Category Archives: Gaming

On Unusual Polyhedrons

Two years ago, after about a year of public playtesting, Fantasy Flight Games released the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG, the first in a series of planned core books in a brand new system. Star wars RPGs had been on a bit of a hiatus, the most recent prior system was Saga Edition, which was d20-based. Wizards of the Coast decided to drop the license in 2010, and Fantasy Flight picked it up shortly thereafter. My initial impression of the system was mixed, but now that there’s a bit more source material I like it a lot more.

The assumed setting for all three of the core books is a bit after A New Hope. This means that the Empire is in power, Rebels are seen as a dangerous threat (since they did just manage to destroy the Death Star), and force sensitives are both rare and persecuted. There are 3 core books so far, each focusing on a different aspect of the setting. Edge of the Empire focuses on the less-than-legitimate business of things like smugglers and bounty hunters. Age of Rebellion focuses on the Rebellion itself, which mostly means Soldiers and Politicians. Force and Destiny focuses on force sensitives, both with and without lightsabers.

swf02_jedistatueswider

Ace Custom

One of the immediately noticeable things about the game is that it uses a unique dice mechanic. There are 3 types of die with positive symbols (boost, ability, proficiency), 3 with negative (setback, difficulty, challenge), and a force die that isn’t explicitly positive or negative. The symbols on the dice are…

success-black Success – This determines if an action is successful. As long as you have one or more of these in the final result, you can do whatever you were initially attempting to do. The number can determine the degree of success in some cases, like additional damage for attacks.
advantage-black Advantage – Independent of success, this symbol represents good things happening. In combat this can be used to generate critical hits (how many you need depends on the weapon) and other weapon features, and out of combat it represents something advantageous happening. this remains true even if you fail the roll.
triumph-black Triumph – This is found only on the Proficiency die, and it represents really good things. This counts as a success, and also a super-advantage. An attack with one of these can usually generate a critical hit or special feature with just one, and outside of combat the door is wide open for the GM to let amazing things happen to you.

Die Color Sides success-black advantage-black
Boost Light Blue 6 2 3
Ability Green 8 5 5
Proficiency Yellow 12 10 (includes triumph-black) 8

failure-black Failure – Each failure symbol on a roll cancels one success. The roll is still considered failed if it generates an equal number of success and failure symbols (because it then has 0 uncancelled successes).
threat-black Threat – This one represents bad things. It cancels advantage, and if you have any of these remaining, something unfortunate happens even if you succeeded on the roll. This might be something as simple as suffering strain, or it might increase the difficulty of future checks.
despair-black Despair – Found only on the Challenge die, this is the negative version of Triumph, but these do not cancel each other (it’s possible for a roll to generate both). This counts as a failure and also means something very bad happens. How bad exactly is up to the GM.

Die Color Sides failure-black threat-black
Setback Black 6 2 2
Difficulty Purple 8 4 6
Challenge Red 12 9 (includes despair-black) 8

darklight Force Points – Found only on the force die, these are used mostly for force powers. It’s worth noting that the force die contains an equal number of light and dark side points (8 each), but has dark side on 7 faces and light side on 5. It’s assumed that player characters are mostly light-side, so there are penalties for fueling your powers with dark side force points.

Stay on Target

Task difficulty is almost never represented as a static number, and is instead represented as a number of difficulty dice. Your ability is likewise represented as some number of dice, usually a mix of ability and proficiency dice. All of these are rolled together to determine the success or failure of an action. Boost die are usually added if circumstances are favorable; Setback die are added when situations are unfavorable. Particularly bad situations might result in upgrading the difficulty of the check (turning difficulty dice into challenge dice). Certain abilities may also let you upgrade your own checks, turning ability dice into proficiency dice.

