Wrath of the Dragon Guy #AdventureCo #DND5E

When we last left the Adventure Co Brand Adventure Company, information pills they had silently dispatched a group of cultists and kobolds who had been trying to smoke out the refugees holed up in the temple of Chauntea. They had to move quickly as a massive force of cultists and kobolds and their attack drakes were encircling the building on a short timer, sickness and another force was attempting to break down the temple doors.

Inside, the players were met by the provincial priest (lower-case ‘p’) Gibberishfirstname Falconmoon, who was ecstatic to see them. The temple itself was holding firm, but was under obvious assault. Rocks had smashed the windows, torches had been thrown in hoping to set the place alight, and the refugees were on the verge of giving up hope as the cultists repeatedly smashed the reinforced doors with a massive battering ram.

The players first plan offered was to wait until the ram was approaching, open the door in surprise and once the momentum carried the cultists into the vestibule, slam the doors shut behind them, and attack. This would allow the party to deal with the most immediate threat to the temple and buy them time to figure out how to get the 32 people to safety.

Unfortunately, the battering ram was insistent, and it wasn’t long before the doors began to crack, and then to sag on their hinges. The Cleric attempted to Mend the doors as best he could, and while not fully repaired, he did manage to buy the team some time.

When they were sure that the drunken kobold procession had made a complete circuit around the temple, the team began launching refugees out the back door, through the smouldering fires, and into the forest behind the temple. One townsperson fell and cried out in pain and fear, but was quickly masked by the Bard’s Prestidigitation which muffled the shout as just another kobold bark.

The villagers made it out in time, but the procession was nearly back around to the rear of the temple at this point. The Ranger kept the villagers hidden in the forest, and the rest of the party took advantage of the lingering smoke and the cover of the temple itself to exit to the East, just as the procession was rounding the corner.

Since nothing is ever easy, their trip to the keep was interrupted by some last minute looters who intercepted the party, but who were dispatched with relative ease.

The villagers were relieved to be united with their families once inside the keep, but there was a new predicament. Something was happening outside the walls that was drawing everyone’s attention. Escobert and Nighthill and the players took the ramp to the parapets to find the invaders had assembled from around the village and were arrayed in front of the keep. Behind them sat the massive blue dragon who occasionally let out an ear splitting roar.

But it was the half-dragon champion that drew the attention. Backed by a retinue of 10 kobold guards, the champion called out for the keep to send out a champion of their own to meet him in one-on-one combat. To ensure compliance, he presented a woman and her three children as prisoners.

One of the guards on the wall recognized the woman has his sister, and rushed forth to face the half–dragon, but was restrained by the militia. Nighthill reluctantly asked the players if they would consider taking on this challenge, but understood if they were unwilling. Rather than send the Sergeant to his death, the Dwarven Fighter accepted the challenge and left the keep to face the half-dragon.

The enemy agreed to release the children immediately, but kept the woman hostage, vowing that any interference would result in her immediate death. With that, the battle began.

The Fighter charged the half-dragon, lobbing a throwing axe which only missed by a few inches. The half-dragon charged as well, replying with his spear that also missed. The two traded blows when they met, with the Fighter drawing first blood, but the half-dragon drew the last as the Dwarf fell beneath the half-dragon’s greatsword assault.

With the battle concluded, the half-dragon released the woman, the dragon took flight, and the invading forces dispersed, leaving the town of Greenest silent but ruined. The party and Escobert and his militia left the keep and were able to stabilize and resuscitate the Fighter, who earned a hero’s welcome within the fortification. The refugees relaxed; the invaders were leaving, and it was only a few hours until sunrise. The party was finally able to take their much needed rest, with further discussions to be had in the morning.

*   *   *

The “Sanctuary” mini-mission is supposedly the more difficult mission in the first episode of the module. The forces that the players have to deal with amount to a small army, and include a more advanced cultist overseeing the battering ram, and two attack drakes that are with the procession. While the module says that the players could take out the groups at both the front and back of the temple, this is really a situation that calls for patience and finesse.

