Restrictions in Choice; or Why I Prefer 4th Edition

I’ve written before about how I prefer D&D 4th to 3.5, and, at this point, I’ve played both enough to really have a feel for both systems. I feel like 4th Edition is simpler, but definitely more restrictive. There’s less freedom to mix and match abilities and classes, and to create something truly unique with the mechanics. 3.5 is a game that you could play in almost any fantasy setting; want a game where magic is rare and unknown to players? Then restrict it to certain classes and have everybody simply walking round, using feats and swinging their swords with max base attack at everyone. Same if you want to go in the other direction; magic users only game? Well, there’s a magic user for every possible eventuality and even just the standard wizard has enough variety in its spell choice to let you play a party of them without stepping too much on each others toes.

The same cannot be said of 4th Edition. Even with the classes that have had the most time to build up a variety of powers and feats, once again such as wizard, there is little room to have multiple members of the same class in the party. Sure, your Daily powers might be different, but 60% of the time you’re probably going to be using the same At Will powers. Even with the Essentials products or variant classes from certain sourcebooks, there’s just not enough choice regarding powers or change to the class’s base mechanics to enable multiple members of most classes in a party.

As an example of this, in my current 4th edition game, a new player was looking at his options for building a character, and was really interested in the class of Sha’ir, which I personally love and think is a great class for flavour that I’m glad they ported over from 3.5. However, we already have a classic wizard in our party, and when I looked at Sha’ir, all it really was is a wizard with a cool familiar and a few unique mechanics; fun stuff, but when it comes down to the session to session business, he’d be throwing much the same stuff out as our wizard friend.

But, I hear you cry, Sam, I thought you liked 4th Edition? And in truth, its lack of ubiquitous variety is actually the very thing I like about it. I don’t want my D&D to have the potential to be any setting with any combination of characters. I actually want my D&D to be just that; high fantasy adventure. If I want to play a game of badass wizards doing wizardry, I’ll play Ars Magica, or Mage (either the Ascension or the Awakening). If I just want to be a group of sword swinging adventurers getting by on their skill and wits, I’ll play Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. However, if I want to be a diverse party of adventurers who go questing, with a wizard, a cleric, a fighter and a rogue, then I’ll play D&D, and, in fact, I’ll play 4th Edition, because it has plenty of options but only for doing the things that a D&D game should be about, and to be honest, I feel like I could do with more structure in my roleplaying games.

One of the most stressful things for me is when I play in a game with a million different options, because I’m one of those people that wants to find the best character for me in a game; I don’t want to make something and just go with the flow. I’d actually prefer to be able to do that, but what can I say, I’m something of a perfectionist. 3.5 is a game like this for me; there are probably a hundred books for that game, each with 5+ different classes or prestige classes in there, and I can spend literally weeks of stressful late nights pouring over books and pdfs, trying to find the right class or combination thereof, to make the character I want. With 4th Edition, I just take a look at the index of available classes and pick what I want to be. I can choose which type of that particular thing I want to be, but I can be sure that whatever I make, it’ll fit comfortably within those classic roles.

Everything else aside, I think it’s this quality that draws me to 4th over 3.5; it seems like a more directed game. It knows the experience it wants to give to players, wheras 3.5 wants to be, or at least ended up being, a little of everything, and not really succeeding at any of them, at least to me.

Recently, I’ve been lucky enough to be a player in quite a few games, which is something of a novel experience for me. In the past, I’ve been the much-lamented “forever-GM”, and so being a player in no fewer than 3 roleplaying games on a weekly basis is some pretty unusual. I’m used to running 3+ games a week myself, but I don’t think I’ve ever been a player in more than 1 game at a time, and I think this strange convergence of events has made something very apparent to me that I don’t think I’d ever really come across before; GM fatigue.

For those who’re unclear what I’m talking about, GM/DM/ST/Whatever Fatigue is, in truth, the gamekiller and is probably the number 1 cause of the collapse of roleplaying games, at least in my experience. It’s when the person who actually runs the game, creates the game world, keeps track of the course of the adventure and makes the world actually come to life gets, at best, a general feeling of ennui about the adventure they’re running, or at worst, comes to hate the game and world that they have to devote large amounts to time to keeping alive. You come to care less and less about your game and its world; you stop planning your sessions a week in advance and filling all your spare time and paper with notes, and instead your sessions become hurried things you slap together a scant half hour before your game starts. You’re no longer enthused to tell your story or make your world live, and in the end you tend to simply go through to the motions so that the weekly game that’s been running now for 6 months doesn’t die a death. And then it does anyway, because eventually you get to that session where you’ve got nothing planned, and you’ve got so little inspiration for your game that you can’t even come up with something new on the spot, so you tell your players that you’re taking a break this week, or you’re not feeling well, or your parents are visiting, or whatever excuse comes to hand.

Sometimes that’s it. Sometimes, you just need that little break. Sometimes you just need to think about something else for a couple of weeks, and then your enthusiasm for the setting bubbles back up. You’re watching a film and something a character does makes you think about how you could do it better, or it just inspires you to want to finally get to your climactic conclusion. You plan a session or two, fired up again, message your players, tell them it’s on again, and everything picks back up.