gand sniper
The real benefit of this is that rolling the dice goes beyond determining “degree of success” which most dice pool systems fall into. To take Shadowrun as an example: for most checks it makes no difference whether you beat the threshold by 0 or 3, unless your GM is tracking hidden thresholds for rolls. (I’m pretty sure Tam does this, but I’ve never asked him directly.) Even on rolls where the number of successes does matter, there’s not a lot of fine control. Unless you roll a glitch, which is pretty rare for moderately-sized dice pools, you’re either going to fail, win, or win big. By separating additional positive or negative effects from the actual success/failure of the roll, Star Wars opens up other possibilities for narratively interesting situations. Maybe you fail to get the information you want out of a contact, but he likes you and tips you off to something else. Maybe you successfully evade the guards, but accidentally leave traces of your passage behind. Maybe you evade the guards and they wander off to investigate something far away from you.

Most rolls of the dice are going to tell you a little bit more than “you pass” or “you fail, and that’s probably my favorite part about the system. I’m going to back to reading this book where they put the swords and magic back in.

On Fires, Part 3

Blaugust Post #31

Burning Wheel has probably the best skill system I’ve read as it relates to skill use and advancement. The basic premise is that you don’t get any better by doing things that are easy. Therefore, you’re encouraged to try things that might be somewhat difficult for your character, because that’s the only way you get better. This is a bit of an oversimplification, but Burning Wheel rules are long and wordy.

To go along with this, the list of skills goes on for pages. There are the expected skills for weapons and fighting (sword, bow, armor training), an assortment of professional skills (blacksmith, haggling, dye manufacture), sorcery and sorcery-related skills (enchanting, summoning), social skills (intimidate, persuasion, falsehood), and some oddball ones like Strategy Games. There are also open-ended -wise skills that act as knowledge skills. Examples include things like Great Masters-wise, Dirty Secrets-wise, and Poacher-wise, in addition to things you might expect like Forest-wise, Noble-wise, and Tools-wise. (You can make appropriate ones up for your character and take them as non-lifepath skills.)

At low skill levels, you can advance with a few challenging skill tests and a few routine ones, but eventually the routine ones stop counting. If you never push yourself to do difficult tasks with a skill that you’re already somewhat good at, it will never get better. Burning Wheel lacks XP entirely, so this skill progression is how you get better. There are a few alternatives to trying things that you’re going to fail at, however. You can have someone else who is good at a skill teach you, which counts toward the number of skill tests you need to advance.

I’ll probably never actually play in this system, but I have talked to Tamrielo (who is my usual GM) about it. He likes the skill system and the fact that violence is rarely the right answer, but not so much all of the incredibly crunchy bits (that I haven’t actually talked about here). It’s a fun system to build characters in though, so I suspect I might just use it as inspiration for some future characters.

Blaugust Complete

Doing this for the second year was interesting. As mentioned, posting every day is a bit much for me, but this did help me get back into the swing of things. I think I’m in better shape to maintain the 3/week schedule I was in for most of last year. I think I fell into the trap Bel outlined last week, but he’s right, the “epic welcome back post” just doesn’t happen. It’s far more productive to just start writing.

On Fires, Part 2

Blaugust Post #30

A major part of what makes Burning Wheel interesting to me is the character creation. The Lifepath system is really a modified version of point-buy, but you have the character’s entire backstory built-in to the process. It’s got some… balance issues, but it makes the actual process of creating a character rather fun.

The basics are that you determine the various professions and/or roles that your character follows through life. Each one adds Time (measured in years), Resources, Skill Points, and Trait Points, some of which will automatically be spoken for in the way of required skills/traits. They’re divided into settings, such as City Dweller, Noble Court, etc. Your next lifepath can be any that you qualify for in your current setting, or a setting specified by the last lifepath you took. Moving to some settings (such as Noble Court) is fairly difficult, but some settings (such as Outcast) can be entered from almost anything.

