Better, But Not Good Enough

A lot of my topics lately seem to bridge the gap between my childhood and my current adulthood, sildenafil which I’m going to pin on two things. The first being my years of reflection on how where I was brought me to where I am. The second is because of my daughter.

Through no official railroading, information pills my daughter is very much my daughter. In most ways, she’s far more like me than she’ll ever be like her mother, which I’m sure is sad for my wife, but is a joyful thing for me. Oddly enough, I always knew that if I did have any children, there would be only one, and it would be a girl; like, “steadfast resolution” knowing, not just a vague feeling that 50% of the results happen 100% of the time. And in this knowledge I knew she’d be like me, but better. I’d be able to help her to enjoy the things I enjoyed (if she chose to), but also to be a better person than I was, and better than the people who were around me. She would have my hindsight on her side, so I could help her learn from my experiences and my mistakes. What I didn’t count on, though, was that most of anyone’s life experiences are outside of their control.

Last night, my daughter and I got to talking about her interest in animation, and how she wasn’t “getting” the 2D animation software we bought her. She felt that she had a better grip on 3D animation concepts, so I showed her some of the stuff I had in Unity (which I knew where to find, not what limited knowledge I had about the subject). We got to talking about anime and her drawing, writing, and her text-messaging role-playing with her friends when I suggested she try an actual role playing game with them, since they were basically doing that anyway but without any formal rules.

“I don’t really have that many friends, though,” she said. I told her that she’d named more than enough people to put together a party, but understood instantly that that wasn’t what she meant. It was greater than that.

My daughter isn’t a crowd follower, which is something all parents say when they want people to think that their kids stand out. My daughter doesn’t stand out. She hangs back. Her talents are hers and no one else’s; it takes days of cajoling and tempered feedback to get her to show us, her family, any of her work. She said last night that she’d like to try acting in a school play or something, but felt too overwhelmed by her stage fright. She has good friends, like I did, but isn’t popular. As far as I know, however, she’s not bullied. She admits that while she’s not close to a lot of people, she’s at least friendly with them, and they to her.

I suggested that maybe when she goes to high school next year she could see if they have a role playing game club or something. Maybe if they didn’t, she could start one. She liked the idea, but then I realized something this morning: life in the geek-o-sphere isn’t really improving like I had hoped and assumed it would.

My thought was that most troubles experienced by a society occur as the vanguard makes its way into the mindset. People don’t like change, and resistance can be ugly as people vehemently fight back and forth to gain ground for their cause. Over time, though, as the ideas remain present — through contested — newer generations become used to them, and more accepting of them. Eventually, if we’re lucky, those ideas become so commonplace that we think of the time when they were railed against as “backward”.

So I had thought that because of the sheer momentum of geek culture rising from a niche community to a multi-billion-dollar worldwide juggernaut in a relatively short amount of time, the crap I had to deal with as a kid, and the crap we are dealing with now as adults, would fall away as our children are raised in a world where geek culture is so pervasive that they wouldn’t know any different. Liking video games, role playing games, cosplay, anime, comic books, or other affectations would just be something that one does, like watching movies, riding a bike, or eating spaghetti — age, gender, racially neutral activities that we don’t think of as being the domain of any one demographic. In addition, I’d hoped that geek parents raising geek children would help guide them so that while we probably won’t see equality in the community in this generation, the next generation would be on surer footing.

I don’t know now if that will be the case. After suggesting that my daughter look into a role playing club in high school, I had a small panic attack. Was that too geeky for high school culture? Was I suggesting my daughter bury herself deeper in this culture that was financially mainstream, but not entirely culturally mainstream during her most important years of social growth? How would she feel if there was a club, and she walked in and was the only girl there? How would she be treated? Would she stay and stick it out, or would she simply not return with her interest dashed? I didn’t have faith in my predictions any more, and I realize that’s both because of my experiences at that age, in a different time, but also because I don’t know that the next generation has bothered to improve.

When brushing my teeth this morning, I thought about it. Watching a lot of Cartoon Network, I sometimes see commercials for GameFly, the video game mail order rental service. On occasion I thought, “Why do they just show kids? Don’t they know the demographic majority of gamers are older?” Of course, it’s a commercial aimed at the network’s primary (on paper) demographic, so I can’t get too upset. But today I realized something far worse: all of the kids in those commercials are boys. Targeting kids I can now understand, on the Cartoon Network, but GameFly can’t even bother to represent the real demographic composition of the community. Are they lazy, ignorant, or are we working harder at being both than we are at making sure our kids grow up with a better experience than we did?