And then sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes that first week break becomes two. You realise you didn’t write a session this week either, and since you’ve already skipped one week you’d rather not rush a session now. You’d rather take two weeks, but have a great session when you’ve had time to think about it. But then, you still can’t think of anything, you still can’t get inspired, so you push it back another week, and now your players are asking questions. They know what’s going on. Anyone who owns their own set of dice has seen it before. They’re enjoying the game, but they’re your friends too, so they don’t want to push. And so it ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper, as you all just stop talking about the game, and life goes on.

In my experience, GM Fatigue is a simple result of something as all consuming as world building being on such a demanding schedule as a weekly game, or even a monthly game, especially after your initial adventure idea has been used up. Once you’ve beaten the orcs threatening the village, you might have some vagues ideas about killing the orc king, or stopping the hordes attacking the kingdom, but it’s not as clear as the original idea any more, and it’s less exciting. You’ve just had your hack and slash, dungeon crawling fix, and so you either need to up the ante, or change what’s going on, or you’re just rinsing and repeating the same game again. So you move further away from your original ideas, the things that interested you about the game. It’s kind of inevitable.

So, why, you ask, have I started experiencing this so much recently? I think that, in truth, it’s because I’ve suddenly become blessed with so many awesome friends who’re volunteering to run games for me, and throwing ideas around for games, that it’s just easier for me (and some of my other friends as well) to hang up our GM hats. In the past, when I was one of the few people in my circle of friends regularly running a game, I felt that I couldn’t just give up on games, even if I, as a GM, was totally bored with them.

After all, there’d be no-one to take over. If I stopped running, that adventure, that slot in the week, that chance to get together with my friends and roll dice, would disappear. But now, if I decide to take a break (which I just have with one of my games that’s run for a few months now), one of my friends immediately steps up to run something else. It’s a pressure release valve that I just didn’t have before, and I’m not 100% sure whether it’s a good thing. Obviously, in general terms, it’s great. Having a circle of friends who share my interests to the extent that they’ll happily step in to run something is wonderful. But in a personal sense, I’m not sure if that release of pressure isn’t making me a worse GM. Am I missing out on experiences and great games that could go on longer, by taking the easy way out and ending it? Or am I just giving something it’s due and ending it while it’s in its prime?

If you’ve got any thoughts, please let me know in the comments!

Kickstarter; is it for everyone?

I got an email from White Wolf around Christmas time, letting me know that they had the release of another game-line in the pipeworks; Mummy: The Curse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on some inside track, I’m sure thousands of people got the same email. However, I had been looking forward to news about this gameline for a while now; it’s the first line from the World of Darkness series produced by Onyx Path, who are a group who have a truly nebulous relation to White Wolf that I’ve been trying to figure out for a little while now, and I’m quite excited to see what they can come up with. That, and Mummies are cool.

So, I cracked open then email as quick as I possibly could, to find a link to a Kickstarter, showing me all the various rewards and bonuses I could get for funding this project to completion. Now, normally, I’m quite a fan of Kickstarter. I’ve pledged to quite a few projects that I’ve either really wanted to see made or at least really wanted to get an early version of, and I really like the idea that creators can now cut out the middle man and go right to their potential audience/customers to get their funding. Great stuff. And I was completely ready to crack open my PayPal account to pledge £20 or so and (hopefully) get me an early version of the Mummy PDF or something along those lines. However, then I saw the rewards and was largely stopped in my tracks.

Firstly, and most importantly, if I want to get a copy of Mummy: The Curse, even a PDF copy, I have to cough up $25, which is pretty much just the same price I would be paying if I simply wait for it come out on DriveThruRPG (a great place to go to pick up your pdfs, by the way). Sure I’ll get some wallpapers (woo, like I don’t have enough of those already), and I guess I’ll be listed as a “Cultist”, but really it feels a bit stingy. Surely, if Onyx Path/White Wolf want our support in getting their project off the ground, they could at least give some real benefit to all those people who are going to be supporting them from the beginning and pledging their cash without even seeing anything of the finished product. Instead, WW/OP seem to be taking a cynical standpoint, only giving as much away for a pledge as it would actually buy that supporter once the product is out. It’s not even an early copy; at least it doesn’t say so if it is. This doesn’t feel to me like the creator/audience feedback loop that I’ve had from Kickstarter in the past, where a person who really isn’t sure their product is going to exist at the end of it is asking for help from their audience, but also giving that audience a bit of special treatment in return for their investment. This feels like something very different, and it was only later on, when I was thinking the idea over in that classic zone of ponderance, the shower (and yes I just invented a word, so what?), that I really hit upon what was bothering me.

What’s bothering me is that whether it’s White Wolf or Onyx Path funding the project, this isn’t a creator saying to an audience “we really need your help to get this thing going” it’s a big company, a company I actually like, but regardless a company none the less, basically saying to their prospective audience “we’re not going to take a gamble on this line guys, if you want it, put your money down in advance, cover our costs and then we’ll give you a product; a product that 5 years ago, we simply would have put into circulation for you to buy off of our own backs”. It’s asking supporters to shell out well in advance, for nothing more than the same product they would have got anyway, and you can bet this item would end up being produced regardless of whether this Kickstarter had met its goal or not. I mean, the delivery date for the product is February 2013; they can’t be using this money in order to support the writing of the book. It’s clearly already there. What they’re asking is for people to put their money on the table so that they as a company can be sure they’re going to make back their costs before really putting their hat in the ring with this product.

