Sunday, September 5, 2021

The New Campaign 1st Session Murderhobo Test


This was something I have been doing for years, but I never had a name for it. I didn't even think of it as a thing. I just did it. But my recent experiences running for a new group (3rd session coming this weekend), all strangers to me, compels me to blog about it. So I needed a name for this test I do at the very beginning of the first game of a campaign of D&D. At first I wanted to call it a Litmus Test. But until I looked it up that term didn't really apply. It was just a name for things, usually not matching the pure definition of it. Hence, the title of the post. Good a name as any. 

The "you meet in a tavern" trope was something I did as a kid when I first started DMing. It was easy. Just be at a tavern. When I started my own setting after using Judges Guilds Wilderlands, it was essentially a tavern (in a village...gotta have a supply shop too) and a dungeon. That was it. Its a loooong story, but my world grew from there. But at some point in the late 80's, I got more mature and creative as a DM and started going outside my usual box. Characters meeting on a crossroads and something happening (save a family from bandits, encounter a mage who needs help, etc). That was a favorite. Or all of them starting out hired by somebody and already in a room meeting about what was to come, the players doing what they do in any first game (because I make them); describe their characters to everybody. That "already hired" method worked great for superhero campaigns, and even Call of Cthulu in some cases. 

So well into the late 90's it was anything BUT meeting in a tavern. 

But at some point for D&D I went back to the "meet at a tavern" gimmick for one particular reason. Whether it was a group of new folk I was running for, or the usual group, I would more often than not go into it not really knowing how the characters would combine as a group dynamic. A couple characters might be easy going and not particularly violent, but even just a couple of murderous PC's, merciless "Murderhobos if you will, can spoil the bunch. Not just that, they can ruin any chance for a peaceful meeting of minds for the new party. You see, a group of gang members or just basic thugs will start a fight. They will claim the table is locals only, or they might hit on a female character a bit too aggressively. Whatever it is, a fight will erupt. But the first fight in a civilized place that a party has can tell you a lot. And that is why it started being a test for me. How violently and mercilessly will the party, or at least a portion of it, react to a less than lethal threat? Its good to know early on so you can adjust your campaign plans to account for violent sociopath PC's shitting on your good works. Lets face it, few campaigns are suitable for both murder hobos and heroic types. I like a group of mixed philosophies, but the party will lean one way or the other more often than not, and I want to account for sociopathic behavior. If the party wants to kill everything in their path, then I'll plan on more fights over any kind of intelligent role play. Fine with me. 

So here is the test: the party is at a table in a crowded tavern. They mostly don't know each other, but it was the only available table so there they are; either introducing themselves or focusing quietly on drinks and dinner. A group of toughs appear (a gang of local rakes; some barbarians just rolled into town; a half-orc work crew just off their shift, etc). They start some trouble ("hey good lookin!"; "this table is locals only!"; "there is a beer tax for sittin; here!"). They may be armed, but knowing its a guaranteed night in jail at the very least if full weapons are used in a fight they opt to start out with fists and feet. If things are going badly daggers may appear, but not full size weapons unless the other party draws first. 

So how does the party react? If its in kind with fists with no real deadly weapon escalation, then you know you have a fairly reasonable and intelligent party. If they pull weapons out right off and start hacking away, then you know you have murder hobos with no fear of repercussions. 

So in the first game of my recent campaign I did this. Party at city inn. It was The Bonfire Inn on Bonfire Street. The largest and most popular tavern in Tanmoor. It also happened to be Queen Libertine's birthday, and the characters, individually, witnessed the queen riding in her own parade, stopping occasionally to politely refuse costly presents from nobles, and accepting letters and humble homemade presents from the poorer folk of the city, showering them with gold coins in return. 

The city was drinking, in a way a city often known as "The City of Cups" only can. So as the PC's entered the bustling tavern to get their own drink on, they were lucky to find a mostly empty table in the back. But it wasn't long before my "test" began. The were approached by a gang leader and a few of his followers. They were know as "The Ragdolls," a colorful group who did themselves up in colorful rags and ribbons in the fashion of rag dolls and corn dollies. Another group of young upper middle-class thrill seekers in it for the kicks. 

The gang wanted the table, exposing the classic "locals only" philosophy. After a little verbal back and forth, the leader swung a wine bottle at the barbarian dwarf and the fight was on. Though at least one character, a wizard, had stepped aside to wisely avoid getting in a fight, the dwarf, half orc fighter, and the druid who fancied himself a bit of an assassin were right into it with deadly weapons. The druid threw a fire bolt. The half orc immediately swung his great axe at the lesser armed leader, sinking it inches into his shoulder blade, taking him to zero and almost killing him with that one shot.   

The gang member who got hit with the fire bolt took off at full run as best he could through a crowded room, and the dwarf wanted to toss his hand axe at him from behind. When I made sure he knew it would more than likely hit an innocent with that shot, and could count on being out of the campaign in prison for a couple games (or more if he killed anybody from behind) he rethought it. I don't usually interfere with a characters decisions, or go a ways to explain the consequences of a characters actions, but here in the test it is acceptable. 

