rpg

Faffing to 90 – Killing with style, killing in style

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Readers, I have to thank you.

In my previous Faffing to 90 post, I was somewhat cynical about the fact that you forced me to play a Blood Elf. I decided to make the best of it, made a blondie with one of those crazy hairstyles (only Varian has more wicked hair than those pointy-eared freaks) and named him Lorellis. The name is somewhat inspired by Loras Tyrell from A Song of Ice and Fire. For one because Loras is a badass warrior, but more importantly because the Knight of Flowers has that certain “fab factor” I’m going for. The result is the smashing elf you see above.

So, why do I have to thank you? First of all, because playing this Blood Elf has been a blast so far. Being the roleplayer that I am, I had to give Lorellis a personality. Being fabulous is sadly not enough to be an interesting character, so Lorellis had to be more. In my head, he’s a fashionista hedonist who has gotten in deep with some goblin loan sharks (who might be using actual sharks to enforce their will) to finance his extravagant lifestyle. In order to work his way out of debt, Lorellis has to do the only thing he is even better at than being the pinnacle of beauty, namely being the pinnacle of slaughter. And so, Lorellis’ adventure across Azeroth and beyond begins, always looking for beauty in all the bloody places. It’s killing with style, while killing in style!

Next to giving me the foundation of an enjoyable character to roleplay, rolling a Blood Elf also allows me to level through content I haven’t seen in ages or haven’t seen at all. The last time I played through Eversong and the Ghostlands was around the launch of The Burning Crusade, and I didn’t have a chance so far to even touch the reworked northern part of the Eastern Kingdoms. Imagine my joy when I noticed how much fun those zones are, with interesting mini-storylines and some fantastic quests. Always wanted to be a quest giver in the name of the Dark Lady? Make your way to Hillsbrad Foothills, and you can be one! Also, as with all the zones that received a facelift when Cataclysm hit, leveling in Hillsbrad, Arathi and the likes has so much…flow. Some might call it boring, but the fact that I can easily auto-pilot through these quests makes leveling so much more enjoyable. Kudos, Blizzard, kudos!

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Finally, an honest quest giver!

By now, Lorellis is level 32 and starting his adventures in the Hinterlands. It’s been a blast playing him so far, and I think I have to thank you guys for making this decision. You are truly the best readers are blogger could wish for!

Gear: make me care about it

lord of the rings aragorn narsil sword

“That’s all nice and well, Aragorn, but does that sword get you hit capped?”

Tyler F.M. Edwards of Superior Realities has recently given us a short summary about his love/hate relationship with RPG’s, highlighting what he likes and doesn’t like about the genre. One of the issues he has with the genre is the fact that your character’s gear hardly feels important. In fact, most games make it something replacable, merely a way to give your character bigger numbers so he can fight bigger enemies. Yeah, that makes gear important for beating the game, but how does it make it important for your character?

Maybe I’m just too much of a role-player, but to me, the equipment a hero carries says something about his personality and his past. Considering we are playing heroes in most RPG’s, I feel like the gear of our adventurers should really add to their or emphasize their characteristics. Of course your warrior will carry a sword and board, but why does he do that? Has his father taught him that the best offense is a good defense? Even better: did he inherit his shield from his dying father, hearing his dying words after that bloody raid on their hometown? Fiction is filled with examples of items that are so much part of the character we couldn’t imagine them without. Those characters wouldn’t trade in their equipment just because “it deals more damage and adds to my Stamina rating”. I mean, imagine how weird Return of the King would be if Aragorn went to the Auction House to get an upgrade for Anduril…

What I’m arguing for here is to make gear cool and personal again. Give me, as a player, to start caring not just for my character, but also for the equipment he carries. Give me ways to spend my adventure with not just fellow heroes, but also with that wand my character earned after graduating from the magical college. If the item has durability, make me really watch that so it doesn’t break and it’s lost forever. Make the destruction of an item equal to the death of a character: dramatic and plot-changing.

Alright, that might be a bit too much for video games, but it emphasizes my point: make gear more than just numbers on my character sheet. Instead of bragging about my new epic from last night’s raid, let me tell other players about my character and his blade Seven True Strikes, the sword he felled the demon lord with. Lord of the Rings Online is going in the right direction with their legendary items, but it’s not quite there yet. Let gear scale with your character, allows us to customize it, just give us ways to not feeling forced to replace it.

