Haven’t even finished reading it yet so this is just a couple pictures. Needless to say, if you are a fan of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Moldvay B/X and/or Dungeon Crawl Classics, 2016 was an amazing year.
I typically hate D20 microlites. There are a shit load of them reaching for some perfect design goal of streamlined play that in my opinion has already been done by Moldvay and further improved by Lamentations of the Flame Princess. There’s only so much you can strip away before your game becomes boring as fuck or, worse, Dungeon World.
However, Into the Odd is where I’ve eaten some crow on this hatred as it’s one of the best designed RPG’s to come forth recently, and it’s squarely in the microlite sub-genre.
That said, character generation takes about 2 minutes, such a long time right? But with the online generator below, not only can you generate your character in seconds, but you can make all stat rolls right in the browser!
This is Alberta, about as good as you are going to get, and I don’t know what she’s scared of because she’s quite the badasche.
ALBERTA “SCARED” BICKLEY
Harpoon Gun (d8), Fire Oil, Mirror engine (arcana), Grappling Hook, Magnifying Glass
Make a bunch of guys here:
We had a bad experience at Gamehole con with our 5e game and it wasn’t completely because the GM was terrible (he was tired, wasn’t too great at adapting to three extremely experienced players at the table) but more because the module he was running was completely derivative crap. Orc attack on a village, cave with orcs in it, Zzzzzzzz….
Since the game I’ve been thinking of what the main issues with that session and did the 5 whys with myself to suss it out.
The root cause of this, and it’s not my normal whipping boy Pathfinder, it’s Forgotten Realms.
I started D&D when there was no real campaign world, it wasn’t even slightly defined for us when we bought the box sets at Hobbyhorse. There was Greyhawk and Blackmoor and stuff like that, but unless you looked hard for it, kids starting with Holmes or Moldvay didn’t get that full in the face– it was OUR world to create and it started small with the first adventure. Whether it was X-1 (I worried about where on my world map that island was quite a bit in grades school), Hommlet, or with just characters at the entrance to a made up dungeon or trapped in a chateau that had no fixed location or full placement in a realm at all, the setting grew outward from the first adventure as the DM and players desired or required from that initial small kernel adventure and became more defined by other kernels like Castle Amber or the G series. The monster books also defined our world, with tons of odd things on my map coming out of the acquisition of the Fiend Folio. Death Knight empires were now laid down on hexes! What we had was a ton of space for imagination and very little constraint by over definition of the setting by the modules at the time’s authors. This is exactly how Greyhawk came into being. Dungeon first, then local environs, then out from there. I really appreciated in INTO THE ODD how the author has the first expedition start at the dungeon entrance and has a local map on pages after that and the larger area maps/keys after that in the book; implicitly stating that this is the order in which players should encounter such things. Dungeon – near environs – realm. The onion is peeled from the inside out.
While I was vaguely aware and mildly interested in Greyhawk, I never much looked at it while in my very hardcore grade school and early middle school days of playing D&D. Later came Dragonlance and while people must have loved it, I felt all of it was garbage in a really shitty setting. Dragons can be cool and horrifying (see Dark Souls and Glorantha), I run them in my 13th Age game as either incredibly violent fiends or …something totally different. But when you have dragon men and little dragons and big dragons and an empire of dragon men it’s all just shite to me. The closest I got to it was the gold box games on the Apple 2E, which were quite good.
Dragonlance must have sold a lot because next we got Forgotten Realms and D&D has suffered for it ever since. Yes, this likely had to do with Gygax’s ouster from TSR in 1985, and the end of Greyhawk at that point, but Dragonlance had paved the way a couple years before for a default, shytte setting.
I’m certainly not the first person to say this, but Forgotten Realms is the absolute essence of generic fantasy. It has every trope one can possibly imagine rolled into one ‘land’, every race is represented, all screaming out ‘potential’ for great adventure, but ending up absolutely mundane. The pseudo-medieval culture, architecture and technology levels are extremely trite, and border on the shear horror of steampunk. For awhile there I thought I was just jaded and had experienced too much to enjoy such simple things in Forgotten Realms (for example, the lackluster Neverwinter nights games), but then I thought back about how much I disliked Dragonlance as a kid, wasn’t interested at all in the Greyhawk box-set after I got it and had switched instantly to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay as soon as I became aware of it. This was as a pre-teen, so it’s not like I had some eclectic, jaded taste or anything. I just looked at the WFRP cover with it’s punk-esque adventurers in a vicious Early Modern setting and found it incredibly awesome compared to some Clyde Caldwell, Elmore or Jeff Easley’s unicorns and dragons paintings that adorned Forgotten Realms stuff. Not surprisingly, I don’t think my tastes have changed that much since late grade school, and if anything the forgotten realms has gotten more generic, less interesting and certainly more treadover trite!