And when you know a character will tend to try and kill a retreating enemy, who had yet to attack anybody, in the middle of a city in a crowded hall, you knew that you had a sociopathic character on your hands. Sure, he's a barbarian. But not all barbarian characters are run like that. But the test showed me this guy would be. No prisoners. Good for a DM to know. 

So I knew what I was dealing with and the test was done. At least a couple characters were going to be murder hobos, with a druid who also had not hesitation to throwing a fire spell in a busy tavern. I ditched the idea I had for the campaign, an NPC heavy urban series of games, and decided to go for hooks and quests that would take them away at least from the major civilizations. Dungeon delves where they would be met by other brutal things rather than spending the games bullying locals and town folk. 

...and now I knew what to expect. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Mad Max Role-Playing?

I first saw Mad Max about the time The Road Warrior came out. I'm not sure which I saw first. I know I saw RW in theaters (multiple times), and either right before or after Mad Max on tape. It was in those early years of playing table top RPG, and just like almost everything else it was hard not to see role playing possibilities in it. Car Wars was a thing, although it didn't really include much in the way of ongoing campaign possibilities, unless you injected that into it yourself. If I recall in early Car Wars your guy could exit the vehicle, maybe being able to take some pot shots at others as they ran to avoid being run over. But when I got the hankering to DM some stuff in a Mad Maxapocolypse, I did what proud RPG playing teens did at the time and circumvented Car Wars to whip up my own rules for a Road Warrior game. 

Memory is dim as too the details, but I had character classes. Wasteland Wanderer, Road Warrior, Corporate Agent (see below), former Athlete, former Soldier, Wasteland Raider, etc. 

Two things should stand out in the last little paragraph. First, "former" careers such as athlete and soldier. So of course that makes it obvious that this is not too many years after the end of the world. My setting followed the Mad Max and Road Warrior 1 and 2 implied progression of a society in decline for some years followed by an eventual nuclear holocaust. So maybe 10 years after the nukes? Secondly, the "Corporate Agent" implies that there is still some vestiges of civilization somewhere, and so there was. In 1982 there was a cheap little film called "Parasite," Demi Moore's first film. In it, there was a Road Warrior wasteland, and also a remnant of old world corporation groups called "The Merchants." In the film the Merchant agent tooled around the bad lands in a three piece suit and a cool sports car. And a laser gun.

A well funded 401K makes up for any poxiclipse...

The couple of little campaigns I did were successful. One was at the local shop Aero Hobbies in Santa Monica. It was early enough in the hobby that the stalwarts of the shop were still crusty wargamers in their 40's thru 60's, with a decent smattering of the owner's college buddies in their late 20's. So the teens who came in didn't often get the chance to run games there. But one of the nicer older dudes was a big Max fan, and jumped at the chance to play so championed me doing a few sessions. It went well. The guy ran a Lord Humongous clone among a variety of the character classes mentioned above, and he did the voice spot on and it was hilarious. 

You know the drill. Just walk away...

At one point they had a little convoy. This was a sandbox game, and most encounters were random. At one point a storm passed through, an anomaly event based on the storms in the book Damnation Alley (used also in the famous Judge Dredd arc "The Cursed Earth." These storms would rain not just water buy random things. In this case a bunch of sea life whipped up from the ocean. Humongous took a nice sized dead great white shark and tied it to the hood of his Mustang. Those were fun, beer and pretzels sessions (without any actual beer or pretzels). 

Another little campaign I ran around the time for some friends went just as well. One memorable character was a Former Athlete, a Rollerball player from the before the bad times. He still wore his uniform and armor, rolling down the interstate on his roller skates. I loved that image. 

No participation trophies in Rollerball, snowflake...

The thing about the setting is its hard to inject variety. Vehicle crashes and hand to hand combat with more or less the same kind of foes made it so the game seemed geared towards short term campaigns. And that was fine. We moved on after that to all the other games I was running at the time (D&D, Runequest, Champions, Call of Cthulhu, Gamma World, etc) and at some point my note book containing the rules was lost. 

The Mad Max resurgence of recent years had me thinking about it again. Fury Road was the old movies turned up to nitro boost. Characters like Immortan Joe, his war boys, and concepts like the Bullet Farm and such adds a lot of color to the wasteland. Max, who we always assumed could handle himself in a fight (he did alright in the Thunderdome) the new Max was clearly a badass, though it was still mostly assumed...he never gets in a real melee on screen other than his scuffle with a one armed woman.

She actually punches him with that arm nub which is pretty sweet

Some months after the release of Fury Road, the Mad Max video game came out. It was the world of Mad Max tuned up to an ever higher turbo level. This Max gets right into fist fights with gangs of raiders, and he goes to town with devastating blows and clever blocks and ripostes. 

Not long into the game I was taking on groups of up to 8 guys no problem. But of course the driving is the thing, and the game captures various auto related things exceptionally well. You get to give your car upgrades as you go, with things like harpoons, nitro boosts, and better armor. 

End of the world media just loves using that bridge in posters..

This wasteland is clearly the result of a world wide apocalypse beyond what the other movies showed. Here an enemy base might be a land locked aircraft carrier, or a wrecked giant submarine out in the dunes. 