We can only take these things one day at a time. I offered to run a simple, custom RPG game system adventure just between my daughter and me so she could get an idea for how it feels to play these kinds of games. We also talked about her previous class in 3D design, her upcoming Unity class, and her 3D modeling class at Harvard this summer (yes, I am name-dropping so I can say “my daughter is going to Harvard”). She’s excited about the fact that the high school offers a 3D modeling course for a semester, and wondered if there was a club at the school for that as well. I didn’t have to suggest that if not, she could try and start one, because I could see her thinking about that very thing.

I Am Obligated to Talk About Crowfall

Perspective is a frightening thing.

A few months back, cheapest we got wind of a new MMO called Crowfall which didn’t have a name at the time, but which had a website. Some people I follow seemed interested in this game despite knowing very little about it, but I went to the website and took a look at what little info was available. This is what I found; no kidding, the opening paragraph:

If you’re here, it’s because you’re looking for something.

Something deeper than a virtual amusement park. More impactful than a virtual sandbox. More immersive. More real. A game where decisions matter.

We are, too. We’ve been looking for years, and we still haven’t found it…. because it doesn’t exist. Yet.

When I read this I eyerolled so hard I knocked myself unconscious. What hubris! Sure, the community has long and frequently railed against theme parks and sandboxes, but those are extremely wide classifications of “traditional MMOs”. The conceit displayed by these developers in claiming that they alone could come up with a product that would change the industry through sheer force of PR really soured me on anything they could put in front of me.

More info was revealed over time, and more people seemed to be getting on board the hype train. Crowfall started to pop up more and more often in my Twitter stream, and although I checked back often to see what might be setting of this new round of excitement, I just found more self-important rhetoric, some concept art, and some vague notions of underlying lore.

Yesterday the game started a Kickstarter campaign, and they quickly crested the 50% mark. Holy hell. What are people seeing that I wasn’t seeing here?

Turns out, a lot. Or, at least, the stuff that really mattered.

The team is fronted by a duo of industry veterans, one of which had worked on Wizard 101, Pirate 101 and Shadowbane, and another who had worked on Ultima Online, Star Wars: Galaxies, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. I’ve played all of those (except Shadowbane) and have enjoyed them all. Then I learned that they have Tully Ackland as a Designer (Warhammer OnlineSWTOR), and nabbed Raph Koster as a Design Consultant (every MMO I’ve really, really loved, and MetaPlace – MayItRestInPeace). Uh…

I read the Kickstarter page. Same hubris, but as I progressed down the page, I started picking up what they were putting down. Procedurally generated, time limited worlds? Persistent housing zones? PvP?

/recordscratch

Yeah, Crowfall is being marketed as a PvP-centric game. That’s usually the nail in the coffin for me. I am OK with PvP in the Warhammer Online vein, but that comes with big asterisks because the stars have to align perfectly for me to actually enjoy it. Otherwise, it’s a big turn off — I’m looking at you, ArcheAge. I’m not a fan of being the source of someone else’s fun, especially when it results in having to hand over my fun in the process.

And yet…like I said, I really enjoyed WAR’s PvP. I was in a PvP guild at the time, and always had people to run with. And there was always some kind of unorganized siege in the oPvP areas that I could jump into. Not being singled out for a beating by a group or higher level players went a long way towards endearing me to WAR‘s system, and from what I could tell through the Kickstarter page, Crowfall‘s system could possibly be very similar.

Still, the communities that surround PvP-centric games tend to be more…violent than your traditional bunch of forum trolls. I can understand that since PvP is usually an afterthought in most MMOs, having a new game devoted to PvP is going to cause PvP fans to circle the wagons in a fashion that is true to their aggressive preferences. But I’ve seen forums for PvP centric games in which the company employees went rabid on just the idea of PvE and those who preferred that style of play.

But what about other aspects of the game, like crafting and PvE? Details are very light, and I suspect will continue to be relatively light as the developers continue to appeal to the PvP community, but if they want to reach more and more people, they’re going to need to at least throw a few bones, so long as the sanctity of their PvP, guild and faction based gameplay remains their core focus.

