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From the prow of your ship you see the island come into view. At first it is nothing but a glint on the horizon, then a shining sphere.. a ...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Packing it all Away.

This started as a few divergent G+ conversations. I started thinking about it... and now this post is here.
If you are not into the  rambling personal type posts I toss here every now and again, this will not be the post for you.

There is a rule in my home. Self imposed but I can assume my wife appreciates it. 

The rule is "If something comes down, something goes up."  
It's my RPG's in the  attic rule. It  means if I bring a book down I have to bring at least one up so that my  stuff doesn't start to take over the living room.


A few days ago, I went up  to the attic to  bring down the 2nd ed Mysteria box set. I wanted to read how they  dealt with the flying ships which were such a big  part of the setting. 
So  down it came and up went the following titles:
2 Fate books. (Core, and Worlds,) The  savage worlds core rules, The big dungeon crawl classics book, and Fate of the Norns.

I get mysteria down, and  leaf through for what I need to look at. The  box content is all high on production value, with  heavy card full color ship statistics, and glossy covers. The box is still in one piece, though some of the glue is getting loose. After 23 years that's not a surprise.  I wasn't so impressed by the  actual content. To be fair TSR put out a huge volume of  settings and material and I feel some of it suffered under it's own weight. (That might be another post for another day.)
I also found a long forgotten pamphlet type module about bi-plane flying gnomes stuffed in the box. The content of which was so goofy as to be embarrassing. The dog fighting rules looked pretty solid and might prove useful.

Let me come around to my point:
There is so much available, and I still end up coming back to D&D.
So many games that I own or have read that I will never play. All these years later on Sunday mornings I'm busting out the 5th ed players book.
To be clear I'm not lamenting my lack of time. To be honest I have the time.  It's not about that.
I'm also not dumping on the other games. Fate, DCC, Savage Worlds, Numenera, all games I own and have read and think would be fun to play. I just don't. I don't want to get into D&D is "better" and that's why I go back to it. I don't believe D&D has any intrinsic trait that makes it "better" than other games.

I'm starting to wonder if it's not akin to the human brain's propensity to  enjoy the  music  we listened to during our formative years over current music *. D&D is a mental comfort zone. It's not that I don't have time for new games, it's that I have already developed a mental comfort zone. I can make quick judgements for D&D, I have a feel for it. That's not bragging because the other side of that coin is I don't have that ability for say Apocalypse World. With other games I spend time second guessing myself, which slows everything down. 

Perhaps this corollary to the music of our youth is why  4th edition did not resonate with many long time players? It was to different. 


I can hear the  question, "But I have written about 5th edition on this blog, thats a new game, doesn't that go counter to what I'm writing in this post? "
When I read through the PHB the first time  I didn't feel there was that much to learn. This was sort of D&D the way I have been playing since 3rd ed came out. Meaning that I know how  "Roll D20 add your modifier and try to beat a Difficulty" works. Anyone deep enough into the hobby to be reading this obscure little blog could probably run 5th edition D&D 15 minutes after cracking the books. There are differences of course. Things I would change even **. Still the  5th ed version of the game seems to  fire my brain the same way the older versions of the game do.

Is this why OSR games are so popular among long time players? Is it just that the games resonate in a more comfortable way? 
It's an interesting question. 

I for one would like to think  I play the RPG's I do because I picked the systems that are best for what I want to achieve at the table. What if I'm wrong? what if it's just about some nostalgic dopamine bump making the  decision for me? 

As time goes by and it becomes crushingly clear that my gaming days have a shelf life, how many really good games will I skip due to a middle aged mental inflexibility?

Does it matter as long as everyone is having fun doing what we do?

I would love to hear what people think about gaming as we move into our 40's (and 50's or even 60's assuming the reader was 20 in the  early 70's)




* Even if at 41 years old I's starting to feel like Rage Against the Machine is now singing about me not to me...
** I'm looking at you Cantrips... and  "Alertness" feat don't think I've forgotten about you you little bastard... Ohh and that +2  Attribute points at some levels thing is another one.

I'm going to write about video games (Micro-transactions Part 2)

Give me three bucks and you can see the rest of this post..

..
Just Kidding..
Never pay for my writing, I'm a hack.

Back on 10 /26/2013 I wrote about Microtransactions ruining my love of video games. To this day that's still my 4th most viewed post on this blog. It's even more viewed than my post about  Trials of passage in Orc society, which for the record, no one read.
This is brief post is in effect a revisit of the subject, a part duex. The duce.

In rereading my old post I realized that on one hand it was completely disorganized and  scatterbrained. On the other hand  it was also quite naive. Three years have gone by since that post and no I have not given up online gaming. Microtransactions have not gone anywhere, and it hasn't  seemed to have made any great difference to my habits. Or for that matter how much I spend on electronic games.