And what’s so wrong with that? On one level, nothing I guess. White Wolf isn’t the biggest company in the world, it’s not like we’re talking about Microsoft or IBM here. They’re probably struggling the same as most people in the current economic climate (don’t’cha just love hearing that?). Why begrudge them a chance to make some money without as much of the risk? I think my main objection in this area comes from the feeling that, to me, Kickstarter is about getting things off the ground that, without the support network of fans and interested parties, would never see the light of day. Big business wouldn’t touch some of these concepts because they just wouldn’t make enough money, or at least they don’t think they’d appeal to a large enough audience. But with Kickstarter that’s okay, you can go right to the people who want this thing and get your funding, and then everyone feels they’ve put a little something in to get out something they wouldn’t have had before. This Mummy Kickstarter really doesn’t have that same feel to me. This book would have come out regardless. Yes, it may have taken longer and people wouldn’t have got a lot of the little benefits that come from it, but they’re not asking for help to get something new and innovative done. They’re just using up the goodwill of their fans to avoid some risk themselves.

But then, what do I know; the Kickstarter just hit $75,199 out of $30,000, making them over 250% funded and they still have 7 days to go. Maybe I’ll just go take another look at the rewards…

Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

Poster art copyright belongs to the distributor of the film, Warner Bros.
Poster art copyright belongs to the distributor of the film, Warner Bros.

I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on Wednesday last week, and have been mulling it over in my head since. The problem with it as a film is that I am inevitably going to compare it with one of the best film series of recent years, everyone’s favourite, Lord of the Rings. And I don’t think it’s unfair to do so, after all, it’s the same people making the Hobbit and, as you will probably realise if you’ve seen it, it very much wants you to have seen Lord of the Rings before watching it. The problem with that is, however, that I’m not entirely sure The Hobbit stands quite as tall (hurr, hurr) as its predecessor.

Before I go to deeply into any flaws I feel the film might possess, I would first like to say that The Hobbit was an excellent, thoroughly enjoyable film that probably still rates among my top 5 films this year. It was as visually impressive as we’ve come to expect from these film-makers, and did a spectacular job of bringing the fantasy world of Middle Earth to life once again, and while I may have some gripes with all the extra material added into the film, which I will go into later, I loved seeing all the edges of the setting brought into the limelight (for instance, I’m yet to speak to anyone who didn’t love Radagast).

However, that said, I don’t think I can give The Hobbit a 100% approval rating. Firstly, I feel I need to point in the direction of its somewhat contorted story. While Lord of the Rings took a long story and kept it together in a continuous and tight trilogy, the Hobbit is really stretching to find material to fill the screentime. At around 2 hours and 50 minutes long, it’s certainly carrying on the tradition of long films, but I’m not sure that the source material really has enough interesting events and plot to fill all that time, and they’re very much reaching out to other books in the Tolkien mythology to fill the gaps. While this does mean that we get to see things that previous films may have only left to the imagination, the constant cuts away from what feels like the main plot to other events, often happening far in the past of the current story left me feeling somewhat disjointed. It’s like watching a film with all the scenes normally reserved for the DVD special edition included. Sure, it’s a lot of interesting and awesome stuff, but I can’t help feeling like I should be saying “yeah, I can see why they cut this out”. It doesn’t flow and constantly distracts from what feels like it should be the main plot.

Now, it could certainly be that I’m just mistaking Bilbo’s journey with the Dwarves to fight Smaug as the central plot, and in fact what is happening in the background is actually more key to what’s going on than I’m giving it credit for, but if so, they’re very much depending on the goodwill Lord of the Rings has generated for people to come back and see that payoff. I feel they definitely could have worked harder to make the extraneous scenes feel more integral to the film.

In addition, there seemed to be a lot of assumptions that you would know who these characters were from the previous films. Now, I don’t know how hard it would be for a person coming fresh to these films to pick up on who is who, since neither myself nor anyone I know has managed to avoid the LotR trilogy, and to be honest, I doubt I’ll ever know, but characters like Gandalf, Saruman and Galadriel are presented with little or no explination as to why they are figures of such importance in the mythos. Obviously, a lot can be picked up from inference, but I wonder if new viewers would be left a little lost as to who these characters are, and why the things they say are given such weight within the film.

If it feels like I’m just trying to find flaws within the film, don’t be surprised, because mostly that’s what I’m doing. The Hobbit is altogether an excellent film and does a great job of showing the universe of Tolkien’s mythology while still managing to have a central plot and story, even if it does seem to briefly go awry in places. The visuals are, as always, spectacular and while the film may rely heavily on its viewers having seen the preceding films, I’m not sure I can entirely criticize it for that. After all, if you haven’t seen Lord of the Rings at this point, may I suggest your first port of call should be a shop to pick up the trilogy (probably for the price of a cinema ticket nowadays…) and marathon that first.

In short, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is great viewing. Dramatic, funny and interesting, it’s well worth the price of admission, although I’m not sure it really stacks up as well compared to its epic predecessors.

Also, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

(I’ll get back to talking about RPGs soon, I promise. I just need to play some!)

Getting the Gang Together

Does anyone else have problems getting their gaming group together? I’ve been playing roleplaying games for years now, and the capacity for trouble when assembling a group of gamers has never ceased to amaze me. Even now, when my gaming groups seem to be getting ever smaller, it’s almost impossible to get a regular weekly game together. It seems like getting just 3 people together for a session should be easier than assembling the monumental 7 people games I used to run/play in back in university, but, if anything, it seems harder to keep these small games running, possibly because the loss of even one player means that we can’t run the game that week, whereas 5/7 was a good turnout in the old days.

