Hoard of the Dragon Queen Session 1 #DnD5E #HotDQ #AdventureCo

We had our first night with the new Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition rules last night, web and overall things went well. You can expect a write-up over at West Karana in the near future, but I’d like to numerate the perspective from the DM side here.

Note: This post may contains spoilers for those who haven’t played the Hoard of the Dragon Queen module. I’m only doing recaps to the points we reach during our sessions, so if your party is ahead of ours, read on. If not, then proceed at your own risk.

The Intro

As I wrote earlier, I concocted a story on how the players met up. The HotDQ opened with the caravan cresting the rise outside of Greenest, only to find it on fire, under assault, and under aerial surveillance by a large blue dragon. The caravan opted to beat cheeks in the opposite direction, but the players — in true heroic fashion — opted to run towards danger.

The module is very keen on ensuring that the players understand that the town is pretty much intact, but chock full of kobold and human invaders. The result is supposed to be that the players should exercise caution when moving through the town, as the invaders are everywhere, and the chances of running into an enemy party are pretty high. If players opt to just walk in to town, there’s a higher chance of getting into a fight than there is if they opt to sneak into town.

These players went right down the middle: they didn’t walk down the street, but they didn’t bother to hide. Instead, they crept through the forest. Although using stealth would have made them less likely to be seen, I partly opted to acquiesce to the idea that at night, it’s difficult to see into a heavily wooded area. Even kobolds with darkvision would have problems, since the woods are on the periphery of the town, and the town is alight with burning buildings. The result were fewer chance encounter rolls that were required for the “strolling down Main Street” approach.

Costume Party

While in the forest, the party bard — in what can only be described as the weirdest episode of precognition ever — remembered that she had a “kobold costume” in her pack. Being an entertainer means never having to explain your weird inventory, so she donned the costume and flagged down some passing kobolds while the rest of the party hung back in the woods. This diversion allowed the party ranger to put an arrow through the face of one of the kobolds, and although still far off, the party managed to take out two other kobolds and a human mercenary without issue.

This was a totally ad-hoc encounter, and had a few issues (all my fault). First, the kobold costume should not have worked. Had the encounter been with a group of humans, it would have been excused. But kobolds A) have darkvision, so up-close they could probably have seen something was weird, and B) kobolds are dragon-dog-creature-things; they should have been able to catch the scent of this “kobold” and been on immediate defense. Second, the encounter was way too easy. 3/5 of the party never really made it into the fray: two kobolds were killed at range, the human was cleaved in two with a battleaxe, and the last kobold…he was charmed, and was subsequently gutted without a fight. The problem here was that A) I didn’t play “the situation” properly, because with so many invaders, the kobolds should have detected the ruse, gone defensive, and flagged down more kobolds to reinforce them, and B) the kobolds and their human mercenary flubbed all of their rolls, and went down like a balsa-wood houses in a wind storm. I’m going to chalk this one up to hindsight, but I’m putting myself on notice: think more about reactions of the NPCs, and less about coming to grips with the wacky solutions players are coming up with.

Smooth Get-Away

One of the pivotal encounters the players run into early is a family that’s fleeing a party of eight kobolds. There are three kids, a wounded father, and a mother with a spear. The module says that the mother will stand her ground in sight of the players, as the kobolds close in.

This didn’t go according to any decent plan. The module states that it’s entirely possible (actually, probable) that the kobolds will see the players and assume they’re mercenaries on their side, hence ignoring them. The players can totally bluff the kobolds that this is true, allowing them to close the distance and gain Surprise for their attack. What happened, however, was that the players got trigger-happy and wanted to immediately open fire on the kobold party without taking the opportunity to realize the situation as an opportunity to position themselves for a significantly quicker take-down. I made matters worse by having the kobolds attempt to interact with the players by telling them to get lost. The kobolds were covetous of their potential victory, and didn’t want these mercenaries to interfere. The players shot back with a story about how this woman killed one of their comrades, which gave them the right to the kill. And the kobolds bought that…for some reason.

The problem is that this went off totally without verification, and without ramification. No dice were rolled to see if the kobolds believed the players; it made total sense — in some off-the-cuff kobold sociology terms — that there’s some kind of hierarchy in who gets to engage, based on grudges or something. I don’t know if that’s in-line with kobold societal lore, but I guess it is now. In hindsight, the kobolds should have just waved to the players, and then encircled the woman and her family, blatantly ignoring the players in a show of “we think you’re on our side”, allowing players to gain Surprise when they attack.

The result is that the woman and her family now thought the players were actually in league with the kobolds. Since the players didn’t make any actual threatening moves, the family bolted across the field towards the keep. The players followed at a respectable distance, but the “hook” that should have logically allowed them all to travel into the keep under the protection of a known villager turned into an awkward situation where the family ran inside, and the players crept closer, waiting to see if they’d get attacked by the archers on the walls. Because they needed to get into the keep, the archers (silently) made the assessment that this party didn’t look anything like any of the other marauders, so “what could possibly go wrong” by letting them into the keep. Ugh.