Then two games come along that seem  to be tied at the hip. Two games, while very different still  share enough similarities that they are often compared to each other.  The games I'm talking about are Overwatch and Battleborn.  These two games were released relatively close to each other. They are both team based shooters. They were both put out by extremely well regarded studios.
This post will not be about the pro's and cons of each of those games. Suffice to say they are very different, I play them both, and I enjoy them.

What I will talk about are their approaches ton in game microtransactions.
Overwatch has a system of  Loot boxes which contains a variety of things. Logo's which your characters can spray around the environment, Skins which change how your character looks, voice acting, and various poses. The player can unlock a loot box via game play once per level, or by purchasing in game currency to buy them in bulk. I'm ok with this.
What you will notice is that I never said "guns" or  "skills" or "equipment" are in those random loot boxes.

Cosmetic microtransactions, meaning  pay to make your character look different, but not perform differently are absolutely fine by me.

Let me state that again a slightly different way. If an addition to the game does not give the player an advantage and they choose to pay real money for it. That's on the player.

If a player can't live without that skin which makes Mercy look like a Valkyrie? (which is awesome BTW) Fine, buy loot boxes and get it.

That's where things break down however. On Overwatch Players don't buy items, they buy Loot Boxes, which contain random items. There is a chance the player may not  ever get that Skin they want and may have to  buy  a high number of loot boxes before they have enough in game currency (randomly found in the boxes) to buy the in game object they want. Like everything else this is by design. So a high priced item will be very very rare to see in a loot box. Causing the player who wants a rare item to buy loot boxes until they have enough currency to buy the  item.
Again this would all be voluntary a player would have to choose to obsess

Battleborn has a similar system, in that they have skins which a player can unlock through ingame progression and then separate elite tier skins and taunts which  a player must purchase using an in game currency called Platinum. Platinum is naturally only purchasable with  real life money.
When the  platinum system was introduces some players went a bit bat shit.
They shouted,
 "Eh Ghads, How dare they charge me for a taunt or a skin? I already paid for the game! Incomprehensible! Unforgivable! HURUMPH!"


What they are failing to see is that the items which  make your character better, can only be bought with  ingame points earned through play. The loot boxes in Battleborn which contain  equipment upgrades are not purchasable with platinum. (...for now...) If that changes I will be right there with the  complainers, being able to  unlock all teh characters or buy loot boxes for battle born with platinum would truly ruin the  proverbial soup.



The other skins and taunts are given to the  player as rewards for leveling up a character. The platinum system is reserved for non game changing  cosmetic additions which are designated above and beyond the normal rewards. Skinns that glow and have some added textures... WEEEEEEE! The only thing locked behind a paywall are cosmetic bits which will not help the player win a game.   It's like some people put  Vinyl decals on their  sports cars. The  decals don't make the car go faster, they just look cool. Nothing at all in battle born makes a player have to buy Platinum. 


Infact for my buck the  Battleborn system is more acceptable in that there is no random factor. A player likes a skin they buy the skin, done. No stupid loot boxes to open, no chance that they will have to buy 100 such boxes before they get what they want or enough in game currency to finally make the purchase they originally intended to. 

Yet the  community consensus still seems to be that introducing even these voluntary  microtransactions to a game (Battleborn) which has floundered in the  PC gaming market is a huge mistake by  Gearbox the studio who put the game out. I agree that from a marketing standpoint  it does seem ill conceived. Perhaps a bit of overreach by the  game company, but again no one has to buy those skins. 



These cosmetic micro transactions are transactions done right. I have total control over not choosing to buy them and at the end of the day it will not effect my experience in the game. Hopefuly more games adopt this model over the  pay for  advantage or pay to win model I complained about in my first post. Anyone still complaining about microtransaction expenditures that they can freely avoid, is like someone complaining about the cigarette tax. We know the deal, game companies are trying to wring some extra money out of the playerbase any where any way they can. Cigarettes cause cancer. Don't give them hard earned cash.
Unless the player decides the ramifications don't mean anything. In that case "smoke em if ya got em."


"What's my conclusion"" you ask.
I'm so glad you did.
The video game industry has changed drastically in the  past 10 years. Microtransactions in games of all types are here to stay, and even a video  game grognard like myself has to see that. the  way I look at it is this, we have a few choices. 