People call the day before, or even an hour in advance, or maybe just drop you a text.

“Hey dude, I’ve got an early start/late finish today/tomorrow, so I can’t make it tonight. Sorry!”

I can’t blame them, I’ve done it myself. Work builds up, the house is a mess, maybe you’ve even got family commitments (maybe even your own kids?!) or you’re just totally wiped out from shitty, thankless days at the office. Unless the game really grabs your interest, it can be hard to turn down an evening that consists of a warm comforting meal on your own sofa in front of some of your favourite tv/films/video games before collapsing into bed for a few extra hours, at least compared to the amount of sleep you’d get after hauling yourself back from a game late at night.

This has got me to thinking, am I asking too much? Sure, when all my friends and I were lazy university-going bums, it was easy for us to make the time. After all, we pretty much had nothing but time on our hands, even those of us that went to lectures. Admittedly, we probably should have been doing more work and less roleplaying, but still, we had anywhere 2 and 4 weekly games going on at that time, and there were few weeks those games didn’t run.

However, nowadays, almost 5 years on, that’s all changed. Most of us have full time jobs now, we’ve moved further apart (geographically) due to affordability and work, and, obviously, we have less time. It’s fine to head out to a game at 6pm on a weeknight if you’ve only been to 3 hours of lectures that day, but doing the same after 8+ hours of workday is significantly more challenging. On top of that, our games have started to begin later and finish earlier as well. What used to be a 6pm through to 11pm affair is increasingly becoming a 7:30pm to 10pm session, which now only manages to run about once every other week, rather than weekly. Maybe weekly games are just not a realistic affair in an, and I’m loathe to use this work, “adult” world?

Having spent a not insignificant amount of time on various internet forums that talk about roleplaying games, it seems to me the more common format in games for work-a-day chumps is a monthly, or maybe, if you’re lucky, twice-monthly game, potentially running for longer than I’m used to (sort of a roleplaying day than an evening session). Maybe this would work better in our now grown-up roleplaying world, allowing us to fit our gaming in on our increasingly rare days off, but ensuring that people can make that bit more effort to attend, with only the one commitment a month.

I think I might give it a go with my next roleplaying endeavor; perhaps less is more?

Legendary Saga

This is a basic set of rules for Legendary Saga. My goal here is to keep it as lean and simple as possible and to make it as easy to pick up as I can. For that reason I’ve left out a lot of the “welcome to roleplaying” elements that feature in most books. I assume that if you’re here, you probably know terms like “GM” and “d10”. If not, my apologies; let me know and I’ll always be willing to add a little section for people who might be new to this kind of stuff.

Some people might not like the idea of a game where all but the most important actions are decided narratively by the players, but I feel that it works as long as the players are behind it as well. As always with roleplaying, it’s not about winning, it’s about telling your character’s story, and so people should feel safe that players are going to try and resolve the narrative in a way that is interesting for the characters involved. However, it does still retain the random element, and important events that have story consequences are still resolved with a dice roll.

This game owes a lot to a number of other games which either inspired me to make this by being great but needing a simpler system, or by having awesome ideas I’ve cannibalised for this. Big ups to Exalted, Prime Time Adventures and Lady Blackbird, amongst many others.

———–

  1. Glossary
  2. Characters
  3. Narrative Time
  4. Action Rolls
  5. Health and Soul
  6. Dramatic Points
  7. Progression

———–

1. Glossary

  • Action Roll – A roll made when a player wishes their character to take some significant action. Not necessary for every act, only those of plot importance. This dice pool is built by tagging Elements.
  • Drama Point – Granted to a player by either the GM or a fellow player when he does something awesome or describes something impressively.
  • Element – A word or short phrase describing a facet or aspect of a character, which, if tagged in the character’s description of his action, can grant a die to the action pool.
  • Flaw – An element of a character that deducts dice from related action rolls, but grants Protagonist Points in return.
  • Experience Point – An indicator of a character’s progression. 5 points will grant the purchase of a new Element.
  • Health Point – Representative of the wellbeing of a character’s body. Can be spent to enhance a roll.
  • Protagonist Point – Representative of a character’s plot importance and power. Can be spent to enhance a roll.
  • Soul Point – Representative of the wellbeing of a character’s mind. Can be spent to enhance a roll.

2. Characters

A Legendary Saga character is essentially a list of descriptive elements that come together under different headings to describe the character’s abilities and personality. These elements can then be tagged when a character is doing something to provide dice for his action pool, so the more a particular action connects with the character’s description, the better chance they have at succeeding at that action. Generally, characters start with a number of elements under different headings, and, as the game progresses, may develop more elements as their character progresses. Elements are generally one word to a short sentence, describing a certain aspect of the character, generally something he is good at or that exemplifies his personality.

For instance, a character who is good with a sword might have “Greatest Swordsman in the Kingdom” as an aspect, which he could tag any time he got involved in an action roll involving swordplay. The same character may also have “Can never back down from a duel”, and so if he was in a duel with swords, he could tag both, or if it involved guns or anything else, he would only be able to tag the second element. As stated below, each element tagged adds a die to your action pool.

As standard, characters divide their elements up under the following categories: Talents, Attachments and Supernatural. They receive 20 Talent elements, 10 Attatchments and 10 Supernatural elements. This is obviously just a standard value; for higher flying games more can be allowed, or the ratios moved aroun (for example, in games with no supernatural elements).