What Went Wrong

A few things could have gone better.

  1. It was our initial session, so we spent a lot of time getting a feel for the game, it’s rules, and our decisions. We opted to go with a more “cinematic” combat style over the tactical style, which turned out to be pretty good and well received. But it also resulted in some stumbling as we had to do look-ups and verification for items, spells, and activities. Standard stuff, and we’ll all get better at it
  2. We had a lot of fun playing, but I think we had too much fun. There was a lot of joking and fooling around, and while the point of playing is to have fun, I think the level of comedy was too high to allow the game to move at a pace that would have allowed for more gameplay opportunity.
  3. I made several bad decisions. The kobold costume shouldn’t have worked, and the attack on the family should have presented the players with an opportunity to take out the kobolds quickly, earn the trust of the family, and get them into the keep without the uneasy fudge that was applied.

What Went Well

  1. The 5e rules are a lot more streamlined than the 4e rules. Having a move and an action makes things happen quicker, giving everyone an opportunity to get their turn in before they get to bored.
  2. The party composition seems pretty solid. There haven’t been any opportunities for individuals to really use their characters to their full potential yet, but hopefully once folks settle in a get comfortable with their characters, they’ll find creative ways to express their classes for the good of the party.
  3. I did a little bit of pre-loading — maps into Roll20, index cards for creatures so I didn’t have to flip to pages with stats, notes on certain rolls and situations — which helped a lot, but I realize I’ll need to step up the organization for the next session to help with those on-the-fly situations that I’m not really that good at.

The Shame Of Losing And The Cult Of Winning

Here in the West, cost specifically in the U.S., viagra 40mg we value winning over pretty much anything. In any contest — sports, academic, military, and even social situations — the trajectory of progress is linear: keep your eyes on the goal, full steam ahead, and don’t let anything get in your way.

That’s what competition is about, after all. Why play if you’re not out to win? Why would you pay money to see a movie if you just plan on falling asleep? Winning at something isn’t really at issue here. Winning, coming out ahead, achieving first place…all inherently noble goals that under perfect conditions push us to do our very best and, failing that, make us want to learn more, train harder, and try again.

Trying again isn’t always an option, though, and that’s the problem. Our culture is so winning-oriented that we have effectively removed all benefit from failure. It’s become a dirty word, and a mark of shame. “You failed”. “You are a failure”. It’s one of the worst sitgma a person has to live with in modern Western society.

On one hand, we lionize winning. Our culture is seeped in messages that winning is everything: “win big or go home”. “Second place is first loser”. All sporting equipment is sold with the promise that it’ll catapult you into the winner’s circle. Watch any championship broadcast and you’ll see orchestrated images of happy winners and dejected losers. Even in the niche realm of PC components aimed at video game enthusiasts, you’ll see ads from manufacturers extorting how their products will allow you to “dominate” and “destroy your competition”.

Failure, then, is no longer defined as the position earned when the other guy did better than you. It’s now viewed as not having measured up, or that you weren’t good enough. Losers are shamed in this environment; it’s not even good enough to win. The amount of accolades a winner receives is directly related to how brutally they bury their opponent. The goal isn’t just to compete, but to brutally massacre the competition to the point where they can’t even rise again to demand a rematch.

It’d be one thing is we were just talking about sports here. After all, we’re a species that figured that putting guys with swords in an arena qualified as a “sport”, so in the Big Picture, creative camera work that highlights the happy winners and weeping losers is pretty benign. Here in the West, when winning means everything, it manages to infiltrate all kinds of places where there shouldn’t be any competition, and where there normally is, it elevates that competition to the level of a bloodsport.

The biggest ramification that I see is that it drives people apart. Everything becomes about winning, and about being right. It means that we can’t have discussions on important topics because each of us has closely held beliefs that we need to defend at all costs. Any potential point of view that could alter our personal world view would prove not that we were not right isn’t seen as an opportunity to expand our world view, but that we lost an argument and that we were wrong.

Being wrong is just as bad as losing in modern society, and the only way we can “be wrong” is if someone else is “right”, and only if both parties (if not more) are aware of it. That results in a social showdown in which one person gets to do a victory dance while the other looks foolish. On the Internet, this is magnified exponentially, and it never ever goes away. Our loss becomes institutionalized in Google’s cached page system, on Facebook, or other social network. So people do everything they can to minimize their chances of looking foolish and being branded a loser by not engaging in discussion, or, if they are pulled into it (willfully or not), the fangs come out and it’s a take-no-prisoners brawl which won’t end until one participant stomps the other into the virtual dirt.