  • Purchase only games that have zero premium for for cash content. This will exclude most "triple A" titles and most online multi player games. It will however save you money. The player must accept that there will be content produced that they will never have access to. Even so there are many games a player can enjoy for  hours and hours without ever spending another cent.
  • Be offended. Give up on electronic gaming. Keep all your money and live happily ever after. This is a totally viable, non-sarcastic solution. Come play D&D with me on roll20. (Which for the record, has it's own microtransactions.)
  • Embrace the beast. Realize this is the industry circa 2016. A person is free to make intelligent choices about what they buy and what they don't. The system is here to stay, players need to learn to navigate it. Getting salty on twitter about avoidable expenditures will not change anything. I mean does a player really need every character skin? Are they entitled to it? 
    It's up to the player.



Thank you for reading:
-Mark.



HERE is a negative view of Overwatches Microtransaction system:
And


HERE is a less negative view of Overwatch's Transactions.



Some Video's
Here About Battleborn Microtransactions (2:35)
A different take:


Here on the same subject, among other subjects (8:12) (Microtransaction talk starts at 4:20)
And  a long  talk about  Microtransactions in Overwatch 

Here (Like 40 minutes..)
*For the  record I'm not connected to,  nor do I subscribe to any of the above youtube channels.*



Some More stuff:
If you want to watch me suck at Battleborn: Here
You can watch me be even worse at Overwatch: Here


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Exploration: D&D question.

To both of you who read this blog...
you know who you are.

How do you  inject a feeling of true exploration into an RPG?
I'm asking.

I'm going to give some examples of what I mean from other mediums.

Video games:
Far cry Primal:
I'm walking through the  woods I come across a cave.. I have no idea what's in it, but I know every thing in the game is out to kill me so i'm nervous as hell about going in. I mark it on the map and walk on .. saving it for latter. These are set pieces in Far Cry.

Terraria:
I am completely addicted to digging around underground and just finding cool things. There are houses built down there, and mine cart tracks and traps and all kinds of strange things. I love the  feeling of breaking into a new cave and finding something I haven't seen before. Terraria procedurally generates the world,... so things are always different.

Real Life:
My wife and I went hiking the other day  by our local river. We round a corner walk down to the river bank and sitting there is a huge piece of weathered concrete. Part of some long forgotten dock, or other bit of now defunct industry. I love that. I'm semi obsessed with the remnants of old industry that still exist in our area. There is a mystery to such things. Why is it there? Who built it? What was it used for?

I'm looking to inject just a bit of exploration into my D&D game.

The party has gotten their hands on a magic item that will allow them over time to build a sky ship roughly Mysteria style. I assume they will use it to move around. Exploration is going to become a  theme if I'm ready for it or not. I have my hex maps I know what kind of land will be below the players, and what kind of places they will be walking into when they decide to land. Sometimes just knowing  what's in an area concerning, random encounters, flora, and resources is not enough.

I want to inject a bit of mystery.

Any thoughts?

Friday, July 22, 2016

RPG Thoughts from the twitter-verse: D&D experiance.

Forewarning:

I have learned a bit on the  internet over the past few years, making statements like this is one example:
This post is about wrecking the advancement system in D&D. This post (this blog in fact) is NOT me telling anyone how the game should be played, or what you personally should do. It's just me throwing ideas around. If these ideas somehow offend you please do not use them, offense is not my intention. I have seen how sensitive some folks can get about D&D ...


First things first there is a ton of RPG "stuff" on twitter.
I highly suggest going on the service and seeking out others who enjoy the types of role playing games you enjoy and joining a conversations. I find that on twitter it is easier to engage in a conversation when I find the subject interesting. On the flip side, I also find it easier to disengage with a twitter conversation than I do on Google Plus.

A week or so ago I got involved in a tread with @thedicenerd about playing D&D without using the standard typical level up reward system. the  conversation was basically about how long could a group hang together knowing they were going to be playing at level 5 or so in perpetuity.
I have always held the view that my DM-ing sweet spot is 2nd edition D&D somewhere between levels 5 and level 11. Anything lower and death is too easy, anything higher and the stories tend to balloon into other planes and overwrought world sweeping events. I hate to see players make disposable characters. That one person who shows up at the table with a notebook of  10  first level characters. The  player's thinking, most of them having met some horrible death will be crumpled into balls by the end of the game. I also hate Having to make  adventures too grand, I know that sounds counter intuitive, but I like nitty gritty adventures. I like characters fighting to save their home town rather than  dealing with  demigods eye to eye. That's a matter of taste.

So the question becomes why don't I just stop character progression at say level 9? ("name level" if you're old.)
I have two answers, first the players in my game will tell you:
" He fucking slows down progression to a crawl at level 5, he never gives out magic items' and we hate him"
That's good, it's all true and in response:
 "Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me."

