Monday, January 31, 2011

Out Sick - Sorry for the lack of Posts

Well, the best laid plans... I got sick on Friday of last week and so all my desire to write/blog went out the window while I was stuck wrapped up in blankets.  The most i could manage was to play some MTGO, a little inFamous (trying to beat that one), and rewatching some of my old TV series box sets.  i had a couple posts schedule for yesterday, but never got around to uploading them, so they have been given the axe and will be coming up when they are finished.  Sorry bout that.  Apparently I am not the only one sick though, Exist has also been hit pretty badly, so his posts in the I Suck at Warmachine series are going to be a bit slow.  Well, that is all for today, new posts coming tomorrow.

-The Help

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Now Playing: Magic the Gather... again... this time Online

I have posted here before about my love for Magic: The Gathering, but that love has generally not been expanded upon much.  I am a big fan of the game and have been for years.  I started playing with the cards around middle school, but never really understood the rules and started actually playing games until high school (until then it had all been pretty much made up rules created among friends with random cards). 

When I worked at Fun 'N' Games in California, I used to pick up a fair amount of cards, but I was never the resident Magic Guru.  We had another guy, Brian, who would usually run Friday Night Magic, or the tournaments on the weekends.  I didn't do to much work with singles buying, but sometimes, when the other guy wasn't there, I picked up some cards that I knew we would sell... and sell we did.

The highlight for me as a Magic Player came around the time of the Guild Pact set.  That was the only era of the game which I have actually played hardcore.  I picked up a couple boxes of packs and was opening packs up just about every week.  I played in several local tournaments and placed top 8 a few times, but that was never enough to win anything.  I don't even think I ever got a DCI number...  but, I had a lot of fun. 

I think Draft has always been my favorite play format because the playing field gets nice and even.  You don't have to worry about having a deck that loses because it isn't full of the best cards.  I have never been one to shill out massive amounts of money for expensive, unbeatable decks, instead, turning to commons bins and friends with boxes of cheap cards in order to build fun, semi-competitive decks.  I have had a few nice ones, which I loved, including a deck full of walls.

Among the gaming groups in Yamanashi, there are currently two groups that run D&D - one on Tuesdays and one that I run at my place once in a long while (unfortunately most of my players are running out of time on their contracts and are heading home pretty soon - bummer).  But, there is also a recurring Thursday night MTG group that gets together for some casual play, running strange game formats and playing multiplayer.  I have been to that group once since I got here and I am going again tonight.  You'll note that I only had one post come up today because I have been busy... deckbuilding and getting MTG:Online Running on my netbook (that was a huge pain btw, but one 5 minute call to WotC customer service was able to get my account running in no time.  Because of my small, tiny screen, the resolution changes make the activate new account button invisible... lame! that is something they might want to think about fixing at some point :P  but, oh well.  My fault for playing below the resolution requirements).

So, if you are a MTG:Online player and you want to get in a game with Greg the Minotaur, feel free to friend me and follow me on Twitter.  They both use the same screen name.  My SN is Shinobicow776; you can follow me @Shinobicow776 using one of the buttons on the top of this here blog and then request games with me when I am offline.  I will probably be online after work most days, when I am not working on RPG related stuff, so I should be easy to find.  Go easy though.  It has been a while.  I'm very rusty.

Letters from Artorius IV - Re. The Dying World

To the Legatus Legionis:

My lord, today I write to you in hopes that I might elaborate on what I referred to earlier as a dying world. Some of the information which follows has been collected from legends that are spread among the people and some of it comes from actual hard facts that we have collected in our research of Kimyona and the Seed.

The legends say that 10,000 years ago, when the Seed of Azatar impacted with this world, the world, Chikyu began to die. The general people of the world had very little understanding of the nature of the seed, but what they did know is that it struck the plane in the most heavily defended and fortified empire in the world – the literal heart of Kimyona. This death blow destroyed a vast empire and caused a great shift in the world’s topography and geography.

The great Kampeki, Perfect of the earth was said to be mortally wounded by that blow from the heavens. Though legends held by druids and the primal worshippers of the Elder Kami hold that for these last 10,000 years Chikyu has been letting out her last breath and dying in the arms of her lover the sky. They claim that is the cause for all the rain. The sky is crying over the loss of its one, true love and mate. However, the earth herself is not dead yet, these same legends say, but will die complete and totally soon. They even go so far as to say that the wound that was inflicted was poison and that poison will be the thing that kills her…. I think you may believe that argument has some weight. We both know what the Seed will do to this plane. They are not mistaken when they claim it is poison.

But, these are all just legends; other legends also prophesize that when the earth Perfect finally dies, the Sky, Father of all, will lash out and destroy all of creation. The Sky will finally break and when it does, the world will end. We know this world is ending, or else we would not be there, but I must say I doubt that end will come from the Sky above. That end is already taking root in the very fabric of the plane itself.

As to the evidence of this world’s death which I spoke of earlier, our research has shown that on this plane, the people have begun exploiting the earth for its vast resources. Massive mines extend deep beneath the earth’s skin and from those depths all manner of minerals and power are being dug up. However, our Hypothesers believe that the more this process continues, the faster the Seed begins to germinate and accelerate in growth. In other words, as the world is exploited, it continues to die; in the end, through their industry and their stupidity, the people of this plane are speeding towards their own downfall. With such little life force to support it, the Earth Perfect has no ability to replenish the stores inside itself and cannot continue to support the growth taking place all across the surface world.

I have mentioned the weather on this plane, I don’t think that necessitates further explanation, but our Hypothesers point to that as well as a sure sign that this world is rapidly increasing in instability.

I have also received reports from my men, who have had more dealings with the people than I, that there are a great number of mutated races which have begun to pop up over the last millennia. The first of these mutated races, something akin to the Orcs in our distant past, are said to have dug deep enough into the Earth Perfect as to actually draw up her blood. That blood has given them great and terrible strength, but it has also led to terrible mutation and genetic corruption. They use this blood of the Earth Perfect in order to fuel massive war machines and grant their soldiers greater power in battle.

I will look into this “blood” more in the future and have our top Hypothesers extrapolate on what it could be and how it could be harnessed without risking gene mutation.

Your ever faithful servant,

Justus Artorius, Primus Pilus, Centurion of the First

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Dump Stat is 300 Posts Old - Comments Style Changed

Well, The Dump Stat hit 300 posts yesterday, which is great because I am still on track for my goal of hitting the 900-1000 post mark by the end of 2011.  This time around, I won't be doing any big site overhauls to mark this glorious occasion, but I will be cleaning up the site a bit and finishing some of the portions of the site which are still under construction.  One of the folks who commented on yesterday's post about using a different style of comment format, so I took his advice, did some hunting and figured out how to enable Name/URL comment format on my blog.  Sorry that this hasn't been up sooner.  If that has been holding you back from commenting in the past, it won't be any more.

I am also going to be working on the legal section pretty heavily over the next month or so.  I hope to get the Creative Commons Liscence up here as soon as I figure what that all entails.

Classic Traveler - Using Subsector Creation rules for...

So… did you think I was done talking about Classic Traveller??? Huh??? Did you? Nope, I’m not. Today I want to start talking about the subsector mapping rules that are used their and one possible application that I see for them in a different sci-fi based game.

Over the last couple weeks, I have been pretty busy, but I have gone back to the Classic Traveller books a bit more as I have been exploring a new game on my horizon – Rogue Trader. I know that game has been out for a while, but hell, like I always say, I’m slow. Sorry. Rogue Trader was another of my purchases back during Christmas and I can say that I love it so far. Everything about the Core book is over-flowing with awesome, except for the fact that they don’t really give a clear and easy way of making a portion of space for you to send your starships hurtling through.

So, for that, I opened up my Classic Traveller PDF and gave things a look see. I really like how easy it is to make a Subsector using Traveller. You use an 8x10 hex grid, some dice, and a couple pages of tables and rules and you have yourself pretty much everything you need. Once again here, I love the fact that so much of the Traveller experience is so easily randomized. Not having so spend hours upon hours pondering over the composition of the universe makes me feel a very, very big sense of relief.