So what are we really losing by demonizing losing? In an ideal world, the outcome of a competition isn’t the extreme polar opposite of winners and losers. It’s most honest representation is a sprint: two runners on parallel tracks, neck and neck, until one pulls ahead of the other. The loser didn’t lose because he or she wasn’t good enough; they lost because the winner was just a bit better. And there’s nothing that says that winning erases poor performance early in the game. Sometimes winning is done in the last moments of the competition, in a “come from behind” style victory we always appreciate. The point is, a winner is only the person who pushed ahead at the last minute. Before that, there’s no guarantee that the guy who’s ahead will win, or the guy who’s behind will lose.

The main benefit of losing is that we get to learn from our mistakes. In sports, performance is a big deal, and athletes take it seriously. They review hours and hours of past performance for both themselves and their competition. They learn from what they did wrong, and what their opponents did wrong, and they try and do better. This is what we miss out on when losing is equated with shame, and when the purpose of winning is to destroy the opposition so that they can’t come back and try again.

Outside of sports, though, one thing that not allowing dignity in losing is honesty. People will go to great lengths to cover the shame of losing by redirecting blame, or doubling their efforts to find an equally or more devastating attack on their opponent that will turn the tides. We aren’t allowed to own up to our mistakes because it makes us look weak and imperfect. When trying to project a persona (especially online to impress, or in politics), we can’t have any flaws. We have an idea that people will only accept us as superhuman constructs that can do no wrong. On the other hand, we’re horrified when we find out that these personas are actually human after all, as if we didn’t consciously know that already.

Most of the arguing on the Internet comes from this unfortunate situation. Being right is valued so much that being wrong is treated like a crime simply so the “winner” can feel superior and appear intelligent in front of strangers in an attempt to gain a virtual pat on the back and acknowledgement that they’re someone with good ideas and above-average intellect. By punishing the loser in a public forum, the winner shows that he’s someone you don’t want to mess with when it comes to arguing on the Internet, because he’ll destroy you and make you look stupid. It’s the modern day equivalent of kicking sand in someone’s face at the beach.

Adventure Co. Rides Again #dnd #dnd5e

The Adventure Co. is proud to announce the release of Adventure Co. Brand Adventure Company, ed Version 2.0 (formerly known by the code name Asbestos).

This season, about it we have a full roster of five intrepid souls who will be gathering before venturing forth for parts unknown, seeking adventure where it hides, and making their own when things are a little slow at the office.

The barreling freight train that is Dungeons & Dragons V, or the “5E” as it’s known on the street, is difficult to avoid. Although I was leaning towards Pathfinder originally, several factors contributed to the fact that we’ll be using the spankin’ new D&D:

  1. It’s new
  2. I bought the PHB, so I need to justify that purchase
  3. Just kidding, because the basic rules are free, and that covers most of the meat of the game, such as how to play, and character creation.
  4. It’s a hell of a lot more streamlined than Pathfinder
  5. I bought the initial adventure module, Hoard of the Dragon Queen, which should take about a year to complete.

In response to my previous post in which I asked a lot of questions (and thanks, folks, for taking the time to answer them here and elsewhere), here’s the game plan going forward:

  1. D&D 5E it is. Although I’d recommend buying the PHB (I found mine at Barnes & Nobel for 20% with their membership card) due to the completeness of it’s material for a player, the quick start rules (linked above) will allow you to create a character and get a general feel for the new systems in the game, like Advantage/Disadvantage and other cool stuff.
  2. We’ll be using the Hoard of the Dragon Queen because it’s designed for levels 1-8, and removes the ramp-up time needed to create something from scratch. It should be well balanced and fun to play, with all the typical D&D-y type stuff we know and love.
  3. Because 5E is decidedly untactical, I believe the only features we need in an online space are voice and a way to share images. That makes Roll20.net the Official Virtual Tabletop of Adventure Co. Brand Adventure Company, Version 2.0 (formerly know by the code name Asbestos). R20 has VoIP and webcam support (cam is really optional, and I think you can turn it off individually) as well as the ability to load in images like maps. The maps will be mostly for informational purposes, and not for tactical gameplay, although there might be times when tokens are used just to provide info.
  4. It seems that weekly, Thursday nights around 9PM Eastern is the best time for folks, so we’ll aim for that. As before, we can close the night by ensuring that the next Thursday is good for everyone, and if not, finding an alternative night for the next week that might work better (Thursday will be the “home” night that we’ll default to, in any case).
  5. I’d like to have an online version of the character sheets, simply because of the way passive abilities work (a flat 10 + applicable bonuses). As the DM would be rolling those passives and handing out info, having people’s sheets handy would be massively beneficial. However, I haven’t found a decent online sheet.
  6. In AC1.0, the group’s scribe (Tipa) kept a log of the adventure on her blog, which was both informative and entertaining. I floated the option of using Obsidian Portal for a similar purpose, as it has space for player logs (recaps), very rudimentary character sheets, document library (for storing images), and also a forum. In order to facilitate between-game communications when necessary, I like the idea of using OP’s forums, although any ideas for alternatives are welcome. We also used G+, but I don’t know if everyone is/willing to be there.