If I ever do another tabletop version I would certainly use this more extreme and fanciful wasteland of the video game, with inspiration from the great characters of Fury Road. Concepts like The Bullet Farm and Gas Town hint at points of light civilization that might add variety to the sandboxing of characters. And certainly the possibilities of weird weather events, mutants, and other sci fi concepts would tighten up the mix. 

But will I ever run a Road Warrior campaign again. Likely not. But one can dream about the possibilities, right?


Thursday, July 1, 2021

Elder Scrolls games and Elder Scrolls Online - part 2


In my last post I described how I was on the search a few months ago for an online multiplayer game to enjoy with my friend "T", from back in my hometown, on our XBOX's. That search had lead me to broach the possibility of delving into Elder Scrolls Online, an MMO I was only marginally aware of. I have a history with several Elder Scrolls games, and T loved Skyrim. Like, LOVED. I liked it as well, despite not having anywhere near the crunchy character development stuff and depth of the previous titles. But making an Elder Scrolls game more accessible to less hard core gamers lead to Skyrim's popularity while maintaining most of the things true fans loved about the games. 

So we bought the download and on the following weekend dove in. We both independently created out characters and they both turned out to be Dragon Knights. Great fighters who eventually breath fire and stuff. Both were female. Mine a Redguard, hers a Nord. The Nord is tall. My Redguard is a good bit shorter though I thought I had made her tall. But I think T went with max height. Like 6'5" or something. 

I was going for a nice tanned Rachel Welch look, and I think I captured it to some degree. She's dotted with tribal temporary tattoos (the fact that they have a drippy look gives the impression she paints the dots and lines on her body every morning). Meanwhile the Nord is pale as a ghost. I jokingly called them "Salt and Pepper" when we first started, but in the long run we started referring to them as the "Fire Sisters." 

The Fire Sisters fish. A lot. 

We both had created out characters and played them solo for a couple hours or so before we actually played together. So just like every Elder Scrolls game, ever, you start in some slave/captive scenario, escape it, and end up before a city official. And just like that you are turned out onto the streets in your ratty slave garb and sandals to start your life in this weirdo land of ugly elves. 

And that was my first impression. The mushroomy, pandora-ish flaura and fauna of Morrowind. You see, the original ES Morrowind was my first experience with Elder Scrolls. And the land is still weird, the elves still sort of beat-up looking. I played Oblivion second and Skyrim third, and after those pretty normal fantasy lands Morrowind once again is striking. After many hours of play its still unique. You almost never get used to it. And its more beautiful at this graphics level. In old Morrowind everything seemed so dark and muddy.

Impression numero two. The cantons. This cool multi pyramid city were like run down old tenements in the original Morrowind.  And off the beaten path you start the game on. Here they are a thousand years younger, and part of them still actually under construction. And you spend a TON of time there. 

Impression three. The other players characters. Oh my god. And I thought the people watching in major Las Vegas casinos was amazing. But the main gathering places such as Vivic City, are crawling with them. Especially on a Saturday night. They are visiting the bank, the Argonian shop, the crafting tables, and often just milling around. 

You will end up doing a lot of repetitive stuff, though there is a lot of it to do so variety abounds. Want to level up blacksmithing? Do as much of that as you can. Want to be a master tailor? Get to using the clothing crafting table. And get yourself out into the world for the materials needed for all this fun.

And did I mention fishing? We do a lot of fishing.

So that is how you spend your early levels. Going out to search the land for various materials to harvest and mine. Fighting the monsters lurking in such areas. And of course stumbling across the earliest quests. The game does a pretty good job of levelling with you, and as you go from 1st to 6th or 7th not only do you evolve in all you do, but the world around you does as well. Chests and Runestones to get resources from start showing up. More monsters and tougher ones. You can really feel that change, in what seems like a natural way. And of course as in any ES game, you collect the quests. Better start doing them! Deliver this message, find this person, fight those bandits, locate that Skooma stash. 

 Quest quest quest. Mine mine mine. Craft craft craft. That is a lot of your life in Morrowind. Lots of hours. Its all good fun, though the questing is what I'm about. You see, I didn't craft much in the other games. None at all in Morrowind. In Oblivion maybe a little. It wasn't until Skyrim I embraced it, at least the blacksmithing. There is some importance to it, thought just like the older games I think you can play the game fine without ever raising your crafting past half a dozen points. Its just that there is experience for doing it so I devote some game time to it. Its all fairly repetitive so far (have yet to learn a lot of crafting items in different racial styles). But like a lot of little activities in the game you do get that small tinge of satisfaction at completing these crafting mini-quests. Watching those abilities slowly level up. 

But T has gone coo coo for Cocoa Puffs for the crafting. For all of it. She's all in. She spends as much time as she can. That was the thing that blew me away the most. Its the "unexpected" thing I mentioned at the end of my last post. She is devoted to it. Well, maybe devote is too strong, since she has sworn to god she will never pay for the subscription. At something like 15 bucks a month I can understand. Who needs another monthly subscription money hit. 

