fairly heavy and roll with a satisfying ‘thunk’. As my GM table during last week’s session was a glass table, I only used the metal dice on the Ultra Pro Dice Tray I own (which is awesome, btw), so I wouldn’t damage the table or the dice. I don’t think they would scratch up a wooden table, but I would generally recommend a dice tray for them, if not the Ultra Pro, then maybe this one right at Easy Roller Dice. If you are in the market for metal dice, I highly recommend them. They look great, they feel great when you roll them, and the display case is a nice extra-added value. They have a variety of metal dice on their site.

This is the dice tray that I use, velvet-lined.

This is the dice tray that I use, velvet-lined.

The final sample I received was a p/u leather dice cup. It’s black, branded with the company logo and has blue velvet lining inside. It’s sturdy, a lot sturdier than the two leather dice cups I already own. It’s a perfect addition for the metal dice. It came with a small set of 5D6, so if we’re ever playing a round of Yahtzee, I am set, hah. I honestly would have greatly preferred if the brand logo was not on the cup. I understand why they used it, but I honestly would prefer the cup without it, or maybe with a smaller, less prominent print. I also would have liked if it came with a lid, like comparable dice cups from Koplow and Q-Workshop do. Maybe they’ll drop the logo in the future. Still, for that price, you get a fantastic dice cup.

As you can tell, the D4 really looks tiny compared to the massive D6

As you can tell, the D4 really looks tiny compared to the massive D6

For total value, I think the dice can easily compete with Chessex or Pegasus (a German brand), and I would prefer them to Q-Workshop dice. The latter are absolutely beautiful, with a variety of specialty dice, for example Legacy of Fire and Rise of the Runelords dice (the two Pathfinder Adventure Paths I am currently GMing), but my number one issue with them: very hard to read. Gorgeous to look at, honestly, but if I have to squint to read them, not worth my time. I didn’t know how important it is to read dice until I tested these dice.

I will likely never get any of these dice again, unless they get a German distributor, but if they did have one, I’d highly recommend them and pick up some more marbled sets. My players all liked them too, and I think there was some envy about the metal dice for sure. 😉 If you’re in the US, I would definitely give them a shot.

Disclosure: I was not compensated for this post, however I did receive free samples for my review. All opinions are my own and not influenced in any way.

12/05/2016
by Kadomi
1 Comment

How I turned into a cooperative board gamer

Last week, I posted how in video gaming I prefer the deep single-player experiences, games with rich stories and no social pressure whatsoever. I always thought it’s me, but it was very heartening to see that others echo my sentiment.

I love social gaming. It’s just that video games don’t hit that spot for me. Tabletop RPGs and board games do. Today, I want to talk about a wonderful development in boardgaming that’s totally changed the way I play them and has revitalized my interest in them: cooperative board games.

I love board games but I’m not very good at them. (Incidentally, the same could be said for most video games I play. Maybe I suck?) In competitive board games, which is the vast majority, I prefer games with elements of luck, like…Yahtzee (which technically isn’t a board game), because as soon as we come to heavy strategy games, I’m swimming in deep waters. This is the reason that my SO and I have pretty much given up on 2-player games. She’s a board game genius and wins almost every game. No matter what you play with her, she has an uncanny grasp of strategies. I don’t mind when this happens in a four player game. In fact, we have one friend who’s similarly brilliant and usually gives my SO a run for the money. But if it’s just us two, and she crushes me decisively once again, it’s no fun. At least not for me.

But then I found cooperative games. Games where your goal is not to be better than the other players, but to work together to accomplish a goal. If you haven’t played games like that, they’re fantastic. Some are RPG light and a great introduction to people interested in tabletop RPGs. Some are quick to play. Some of them take hours. Most of them can be played with 2 people, and are maybe even easier to beat this way. I think they’re great fun.

Here’s a run-down of cooperative board games I have played and enjoyed.

andor Legends of Andor was the first co-op game I played. It’s probably the one my SO likes among the least, and so we haven’t played it in ages, mostly because of its structure. But I am getting ahead of myself. Legends of Andor is an RPG light. You choose a character to play from different classes and follow a campaign of several linked scenarios. Once you have defeated a scenario, you move on in the story. The story is fairly default, with invading hordes of orc-like creatures advancing on the main castle. You have to carefully weigh the scenario objective and the danger of the enemies invading the castle, which effectively makes you lose the game. There’s a time limit as well. The first scenario is very simple, the second adds more elements, and it was by the fourth scenario where all elements came together that we really felt the difficulty. I hope to go back one fine day and actually finish the campaign. The expansion is supposed to be a better story.

Legends of Andor is a very pretty game, with many tokens.