At any rate, I threw $30 into the pot because it’s a B1P4eva, and that’s significantly cheaper than what the game will go for at retail. I figured that if the stars align correctly to bring back that WAR-time feeling, I could really love this game, and if that’s the case, I could forgive the conceited tone of the PR if they manage to make as big a splash as they are so sure they — and their growing legion of rabid fans — believe they will.

During this time I’m seeing a lot of RT’s by the Crowfall Twitter account, from people who are absolutely gaga over the game, and are especially attracted to the claim that this game will break the mold of MMOs forever.

This is where I swirl my brandy with a bemused look on my face that says “Oh dear, how precious”. We’ve been down this road before, with the MMO that’s hyped to change everything. Few have succeeded. WAR actually put public quests on the map, so change has been present, but incremental. Guild Wars 2 was probably the last claimed attempt to do something different, and to this day it’s become a divisive title which separates players into the “gets it” and “doesn’t get it” camps. Doing something different doesn’t automatically equate to doing something successful, something people understand, or even something people want.

Crowfall claims that it can do what it says it will because they’re not beholden to a publisher who’ll want to shape it into something more “commercial”, but that can work against it as well by appealing too strongly to the disenfranchised solely on their dispossessed status while not actually appealing to what they like. The message that Crowfall will be different might be laying it on too thick; the rule of writing — show, don’t tell — is really where the developers should be focusing their attention. Don’t tell us that you  can do better than 20 years of MMOs; show us early, show us often.

I think Crowfall will be great for the hardcore PvP crowd, but in order for the game to be really relevant to the larger MMO community, it’s going to need to throw a wider net and convince non PvPers that there’s something there they should check out. Otherwise, they’ll be no more relevant than WAR, throwing out a few good ideas that the industry adopts for their next sandbox or theme park game, or nothing more than a story generator like EVE Online.

My bottom line, though, is that I’m increasingly interested in the game, but still put-off by the intense ego behind the PR materials. I think the developers are either going to grow into their britches, or they’re going to find them on fire should they not be able to cash the checks that their promo materials are writing.

am looking forward to it, now that there’s slightly more information available able it, but I’ve never been one to obsessively digest any and all information about a game until I have it in front of me, so time will have to tell how the game turns out.

You Can Take The Player Out Of The MMO…

A lot is said about “muscle memory” when it comes to getting back on the horse, medicine and often times bicycles are invoked, and…man, this is a lot of metaphors for an opening paragraph. Let’s just skip to the next one.

A lot of folks I know used to play pencil and paper RPGs when they were younger. It’s what we had before these new fangled “computer RPGs” came around. But when they did come around, we adopted them because A) their fangle was new, and B) they allowed us to play RPGs without the logistics or time constraints of getting a group of people together in a physical space. When MMOs came around, we could now play with others, but it brought back the logistical nightmares of getting all the ducks in a row.

PnP gaming feel by the wayside for a while, at least down from where it had been in the 80’s, and I’ll go ahead and blame PCs and consoles for lack of any solid evidence to the contrary. During this time, our muscles developed new memories for how to “win” at CRPGs, while we allowed our TRPG muscles to atrophy.

With the resurgence of tabletop gaming in general, a lot of people are returning to TRPGs, but with some unintended side-effects.

The most notable is during character creation. Technically, we can blame this on D&D because it’s the font from which our modern RPG concepts sprang, but it was the CRPG that boiled away the fat and left the lean meat of what we know as “the holy trinity” of tank (keeps the enemy’s attention), DPS (does the damage), and healer (keeps everyone alive). Whether it’s indoctrination or nature, I don’t know, but this trinity just works. It’s a perfect setup for survival.

Because of this, CRPG players in TRPGs may tend to focus on ensuring that the trinity exists in their tabletop session. It’s not a bad thing, really, since it does work, but rather than playing what they might want to play, players might simply subvert their desires to ensure that all relevant slots are filled. They decide that they need a tank to soak the damage, DPS to whittle down the enemies, and healers to keep everyone healthy. So creation conversation invariably turns to “do we have class X?”.

Really, we’re metagaming at this point. I guess arguments could be made that what they’re doing is some kind of Ocean’s Eleven thing, but part of the TRPG narrative is often that the players come together organically, like if Danny Ocean decided to rob a bank, and formed a team from whomever was in the bank at the time. You can’t really plan that.