She plays so much, she started another main character. We play "The Fire Sisters" together on the weekend. But in order to maintain a similar character level with our Dragon Girls she started another guy to solo with during allllllllll those hours playing during the week (weekends). The Sisters are around level 29. Her other dude is 40th, and has moved on from the main island Morrowind to Daggerfell and other outer areas in the expansion. Always a bunch of steps ahead. 

And here's the real kicker. All your personal characters you create share the same bank account and storage boxes. That means that a high level character can find greater stuff and leave it in storage for one of the lower level characters to be stronger from stuff they didn't even find themselves. And there are other cheats/hacks for this character item-share. You can create one or two extra characters you won't really play. Just exist in their own reality in the city from the other characters of this player, and act as item storage by dipping into the shared bank etc to take less needed items to leave room for the main characters. You just switch to that character, do your banking and stocking, and shift back to a main character who gets to enjoy that extra space. And let me tell you; without a subscription your space is very limited and you are always trying to shift things around to make room. Selling at the shop helps with this. 

 I have other games I like to play so I will never catch up in ESO.  Jedi Fallen Order (it came with my XBOX), Mad Max (kind of a hard game in spots, but a cool sort of fantasy version of Max), GTA 5, and a couple oldies like Dead Rising (nabbed it free in the XBOX store) take up some of my solo Mio Time. Playing with another person online is kind of a secondary thing to enjoy for me as far as my video games go. I still love my alone time with my precious consoles. 

And so for my solo time in ESO of course there is my Khajiit, "Zebra". A cool albino catman with dreadlocks and zebra stripes  (I sort of imagined his people evolved alongside zebra herds they preyed on). 

Zebra Kahn putting on a little performance.

 Zebra is currently around 17th level. And that has been a lot of work. I don't play him more than an hour or so here and there. I do a lot of levelling up activities with him. But I have to be honest, I kind of get bored after an hour or so. I really do like the two player experience more in this version of Elder Scrolls. It's way less about solo immersion, though its clearly a way to to go. Though you see a lot of solo characters running around, like most MMO's its designed so you need the multiplayer to experience everything it has to offer.  One thing for sure is that I learn things better on my own though; taking my time to sample the world and experience it when I'm alone in it.  Playing with somebody who knows it so much more means you are getting your hand held a lot so as to not slow things down. So I do need to spend more time alone in the that world. 

So anyway the Fire Sisters go out questing and just wandering and grinding, but also like to spend time in town stripping off our armor and playing music and taking turns dancing. Sometimes other characters join in from time to time, and it can be hilarious.

And other player characters are fun to just watch. Mostly very high level (800+ is common), they have had the experiences and gained the skills and items to look amazing. The variety is out of this world. Sometimes I just just sit back, play the flute, and watch the world go by in front of me. All the other characters going about their business, and sometimes taking a few seconds to check out the two Dragon Knights doing suggestive dances. Yeah, everything is so beautiful to look at. So much more so than cartoony Warcraft. 

Can you wait in line at the bank in Warcraft? Not as far as I know.

And we have slowly gotten some experience doing instanced dungeons with other players. Some you just encounter in a public dungeon, or if you have the right item that lets you get in a que for a special dungeon to wait for a couple of other players to que up, and when the number is there (usually 4 players total) you all meet in the dungeon and grind it and fight the boss together. 

They have done a great job with this game. There is so much. But of course things are left out I miss. I remember just sitting around in the woods in the original Morrowind, or on the porch of my house in Balmora, watching the moon and the stars move above the spotty clouds. You see, in those original games there was a fictional heavens and constellations that meant something, and moved in life like cosmic patterns. It was so cool. But it does not seem to exist like that in ESO. Also as was the pattern started by Skyrim, character development upon creation, deep astrological stuff etc, was softened up for more mass appeal in the general game play. Goodbye character gen crunch. 

Other things are minor. You cannot collect books, and the ones you  read don't often do anything for you. You also cannot dive underwater. But its an MMO, and a lot of things just are hard to replicate from what is available from a solo game. But man, do they do a great job with this. All this gameplay, so far, for just around 20 bucks. But they do try to temp you at all times with greater possibilities if you are willing to open that wallet. 

So we plug away. Me for my maybe 4 or 5 hours a week, T with her 15-20 (or more?). ESO has really been a game changer even for me. And after a couple beers or cocktails the role play comes easy for me. Yes, even this. No, we don't talk over the headphones in character (sometimes semi-in character), but I differentiate my Dragon Knight and My Khajiit Nightblade in terms of what they do. My Redguard is tough and abrasive, but also fairly noble of character. Nightblades are kind of assassins so yeah I'm a stone cold killer with Zebra. Doesn't matter in the long run though. If you steal, trespass, or even kill somebody you just have to go on the lam for a half hour or so till the bounty on your head goes away. I like to hang out in secluded beach areas fishing and looking for chests while I wait till I'm legal again. 

Along with other things mentioned in the last few posts, ESO is part of a parcel of things that are making up for my lessening interest in running tabletop RPG games like D&D right now, in person or online on Roll20. This game, Talisman online, and my beloved handful of boardgames are taking up my play-with-others time. In person or on tha' internets. 