Learn by Doing

To demonstrate the process, I’ll start with a character concept from the first RPG I played where I was more focused on the character than the character’s combat effectiveness. (The fact that the setting was modified World of Darkness helped this a lot.) Zane Dimetrius was a sorcerous professor with a decent bit of martial ability. He specialized in earth spells, but that doesn’t really seem to be an option in this system. In Burning Wheel, this means he’ll need to pick up lifepaths along the way that enable magic and some bit of physical ability, while I’d like to end at Scholar (which is in City Dweller).

Looking at Scholar, it informs some other requirements by itself. It requires either one of a number of related academic lifepaths or any sorcerous one. Since this character is intended to be a spellcaster anyway, that requirement shouldn’t be too hard to meet. You have to start with a “Born” lifepath, and I decided to go for Born Noble. Being born noble gives you the required trait “Mark of Privilege” (which may or may not be good depending on where you find yourself). The bit of martial ability is covered by becoming a Page. Page is normally the start of the path to Knight (you also have to go through Squire), but Zane decided that wasn’t for him and moves off to Arcane Devotee. This is the Noble version of the “starter” spellcaster lifepath; it grants the “gifted” trait required to actually cast spells.

From there we move out of the Noble setting. Arcane Devotee can lead to the City Dweller setting, which contains Sorcerer. (It can alternately lead to the Noble Court setting, which contains the somewhat different Court Sorcerer). Having finally picked up the sorcery skill, we finish at Scholar.

Preliminary Results

Tallying up everything gained in this process, we have a character who is 37 years old, with the required traits Base Humility, Mark of Privilege, and Know-it-All. Gifted is also a requirement, but doesn’t come automatically, one of the remaining 3 trait points must be spent on it. For skills, Riding, Calligraphy, Sorcery, and Read are required; many optional ones can come along with this choice of lifepaths like Write, Sword, and Instruction. The skill system is interesting enough to be expanded on in its own post, but there are a lot of skills listed in the book.

The number of stat points you have to spend is based on your final age, with some bonuses for various paths along the way. Generally starting older will give you more points for mental stats and fewer for physical stats, although starting younger than 15 will make you a bit short on both. While there are still plenty of decisions to make about where to spend all of the resulting points, the framework of the character is here. This is a lot more than you can get out of a lot of other systems, and it also makes the creation process itself interesting. Using a session to create characters while in a group seems like it would add some fun as well.

On Fires, Part 1

Blaugust Post #29

On the recommendation of another, I recently picked up Burning Wheel Gold. This is the most recent version of Burning Wheel, which is so far the only pen-and-paper RPG I’ve taken a glance at and said I’d never want to play. So far my opinion on that hasn’t changed, but it does have some really interesting ideas.

BW_logo

The Catch

Unfortunately, getting a book is somewhat annoying. This edition of Burning Wheel was never released as a PDF. A limited number of stores around the country are even listed as carrying them, and the one closest to me was sold out. Amazon does not have new ones for any reasonable amount of money. The only real option is to order it from the official website, which means another account and all that goes with it.

Wikipedia claims that there’s no PDF because of piracy, but this seems like a ridiculous justification. This is really the iTunes problem again: if something is easy to access in a legal manner, people tend to do it. If the book was on, say, drivethroughrpg.com, then lazy people would just get that instead of pirating it. The people too cheap to do that weren’t going to buy the book anyway, and considering them as a lost sale is fallacious.

On Bug Repellant

Blaugust Post #28

I didn’t think this was going to happen at the start of this year, but this weekend I find myself in Seattle, attending PAX Prime with Tamrielo and Kodra. I’ve previously been to East (twice) and South, but this is my first time coming to the original venue. It’s also my first time attending any event where there’s been a Final Fantasy 14 Battle Challenge. The enemy for this event is Ravana, normally encountered as part of the Heavensward storyline at level 53. This one’s been scaled up a bit to be an appropriate challenge for level 60 characters.

pax-ravana

We met up with another member of our free company, which meant we had 4 people familiar with the fight. Joining us were 3 people who had never played Final Fantasy 14 before, and one who did play, but was not high enough level to have seen the fight. We got through the slaughter phases pretty well, but we had some issues with the defensive phases.