RPG’s are about role-playing, so please let me incorporate the gear into role-playing my character. Can’t explain why he changes weapons every week, y’know!

 

My short expedition into Numenera

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Remember how my last post was about me eating Monte Cook’s cake? Well, I had a taste of it, and I have to admit…it wasn’t really my thing.

To clarify this symbolic talk, let me grant you some exposition. Last night, I dived into Numenera with my friends Dee and Bee. We live far away from each other these days, but fortunately, a combination of Roll20 and Google Hangouts allowed us to give this weird science fantasy setting a try. We decided to play the adventure “The Beale of Boregal” (which is one of the adventures in the core book) with our merry band of adventurers:

  • Grott, a mythical glaive who focuses mind over matter. A short, fat, tattooed man who hails from a tribe of “wind-singers” (that was just fluff to give him a monk-ish feeling)
  • Nahuel, a swif glaive who fuses flesh and steel. He met Grott while hiding from an Iron Wind.
  • Perdita, a strong-willed jack who bears a halo of fire. She likes to talk, ignite things and eat like there’s no tomorrow.

While we all enjoyed our characters and the adventure (no matter how often we strayed from the path intended by it), I have to admit that the flavor of the world was not entirely mine. For starters, the sheer strangeness of this Earth one billion years in the future is really hard to portray at the table. Cook and the authors use a wide array of exotic terms for creatures, places and objects. This is fine for me, but it also increases the time it takes players to buy into the world. Sure, it’s really cool to describe a centipede-like scutimorph or a desert of shimmering red and purple sand, but once I started feeding my players this strangeness, I felt like I had to focus more on portraying a bizarre world than on the actual plot. Maybe I just suck at multitasking, but I’d rather focus my storytelling effort on actually telling a good story than one about fancy fauna and strange vistas.

However, I can’t blame that on the game itself. But then again, I can’t blame a baker for making a cake that just isn’t my thing. What I can say for this piece of cake is that there was still something I liked about it. Numenera’s rules are straight-forward, simple and clear. Character creation is a breeze, and the XP mechanic and GM Intrusions are a nice addition to the game (though I think the term “GM Intrusion” sounds far too negative). However, I just don’t dig the packaging of it all.

So, to stick with the cake metaphor: Cook and his crew have baked a cake that looks far too bizarre for me, tastes far too strange, but whose ingredients are actual pretty solid. Alright, I guess this wonky thing is breaking apart. Let’s just finish the cake before it’s just crumbs.

Chin out.

Numenera, or: how I fell for Monte Cook

Let me start out by saying that I never thought Monte Cook to be the “genius of the RPG industry” many make him out to be. I’m not saying he’s a bad fellow (I never met him, so I can’t judge), I’m just saying that I’ve never really liked anything he wrote. Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition was never my cup of tea, and the way he turned the World of Darkness into a post-apocalyptic setting never really…resonated with my vision of the setting. I admire him for his contribution to the hobby, but I just don’t like his creations even though the vox populi gets all excited when something with his name on it hits the shelves. . Monte Cook is like that bakery down the street that makes those delicious cakes the whole town likes, except for me. Sorry Cook, I’ll take a slice of Wick’s cake.

With that being said, it can be considered quite the achievement of him that his recently published and crowdfunded work Numenera has drawn my attention. Heck, it hasn’t just drawn my attention, it has me tightly in its grip! Characters have been created, and we’ll be started our first adventure in the Ninth World soon. Something about this more serious Gamma World-ish science fantasy setting just seems fascinating and begs you to explore it. The fantastic artwork in the books is very evocative, and the whole setting description just gets me excited to see my players dive into this medieval world build on the ruins of multiple highly advanced societies.

So there, Cook, I fell for one of your creations. Let’s see if I will really eat the entire cake, or just stick with this single slice.

Old school and new school meet Beyond the Wall

Alright kids, sit down for an RPG history lesson. Don’t start complaining now, you will thank me when something about this topic comes up while you’re at the final question of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. I’ll mail you my bank details once you pocket that cash.

Anyway, RPG history. I don’t want to talk about the history of computer RPG’s, but the one of tabletop RPG’s. Of course, both these histories are intertwined, but for today’s lesson, we’ll focus on the ones you play with dice and paper character sheets. Back in the days, before I was even born and when RPG’s were quite new, most games were all about plundering dungeons and slaying monsters. While the players gave their characters names and Gamemasters filled their worlds with details and daring plots, the primary focus of the game was gathering loot, gaining experience points and repeating that every session. Everything was clear and simple, and for a time, everything was fine and alright in RPG country. But everything changed when the method actors attacked!