I think that’s it for now. In the meanwhile, study up on the PHB or the basic rules PDF. If desired, we can convene for an initial online meeting on an upcoming Thursday to work on character creation. I’d really like to have people go the distance when creating characters, especially with the new focus on “creating the character” over “assigning numbers”, because the RP elements assigned to the character, and the Inspiration system, will help make the game more personal for each player.

So You Want To RP-A-G? A Few Questions For Those Interested

I’ve been cooking up a small intro adventure that a new group can stumble through. It’s literally a stumble-through adventure: short, cost light on story, order but serves two important purposes. First, see it gets people together to hash out characters and back stories and to learn the ropes of the game system and how to play together. Second, although the adventure isn’t really anything to scribe home about, I’ve got a really decent idea of how it’ll open doors for further adventures.

The Call To Arms

Want to play? Many do! Sadly, I think the limit for participation will have to be capped at 5 people, max. Maybe six, if that was all who expressed interest, but as of right now, I have three pretty sure buy-ins, one fringe interest, and some other rubbernecks who have responded to a general shout-out this afternoon, and that’s only on one social network that’s been kind of slow today.

In the interest of getting on the same page (and helping folks decide, and helping me help you, etc), I wanted to put forth what I have been thinking about, and collect info on what works for people.

1. System

I’ve been leaning towards Pathfinder because A) a lot of people like it, and B) it’s free! But the setting doesn’t really much matter to me, personally. I know some people love/hate D&D 4E. The 5E PHB was just released (don’t have it yet, myself), but lacks DM and monster info.

There are other systems as well. My current idea is rather high-fantasy focused, but if people had a burning desire to really play another system, concessions could be made. It’d have to be back-to-the-drawing-board time, however, to come up with new materials.

If you’re interested in playing, what system would you like to use? Which system would you NOT like to use?

2. Venue

The “how” is probably the second first most important question.

We’ve played with Fantasy Grounds and R0ll20. Both are great tools. FG is normally pay-to-play, but I have the Ultimate License which allows the “demo” version to connect to my server and play like a paid version, so folks would just need to download and install it. Roll20 is, of course, web-based, with built in VoIP and webcam support. Both systems allow for handout sharing and drawing. Roll20 is pretty free-wheeling while FG has some pretty robust tools that help streamline the numbers game.

I personally prefer to play this round as non-tactical as possible, returning to the days of “making shit up” and not worrying so much about drawing out encounters by worrying about where you are exactly on the map. Maps will be used, but primarily to give folks an idea of what a room looks like, or as something that can be pointed to when saying “I move here”, or to give really vague ideas of how many things remain to be killed.

I’m also looking at Obsidian Portal as the “official” record-keeper of the game. Having a player log and an institutionalized recap is pretty new to me, but I’ve looked through stuff that people have done on the site, and it’s pretty intriguing. OP allows players to keep their own notes and recaps, enter their characters, and to have discussions during, before, and after the game. And it allows the DM to load up the wiki with lore and important information that “fleshes out” the game world.

What “venues” would you prefer/be willing to use? Which venues would you like to avoid?

3. Scheduling

Plain and simple: What kind of schedule can people pull off? We had previously played one night per week, but we’re adults and have lives and responsibilities and sometimes even once a week is asking a lot. We should, however, make a decent effort to not commit to a “seat of the pants” style game, in order to maintain momentum and to keep last session’s knowledge somewhat fresh in our minds.

What would work for you in terms of scheduling, days and times?

If you’re interested in joining the Adventure Co., Brand Adventuring Company, please shout out in the comments, ping me on Twittah, or leave a comment in the vile cesspool that is Google Plus. Ideally, you’d comment here and answer the above questions, so we can get a good idea of what people are looking for, where, and when we can find it.

Questions For the DM Community #RPG

Some Background

I’m an organization freak when it comes to working on my RPG stuff. As much as I like the old school method of pen and paper, look the convenience of electronic formats really can’t be beat. There’s a few tools out there that I’ve used from a DM perspective, health like Fantasy Grounds and Obsidian Portal, ailment but they were either installable apps or didn’t cater specifically to the DM planning process.

This project is a website which will focus on allowing DMs to plan and write up their campaigns and adventures, to run them from the site, and to share them with the community.

Where It’s At Right Now

I’ve got the user registration/login/logout/profile stuff working, although there’s some gaps. It’s got enough to get people into the system, although it’s not pretty. The next step in this rapid-fire development scheme is to allow users to create their campaigns, modules, and pages so I have more data to work with.