I Beat Ravana

In the end though, we emerged victorious. It was actually kind of satisfying helping people who hadn’t seen it before get through, and we got nice new shirts out of the deal.

On Rocking Out For Real

Blaugust Post #27

The resurrection of Guitar Hero and Rock Band brings to mind the guitar game that came around as they were fading. Rocksmith (also on Steam) requires an actual stringed instrument and a special USB cable. The latest release is almost two years old now, but they just put it on the new consoles, so I suppose it counts as current. Unlike the others, this one is attempting to teach how to actually play guitar in the form of a game. It has an arcadey score attack mode if you miss the Guitar Hero aesthetic. It also now has several years worth of DLC.

rocksmith - cake

Needing an actual guitar or bass makes the buy-in here rather high, but for people like myself who already own one, it’s an interesting experience. It has some major flaws in teaching how to actually play an instrument, but it is pretty good for learning how to play specific songs. It (on the default settings) dynamically adds more notes in as you get more familiar with a given song. Songs you’ve never played before are adjusted for what the game thinks your skill level is.

rocksmith - jam mode

If you’ve ever thought about learning guitar, this might be a good first step. It makes “practice” entertaining, which helps a lot. You should seek out another resource if you’re serious about it, however.

On Rocking Out

Blaugust Post #26

I’m quite likely to pick up Rock Band 4 whenever that comes out, the announcement that my instruments and previously purchased tracks will continue to work was somewhat influential here. Even with varying skill levels, it makes for a very fun party game. The expansion of the single player mode helps too. They’re dropping pro guitar mode, but I never used that in RB3. (According to metrics they released, I’m far from alone.)

RB4 Logo

At the same time, Guitar Hero Live is coming out this year, and I’m not sure who the target audience is. It’s guitar-only, uses a different controller than all previous games, and abandons the colorful atmosphere of previous Guitar Hero and Rock Band games in favor of showing a live audience. When you add the tracklist included with the announcement to this, I can only conclude that it’s for someone who isn’t me. (They’ve since added tracks that I’d be more interested in playing, as well as vocals. There may be hope for this one yet.)

harmonix-RB 4

It’s 2008 all over again, but I’m OK with this. I suspect we won’t end up with mountains of unsold guitars in stores this time.

On High-Value Targets

Blaugust Post #24

Shadowrun is certainly going interestingly. Our group has managed to make a name of sorts for ourselves in Boston, getting us closer to some of the objectives we got there for (and a brand new one that pays really well). The problem is that completing some of these jobs is likely to bring a ton of heat onto us in very short order, probably to the level that will force us to leave Boston.

the prodigies

We’re nothing if not ambitious, however.

Instead of picking and choosing, we’re trying to get several of the jobs done within a time span of about 48 hours. During this period, we’ll have to erase police records, protect a series of shipments (with a large side order of gang violence), break into a well-guarded mansion, and potentially recover a magical item of unknown origin (currently held by a shadowrunner team with different goals). On top of all of this, another opposing team is probably keeping track of us and may have to be dealt with.

the prodigies home base

As the team’s decker, I get to study up on the disabling aspects of matrix use. I’m far from the most gifted character in combat, and it looks like we might be doing a lot of it. On the other hand, forcing things quickly means that subtlety is not as much of a concern. This is good for me, because my ability to be loud and break things is better than my ability to sneak, both electronically and in meatspace.

At this point, what could possibly go wrong?

On Secondary Sin

Blaugust Post #23

Divinity Original Sin: Enhanced Edition is coming out “soon” on PC and the current console generation. I never finished it, but I am a big fan of the original release. Owners of the original will receive the enhanced edition for free, which is in line with what they’ve done for their previous games.

DivinityOS2

A sequel, Original Sin 2, is now on Kickstarter. It’s one of the cases where simply promising more of the same would probably get me interested, but it looks like they’re doing a lot more than that. One of the best features of Original Sin is the ability to disagree with your partner, which results in you playing Rock Paper Scissors against each other. Points for winning are determined by your persuasion stat, and the first to 10 gets to determine what the party does.