Legends of Andor is a very pretty game, with many tokens.

forbidden-island Forbidden Island is the first Matt Leacock game we played, the latter being like the godfather of coop games. I picked it up at a bookstore when I last went to the US in 2014. It came in a metal tin that looks fantastic. We played it quite a bit and I find it enjoyable, but it’s the most simple of the Leacock games, in terms of game mechanics. Not as many fascinating ways to die as Forbidden Desert or Pandemic offer, still enough to utterly frustrate some people. After we played this game with my friend Anika, she declared she would never play this shit game again, hah. It’s not a shit game though, we just had bad luck. The objective of this game is to secure four treasures and fly them away in a helicopter before the island consisting of 24 tiles has sunken. Each player draws a job card, e.g. the Engineer, who is really good at using sandbags to keep above water or the pilot who can zip around the island easily and save cornered players surrounded by water. Each round you have a limited amount of actions (move, shore up, pick up treasure) and after that draw treasure cards in hopes of matching four treasure cards in order to secure a treasure. Sometimes you have to trade cards with other players, especially if you are the Messenger. Sometimes you get really unlucky and draw a Waters Rise card, which means the island floods more. Every round you flood a specific amount of island tiles. If a tile gets flooded twice, this part of the island is lost forever. You have to carefully weigh which tiles to shore up, which tiles are safe to drown and use all your abilities and extra special items the treasure deck contains to ultimately win.

The metal tin is so snazzy.

The metal tin is so snazzy.

Forbidden Desert steps the whole principle up, and is very similar, and yet different. This time, the explorers have crashed their helicopter in the desert and find a mystical flying ship, with four parts missing. It is your task to dig up the missing parts, without succumbing to thirst and without being buried underneath the sands. The different jobs are almost the same compared to Forbidden Island, though this time you don’t have a diver of course, and instead of shoring up tiles, you have the Archaeologist, who is skilled at digging up stuff from underneath dunes. In Forbidden Desert, I find the game board itself more mobile. You have a sand storm theme, and every round you draw sand storm cards to see how many and which tiles will be covered with sand, making the search this much harder. As the wind changes direction all the time, this adds a lot of mobility (and possibly frustration) to the game. When my SO and I first got this game, we easily beat it and thought it was much easier. We’ve played a bunch of four player games since, and haven’t won a single time! It’s always been incredibly close games though. Lots of fun.

The German version of this game comes with the ugliest minis you have ever seen.

The German version of this game comes with the ugliest minis you have ever seen.

pandemicPandemic is what I would consider the crown jewel of the Matt Leacock games. If you have played any of the others, the mechanics are very familiar, but different enough to make this a completely different game. As example, my friend Anika who hates Forbidden Island, really enjoys Pandemic. Go figure. In Pandemic you are not an adventurer but instead a member of a disease control team based in Atlanta. You travel across the world fighting epidemics. Unlike the other two games, there’s an actual board here, no tiles. Again, you have a limited amount of actions and can use them to travel, treat a disease, build a research station or actually cure a disease. You cure them by drawing cards and match 5 cards of the same color. At the same time, diseases spread by infection, and you add more disease cubes to the cities with infections. If a city has an infection if there’s already 3 disease cubes in the city, you have a so-called outbreak, with the disease spreading to every neighboring city. This can lead to really nasty nasty chain reactions and bam, you go from almost winning to losing. There are multiple loss conditions for Pandemic. Too many outbreaks. No more disease cubes available. No more cards available. It’s challenging, and tough, and really really cool. There’s a gazillion expansions for it, and a very cool Legacy version where only the very high price point scares me away (plus the need to have a regular group for it).

These lucky fellas actually won the game, which is a rare occurrence. But ever so satisfying!

These lucky fellas actually won the game, which is a rare occurrence. But ever so satisfying!

That’s all for now, but I will continue this with a follow-up, about 4 more coop games that I had fun playing: Arkham Horror, Elder Sign and Mice and Mystics and the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, plus a wishlist of games I want to try. If you have any suggestions, please share!

05/05/2016
by Kadomi
6 Comments

How I turned into a reclusive video gamer

For someone who’s played MMOs as long as I have, I have gone through a drastic change in the way I play video games nowadays. When I quit WoW last year, in March 2015, and then FFXIV later last year, something happened. I stopped wanting to play with strangers. I don’t care that strangers could turn into friends, because realistically, I don’t see that happening anymore. I highly value the wonderful people I met through gaming and blogging and wouldn’t miss them for my life. Regardless, the thought of logging into an MMO, MOBA or the new thing, cooperative shooters, I am just not feeling it. Instead, it fills me with dread.

I recently tried the Battleborn beta on my PS4, because I like checking out hyped games. It looked colorful, in a vaguely Wildstar-ish way. I played solo, because the thought of teaming up with other people, mostly male gamers who are really into shooters seriously turned me off. Frankly, I am not good at any kind of shooter gameplay, much less so with a controller and its imprecise targetting. I can do it for shit and giggles when I play Uncharted, but when I die in Uncharted no one cares or might sit there raging because I suck. I have crappy reflexes, I strafe like a noob, every headshot I actually manage is cause for celebration. I wouldn’t want to upset anyone with the way I play, and so, I don’t play multiplayer. However, most big game releases these days are multiplayer.

My summary of Battleborn: characters looked quirky, gameplay in solo PvE was kinda unexciting, and I sucked hard. Needless to say, I didn’t manage to successfully complete that first scenario because the boss felt super-hard to me. Also, I suck. I liked Borderlands a LOT better than Battleborn.

I played the robot with the hat and monocle and couldn't figure out his shield ability at all.

I played the robot with the hat and monocle and couldn’t figure out his shield ability at all.

