Category Archives: Gaming

Forced Extended Rest

I saw this on the shelves of our local bookstore yesterday.

Urge to spend... rising... RISING...
Urge to spend… rising… RISING…

My PHB and copy of Hoard are in the mail, ordered from Amazon a couple days ago. It has to make the long trip across the Pacific to reach my mailbox, which usually takes about a week.

In addition to the two new books, I’ve ordered the set of minis that go along with the Starter Set. Hopefully, once all has arrived, I can sit down on a Saturday with my in-home natural D&D party (my wife and three kids old enough to understand the rules) to get a feel for 5E.

So for now, I impatiently wait.

Back to Albion Again

A couple months ago, my family moved (back) overseas to Okinawa, Japan. When my XBox arrived with some of our belongings, I looked for a few favorite games. I was working my way through the high-definition Anniversary edition of Fable, and I kept finding myself looking for features that were missing from the game.
There’d be something I wanted to purchase, and I’d think, “I need some quick money. Maybe I can pour drinks in the tavern or chop some wood. Where’s the place to do odd jobs to earn money?”
Then I’d remember: that’s in Fable II.
This sparked a madness in me, and I wanted to play Fable II right then. Thankfully, XBox Live has Games On Demand, where you can purchase and download a bunch of old games. Fable II is on the list.
But for some reason, it simply would not download. The purchase would not go through. I kept getting an odd error code.
A quick Google search informed me that – for whatever reason – Fable II was not authorized to be sold online in Japan. It’s no worse than Fable III (not by a long shot) or the original game. So for a few months, I waited for the rest of our belongings, hoping I still had the game and, if so, that it survived the journey.
I finished off my playthrough of Fable Anniversary edition last weekend – playing a completely evil character, as you can get things done quicker when pesky morals don’t stand in your way. I immediately got started on a new game of Fable II.
And happiness filled my addled gamer brain.

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Photo (obviously) taken from IGN

So, to refresh your memory or perhaps inspire a look at a great game you never played, why is Fable II so awesome?
Much of my argument assumes you’ve played and enjoyed the original Fable. If not, here’s a synopsis:
The series is about the consequences of your hero’s moral choices. The world changes and characters respond differently based on whether you choose noble deeds or wicked misdeeds. Your appearance shifts over time the more you go to one extreme or the other. There’s a fun-enough swords-‘n’-sorcery fantasy storyline that takes you from a nobody to shaping the destiny of the world, but you almost always have a choice to make about how you get there.
If you played Fable, Fable II widens your exploration options dramatically. You can vault over obstacles, jump off of ledges, dive into pools and swim across lakes. The world feels far more free to explore.
The magic system brings some finesse to its controls. Every spell has two options, a targeted effect when you move a directional stick towards a foe, or an area-of-effect around your character when you leave the stick centered. Lightning isn’t just a bolt you shoot at some unfortunate foe; leave the stick centered and it becomes a storm that damages every foe in range around you. Force Push doesn’t just create a bubble that shoves everyone away from you; push your stick toward a target, and you smack a single foe with a blast of power.
Your options for defining your character’s virtues are expanded (slightly). Instead of a simple “good vs. evil” slider, you also get a “pure vs. corrupt” slider. The most obvious visual representation of this is your character’s pudgy or petite body. Right or wrong, a “corrupt” character does whatever they want, including eating pies and fattening meats. A “pure” character (whether good or evil) lives by a stricter set of rules , and thus doesn’t end up flabby.
Fable II advances the “history” of the kingdom into a light Steampunk vibe. There are mechanical creations. More importantly, this means guns are a thing in the game. It’s so satisfying to shoot (and potentially decapitate) some bandits with ranged zoom before they pose a threat. Plus, turret rifles and pistols! Multiple shots before you need to reload!
You can customize far more than Fable ever permitted. First, you can choose your hero’s gender, and both genders are well represented in the wardrobe available in game. Next, you find or purchase dyes that allow you to tweak your clothing’s primary and secondary colors in addition to your hair color. Makeup is another option, and it’s not just for the female Hero; the game incorporates some twisted makeup schemes similar to the Joker that are just fine for your male character.
There are often Jobs available for you to earn money by playing mini-games. Chop wood, forge blades, pour mugs of ale… the games are easy enough you can earn a good chunk of change when needed, and monotonous enough you won’t want to play forever.
I also love the story aspect of seeing the future of Albion. There are plenty of parts of the game that call to mind some of the original Fable’s locations. It’s interesting to learn what became of many of the my old Fable haunts in the 500 years between the two games.
Perhaps most important, it’s NOT Fable 3. The original Fable was an ambitious game that didn’t quite measure up to the amount of hype which preceded it.
(On the other hand, Fable 3 seems like a terrible object lesson in the pain of trying to manage a nation preparing for inevitable calamity. You either have to play as a tyrant who crushes the citizens in order to save the day, or you play the benevolent ruler who fails to prepare the kingdom for war and thus lets it fall into destruction.
No matter which path you take in Fable 3, you feel punished all along the way… which defeats the whole escapist (and FUN) aspect of playing a video game where you get to be the hero.)