The other really nice thing about this rules system is that so much of the Subsector and World creation rules is not based around any mechanics, but rather around fluff and story mechanics. Apart from the presence of Gas Giants, which provide a benefit for starships in refueling, which might not work so well in Rogue Trader, the majority of these rules are very fluffy and provide an easy way to describe not only planetary and stellar systems, but also a great way of figuring out the composition of the world’s within those systems. Whether you are rolling for planetary population, government, atmosphere, or whatever, you can make your world simply and easily and relatively mechanics free.

Translating all this over to Rogue Trader then simply becomes an application of 40K terms and Rogue Trader Mechanics. Once a world gets generated, all you really need to do is figure out what kind of world that would be – is it a death world? A hive world? Maybe neither. Maybe that world is an imperial world and has military installations of the Imperium of Man. You can do pretty much whatever you want with the Classic Traveller Subsector creation rules, which provide a great baseline for conversion into Rogue Trader. The Universe, after all, isn’t that much different. Though the Rogue Trader version might use distance in a different way, nothing fundamentally has to change there either; honestly, all that you would really need to do is sprinkle some threats around your Subsector which are 40K in theme and you are rolling.

For all those Rogue Trader players out there, you will want to go back and give the Classic Traveller rules a try if you are going to GM. If you are a fan of Classic Traveller and are thinking about playing a new sci-fi game, you might want to pick up Rogue Trader and try it out.

Monday, January 24, 2011

D&D 4e Combat Modes inspired by Shooter Multiplayer

Most feedback about 4e that I read out there in the blogosphere attacks the issue of combat encounters and failure in those encounters from either of two general camps: 1) the DM’s are pretty sure that going into the encounter the players are going to get out of it fine, so making the encounter is simply about making it interesting and 2) Challenges and combat encounters should be designed to challenge the players and should be potentially lethal, the TPK becomes the win condition for a DM vs. Players environment. That is all well and good, but I think a lot of people miss out on a lot when the end result of an encounter is either the death/retreat/surrender of all monsters involved, or the death/retreat/surrender of the players. I hardly ever read about combat encounters which are designed with other purposes, but I honestly think that these “other” style of combat encounters provide the most interesting opportunities for both interesting role-play as well as truly tactical combat by the players. Today, I want to talk about some of the video-game inspired combat encounter styles.

I am a video-gamer. I enjoy my PS3 on a daily basis and other than RPG’s, which you can pretty much figure that I love, I really like RTS games as well as shooters. I haven’t gotten a chance to play Black-ops yet, but I am a big player of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. One of the great things that is offered in that game is a real plethora of game styles. I think a lot of those game styles would be very well suited for a game of D&D around the table rolling dice. Maybe you could think about running combat encounters in some of these shooter game based styles.

FFA/Team Deathmatch/Bloodbath
These are the typical encounters that you see in standard D&D games. The win condition for these type of games is simple – kill everything; the side with the most kills wins. With games like D&D, players aren’t likely to respawn in the middle of combat in order to continue the battle until the end of some imposed time limit, but they are likely to go until one side drops, this side is usually not the players unless your DM is a real jerk who has enough friends that his game can change players every week.

Capture the Flag
This style of combat is one of the easiest I think to run, but I don’t see it used nearly enough. One team has to capture the opposing team’s flag and bring it back to a designated point on the map. How easy would this be to run in a D&D game? C’mon. The flag doesn’t have to be a flag per-se. It could be anything from an enchanted skull, or some kind of magical text/tome. The battlefield itself, in an encounter like this might span an entire city. The players have to get into the enemy base, steal the object of importance, then get it back to the city guards before they are caught and captured by a group of Thieves sent to retrieve their stolen, stolen merchandise. This might be going on while at the same time another group is trying to move into the player’s base of operations and make off with something important of theirs.

Take and Hold/King of the Hill/Global Thermonuclear War
This type of combat forces the players/enemies to take and hold a certain point on the map for a set period of time in order to win the combat. I think this type of combat encounter makes for a great opportunity for some fantastic tactical combat. Each round that the players, and the players alone, occupy a certain zone on the map, they rank up a point. The players need to achieve 3-5 points in order to win the combat, but counter to that, if the enemies do the same thing, the players end up losing. I could see this in a D&D style game, by having the players attempting to defend a crucial ritual casting zone. Presence in the zone for a certain number of round allows direct communication with a player’s/enemies deity. Both sides want the zone, and the ability to talk with a god, but while the players are fighting over the zone, the ritual doesn’t know who to target, so it won’t proceed.

Shoot the Messenger/VIP
I don’t see this in games so much, but essentially this style of combat forces the players to attempt to kill a certain priority individual in a given amount of time, before that individual can either escape, or gain some critical power. I could see this style of combat being GREAT for D&D. The PC’s have been given critical advice that a messenger, carrying an important letter which will band two cults of Orcus together, creating a much larger and more formidable force. However, when the PC’s finally encounter the messenger, the realize that he is in disguise – all the individuals in the messenger’s party look and dress alike. The messengers, and his look-alikes all spit and run when they are confronted and attacked by the PC’s. Now, the players have to figure which one of the messengers is the real one and get him before he has a chance to slip out of their grasp and get away.

Search and Destroy/Sabotage/Bomb-Mode
In this style of combat, one side controls a “bomb” and has to plant it somewhere in the enemies territory, while the other side has to try and disarm the bomb or prevent it from getting planted in the first place. I feel like this style of combat could be very easy to pull off. The players might be on either side; I could see either one being very fun and interesting. Perhaps in one version of this combat style, the players possess a powerful relic which, when planted in the Necropolis somewhere, has the power of bringing down the light of Pelor (or some other random good deity) and destroying said Necropolis. The undead forces of this evil citadel come at the players in endless waves trying to keep them from detonating this relic. On the flip side of things, perhaps a group of cultists is planning to summon in demons somewhere within the PC’s stronghold or home city. The players have to scramble to find where this is taking place and then stop it from happening. You see this type of combat a bit in D&D, but now image if it is all done in initiative and your players have only rounds to stop it from happening. That might get them hopped up in their pants.

Snipes & Knives a.k.a. Limitation modes
This one goes back to CS. I like the idea of having limited power/weapon combats. Though these type of combats may ultimately be decided like the typical Bloodbath type of combat, they are interesting in that certain powers/combos simply don’t work in the combat itself. This one would be easy to implement, but might not be so fun for your players. Think about taking all their weapons/implements away and making them fight a combat or two bare fisted. Or, think about having everything for a day cost more effort. Maybe all of your players at-will powers become encounters, encounters become dailies, etc. This could lead to some interesting happenings. You could also think about magical barriers which prohibit certain types of magic from crossing them – that might get on a player’s nerves if you pick on a single power source. Or, maybe you want to make the entire combat done only with longbows, and have your players trying to snipe people from really, really far away. That could be fun.

What all of these different combat format options provide is a way for you to end combat in a failure, but not by killing all the players involved. You see this thought process in the way skill challenges are developed now. Those challenges provide the players with the pass to success, which, when achieved, grants the players a cleaner path to success in a particular adventure path, but failure does not mean the end of all things for the PC's. If you use these type of combat encounters, rather than the simple Kill or Be Killed Deathmatch style combats, you have the option of making failure much more interesting and having the results of failure mean that you end up with interesting roleplay encounters and more varied encounters to come. I hope that you take these ideas and roll with them in your games. I know I will.

Getting your inFAMOUS in my D&D 2

Ok. I know. I made one post about inFamous already in the last week. Why write another one… well, there is so much of this game that I like, that I just can’t stop thinking about all the ways those good elements could be incorporate into my tabletop game.

One of the core elements in inFamous is the Good/Evil choice in relationship and the city you explore. Throughout the city, you are confronted with various quests in the side quest and main quest variety. Although the main quests help move the story along, there are tons of little side quest which you can do between these main quests which help to build your reputation in the city, or, break it apart.

I find a lot of the side quests in inFamous to be repetitive and lame. After clearing the 10th building of cameras, I pretty much hated that type of quest, but although I dislike the actual quests themselves, I do like what they do for you with respect to the game.