Now we have 5th Edition D&D established, dare I say loved, and clearly superior in all ways to Pathfinder, yet as much as 5E has going for it, the game has a core problem that for me make it much less appealing than it could be– it’s still stuck in Forgotten Realms. It may not be forever, but for now, everything out for it is set squarely in the totally generic fantasy, risk free, “base” D&D setting.
What’s also sad is that the sandbox adventures that are being put out for 5E are exactly what I want in a campaign: sandboxes, cool optional encounters, lots of characters, gazetter shit when you need it and not just gazetter shit for the sake of gazetter shit, and a huge lack of railroading in most of the adventures. The two that are IMO the best: Strahd and Out of the Abyss, are the least Forgotten Realms of the set. Strahd actually feels very out of place in the context of Forgotten Realms, which is solved by it being a pocket dimension rather than a real part of the map (which is stupid). I’m not saying any of the adventures are automatically bad because they are set in FR, but I am saying that they are automatically generic, mundane fantasy in many ways, and will take work to rip them out of FR.
With the newest Against the Giant’s 5E module, I think it’s time for Forgotten Realms to be left behind by 5E forever, with the exception of the Demonweb pits. There are other settings from the TSR era that are far more compelling, notably Dark Sun, and I would really like to see something sword and sorcery, maybe Stormbringer /Hawkmoon, maybe at this point WOTC could get the WFRP license and meld that and 5E. Others have suggested stuff like Pendragon. Low fantasy works well in 5E. Or shit: STAR FRONTIERS! Despite what 5E has done with clinging to the high fantasy, generic setting, D&D is not Forgotten Realms in the same way that Vampire the Masquerade is set in the World of Darkness and only World of Darkness. It’s not just a craving for OSR or nostalgia to openly state I’d love to see more of THIS:
and less of THIS:
Matt and I and others are off to Game Hole Con tomorrow for some 5E, wandering around and a game with Tom Wham. Should be great fun and I am bringing the new Cosmic Encounter / Game of Thrones mash up board game to boot. See you there, fuckers.
This is very long, but has a lot of great old school D&D and TSR stuff.
We were at this garycon, sitting just outside this room playing Numenera.
Scott sent me this and you all will think I like it just because it has the word CUNT in it, but I daresay it’s worth a gander.
Fantasy Flight and GW are no longer working together. The announcement is here.
Basically the only thing I really care about is that Talisman will go out of print again. I will have to care for my stuff instead of abusing it as this level of support for Talisman we probably will NEVER SEE AGAIN. I just picked up the Harbinger Expansion to make sure I had everything (except Dragons) that was out for 4th Edition.
Other stuff that was good from FF: Chaos in the Old World, Dungeonquest (updated version, not the first FF version) and Chaos Marauders. Dracula was cool, but not my favorite game. Other stuff, like the 40K and Fantasy CCG’s, the 40K Talisman version and Blood Bowl manager were all totally forgettable.
RPG wise, this is going to fucking sting for people that liked the 40K RPG. Since it was closer to WFRP and had a TON of support from FF, I can see people weeping about this. It wasn’t anything I was interested in, but I can see this as a loss.
FF not having the WFRP licence anymore is FUCKING GREAT as the 3rd edition of the game was an experiment gone wrong. Yes, it had some very very good adventures (witches song and the new version of the enemy within are notable examples); yes, it begot Edge of Empire which is a fine game attached to a boring ass license, but WFRP still is one of my favorite RPG settings and 3rd edition with all it’s pieces and chits and crap was just too much to deal with. I’m fully aware that both 1st and 2nd edition’s rules are not great as well, but you can play it with the book, some paper and pencils and regular D&D dice…. GW: Give the WFRP license to DESIGN MECHANISM and be done with it.
I’m shit at finishing games! I start something, get about 20 hours in and then off to something entirely different. For example, I’ll be running a bunch of RPG’s and then boom I’ll think shit I haven’t played X game yet (like Witcher 3 or something) and then I’m down that rabbit hole. While there, I’ll think– shit, we haven’t played enough Warhammer Fantasy Battle recently and off I go.
So, like Dark Souls, this is a momentous occasion– finishing FO4. Now I’m going to write about it, and there will be pictures.
Straight up, I think FO4 is an amazing game, but it did not grab me at first. Right out of the vault, I felt it was too much like FO3 and the initial NPC’s felt flat. However, the game grew on me immensely to the point where it’s up with Skyrim as one of the best open world RPG’s and true to Bethesda’s legacy with the series.