Fable II is hands down the best game of the series. The fact I’m ranting about how much I love it several years after its release should make that clear.
Not surprisingly, when we received our household belongings, one of the first things I looked into was the case of XBox games. There right on the first page sat Fable II, as though subconsciously I knew years ago that I’d want to play that game again someday.
Me from a couple years ago was so very right.

Starting an Adventure

After reading through the Rulebook and looking over the pre-made character sheets, I dug into the adventure booklet provided with the new D&D Starter Set.

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Some background info:

I recently moved overseas for my job in the military, and all my household goods are ready to be delivered to my house. I have a trunk full of all my RPG materials, including several piles of miniatures I used for 4E campaigns.

I feel like I could reach into that trunk (once it arrives) and dump the minis out on the table, because this adventure has a little bit of everything.

It’s really not that bad. There are 27 entries in the “Monsters” Appendix, and at least one of them is a guy who’s supposed to be on your side. (If you end up fighting the NPC you were sent to rescue, then something has gone horribly wrong with your players’ decision-making processes.)

I did glance through descriptions of some of the different caverns and off-shoot rooms in the major adventure areas, and I found it odd to discover that one room would have some zombies, the next a flameskull, the next ochre jellies, and then a doppelganger running around causing mayhem.

I get it. They’re sprinkling a little of everything in, because maybe that gets them a repeat customer, and maybe that tells the DM what the players at a specific table are most interested in. Still, it feels like a jumble of monsters conveniently sharing the same cave complex for no other reason than “Hey, we could toss in some of these…”

That’s the overall impression I came away with. But there were some specifics that caught my eye and made me smile.

First, the intro explains a bit about taking on the mantle of DM. Some key phrases I’m glad to see: “The rules are a tool to help you have a good time. The rules aren’t in charge.”

Suck it, rules lawyers.

In fact, here’s a pic of “Rules to Game By” from page 2:

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The adventure starts with the PCs escorting a wagon of supplies to the central town. They come upon a goblin ambush to start out with an easy combat. The last goblin attempts to flee, and the previous victims are NPCs the characters are supposed to have a connection to. So this discovery and event inevitably leads down a trail to a goblin cave hideout.

I said in a post about combat that there is no mention of squares or emphasis on miniatures and tile/grid maps. The adventure leaves the option open by providing a grid map of the hideout, while making no effort to mandate a certain style of combat or play. The map is clearly provided to give the DM an idea of where things are. If it gets blown up and printed out, or doodled onto a grid map, great. If not, that’s fine too.

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Each room is described in plenty of detail and offers interesting options other than “this room contains five bags of hit-points you can beat down for XP.” The writers assume you might be a new DM, so they provide useful tidbits and reminders along the way, such as “Check to see if any of the characters or monsters are surprised when combat starts. Do this by looking at passive perception…” with an explanation of how the rules work, or at least a reference to the applicable rulebook section.

Part 1 is intended to get the players past level 2, and there is a helpful reminder just in case.

Part 2 puts the heroes into the central town, with a host of NPCs and potential side quests as they try to learn more about the Big Bad Evil Guy. There’s a handy explanation for new DMs about role-playing NPCs (don’t try to wow your players with your acting skills, do try to get into the head of the particular NPC and think about what that person might care about, etc.).

Potential threats and locations of interest are all thoroughly explained. Part 2 should get the players to level 3.