When you complete a minor side quest, you get some experience points and you lock down a section of the city. You essentially gain control of a single portion of the sandbox and prevent enemies from returning to that area. I like that mechanic a lot. Though it wouldn’t work very well with D&D, because there are not all that many random monster/fights you have in cities, I think there are several ways that you could make it work.

The other aspect of the side quests in inFamous that I like are the good/evil choice quests. You have an alignment in the game which effects what kind of powers that you can use. As your alignment goes more towards the hero side of the scale, people love you and want to take your picture. As your alignment shifts the other way, people start to fear you (though I am not sure exactly what happens since I haven’t gone that path in the game… yea… I became a goody two-shoes hero-boy). As you do these alignment shift quests, every good choice quest you complete locks out one of the villain quests. That is a great idea as well. I like it a lot.

I think there is an easy way that you could make these work in a D&D game. For each minor quest you complete, whether that be just breaking up a bar fight, or helping get someone’s cat out of a tree, your reputation in a particular part of the world increases or decreases. Every quest makes you more notable, but the way you conduct yourself in completing those quests, either through good means or evil ones, affects how the majority of people in the world see you. You could then easily make these quests connect to encounters; for example, if you were trying to be a good, law abiding citizen, and happened to clean up some of the scum of the city, the city guard might approach to either recruit or aid you. On the flip side, if you were constantly stealing horses and causing bar fights, you might get in trouble with the law, but seeing your potential, the local thieves guild might try to get you out of trouble in return for your service.

I also think that the city control aspect could be easily implemented as well. If you do more good quests, the presence of evil elements in a part of town might dry up, but go stronger in areas where you have not fought them before. On the other hand, if you happen to pressure the city guard enough, they might need to get out of the bad areas of town for fear of being over-run (or, you might develop enough power that you convince them through their wallets that not being in the slums is a good idea).

I like what World of Warcraft has done with its new quests system. It made them a lot of fun for players of all races and classes. Combining the style that inFamous does with its quests, with the content and variance of depth that you get in WoW quests, could make for a perfect pairing.

Have you ever done something like this in one of your games? If so, how did it work out? What was your experience with that style of quest system in D&D?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Shadowrun: Cyberpunk F/X

You may recall that some time ago I was recruiting for a new Shadowrun game that I had started up as a Play by Post game on the RPG Table talk forums. Well, it looks like this blog post, and some posts on twitter were very successful. I now have 5 players all eager to dive into the net and work their way around a wonderfully cyberpunk world.

This experience has been a very fun one. I haven’t looked at my Corporate Enclaves book in a long time, so It has been collecting a lot of dust, but I opened it up after we decided that the game was going to be taking place in LA. What a fun time this is going to be. I don’t know if they are prepared to swim or not, but they will most likely have to ford some rivers *ahem* freeways in their upcoming adventure.

The premise of the group right now is that they are a group of Special F/X guys working in Hollywood. They have a little studio which they used to make movies the old fashioned way, not on the net. There is still a small following for this kind of entertainment in LA, since it is definitely old-school and everything that was once popular in Hollywood becomes popular again.

I don’t want to give away too much about their adventures, but I will say that it bodes to be a very, very fun time. We have a new page on Obsidian Portal for the campaign which I will post up under the Shadowrun link in the navigation bar at the top. Feel free to give it a look see and comment on people’s adventures.

This Play by Post is being held on the RPG Table Talk forum. If you time it right, there is a link that comes around at the top of this page as well. I like it that way. Go give it a look see. There are a few play by post games running there now and most of them are either being run, or have players, who you might know from the RPG Bloggers Network. I have a new Gamma World game which I am going to start trying to run there as well. Give it a look see. If you want to play, we are still welcoming new people for that, but the Shadowrun game has officially closed. IC will begin soon.

Shadowrun Play by Post Art by Obidancer

Apparently one of the players in my Play by Post Shadowrun game, Obidancer, is an artist (not as a job, but as a hobby) He did some fantastic Character portraits for all of the players in our game as well as an awesome banner image for the campaign. We will be using these extensively on Obsidian Portal. Here they are below.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review: Courts of the Shadow Fey at Stargazer's World

In case you missed it, on Friday, my reivew of Courts of the Shadow Fey, by Wolfgang Baur and published by Open Design, came out on Stargazer's World.  I encourage all my readers to go over there and give it a read.  If you like elves, or, for that matter, want to lay the smack down on a few of them, you might want to think about picking up this adventure.  Find out why by reading: Review: Courts of the Shadow Fey.

I hope you enjoy it and comment up a storm!!

Smallville Spotlight - Smallville as a simulation of a Superhero World

Last time, in my Smallville Spotlight, I talked about the idea that all games are essentially a simulation. We also talked about how well Smallville worked as a simulation of the Smallville TV show, from which it was drawn. Today however, I want to take a look at Smallville not as a simulation of the Smallville TV show, but as a simulation of a generic Superhero world.

I have actually heard this game critiqued a lot. A lot of this negative feedback that I have picked up has been from the point that Smallville doesn’t work very well as a game of Superheroes. I think that is a problem. I think the problem here is that people evaluate Smallville not on how well it simulates the Smallville TV show, but how well it works as a Superheroes game. A lot of times, comparing apples to oranges can be a problem, but really, when it comes to this RPG, you kind of have to.

The Smallville RPG is fundamentally an RPG about Superheroes. Clark Kent, and many of the other Leads described in the book, are super-heroes in the making. They will become caped, or masked, crusaders of justice, trying to save the world the best that they can. Although the game mimics and simulates the show, the show is about a Superhero. So, while not all Superhero games may be the apples that the Smallville TV show is, Smallville is fundamentally a superhero game and show. God this is confusing. I remember Bertrand Russell talking about these kind of logical statements in Principia Matematica, but I never thought I would have to bring logic into this.

TL;DR – You need to examine Smallville as a simulation of superhero games as well as a simulation of the Smallville TV Show.

I must say, I think a lot of the people that I have been getting this negative feedback from may be partially right. I don’t play a lot of superhero games, but I do play D&D. Honestly, my D&D characters feel far more super than the characters in the Smallville game. The reason for that is the game is done episodically and with scenes, so while Clark might be running around using his spare time to save people when between those scenes, he is not really able to go whole-hog with all of his powers because of the limitations put on him by the cortex system.

One way I would like to compare this is with the character Wolverine. If I were going to try and play Wolverine in this game, It might be very difficult. Because of the way that you use his regenerative healing, or his super duper claws, there might be times at the table where you actually don’t have the ability to use those powers like you would normally think Wolverine should be able to do. Though I don’t play Superhero games, I have read through a couple rules sets. Because the cortex system kind of puts character powers in the background (at least that is my impression) your challenges aren’t going to try and make you put those powers of yours to creative use, which is something that I think I would really want to do in a simulation of a superhero world.

My viewpoint is this: If I am a superhero and there is a world full of superheroes and we are all in this to snag bad guys and go around saving people, fighting evil villains and what not, than I want to be able to use those powers as much as I can, as long as I am in the absence of my own personal Kryptonite.

BUT… WAIT!!! There is a problem with all of this logic and argument. Should you really be evaluating Smallville as a superhero RPG? “Why yes, Superman is a Superhero, of course we should!” Well, maybe you should, but you should also keep in mind that Smallville isn’t actually a game or a TV show about superheroes. What it is about is the growth of a man, or alien, or whatever, into a superhero. In this game, you are essentially playing the part of that heroes life which is covered in the very beginning of most comic books, or the first 30 minutes of most comic book movies. You are really playing through their origin stories.

I could totally see the Smallville RPG being used to run the story of Peter Parker as he grows up to become Spiderman. During that portion of his life, he has all kinds of drama with the girl next door and has to deal with the pressures of people at school and his aunt and uncle. I could even see using this game up to the point, after Uncle Ben kicks the bucket, and Peter Parker throws on his Spidy Garb and becomes a wicked web slinger. But, after that, once Spider Man is Spider Man, we aren’t dealing in Origins anymore. At that point, we are dealing in stories.