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Elder Scrolls games and Elder Scrolls Online - part 1


I'm usually about 5-7 years behind on video games and consoles. I guess that makes me not an avid gamer, but I never put more than an 2-4 hours of play into a video game a week. OK, there were exceptions. The oldest being Super Mario Bros 3. In the late 80's when I was in my first decent job (clerking in the MGM/UA studios legal department) I truly fell in love with what home video gaming could offer. I would come home and play it for a couple of hours every night. On the weekend it took up a ton of my time, that was only slowed down by me discovering my life time love of Renaissance Faire. 

"itsa me! Flying Squirrel Mario!"

A lot of my weekends were suddenly full during the year, but I played it fairly often for a couple of years. One of my older brothers, no longer living at home then, would come over to play it when he knew I wasn't around. I would come home occasionally on a lunchbreak to play (my drive to the house from Culver City was at least 15 minutes, but it was worth it for a half hour extra play) and he'd be there on it. I'd go out to the big den on a Saturday morning to play and he'd be there. At one point I just took the small connector cable and said it was broken. He immediately bought his own Nintendo. But that is the power of a great game like SMB 3 that you love. My brother coveted it and I became like Gollum with the ring of power. 

my precious

But there were also Silent Hill games, Castlevania games, Final Fantasy 7 (the first game I actually logged my hours...I put just under 100 hours into that one), Fallout 3, Knights of The Old Republic (one of very few games I actually played more than once all the way through...a total of 4 times). 

I love you, Bastila Shan. Especially in the dark side ending...

And then there were the Elder Scrolls games. Whoa. I discovered Morrowind at least a year or two after it came out. What a game. A new level. The type of play that had become famous for "see that mountain in the distance? Walk to it through lakes and forests and find a dungeon on it to delve into" swept me off my feet. In many ways I was overwhelmed. There was just too much to unpack. Just deciding on all your characters ability scores, aspects, and astrological signs could take a couple hours. So many quests. There was so much to do and I was so often blown away by everything I didn't even try blacksmithing and other crafting. My eventual home in Balmora was strewn with hundreds of alchemy and enchanting ingredients. I didn't know what to do with them, but I'd be damned if I was going to throw them away. I even loved the massive glitches. They were never game breaking. But you would come across a town you had visited before and all the people in it were now suddenly floating up in the sky. Another town suddenly was full of water like a great flood had happened, and the townspeople were swimming about their business instead of walking around. I always looked on such as huge curses or something from a mage. It was part of the fun. 

Oblivion was my next step up, and another level. Instead of ignoring the main quest like I usually do for a good while as I went about step and fetch quests, I dove right into trying to close all the Oblivion gates that were popping up all over. 

Again and again going through that portal and into that fiery realm of hell to fight the demons and get the Mcguffin. I was really playing it like a true role playing game. I would do things as I perceived my character would. My Redguard went to the amazing Imperial City, and worked his way up the gladiator ranks (I spent hours just betting and watching other matches from the stands before deciding on a gladiator career). The grand champion had to be killed in order for me to become champ, but I liked him (I helped the orcish champ with vampire trouble his family home was having) so I gave up on my championship dreams.  

Imperial City

Then of course came Skyrim. An amazing entry into the series. It was dumbed down and lost a ton of the character creation possibilities and depth of play, but the trade off was a beautiful looking setting with epic things to do, including the dragon related main quest. Again, I was a bit late to this game by a year or two, but when I started I was hooked. Another wonderful living world. I created a nord character and got him looking very much like Sean Bean. Fitting, as I had become a Game of Thrones fan by then. Skyrim was hella GoT in flavor. And by now I had started experimenting more with blacksmithing and other crafting. 

Around a year or so ago my friend "T" from my home town and long time player in my tabletop before I moved had gotten the gift of gaming head phones, and suggested to me that we start doing a little multiplayer online on weekends. Smashing idea! I had been playing my old XBOX 360 forever, and this was a good excuse to trade up to the latest. And the virus was just getting out of control so this seemed like a good time for it (even though since I now worked in health care I still had a job). T is a bit of a Hollywood socialite (former actress) and is usually out at big parties on weekends, but now she was stuck in like a lot of people. So I ordered a pair of gaming head phones from Amazon, picked up my new nifty XBOX at Best Buy curbside, and it was a go. 

So the search was on for a game I knew we could both like to play. My choice ended up being an indie game called Necropolis. It had a great, goth cartoony look I liked, and the play was based off the Dark Souls engine I think. It was only 6 bucks or so, so it wasn't a big gamble or anything. 

 It was fun, with your alien fighter or assassin slashing and bashing their way through a terrifying alien mega dungeon full of undead. 

A world so alien people don't even have feet

But in the end it was a frustrating experience. Not the game play, though there were glitches here and there. Often you might find yourself falling through the floor and plummeting down through the levels to your death, or get perma stuck on a ladder. But the killer was just trying to get together in multi player. It was hard as hell. It would often take up 20 minutes to log in together. And you more often than not did not restart with your gear from the last save. After a few weeks, with hat in hand I told T I was done with it. It was a waste of time if you could barely even get the game going. 