Thing is, I know what I think I should have when working on these elements in a finished product, but that’s not necessarily what others would consider necessary when working with these elements. So I’ve got some questions for the DM community (regardless of whether or not you see value in a project like this) that will help in creating this tool.

Right now, I’m looking for input on defining the campaign, module, and page.

Planned Organization Scheme

The current plan for the tool is to organize data in a Campaign > Module > Page hierarchy. A Campaign is like an overarching event, or even a game world. Modules are individual adventures that take place within that arc or world. Pages are the “scenes” within an adventure (Kobold cave, chase through the market square, etc).

Ancillary to that will be data buckets, created at the campaign level, for Handouts, NPCs, Maps, Treasure Parcels, and Encounters. Once these ancillary items are defined, they can be assigned to the Pages where they are used. They can be re-used on as many pages as needed.

Questions for DMs

Since the idea for this DM tool is to put it out there for people to use, I figure that the best way to pique folk’s interest is to get feedback from folks whom I hope will consider using the tool when it’s launched. If you’re a DM (of any game system), please take a few minutes to drop a line in the comments about these questions:

  1. If you had to summarize an original Campaign you were creating, what info would you expect to provide (Title, synopsis, etc)?
  2. What kind of info would you use to define a Module?
  3. What kind of info would you need when working on a “scene” or “area” Page?

In Other News: Finding a Home

To be honest, I thought the “code name” I’ve been working under would be pretty good for the site, which means I would be almost guaranteed that the domain name would be taken.

Turns out, it’s not! But I’m not going to reveal it until I can get the cash to buy it, so some random jerk doesn’t swoop in an snag it before I get there.

In the meanwhile, I’m considering setting up a dedicated site for this project, since it’s moving at a pace that provides me a lot of things to talk about, and because this is technically a video game blog. If I opt for this route, I’ll register the domain, then create a new site under that URL for the time being, until the site is ready for public testing.

Bonus Round: Virtual Audio And OBS

Last night I jumped into TeamSpeak to find Blamefulgecko hanging out in the lobby. I warned him that I was going to start streaming some Final Fantasy XIV, shop and that any conversations we might have would end up being broadcast to the world (and by world I mean myself, as my monitoring of the channel was the only registered viewer).

Turns out my voice was just fine on the recording, but Blame’s was almost inaudible. Technically, this was a “good thing”, as it kind of means that I can be in a channel with someone and they can yell all they want and they won’t be heard in the stream. But on another hand, it might be cool to hear what other people are talking about. Come for the game, stay for the colorful commentary, as it were.

This was a dark path to turn to, because it involves installing…virtual audio cables. Let’s discuss.

What the F**k is a Virtual Audio Cable?

It’s what it sounds like: a virtual audio cable. Normally, your sound is routed from it’s source — a game, or TeamSpeak — to a destination — your desktop speakers, or OBS — via Windows Audio or dedicated drivers. The source usually just uses whatever is marked as “default output” in your audio properties, although TS allows you to route output to any qualified device driver. OBS, in turn, can pick up any qualified device driver to receive.

The problem is that you, the user, have very limited control over this. You can pick an output path from one side, and an input path from another, and that’s about it.

A virtual audio cable is just another path, but it allows you to circumvent the usual path. Why, you ask? This will allow you to free up the usual path for other audio, and gives you more control.

The Free And Easy Path Of VoiceMeeter



In looking at VAC’s, I happened across an app called VoiceMeeter. This gem is a virtual mixing board, which turned out to be almost exactly what I wanted.

VM has three inputs, and two outputs. Two of the inputs are physical, like two headsets or a headset and a webcam mic, connected to the same PC. The third input is virtual, which means “software”. This would be your desktop audio player or TeamSpeak. The outputs consist of one physical, like a headset or desktop speakers, and one virtual, which is a source that an app like OBS can use for its input stream.

I mean, that pretty much sums it up right there.


After installing VM, I rebooted all audio using apps. In VM, I set the first physical input to be my Pysko headset mic (aka High Definition Device). I didn’t want a second physical input, so that was blank. The virtual input was set to the ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) option, which is just a general sound card driver, and the only option I had.


Teamspeak settings

Next, I set the A channel output to be Creative ASIO, which is kind of a default, and the source of contention which we’ll get to later. I set the B channel to use the Psyko headset.

In TeamSpeak, I set the Playback Playback Device to use the new VoiceMeeter Input, which tells TS to send it’s output to VM’s virtual channel.


OBS settings

In OBS, I set the Microphone/Auxilary Audio Device to use the VoiceMeeter Output, which tells OBS to receive it’s audio from VM’s virtual channel.

The idea, then, is that TS’s audio — other people — will mix with my headset mic through VM, which outputs the audio through a virtual channel and into OBS’s microphone input channel. Ideally, everyone who talks on TS will have their voices merged with my microphone voice, and that mix will be broadcast to the world.

