I’m an actual man now for once

Because today, after 4 years, I beat Dark Souls.  I think I bought it the week it came out, and it took me longer to finish it than it took FROM SOFTWARE to make Dark Souls 2 and Bloodborne.

Shameful? I don’t think so.  Dark Souls is a difficult game, but it’s a fun one.  The fun keeps you coming back for more abuse, but when you get beat down pretty bad, or get stuck, or get into a farming rut (where the stuff you are trying to farm takes a lot of practice to git gud enough to beat consistently), you may need to take a break. I took a lot of them, some months at a time.  Unlike Red Dead and Bayonetta (and a few others), I kept coming back to Dark Souls.  It really is that good.  I’ve heard complaints about the camera and the controls (and the difficulty) but frankly the controls are brilliant, the camera is just fine and the difficulty?  Let me expand on that a bit.

First, the game takes skill in two ways. First you have to learn how to fight and if DS is your first FROM game, you are going to have to learn the fighting system.  The core features is that you need to actually hit your opponent with your weapon (seems odd but watch any World of Warcraft or Diablo 3 video for the contrast) and a lot of the things that work in a normal fight work in DS, like keeping distance, feinting to draw out certain attacks, circling, parrying and blocking.  Seems easy right?  Except that your AI opponents are doing some of the same things!  All of your moves take stamina, and that’s probably the strangest thing to get used to– when you move around or get hit or attack, you use stamina.  If you block an attack that exceeds your stamina, you will get staggered– and usually fucked.  Heavy attackers, like bosses, or groups of small attackers will chew through your stamina like crazy– and you have to figure out how to deal with it, either through the movements and blocking you do, or equipment because…

Secondly DS is an item management game, just like Torchlight or Skyrim.  There are tons of items and weapon sets in the game and most can be upgraded, some to godlike heights.  You need to know what type of weapons you want to use, how to use them (this takes a lot of practice) and then learn how to upgrade them.  I ignored the item management portion until the last half of the game and I suffered for it.

Unless I get the DLC (likely) I won’t pile into DS again for a long time, so bear with me as I take a trip down memory lane for my own future enjoyment here.  This has spoilers (just a few).

Bosses that were rough

Makes people cry.
Makes people cry.

The first bosses were pretty easy, nothing too crazy there.  However, when I got to this guy and his fucking DOGS, who is just a mini-mid-boss, I had to take a break from the game for a long time.  I just could not get past him.  The combination of the dogs knocking your stamina down and the massive stamina damage that the Capra can dish out is brutal.  As this is fairly early in the game, it was teaching you a lesson about what to prepare for later and how to deal with stamina issues like this.  I ended up beating him when I was just showing Matt the game on a whim over Xmas break (probably in late 2012).

Yeah, shortly after the Capra is the Gaping Dragon, which is one of the scariest monsters in the game.  I don’t think this would be a problem now since the thing is so big– but I had a lot of problems getting him dead. I used the sun bro to help and then it was off to Blighttown…

After that, I sort of got on a roll.   Even though Havel and the Hydra and probably a bunch of bosses I can no longer remember took me a long time to beat, none of them were a huge problem.  Queelag I did pull a summon in to help, but that was just to save time really.  She was a cool enough fight to not mind and also, tits.

However, Andor Londo is where I’ve heard people say the game says “fuck you, welcome to Dark Souls!” and they’re right.  There are two notorious parts to this beautiful cityscape.  The first are some knight archers that you have to come at on ledges.  Their bows are bows used to kill DRAGONS, so you go flying when hit to, you know, your death.  This wasn’t even a boss and it made me want to eat my controller.  After that, of course, is the most difficult boss in the game, which is actually two bosses.  Smough and Ornstein.

Not too friendly
Not too friendly

These guys are total dicks, and really this is a gateway to the game since the actual ‘plot’ starts after these two guys are beaten. You figure out (sort of) what you are supposed to be doing to beat the game except for just going around different areas after the bells of awakening have been rung. I had the sunbro AND another person help me with this fight, but I knew if I got stuck there, I would not finish the game, so sucked it up and farmed humanity from the rats in the sewers to run it as a human with FRIENDS.