Talents are innate characteristics of the character, related to his physical or mental capabilities or learned skills and abilities. Essentially, talents should be elements of a character that do not depend on anything but the character’s body, mind and wits to be put into play. Good examples of elements that could be described as talents are Incredible Shot, Strong as an Ox, Winning Smile, Keen Eyesight, Master Investigator.

Attachments are external to the character, and represent either his belongings, connections to others or just status in the world. These should generally be descriptive of things the character has access to, either in broad or specific terms, or how other people see him. This is also the best area for describing things the character cares about and is attached to in the world. Good examples of elements that could be described as attachments are Billionaire, Head of the Secret Lodge, The Holy Sword Veritas, 9 Terrible Oni Servants, Space Battleship Orion, The Zion Company, The People of Orai Village.

Supernatural elements are not always applicable depending on the game being played. They are capabilities of a character that mark him out as something other than normal. These do not have to be overtly supernatural, depending on the playstyle, but without any supernatural elements, it is assumed characters are limited by the capabilites of natural humans. It is important to note that any powers or capabilities not defined by a character’s supernatural elements are not assumed to be possible. A GM may allow some cool improvisation on the fly, but if you don’t note down that your character can hurl lightning bolts, don’t expect to be able to do so. Good examples of supernatural elements are Master of Storms, Fly Like an Bird, Mountain-Tossing Strength, Laser Eyes, Master Sorcerer, Demon Summoner, Hypnosis.

Each character also has flaws. There is no minimum or maximum number of flaws allowed for a character, but they essentially work as anti-elements; every time a description or action would tag one of a character’s flaws, he deducts one die from his action pool for each flaw tagged. However, for every die lost, the character regains a Protagonist Point, even if this would take him beyond the normal limit of 10.

Lastly, every character has 3 other stats Health, Soul and Protagonist Points (PP). Each of these is rated 0-10, and starts at 10 at the beginning of each story arc (not session). As described below, Health and Soul are measurements of a character’s wellbeing physically and mentally, and can be lost as a consequence of failing an important roll, or spent as a resources to bolster your success. The complete loss of one of these stats can result in your character being rendered immobile and helpless and is the only real state in which a character can be killed. Protagonist Points, on the other hand, are representative of the character’s story importance and his drive to succeed against the odds, and are a resource that can be spent more freely to bolster dice rolls, with no real consequences for running dry beyond not having any more to spend!

3. Narrative Time

The largest unit of gametime is generally a story arc, the equivilent of a single film, series or book. It links many individual stories into an overarching plot, and may consist of any number of sessions. A session is a single evening or day of play, and is divded into scenes, the same way as a film or tv show might be. Essentially each scene should be the resolution of some point of story, although it doesn’t have to be a part of the story central to the plot. As long as either the game or the character’s own personal story is being furthered in some way, it can serve as the basis for a scene. Generally, the GM will set out the scenes that will be played, but it is also a good idea for, at least once a session, the GM to ask the players if there are any scenes that they feel need resolving, in order to ensure everyone’s character gets equal screen time.

Often a single scene may only involve a single action roll, or perhaps none at all if it focused heavily on the roleplay and interaction between characters, but there is no limit to the number of action rolls that can be made, if the context of the scene keeps changing, or if new elements are being introduced or even if players are at crossed purposes. All these can incur further action rolls to resolve the scene.

4. Action Rolls

In any scene where a player wishes to achieve an outcome he must describe what action his character is going to take, and by doing so he can “tag” elements of his character. The GM is the final word on which elements a player can tag; as a rule, unless a player has evoked that element of his character in his description, then it cannot be tagged. Action rolls are only required for important story altering actions, such as the outcome of a battle, the end result of an epic seduction attempt, a mighty leap across an impossible distance, etc… Most actions a character takes should simply be dealt with narratively, even ones his character stands a chance of failing. If it is irrelevant whether he wins a bar brawl or loses, then it should be up to the player to narrate how this happens in a way that he feels most suiting to his character. Only actions with important consequences really require action rolls.

Each tagged element grants a d10 that can be added to the player’s action pool, and a d10 result of a 7 or more is a success. A 10 counts as two successes. This pool does not denote a single action, instead it represents his actions over the entire scene, although, if circumstances change, a further roll may be required (if an on foot chase suddenly becomes a car pursuit for instance). Furthemore, at any time a character can spend a Protagonist Point to add a d10 to his pool. There is no limit on the number they can spend on a single roll. In addition, a character may burn a point of health or willpower on a roll, indicating singular personal effort, in order to add a single automatic success to the results of his pool.

The number of successes required to complete a task is set by the GM. In a static situation where the players are only opposed by the environment, it is common to simply set a difficulty number the players must overcome (generally from 1 – 5, depending on difficulty), which is the number of successes players must gain on their dice roll. On the other hand, if the players are opposed by an enemy of importance, it may be that the Storyteller will create an opposing pool for that enemy in the same way that the player’s pools are created, and they must overcome the number of successes the enemy achieves in order to reach their goal.

Finally, in most situations the failure of the roll means nothing more than that; the players characters do not achieve their goals and must go about it some other route or try again later. However, in difficult or dangerous situations the characters may incur some negative consequences as a result of their failure. As such, on these dangerous rolls, a failure may incur the loss of a health point (if it is a physically dangerous situation), or a soul point (if it a social or mental contest). Generally the loss of only 1 point is required, but if the situation is especially dangerous, they may lose as many points as the difference between their roll and the difficulty of the task.