The party debated a course of action for quite some time. The idea of opening the doors on an in-motion battering ram apparently came from The Seven Samurai, we were told, but the motion was shot down on the grounds that while the missing group at the rear of the temple was obscured by smoke, the procession would notice if the battering ram crew was absent, which might lead them to sober up and assault the temple.

The priest mentioned that there were catacombs beneath the temple, but that there was no other way out, and no way to secure the door from the crypt side (who would want to lock themselves in a crypt?). The only decision, the party decided, was to usher the people out the back and into the forest as quickly as possible (which is technically not the only option, but was by far the best option)

According to the module, the battering ram was supposed to hit anywhere between 15 and 30 seconds in order to keep pressure on the players to find a solution. Unfortunately, this group hasn’t quite reached the point of snap-decision making, so their leeway was lengthened to a whole three minutes per bang. They still “yelped” when the ram hit the door, though, several times exclaiming “we need to move!” The door has 30 HP, and each hit did 1d6 of damage; technically, the door could come down in that three minutes if the interval was 30 seconds. It could have increased the pressure, but it could also have caused a bloodbath that would have certainly gone bad for the players.

Once they decided to move the refugees out the back, I technically sent them out in groups of five, despite the fact that the players wanted them to move out in a continuous stream. The procession was moving at a speed of two minutes per side of the building, so game-wise, the refugees did stream out continuously, but moving 32 people anywhere, especially if they’re terrified, men, women, children, babies, and elderly, there’s a good chance someone might screw things up. Each group of 5 got a d20 roll, and on 10 or less, the group made it to the tree line without issue. 11 or greater and something happened. Thankfully, only one villager stumbled and cried out, but quick thinking masked the shout as just another crazed kobold yelp among many.

The half-dragon champion is the last mini mission in the episode, and is specifically designed to kill someone. If the players are reluctant to face the champion, then the Sergeant will go, as it’s his sister who is being held captive. If he were to go, he’d be dead-dead. If a player goes, the module actually expects that player to get stomped as well. Surprisingly, the Fighter managed to bring the champion down to exactly half his HP before he dealt the down-to-0-HP blow.

Nighthill offered the players 100gp each, a safe place to rest, and access to the town’s remaining resources for repair and replenishment. The cleric took it upon himself to haggle with Nighthill for more money, and despite initial protest that their town had just been ransacked for it’s valuables, agreed to take up a collection from the town to supplement their payment. The Cleric suggested they be granted some property in town, but I’m not sure whether he was serious or not.

We’re using the “level by episode” method rather than the individual XP tracking method because it’s cleaner; we don’t need to constantly update the character sheets (which gets messy when people aren’t paying attention that they’ve just earned the points) and because XP needed to level depends on XP granted which depends on the number of encounters and such, it’s possible that a lower number of encounters could put the players in a position where they’re not level appropriate for the content when they encounter it. Leveling by episode seems the better option for a published module where the design favors certain progression.

Thoughts on The Extra Life Experience

Extra Life 2014 is now unofficially over, order although it’s something that’s never really over. You can continue to donate and receive donations, pharmacy but I’d guess that the core draw for sponsors — the playing and watching of games, and the community effort over a 24 hour period — is winding down significantly.

I have to say, it was really fun! Nevermind that what we were doing — playing games — is what we’d have been doing anyway during the same time period. But our group, the Alliance of Awesome, is a kind of meta-group of people from other groups who interact on social media, mostly, but who often find our interests align in-game. Many members probably played alongside one another in the past without really knowing it, and with many of us being so transient about the games we play, the AofA is meant to widen the pool of people who are around that we can tap for mutual in-game support.

The team did fantastic during Extra Life, raising over $1700 for various children’s hospitals. Most of us were first timers and took it slow, carving out just a few hours of the 24 hour window to do our thing. I think it did well, but I wish there was a better technical support system in place to accommodate situations like this.

We used Hitbox, because Hitbox allows for anyone to create a team. A team is really just a page that aggregates the members for easy searching, and also shows you who’s live at the time, and where you can find their library of recorded videos. Ideally, you’d pass out your team’s URL so that anyone stopping by can pick a stream to watch, without having to pass viewers down the chain to the next streamer, and the next streamer, and so on.