I flail, lost at sea, a sea consisting of games and hype that go right over my head like a rolling wave.

Video game hype is a thing of beauty at times. It’s easy to be swept up when everyone gets excited about a new release. It happens with every major MMO launch, expansion or AAA release. I soak up the hype on Twitter, but I don’t rush out and follow the hype anymore. I almost bought The Division. I had it in my cart at Amazon, and the only reason I didn’t buy it was that I was mad about Amazon.de’s policy of charging 5 Euro shipping for 18+ games. That was the closest I got to the hype trap recently. Why would I buy a 3rd person multiplayer shooter? I was the worst at Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer. Seriously, the worst.

Right this moment, I am following the hype once more. I am downloading the Overwatch beta, and my stomach already turns at the thought of dealing with the kind of people who enjoy this kind of gameplay. The game looks fun, I love the art style and the characters, but what if everyone’s an asshole and I get yelled at? Is there even lore, any kind of story?

Did I mention the one time I installed League of Legends, because my friend Caitlin told me about it excitedly? I downloaded it, created an account and…never played. I had no clue how to play, knew there were bot games, but feared that people on my team might be mean. In retrospect I am glad I never play. I read about all sorts of toxic players, and I seriously do not need any toxicity like that in my life. As consequence, I also skipped Heroes of the Storm. As I don’t play Hearthstone, I can honestly say that my days as Blizzard fangirl are over. I wouldn’t even want to go to Blizzcon, if I got free tickets.

This doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy playing with people. I mean, a large part of my life are tabletop and board games, but I get to choose who I play those with. I also enjoy video gaming with friends. On New Year’s Eve, I stayed at my friend’s house, and I played couch co-op games on the PS4 with her and her boyfriend til 5 am. I really enjoy couch co-op. My SO and I play Divinity: Original Sin (we really need to continue playing that), and Diablo 3 with friends is fantastic. But even with Diablo 3, I like to duck my head and just solo my way through it. In a way I am glad there is no season gameplay on consoles. I would feel forced to group up to level quickly.

I think a lot of hermit tendencies come from fatigue. 2015 was not a good year for being a proud video gamer, with all this Gamergate and SJW bullshit. It’s filled my head with pre-conceived notions of ragey, douchey people out there who are just looking for an excuse to lord over lesser gamers. I see people like Jasyla posting video content and getting the shittiest comments, and it’s making me want to stick with games where I am all by my lonesome self.

Is this a phase that multiplayer games are king of the world? People are so competitive. There’s a reason I never did any PvP in WoW after TBC. I fear this multiplayer > all is not just a trend, and this means that gaming becomes far less interesting for me. There’s still a lot of other games, sure. But I like to be swept up by hype and actually feel it. Sitting on the other side of the playground fence is not that great.

But this might just be me, a mediocre gamer who likes games with deep lore and story.

Am I the only recluse?

20/04/2016
by Kadomi
0 comments

RPG: Pathfinder update

I am trying to get myself more in the habit of blogging again, and thus I have decided that I am going to start by blogging at least once a week. It’s really a time management issue. Once upon a time, I had a job that lent itself to piddling around on the Internet all the time (tech helpdesk), providing me with ample time to blog and research, back in the days of blogging at Tank Like A Girl. I no longer have such a job (which is good) and my life is full of more social activities than ever (also very good) that spare time after work has become an incredibly valuable commodity.

Today I will use this spare time to speak about the most fulfilling hobby of mine, tabletop RPGs. Last time I wrote about tabletop games, I was GM of two campaigns, and player in two different campaigns. Things have slowed down on that front.

Games I play:

  • The original campaign that got me playing tabletop again fell apart in December. There’d been tension between two players for a while, and it got fairly unbearable for everyone in the group. Additionally, the game just didn’t feel as fun and rewarding as it could have been, e.g. as far as leveling goes. We played for several years and never made it past level 5. It was a relief when we all decided to call it quits. I think it might have permanently damaged some friendships within the group, but maybe time will heal all wounds.
  • The new homebrew campaign I joined as player in November is great fun. It’s an urban campaign, and with us just being three players that are very comfortable with each other, it’s an extremely RP-heavy game. We created the characters together and picked a backstory of being urchins who grew up together in the poor quarter of the city, as gang members, who are now setting out on their own. We used the system from Ultimate Campaign to create a background, which was fun. I did not care for the alignment system, but believe our alignments will change over time. It won’t affect me much, as I was fine with the alignment it came up with for me, but my SO plays a slightly demented girl who likes to experiment, choosing the vivisectionist archetype of the alchemist class. I am playing Thera, the bastard daughter of a rich merchant who rebelled against her father by joining a criminal gang. She learned how to use the sword, but also has magical talent, making her a magus. Like all base classes in Pathfinder, I find her vaguely OP, but it’s also incredibly fun to be able to be good at melee and cast spells. Our third party member is an inquisitor. Story-wise, the city we live in has a problem with undead, and so we joined a night watch of the cemeteries, because it pays well. We discovered that one of the more influential families in the city are actively participating in necromancy, which is anathema, but for our own protection were brought into the main church to hide from the wrath of the nobles at being discovered. The campaign is great fun, the biggest issue for the most part being that we play very irregularly.
A reminder for my players. Love the pugwampis! ;-)