To compare this game to D&D, I would say that you are progressing ever forward to the point where you hit level 30, but in the Smallville RPG, hitting level 30 means you become the hero that you have always meant to be. There are going to be a lot of relationships and drama on the road to 30, and you are going to use your powers (just on the dl). Once you hit around level 29, throw on the red cape and tights and become Superman, you are just about to hit max level, at which point your character becomes renowned around the world and you have to start a new character, who may know about the last PC you ran through the leveling gambit.

So, I will still stand behind Smallville as a simulation of the TV show for which it is named. I will also stand by it as the tale of a Superheroes origin story, whether that be one of the X-men, or any of their Marvel buddies, or whether that be Batman, Green Arrow, or whoever, but I won’t stand behind Smallville as a simulation of life after the mask or cape gets donned. Once you get there, once you are public and everybody knows who you are, I think it might be time to find another game to carry on your character, or even better, start a new one and see how that one grows up too.

Friday, January 21, 2011

I Suck at Warmachine - Part 1 -

Greetings everyone and welcome to the first installment of my new Series, "I Suck at Warmachine".

Since I have a deep seeded hatred of having to repeat myself, and can only imagine how much detail I will need to go into later to keep everyone up to speed with whats going on, I have decided to get all the ground work out of the way right now. I know you were probably expecting some initial battle reports with lots of pictures and what not, but the people who don't know anything about the game will be left behind (slackers...) With that said, I'll start by explaining the game itself a little bit. Beginning with basic information and concepts, then, more importantly, the different factions you can choose to play and their different play style nuances.

I did a lot of research so you guys don't have to and even got my hands dirty playing some games to learn everything I could so you guys don't have to! (seriously, there was a lot and you all owe me now... In case you're wondering, I love burritos from Chipotle, and giftcards are accepted.)

After this initial blog entry, I will dive right into buying, assembling, and playing my army (aka losing a lot), with all the pictures my camera can muster.

Anyways, let's get started!

Warmachine is a turn based, steam punk themed, table top strategy game made up of 4 waring factions: Cygnar, The Protectorate of Menoth, Khador, and Cryx. Each army is lead by a Warcaster (your magic weilding, reasource managing unit, that commands the rest of the army), Warjacks (the powerful hulking warmachines that do your bidding), and troop/infantry units (the guys who usually make up the meat of your force and can be used as excellent cannon fodder). Each model, or unit of models, cost a predetermined amount of points decided ahead of time. Battles are fought with armies comprising a set amount of points (minimum sized armies consist of 15 points). Your local hobby shops that run tournaments will likely be running between 25 and 50 point games. Warmachine runs on dice rolls and there are stat cards available for each model for very easy referencing while playing.

The "Starter Box" for each army will set you back $50.00 (ouch), and contains just under the 15 point minimum, meaning you will need another model or two to finish up your first army. The official rule book is $30.00, and each faction's rule book runs $35.00 (you only need your faction's, thankfully). All the models come unassembled, and unpainted, giving you a lot of room to be creative when putting it all together. Between glue, paints, and other supplies you will need to pick up the game, you are looking at an initial investment of approximately $175.00. (Exciting, isn't it?)

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, there are four factions in Warmachine, and each one offers a unique way to experience and play the game. For your benefit, I have condensed each factions basic concept and play style to help you better understand, and eventually decide which sounds like the most fun to you.

Cygnar is the most technologically advanced of the factions, and have a theme of lightning. Their preferred method of combat is ranged combat. Almost all of their units have some sort of ranged attack available to them, and a lot of the tactics you will be using revolve around this fact. This is not to say you couldn't run a completely melee oriented force if you desired and fare well, but you would need to put a little more planning into your strategy and force composition in order to do so. Cygnar units are very decent stat wise and point cost wise allowing them to field a nice array of unit types to make a very balanced army composition. These factors combined with your Warcaster (leader of your army), give Cygnar the ability to adapt well and assert control the flow of battle. Overall Cygnar is a very diverse and well balanced faction that have many options available to them. If you prefer sitting back and watching your opponents forces wither under a storm of your firepower as they vainly attempt to engage you, Cygnar is the faction for you!

The Protectorate of Menoth are religious zealots that have a theme of fire and fetish of melting their opponents with it. They are also a faction that rely on synergy and special abilities. A lot of their model's stats do not seem very intimidating at first glance, and some look just out right depressing. They make up for this deficiency by being on the cheap side for point cost, and being able to boost each other's stats and abilities. The army as a whole, provides a 'veil' of buffs and protection for each other that greatly enhances your seemingly weak fighting power. Some Menoth units actually grow stronger as others are damaged or die nearby. With a wide array of ranged, melee, and support units, Menoth enjoys a diverse list of unique units available that can seemingly perform miracles if planned for properly. If you enjoy watching your opponent beat their face into the table as they try turn after turn in vain to topple your forces, or if you're a pyromancer at heart, then The Protectorate of Menoth is calling!

Khador are essentially the Russians hanging out in the snow; and as such, have a theme of ice/cold. Khador's niche is having very strong, but expensive units. Your opponent's forces will pretty much always outnumber your own, and usually outpace you. Sadly, not only are your units expensive, they are also usually the slowest. The good news is that your units incredibly strong, as well as having some of the highest armor values in the game. So while it may be easy to hit your slow moving forces, it is very difficult to actually do damage to them. Khador seems to have a slighty better melee game than ranged, but are very capable of both. If you enjoy the the thought of watching a small force of elite troopers march omniously forward, unscathed by most attacks, and then visciously ripping your opponents wind pipe out of their ass when they get close enough... then you're a sadistic freak. And you should also definitely be leading the forces of Khador!

Cryx are the hordes of evil undead and wicked necromancers that plague the living. They have a theme of acid/corrosion. Cryx is a faction that has cheap, quick, expendable units and enjoy debuffing their enemies. Most units are a lot quicker than the other faction's units are, which allows for quick positioning, hit and run tactics, and gives your opponents the psychological feeling of being surrounded. Being quick lends most Cryx units the advantage of being rather tough to hit with attacks. However, they are very fragil and quickly die when attacks start connecting. As such, you will almost always outnumber your opponents and, sadly, lose more forces than them. Although this can leave a bad taste in your mouth as swathes of your forces are cut down before they even get to do anything, you should not lose heart. Every Cryx unit has a very specific role and being a meat shield is sometimes one of them. Luckily, even if you lose a handful of guys before your opponent loses even one, it still balances out due to yours being so darn cheap. Cryx also tend to have the more powerful damage dealing spells and debuffs in the game which can quickly ruin anyone's day. If being a debilitating, spell slinging necromancer, with swarms of undead minions running around the battlefield sounds like fun, then go dress up in your best Halloween costume and take up arms for Cryx!

In the end, all the factions are very balanced, and no one is "over powered" or "too weak". Each offers a unique experience and lots of fun and different ways to play them. With a little luck of the dice, and some good planning, anyone can come out ahead in this game.

I hope you have enjoyed this first installment and you will stick around for more. Next week I will reveal which faction I have decided to play myself, and rant about my difficulties putting them together, and then losing my first game.

Getting your inFAMOUS in my D&D

I talked a little while ago how I would love to see a version of Demon’s Souls made as a table top RPG that uses dice. Demon’s Souls has got to be one of my favorite games for PS3 period. But, lately, I have been playing some other stuff. One of these “other” games that I am playing right now is Infamous. That came out a couple years ago, but like everything else, I am pretty late to the scene. If you haven’t tried the game yet, but have a PS3, I strongly encourage you to go pick it up for $20. You won’t be disappointed. It isn’t a game that would make me want a PS3 just from playing it, like Demon’s Souls was, but it is a game definitely worth giving a try.

There is one aspect of that game that I think would be really cool to have in my D&D games. In Infamous, there is a collection mechanic which revolves around exploring the world and its tiniest minutia. In order to increase your total health and energy, you must travel around the world, exploring the city and collecting “blast shards”. What these shards are actually from is totally lost on me, but their purpose in the game is clear and two-fold: a) through them you are encourage to explore the sandbox, climbing buildings and exploring tunnels and b) they are there to help you and provide you a statistical, permanent bonus to your character.