Okay, sorry for the ATLA reference, but the day that games like Amber and Vampire: the Masquerade introduced complex stories and characters into the mix, was the day we could clearly see a divide in the community. I’m not claiming to be an expert on the matter, but if I had to pick one moment in time where the divide between “old-school” and “new-school” RPG’s was born, it would be the 90’s. It was then when story-focused games with less rules started to become popular, while rules-heavy games like AD&D had a hard time to compete with their revolutionary cousins.

Of course, D&D would get back into the fray once Wizards bought the license in the early 2000’s. However, the term “old-school gaming” will always refer to the time in which RPG’s where about lethal saving throws, weird level progressions and room-by-room exploration in dungeons littered with traps. The so-called Old School Renaissance (short “OSR”) gave birth to many retroclones trying to emulate the old days of simple dungeon-crawling action. Some of them try to add something new, but in my opinion, most OSR titles are pretty much alike. Then again, I’m not an expert when it comes to old-school RPG’s, so my opinion might not be so relevant.

erin lowe beyond the wall

By Erin Lowe

In the meantime, many modern RPG’s focus on characters and their relationships. Succesful publications like the RPG’s for Smallville, Leverage and Dresden Files use character-driven rule systems that put the emphasis on telling a story, rather than on surviving some ancient ruins filled with goblins. Players work together to create a thrilling tale, in a world they have designed together. It’s all about cooperative storytelling instead of cooperative monster-hunting.

Both kinds of games can exist next to each other, but like with many things that rub shoulders often, it’s only a matter of time before someone tries to cross-breed them, creating something daring, something experimental. In a certain way, Flatland Games has done this with Beyond the Wall, and has succeeded!

Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures is a game inspired by writers like Ursula K. LeGuin and Lloyd Alexander, meant to tell stories of young, special people who go out on their first adventure. The ruleset is a true OSR product: you’ll be making saving throws for things like Breath Weapons and Polymorph, while using your Base Attack Bonus to smack monsters. What is entirely non-OSR is the character creation process. Inspired by games like Apocalypse World, Dungeon World and MonsterHearts, BtW gives every playable class a Playbook. During character creation, you’ll be rolling on tables in that Playbook, which will determine your character’s stats and background. Also, you will be adding NPC’s and locations to the home village of your fellow characters and you, creating a diverse and interesting base of operations.

While this is just a small addition to the further completely old-school system, BtW integrates it perfectly and without forcing it. Sitting together to not just create characters, but to also think about the people and places in your home village forges an immediate bond between the player characters. Also, it gives you a truckload of plot hooks to start with: why does a retired dragonslayer live in this tiny town? Maybe the player of the Would-Be Knight who added the NPC can say something about that, which could be the start of an adventure. It allows out-of-the-box, sandbox gameplay, where everyone at the table adds something to the always changing world.

Now, of course, if you’re just not into the OSR-kind of rules, BtW will annoy you with its old-school feel. However, if you want to see what a nice mix between retro elements and modern narrative systems could look like, head over to Flatland Games and check it out.

Role Play Convention 2013 – smaller, yet somehow bigger

rpc 2013 role play convention cologne

Blogosphere! How you doin’? As I sit here listening to Frank Turner, I can only come to the conclusion that it was yet another great weekend, especially for the somewhat dominant geeky side of my personality. The reason for that was my visit to the Role Play Convention in Cologne, Germany. I don’t know if it’s still Europe’s biggest “general nerd convention”, but it really didn’t feel like it this year, while somehow it still did. Confusing? Let me elaborate.

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A Marvelous Weekend

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“Marvel Comics presents cvr” by Elde;gado

Next to having too much fun during a birthday party and a Mark Knopfler concert this last weekend, I found a way to make Friday till Sunday even more awesome by squeezing in some Marvelous pastimes. Yes, that’s Marvelous with a capital M, since both of the games I played this weekend use the Marvel universe as their setting. Together with Dee, I explored the rules of Cortex Plus and the Civil War campaign in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game, while I was also able to take a quick look into the final beta weekend of Gazillion’s free-to-play game Marvel Heroes. What’s my opinion about both games? Well, read on to find out.

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