5. Health and Soul

As well as being currency to boost the effectiveness of a roll, loss of all of a character’s health or soul points renders him incapacitated. The character cannot act beyond either laying in convalescence (health points), or sitting essentially comatose (soul points). This is generally the only state in which a character may actually be killed, after he has sacrificed every shred of his body or soul to a cause. A character may recover a lost health, willpower or protagonist point at the start of each scene; not one of each, just a single point.

6. Dramatic Points

Each time a player does something awesome enough to impress the other players or the GM he is rewarded with a dramatic point, which can be converted directly into a dice for his current pool, or to regenerate a lost point of Willpower or Health, or a Protagonist Point. This cannot increase these pools beyond their limit of 10. The Storyteller can hand out an unlimited amount of these points each scene, but players can only hand out a number equal to the players at the table. If a player wishes, he may ask for a short scene in which he either does some deep roleplaying for his character, or indeed with another character at the table, either as a flashback or simply as the game progresses in order to earn Dramatic Points. These scenes can be almost anything imaginable, but should only be a way to reward excellent roleplaying, not for simply refreshing empty pools. If a player squanders his scene without really working on his character or their relationships, they should leave empty handed.

7. Progression

Every session, a player is rewarded with a single experience point for having attended the session and interacted with the other players; five experience points purchase a new element for the character. This should generally represent some advancement or progression shown by the character during the game, and does not have to be spent straight away, but instead can be saved for when a player has had time to roleplay some advancement he would like his character to benefit from.

Players also gain a single experience point the first time they are awarded a Drama Point per session per person at the table. So, if there are 3 players plus the GM at the table, a single player can earn a maximum of 3 bonus experience this way; 1 for the first time each fellow player gives him a drama point and 1 for the first time the GM gives him one.

Review: Halo 4

This cover art copyright belongs to Bungie and Microsoft Studios.
This cover art copyright belongs to Bungie and Microsoft Studios.

How can you differentiate buyer’s remorse from simply wishing a good game was longer? This is the question having played and finished Halo 4 has left me with. Before I delve into the game itself, let me elucidate you on how the situation stands between Halo and I. Firstly, I’m definitely not someone who can be described as a Halo Devotee. I’ve never played in 8-player deathmatches, either in LAN or over the internet. I’ve never squatted to dangle my armour-clad ass over a fallen warrior. I am in no way obsessed with it.

I do, however, quite like it. I’ve played around half of the Halo games (Halo 2, ODST and now Halo 4 are amongst my conquered victims), and I can quite honestly say that I’ve never come away from the experience dissapointed. If there is a game where I want to be a burly superhuman shooting aliens, I very much consider Halo to be in my top two games, although I think gaming would be in a better state in general if “burly superhumans shooting aliens” wasn’t basically a genre in itself right now. I also enjoy the setting of the games, which has obviously matured with time, and Halo 4 certainly pleases me, serving up another heaped scoop of background material.

So, when it comes to Halo, I think I’m on quite a level playing field. I’m not bonded by deep and terrible oathes of fealty to talk about how much I enjoyed pwning newbs, etc…, but nor am I predisposed to dislike it, despite it being the forerunner (Huh? Huh? Get it!) for most things that I don’t enjoy in modern gaming. Although don’t count on me for accurate description of online multiplayer. Any game where I need to spend several days mastering it before I can be allowed to do anything before being immediately shot in the head is not something worthy of my, or anyone’s time. However, I won’t blame Halo for that; it’s the same with any online game and basically boils down to some people having way too much time to spend playing video games (how I envy them!).

So without further ado:

Gameplay

First thing’s first, for those who care, this is definitely still Halo. I know a lot of people were concerned that with the move to 343 Studios after Bungie were done with the series, the game just wouldn’t be the same; I definitely don’t think that is the case. Compared to ODST it plays much the same. Of course, there are some mechanical differences; as far as I can tell there’s still no dual wielding (a feature I always enjoyed from Halo 2), and some of the classic guns have dissappeared, especially some covenant weapons. The plasma rifle has been replaced by the Storm Rifle, which is essentially the same gameplay wise, and, according to the fluff, is the replacement for its now outdated predecessor. Still, I miss the classics.

However, as far as I can tell, the gameplay sticks to the classics, which is an obvious move on the behalf of 343. They know Halo will sell, and if they can produce a game that provides the same experience as the last few, then people will praise them for it. However, as was my experience with ODST, there’s nothing new. The armour enhancements from Reach are still included, with a few extras, I think, but I feel there’s very few true innovations in the game. They have come up with a whole new suite of weapons to compliment the new enemies in the story, but it’s so much money for old rope. There are some standout weapons, and the design of them is definitely impressive, harkening back to Tron Legacy in design I feel, but in reality it’s the same combination of assault rifle, battle rifle, sniper rifle, shotgun and rocket launcher. Sure they do fire and work differently enough to be different from the human and covenant weapons, but once again nothing new.

I’m also of two minds on the length of the game as well. On the one hand I was a bit bored with all the repetitive FPS action by the time I got to the final levels, but, after I’d finished it, I felt like I was a good few levels short of a full game. Thinking back, I don’t think it’s any real amount shorter than the other Halos, but I think the phrase it left me wanting more definitely applies.