Twitch, of course, has the mindshare for video game streaming, but the streamers need to have some kind of minimum viewership in order to form a team. I don’t understand the thought process behind that, though. What really sucks is that Twitch implemented their “sharing” mechanism which allows a streamer to feature another streamer on their channel when their channel is not in use. I don’t think it would alleviate the need to jump from channel to channel, but it could have been leveraged for something like displaying a schedule that’s replicated across the dormant channels.

Ideally, though, there’d be a mechanism that allows streamers to get together on one channel. This baffles me, really. How do none of these services allow for a merging of signal, or allow for multiple inputs from different remote sources? It’s not a technical limitation; I set up my own RTMP server, which is probably a much smaller version of what Twitch and Hitbox use, but I found a way to get several different signals into a single output. It would require some management tools on the server side — the display management that we use via OBS or XSplit would have to be ported to the web to allow for users to arrange the output to the channel — but I’m sure there are smarter folks than I who could make it happen. I suppose that these services are all about the individual branding and promotion, so allowing a non-standard rotation of people to show up on the channel would defeat that.

Still, a single channel with multiple streamers, even if they had to switch off use of the entire channel, could be quite an attractive prospect. We had people popping in and out of each other’s channels, with some folks showing up to watch and support when they could, but ducking out when they had real life responsibilities. I think it would have been a lot more convenient if there were one channel where everyone could hang out during the 24 hour period.

Maybe next year we can come up with an actual “team channel”, and agree to carve out blocks where the current streamer abdicates the channel for the next streamer. Or maybe I could get the RTMP server up and running, have people connect, and then someone (or someones) could be the “channel manager” to do the channel layout and composition. It might be a lot of work, but I think it’d be really cool to try, and could present a really united front from the team.

Corporate Guide To Social Media And Complacent Hashtivism

Here’s the first entry under the Writing category. It’s also a “working example” of the kind of post I’ll be putting under this category. 

In this case, ampoule I’m starting out with a description of something. Here, more about it’s social media and one way that it’s used. Because this is filed under the “Cyberpunk” subcategory, the second half is how this modern system is or could be used in the future, written almost in a “handbook of social media dos and don’ts from highly effective corporations” style. 

Again, this isn’t an endorsement or a condemnation of practices, but rather an interpretation of how — in this case — social media might evolve, from the perspective of a cyberpunk universe.

Social Media Now

One of the supposed benefits of social media is that it allows people to address entities larger then them, but also to aggregate their telepresence for a cause. Social media has given individuals the opportunity to broadcast their voices into a void, but to tie their posts together via links and hashtags so that what would otherwise be a single unheard voice merges together with thousands or millions of others in a show of force that is difficult to ignore.

Despite the various troubles that social media has (privacy concerns, pop culture irrelevance, harassment, etc), it is a democratic platform in both design and in purpose.

Social Media Later

The downside to this kind of hashtivism is that it’s only one step above doing nothing at all.

The history of organized movements dead-ended the day that the hashtag was born. Before our ability to reach everywhere on the back of a pound-symbol, human beings had to gather in public in order to make a significant statement. This ranged anywhere from peaceful sit-ins to unruly mobs, but getting on board for something required an effort, which meant that those who actually showed up were really serious about the situation.

Today, it takes almost zero effort to re-Tweet or to sign an online petition. It’s almost a throw-away action that can be done in less time than it takes for a commercial break. Anyone can claim themselves to be on-board with a movement if all it takes is no effort at all, but the best part is that everyone can see you doing it, thanks to the follows and re-Tweets that reach around the globe.

This is beneficial to concerned parties because a pile of Tweets does not an angry mob make, no matter how much sarcasm or profanity is involved. For a savvy organization, be it a corporation or a government,  proper management of hashtivism can make consumers and voters feel that they’re involved in a process by encouraging that they put as little effort into the process as possible.

There’s no guarantee that any hashtags or petitions actually reach anyone who is in any position to do anything about it, nor is there any reassurance that if the aggregated ire is seen by those who can act upon it, any action is taken. Managing the belief that “someone is listening” can be of great benefit to an organization or government because just having that perception that good is being done with a tap is enough to give people a “warm glow” that they’re helping without having to actually get involved with money or time.