Is this metagaming a problem? Of course not! Maybe it’s a personal preference against min-maxing, but looking closer it also blatantly ignores the fundamental conceit of TRPGs: the unpredictability. In CRPGs, a tank is only effective because the system is designed to respond to taunts and threat generation. When the enemies have an actual intelligence behind them — the GM — the enemies don’t have to behave that way. It might make more sense for a semi-intelligent enemy to divide and conquer — or use the trinity against the players — by occupying the tank with one group, and taking on the healer with another.

The second side-effect is what I guess I’m calling “autopilot”. In CRPGs players don’t have to really worry about numbers because the system manages that for them. Want to pick a lock? If you have that skill, the system will let you do it or tell you that you can’t. Want to stealth? Hold down the SHIFT key, and hope you’re not seen.

In TRPGs, players need to actively manage their skill use. This means that when a player walks into a room, they’re going to get the standard description. If they want to search, the table might just hear them say “I want to search the room” and then go silent.

Now, a GM has a lot to manage, like NPCs, responses to events triggered by the players, and also needs to keep his eyes one step ahead of the player’s next moves to keep the action flowing. Constantly reminding players to use their characters should not be a GM’s job. Players have one job — to act as their characters — and the character sheets have those numbers and columns for a reason. Of course, GMs need to match those rolls against something, but I’d assume that if a character wants to search he should state it and know to make the Perception roll, or if anything the GM should at most help the player determine the correct skill to use in the situation.

Systems like Fate and Numenera are different in that they streamline a lot of the number crunching inherent in traditional TRPGs, so simply saying “I want to search the room” is as good as a die roll, but even still a player needs to play within the confines of her character.

Again, I think this goes back to the muscle memory of the CRPG where everything is taken care of, and it’s only the intent to take action that’s needed, whereas in the TRPG, players need to be mindful that they’re going to need to take, and have the ability to take the action without prompting. I think this not only helps smooth out the session, but also allows for more creativity from the players, and can help the GM stay on his toes.

The good news in all of this is that it really is like riding a bike. Players can get into the groove of the old school TRPGs after a little bit of practice, and there’s something important in that. TRPGs are more about player choice, and about bending the story around their actions as they move towards a goal. If the party doesn’t mirror the trinity, then it forces the players to be more creative. If they take agency in playing their characters, they can come up with those creative resolutions instead of just mechanically doing what the GM tells them to do. In the end, these are the kinds of things that differentiate TRPGs from CRPGs.

All About That; Shadows of Shallamas

All About That

When I was in high school, visit web my brother was learning to play guitar, information pills complete with lessons and all that, but I wasn’t super interested in doing the same. He had a few guitars, and at some point he bought a cheap Ibanez 4 string bass because why not? But he wasn’t interested in it, after playing around for a while, so I took it. I still didn’t have a super interest in the actual act of learning, so I just took the shortcut of dealing with tableture and banging on a few songs that I liked.

I stopped dealing with it about 20 years ago, and my bass kind of languished in the closet until my nephew asked if he could borrow it. I told him he could have it. I figured that was that.

But I really wanted to just bang around with it again, so when I mentioned off-handedly that I was considering buying a cheap bass to have, a friend mentioned that he had one that he wasn’t using that I could have. Well I couldn’t pass that up!

Now I have the uphill battle of trying to get back into this. I want to actually learn something this time because as nice as it is to be able to Rock Band some songs on a real instrument (I should say Rocksmith, I guess), not having the ability to know why or to find alternative fingerings for difficult stretches was something that did bother me.

That, and I need to re-develop all the callouses. I bought some flatwound strings this time around, and that’s a weird new experience. I’m used to the normal round-wound strings with ridges, but these are smooth and feel almost like plastic. Supposedly it gives a different sound, reduces the “sccrreeeee” sound on slides and unfortunate fret changes, and is also easier on the fingers.

Shadows of Shallamas

Our PbP session for Numenera has been filled!

The first official step is for everyone to get the source materials. I bought the Core and Player books in PDF form because they’re cheaper and I didn’t have to leave the house. The players should only really need the Player book, unless they want the whole shebang provided by the Core — lore, tables, representative creatures, etc.

After that, we’ll get together via post to hash out people’s characters.

During our previous to current D&D game, I started the characters out with a little PbP adventure that explained on how they actually got together as a party, and I’m working on that same scenario  for this group. Called Shadows of Shallamas, it’s a kind of murder mystery that I hope will allow the players to approach a common goal from different, individual angles. I’ve put down the synopsis and have created some of the NPCs on Tavern-Keeper.com, but that’s about as far as I can go without knowing how the character’s will be starting the game.