A reminder for my players. Love the pugwampis! ;-)

Games I GM:

  • My Rise of the Runelords campaign is with some of my co-workers, plus one boyfriend and my SO. We didn’t have drama (at least not game-wise) but the player of our rogue quit, so we’re down to 5 people. The biggest issue with this game is that we really really don’t play often enough. Our last two sessions were on Halloween and then mid-January. Every three months is not good enough to keep a campaign exciting and immersive. As most of the players are new to tabletop RPGs in the first place, it’s like starting from scratch. They only ever use half their abilities, because they’re not familiar with their classes or forget what they can do. It’s problematic. But I like the game, and so I’ll keep trying to organize it so that we can have a return to a monthly schedule. It’s a big difference to my online-game though. Our next session is this coming Saturday, and we’ll start the second adventure of the AP: The Skinsaw Murders. Ever since I first read this AP, I wanted to play it just for this adventure. It’s full of RP and investigation, and has heavy horror elements. I hope I can convey this and make it creepy and exciting. We shall see!
  • My Legacy of Fire campaign is almost on fire. We started with a Friday night schedule, every fortnight, but then the holidays and personal burnout made me slow the pace a bit. After we came back from our holidays we managed to keep it at a decent pace and moved the game to Sunday afternoons, which works perfectly for me. We just finished our eleventh session on Sunday, and the group reached level 4. It helps that the first adventure is really quite diverse and interesting. The party is an expedition to free the merchant town of Kelmarane from its gnoll occupation. In the first half of the campaign, they established a base camp by liberating a forgotten monastery. Since then, they have made first, nearly lethal forays into Kelmarane, and explored a lost temple of Nethys, to be confronted with a lycanthropic menace. They’re now at a point where they’re ready to infiltrate the HQ of the gnolls, the battle market at the center of town, but first they have to make a deal with the harpy lover of the leader. Regular playtime really helps with immersion, honestly. I am not Matthew Mercer from Critical Role, but I think I am doing okay with adding my own touches to the game. My players are all excited, our paladin in particular, and well-prepared. It’s a pleasure to GM for them. My only issue is that I am having a hard time understanding one of our Scottish players. Lovely accent, but sooooo difficult for me to understand.

Games I want to GM:

We’re having so much fun with our online group, the players being some of our best friends from our days as MU*ers that we decided it’s time to meet again RL. We booked a cottage in Sherwood Forest for a long weekend of fun and games with friends. Our friends from Scotland will bring many board games, and I will be GMing a face-to-face session of our Legacy of Fire campaign, plus a Numenera one-shot. This is so exciting for me. I’ve been wanting to try Numenera for ages. It really grabs all of my interest. It’s rules-light, RP-heavy, and has the most exciting setting. Basically, the world has seen the rise and fall of eight civilizations, each ruling for millennia and then disappearing, leaving behind remnants of their highly advanced technology. The game is set in the Ninth World, the ninth civilization, a feudal fantasy setting, but the world is full of lost technology and marvels of the previous eight worlds, some considered magic to the inhabitants of the Ninth World. It’s heavy on exploration and wonder, and I love it. Science-Fantasy is one of my favorite genres if it’s done well.

numenera

I would love to try the other games by Monte Cook as well. They are all so creative and interesting. There’s The Strange, which is basically a modern world game where players have joint a secret organization that can travel to other worlds. In other words, you can play anything. High fantasy, sci-fi, Victorian age, anything is possible. Based on those two games, Monte Cook has created the Cypher System, using the basic rules from Numenera and The Strange and allowing them to be incorporated in any game possible. Their latest Kickstarter was Worlds of the Cypher System, creating campaign books to use with the Cypher system. Again, they’re highly creative and teeming with cool ideas and imagery.

I will be certain to post more about Numenera, once I have actually played it, aaaaaah. I would also like to test D&D 5 sometime, because I am battling Pathfinder fatigue a bit. Pathfinder has become a bit bloated, and I will have to read the D&D 5 rules to see how fun they are. Furthermore, I am totally keen on Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. That seems incredibly cool as well. I have fond memories of my last Star Wars campaign, like 20 years ago, oy.

I shall forever suffer from GM syndrome. So many cool games, not enough time to play all of them.

 

12/04/2016
by Kadomi
0 comments

An ode to The Witcher 3

Or: how TW3 blows DA:I out of the park

Hullo, has it really been almost six months since I last blogged? Huh. I have vowed to blog more often so many times, it’s ridiculous. I won’t even try to make any promises, I’ll just write when I can and want to. Right now, I want to.