The best way to do this is to ensure that the outcome of the campaign that hashtivists are aligning against is pre-determined, to provide a “honey-pot” campaign that ties up the efforts of organizers, or to simply inundate social media with so many false positives that their involvement becomes muddied and meaningless. In any case, the participants may either feel that they accomplished their goals, or they will simply “fire and forget their ire” as they return to their binge viewing and meme generation.

The A-Team

We had our weekly Dungeons & Dragons night last night, medicine and I will admit that was concerned in the run-up. My plan had been to retcon the previous session’s disaster, find returning the monk to life and converting the failed mercenary sub-plot to the resolution of “The Prisoner” section from the first chapter of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen. We’ve been in this chapter for several weeks now, and personally I was looking for a way to just end it. I had planned on running the final scenario, but things took an exciting turn.

First off, I reiterated what happened before the things that happened last: the players had “saved” half the mill, and had taken a prisoner back to the keep for interrogation. They took a short rest, and that’s where things needed the change. This time, Escobert and Nighthill approached the players camp to keep with information, to them in the loop.

Nighthill expressed his appreciation to the players, telling them that he knows that they got caught up in this dreadful situation, and have been awesome by putting their lives on the line to help out. Most importantly, he assured them that they’d be compensated for their time and effort.

Escobert relayed the tactical situation. The prisoner revealed that the cult’s plan was essentially to drive all the people from their homes to the keep through a “shock and awe” campaign of numbers and terror, which would allow them to ransack the village for all valuables they could carry. The soldier didn’t know why, exactly, the cult needed these valuables, except that it had something to do with a ritual they were planning. Escobert expressed his discomfort with this, because the cult had a camp only a day’s march away, and if this ritual needed an entire town’s worth of valuables to complete, chances are it wasn’t going to be limited to a local tea party. It could have dire ramifications for the whole region. On the bright side, they all learned that the cult would be moving on once they collected as much as they could, which could be anywhere from an hour to eight hours from that point. There was a light on the horizon, so they had a few options at this point. They could sit tight in the keep, wait it out, and hope that any villagers who weren’t inside the keep had found safety, or they could continue to attempt search and rescue missions in the town to bring people back to the fortress.

The players opted to keep fighting the good fight. Escobert mentioned that villagers might be holed up in basements, barns, or the temple to the southeast, since it’s the second largest building and also the second strongest building in town. I was super excited that the players picked the temple to go to out of other potential sorties because the temple is actually one of the missions in the first chapter! It’s also the most difficult mission in the first chapter.

The temple is surrounded by a low fence which only demarcates the property, so the players approached from the southwest to find the temple surrounded. At the front, a contingent of cultists and kobolds were trying to use a battering ram to knock down the front door. At the back, another set of cultists and kobolds were trying to smoke the villagers out by burning the back of the building, but were only successful in creating a large, low lying cloud of dark smoke. The worst part, however, was the massive parade of kobolds and cultists that were circling the temple like some kind of Forgotten Realms Mardi Gras, barking and hollering and rough-housing in either celebration of intimidation. With them were two squat, muscular attack drakes on harnesses…really nasty.

Shit got real when the players opted to wait until the procession moved to the far side of the building, at which point the party quickly and silently moved in, one by one, using the smoke to conceal their presence. The rolls had never been hotter, as I think only a single attack missed, and the kobolds and cultists in the smoke were cut down before they could get their bearings to mount a counter-attack.

Unfortunately, we had lost one player due to fatigue and technical difficulties, and another player had to leave the fray early. I was exceedingly pleased with how everything went, from the organic progression of the plot, to the rolls, to the speed with which the encounter was resolved (we didn’t use tactical this time), to the decision making process the players went though to quickly and decisively start what is certainly the most difficult encounter in the first chapter. I was sad that we had to close up shop so early, but it’ll give me a week to think on the rest of this encounter, because now the players have to find a way to get the villagers OUT of the temple while avoiding the literally dozens of cult members that are mere moments from bashing down the front doors.

A Slow Bumpy Ride Into Hell #DnD

I’m feeling less than pleased with how our Thursday night D&D sessions are going.