LFM PbP PST

Tell your friends! Tell your neighbors!*

As some know, viagra we — the Adventure Co. Brand Adventure Company — play Dungeons & Dragons 5E on Thursday nights via Roll20.net. We’re having a marvelous time, decease but I know that there had been a bit more interest in playing than we could accommodate initially, so I wanted to do something in addition to the Thursday night dungeon fight.

Scheduling is always a bear. Unless you’re single, have a spouse or S.O. who is OK with you yelling “Fireball! Fireball!” at Internet strangers during their DVR catch-up time, or simply consider vTabletop RPGing to eclipse all other concerns in life, making a commitment to be online for a few hours at least once a week is something you need to find a work-around for. That’s why I wanted to try play by post for this secondary adventure.

Play by post is what it sounds like: the GM posts an intro scene to one or more players explaining the setting, what you see, who’s there, and what’s going down at the time. As a player, you respond to that. The GM responds to you, someone rolls some dice, and the outcome is discussed.

I’m attracted to PbP this time around for a few reasons:

  1. We can have more people playing. While I’d like to cap the initial game at 5 players (we have three already, and are looking for two), there’s really no reason why we couldn’t have more because…
  2. Players don’t have to stick together. At the table, it’s difficult to cut out the “meta”. If I tell player A that she’s alone in a room and finds a powerful magical item, player B who is back at the tavern will instantly know this because he’s sitting three feet to the left. In a PbP setting, each player can have his own thread where it’s just him and the GM. Players can merge or divide at will, making it more of a personal story than a story focusing on a moving blob of adventurers.
  3. It’s a slower pace. While there needs to be some momentum to the game to keep people interested, there’s no immediacy to posting. There might be an agreed-upon time frame (check at least twice a week, for example), you have time to consider your moves and digest your environment like a gelatinous cube digests your chara…I mean…you know what I mean!
  4. It’s more descriptive and immersive. PbP allows for everyone to actually get into character, to RP as their character, and to present themselves without worrying that the funny voice they would affect in a live session would be more embarrassing than immersive. There’s also the opportunity to set the tone in each scene, to give NPCs and environments more flavor, and to really take the game out of the realm of just killing things and put it into the realm of interactive story.

And Now, the Fine Print

  • We’ll be using a site called Tavern-Keeper.com. I know we could do this on a dumb-forum. I know about rpol and some other sites, but TK.com speaks to me. It’s nice and clean and attractive, works well for what we need, and is designed around my personal philosophy on how a PbP site should operate.
  • We’re strongly leaning towards Monte Cook’s Numenera as the setting and system. It’s an interesting setting — Earth, a billion years from now, digging through long lost technology and dealing with eons of mind-blowing advances in science that makes absolutely no sense. It also lends itself very well to a narrative-driven game, focusing on the story over mechanics. Check out http://www.numenera.com.
  • It’s my first PbP game. Insert dog “I have no idea what I’m doing” meme here, though not entirely: it’s not rocket science, just asynchronous. We will make it our own. But I’m not promising Shakespeare here, but I’ll try not to let it devolve to Stephanie Meyer, either.

Who Am I Looking For

As mentioned, we have three people who are already on-board. I’m looking for at least two more at this timeI’m not going to preclude anyone who’s got a genuine interest, and standard “don’t be a dick” rules apply (we’re here to have fun, no rules lawyering, discussion not argument, etc).

I’m going to create a space at Tavern-keeper.com where players can gather to discuss the setup, character creation, expectations, house rules, ask and answer questions, and so on.

The cost of the Numenera Player’s Handbook is $8 for the PDF, more of the physical hardcover from MonteCookGames.com, Amazon, or your FLGS. If you’re OK with that, then OK!

If you’re interested, ping me on Twitter @Scopique, on G+ if you know where to find me, on Anook.com by the same, or leave a comment here!

The Hump

Sometimes I sit down in front of the PC with the intention of playing a game, clinic but then just…stare at the screen, ailment or scroll around on Twitter or Le Plus, viagra 60mg and in the end just realize I spent a bunch of time doing absolutely nothing. Other times I think “man, I paid for that PS4, I really should use it!” but don’t bother to move anywhere near it.