I’m still nerding around as usual. For Christmas, I got a Playstation 4, which completed my transition from PC-only gamer to console gamer. I am no longer playing MMOs, and thus, not really missing sitting at my desk anymore. Instead I lounge in my comfy Ikea chair (a green Poäng, if you must know) or the couch and play PS4 games. One of the first games I started to play was Dragon Age: Inquisition. I have such a love/hate relationship with DA:I, and so a majority of this post will be listing my disappointments. I love the Dragon Age franchise. DA:O and DA 2 are two outstanding RPGs. The latter might have flawed gameplay, and was a rush-job, but the story, the protagonist and all NPCs, they really bring it. The romances were all very good too, and that’s important in a Bioware game, honestly. Out came DA:I and everyone was raving about it. I got it for Christmas 2014, started playing it, quit in the Hinterlands, because boooooring. It has an open-world design similar to the Assassin’s Creed series, which means a shitload of icons in any area with shit to do, side-quests to conquer, rifts to close. The Hinterlands are a problem. You get your normal start tutorial quests and then get tossed into the Hinterlands, a huge zone full of icons on your map and no real guidance what you should do or not. Every veteran’s advice is: just follow the main story, leave the Hinterlands as soon as possible. Don’t get sucked in by wanting to complete everything. There’s absolutely no payback involved. There are no quests that move, no party banter that makes you laugh, no drama to sweep you up. It’s just mindless checking off of icons on a map for the sake of doing that.

Seriously, look at this. Aside from the dragon fight, what was fun in this zone?

Seriously, look at this. Aside from the dragon fight, what was fun in this zone?

So I quit, because I hated my rogue anyhow. Also, I admit to being disappointed with the romance options if you are woman who loves women. A couple months later I picked it up again on a whim and got sucked into it, because it showed a moment of brilliance. The two main story quests In Hushed Whispers and In Your Heart Shall Burn are glorious. They’re exciting, emotional, seriously the best part of the game for me. The Inquisitor gets a glimpse of a terrible future, and then has everything taken away from her. That was huge. Too bad the rest of the game doesn’t live up to this. The second time I quit was in The Western Approach. It’s like The Badlands in WoW, only that in WoW the quests are way more engaging. Zing.

So there I was, alone over Christmas, playing DA:I. I drank Baileys, and played the game. If I did it again, I would only get the minimum amount of power you need to advance the main story. All the huge zones of the game, this lie of an open world, they’re boring. They’re the Hinterlands, just in worse. The Hissing Wastes is the worst culprit. It is an enormous area of nothing but the occasional rift and the occasional Venatori mages to kill. I went completionist in this playthrough, but I gave that approach up in the Hissing Wastes. I just couldn’t anymore.

So here I am, with a deep and abiding love of the Dragon Age world and fanfiction based in Thedas, and this giant bubble of disappointment in me. It could have been so much more. Even the characters all felt hollow to me. I did enjoy the Sera romance, as crazy as she is, and I loved seeing Hawke again. But…but…but. I am still shocked how little the Bianca reveal meant to me, when Varric was such an outstanding character in DA 2. In DA:I, he’s changed.

What’s this all got to do with The Witcher 3?

Everything. I just recently picked it up, lured up by the excitement of a friend and one Game of the Year award after the other heaped upon it. I have The Witcher 2 on my PC, but hated the combat, so never completed it beyond the first few quests. And I mean, why should I be excited about this game? When TW2 was released, I remember tons of videos of explicit sex scenes. It felt like the hyper-masculine answer to Bioware stories. A hunk bedding the ladies, sounding like Clint Eastwood, slaughtering monsters. But here, I am, playing TW3, and my hunky, scarred Geralt of Rivia is currently level 13 and hasn’t bedded any ladies yet. He had an offer that my Geralt politely declined, because he’s keen on Yennifer. He’s also looking for the girl he adopted, Ciri, who is chased by the Wild Hunt. You get to play Ciri in flashbacks, when Geralt finds out what’s happened to her on his hunt for her, and Ciri is amazing.

Forget about Geralt, I am a Ciri fangirl!

Forget about Geralt, I am a Ciri fangirl!

The Witcher 3 uses a similar open-world model, but doesn’t feel the need to include mini-games like spotting shards or solving Astrarium riddles. Your map is full of question marks. You can actually turn them off, if you want to go full explorer. I just moved on from Velen to Novigrad, but mostly, because I wanted a change in scenery. I wasn’t done exploring. Exploring in The Witcher 3 is gratifying. You never know what the question mark might be. Is it a bandit camp, with a prisoner you can free? A monster nest to blow up? A hidden treasure? There are multiple options. Sometimes I have to run for the hills, because the treasure is guarded by monsters 15 levels higher than me. No matter what, it always feels rewarding to me.

A glimpse at part of the map of Velen, with lots of villages and places to uncover.

A glimpse at part of the map of Velen, with lots of villages and places to uncover.

The biggest difference however are the quests. I mean, I am only level 13. I am not very far advanced in the main story. However, the main story quests in Velen already moved me more than DA:I as a whole. There’s a fun dungeon crawl with a sorceress sidekick, Keira Metz. There’s a tough fight at the end of it (at least for me it was), and lots of investigative moments as you try to figure out messages left behind for Ciri. Then you try to find three witches and end up with a terrible take on Hänsel and Gretel, I suppose. Children are eaten, and the three crones are seriously the stuff of nightmares. I have never been as terrified by NPCs in an RPG than I have with these three. Yuck. Then it’s followed up with the story of The Bloody Baron and his family. A friend of mine blogged about this, far more eloquently than I could (and with a fascinating comparison to RL circumstances). All the feelings. Horror, indecision, rage at the domestic violence of the Bloody Baron, then horror again, then pity, and so on and so forth. Feelings! Emotions. The storytelling is far craftier (and darker) than DA’s.