We Do Not Welcome Your Feedback

The thing is, it worked great! The setup achieved everything that I had hoped to achieve. But there was a slight — yet still annoying — issue.

I like to have my chat audio in the headset, and my game audio through the desktop speakers. I couldn’t achieve this. Now, my own voice was piped through the headset, and the TS audio was piped through the headset and the desktop. When playing a game, that would mix the game audio with voice chat, which is unacceptable.

believe the issue is with the ASIO driver. From what I can gather, this is a generic driver that is used by many things. When selecting ASIO as a physical output, it outputs to all ASIO-using devices. For me, this is the headset and the desktop system. So when everything is routed to the ASIO output, it’ll ooze out of any ASIO connected device. I’ve found that I can mute my own headset so I don’t have to listen to myself, but I can’t stop the TeamSpeak audio from broadcasting through two devices.


I don’t know if what I’m trying to do here is actually worth the issues. For one, it’s simply to give stream viewers something additional to listen to, which takes the burden off of me to provide a running commentary. On the other hand, it’s not always a given that folks in TS are going to want to be part of the stream. Another alternative, I suppose, is to have one physical mic for TS (the headset), and one physical mic for the stream (a webcam). This would sound strange to viewers of the stream, since they’d hear me responding to people that they can’t hear, but it would provide maximum anonymity for TS users who don’t want to be heard on screen.

Guardians of the Blockbuster

So back when Guardians of the Galaxy was first announced via trailer, prostate I looked at it and said to myself: “What the fuck is this?” I’m admittedly not a back-catalog comic person; my specialization is in video games, generic which means most of my comic book franchise knowledge comes from games and any movies that get decent recommendations. That put GotG way out of my sphere of knowledge.

The movie looked a bit too weird. It had a sentient tree, sildenafil a talking raccoon, and was way more sci-fi than the general public is used to. Most of what passes for sci-fi these days is mostly a technological veneer slapped over a heavy allegory for trials and tribulations of humanity, but this movie was 200% pure unadulterated science fucking fiction. I thought that it might be too out there for general consumption.

Holy shit was I wrong. I’m not a pop-culture barometer by any stretch, but it seems to me that the biggest hurdle to the movie’s success would be convincing the general public that it was totally within their wheelhouse to see, and that it wouldn’t go over their heads, confuse them, or insult them with…you know…talking vermin. The marketing blitz for the movie started way back with the post-credits teaser from Thor 2, and simply gained steam over time with increasingly frequent commercials and reveals. Suffice to say, Disney is one part content producer, three parts marketing savant. When the movie premiered, people were ready for it. Some probably wanted to see it for the source material, some because they like and trust Marvel franchises, and some because it was a summer tent-pole movie and they simply couldn’t refuse.

This is a fun movie, which I think comes through in the commercials. What doesn’t come through is how dense the movie is. I don’t mean dense in terms of intelligence; I mean that I don’t think there was a scene which didn’t matter to the movie. There were no “bathroom moments”.

The only gripe I might levy is that the movie is too well constructed for this Internet age of “been there, done that”. Wisecracking anti-hero? Check. Strong but chilly female? Check. Assorted misfits? Check. Generic rage-container big bad buy? Check. There were moments of deviation, though, especially when the talking raccoon has an emotional breakdown after we got used to him being a total douche-bag. For me, the highlight of the movie was Karen Gillan, better known around these parts as Amy Pond from Doctor Who, who did a total 180 to play a psychotic killer cyborg. She didn’t get a lot of screen time, but when she did, you knew it.

There aren’t too many movies these days that I think deserve repeated viewings, especially not at theater prices, but I think GotG qualifies easily. Kudos to James “Who?” Gunn for out-blockbustering Joss Whedon (Oh yes I did!) in the Marvel space. Super kudos to the FX team. This is one of the most FX intense movies I’ve seen in a while, and the effects meshed so well with the movie that there was never a point where they overwhelmed the actors, or underwhelmed when they were needed the most. And mega kudos to the cast. At the end of the day, there wasn’t a meh-character in the bunch. Everyone got sufficient screen time (except Gillan, IMO) which set up their presence and ingrained them into our pop-culture consciousness in preparation for the sequel, and the inevitable theater-destroying Marvel implosion that brings all characters from all of these movies together in one, massive finale.

Cartogo…Cargro…Making Maps; GM Tool; Wolves At The Gate

Cartogo…Cargro…Making Maps

I started working on a relatively small, drugs intro adventure for Pathfinder because several folks in the ‘Sphere expressed an interest in possibly doing another online RPG session. This time, sickness the game will be significantly different from our last Adventure Co. excursions. First, it’s a different system. Pathfinder can be had for free, so no one has an excuse not to join (although time is still way overpriced). Second, no fucking tactical crap. Eh…That came out wrong: there will be no tactical combat this time around. It’s not a style from my heritage, and while it’s kind of a breather from having to think on my feet, it’s got a lot of baggage involved that just doesn’t do it for me. Other folks who expressed interest seemed to feel the same.