The weird thing is, once I actually make that effort to get started, I usually just keep going. Like this weekend, with nature swaffling the hell out of the North East again, I stayed inside. I thought that maybe I should get back to Dragon Age: Inquisition because it seems like people have either finished it, or are just starting it. I’m somewhere in between, and will be unless I get my ass in gear, sit down, and do it.

So I did. Several cumulative hours later, I’ve done more content than I think I had done previously. I killed a dragon (well, a wyvern to be exact, but it’s a cousin), lost Haven, gained Skyhold, shooed bandits, drained a lake, killed undead, sealed a butt-load of rifts (official measurement), figured out who “The Elder One” is, met the main character from Dragon Age: The Second One People Didn’t Like As Much As The First, and am now attending a ball in Orlais where I have to figure out who lives, who dies, and who gets to sit on the throne.

Once I get started, it’s difficult to stop. I only quit because my couch is terrible to sit on, I threw my back out shoveling snow, and my ass was tired of sitting there. The ravages of old age. But I found that I was having a lot of fun, which really shouldn’t be a surprise since gaming is about fun. I’m thinking the search for more fun is dampening the fun we’ve already got, sometimes, and just getting back into that groove is what’s needed to be reminded of that.

Five Flew Over The Ambush Drake’s Nest

After having dusted off the spores that were launched from the dead violet fungi, order Adventure Co. struck deeper into the cavern complex in the bandit camp.

The next cavern was larger than the previous ones, and much darker as well. In a really convenient twist, the entire party enjoyed darkvision, which helped them to not stub their toes, but wasn’t really good enough to see details on the other side of the cave.

The druid opted to stealth his way though the darkness, and in doing so discovered bat. Lots of bats.Not only bats sleeping above, but piles of dead bats on the ground below.Not only dead bats, but dessicated bats. The team quietly joined him (except the monk, who picked the wrong time to pass gas) and examined the carcasses of the winged rodents. The bard, exhibiting her hitherto unknown naturalist side, noticed a single puncture wound in the furry corpses, and pronounced that this could only be the work of a stirge.

In a curious turn of events, the party stood right there in the cavern and debated what to do next. There was a drop off to the north east, and two exits to the south east and the north west. The party decided that the exit down a set of natural stairs (worked well the first time!) to the south east was the more appealing, probably because of the lone, pitted spear that was casually resting against the wall in that direction. Who doesn’t like tribal decor?

The dwarf went ahead first, and was surprised to find a heavy leather curtain stretching across the cave hallway at the bottom of the stairs. Unsure of how to proceed, she opted to carefully part the heavy strips of leather to see what was on the other side.

Good choice of sending the dwarf in! She immediately pulled her hands back as she felt small stings from touching the curtain. It was poisoned with tiny barbs! But as the party reminded everyone as if they had some kind of manual, dwarves have poison resistance. The rest of the party, significantly less poison resistant, handed the dwarf the spear to sweep the curtain aside.

The cavern beyond was a meat locker. Literally. It was naturally freezing, and someone had strung up animal carcasses between the stone pillars in the room. That was all. Sorry.

Back into the bat-cave, the party briefly looked down the embankment to the north east and decided that it looked like a trash dumping ground and no one wanted to play in garbage, so once more the dwarf was sent ahead, this time to the north west passage.

Sadly, the dwarf wasn’t paying attention and put both feet through a thinly concealed false floor, impaling her hairy feet on sharp spikes. But once again — poison resistance!. The rest of the party thanked the dwarf for taking another one for the team and jumped across the small chasm to the cavern beyond.

This cavern was slightly lit, with dancing flames casting moving shadows on the natural walls. A stairwell bordered by rough iron bars and a gate descended into a dark pit, but the players didn’t have time to investigate before they were noticed by four kobolds and their winged cousin.

The monk managed to bleed one kobold with a dart, and then proceeded to dazzle those assembled by catching the fucking rock that the kobold flung at him, throw it back, and kill that mofo dead. The druid wasn’t going to let himself be upstaged, though. With a monstrous shout, his Thunderwave obliterated four of the five enemies, knocking some of them into the pit.  In the ensuing silence, however, the party heard the sound of tearing flesh from the pit, and a brief investigation revealed three juvenile drakes fighting over the dead kobolds. Nasty.

Not wanting to be left without source material for a future epic, the bard took point and headed off towards an exit to the south west, but was surprised to find that the druid’s Thunderwave had apparently alerted a shitload (the official designation of a group) of kobolds from an adjoining cavern who were filing up the stairs and into the party’s cavern.