This does include side quests as well. The countries the game is set in are at war with the Empire of Nilfgaard, and the war has ravaged the land everywhere. Families are starving, or offering their children to the three crones because they can’t feed them anymore. Merchants are poor. There’s a lot of death and tragedy. Sidequests are usually found while you explore. I was riding merrily to the next question mark on my map when I heard shouts for help. A tied man was attacked by drowners, the water zombies of this world. I killed the drowners, listened to the guy’s story and set him free. He was another victim of war. Then a couple hours later I ran into him again, somewhere else entirely, in the outskirts of Novigrad. Turns out he decided to be a bandit, robbing and killing refugees gleefully. I handily dispatched of him, but not before telling him that I regretted I ever saved him. What an asshole! Not to mention the outrage I felt about Keira Metz. The sidekick of your main story quest turns out to want more forbidden power than she should have, and you have to deal with it. Spoiler: I was shocked to see that Geralt really killed her. I thought he would knock her unconscious!

DA:I has side quests too. Mostly, they involve running to and fro, without any emotional impact. There are no quest arcs either. They’re mostly there to provide…experience, I suppose? Loot, maybe. Sometimes I feel that the War Table got all the exciting side quest stories, behind the facade of a Facebook time management game. Disappointing. If I compare the war-torn zone of Velen with e.g. Exalted Plains in DA:I, it’s no comparison. Sure, there’s smoking ruins and undead in the Exalted Plains, but I never truly felt it. The quests simply didn’t convey it.

I do prefer the party-based strategic combat that DA:I has. TW3 is very twitchy. Boy, did I have to learn that you really want to dodge, dodge, dodge. I die a lot. I learned to save early, save often. But when you finally beat that monster, it feels damn good. It’s really up to the player to read the bestiary, do the research and use the proper tools to make a fight easier. I struggled a lot with one of the witcher contracts to kill a nightwraith, and handily dispatched of her once I finally had the ingredients for spectre oil. Whew.

Monster contracts are fun, if a bit repetitive. You investigate a scene using Geralt’s witcher senses. It’s pretty much Batman’s detective mode from the Arkham games, but it’s fun to use. Chase scents and tracks, find hints. It’s fun to me. So are the scavenging hunts where you follow the trail of previous witchers and their powerful gear, gear that you can learn how to craft. I am wearing 5/6 items of my Griffin set right now, rar. I tried the crafting in DA:I as well, and it was okay, but I like the crafting game in TW3 better as well.

All in all, it makes me wish that DA:I had been a better game. That it was more like The Witcher 3. I wanted to have my heart strings tugged on, and feel sucked into Thedas.

Instead, I am now in the grip of the spooky world and mercenary life of Geralt of Rivia. And that’s quite cool too. The game deserves its many awards. I am looking forward to what else CD Projekt Red will come up with in the future. If their Cyberpunk game will be as good, it might rock my world.

12/11/2015
by Kadomi
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Life is Strange – The Aftermath

On Monday evening, I completed episode 5 of Life is Strange, the episodic adventure by Dontnod, the creators of Remember Me. I call this review the aftermath because of how the game has affected me. I haven’t played anything that tugged so heavily on my heartstrings since DA2, and it’s been more thought-provoking than Bioshock Infinite, or any other game I have played. In fact, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and managed to convince one of my friends to buy the game, even though there is no German translation for it. Experiencing her reactions now is like savoring the game a little longer. I use a spoiler plugin, to keep this text as spoiler-free as possible, while at the same time offering spoilers to those of you who wish to read them. Reveal at your own risk.

The two main characters of the game, Max and Chloe.

The two main characters of the game, Max and Chloe.

It’s a game in the vein of Telltale adventures like The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us. Gameplay-wise, it has two major differences from the Telltale offerings: there is no time limit on any of your dialogue choices and there are no Quicktime events whatsoever. Instead, it uses a mechanic that they apparently fell in love with when they did Remember Me, but it’s used differently here: the ability to rewind time.

Our protagonist is Maxine Caulfield, short Max. She’s 18, and is a highschool senior at Blackwell Academy in small fictional Oregon town, Arcadia Bay. Max originally used to live here, and had a best friend, Chloe, BFFs, never to be parted, but they did part, when Max’s family moved to Seattle. At the beginning of the game, Max hasn’t met Chloe again yet. The first episode starts very slowly, and mostly serves to introduce all the characters that you will meet throughout the series. The other students, teachers, the pushy security staff, etc. My first thoughts were that it was weird to play a game that felt like playing a teenage drama, maybe a bit dull. But early into the episode, we learn that Max has a supernatural ability. She can rewind time, and change the course of events that way. She discovers this ability when she saves her old friend Chloe from being shot by the school’s rich kid and drug dealer Nathan.

Whereas in The Walking Dead, e.g. you always have the rush to quickly respond to events because of the time limit, you have a different problem in Life is Strange. Most decisions are agonizing. As you can rewind time, you can re-do every conversation. Sometimes you can use information you gained from a previous conversation after you rewound time. Sometimes you just listen to all reactions and then go and pick the one that’s best for you. Sometimes there are no options that one could consider good, like the heartbreaking conversation with Chloe at her sickbed in episode 4. And then there is this final moment when you can’t rewind at all and are stuck with those two options, both of which are crushing.