Part 3 involves a variety of leads and inquiries to learn more about the main villain and his plan. There’s a handy explanation for rules using the overland map provided earlier in the book, along with suggested description to make the journey interesting. This section also includes everyone’s favorite, the Random Encounter Table!

There are a few locations described for the purpose of roleplaying social interaction (or as much social interaction as you get from trying to get answers from a banshee). While these can conceivably degenerate into fight scenes, the idea is for this to be more talking than punching. Again, this serves the purpose of introducing concepts, like “Perhaps the Mage with the zombies would be willing to strike a deal” instead of “Kill every living thing we encounter.”

The leads eventually bring the heroes to Cragmaw Castle, which (once explored, and once its inhabitants are defeated) will point them to the location of the Big Bad’s lair. Again, this all captures the idea of a sandbox. There are several locations available and several branching decision paths open to the players. Some areas may not be visited because they’re not necessary.

All this kind of goes without saying, because of course that’s what D&D is about. But my point for including it is to show that the writers took the time to ensure there is a robust set of options available for new players and/or DMs.

By the time the Big Bad is defeated, the players should be level 5. All the levelling information and perks are already printed out on the back of the pre-made sheets, so there’s no painful delay while everyone figures out their options and upgrades their sheet.

Besides the Monsters appendix, there is also an appendix for all the magic items the players might potentially encounter.
Finally, the back cover of the Adventure provides a Rules Index, pointing to appropriate pages in the Rulebook. Perfect for the new DM who is put on the spot to answer a player’s question, “How does it work if I want to try to Persuade?” or “What does it mean if the Ogre smashed me in the face and dropped me to 0 hit points?”

All in all, this looks pretty slick and well-prepared for a group of 4-5 players. I’m excited about the Starter, for the low cost I paid for it.

I’m not sure this gets me signed up for a $50 price tag for each of the core books once those come out later this year. When I get home and have time to give this a shot with my wife and kids, that answer will become more clear.

But for now, the set accomplishes its stated purpose. It gets me eager to gather a group, set the stage, and roll some dice. I want to get started playing some D&D (again).

I hope this post and the others help if you’re on the fence about looking at a new edition. If you get the starter, what’s your take on it? If you’re not getting the starter, do you like what you saw here? Let me know your thoughts in a comment.

Adventuring and Spellcasting in 5E

Continuing my read-through and thoughts on the D&D Starter Set, this post covers Chapters 3 and 4 (and the appendix) of the Starter Set Rulebook.

Chapter 3: Adventuring feels to me like the Miscellaneous segment of the book. It covers important rules, of course, but they’re just a mash-up of everything not Spells, Introduction, or Combat. You get a description of special movement situations (long jump, high jump, climbing rules, that kind of thing), a break-out of short vs. long rest and how the characters benefit, a brief discussion of rewards, and then a few pages of specifics on gear the characters might need to purchase with the wealth they gather over the course of the game.

Can I just say electrum pieces and their value at 5 silver pieces annoys the crap out of me? If everything else is going to be based around a 1:10 ratio, why make an unnecessary complication? But whatever, I digress (since magically I can decide that my game world has no such thing as an electrum piece).

All the basic weapons, armor types, and adventuring gear gets listed along with some common expenses like food, drink, and lodging. Weapons give a pleasant variety of options; the keyword versatile remains, allowing a one-hand weapon to be used with two hands, improving damage slightly. Finesse is the term for a weapon a character can used based on Strength or Dexterity, so if you want that Zorro-style masked fighter hero wielding a rapier, it’s a viable option.

The entry for “Oil (flask)” kindly lays out the rules for using a flask of oil as a thrown weapon or dousing a nearby foe, since it seemed every group I’ve run with had a player who had to try that at least once.

And there is even an entry for playing cards. Yes, it assures the reader “if you are proficient with playing cards, you can add your proficiency bonus to ability checks you make to play a game with them.” Or you can just go play cards with someone else because this is Dungeons & Dragons, which is designed to be played as a group where everyone has fun, not “Chaotic Neutral Rogue With a Gambling Habit”

…because it’s always the chaotic neutral rogue…

And for the DM who loves to force players to keep track of things, there are two entries for rope: Rope, hempen (50 feet), and Rope, silk (50 feet).

“Sorry, but don’t you only have 37 feet of rope left since you tied up the goblins during the last session? You can’t climb down the 50 foot chasm. Go back to town.”