I won’t linger long with regards to the online/multiplayer, mostly because I didn’t linger long myself on these aspects. The Halo 4 multiplayer was what I’d come to expect. I got shot. A lot. Woo. However, I did very much enjoy the Spartan Episodes; co-op play with a group of other random players vs a couple of missions that look to be updated on a regular basis allowed me to enjoy online play much more than before.

But, as a final word for this section, that doesn’t stop me coming away from this game having had a good time. Sure, it’s all jumping around incredible looking landscapes blowing up alien monsters with the aforementioned list of weapon types, but it’s still great fun. There’s a reason we’re now around 6 games deep into the series. The formula works.

Story

If there’s one thing I have to compliment Halo 4 on, it is definitely its story. In the same way that the main game is compact and to the point, its story doesn’t go through whirling loops or throw any red herrings. Land on planet, find evil alien, kill evil alien. At its core that’s what it boils down to. And in reality, I don’t really want anything other than that for the main plot of my Halo game. I don’t want to wonder whether this alien is right or wrong. He’s wrong and needs shooting. Lots. And maybe also a grenade.

However, for me, the standout element of Halo 4’s story is the interaction between the Master Chief and Cortana. Ever a strong element of the series, this episode really does it for me, contrasting the Chief, a human who might as well be a machine and Cortana, the machine who might just be human, at least inside. As the game draws to a close, and it lingers on the idea that there are hundreds of other Cortanas out there and that, if things go badly, the Chief might even end up partnered to another of the same, but it wouldn’t really be her, really cuts to the core of the situation for me. Oh, and the final scene is as close to heartbreaking as I think a game like Halo can ever get. It really exemplifies how a supersolder like the Chief, built for nothing but constant war, struggles to express emotion. Good stuff.

Presentation

As always, Halo looks good. 343 have clearly spent a lot of time making sure that, on any amount of close examination, Halo 4 can hold its own stood next to any other member of the series. The animation looks beautiful, the skyboxes and backgrounds suitably awesome, and the detail on the character models is exquisite. I really can’t fault the game in this area. If I had to pick one thing that bugged me, the only thing I could say is that by the end of the game I felt a little bit sick of fighting the same enemies over and over, especially the new Prometheans, who I felt were somehow more repetitive.

Conclusion

I was pleased by Halo 4, it was the same short burst of sci-fi action shooter that I had come to expect from the series, and considering it had been handed off to the new 343 Studios to develop, I suppose that is a compliment. I can’t say it was worse for having changed hands, and achieves the same benchmarks as the rest of the series.

As I stated at the beginning, I’m still not sure whether I feel that the game was too short and compact for the £40 price tag, and therefore I feel a little bit cheated, or whether I felt that it was just the right length to stop me getting bored. Or they should have varied the gameplay a little and added a few more levels. I really can’t decide which I would have preferred. Regardless, my conclusion is still the same; this is a good game. It’s enjoyable, action packed and has a story that, while not gripping, may at least make you shed a holographically generated tear.

Review: Shards of the Exalted Dream

Shards of the Exalted Dream, or just Shards, as it has come to be known, has been out for a week or so now, and I’ve read enough of it that I think I’m just about able to pass some form of comment on it. For those of you who don’t know, Shards of the Exalted Dream is a new book from White Wolf in their Exalted line, and it presents a number of new and different ways to approach and play Exalted. There are four alternate settings in the book, one of which encloses and entirely separate system, and there are also a lot of new rules in there for doing different things with your Exalted game; it includes rules for guns and driving, with charms and artifact cars, motorbikes and guns to compliment.

As described by Drive Thru RPG

The world of Exalted has been reflected in the minds and stories of players across the world for over a decade. Now the mirror shatters, and White Wolf presents a collection of unique new visions of Exalted, shards of imagination to take your games through alternate realities, twisted histories, new genres, and even to the stars. In addition to re-imaginings of the classic setting, this book also contains a plethora of new rules to support those visions, or for enterprising Storytellers to use to create their own new takes on Exalted. What worlds will you forge from your dreams?

I’ve browsed most of the book, and read pretty thoroughly through most sections, and I have to say I am impressed. Gunstar Autochthonia is the first setting, in which the Exalted lost their war with the Primordials, and as a result they were forced to flee Creation en masse, using Autochthon as a mighty spaceship, which, over the last 10,000 years, they have rebuilt into a mighty warship known as the Gunstar. This setting draws from a number of different sources but the one that struck me as the strongest influence was Battlestar Galactica; the feeling of being constantly pursued across what is a largely unknown void by powerful enemies that, if conflict occurs, you can only really hope to hold off until you can flee really reminds me of the recent series. And I have to say, that’s something I like.

The next setting is Burn Legend (a name I always feel like someone should be yelling in a deep voice as your press the “Start” button on a games loading screen), and is basically the RPG version of a 90s action film or fighting manga. This setting is the one that diverges most from “vanilla” Exalted. It’s set in the real world, or at least the Burn Legend version, where your characters, powerful martial artists running the span from mere heroic mortals who know american wrestling and muai thai, to shapeshifting Okami and demonic Yama Kings who harness supernatural powers in their martial arts. This section is lacking somewhat in exactly what you would do in a game where everyone is a badass martial artist, but it still seems like a lot of fun. The elemental martial arts styles in particular, taking clear influence from Avatar: The Last Airbender/Legend of Korra’s elemental bending (going so far as to call themselves elemental binding…), really draw my eye. I’m not sure a whole campaign of this is in the cards, but I can imagine some memorably one-offs being spawned. It’s a very streamlined system, with 3 main stats, a list of your techniques and then just backgrounds to resolve everything else, and combat comes down to playing cards to activate your martial techniques, some of which auto-defeat other kinds, but others calling for roll-offs. I’m hoping that this will mean the combat plays fast and furious, but I’d be worried that it could get bogged down in mechanics and card-choosing. If you’re interested in taking a look for yourself, see this link for the technique cards free to download from Drive Thru RPG.