This is a mechanic which I can get behind and I would encourage DM’s to do likewise if you have a big sandbox you want your players to actually explore. Looking at this mechanic, I went back to the old days in 3.5 D&D when you had all the tomes, which were crazy expensive, but when used, would permanently give you a bonus to one of your stat bonuses. These books were WAY more pricey than anything else in the game, but the benefit they provided could not be taken from you in any way, nor did it take up a slot on your body.

I am thinking that you could do something similar with these “blast shards” in D&D, Gamma World, or pretty much any other game out there. The key, I think, would be not to give it to the players all at once. In Infamous, you have to collect bucket loads of these shards in order to actually finally get that benefit, not only that, but the number of shards you have to collect goes up exponentially as you gather more. I think I have to get like 30ish more shards before I finally gain another energy bubble.

What I came up with for D&D, which may be stolen from an anime or something… I am sure I have heard about it before somewhere… is to have the players collecting pages of a book. Every time they complete a chapter of that book, i.e. collect a sufficient number of pages, they receive a boon. You could give the boon to everyone in the group and it wouldn’t matter all that much.

The problem that I see with this though is you don’t want to make these boons too powerful, or put too much emphasis on them for the story; if you do over-hype these pages, you risk the players ignoring your story in order to simply travel the world in search of all these pages (that might be a nice way to develop a major campaign, but not some minor quest which is simply a carrot to be waved in front of your adventurers in order to keep them moving and exploring a city or nation).

You could do something very similar with Gamma World. Hell, with Gamma World you could even leave them as blast shards and simply let them build up into gaining some new Omega Tech or some new Alpha Mutation.

TL;DR – provide your players interesting motivations for exploring your world by giving them a quest that offers a mechanical benefit, but don’t give that benefit to them all at once.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review of Gamma World on Stargazer's World Now

In case you missed it, my recent product spotlight of Gamma World has ended with my Final Review. Rather than post it twice, It is now up for review on Stargazer's World. Go Check out post Review: Gamma World now! Hope you enjoy it.

Update: City Builder, Design Shift

Due to the fact that I am playing in and game mastering several games now, in addition to doing a pretty heavy load of reviews, I have not had nearly enough time, as I would like, to work on my City Builder game. But, hopefully with some help in the coming weeks, it will be growing up big and strong.

Part of the hang-up that I have been having is my re-evaluation of the core system and mechanics. If you are at all familiar with my Game Chef Entry this year, you know that I used a dice pool mechanic, and a system similar to the one used in WoD and Shadowrun. You roll a certain number of dice and try to get a certain quantity of those dice above a target number. The target number changes from time to time, and the quantity of dice that you have to hit also escalates as the game gets deeper and deeper.

I have kind of decided to do away with this mechanic, at least for now, and make the game into a more traditional RPG format, rather than the format I had been using. What I am trying to do now, is adapt my idea to several existing RPG systems, and then use that base system for the Characters and NPC’s. For example, I am hoping to be build this City Builder system using the Wyrm rules, developed my Michael Wolf and used in his hit Warrior Rogue & Mage, as well as the newly released, Resolute, Adventurer, & Genius. I like the simplicity of this system a lot and I feel that It would work very well for developing a more large scale format for the system.

As you might know, I am playing in the Domain Game, running right now at Hill Cantons. It is proving to be quite the educating experience, as it is really showing me the kind of game that I want to design, but on an even bigger scale. This City System game would essentially be something similar to Domain level play, but in a bit of a smaller scope. However, through his game, and through reading some other game books lately, I think I have a pretty good idea of how I would run City System without turning it into a board game.

Smallville Spotlight - Smallville as a simulation of Smallville

Today, I want to bring up a discussion that I have had with a few people on Twitter recently. The main point of this discussion was regarding simulation in roleplaying games. The blunt of this discussion was regarding dissociation of mechanics in RPG’s. I found the discussion to be very intriguing; the topic, in my gaming, has never really come up. What the gist of this discussion led me to was to some searching into the term, but what it also really spawned was a train of thought in my head, which is now hell bent on evaluating games on a simulation methodology, which is something I want to talk about in this section and the next section of my Smallville spotlight, but not really from the mind-set of dissociation of game mechanics from reality.

Actually, what I want to talk about is how well Smallville acts as a simulation in itself. Since RPG’s are in some respect all just simulations of something, I think it is somewhat important to figure out how well a game acts as a simulation of something, but Smallville is a tricky one for me to deal with. The hang up I am having with the game is trying to figure out exactly what Smallville is actually simulating. The first and most obvious thing that The Smallville RPG is a simulation of is the Smallville TV Show which started on the WB, which later became the CW, and is now running in its 10th and Final Season.

As a simulation of Smallville the TV show, I really think that this game holds up and does a pretty good job. The book itself is cramped full of images from the show, filling it up with glorious photo art. You aren’t going to find many drawings in this one, other than the abundance of charts used to help describe the character creation process.

Beyond the photos, the book brings a significant amount of really awesome stuff from the show, and from Superman mythology, into the game. There are a bunch of great characters which are presented, including art in some places, as well as character bios and statblocks. You get all of the very obvious cast of characters, but there are a lot of characters from early in the shows run which are left out. Many dead characters are brought back to life in the RPG, but many are left out. Dr. Swan (played by Christopher Reeve) did not make it into the characters section. I thought that was a bid odd, but I can deal. I also thought it was interesting how many characters from early on in the show were left out as characters. You don’t get a lot of meteor freaks here (I assume they will come out with the new book which is coming out soonish). I was a bit disappointed to find out that the girl Clark dated, who could teleport through walls, Alicia Baker, didn’t find her way into the book, except for a mention in the season guide…

Oh. Did I forget to mention that a fair amount of the back of the book presents a guide to the TV Show? Yes, it does. Actually, I found this very interesting. If you are going to play D&D in an existing setting, like Forgotten Realms for instance, you are going to want a history of that world and the major players presented in it in order to better paint a map of that world inside your head. Comparatively speaking, a breakdown of all the seasons in a game which is a simulation of a TV Show, is kind of the same thing. I don’t know that I will ever look through this section, unless I am trying to find out which season of the show Clark reveals his secret to who in, but having it for people who don’t own all the box sets might be a very nice thing to have (I own all the box sets… actually, I own 2 copies of season 8 and I have bought season 6, 3 separate times – my first copy I lent to a friend who never returned it and I lost the second copy in a move at some point… stupid college).

One of the other setting specific inclusions in the book is a brief discussion of Smallville and Metropolis, the two major locations for pretty much all of the show. I liked these sections and they definitely merit inclusion in the book, but here is where I am going to throw a big wrench into this wonderful cog of a book…. There is only 2 freaking pages on the actual city of Smallville… I know it is called Smallville and there are not many people who live there (thus small), but 2 pages?? At least half of the show is set there and the name of the show is Smallville, not bloody metropolis… You need to have more description of the book than that, especially in the core book. I know that the show has moved on to metropolis now, but the first half of the series was set there… come on… *grumble grumble*

Moving on for fear of a rant ensuing, I want to talk about how the mechanics of the game can help to simulate the show. At the beginning of this post I talked about mechanics dissociation. I may have mentioned that some people rant about how they hate that 4e doesn’t simulate reality very well. It’s mechanics are highly dissociated from reality. The people on twitter that I talked with don’t fall into the ranting crowd, fortunately, so we were able to have a much more enlightening discussion. But, I think you need to talk about dissocation of mechanics from reality in Smallville the RPG in context with how it corresponds to the show, for which it is a simulation of.

I think this RPG actually simulates the reality that is presented in the TV show very well. The cortex system, which heavily values relationships and skills over superpowers in this game, actually does a great job of simulating how the show works.

In Smallville the TV show, Clark Kent is a young superman. Sure he is running around the city (cus he can’t fly yet) saving people using his super powers, but any time anything of importance comes up, his superpowers always have their foil and their limitations. He either has to hide those powers from someone or he gets zapped with some Kryptonite and has to rely on someone else to save his alien behind. If you actually want to get into power balance in the show, all the characters have their important points and most of them come in useful in some way. Clark isn’t OP. He is just an alien dude, with relationship and trust issues who can see through walls. His powers may be important, but his growth as a man is more the point of the story. He isn’t reaching maturity and becoming superman because he defeats another dude this week and gains some more XP; he is on his path to becoming superman, and will reach the end of that path, by growing as an individuals, developing the ability to trust people and establish real relationships with people (I feel like I should go into some of the developmental psychology I studied in college, but that would be boring).