However, maps still have a place in the game. Maps and handouts are as old as dirt in these games (considering the amount of time the party spends in caves and crypts, that’s saying a lot) and help give the players a sense of perspective and scale. They’re also good reference materials for the players and the GM. Although tactical combat uses maps for things like distance and positioning and cover, some of those things need to be taken into consideration in the more free-flowing conceptual combat style. Cover especially. Knowing where on the map something is to hide behind — or if there’s anything at all — is important. Plus, having overland maps, and maps for exploration and back-tracking purposes is important. Maybe there’s a way I could get players to draw a map on-screen as they progress…Hmmm…It would have to persist through sessions, though. I’ll have to look into that.

I’ve been trying to create some maps, but if there’s one thing I’m not all that good at, it’s balancing spinning plates. Making maps is a close second. Making maps that look decent and won’t embarrass my lineage for the next thousand years is right up there as well. I’ve joined a map making group on G+ (shut up) and some of the work people can do is absolutely stunning. I could get a five year old a box of crayons and it would probably be better than what I could come up with. I’ve tried using tools like Campaign Cartographer and any number of others that are out there, but stuff usually ends up looking like ass, and I end up fighting the program’s learning curve most of the time. I figured that I could just hand-draw some stuff, scan it, or maybe use my dusty old Wacom Bamboo tablet to create stuff in Photoshop. I’ve got some online resources to help me learn how to make stuff suck less, but I also don’t want this to become a full time job.

GM Tool

Work on my GM tool project is coming along…slowly. I decided to go with a technology that I wasn’t fully familiar with, and that’s proven to be tedious in the face of the ideas that are getting backed up like the line at your local DMV. After some frustration, however, I had an epiphany that allowed me to plow through the difficulty and make decent progress.

Right now, the administration of one’s own profile is complete, with the exception of managing a subscription. This includes viewing your profile, changing the changeable information, and resetting your password (if you opt to use local authentication and not a third party, which isn’t going in any time soon).

The next part is the actual local registration, log-in, and user persistence functionality. The user is the root of the whole process, as campaigns, modules, pages, and all of the little stuff it ultimately tied to individual user records, so being able to get noticed by the site is kind of important.

Wolves at the Gate

In non-gaming news, my daughter is obsessed with wolves. She has it in her head that she wants to run or at least work at a wolf sanctuary when she is old enough. She also wants to be a veterinarian.

This weekend, we went down to Ipswitch, MA to visit the Wolf Hollow Wolf Sanctuary. It’s a small place, run from someone’s home but fully up to code and legal. They have 8.5 wolves on the premises, with the 0.5 wolf being a hybrid wolf-dog that was taken from a three room apartment, and which is illegal to have as a pet in MA. This is not a rehabilitation operation; it’s a non-profit educational and care facility. The presentation that the owner gave was excellent, and focused a lot on conservation and on dispelling the the myths that surround the wolf.

Waving From The Shore #VanguardSoH

I knew it was happening, online but it still managed to silently creep up behind me and wander past in the night, cure board the last ship at the dock, cialis 40mg and sail off into the sunset for the distant shore where MMOs reside when the servers are shut down.

I always counted Vanguard as one of my personal top 10 MMOs. It filled the niche that was left with the closing of Star War Galaxies, with it’s non-instanced housing and in-depth crafting. The diplomacy system was unique and never replicated in another MMO, but which was treated as a first class citizen alongside the RPG staple of combat. The world was beautiful, with realistic weather that you could see coming from a mile away.

Yes, it was always troubled. I played the game in beta, and it was damn near impossible to do anything. Aside from the bugs, the game was just a total pig, even on high end systems, and it never ran smoothly. It earned a bad reputation as a broken piece of junk, and although it improved mightily over the years, it never reached it’s full potential.

It was that never reaching it’s potential which was it’s most damning sin, though. I believe that this game broke Brad McQuaid, forcing him underground for many, many years. His exuberance about the potential of Vanguard was contagious, but problems with the business side of Sigil, and the technology of the times, meant that the game would never realize the promises and promotions that preceded it.

I’ve played a lot of MMOs, some of which I recall, but most of which I’ve long since forgotten. Vanguard has the distinction of being one of the few online games that has provided me with tangible memories, and has helped to change the way I play MMOs. A long time soloist, it wasn’t until Vanguard that I decided to join a guild not of my own retinue. Ascension claimed — as many guilds do — to be a “family”. Most guilds fail horribly at living up to that claim, but Ascension nailed it. From the initial in-character interview, to the group harvesting nights, to the time the guild leaders entrusted me with their phone numbers and log-in information to reclaim housing plots while they were on vacation, the guild changed my perspective on how MMOs could be played, with the right people. Sadly, Ascension disbanded slowly as the principles fell away due to real-life issues, and I was the only one left who logged in regularly, until I stopped.