Ugh.

Chapter 4: Spellcasting got me excited again. Chapter 3 was the pile of plain steamed vegetables on the plate; necessary and good for you, but bleh! The chapter on spells is the delicious cake Mom brings out as a reward for finishing dinner.

(Disclaimer: I’m 37, and I’m married with four kids of my own. I’m so not living in my parents’ basement playing D&D with my unemployed friends. Death to stereotypes!)

The chapter starts out with a primer on everything your magic user needs to know about casting a spell. I particularly like the breakout on components needed. A spell may have a verbal component (words the character must say), a somatic component (gestures the character must make), or a material component (reagents needed for success). More likely, it’s a combination of two or all three.

So if a character’s arms are bound, somatic spellcasting is out of the question. If the wizard’s component pouch is taken, material-based spells are going to be problematic. Yes, this sort of thing is in 4th Edition, particularly for rituals. But I don’t remember it being so clearly laid out as it is here. (Maybe that’s why 4E gets ridiculed as being too much like World of Warcraft, where all my mage needs me to do to cast spells is to roll my face on the keyboard.)

Clerics have 28 spell options in this starter. Wizards have 30. There’s plenty of room for creating the desired style of magic-user instead of a cookie-cutter wizard. The level 1 wizard knows 6 spells in his/her spellbook, and can prepare 4 of them, but only has 2 “spell slots” to utilize. Clerics are similarly structured in how they can use magic.

While 5E does put restrictions on the number of spells available to the character between long rests, it also rectifies the old problem of the wizard with no spells left, trying to hit creatures with a 1d4-2 dmg dagger stab. Each class has at least one offensive cantrip, an “at-will” spell to use the 4E terminology, that the character can cast repeatedly to deal some damage.

Spells once again have spell levels which are completely separate from the level of the caster. It takes a level 5 wizard to cast level 3 spells, and he/she only gets 2 of those level 3 spell slots between long rests. There’s some strategy to spell slots, too; a level 1 spell cast from a level 3 slot gains significant power and damage, so it might be a better bet than a giant fireball.

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”I cast Magic Missile at the darkness… from a level 3 slot! Boom! What!”

The almost 60 spells give a wide variety of effects, and plenty have no combat application. “Charm Person” in particular is one I can’t wait to see crafty players employ, even though I know it will shatter any devious DM chicanery I have planned. I picture “Command” being used to great monster detriment as well.

And if your cleric leans a little Evil, there’s the 1st level necromantic spell “Inflict Wounds” to capture the idea of a touch of death. (I simply must have a dark cleric-style villainness with a kiss of death… what DM doesn’t want to slam 3d10 necrotic damage into a player’s face?)

Finally, the Appendix lists a number of mostly impairment conditions frequently encountered in D&D, like blinded, deafened, petrified, prone, stunned, and so on. It’s on the back cover of the book, so while it’s no DM screen, it’s a handy reference tool for DM and players alike to know what effects mean.

All in all, the Starter Set Rulebook does its job and gets a DM (and hopefully the players) ready for the more important part: the adventure itself!

The included adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver, will be the focus of my next post.

The Pre-Made Starter Party

I have a post scheduled with more thoughts on the D&D 5th Edition (nowhere in the materials is it called that) Starter Set Rulebook. But yesterday as I glanced over the pre-made party character sheets, I wanted to add a post about them.

Again, keeping in mind that this is an “everything you need to start playing” set, I love what they’ve done here.

All the stats and numbers are already assigned and printed out, so there’s no hour(s) of filling in the details prior to playing. That’s to be expected from a pre-made party.

The provided characters cover the traditional races and classes well: dwarf cleric, halfling rogue, elf wizard, and two versions of the human fighter, one as a commoner setting out to become a hero, the other as a noble setting out to be a good leader of the local people.

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What catches my eye is the effort Wizards has put into giving new players a concept to role-play. Again, I’d expect they probably have done similar things for previous starters and pre-mades… but here are a few examples of what I found awesome.

Each character sheet has a few boxes on the right side for personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws.

The elf wizard personality trait box states: “I use polysyllabic words that convey the impression of erudition.” Compare that with the folk hero human fighter, whose traits box states: “Also, I use long words in an attempt to sound smarter.” Even the trait descriptions convey a sense of the character.