I’m finding that I’m not nearly as mentally agile as I need to be in order to run a game. The first and most important rule of DMing is “be flexible”, link because the DM isn’t dictating a story to the players; he’s providing a framework for the players, more about and is then responding to the actions of the players. In order to do that, a DM has to be able to present the setting, take the input, and return the results in a consistent and interesting way. It’s one part mechanical: you pull the lever, the door closes, and one part artistic: you pull the rusty lever with all your might, and suddenly the steel door slams shut with a clang, darkening the room. I can do the first one, but the second one is just not coming to me.

I thought that with the Hoard of the Dragon Queen module that 90% of the work would be done, and I could focus my preparation time on the other 10% of “flavoring” the framework. It’s turning out to be not that way. It’s been something like four or five sessions and we’re still in Greenest. I need to watch some recorded play-throughs from other people, but I’m pretty certain we’re way behind. It feels that the game has been nothing but combat, which is what I had hoped we could avoid (not combat, just combat all the time). Last week, I tried to send the players on a non-combat side-mission that I had created, but the players opted to skip it entirely until I forced them back to that track, and it ended with disastrous results.

When I step back and assess the way things are going, I’m getting a strong sense of deja vu about how things are playing out. The game is playing and is being played almost like a CRPG, where the computer provides limited and predictable content that the players can easily adapt to in ways that save them from having to inject any meaningful thought or presence. In a way, I DO blame our decades of online gaming for this; I think it’s difficult for all of us to think outside the box, to react as characters instead of reacting as people PLAYING characters, and to provide a sense of place and ownership using just the imagination. We’re all so used to limiting our understanding to telegraphs and ability rotations that we’ve lost interest or the ability to act and react within a world that we’re making up as we go along.

I’m not sure that the players are really having fun. I’m not sure that I’m really having fun. Combat is too frequent, and takes too much time (we’ve already broken the first edict NOT to use tactical combat, and I think we’re suffering for it). The role playing opportunities are being bypassed either because they’re not recognized, not interesting, ill-prepared, or just because of standard meta-game thinking. At this point, I’m ready to conclude Episode One just to see if Episode Two is tighter and easier to focus on than the “choose your own adventure” potpourri that is Episode One.

Throwdown: Elite: Dangerous Versus Star Citizen

Disclaimer: Yeah, web I know neither is finished. Yeah, I know there’s a lot left to do on both. This is a casual overview of what I personally feel about the two games after having spent some time with each this past weekend. 

Everything is cyclical. We suffered through a “Woodstock 2”, and some weird fascination with the 1980’s, and now that kids born in the 90’s are getting older, I suspect that we’ll have a revival of…eh…what did we get from the 90’s, exactly?

So goes video games. We’ve gotten revivals of adventure games, plaformers, and other early concepts that were only cool back then because it was the best technology could do. It seems that the next big new wave (see what I did there?) of resurgence is the space simulator genre, because aside from Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous, there’s a lot of other spaceship cowboy games out there like Starpoint Gemini 2 and Entropy and more in the X series of games, among others.

Both SC and E:D have important pedigrees. SC is from Chris Roberts, who basically defined what we have come to expect from space sims, thanks to Wing Commander. Although Wing Commander might be considered to be THE reason early gamers shelled out hundreds of dollars for a CD ROM drive, the game wouldn’t exist if not for Elite, a seriously old school black-and-white wire-frame “3D” space sim and trading game from David Braben and Ian Bell. That each of these games are (more or less) coming back to the fore with a vengeance is good for the suffering space sim fan, but because the Internet demands the best, we’re forced to ask: which one is better?

Ohhhh…Loaded words, those. “Better” is subjective. I can only give you my point of view here, based on my experiences with each. I’d advise you to put your grimy hands on each (which I assume you have done if you’re a space sim fan, or are looking forward to doing otherwise) and make up your own mind.

Star Citizen

Even if you’re not a space sim fan, you probably know about Star Citizenalthough you could be mistaken in thinking that Robert’s was trying to build a Death Star based on the amount of money he’s pulled into to fuel this (some would say stupidly) ambitious project.