Let’s get to some gripes. The game is clunky in many ways from the combat to the interface. This still does not detract from the overall experience for me as like Skyrim and Morrowind, it’s like eating a side of beef, it’s an unimaginable volume of content to plow though, a shocking number of voices to hear and so much to destroy (and build).
The shooting is better than Fallout 3, but being an FPS-lite and more RPG heavy, if you come from Far Cry or any other full FPS, you will have some disappointment with the gunplay. However, for an ARPG, the gunplay is a great improvement over older games. VATS is not something you can ignore despite the tendency for PAUSE-PLAY that I will get into more below. I have a buddy that plays it for the shooting only and he has not stopped playing since launch.
Inventory management, especially on the PC, was very awkward, much like Skyrim, it’s for the consoles, not for the GLORIOUS RACE of PC GAMERS. They made their choice and the developers know who is buttering their bread. It’s not PC gamers. This sucks for us, but is manageable.
Unlike some of the other FPS/RPG hybrids like Far Cry, FO4 is a PAUSE-PLAY game similar to Skyrim. As you’re playing, you will constantly drop into ‘paused’ time: going in to inventory to switch weapons, take a healing potion or buff, or go into VATS mode. While a little better than Skyrim (especially since I was an Alchemist in that game and alchemy was the WORST offender for pause-play), I still feel that it destroys the FPS portions when you have to rattle through your inventory (or even CAN rattle through it) to change from a HAZMAT suit to the Mechanist armor in order to better take certain types of damage WHILE YOU ARE TAKING THAT DAMAGE. While I know there is a way for instant inventory and weapon switching to work (sort of like your belt of potions and stuff in Torchlight 2) I never really got the hang of, and resorted to hunting and pecking through my inventory like a chumpo.
Big fights (more than 10 on a side), just like FO3 and Skyrim, are still a problem. Any big fight in the game is a chaotic mess where you are just as likely to hit your allies who will then attack you so you have to reload from save than hit the enemy. In a big battle, the AI just stands point blank and shoots at you or each other, not taking cover or anything like that most of the time, but will do such things in smaller battles. It’s a bit comedic, but then becomes maddening as you have to play through to make sure you don’t hit your own guys at all and also don’t get greased yourself. Grenades or area effect weapons are useless because if you hit your own guys, they will turn on you. If you do not use VATS, chances are your own guys will run in front of you laying down automatic fire (and then turn on you). Luckily, there are few of these fights in the game, so just suffer through them.
Now the good stuff.
Atmosphere at first was sort of ho hum, but as you get deeper into the wasteland and especially into Boston, the true madness of how much was built for this game becomes apparent. When I first saw the area map, I thought it looked small to me. However, after playing through the game, the area and density of STUFF is massive to the point of being incomprehensible how they got all of it in. Boston is crazy because of it’s verticality. You can traverse most of the city from above the streets and there are places you can’t get to except by massive backtracking to get UP first, then across (and sometimes then down). Gone are the annoying and samey subway tunnels that connected everything in FO3, replaced with an entire second story and above ecosystem. Many is the time you will get shot from high above, and have to fight through level after level of baddies to get at that sniper high in a building above it all. Then you can rain death down from above (WAY above in some cases).
The weapon modification system is nothing short of amazing. It’s very clunky at first, but once you learn how to do it, you can build weapons that do nearly exactly what you want. That said, if you are going to BUILD instead of FIND, you need to have a high INT score and SCIENCE to really make it worth while. I did not go this route during my play through.
Building shit is a huge part of FO4, and I will tell you that I was crap at it. My brother is the lego builder guy, and like me as a kid who built everything purely for FUNCTION with as little effort as possible into design or real efficient planning (or rework to remove MUDA), all my FO4 stuff looks and behaves like shit. I barely understand the electrical systems, which are not complicated, I never really had enough crap to build nice buildings or string wires logically. Even putting in a lightbulb most of the time was too much effort. Plus like I mentioned above, if you are going to really build stuff, you NEED Science.
The whole protect the settlements thing was quite fun, though it did get repetative. Some of the settlements are built in terribly vulnerable areas, and the peoples are just asking to be killed outright by anything that wanders along. Giving them a chance by building defenses and traps and stuff is rewarding when you see that stuff in action destroying raiders and mutants. My favorite base was the old Drive in Theatre as it had enough space to really build a bunch of crazy shit. Vault 88, when you find it, is quite cool as well, but you don’t need to defend it at all.