Combat ensued, as expected, where the highlights included the bard putting two kobolds to sleep, the dwarf cleaving two kobolds with one swing, and a dead body of one of the creatures triggering a stairwell trap as it tumbled backwards down the stairs.

The cavern at the bottom of the stairs was wretched, more wretched than a frat house, but not by much. The kobold warren only yielded an unusual treasure of 88 stacks of eight copper pieces. One of the kobolds had OCD, apparently. There were also four interesting carvings of dragon totems which the party seemed to pay not mind to, because apparently they’re more the Saturday morning cartoon crowd, and less the Antiques Roadshow crowd.

*   *   *

The party did really well this week. I can’t really go into too much “behind the scenes” recap on account of the fact that the party is still in the caverns and might double back  to some areas for additional hilarity.

We learned a lot this week, like how dwarves are resistant to poison, how badass the monk class can be, and that triggering a Thunderwave in a cavern is better then knocking to announce your presence. But despite the traps and the 15 or so kobolds that they engaged, the party came away mostly unscathed (the bard got pretty banged up).

I was happy to see the use of the skills this time around. The Stealth skills were wildly successful, Perception was working well for the party, and the dwarf’s failed saving throw versus poison was happily negated.

For a fine performance, each member gained an Inspiration…also because I figure that next week, they’re going to need it.

Holding Your Own Head Underwater

Most of the time the general level of outrage on the Internet starts at ear-bleeding levels, patient and just soars upwards from there. I try and keep my neck out of any nooses offered during those periods because like most everything else, unhealthy getting wound up over initial information, ailment rumors, and conjecture doesn’t always result in having been worth the popped veins incurred in the process.

Not this time.

Many gamers know that Sony Online Entertainment (SOE), arm of Sony responsible for EverquestLandmarkH1Z1, and other stuff got sold off to an investment management firm, and became Daybreak Studios. Initially folks got their collective underthings in a bunch and started crying “doom” in all caps. I chalked this up to the Internet being the Internet; we as a community have no knowledge of what the plans are, and not all acquisitions result in dumbass, bone-headed, fuckwit moves.

Not this time.

So we just learned that Linda “Brasse” Carlson and Dave “Smokejumper” Georgeson were laid off from Daybreak. OK, so under other circumstances folks might say “yeah, that happens when a company is acquired”. I’ve been through acquisitions myself, and I’ve seen them from the inside. Generally the layoffs happen in a pyramid structure, where those on the bottom of the totem poll bear the brunt. Those are the people that could be replaced or even rehired once the company regained it’s footing. As the structure winnows upward, there are some casualties (one company I worked for fired most of the telecom techs, and the next day the CEO’s phone couldn’t be fixed), but the buck certainly stops before hitting the corner office.

The dismissal of Brasse and Smokejumper is kind of a different story. They are very public, very visible, very loved and appreciated by the gaming community. They were faces that people recognized in person, and who roped people into the SOE orbit through sheer force of enthusiasm and dedication. Dismissing them is akin to taking the most popular folks in town up to a platform and shooting them in the head in front of a crowd.

Business is often like a black box to consumers, by necessity or choice. Someone in this investment management firm didn’t see the value in keeping Brasse or Smokejumper around, and because of that, I feel confident in saying that this company doesn’t have a fucking clue about what they’re doing with SOE. They don’t know what they have, and in a greater sense, they don’t know who they’re dealing with: you, me, and all the people who really appreciate people like Linda and Dave because they treated us (the customers) like friends and co-conspirators, and not like towels soaked in cash that were just waiting to be wrung out.

Daybreak still doesn’t have the confidence of the panty-bunchers mentioned above, and now I doubt they ever will. Whereas they should have worked to mitigate as much harm to their image as possible, they said “fuck that” and just introduced themselves by driving a bulldozer through the front door rather than politely ringing the doorbell. I don’t doubt that the investment company had to make cuts, and I’m not suggesting that they should have sacrificed others (who need their jobs) to keep Linda and Dave, but I can’t believe that there was any grand strategy in letting them go. I can’t believe they considered what message they were sending to those they hoped would be loyal consumers going forward.

Into the Cavern

Back in the days of Levelcapped, about it I’d provide a recap of our Thursday night Dungeons & Dragons 5E game. It was one of the few regular post series I enjoyed, cure so I’m picking up here where we left off*.