I have watched Felicia Day playing Life is Strange, even though I normally don’t do Let’s Plays, and when she played episode 2, I think there was one decision she re-wound like 5 times, because she just couldn’t make up her mind. Sometimes, it’s just nail-biting and not so easy to pick what feels right for Max.

A decision from episode 1. I finally settled on Blame Chloe. Man, she was pissed at me for a while.

A decision from episode 1. I finally settled on Blame Chloe. Man, she was pissed at me for a while.

Life is Strange is a dark game, with serious subject matters. It involves murder, substance abuse, abductions, cyber- and RL-bullying, hints of date rape, and has a perfectly creepy villain. Playing through early episode 5 and interacting with him closely has been one of the most chilling game experiences I ever had. It felt personal. I hated the villain, from the depths of my heart.

With each episode throughout the series, I felt the story got more intense, and as a result more emotional. Ultimately, it’s the story of Max and Chloe. Max saves Chloe, they reconnect, and they go through the worst of times together. Max is the good girl, the good student who wants to be a photographer, create art, whereas Chloe is the highschool dropout who has blue hair, digs punk, does drugs, and mourns her best friend Rachel who has disappeared six months ago. She has a lot of anger, and she’s a terrible influence on Max. There are times you want to smack her on the head, to get some sense into her. But just like Max, we start loving her. In my case, it was very obvious to me that my Max -really- loved Chloe, not in a platonic way. I am sure others play Max in a way that she didn’t, but I did. Jewel from Healing the Masses managed to explain it all a bit better than I can, but beware, spoilers!

Of course I now know that I am not alone in Max loving Chloe that way, because the ship has an official name, and it is Pricefield, and it has its own subreddit. I haven’t even checked Tumblr, there’s probably pr0n about them…

After playing the final episode, I dreamed about it all night. There’s this sequence where Max is losing it a little bit, and just reading her journal in that segment of the game really fucked with my head. It’s that part of the game that feels very David Lynch-esque, in a very compelling way. I was freaked out the whole time.

I mention a journal. Max has a diary, and it’s very entertaining to read it, especially her reactions. Also, when the time travel stuff gets heavier, it’s interesting to read it to make sense of Max and how her changes have affected the people around her. You also get to read text messages she receives, which really enhanced the game for me. I got excited every time she received a message. When they all turned to hate messages in episode 5 during the storm, I cringed a lot.

The game is not without its flaws. It lives and falls on the dialogue and the story. When it comes to its gaming elements, that’s probably the weakest part of the game. In episode 2 in particular Chloe makes you prove your time abilities to her, and the gameplay wasn’t particularly fun. Also, could the junkyard be any more confusing? Additionally, the voice acting has very uneven quality. This is mostly because a relatively small cast has to voice-act a much larger cast of characters. I found it the most grating with Kate Marsh’s voice acting, because it was very obvious she was also Alyssa. In episode 5 there was this scene when it became very noticeable that some adult characters had the voice of the students, etc. But ultimately, it’s what we call “Jammern auf hohem Niveau”, whining on a high level, in German. The voices that matter the most, Max and Chloe, but also e.g. Victoria or David Madsen, they were pretty good. Especially Ashley Birch as Chloe was shining in some scenes, for example when you finally find out what happened to Rachel Amber. Her sobs were killing me. Life is Strange is a budget game, despite Square Enix backing, and I am pretty sure Dontnod were nervous going into it. Remember Me was no huge success, so this episode game was a risk. I hope it pays off in gold for them.

Max and Chloe, walking off into the sunset. Aaaah.

Max and Chloe, walking off into the sunset. Aaaah.

All in all, I cannot praise this game enough. It’s definitely the game of the year for me. My SO is not into video gaming as much as I am, and she kept asking me to play. We played it together, because it was that good. After every episode, we took a break and watched Felicia Day playing it, because we wanted to see how she did and experience her reactions. So many twists and turns, so many decisions, so many reactions. We both were pissed when her brother Ryon joined her for episode 4 and at first talked over the game so much that it kinda ruined the experience for us. It felt disrespectful to the game. We weren’t the only ones as people on Twitch and YouTube complained and he noticeably got more quiet. We’re waiting for the final Let’s Play, and I really hope she leaves her brother out this time. We are currently planning on my SO actually playing it in January, and me just watching. We should be aiming for 100% photo ops, hah!

Life is Strange is currently a download only game, available on PS3/4, XboxOne and 360, and through Steam and Square Enix for PC. A limited boxed edition will be released in January 2016, including the full soundtrack, an artbook and director’s commentary, plus subtitles in several languages, and you can bet your ass that I am so going to pick one of those babies up. At least for Playstation, you can pick up the first episode for free, and a season pass runs very little money, IMHO.