Dressing up your little dolls (settlers) was fairly fun too, though it ended up being a bunch of naked guys and dolls with a couple pieces of armor on them since MOST clothing is mutually exclusive with armor. I admit, I had fun with that barbie doll stuff.
Now is the spoiler part about story. Stop reading.
Ok good. The main plot line is good enough for this sort of open world game and has a lot of the factionalization that Fallout 2 did. You have to make some hard choices about who to support and I think going back to the choice points and playing through to the end game, while long, may be worth it. In the end, I wanted to destroy them all and I will with the new NUKA World DLC.
During this play through, after sort of going the ‘bad guy’ route, decided to go with the good guys. While some of the factions are a bit shitty, none are outright evil, even the big bad guys (MIT), there’s one faction in the game that are total boy scouts (and they dress stupidly), so if they dislike a certain faction, you probably know that faction is ‘bad.’ I guess despite the murderhoboism, I ended up being a murderous boy scout. People familiar with FO1 and 2 will have feelings about certain factions they encounter based on historical interactions, and they wrote that in there.
One of the main themes of Fallout 4 is the idea that species Homo Sapiens is not suitable for the new destroyed world, and many replacement options exist that are more suitable for survival. Super Mutants, Robots, Synths… and the quests and tasks wrestle with that theme as you move through the plots. Overall though, the whole “war never changes” thing wasn’t addressed much, especially since you spend the game chasing down your long lost son. There were some touching moments and I think the Female Lead voice actor did a great job with her lines.
In the end, I was simply a killing machine, that just happened to be pointed in the ‘right’ direction. Bethesda is smart, they know in a violent game that violence is the answer and redemption of the main character through violence is the ultimate goal. The dialog choices throughout the game give many ‘mad dog’ options to simply get the speaker to shut up and die already. The wasteland is a horrifying place with terrible people and creatures, yet Bethesda is able to lace in quite a bit of black humor, without it being fucking cheesy crap like Starcraft 2. The CHARGE CARD guy, if you ever find him, is hilarious in that regard, with a big fucking “KILL ME” painted throughout his dialog.
The first bit I want to mention was the hardcore survival mode. This was an addon about 6 months ago that was basically FUCK YOU IMPOSSIBLE mod to dark souls up the game. This is very different from playing the normal game, as you can be easily killed, weapons do TONS more damage (to enemies as well) and you can starve and get diseases and just have a really rough time of it.
While this official mod was very cool, some of the quests were really tough, as you could only save when you went to sleep and could never save during a quest itself, some of which being extremely long. I would definitely finish the game REGULAR LIKE before playing in the hardcore mode. Your goal will not be to ‘finish’ the game, but build an economy and settlements out so you don’t starve and die off so easy. There’s also NO fast travel. Very fun, very hard but you feel like you’ve grown a pair of balls just fighting off some raiders rather than mowing them down like leather grass.
I’ve only played through the Robot DLC so far and it was OK. The robot raider faction added to the main game that will show up wherever is a lot of fun to fight– quite unpredictable and with better weapons/armor. The Warbots from the original GAMMA WORLD are in full effect in FO4 and they show up a lot late game with the Robot DLC.
This DLC also adds Robot modification centers you can build and then craft your NPC robots. Again, you better have SCIENCE to really do it right. I made my robot, Ada, pink and gave her a different close combat weapon. That’s about all I had the patience for.
All in all, FO4 is a classic, monumental game. It’s not as strikingly beautiful as Skyrim, and I daresay I liked Skyrim a spot more than FO4, but I need to go back to Skyrim to try it out again to really judge.
Next, on to Far Harbor and then… DOOM.
I signed up for FOUR Runequest/Mythras games at Gencon this year and made it to three of them. The first one we had a big group in and it was very good, probably the best RQ session I’ve had.
The scenario had the Roman 8th Legion which disappeared in England actually make it to the New world and set up a Roman style camp city in the Algonquin lands. The players played either First people or some of the Romans (all pre-generated). A mysterious attack on an Algonquin chieftain brings the two groups together– for a time. This was an excellent short adventure with mystery, exploration, traps and a brutal combat to cap it off. There was good use of passions as well, something I need to work on in my own RQ games. Dice-wise we were rolling criticals ALL day long– and my character, an Algonquin brave, was able to take down one of the mid-bosses with a single arrow shot! All in all, since this one was with friends, a good GM and the historical-weird stuff that is totally in my wheel house, I was super pleased with this game. I don’t want to go too deep into what happened as I assume the GM will publish this adventure somewhere.