Trust me, that’s the most benign title I could have given this post

The party had returned to Greenest and had rested and gained a level, making their asses badder than before. In addition, they lost a cleric to AA, but gained a druid in the process.

In what can only be described as deus ex machina, the wayward half-elf monk Leosin stumbled into Greenest about a day or so after the players had returned themselves. Worse for wear, he proclaimed that he had learned what he could from the dragon cult, with one exception: he didn’t learn what was going on in that cave.

Being heavily armed, Leosin offered to pay the players more gold to go and investigate. The party was apprehensive: they had just escaped from there, and weren’t eager to return. However, this time they had the lay of the land and decided that they’d get all stealthy, checking out the camp from the canyon ridge before heading in.

Silence. Darkness. The smell of something foul smoldering. The camp was abandoned. The druid proved his worth by changing himself into a snake and slithering through the camp, verifying that yes, everyone had packed up and left. Just to make sure, the party hung out until dawn.

At daybreak, four hunters strolled casually into the camp, laden with a dead buck. While they were carving up their prize, the party took a chance and boldly strode into the canyon. The hunters couldn’t have cared any less, and even chatted briefly with the party. The raiders had moved out an hour after Leosin was discovered missing, except for a few holdouts who were staying in the cave. They were paying the hunters to provide them with food, but other than that, the hunters had no particular love for the raiders.

A discussion was had about potential methods for getting into the cave, but in the end, the old SWAT method was used: flank the entrance, kick down the door. Round two for the druid who cast Moonfire (?) on one of two dragonclaw cultists loitering in the cave, setting him ablaze, while his companion panicked in the face of this sudden immolation. Unfortunately, the ranger wasn’t able to hit either one with an arrow, leaving the task up to the monk and the warrior. When all was said and done, the party seemed to have escaped detection.

A quick search of the cavern entrance revealed nothing of note, so the party headed towards a set of stairs carved into the rock that lead down into a field of luminescent fungi. As fate would have it, no one thought to check for traps, and the ranger tripped the mechanism that collapsed the stairs and sent him sliding face first into a copse of violet fungi, semi-sentient and deadly mushrooms that managed to deal necrotic damage to the prone wood elf. The bard lit one of the fungi on fire, and subsequent attacks by other party members resulted in a cavern full of spores, but no further damage.

*   *   *

We didn’t spend a lot of time with the “getting to know you” phase that might have been expected in taking on a new party member. We didn’t convene last week, so folks were itching to get moving.

The cave was one part of the camp that the party hadn’t actually gotten to last time, and when I was preparing for the session, the further I read the more I cringed. This was the first “dungeon” in the module, and it’s really “old school”, complete with all that “old school dungeon” implies.

I am hoping that the players will step up the game aspect. We’re playing pretty fast and loose with the system, bouncing between tactical and non-tactical gameplay mostly by accident, but the use of the out-of-combat game mechanics has been pretty sparse. Skills and checks aren’t being used without prompting, and prompting is being done at the insistence of the module itself. Ideally, the players will be on point, using PERCEPTION and STEALTH and other relevant skills at appropriate times.

I’ve been reading up on the Fate game system, and one of the core concepts is that players can do whatever they want — if they can explain a plausible in-game justification for it. I really like that idea, because it fosters player ingenuity and makes a more collaborative game. I’m hoping that this cave experience can help kick-start the “tabletop mentality” after years of “MMO mentality” that I think we’re all still holding on to.

* I’ll be importing the other posts as soon as I have time.

Call of Cthulhu

I’ve had Fantasy Grounds virtual tabletop for years but only got to use it last year when I conned a bunch of people into letting me run them through a Dungeons & Dragons episode. Since that time we’ve moved on to Roll20.net, more about but I still have a fondness for FG because of it’s all-in-one design and top-down customization options.

Yesterday, tadalafil I learned that the Call of Cthulhu ruleset was on sale. A ruleset for FG consists of the game system, visit this along with all of it’s associated data tables, character sheets, and errata. It’s like buying the source book, but in electronic reference format that allows searching, and it means you don’t need to spend time building or inputting creature stats. This package also came with four full adventure modules and some pre-made investigators for playing with people who don’t want to waste time rolling their own.

I really love Call of Cthulhu. I had played frequently when I was younger, and this rule set was always on my wishlist for rules to buy for FG. I have since lost my original source book (all of my original source books, sadly), so when this was on sale I figured it would be a no-brainer to have, even if I never got around to playing it.