So the search for a new game was on. T wasn't really into looking at the games in the XBOX online store, so it was really on me. And I had to pick something good that would not be a controller throwing experience like Necropolis ended up being. So I looked at the reviews, and even games that looked amazing had lots of bad reviews, especially about the multiplayer experience. But then it struck me.

I had known about Elder Scrolls Online since it had come out. Years ago. But never heard much about it. World of Warcraft was the 800 lb. gorilla in the room. They even made a movie about it. But hey, T was a big Skyrim fan. I was an Elder Scrolls fan in general. So that simple math added up. Was an MMO the way to go?

My doubts were many. This was a higher level of multiplayer. What if one of us had internet that wasn't strong enough? Though T runs an office, she can be a bit of a non-techie. Would this require a lot just to get up and running? Plus games like this tried to constantly sell you on expansions. How intrusive would that be? Also in an MMO you had to play with people you didn't know. Not sure T would appreciate dumbshit, horny 14 year olds doing what they do in games. This might have been especially problematic in the MMO I was considering besides ESO. I loved stuff I saw of the game play of a game called Sea of Thieves, where you and friends pilot ships around various islands looking for treasure and chickens or whatever. But this game was automatically player v. player. Beginners usually end up being attacked by pirate gangs who kill you and sink your ship. No, this game was out. 

Female characters are a thing on
the seas (80% run by 13 year old boys)

As a fan of Red Dead Redemption I also considered Red Dead Online. But I knew T would probably prefer something with magic and spell casing. 

Is a boomstick magic?

So I went ahead and pitched T on Elder Scrolls Online. The basic game (that currently comes with the Morrowind expansion) was only around 20 bucks. She was intrigued. We decided to give it a shot, download it, and play it the following weekend. 

My worries remained till then. Also, I thought that there was not way they could have anywhere near the deep experience of the solo releases I had come to know and love. 

What happened next was totally unexpected.

to be continued...

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Favorite board game obsessions of recent years part 4 - Dead of Winter

OK, though Talisman will probably remain a forever fave of me and my fellow board warriors in my group, DoW has become a close second. 

My local besties B & L sold their house and hit the road in a huge pick up and a luxury mobile trailer to see the country. Until we discovered Talisman had a digital online version, our gaming pretty much halted. But last summer, when they were managing a nice RV park near Salt Lake City, I made the 6 hour drive to spend a few nights in one of the parks hotel rooms, and besides hiking in the local national park (and spending a bit of time in the RV parks rustic pub) we spent most of our time  playing the shit out of the board games I have mentioned previously, but especially our newest jam Dead of Winter. 

Here is Board Game Geeks description:

 "Crossroads" is a game series from Plaid Hat Games that tests a group of survivors' ability to work together and stay alive while facing crises and challenges from both outside and inside. Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game, the first title in this series, puts 2-5 players in a small, weakened colony of survivors in a world in which most of humanity is either dead or diseased, flesh-craving monsters. Each player leads a faction of survivors, with dozens of different characters in the game.

Dead of Winter is a meta-cooperative psychological survival game. This means players are working together toward one common victory condition, but for each individual player to achieve victory, they must also complete their personal secret objective, which could relate to a psychological tick that's fairly harmless to most others in the colony, a dangerous obsession that could put the main objective at risk, a desire for sabotage of the main mission, or (worst of all) vengeance against the colony! Games could end with all players winning, some winning and some losing, or all players losing. Work toward the group's goal, but don't get walked all over by a loudmouth who's looking out only for their own interests!

Dead of Winter is an experience that can be accomplished only through the medium of tabletop games, a story-centric game about surviving through a harsh winter in an apocalyptic world. The survivors are all dealing with their own psychological imperatives, but must still find a way to work together to fight off outside threats, resolve crises, find food and supplies, and keep the colony's morale up.

Dead of Winter has players making frequent, difficult, heavily-thematic, wildly-varying decisions that often have them deciding between what's best for the colony and what's best for themselves. The rulebook also includes a fully co-operative variant in which all players work toward the group objective with no personal goals.

That all sounds cool, and in reality its all true. There is a certain amount of complexity (nothing like some of the more popular Lovecraft games) but its fairly easy to pick up if you are focused at least for the first hour of the game. Most of its mechanics are intuitive. 

So you are living in a walled off community. You each start with two characters, with stats related to fighting, leadership ability, and scavenging. For instance the soldier has a high charisma and fighting ability, while the schoolteacher has improved scavenging in the school location. There are not hit points per se, but exposure to the elements and the zombie hoards outside can inflict wounds, and a zombie bite might outright kill you, and endanger others (if you get bit near others then you have to roll exposure for them - basically the dead character is now a zombie attacking them. A lot of elements in this game you have to make assumptions like that because, thankfully, the creators didn't want to waste to much of your time on fiddly details). 

The colony has its problems from turn to turn. When you use resources the trash piles up, affecting morale. You also need a certain amount of food to keep every body happy (besides characters there are a few nameless non coms you have to take care of). You are constantly trying to maintain a balance to keep morale from going down.

Besides taking out trash and such, the characters can go outside on their turn (rolling for exposure to the weather and zombie bites each time) and do some scavenging for food, weapons, medicine, and tools. Locations include the school, police station, grocery, and library. Just like the colony gates these areas can become overrun with zombies, so killing them now and again is a good tactic to keep things from going out of control. If a place gets overrun then characters start dying. 