After these dudes, I have to say the rest of the bosses were much easier, especially with the internet helping. Except, of course, for the last one. The final boss reminded me of the Capra Demon above in that he has completely relentless attacks, does massive damage and drains the shit out of your stamina bar. And then you die again and again and again. I think I was able to get past ALL of the knights guarding him without having to use an estus flask.

Here was my item Build at the end:

  • Black Armor Set – max upgrades on everything
  • Shield of Artorias – no upgrades (you need 34 STR to use it)
  • Black Knight Great Sword – max upgrades
  • Flame Stone Plate Ring
  • Ring of Steel Protection

While the boss fights are intense and ‘big events,’ in the game, Dark Souls is so much more about the exploration and the world you get to experience. It’s basically a huge undead prison with a lot of mean people nearby that want to fuck you up.  The way the world map is set up is like some huge puzzlebox that you unfold during play, it’s quite amazing.  I even enjoyed the worst area of the game, Blight town, quite a bit despite it’s insane difficulty working (slowly) through it.  And if you ever get stuck there, remember, at the end there are TITS, so keep going.  Though the story is explicitly sparse, there are some dramatic parts and some subplots going on.  What happens to that preistess in the beginning? What happens to the first firekeeper?  Who is that knight that you talk to early on?  What is going on with SUNBRO!??  That said, with both Bloodborne and Darksouls 2 out already, I am not sad to finish DS1, since there is MORE mayhem to wade through.

PVP

I did fight about 20-30 people in PVP.  Most of the fights were due to the Forest Covenant ring which summons you back to the forest when people show up there to kill them.  I was probably invaded 5-8 times and won only a couple of those invasions. Most of the time there was a fire blast and I was killed in those situations.  In the Forest, it was a bit more even but I still didn’t do great. I ran a SUPER tank build and a lot of times I would swing my sword and the other guy would not be expecting to get hit stunned and then would be lying down shortly after. I found the mutiplayer mechanisms, both invasions and helping people out to be extremely innovative and excellent. If you want to get invaded or help someone, you can, if not, it’s a single player game when you want it to be.

In the end, Dark Souls is a modern classic whose popularity keeps growing and growing for good reason, why would people play PVP in WOW or Guild Wars when they can PVP in Dark Souls?  And even if you experience just a part of it, say up to the Gaping Dragon at least, you will have experienced one of the best video games ever made.

A poem about Runequest

If you read a Bernard Cornwell novel,
you’ll feel the need to run a gritty, medieval RPG.
So you’ll go to RPG.net to ask the people there what to play,
You will find that they are young and ill-informed and in many cases,
cunts.
They will recommend Dungeon World and FATE
without reading the entirety of your question.
You will ask yourself are these really gritty or medieval?
The answer will be no.
This will remind you of an older game you’d long forgotten,
and you will search on the internet and won’t remember the name,
you will go to half price books
and look to see if anything there jogs your memory,
but it won’t
you will go on /TG and ask
and though the people there are explicitly cunts,
they will answer you with knowledge and thoughtfulness,
albeit rudely and with disdain for your person,
(Since you will likely be a summerfag or worse)
They will tell you Runequest 6 and you will coerce your friends to play,
they will complain about the long character creation
and lack of options for character powers, and at the table,
They will be shocked at the true horror of combat
at the blood loss and fatigue and destruction of limbs
and they will ask you to play more
and playing more will remind you of Bernard Cornwell
and you will need to read one of his novels.

Numenera and Pathfinder weekend

This weekend had a lot of RPG action.  I filled in for a buddy on a Friday night session of Pathfinder.  The session was fine but man, playing an 8th level character using Mythic rules just reinforced to me why I just do not like the 3.5/Pathfinder style of D20.  Too much crap, too much focus on what’s on your sheet than what’s going on in the game, skill system sucks.  The single combat during the session took most of it as well and as an archer, it’s was tough not to be bored (archers are nearly always bored in the fights). There was a character death (extremely rare in Pathfinder) so that was interesting.  I left my friend’s dude unharmed but with a scapular of demon ears and other parts around his neck, so there’s that.