So, in my opinion, as a simulation of Smallville the TV show, Smallville the RPG works great. I think if your goal for picking up this book is to carry on the TV show in spirit, even though it will no longer be on TV, I think you have a very good baseline to do so.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

New Amethyst Art Teasers

Chris Dias, from Dias Ex Machina, was kind enough to send over some artwork from the upcoming new book in the Amethyst Series: Amethyst Evolutions.  Take a look at these hi-res images below.  They rock.  I can't decide which one I like better...

Pretty awesome stuff if you ask me.  This is a testament to the quality of these books.  I loved the first book, Amethyst: Foundations, and I am really looking forward to seeing and reviewing Evolutions.  Stay tuned here for more Amethyst related news and reviews as it comes out.  Until next time. 

News: New Wizards Organized Play Announced, Fortune Cards Mentioned

Ok. It appears that we are now finding out what these much talked about Fortune Cards are going to be required for in terms of Wizards Organized Play of D&D 4e and I am actually moderately excited. Yesterday, Wizards sent out this announcement, detailing the following:

A New D&D In-Store Play Program
If you think you have what it takes to brave the fiercest foes, fight the toughest battles, and conquer the vilest enemies, we have a new D&D play experience for you! Starting in September, gather your master tacticians and rules experts together to kick down the dungeon doors and begin the assault!

The new Wizards Play Network in-store program pits tactically-minded players against a super challenging adventure where the difference between victory and defeat is dependent upon your game knowledge, ability to adapt, and a little bit of luck. You’ll pit your wits against some of the most challenging encounters you’ve ever played. Each adventure plays in just a few hours, but for many players, they’ll need to make more than one run at it in pursuit of victory. A season lasts 2 months, and stores can schedule their sessions at any time during the season.

Bring extra character sheets. Bring Fortune Cards. You’ll need them.

Begin your lair assault this September.

Ok. So. This actually sounds interesting in several ways. It appears that we will actually be having an Organized Play event which is based around power gaming. This event sounds like it will be an opportunity for groups of hard-core power gaming enthusiasts to build an optimized party at home, bring that party to the table, and do your best to WIN the game.

I have always said that Power Gamers are a part of the market for gaming; you might not like them very much and sometimes they might be a pain to have at the table, but you can't deny that a portion of this hobby, especially D&D 4e is populated by the power gaming folks. I have a side of me that loves power gaming as many people know. I started playing D&D through essentially gauntlet style team based player vs. player events.

This event sounds like it might be something like that, but without the pvp side of things.

What this announcement also says to me is that maybe, just maybe, this type of game is going to be somewhat tournament style. It also may in fact have some kind of reward involved, as many tournament style events do. If the cost to play in a D&D tournament is essentially the cost of a pack of fortune cards, I can get on board with it. I would usually pay some kind of entry fee to play in a MtG tournament or a 40k tournament. If I have to pay $5 to play in a D&D tournament, I am on board with that. I don't think I will be collecting a lot of the Fortune cards, but if that is their use, cool. I wouldn't want to use them in encounters, if the game is going to only last an hour, but if the adventure will take perhaps 3-4 hours, which is about standard for the typical tournament that I would attend (or run, which I did for years as an FLGS store manager).

So, I guess I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised. This style of game intrigues me. I hope that I can perhaps get a chance to play in or run a game of this when it comes out in September.

You can find the announcement at Wizards of the Coast 

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Smallville Spotlight - Relationship Drama Abounds

If there is anything that Smallville the television series has in abundance, it is relationship drama. Wow. Now that I think about it, there is a LOT of relationship drama. Going back through all the series, it becomes a tangled web of emotions between all the characters. First Clark loves Lana, then he doesn’t love Lana and goes off on a fling with a teleporting meteor freak. Then Lana and Clark fall in love, finally, and Clark has to hid his secret, until she eventually figures that out for herself. But nooooo, that is just the beginning of the drama that goes on with Mr. young man of steel. So much happens in that show that it is almost impossible to keep track of.

I have always been a sucker for super hero relationship drama. I was much more interested in the trials of Spiderman and his experience dating Mary Jane and his other suitors than I was interested in how Spiderman and the green goblin were going to get it on using the same powers they always had. For me, superhero stories that are light on character development and relationships are not ones that I am going to be interested in. This might be why I have never taken to Batman very well. He shut himself off in his little cave and doesn’t really have many meaningful relationship drama going on; the new Batman movies kind of had some going on, but never nearly as much as Superman had.

Superman can stop bullets and catch trains; depending on who is letting him run wild, he might even be able to turn back time (*starts singing the song of the same name*). But, what always limited him the most, more than Kryptonite in all of its shades and colors, were his relations with people: Lana, Lois, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Lex Luthor, and all the other long cast of characters which get involved in his life.

The Smallville RPG seems to do a really great job of getting that aspect of the Superhero genre into the game. In fact, I would say that relationships are central to this game, more so that anything else.

In the Smallville RPG, you build your characters as a group developing relationships between the Leads (characters involved) before you even start the game. What most games, especially D&D 4e mostly ignore, or perhaps footnote before the play experience begins, Smallville embraces and centers the entire play experience around. Player Character creation in this RPG is an entirely different style than I have seen most anywhere (though it has some similarities to those found in SotC and Rogue Trader). You start out by mapping your characters path through life in conjunction to the other characters playing the game. This game is not going to be very suited to the lone wolf character who has no emotional ties and no relationships with anyone but him or herself. I found the character creation section to be wildly confusing, but entertaining and interesting. A lot of my confusion cleared up by reading the accompanying diagrams which plot out how all of the characters are linked together and how their relationships mingle, mix, and get messed up.

The game is designed for a group of 4 players and “Watchtower” this game’s version of the GM. What I found fascinating about this setup is that the GM is described as more of a “gardener than a conductor.” The GM is there to facilitate the growth of the players and to allow them to tell their own stories, rather than play through a story setup by the GM. This is pretty much the opposite of everything I play. You could almost describe the entire game as being a great big sandbox adventure. Even the rules are there to back up the fact that you aren’t on a linear rail adventure; this game is more like driving your car through the desert. But, what I found even more interesting than all that was the fact that if you play character creation out through the identity phase, where you essentially decide your character’s destiny, you have essentially put a final destination somewhere in that Mojave desert of a game. What is even more difficult to deal with, mentally for me, is the fact that you are a group of Leads, telling your interconnected stories, but you all have a different final destination in mind for your characters. So, the metaphor descends one step deeper (I feel like I am watching Inception again not writing about Smallville).

The Smallville RPG, to me, is like getting into a mini-van with an assorted cast of Super and not-so-super heroes, driving through the Mojave desert, while each person in the van is a back-seat-driver directing the car to a variety of Final Destinations, none of which are the same. So, yea, there is going to be a LOT of relationship drama in this game. Simply on the surface of the Smallville RPG you have a system which entrenches itself in not only the mingling relationships of the Leads playing, but also has the relationship of a whole cast of other background characters that have varying degrees of interaction and connection to the players… ok. The metaphor is getting lost now. I was going to remark about other cars either following you in that desert, or trying to crash into you, but I am going to leave it at that for the day.

This system intrigues me to no end. I look forward to exploring more of it. Stay tuned. Smallville Spotlight week continues.

Beastfolk - Tori (Chicken-folk) Statblock and Fluff

Experimenting with a new way of doing these, so here is the Statblock, with a description of the race included...

Quick and flittery, the Tori are natural healers that prove being scared is often the key to survival.