If you enjoy Telltale games, or stories like Heavy Rain or Gone Home, it’s really almost a mandatory purchase, if you ask me. Go play it already! remains in denial about people enjoying Fallout 4 instead 🙂

02/11/2015
by Kadomi
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RPG: Legacy of Fire, Session 2

With me playing four different Pathfinder campaigns now gulp, it’s going to be tough to keep session reports posted in a timely fashion, but I’ll do my best! I’ll post reports for the two games that I GM, today for my online campaign Legacy of Fire.

At the end of the first session, the leader of the Kelmarane expedition, the merchant princess Lady Almah Rovashki, tasked our intrepid heroes to find her one of the pugwampis and prove that Dashki wasn’t lying. The group left camp in the middle of the night to do just that and found Dashki not the slightest bit helpful. In fact, he was more than happy to taunt the group and not provide any helpful clues as to where to find a pugwampi. The gunslinger Qusai started to threaten him with shooting his foot off if he didn’t do anything whereas the paladin tried the more gentle route of persuading him to help for Lady Almah. He half-heartedly tried to find tracks, without any success. Fed up with him, Qusai decided to look for tracks himself, and managed to find tiny footprints that Dashki was quick to claim were a pugwampis.

The group stumbled through the rolling foothills of the Katapesh desert following those tracks, eventually being led to a giant field of cacti that gave them an ominous feeling of doom.

So many spiky cacti to impale yourself on.

So many spiky cacti to impale yourself on.

Next came one of the most fun introductory and probably most frustrating encounters ever: meet the pugwampi. The pugwampi who had indeed started the fire in camp had abducted Rombard, the beloved baby goat of the camel drivers. Pugwampis are a kind of gremlin that literally radiate unluck. In game terms this means that every single check has to be rolled twice, and it’s always the lower number that counts. To move through the cacti, the players had to do a successful Acrobatics check or take 1 point of damage from the cacti. As this was difficult terrain, they were moving at half-speed. I also allowed them to attack the cacti, and even gave the cacti a relatively low AC of 10. And yet, the aura of unluck did its work.

The rogue was the first one to break through the dense growth, at quite a price, as he failed to move past the cacti dexterously, despite being a nimble person. The paladin and the gunslinger used melee weapons to whack at the cacti in a straight line. Qusai had a grand moment of triumph when he tied a rope to his dagger and then did a ranged attack move that will now forever be known as Cactus Dagger Whirlwind Jubilee, tearing down the cacti in his path once. The dwarf alchemist Kiva was smart enough to let the big humans clear the way and followed carefully through areas that had been cleared (on the above map the squares with green were cleared), only getting bolder when they were nearly through the patch.

At the end of the field was a ravine, and far below, a deadly-looking cactus was gleaming in the moonlight, waiting for enemies to impale themselves on its spines. The abducted goat was tied to a scrub by the ravine, crying pitifully. Kiva tried to calm down the poor goat who appeared to be bleeding from being dragged through the cactus field, but did not do a great job at it. The goat ran in circles around her and managed to trip her so that her head was hanging over the edge of the ravine, right above the giant cactus. The paladin Tefya also did not manage to calm the panicked goat and Qusai failed to cut the goat’s rope. Kiva, alchemist that she is, tried to remove one danger by throwing down a flask of acid onto the cactus below her, which made another creature elicit a snarl and howl in terror at such sizzling dangers: a pugwampi that had been hiding behind a rock near the goat, not perceived by any of the party members so far!

Nasty little fellas, the pugwampis

Nasty little fellas, the pugwampis

Looking like an ugly little dog on two legs, the creature started to attack the party. Qusai was quick on his feet and shot his musket at the creature, but the shot went high into the night sky. Tefya called upon Sarenrae’s might to smite this evil creature and got a good hit in with her scimitar. Kiva then decided to grapple the creature and succeeded, but Qusai’s attempts to tie up the creature were not met with success. It required the more deft hands of the rogue Tillous to tie the creature up. To end their unlucky streak, Tefya then gave the pugwampi a good whack on the head to knock the creature unconscious, the aura of bad luck and doom lifting immediately. The group then freed Rombard the goat and wandered back to camp, where the cowardly Dashki was quick to claim that he had captured the pugwampi for Lady Almah. The party reported how things really went down, which caused Lady Almah to be quick about ordering her majordomo to kill the pugwampi, which he did immediately. Dashki received the corpse, which he tied to his quarterstaff hanging from a noose, as his good luck charm.

Lady Almah decided that this camp was not safe if there are really that many pugwampis out there and made the executive decision that the expedition needed a better camp to stage their conquest of Kelmarane from. She informed the group that the deserted monastery of St. Vardishal, dedicated to Sarenrae is in the vicinity, and that the party is to visit the monastery, clear it of any possible threats and claim it for the expedition.

The next morning, the party received a sumptuous breakfast from the happy camel drivers who were entirely thankful that the heroes saved their goat Rombard. The majordomo Garavel then produced a map of the Kelmarane hinterlands so that the party could locate the monastery. As the monastery is only a mile away, the trip didn’t take long. As the group approached the monastery, a feeling of doom grabbed them again…

Here’s where we ended the session. The monastery visit will be the first introductory dungeon crawl and should be lots of fun. Howl of the Carrion King is really a fun adventure with lots of different encounter styles. Friday will be our next game, looking forward to it. 🙂