And I ran Numenera since our full group couldn’t make it for 13th Age, or chose not to.   Most of it was hand made, I had an idea I would just wing the entire session since, with the bestiary in hand, it would be very easy.  But, I broke down and spilled into a pre-created adventure after awhile.  We didn’t get too far with the beginning of the session being character creation, but it was enough to give the system a stretch and a single combat.  I think the best thing for me is not the pool system or the D20 only rolling but the fact that everything has an excuse to be really weird. Certainly the basis for the game is fundamentally a ‘Medieval Fantasy’ game, but the characters will recognize no monsters, no constructs of thought from other games will be able to hold in light of all the weird shit everywhere. In addition to the strange stuff, it’s RANDOM too–the Numenera themselves will be a surprise even to me as the GM.  It has a weaponized MEME as a monster and that’s no joke.

I love the character concepts and how easy they are to make.  I built Mouth’s character for practice – a Hideous Glaive who hunts mutants… how fucking awesome is that shit?    If you are running the game, get the Character Options book for sure, taken with the Focus and Descriptors in the base game it feels like there are tons of options.   The base game was a bit stingy with these.  Originally I thought you could make up ANYTHING for these and was disappointed when they were constrained to a (small) set in the original book.  Since there are specific and odd mechanics attached to each focus and descriptor (more than just stock bonuses and skills) it just wouldn’t work if it was totally free form.

So there you have it, fun both days, but Pathfinder’s system gets in the way of the fun for me, though the GM was running it loose (which is why 13th Age is simply a better choice for D20 for high fantasy because it’s loose where it needs to be and tight where it needs to be, sort of like), Numenera was neat and strange.

yeah

Darkest Dungeon – Keeping people sane, or not.

Being a fan of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Call of Cthulhu and as a card carrying member of the OSR (is that even a thing?), I like my adventures mean and insane and not necessarily in that order. The first two games above have sanity rules, while my choice for OSR play (LoTFP) has no CODEFIED rules for it, which is just fine by me since then me (or Steve) as the DM’s can make up rules on the fly when necessary but holy fuck is it in there– that insanity that is. There is an adventure with a disk that if your character puts it on their head from the bottom (the logical way) it crushes your brains out, if they put it in from the top it downloads the ENTIRE internet circa 2009 into your memory and your character goes insane.

Anyway, I digress. A recent early access STEAM game, Darkest Dungeon, caught my fancy for it’s very fancy graphics and old-school dungeon crawler feel. It’s a party based RPG where you delve into dungeons and areas around an old mansion. You can have a very large party, but only four can go down into the depths at a time. The combat looks a bit like DRAGONS CROWN (holy shit yeah) but is entirely turn-based in play (so it’s OK for steve). A nice implementation of a dungeon crawler that is augmented by the fact that your characters gain MENTAL skills, either insanity or helpful mental quirks. Some are bad, some are good and some are situationally bad or good, which is pretty clever. This reminds me, of course, of Rome Total war where your generals and leaders gain traits based on what they are doing. Leave a decadent man ruling a town for too long and things get a little catamiteish after awhile. Have your general on the front line of battle all the time and that can lead to some very bad things as well, such as not taking orders and rushing headlong into battle, or injuries.

Darkest Dungeon’s aesthetic is early modern (influenced by Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and LotFP no doubt) with pistoliers and lepers and vestals (virgins?) in the character class mix. Not only can you customize your party, but as your characters get better at what they do, they can tune their skill sets (you can choose 4 out of however many you have) for what’s best for the party. It’s easy to sit down and play, and in that way it is pretty casual, but it’s also difficult and seems fairly deep.