SC is actually one half of a whole: There’s Star Citizenthe “MMO-esque” online space sim universe, and Squadron 42, which we’re told will be a single-player or co-op experience (think Borderlands). Right now, Cloud Imperium (the developer, not an in-game faction) has released bits of the product to backers and early adopters, starting with an interactive hangar, and currently with Arena Commander.

Arena Commander allows backers who have supported the project at certain levels to get into their ship (or a loaner ship) and fly around, shooting drones or other players in “arena” combat. There’s also a free-roam scenario if you just want to get the feel for piloting without stress.

One of the technical selling points of SC is how their ship design and the physics model interact. As you maneuver your ship, rather than just applying the physics to the ship as a whole, maneuvering thrusters on the ship are used to actively push the ship in the desired direction. This can lead to scenarios where damage to your ship could prevent your thrusters from working, thereby causing you navigational issues. It’s a pretty cool feature that I’m sure will lead to a lot of swearing from players when they can only spin in place because they lost most of their maneuverability. Another mechanic tied to maneuvering is “G-forces”. If you accelerate too fast, too quickly, your camera starts to gray out, and if you sustain this state for too long, you can black out. While I appreciate the “realism” of this specific mechanic, I’m not entirely sure if I care for it. But we are talking about a game that forces you to open the hatch of your ship, climb a ladder, walk to your command chair, and activate the ship before you can actually play, so I guess modeling the whole experience is part of what we agreed to when we bought into this project.

I found Star Citizen to be the easier to control of the two games, and although it might be my atrophied skill with a flight stick, I found it a lot better to use the keyboard and mouse. The flight mechanics seemed to be well done at this point. I wasn’t always sure about speed, though; My speed seemed to change from where I swear I had left it. Might be due to the damage conditions I mentioned above, though, which would be really cool.

Using weapons is intuitive. You lead the target by firing at the boxes that extend in front of it, although there were two boxes, labeled 1 and 2, with no explanation of difference noted in the game itself. Your primary weapons are neigh unlimited, and your secondary weapons (on the Origin 300i that I have) have a much lower RoF and are, I assume, more powerful for it. Missiles require a lock on by clicking the mouse wheel, and the clicking again fires the missile. Since 90% of what you need for basic flight sits on the mouse, it’s really easy to get flying with Star Citizen.

One thing that I’m not a fan of is the overall simplicity of the game. However, this is Arena Commander. It’s an “arcade shooter” with some additional mechanics thrown in. It’s not supposed to be more than it currently is. You launch, find your targets, and engage. End of story. I already mentioned the black-out mechanic, but I’ll reiterate that I’m not a fan. I’m also not a fan of abysmal load times. I had issues installing the game, first off, with download speeds reported in the kilobytes for a seventeen gigabyte product. The game itself also takes a long time to load. Again, it’s a WiP, so I’m not going to say “fuck it” and chuck the…media I don’t have…out the window.

Elite: Dangerous

I was on the fence about Elite: Dangerous for a while. I had backed SC during it’s Kickstarter phase, and thought that it’s ambition would be enough to satisfy my Wing Commander slash Freelancer (both Chris Roberts products, BTW) cravings. Then I saw a video in which the player had to actually land his ship, complete with landing gear and everything, and realized that I needed this game. I bought the Mercenary Edition pre-order, but over the weekend I upgraded to the pre-release Beta Access tier so I could play the game as it stands.

I never played the original Elite. I think in 1984 I was on the Commodore 64 playing mostly RPGs. It wasn’t until the late 80’s when a friend bought a Tandy 386 that I looked at simulations like MechWarrior and Wing Commander. I had another friend who was really into the hardcore sims like flight simulators and military wargames, but I couldn’t even lift those manuals let alone keep all the jargon straight. The late-model sims I played had just enough keyboard commands (via keyboard overlays!) to keep me feeling like I was pushing buttons and flipping switches, but not so many that it was all I was doing.

But this genre kind of fell out of favor as gaming transitioned to an almost all console, all the time market, where you had to be able to do everything with just four buttons, a D-pad, and two thumb-sticks. Using a complex series of button and trigger combos, sim games could be played, but to me, part of the “simulation” nomenclature means having a certain feeling of complexity that comes from replicating the mundane as well as the exciting, and playing DDR with your thumbs and fingers doesn’t have the same resonance as flying your hands over your keyboard does.