When starting a new game you pull a card for the entire games tone and goal (keeping people fed, worrying about the trash, finding a certain amount of medicine, etc). Each turn you pull a card for that turns immediate goal (just lesser versions of the main game goal) and each turn another player will pull a crossroads card for you before your turn. That card has certain events that happen to a character on their turn, and often depends on certain things like if a particular character is in play or an action the character might take. Crossroads might also include an immediate event that almost always includes a choice to be made. Maybe you encounter a bus load of kids and have to decide if you can take them in and feed them, or if you abandon them (often all players vote on the outcome). Morale is often involved here. 

Then there is the goal of each player. At the start of a game each players secretly pulls a card for that. It might include things like end the game with a certain amount of guns, or to have a certain amount of characters under your control. Mixed in with these random motivations and requirements is a traitor card. There is a good chance a player will pull one, and buddy, these can be a pain. It usually requires that the game ends with zero morale on the board and you needing to fulfill certain requirements similar to the turn by turn cards. These are often seemingly impossible feats to accomplish. You need to work at fulfilling your requirements and lowering the colony morale without tipping off the others that you are a traitor. The players can vote to kick somebody out, and that just makes it all harder. Though being a bad guy in plain site can be fun. A nothing to lose scenario. I had a habit of pulling the traitor card in more than half the games we played, and had concluded that they were impossible. But in one of our last sessions I actually pulled a win out of my ass in the final turn. I needed morale to go zero, and I needed to have more characters in hand than anybody else. It wasn't going to happen, but suddenly the stars were right. Morale was low. I realized only one player had more characters than me.  I managed to get a crossroads card that gave me two more characters, evening me up with another player. I still had a move left so I had my karate guy move to a location with somebodies janitor character and kill him in a fight. That allowed me to have the most characters and brought morale to zero to end the game. It was an exciting win in a game that most of the time everybody loses, and it took the other players by complete surprise. So if you are the traitor it can pay to wait things out and hope the stars are right for a win in the final turns. 

There seems to be endless variation because not only are there a lot of characters to choose from, there are tons of all the cards. The crossroads deck is huge. So no games should ever play the same twice. 

I love a lot of the characters, but one of the funniest is the mall Santa. An old drunk who still wears his suit, the colony actually gets a boost in morale if he dies. 

Like Epic Spell Wars and King of Tokyo, this happens to be another game I encountered on Will Wheaton's Tabletop show (I actually saw it in a store originally but watching the episode cinched me buying it). I find it one of the most entertaining episodes and it features the late Grant Imahara and Ashely Johnson of Critical Role and The Last of Us fame. Its especially fun because you don't find out who the traitor is till the end of the episode, and its a great twist. 

There are other editions of the game I have yet to sample, but that in itself might be a good reason to go to a convention for the board game room. 

Its another long form game, usually taking 3 hours for three players. On game days we liked to play a game of this, and if we had another hour or so do a few shots of our shorter games. I love this game and King of Tokyo and Spell Wars, so days I got to play all of them were a great day for me. 

Oh, also, I love the art by Fernanda Suarez. There are certainly some beautiful looking people in the apocalypse. 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Favorite board game obsessions of recent years part 3 - Epic Spell Wars of The Battle Wizards

 Epic Spell Wars is a series of boxed sets based around the concept of spell casters, seemingly straight out of the pages of 70's and 80's underground comics, who formulate powerful and devastating spells created from three different components. 

My set is Dual at Mt. Skullzfyre. There is no board per se. But there is a nifty standee...

In this set the standee doesn't really do anything other than inspire. But some other editions include a rule about controlling the standee that gives it a bit of purpose. 

Much like King of Tokyo, the characters are nothing other than art. They all have only one attribute: hit points. 

Every round the players fill up to a certain amount of cards in hand. They then go about crafting their three part spell. Initiative is based upon a number in a little red circle on the Delivery card. Spells are made up of three card types that come in an exact order; Source, Quality, and Delivery. 

Source and Quality will usually include some affect, most often damage, and the Delivery is almost always a table to roll on to see what main damage you inflict with the spell. Each card has an element in the lower right corner. For each of these elements present in your three card spell you get an additional die on the Delivery table. So if you have all three of the same element present you get three dice on that table. 

When its your turn you reveal the cards, announce the name of the spell, preferably in the voice of your crazy character, and then deliver the damage. Last wizard standing is the winner. That's about it. Anyone who died gets to start the next game with a Dead Wizard Card, that gives them some minor advantage in the game. 

The only real strategy is using as many elements as possible to get the best roll on the Delivery table. But really, just putting together a funny or cool sounding spell is just as good a strategy; this game is maybe the most based on luck than my other faves. 

The other set I have is Panic at the Pleasure Palace.

It is essentially the same game play, mixed up with a couple of other elements. The characters and spells are a bit more x-rated. And a new feature includes being inflicted with and trying to remove spell casting-based venereal diseases. Oh yeah, this set comes with a testicle shaped bag to hold yer bits and bobs. 