While I’ve only played Darkest Dungeon for a few hours now, I am definitely interested in playing through it eventually, given I can stop playing Torchlight 2 with everyone first. I do think Dungeon of the Endless is flat out better than Darkest Dungeon but both are games one can own and love almost equally– graphics wise both are simple GORGEOUS games.

And more Torchlight 2

Torchlight 2 addiction is in full swing, so there hasn’t been the normal cavalcade of posts about stuff recently. Needless to say, Hardcore TL2 is a harsh mistress. My problem is that I get finicky about my class selection and just can’t stick with one character. Likely because I’ve played Berserkers for so long that I want to try something new, and that’s been the outlander. Outlanders, well, no one plays them that I know, so I’ve never seen one in action that I could say– “wow that’s cool!” I built a close combat Outlander but the build is only viable once you get BURNING LEAP at level… 35! As soon as I got that high, the character died almost instantly. With Sensless at about level 65 or so dropping loot down to all of us, it’s been really easy to build characters back up once they are toast… but when he croaks during some Mapworks misshap, who will help then?

Mods. Synergies I know is solid, but I tried the HACKANDSLASH essentials mod today for a bit and it’s a massive hodgepodge of a ton of other mods. Some of the classes looked cool, but I am skeptical that it will all work well together and am not sure I want to time sink to find out. Synergies is a total overhaul mod, like Zyel for Diablo 2, and I can get behind that. I think once Matt finishes the game hardcore (which will take months most likely because he refuses to run a shield/wand combo with his embermage for survivability) we’ll switch to non-hardcore synergies.

I’d also like to get a legendary drop one of these days…

Savage Sword of Solomon Kane (and Bloodborne)

SolomonKane2-L

Finished the collection of Howard’s Solomon Kane stories and holy crap, I wish he had done another 10-15 of these. The stories are incredibly visceral and intense and while a bit more focused on Africa than I would have liked, there are some good pirate stories in there too. While Conan’s stories are also amazing, Solomon Kane is a lot more relatable since the stories take place in the early modern period and not an imagined pre-history.  I feel like his story arc was not completed by Howard, and that’s sad.  The final story in the book is just a fragment, but still worth reading.  The version (Savage Sword) has excellent illustrations throughout as well.

And speaking of early modern… Bloodborne by the Dark Souls peoples (From Software) looks to scratch the exact itch not having more Solomon Kane stories caused.

 

13th Age Campaign first session

Ended up being one big battle, but was a good time.  Trying to do some sandboxing with 13th Age to see how it goes. I have an overall plot in mind if the icon rolls and players let me pull it off, if not, there are many other plots to be found in the 13th Age.   Even though one of my players will read this, I won’t lie, this is all a precursor to EYES OF THE STONE THIEF which is a champion tier adventure.

Comments on Roll20.  I’m not sold on the amount of prep I have to do, but that’s not the worst thing ever.  I am a lazy fucking GM (I think Exalted sucked all the non-lazy GM out of me) and I just want to sit down and play after reading some modules on the bus.  13th Age, like LoTFP, let’s me do that as long as I don’t have to memorize everyone’s class powers.  Yet with roll20, if I think there is going to be a set-piece battle, I have to build it out with maps and tokens and all that.  Once the players are off the first few session rails, this may be more difficult to prep for before hand.   I may go to narrative rather than miniature based combat which is the same as how I play face to face.  Let’s see what happens.

After this session, one bit of tech I will ALWAYS use in D20 games forever anon is the Disadvantage/Advantage rule from D&D 5th Edition. It’s just a really easy way to give a bonus with out a +1 or +2.  Crits happen more with Advantage, and Fumbles with Disadvantage and I think that’s great.  What could be easier?  I know it probably slowed the game down a bit when I gave it (mostly to the ranger who was stunting) but it was worth it.  I bet this leaks into Lamentations play as well.

I’m not going to give away what happened, as I may elude to what is to come too much. There is a point where the story arc may near it’s end and then I’ll post a big thingy about it.  Suffice to say that the Halfling Bard was gravely wounded and was worried he had died at 0 HP– conditioning from LotFP no doubt.