The human noble, who I shall call Rarity for no reason in particular, has this personality: “My flattery makes those I talk to feel wonderful and important. Also, I don’t like to get dirty, and I won’t be caught dead in unsuitable accommodations.” Again, you can almost see the self-important deceived state of this character right off that first line. It definitely gives a player an idea on how to act out that character.

The “bonds” box gives the player and DM a sense of what is precious to the character. This gives the DM a button to push in the story, and gives the player an idea how to respond if that precious thing is threatened. For the elf wizard, the tome that character carries contains the sum of his or her collected knowledge, and “no vault is secure enough to keep it safe.” The rogue, on the other hand, has an aunt with a farm, to whom he or she has always provided support.

Flaws give an added dimension to each of these “generic” heroes. The noble has “a hard time resisting the allure of wealth, especially gold. Wealth can help me restore my legacy.” The rogue’s “aunt must never know the deeds I did…” And the cleric secretly wonders “whether the gods care about mortal affairs at all.”

The box below these is for “Features and Traits” and fills in some important tidbits that look much like Feats might have been in 4E. One fighter has a more defensive style. The other is actually stronger as an archer. This is also the box where racial traits like Darkvision is listed for the elf and dwarf.
Each character also gets a bit of flavor in this box. Based on their background, they enjoy some perk, whether it be a connection to an organization, a rank or status enjoyed among a certain sphere of influence, or the trust of certain groups of people as shown by support that doesn’t endanger their lives (i.e. hiding you and your friends for a time, giving information or healing).

As a starter party, this group works well. For a set of players first trying out D&D, the materials work great. I think the biggest issue might be figuring out who gets to play which character in the party.

Back to the regularly scheduled posts tomorrow morning.

How to Play and Combat

I started digging into my delicious Starter Set this morning.

This has been sitting in my flight bag for a day or two. Time to get started (har har) with 5th ed!
This has been sitting in my flight bag for a day or two. Time to get started (har har) with 5th ed!

I’m reading through and noting what sticks out to me based on my 4th edition experiences. When I notice what seems like a change, someone may say, “Well in 4th edition DMG page 125 the same sort of rule is clearly written there.” If that’s the case, great, chalk it up to inattention to detail. But this is just my first-read experience and captures what catches my eye.

Chapter 1: How to Play gives you the standard explanation of “What is D&D?” It covers the basics about checks, and how abilities, skills, proficiencies, and saving throws all come into play when rolling dice to determine an outcome.

The skills seemed like a decent set. Nothing seemed missing. Some (Bluff, Diplomacy) are refined and given names and examples with wider applications (Deception, Persuasion). I like Investigation as a concept – putting together the pieces and clues, gathering intel of a sort. It seemed like that always fell under Perception in 4th ed, which is kind of dumb. Perception sees things that might be otherwise easy to miss. Investigation sees things and figures out the details that others might miss. To use examples from the book, Perception sees the orcs hiding in ambush along the road. Investigation sees the wounds dealt to the ambush victims and figures out it was probably a band of orcs.

Animal Handling always makes me chuckle. It has uses, I’m sure, but I can’t stop picturing a pink-haired Druid character named Fluttershy.

One interesting change for 5th edition is the Advantage / Disadvantage system. In either case, you roll two d20s when you make a check. If you have an advantage, you take the higher of the two. If you have a disadvantage, you take the lower. I’m curious how this will play out in a group. Maybe it does away with some of the “+5 for this, -3 for that, but I have combat advantage so +2, and this is my quarry so I have that one feat that gives me another +2…”

I have advantage. I roll two dice and take the better number. Simple. Done.

I can see some potential flaws, though. For example if you’re fighting some monsters in darkness, does it turn into a bunch of flailing around? I imagine everyone would get a lot of low rolls. Then again, if everyone shares the same disadvantage, maybe it’s prudent to eliminate that from the equation and only take other disadvantages into account. I didn’t see that stated explicitly, so I imagine that might be my first house rule to reduce rolling and wasted time.

Filed this under “We’ll see…”

Moving on.