Like SC, there’s two components to E:D, an online massive universe (I mean, massive — supposedly there will be 400 billion stars to visit) where you have to suffer…I mean, play…with other people, and a solo component where you can play alone or in a “group” where, from what I understand as I read it, allows you to play exclusively with your friends, a la Freelancer.

E:D‘s flying seems a bit more complex than SC‘s. One benefit is that my Thrustmaster T.Flight HOTAS X is recognized as a pre-mapped input device (unlike in SC) and all of the buttons are more or less spoken for. However, the controls default to some weird combos. Pitch is forward and back, roll is side to side, and yaw is either twisting the stick, or using the rocker on the throttle control. However, it doesn’t feel right in this configuration, for some reason. This threw me off because I wasn’t able to effectively steer using the stick, which was made all the more difficult when trying to align myself to the small entrance to the station that was constantly rotating. I re-mapped the yaw to the X-axis and the roll to the twist/rocker, and I think that feels better.

One benefit, though, is that you can opt to have the game present a “pre-flight checklist” before you leave the station. This is an actual checklist that has you activate each of the items listed. You have an entry for each button action, and when you hit that button, you get a check-mark. Only when everything is checked can you leave the station. It’s a good sanity check for when you return to the game after absence, or need to get used to the control schema.

You have to actually raise and lower your landing gear. Hardcore! When you leave the station, you need to fly through the station’s aperture to leave, and again when you land. You can (and will) encounter traffic trying to use the exit in the opposite direction (word on the street is that griefers in the online version are making sure you know this fact). When landing, you need to go to the proper platform, lower your gear, and actually land on the platform before the magnetic locks take over and put you on the ground. When you leave a station, fly near a sun or planet or other object, you have “mass locking”, which is gravity that prevents you from using your jump drives. Just fly away far enough, and you’re golden.

Jumping between system is either wonky, or I just don’t understand it. There’s two phases: the initial in-system jump, and then the between system jump. You travel between PoI in a system using the first, and between solar systems using the second. Each takes fuel (I believe), so you need to find a station and top off if you have to make long trips. I’ve frequently overshot destinations (when I could find them) and I really don’t understand what the UI is telling me (“slow down” is both descriptive and vague at the same time) or what I need to do in order to get to where I need to be. I do love this mechanic, though, as it reminds me of — once again — Freelancer, which my friends and I ran a server for, and played to death.

Combat is a little more frustrating than in SC, mainly because of the controls. I’m finding that personally, I’m having a harder time lining up shots, although the above-board availability of three axes of movement allows me move around objects like asteroids with ease. I was totally destroyed with consistency in the combat tutorials, though the death sequences are really nice: shields down, your cockpit takes gradual damage with the canopy developing cracks, until you take enough damage to explode. Thrilling!

Right now, E:D is further along in development than SC, which is frustrating for SC because I think E:D has less money, and went to Kickstarter after SC did. So they’ve done more at this point with less. You can take missions, transport and bounty, and even do some free-trading by picking up goods at a station for a low price, and then selling them for a high price at another station. There’s contraband (complete with police scanning your ship) and black market goods. Ships can be upgraded, and new ships can be bought. I haven’t gotten to that point yet, though I have done a few between-system delivery missions for easy cash.

Who Wins?

Right now, I prefer Elite: Dangerous because it’s more of “a game” than just an arena. But that’s not the whole story, because if we look at the road map for both SC and E:D, they have really similar ambitions, down to the potential for first person, out-of-ship action on planets and stations. I think maybe E:D has a better chance at appealing to the explorer mindset, as 400 billion systems is just an opportunity too great to ignore, while SC will appeal to fans of more traditional MMO-style “action and bravado” gameplay. I also think that E:D might appeal more to fans of EVE Online who want a first-person EVE experience, but I can’t articulate why I feel that way.

If you want the more complete experience right now, I’d suggest Elite: Dangerous because it’s further along. However, if you don’t want to spend the $75 USD for the beta, you can probably get into Star Citizen for less and get your ship exploding fix just the same. In the long run, however, it’ll require another look at both, side by side, to see if either one comes out on top.