Tori (Chicken-folk)

Average Height: 3’6’”-4’6”
Average Weight: 100 – 150 lbs
Ability Scores: +2 Wisdom and +2 Dexterity or Charisma
Size: Small
Speed: 6
Vision: Normal
Languages: Common, Tori
Skill Bonuses: +2 Heal, +2 Perception
Chick-Protector: Whenever a Tori uses a healing surge, or uses a power or effect that grants a healing surge to an ally, increase the value of the damage healed by 1.
Fluttering Jump: Tori gain a +5 bonus to any athletics check made to Jump and can make jumps standing still as though they had a running start.
Natural Weapons: Tori can use their talons or their beak as a natural weapon in combat. These weapons have a +2 Weapon Proficiency Bonus and deal 1d6 damage.
Avoiders of Death: Tori have a +2 Bonus to Reflex defense and gain a +1 Bonus to death saves.
Flittering Flight: Tori have the Flittering Flight racial power.

Flittering Flight    Tori Racial Power
The Tori prove that running away is an art form mastered by true chickens and the chicken-hearted.

Immediate Interrupt * Shift
Whenever an opponent moves or shifts into a square adjacent to you, you may shift your speed, or fly at half your speed in a direction away from your opponent.

The Tori live by being constantly aware and wary of their surroundings. Tribes of Tori in the wild, build their homes inside of trees or in small underground passages, but always leave numerous escape routes. City Tori, or domestic Tori, are almost an entirely different species all together.

Play a Tori if you want …

to be a small, flightless humanoid bird.

to be a natural healer and protector of your allies.

to be a member of a race that favors the Druid, Avenger, and Cleric classes.

Physical Qualities

Tori stand not much taller than a Halfling and can very exceedingly in weight. They have a standard humanoid figure, though they are always appear to be slightly hunched forward. All Tori have a beaks and wing-like arms which end in a scaly, rough hand, which has three claw like fingers and a thumb. Usually, male Tori have a long tail feathers, and a tall red crest, or comb.

Tori hatch from eggs and grow very quickly. Unlike humans, Tori have a slightly shorter lifespan, but they can reproduce very quickly, often giving birth to 4 or 5 children at a time. After hatching, it is not uncommon for a Tori to reach its full size within 13 years. This speed of growth has often lead to characterizing the Tori as not being particularly mindful of the world, or knowledgeable about it, given that they grow and die so very quickly. The standard life expectancy for a Tori is at the most, about 50-60 years. Most Tori die before they get that far though.

Though they do have skin, like most humans, Tori are covered from head to feet in feathers of various colors. Tori plumage varies by clan, with some possessing pure white feathers and other possessing blacks and browns. Sometimes, mixing of clans will lead to new plumage variations among the Tori, marking those Tori as mixed. Though some clans discriminate against mixed Tori, most are fairly accepting. Only a few pure bloodline Tori clans still exist. These clans have only one primary feather color and have little plumage variance. These tribes value pure-breeding more than others.

Playing a Tori

Tori are highly cautious and ever perceptive. They live their lives, every wary of the many dangers that exist in the world, and they do their best to avoid whatever danger they can. Tori do not relish battle; among the Beast-folk, the Tori are one of the very few who would be considered pacifists by nature. Tori values put the family first, before the clan, or even the Tori race as a whole. To a Tori, there is nothing more important than protecting one’s kin.

There are essentially two different types of Tori in the world, though they do share many similar characteristics. Wild Tori, live in the forests and jungles in small hollows inside the roots of trees. Most Tori “Nests” as they are called, house between one and three families; they live together as a unit in order to protect each other from the many threats that occur naturally in the wilderness. These family units are usually blood bound, but occasionally, an outsider family will be permitted to join in as well. The second type of Tori, the Domestic Tori, is at home in the cities of the world. These Tori enjoy the status that comes with being of a bestial blood. Domestic Tori, as well as the Buta, or Pig-Folk, are considered to be some of the more well-known merchants races in the world. Tori tend to be cautious about business deals, and will usually run small family operations which are passed down through generations. Because Tori live such short lives, it is not uncommon for Tori to be running the same store, in a large city, for 10 generations or more, maintaining the same clientele for many, many years.

Tori enjoy simple pleasures such, such as reading or knitting. They do not take to drinking easily, nor are they very exciting. They do however, very much like being social, which brings them some large degree of power. They are horrible gossipers, and often discover knowledge that wasn’t meant for their ears. Some Tori take advantage of their blood line and exert its power to gain status in social circles, then, after discovering some useful gossip, use that gossip to gain even further power through blackmail or simple exploitation. Because of this, Tori tend to be very close-beaked about personal matters. They know their kind and fear having their own problems get out into the world.

Tori do not readily take to adventuring, but they are not particularly rare either. In the Wilderness, Wild Tori usually send out their first born to go on some sort of a quest to prove that they can defend and support the Tori family unit after the previous generation eventually passes. It is not uncommon for Tori to be found searching for companions on these type of activities, hoping for strength in numbers. It is also very common for Tori families to adventure together, with several generations all joining together in order to conquer some foe or obtain some object of power.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Q&A with Chris Dias - Amethyst, NeuroSpasta, New Content Revealed!!

I have the privalege of bringing to you today a Q&A with Chris Dias, creator of Amethyst as well as the upcoming new 4e Cyberpunk game NeuroSpasta. You won't find these questions answered anywhere else (I don't think). Awesome stuff gets spilled here first. Give it a read and find out more...


Q.1 – For us here at the Dump Stat, the character is the first thing that we think about when looking at a new game or system, so, I’d like to start things off by asking you to tell us about any memorable characters that you have run personally, or that you have had in your test games over the years. Did any in particular stand out?

It's hard for me to quantify what makes a memorable character. Well developed, creative back-story, or is the character simply insane? I have players with great concepts with no capacity to properly play the roles and players without an original idea in their head but intelligent enough to act appropriately in a presented crisis. When I begin my large campaigns, I oversee the character creation process, but when doing a playtest session, everything goes…and by saying that, it’s like throwing butane on a lit match. My players seldom reminisce about their well developed characters, often joking about their one-session lunatics. Just take these character names as examples:

Sergeant Ruttagard Howard, Wee-Man for Hire
Hugh Mann the Third
Axebeard Beardaxe
Beardaxe Axebeard (dwarvish brothers with different mothers)
Lamb Shanks
Choad Moedin
Enoch Chauk (it may take a while for people to figure that one out)

Q.2 – Amethyst is a campaign setting set in a possible alternate future for our earth. Why did you decide to build the game world around our home planet, rather than around some other non-earth world?

Because Amethyst didn't emerge fully formed but evolved slowly over twenty years. It began because a friend was convincing me to do a D&D game, which I was not inclined to do at the time. So instead of developing an idea from scratch, I dusted off a setting that I had put to pasture eight years prior. At the time, it was just a post-apocalyptical story, with no magic, set on Earth after dragons had reawakened. I had shelved it because the film Reign of Fire came out after which covered similar ground. So I just shoehorned D&D into that idea and Amethyst extruded out the other side. If I was asked to create a setting from the ground up, things could have been different. But as a consequence of setting it on Earth, it forced me to establish ground rules which I have been following ever since. If I hadn't been lazy back in 2001, it would have been a very different game now, and definitely wouldn’t have been called Amethyst.

Q.3 – You have mentioned that one of the primary foci of Amethyst in terms of theme is the disrupting element that Magic has on technology. This comes out very strongly in the rules as well. Conversely speaking though, we were interested to hear about what you thought about the disruption on Magic by technology? Did this ever come out in Amethyst or any of the other work that we have yet to see?

Disruption came about because the setting made no sense without it. In a fictional fantasy world, you're tolerated more suspension of disbelief. You can have a nation like Gondor from Lord of the Rings exist for three thousand years without anyone inventing a flush toilet. It was gameplay that actually did it for us. Who needs the education to be a wizard when you can have…a gun? My players took advantage of it and the setting started to unravel as they--okay, one player—began wielding lasers brazenly along with his sword. Disruption was ret-conned six months into the setting. Now it’s a vital component and one of its selling points. The moment we allow technology to disrupt magic, magic loses that edge and again the setting begins to fray. At the present point in the setting, technology has not figured a way to combat disruption. Currently, the only solution is to eliminate magic from an area (by destroying or pushing away the things and people that radiate).