In reality  D&D and most Rpg's in  the same vein are one way or another built around progression.
The the characters face a situation and use their skills and their guile to overcome that situation. If they fail to overcome, the character must grow somehow and improve in hopes of then being able to overcome. An Ogre spanks a level 1 fighter, but by level six that same fighter  has learned enough and improves enough as a warrior to where that single Ogre is no longer a threat. Players and DM's know this, it's how the game works, it's how the game has always worked. Remove progression and it's like pulling the pistons out of an engine.

That means in my thinking some kind of reward system should remain. The characters should improve somehow. In this vein I have two thoughts.

Minor Boons:
A bit by the seat of the  pants for the DM's pants, reward players with bonuses and abilities based on their characters actions. I call this the catch wrestling of Role Playing Games.
Minor Boons should be small mechanical bonuses based on the persistent actions of the  characters. Rewards of  playing a character consistently.
Boons should not stack, the player should know that if they are using a boon, they must choose one boon which applies to the action.

Examples:
Your player that is running a cleric is adamant about  having the character pray every morning?
To the the point where the player is roleplaying scenes where the other characters are saying  "C'mon we have to  GO !" and  the cleric is resolute about not breaking camp until prayers are over.
Give that character a boon.
"On days that you personally sacrifice in order to pray (Ie Hold up the  party, fail to eat, stuck outdoors in harsh weather) you get one extra 1d4 level spell for the day."
Will that create a situation where the Cleric is  fishing for  reasons to make his morning prayer in convenient?  Yes. I'm 100% fine with that. Why am I fine with that, because ti rewards a situation that the  player has already  established about his character.

The fighter always tries to parley before fighting?
Give the fighter a +2 bonus on persuasion, or charisma checks.
Alternately grant the character an attack bonus of +2 during a fight if their attempt to parley fails.

The thief loves to finish off opponents with a flourish of some sort?
Have the player describe his finishing maneuver,  apply a penalty of -2 to hit but inflict backstab damage. The move automatically fails if  the target has more hit points than the charters maximum backstab damage. Limit the move to one use per target.
Will the thief try to land that big hit to early in a fight, and wiff horribly? YES! Will that set up interesting situations? Damn right.

Is this 100% satisfactory? No not realy. For some games it could be a fun way to give characters some progression in power that is based on their actions without having things spiral out of control. Unless players having a list of   Boons they can invoke is "out of control. I think it's pretty vital to the whole concept that the players understand the minor boons don't stack with each other. As stated above, If more than one boon can be applied to an action then the player must pick which one they wish to apply.

Goals and à la carte:
Warning: Once this starts your game will not even look like D&D after a few sessions.
Set a Goal for the  party, whatever it might be. "Find the lost Prince", "Plan the invasion", "build the ship", " negotiate the contract." The goal  can be up to the  DM's discretion and may even be DM only information, or set by the party. Whichever works best for the group is the right choice.
DM leg work:
The prep for his techniques is all in the background. Before a game where the party will most likely achieve a goal the DM will have to go through the player's handbook and make a list of  level up bonuses from the different classes. the list should include whatever level up the  DM feels are appropriate. Let the  game do some of the work for you. Look at each character class and develop a list based off of the options already built into the game system for you.

For example a list might include:
(using  5th ed as an example)
  • Fighting style Duelist
  • +1 Hit die
  • +1 Proficiency bonus.
  • Immunity to disease.
  • Divine sense
  • And so on... 
When a goal is achieved by the party let each player pick a Goal Reward from your painstakingly curated list. The DM should cross the  rewards that players pick of the list. No two characters may recieve the same reward. Create a new goal for the  party  (or several.) Just so the DM will be ready when the next goal is achieved they should write a new list of rewards and keep it handy.

Will this get crazy? Yeah probably.
Is it possible that after a few goals have been achieved one of the characters will end up a healer that goes into  rage during combat and  dual wields maces? Possibly.
Do I personally care if that happens? No, not so much much.
What I am saying is that this idea askew's any balance built into the game.  Any  reader who has been  scanning this blog for a while knows I am not a huge fan of "balance" as a concept in role playing games.
This kind of advancement system would force each character to be very diverse from the others. No two players can take the same goal reward. It would give the DM control over what gets into the game and what doesn't. The DM makes the list of rewards after all. Finally it would give the players some autonomy over what their characters end up being able to do, during their adventuring career. As it is (Again using 5th ed as an example) the player makes choices at level 1 creation and again at level 2 and  is pretty well tracked into what kind of character they are going to be from then on. This sort of lunacy would change that dynamic.

Well that's that .
I'm sure these ideas are not for everyone, perhaps beyond broken in some ways.
However I like taking a fundamental part of the game and mixing it around a bit. The process alone can lead to better ideas down the road.

Thanks for reading.
-Mark.