Chapter 2: Combat contains one noteworthy difference from 4E: language involving maps and squares doesn’t appear in the rulebook. Maybe that’s an “advanced” option they’ll incorporate later (because I’m sure Wizards of the Coast wants to sell us some map packs and such), or maybe they know that describing everything in # feet gives the DM and players enough to effectively utilize maps.

But this does inherently free up groups to use things like simple description or generic drawings on whiteboards or paper to run combat without counting out squares or laying down rulers for line of sight determinations.

Could you do that in 4E? Sure, but it seemed pretty obvious that wasn’t what they were pushing for. Now tiles, maps, and minis are an available option instead of the default.

First off, the Combat chapter lists available actions you can take on your turn. Everyone can take a move and an action. I’m liking some of the updated choices: You can take a Disengage action to avoid provoking opportunity attacks when you move; you can take a Dodge action to give attackers a disadvantage against you (as well as permit Dex saving throws with advantage); you can Help another creature in completing a task, meaning you give them an advantage to do the stated thing so long as they attempt it before the start of your next turn.

Opportunity attacks count as a “reaction” – and you only get one reaction per turn. So there’s no more taking five opportunity attacks in a turn as I’ve seen sometimes argued in 4th edition.

Also, everybody gets critical hits on a roll of 20, and everyone misses on a 1. Sauce for the goose (player characters) is sauce for the gander (monsters). And crits look decidedly deadly… deadlier I suppose is the correct term.

Instead of max damage for the base attack, you roll any damage die twice and add it all together. So a rogue with Sneak Attack rolls those dice twice too.

A glance at the character sheet for the pre-made rogue tells me at level 5, they roll 3d6 for Sneak Attack. Let’s assume 1d4 for a dagger, 3d6 for a sneak attack. A successful crit sneak attack nets you 2d4 plus a whopping 6d6 damage just from dice rolls with no other modifiers? Egad.

Rogue carves the Kobold for infinity damage, exploding it like a blood sausage.

At least a fighter gets a crit on 19 or 20. But yeah… Sneak Attack crits look sick and dare I say it, broken. Another thing I look forward to seeing fleshed out when I get to play this with a group…

Next post – Chapter 3: Adventuring and Chapter 4: Spellcasting

Look What Came in the Mail

Ok, to be fair, I got this a couple days ago. I figured it might be nice reading material on my current business trip.

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I started working my way through the 120 page PDF that Wizards released a month or two ago… and free is always a nice price to pay for a new edition. But Amazon had the starter set at a ridiculously low price, so I figured $12 isn’t too rich an investment to check out 5th Ed.

This really does strike me as a “starter” – something I’d use to introduce new players to D&D or to share with some of my RPG-phobic Christian friends to show them “This isn’t really a pact with Satan, I promise.”

The premade character sheets give the player an idea of what this character is about, with a personal goal that fits with the adventure and a description of how the individual’s alignment looks in action. Since it’s a starter set, the character progression is mapped out on the back of the sheet with what perks and abilities each gains at each level. No 4th Ed scrounging through all the Player’s Handbooks for the just-right complement of powers and abilities.

The party presented is made up of some traditional fantasy faire along with the four core D&D classes: the elf wizard, the halfling rogue, two human fighters (one a noble, one a commoner), and a dwarf cleric.

Needless to say, I have some fun reading on my hands. Might be just what the DM ordered for my wife and kidlets when I get back home…

What's Next

Next. 5e. 5th Edition. The newest edition of D&D is (slowly) crawling forth from the gates of Wizards of the Coast’s dark fortress.

Credit goes to NerdAtlas for calling my attention to this new release of basic rules for D&D. You can get a free download here and check it out for yourself.

I’ve been skimming my way through here and there. The basic “How does a game like this work?” stuff all seems pretty straightforward. The PDF has info for 4 core classes and races: Fighter, Rogue, Cleric and Wizard, then Dwarf, Elf, Halfling and Human. I have not yet dug into the mechanics so much, because the first several portions establish the basics for potential newbies.

One paragraph hidden within all that description caught my eye. It addresses the concept of advantage versus disadvantage. Without clarifying how difficult it is to gain advantage or suffer disadvantage, the text explains that these terms mean rolling two d20 instead of one for a given action. Advantage means taking the higher roll of the two. Disadvantage means taking the lower. That seems to create a huge impact on success or failure, but I’ll have to see how it plays out in practice.