Disagreement

Original Sin 2 seems to expand on this concept, and actually let the party work on objectives at odds with each other. No word on if it will allow what Tam refers to as the “GM Victory”, but I honestly kind of hope so. It also expands co-op to include up to 4 players.

4 Players

They’re also tweaking the battle system, which was already one of the best turn-based systems I’ve seen in a long time. Given the character I played the first time around (a ranger-type) I’m not sure a cover system is going to be terribly helpful, but I’m willing to give it a chance. More interactions mostly increases the potential for unintended hilarity. And I appreciate that there are more options for the player than just humans.

Travelers

I haven’t looked forward to a Kickstarter game this much in a long time. It smashed its funding goal on the first day, so it seems likely we’ll be playing this at some point next year.

On Heavy Rainfall

Blaugust Post #22

This was supposed to be a post months ago, but it got written on paper and never typed up. I’ve since lost it.

Risk of rain is a mostly platformer with rogue-like elements. It’s (so far) my favorite example of such, although it’s quickly becoming a crowded genre (Spleunky, Rogue Legacy, and the recent Warlocks Vs. Shadows all qualify). I find Risk of Rain interesting largely because of the risk/reward mechanism of its time mechanic.

RoR

Drizzle

The primary goal of Risk of Rain is to get to the final level (which is always the UES Contact Light), beat the final boss, and leave the planet that you crashed on. This is accomplished by playing through a minimum of 5 other levels, finding and activating the teleporter in each level, and surviving through the wave of enemies that assault you when you do this. Enemies also spawn naturally over time, at a rate determined by what level you’re on, and how long you’ve been playing the current game. The largest difference in difficulty settings is how quickly this process occurs.

There are 12 characters, 11 of which must be unlocked, and 10 different stages, where which ones you visit are determined semi-randomly. Each of the first 4 levels will be one of 2 options, level 5 is always the Ancient Temple. After that, you can either start revisiting levels or move on to the end of the game. Along the way you will pick up a wide variety of items, mostly randomly determined. There are a few places to influence what items you get, as well as a really big way that you can eventually unlock.

RoR Golems

Rainstorm

One of the more interesting things about Risk of rain to me is the character variety. You start off with just the commando, who is fairly decent, but I find somewhat boring. The thing is, starting out, you’re going to die on the first level. You’re going to die on the first level probably more than once. Despite this, you can be making progress toward unlocking the other characters. Beating the three boss options on level 1 will unlock the enforcer. Collecting enough drones will eventually get you the engineer. Enough monster logs will get you the huntress, but there aren’t actually enough monster types until you get to the second level(s) consistently.

Then there are the ones that you won’t unlock by chance. The Sniper requires that you beat the game once, and the Mercenary that you do it 5 times. There are also a few that you need to find, which requires that you a) get the right level, and b) get the version that has that character. HAN-D is a bit easier (in a manner of speaking) because he’s in the final stage, and will therefore always be there if you can get that far.

RoR Trouble

Monsoon

The other interesting thing is the item selection. The longer you spend on a stage, the more money you have to open chests and get items, but the harder the enemies will be, making for a generally enjoyable risk/reward mechanism. Some items are better for some characters than others: Acrid tends to kill things while they’re clumped up, so the item that causes enemies to explode on death is amazing. The command attacks extremely quickly, and so gets more out of items like the ukulele or missiles.

Recently artifacts were added, and these let you modify the game in some ways, which can make things easier or harder, depending. One in particular, Command, allows you to choose what items you get (within the bounds of rarity). Glass cuts your health to only 10%, but makes you do significantly more damage.

RoR Artifact

Co-op doesn’t use Steamworks, so it’s a little iffy. Even so, this is one of the best small indie games I’ve experienced. It goes on sale for very few dollars pretty often, so take a look.