As for these concepts outside of Amethyst, there are actually quite a few, just not as obvious. Lord of the Rings, Princess Mononoke, and even Dune deal with fantasy worlds that become overwhelmed by industry. It may not be a primary element of the setting, and often times it's subtle and metaphorical. In the case of the PC game Arcanum, it deals with technology overwhelming a fantasy world, effectively the reflection of Amethyst. So I felt the idea of a magical world being overwhelmed by technology was old hat. But a place where magic was emerging and reducing technology felt fresher…unless you watched Visionaries…no? Anybody? Seriously, why has no one ever brought that up?

Q. 4 – Amethyst provides us, the gamer, with a whole lot of new crunchy mechanical goodness to go along with the setting. Did you deal with balance issues in creating this material, and if you did, how did you go about actually getting those issues into balance?

Originally, one of our developers really pushed the idea that we make firearms more powerful and use disruption as a balancing effect to keep them in check. We eventually decided that wasn't good. I believe our weapons are extremely well balanced and I've yet to receive a word of objection about advanced armor. In contrast, balancing our classes has been a difficult process. For one, WOTC shifted the power balance with later their books. My co-writers and I had this idea in our heads that we should break from the notion of defined class roles, replacing it with the concept of a homogenized group of cooperating players that filled the roles defined by D&D as a single team rather than separate entities. That didn't go over too well and there were comments that techans were underpowered and undefined. Only when you have a proper mix of techan characters did their strengths appear. We're addressing people's concerns with the second book, allowing players to properly define their characters into a single role. This will help with fantasy/techan mixed groups as well.

Q.5 – During your appearance on the Tome Show, you mention that you thought there would be two kinds of people that would want to pick up Amethyst, one of those types being gamers who want to plunder Amethyst for its tech goodness. Have you had any experience, personally, with using elements from Amethyst Foundations or one of the other books (which have yet to come out) in running a game that was not set in the Amethyst world?

I tried but my players didn't want to. Many of them have been with Amethyst since 2002 and don't want to try something new. I worked on a cyberpunk game but that ended up as its own construct away from Amethyst called NeuroSpasta, though still using the same base rules. However, I've seen other people create ideas using Amethyst's system. You wrote an article yourself recently about how Amethyst can be tuned to fit another setting. I was following two online projects attempting to adapt Amethyst to Starcraft II, which I thought was brilliant. I am still hoping someone creates an Alien/s plug-in for Amethyst—considered my favorite science fiction setting of all and one I have personally role-played in (just check my first website,

Q.6 - You present a very interesting set of vehicle rules in Amethyst Foundations. Do you have any interesting memories of players using vehicles in the world that you would like to share with us?

The best example was a few months ago in our Amethyst game. Several fantasy/ techan players teamed up with a group of techan NPCs to escape from this keep controlled by an army of skeggs and boggs (goblins in Amethyst). The techan NPCs had a vehicle the group could use to escape. The fantasy characters had to ride atop this giant ETV Scrambler (think a Winnebago crossed with a tank) as it rocketed from this goblin controlled castle, monsters in quick pursuit. So there were a thousand skeggs running down after them armed with rudimentary blades and bows. Behind them were an immeasurable number of puggs (tiny goblins). In front were these vehicles, controlled by a skegg with protective goggles, holding onto a navel helm like a bus driver. There was a huge lever to his side he used to shift gears. Behind him were two massive oggraks (ogres) with blindfolds standing on either side of a pump-trolley, pushing the lever up and down to provide the vehicle's acceleration. On either side of the vehicle was a wound-up catapult that spun completely around to launch projectiles. The projectiles were puggs with sharpened helmets. The players have to fight off these launching goblins while also fending off opposing vehicles as they closed in. There are fights between vehicles. The scrambler races through a forest and over a narrow bridge. The goblin trucks are running into each other, into trees, or flying off a cliff. Take the climactic chases from the last two Mad Max films and throw in a dash of the jeep chase from the last Indiana Jones film, and you'll have some idea of the chaos that was this encounter. It took a good hour to play out, but the players quite enjoyed it.

Q.7 – What has been your experience running Amethyst at high levels? What were the kind of challenges the players encountered?

Don't know. My personal gaming experiences have been limited to under 20th level. The first Amethyst campaign was 3.0/3.5. The second shifted to 4ED but the characters finished the campaign by 18th level. The game we're in currently should move into epic at some point. We have had test reports from people playing that high but we limited the monsters in the first book to mostly the first two tiers. We also don't have epic destinies showing up until Evolution, so everyone has had to wait to run through the final ten levels in canon Amethyst.

Q.8 – We have heard that there will be several new books coming down the road, which will both add new elements to the game. Included in Amethyst Evolutions will be Epic Destinies as well as a new Techan class, the Vanguard. Would you mind filling us in on any of the other new elements that you will be including in this next book? Organizations come to mind…

Yes, just for you, we added new organizations, both for techans and fantasy characters (offer you a free one below). We have new lifepaths and paragon paths. We have a new weapon property, nuclear, as well as a whole slew super heavy weapons. To complete the package, we are also introducing larger advanced armor…okay mecha, we'll just say it. And then of course, there are the "alternate" builds. Tracking the philosophy of WOTC and their new Essentials line, every class and path from Foundations has been re-offered adhering to the Essentials philosophy. So the book covers both rule sets. Thankfully, these alternate builds don't take up a lot of space.

It is not uncommon to see Limshau custodians operating outside of city walls. Once a member switches from the city-white kawabari to black kawabari armor, he or she is immediately sent out to either retrieve a previously lost tome of knowledge or document an important event. Although occasionally travelling alone, most often the custodian joins up with a group of travelers with similar goals. Certain circumstances have occurred where an entire party of Limshau citizens are gathered together to venture into the open world. Not all have to be custodians, though one of them usually is (or perhaps a librarian). When this occurs, the logos lance (as they are called) is tasked for a specific mission. It is often difficult, involving a journey encompassing months or even years. This lance is commissioned by a higher authority, up to and sometimes including the king himself.

Benefit: If players are forming a logos lance, one member must have a lifepath connected to the kingdom. All players of the lance receive one free knowledge skill of their choice to be a trained skill OR receive a +2 bonus to one trained knowledge skill of their choice. The entire party is supplied riding horses for free and receive a 20% discount to all gear at 1st level from Limshau.

Q.9 – How has your mindset had to shift from Amethyst, a game setting that you have worked on for years, to your new, upcoming game, NeuroSpasta?

I have to work on one for several weeks, then stop and resume the other. I can't just flip back and forth. They have very different approaches with both fluff and crunch. I had worked on NeuroSpasta for months last year until shifting back to Amethyst, which I have been working on since August. After Evolution and Factions comes out, I can finally return to NeuroSpasta and dot the last "I". As Amethyst becomes more in line with evolving D&D philosophy, NeuroSpasta has drifted further away, though not actually moving in the process. Where D&D has endeavored to simplify itself, NeuroSpasta (and its parent system, Ultramodern4) has maintained its intention to create a universal system where you can fashion dozens of different classes from a pairing system of ladders and classes. As a consequence, character growth and creation does involve more work.

And although NeuroSpasta is being developed after, it tracks its origin to well before, when it was a cyberpunk/mecha homebrew game called Necropolis. I took that old game, blended it with spices from Shirow's Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell, and wrapped it around a setting which I believe to be unique in its own way.

Q.10 – We have only really seen teasers for this upcoming new release, is there anything specific that you would be willing to leak about the new setting NeuroSpasta or about Ultramodern4?

Let's see…
…You can buy, build, modify and control robots on the battlefield. They are effectively player controlled monsters except that they gain your half-level bonus, so they never go obsolete. We got models that resemble hat boxes on wheels to small tanks.

…Our hacker class (called a manipulator) can not only hack security cameras and networks, but also opponents on the battlefield. He can create programs that bundle multiple attack powers together.

…Oh yeah, and we have over 180 cybernetic devices, from skill implants to total body prosthesis.


Well, that is all for this time around, hopefully, when the new books come out, we will be able to have some more questions answered as well. I have to thank Mr. Dias for taking time out of his schedule to answer our questions. If you haven't checked Amethyst out yet, go do it, it is awesome. You won't regret it.

You can find the products mentioned here by visiting Dias Ex Machina.