The second game was also good, but I didn’t have any of my friends there so wasn’t too great, plus the were some very silly social justice warrior comments made due to the fact that playing a game with characters in 1100’s England is not the same as playing characters in a game set in the post 1995 world. This game was set in an era of the very early middle ages with iron-fisted feudal lords, miserable peasantry, xenophobia on a level incomprehensible to modern man for fucksakes! In this scenario, which had the same GM as the Algonquin-Roman game, we were to free King Stephen from the clutches of Geoffrey of Anjou after his capture at the battle of Lincoln. While this was also a historical scenario, it was very tough to get into at first since I was fairly unfamiliar with this conflict (the Anarchy is the official name) and there were a lot of names to remember. Also the problem, getting into a castle and into that castles dungeon, was quite difficult and could (remember this is Runequest!) have gone very badly for the characters at many points. Luckily and due to some smart play by our priest, we were able to bluff our way into the castle as workmen (workwomen in my character’s case) with a lot of help from the faculty staff and free the king in the end. The highpoint was giving some knights a laxative and then slaughtering them in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay fashion as they charged out of the loo in their long shirts. Rule to remember RQ/Mythras fans: ALWAYS WEAR A HELMET.
I was able to note a couple tweaks from RQ6 to Mythras that I definitely think make it a better game on top of already the best game. You can do a few new things with Luck Points than you could before, such as reversing the numbers on your rolled die or giving your character an extra action point (!).
The last game I made it to was CLASSIC FANTASY, which is a Mythras/RQ take on old school fantasy gaming. We had pre-gen characters again of your standard classes from Basic D&D. I played the wizard and other than roleplaying or providing tactical ideas, I pretty much only fired off my Magic Missile in combat. The scenario was interesting, but the GM did not drop us into the slaughter straight away (a staple of Old school games) but had a lengthy campaign-starting intro description that he actually repeated TWICE for us as there was a player that showed up late.
In old school fashion, the game was a dungeon crawl with some interesting traps and tricks scattered about and, of course, constant combat. We probably got into six fights during the session (I could only stay for 3 hours of it though), so many that we were a bit fight-numb. However, this was the first time I had play RQ with miniatures on a grid, like Pathfinder. It seemed to work well, with very little confusion about where everyone is. However, this turns a dynamic, imagination game into a tactical miniatures game where the focus is solely on the board and pieces in front of the players. If I was going to run a Classic Fantasy game, I would eschew the use of minis and especially a grid unless truly necessary. I use a map with miniatures in 13th Age all the time for fights, but it’s a gridless game with very loose (yet mechanically integrated) distances. Counting off spaces when you are playing Space Hulk or Advanced Heroquest (and you could lump 4E D&D into this board game group) is fine, but in and RPG? It’s just not necessary and is pretty annoying.
The Magic system in Classic Fantasy is just what you would expect– RQ mechanics on top of the standard Sleep, Magic missile, Cloud Kill, etc. I really had only magic missile, as noted earlier, and fired it off quite a bit, but mostly missed my casting rolls. Due to the class and level system being applied to RQ in Classic Fantasy, characters start a bit weaker than your standard RQ characters. A fighter in RQ is going to to have a 60%+ in his main combat skill, sometimes even into the high 70’s. Magic users in standard RQ will have a high casting value for Sorcery or Theism– they will fail from time to time, but it will be rare– usually their skill will come in to play when in opposition to something else. Classic Fantasy characters, at least the pregens we had, had 40’s and 50’s for their skills, so there was a lot of whiffing. While in close combat a whiff can mean death as the opponent can parry and get a special effect, casting spells or shooting arrow whiffing isn’t too fun when it’s close to 50%. When both sides have sub 50% skill at fighting, it can make for a long fight if special effects aren’t used.
Since there were so many combats, some vs monsters and odd things, there was some hand waving around the special effects. As a GM and player of RQ: don’t do this. Special effects are an integral part of the game, and it’s one of those things that makes RQ/Mythras D100 far better than Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Special effects make combat go quickly and make your rolls, especially in close combat with actual weapons matter every time you touch the dice.
Lesson from this last game for GMs: when you sit down to run a CON RPG game– time is fleeting so GREASE UP AND GET FUCKING. This isn’t your home campaign! Any dithering will be seen of as terrible. Throw the characters immediately into a situation and get them making choices, don’t wait, don’t explain much, just start PLAY. In my Lamentations game, after character creation, the players were at the base of the Tower of the Stargazer within minutes and the first roll for death was just a few minutes after that. Go go go. Players aren’t there to SHOP or listen to back story!
So yeah, Mythras, the direct heir to Runequest 6 is going to be good– and between drafts of this post, Mythras is now available in PDF format on Drive Thru. No announcement of the actual physical book yet, but Mythic Rome is next on the slab for release.