Maybe it will do away with some of the more extensive math. I recall some 4e rounds that sounded like this: “Ok, I rolled a 12, but I get a +2 for proficiency, and a +1 feat bonus for using a fire spell. Hey, do I get that +1 because this character is marked? Yes, but your view is partially obscured by the smoke from the burning flesh of the orc at the target’s feet, so you take a -5 for that. Right, but I can use my Wand of Accuracy to add my Dex bonus to my attack for this round, so that’s a +4. No wait, +5 because we just leveled up earlier, right?”

I can see some benefit to getting away from that sort of thing… but maybe that all still factors in. I’ll have to read more to see.

I also appreciated the new level tiers. The writers made it clear that the four tiers between levels 1 and 20 don’t affect any rules or anything like that. They merely serve to give players an idea of where their characters stand in the big wide world. Levels 1-4 are apprentice adventurers, the novices learning the ropes. 5-10 are getting the hang of things. 11-16 are pretty big names, and 17-20 are legends on a worldwide scale. Far better description than the three-tier, 10 level per tier system of 4e… This new setup creates a shorter time as “newbs” and a smaller range at the pinnacle.

One thing I did like about the “flavor” stuff provided is how they describe the various races. I know, these four races are pretty much the bread and butter of most fantasy settings, so it shouldn’t take a lot of explanation to describe a dwarf. But I saw what felt like more effort put into helping a player figure out how to role-play their character’s race, as well as a good take on how each race generally views the other three.

Anyway, the point of this post is to call attention to the new rules being available, and to give credit to NerdAtlas, without whom I’d probably have missed this release.

More books are due throughout the rest of this year… but at $50 a pop for the core books, you can bet I’ll be paging through the free basic rules a bit more before committing to a new edition.

If you’ve checked the rules out or followed the development of this edition, what stands out to you?

The Happy App

On Feb 6th, happiness came available in the iTunes App Store.

Ok, not really, right? Because we all know “You can’t buy happiness.”

Wrong.

It sells for $15.99 under the (perhaps confusing) title, Final Fantasy 6.

Want a powerful but flawed and inexperienced female protagonist whose choices may shape the world around her? Forget Katniss and Tris, and go with Terra (or whatever 6-character name you choose).

Need a roguish hero driven by love and loss, torn between the girl he hopes to bring back from the grave and the woman whose life he does manage to save?

Royal twin brothers split up over responsibility and duty? One who took the throne, and one who fled to the hills?

A general cast out by the Empire she loves, because she wouldn’t forsake her ideals, fighting against a madman in charge of a powerful army, willing to murder whole cities to get what he wants?

How about a boy raised in the wild, cast away as a baby by a mad father, seeking restoration of the relationship?

Or a knight who loses his wife, his son, his king, and his kingdom, seeking vengeance on those who would use treachery where they cannot prevail in honorable combat?

Any one of these arcs can make a story worth telling. Not enough selling points?

How about this: Steampunk.

FF6 (FF III when it was released originally in America on the Super Nintendo) introduced a fantasy world with the industrial revolution in full swing. The whole storyline is about mixing magic and technology (and also people). Scenery ranges from rolling plains, dark forests, mountain passes, rural villages, up to the ironclad streets and metal walkways of the Empire’s capital. The game starts you off stomping around in mechanized suits with Magitek lasers.

FF6 was into Steampunk before it was cool.

Then there are the character powers, which tickled my nostalgia oh so right. More varied than any game that springs to mind, FF6 gives each playable character something to set it apart from every other.

  • Thieving from monsters.
  • Absorbing magical attacks.
  • Using a variety of tools (including an automatic crossbow, drill, and chainsaw) in battle.
  • Performing martial arts super-combos using button sequences like Street Fighter.
  • Triggering a wait timer to build up and release insane attacks.
  • Throwing stars (or all sorts of other objects)
  • Rolling dice or slot machines for special effects
  • Sketching copies of enemies to fight for you
  • Being a yeti. (‘Nuff said.)
  • Learning to mimic monster special attacks
  • There’s probably more but I haven’t unlocked the rest, and I don’t remember. And yet, each new character unlocked in the story brings the same reaction: “Oh yeah! That guy! He does that awesome thing in combat. Sweet!”