MMOs are unique in that they keep going and going and we complain about their mechanics and their patches and ongoing design decisions. We argue about play styles and philosophies. We create and consume guides and videos to help us get the most from the game. We do all of this around the game, like the game itself is some kind of fixture that can withstand the elements from now until the sun burns out. We forget — or conveniently ignore — that these are services run by corporations, and even the most successful MMOs have a lifespan, and will some day go dark. Vanguard was a minor player in the MMO revue, but it had gravitas and meaning that’s missing from a lot of cookie-cutter games that get to live on.

Shortly after the announcement that Vanguard would be shutting down, I found that Amazon had copies of the collector’s edition for sale. It sits on my shelf with my other CE’s, front and center, where it should be, among the other games that I’ve played. I’ll probably steal more glances towards it now that the game has been shut down.

RPG Rules: Guidelines or Roadmap?

Tabletop RPGs have been having a kind of renaissance over the past few years for some reason or another. Maybe it’s the growing pervasiveness of geek culture, buy or a backlash against all things digital. As much as I write about tabletop RPGing, this I don’t really immerse myself in the culture as much as I do with video games simply because you can’t effectively solo tabletop games, and without a regular group it’s kind of difficult to get traction, so I’m only guessing that we’re seeing a resurgence.

But the internet can be leveraged to bring people together to talk about and even to play tabletop RPGs (I’m just calling em “RPGs” from here on in), and that’s where I’m getting my vibe from. I don’t know if it’s just me or what, but I’ve seen a lot of people talking about a “right” way to play these games, and a “not quite right” way to play these games, centered around the rules and what it means for mechanical execution.

I’m using the Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition versus the Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition as the whipping boys because the D&D franchise is probably the best know, and the two editions offer the most stark difference, it seems, in perception. For those who don’t keep up, the 4E rules changed pretty significantly from their popular 3.5E predecessor. The biggest change seemed to be a relentless focus on an almost board-game-like tactical presentation for combat. Previous editions were all about the “theater of the mind” game play, which relied on each player’s imagination to envision the action based on what the DM was telling them. 4E’s rule book goes to great lengths to lay down the rules for distance, line of sight, marching order, and all kinds of things that are far more relevant to playing the game with a map and minis. 5E seems to me moving away from the minis and back to the old school method of pure imagination, but the 5E rules have been promoted as  being “modular” by allowing players and the DM to pick and choose which sub-systems they want to use in their campaign, and that includes using or discarding tactical game play.

So a lot of people seem really hung up on the notion that if you’re playing 4E, you must be playing it like a war game, and that there’s no possible way it can be played otherwise. I’ve heard of people who refuse to look at 4E because they’re not interested in tactical game play, and are therefor looking forward to 5e (or have jumped to Pathfinder or the more loosely coupled FATE system).

When I was younger, my friends and I played a lot of RPGs. I fondly remember playing the Ravenloft modules for D&DGhostbusters, and Call of Cthulhu, among other titles. When we ran out of money to buy new systems, we created our own. It wasn’t all that difficult, and we didn’t need a Kickstarter to do it. Most of the time, we played over the phone, which obviously precluded the option to play with minis (this was in the late 80’s, way before the Internet). The point, of course, is that we were pretty loose with how we applied rules, even with games that had large core rule books.

The underlying purpose of tabletop RPGs is to present a collaborative and dynamic story. The rules, in my opinion, are there to keep people inside the game world and to model the aspects of real life that govern chance and outcome. Anything beyond that that tells you what you can and cannot do is pretty much fluff, and it should be decided by the group which of those fluff aspects to include, not what to jettison. Take Pathfinder: the core rule book has almost 600 pages of tables, stats, and rules, rules, rules. No one should have to memorize that many pages of information about things like the chance that a crossbow will malfunction in a sandstorm. And no one wants to slow the game down by having to “rules lawyer” every question from a thick tome of small fonts. It just really brings down the whole atmosphere.

If a game system offers tactical combat, and the group doesn’t want to use the system because it talks about tactical combat, then throw out the tactical combat. If the rules focus only on how to resolve combat in tactical terms, then fudge it, or come up with alternate rules. RPG systems are designed around core concepts, and deeper systems are built on top of those core concepts. That means that almost anything can be handled by simply knowing the most basic how-tos and adding a little house-rules spin to it if the specific rules are confusing, too cumbersome, or undesirable.

RPGs are about imagination, and there’s no “right way” to play any of them, even if the rule books dedicate a lot of ink to nudging players in a specific direction. I really think the 4E tactical combat aspects were only designed to sell maps and minis, but in a far less cynical vein, there’s no reason why they have to be used at all.