Like King of Tokyo a typical game is about a half hour. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Favorite board game obsessions of recent years part 2 - King of Tokyo

When I moved into my new town over two years ago, I spent a certain amount of time at the local comic book/game shop. I got some 5th edition experience there (the game play was about what I expected from a game shop, a type of location I hadn't gamed at for decades), but the most fun for me was the browsing the tons of board games on display.

One of the things I wanted a change from in my move from Los Angeles was my high cable bills. So I just got Spectrum's "Pick 10 option" was getting 10 of your favorite basic cable channels (and also a bunch of the free channels usually available using a TV antenna) available without a cable box; it was all streaming. So I ended up getting my first streaming device, a Roku express. It was on Roku I discovered Pluto TV, a grouping of streaming channels that the next couple of years would be my most watched format. Pluto has channels dedicated to particular TV fare of various vintage. One channel might be all Baywatch episodes. One might be James Bond movies. Another showing endless episodes of Dark Shadows. But Pluto also had channels dedicated to internet shows of recent years, such as a Minecraft gameplay channel, several IGN channels, and Geek and Sundry. It was on Geek and Sundry that I discovered Will Wheaton's board game show Tabletop.

Will and Felicia (rumor has it Nathan Fillion knocked her up at a convention).

I was never much of a Will fan, but in all honesty I think I just bought into what seemed like a geek conspiracy to hate him (for being on Star Trek while they were not, maybe?). Getting to know him on the show I got to like him and his sense of humor. Will's guests would include a long list of geek media personalities from the fringes of movies, tv, and gaming. A virtual "who's that?" of pop culture. Non-household names like Grant Imahara from Mythbusters, porn gal turned D&D convention maven Satine Phoenix, and even the queen bee of Geek and Sundrey (at the time) Felicia Day (one of my secret pleasures was her and her bullying brother Ryan's video game play show Co-Optitude). BTW good news; Zak Smith never appeared on an episode from what I can tell. 

 I eventually would discover several games I love to play, and one I would love to but never did. That first one was Eldritch Horror, a game that looked amazing but once I got it on my table I had a hard time figuring the ins and outs. As usual in a Lovecraft game it was full of rules mechanics that seemed unnecessarily dense and high maintenance. That game has sat unopened on my shelf for over two years. 

But my great board game loves of recent times I actually get to play where on the show, most of which I will talk about in upcoming posts. Games like zombie crisis colony game Dead of Winter, the dream-like Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, Epic Spell Wars (think of it as Beavis and Butthead if they invented a board game), and what I am talking about today; King of Tokyo.

Yes, there is a Mr. Freeze penguin from outer space in this

King was created in 2014 by Richard Garfield, mastermind behind Magic: The Gathering. The basic "plot" is that you play one of several Kaiju. Some are clearly based on existing Toho Studios monsters, like Gigazaur (Godzilla), The King (King Kong), Mecha Dragon (Mecha Godzilla). Some are just plain fanciful, like CyberKitty, a giant...cyber...kitty...

I almost always run Gigazaur (similar to but legally distinct from Godzilla)

Different editions will change up the monsters, and you can even buy separate monster packs with a new monster and associated cards. My favorite of these is Pandakai, a Kaiju panda. 

"Hi keeba!"

The monster you choose doesn't really have any special affect on the game. It all mostly happens in the dice. So, you start with a health total (hit points represented by hearts), zero victory points, and a deck of power/event type cards that flips out three starting cards. These cards can be bought using energy (we like to call them "Energon Cubes" like from Transformers) you can collect based on dice rolls. There are two ways to win; either defeat all other monsters (bring them to zero hearts), or get 20 victory points. Victory points are collected either through dice rolls or card affects. I won't go into detail about the dice, but it is a very cool part of the game. I'm told it works a lot like games such as Yahtzee, where you can roll multiple times to try and get certain outcomes. You might be rolling to collect hearts to heal, or you may try for victory points (gained by rolling multiples of the same number). You can also collect attack symbols to clobber your foes. 

There isn't really a game board to move around on per se. Its just a small board representing Tokyo. When a combatant is in Tokyo all his attacks hit all other monsters. But all other monsters attacks hit him! Plus you cannot normally heal in Tokyo, so your time there will be short. But you can collect victory points by getting there and staying there. 

You can collect energy from die rolls to save up and buy cards. One card might let you have an extra head so you can roll an extra die. Another might depict a dedicated news team who follows you around and gives you victory points due to the press exposure (things like this add great flavor). 

Turns are action packed and the game goes fast. Too fast, I think sometimes. Many sessions will see few power cards get brought into play. Sometimes you are just too busy collecting heals and punches to spend time building up energy cubes. But some cards can be game changing for you, and they add a great flavor, especially seeing as cards can be the only thing that truly distinguishes a character. Sometime we play with slightly higher hit points and a need for more victory to win to have a better chance at bringing multiple cards into play. 

Sessions tend to be short, averaging probably 25 minutes. But the game is so engaging and full of Kaiju goodness you can do several games in a couple hours. Its perfect for if your longer favorite game goes short. And its easy enough to learn for kids too. You can get it for less than 30 bucks, and the price point is amazing for what you get out of it.