    I was a Hadouken-throwing beast in Street Fighter II, to the dismay of my brother and his friend. Sabin’s SF-style move Aura Cannon won my heart from the get-go, and it’s just as awesome now as it was back then:

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    FF6 includes the requisite slew of magical items and trinkets with various powers. They quickly amass, providing options and opening up combos of benefits to the thoughtful player. There are plenty of FAQs and guides online for character gear optimization, but it’s also not so complex that a new player couldn’t figure their way through.

    The plot and dialogue maintain the right level of humor and avoid being too campy or melodramatic, unlike some JRPGs, which leave me asking “What the heck is going on, and why do I care?” Just as before, I quickly became invested in these characters and interested in their stories.

    The new version provides a helpful clue button and expandable map in the upper left corner, in case you forget your overall goal at the moment, kupo!

    The music is top-notch for the era. It is no overstatement to say absolutely nothing compared to what this game brought to the SNES in the 90s, and the game still holds up well today. (It was ranked #3 on a list of best SNES games ever, right behind Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Super Metroid. I think there’s some worthy debate to that ranking.)

    On top of all that, FF6 was one of the first games to use the SNES’ graphics scaling capability. And it executes that perfectly. Whether riding a chocobo, marching Magitek armor toward a town, flying an airship across the skies, or following a flying character around the map, FF6 gave gamers a touch of 3D in their usually flat world.

    But if you ever played FF6, you probably already knew all that.

    So, what’s wrong with it?

  • I often have a glitch if other apps are open. The game seems to start then blanks out. In fact, it’s just another open app, and swiping over gets me going on the game. But you can imagine that was disconcerting to see first, after paying 16 bucks.
  • The touch screen controls can be tricksy and false, Precious. This leads to wasting abilities or opportunities, and general frustration when you’re bumping into a wall trying to get down some stairs.
  • There is a “fast forward” arrow button in combat that lets the game run your characters for you. The AI seemed fine at first, but then it started making horrible decisions, like wasting 250 HP potions to heal 3 HP. After advancing the story and trying again in a different area, I am seeing sound decisions from the AI. But I include the above example as a way it sometimes goes wrong, just because it frustrated me.
  • Not really something “wrong,” but I’ll warn any old player who might have forgotten some details, there are decisions you can make with permanent effects. Wait for Shadow to catch up! Also, “save early save often” applies here. No one likes reaccomplishing the same parts of the story.
  • I recall my delight at finding some Final Fantasy games on the App Store a year or more ago. This was the first game I checked for, and I left crestfallen. I kept coming back and hovering over the “Buy” button on different games, in the hopes that perhaps just maybe it might bring back some of the joy teenage me remembered getting out of FF6.

    I never bought any of them, though I’m sure they’re fine games in their own right.

    Then this popped up on the new releases, and my decision to buy was immediate. I started the game with trepidation – what if like so many other “amazing” things from my youth (G.I. Joe and Transformers cartoons, for example), I look at this in horror, realizing all its flaws?

    Those fears were pushed down from the start, and utterly quelled under the feet of Magitek armor marching into Narshe once I reached the initial credits screen.

    This is not just nostalgia. It’s a portal back in time and space to a place of joy filled with people I loved and never thought I’d see again.

    100 Followers

    I know 100 followers is weaksauce in the world of blogging, for people trying to market themselves or get their voice heard. I’m not out to do that (yet). I’m just having fun with a place to rant and/or interact with other people. I like seeing what other people think, and why they think the way they do.

    I still count it a special privilege that 100 people out there across the Internets have clicked buttons to become followers of my blog. Those clicks are whispers of affirmation and encouragement from someone not called Mom, in the moments when my hands hover over the keyboard while I ask myself why I’m wasting my time on this “writing thing.”

    It means a lot.

    So here’s a huge THANK YOU — err, wait —

    thanks

    There we go. Huge thanks to Erica for taking the time to click ‘Follow.’

    Erica is clearly a fan of BioWare’s Dragon Age games, and her blog reflects that. But she also runs a Gamer’s Store through Amazon that markets video games on multiple systems, comic art, comic books, and graphic novels.

    If you’re a fan of DA at all, you’ll find her posts on builds and talents interesting. It’s been a while for me since I last played DA 2, but I quickly found myself remembering the conflicts and twists of that game with a smile.

    Thanks, Erica!