Saying no to your players

Okay, so, just a quick post, since I haven’t put anything up in a while and I was inspired while cooking dinner. Having played a couple of different game systems recently, I’m musing on the concept of GM interference in what the players want, more specifically in character creation. How much free reign do you give players in your games?

I was involved in Mutants and Masterminds recently, which is a game I love, but one that has the most ridiculously broad character creation system, allowing you to create almost any character imaginable. Now, given that it tries to recreate the wild and varied world of comics, this is pretty necessary. It’s almost entirely freeform point-buy, in the sense that any stat in the game and any power can be bought at any level from maximum to minimum with a pool of points. No minimum scores, required powers or anything beyond what a player imagines. Which sounds great, right?

Now here’s the hitch. There’s something you may not know about me, if you’re not one of the people who knows me IRL, as the kids say; I am a heinous power gamer. I mean, real bad. Well, not bad, I’m actually very good at it, but that probably makes me bad to play with. I like my characters to be good at what they do. It’s not always combat, in fact quite often it’s not. It’s just that if I play a character’ I want them to be awesome. Fortunately, since I, more often than not, GM games as opposed to playing in them, it’s not an issue that comes up to often, but whenever I do get the chance to play you can guarantee I’ll be scouring books and crunching numbers to try and find the most effective build.

It’s not nice, but it’s the truth.

Okay, so where am I going with all this? Well, the character I made for my most recent game, the aforementioned M&M game, is a prime example of this. Sure, he’s fun, but he’s also a huge bundle of terrible powers and point-refunding character flaws. He’s literally a psychic box. He’s a paraplegic with incredible psychic powers (which is a concept I totally nabbed from the Ravenor series; a great read if you’ve not had the pleasure); it’s not actually as much of a munchkin concept as it sounds, and it has ended up delivering some interesting character opportunities, but I do wish someone had stepped in during character-gen and told me to scale it back, make it something more straight up and simple.

At times, it’s made it awkward for me and the GM. I think I probably would have enjoyed the game more with a simpler character. Flying around and blasting guys with energy rays might not give as many opportunities for character driven angst or allow for such a wide ranging set of powers, but sometimes it’s those restrictions that make the game enjoyable. If you can’t do everything, then it’s more interesting when you’re presented with situations to overcome. Now, credit where credit’s due, my GM definitely presented my character with challenging obstacles (at least once he was left with a powered down life-support chair, basically powerless), and that really made the character into more than he was, but I think these kind of interesting situations would have come up more often with a less heinous build. And I probably would have enjoyed the game more because of it.

So how do you deal with players whose concepts might cause trouble in your games? Do you ask them to scale it back, or do you accept what they want to run with and try to run your game accordingly? I tend towards the latter, but maybe that makes me a power gamer and a control freak?

Let’s Take 10

Okay, so I was on the interwebs yesterday, surfing about when I saw a discussion about what taking 10 and taking 20 actually means in roleplaying games.

For those of you unsure what I’m talking about when I say that, Taking 10 or 20 is the term in a game for when, rather than rolling a D20 to resolve a situation, you simply take either 10 or 20 as the result on that dice. Now obviously, this has some downsides compared to simply rolling the bones, as I’ll discuss in a second.

Now for me, what Taking 20 means is fairly simple; it is essentially as if you stood there rolling your dice over and over again until you rolled a 20, which basically means it takes 20 times as long as it normally would. More importantly, it also means that any negative results that would come about from failing the check automatically happen. Fail your jump check and fall into a chasm? Yup, that just happened. Trigger a trap and explode it in your face? Yup, bang.

So obviously Taking 20 isn’t always useful, and I think it falls to the DM to say when a character can take 20 and when they can’t.

Taking 10 is a bit more of a contested issue it seems. I saw someone suggest that for them, taking 10 was like a watered down version of taking 20. You try your luck 10 times rather than 20, so it takes 10 times as long, but still carries the risk of exploding yourself. To me that seems wrong; how can you try every possible solution, but only half? I mean, you either try it every which way with no concern for turning yourself into a magically-spattered lump of dust or you decide to be careful about it.

For me, taking 10 is your character only trying to do something once, but taking his time and being careful about it. Now it’s needless to say that neither Taking 10 or 20 can be done under pressure, so you can’t take 10 or 20 on opening a lock when there’s an ogre trying to smash your head in. You haven’t got all the time in the world and probably aren’t thinking particularly clearly. But you could take 10 on the aforementioned jumping a chasm. You know you need to be careful about doing it, but you’re not being chased at the moment and you’ve got half a minute to look at the jump, pick your spot, psyche yourself up and then go for it.

TL;DR – Taking 20 is trying every possible option, taking 10 is making sure you don’t mess it up.

Super interesting post, I know, but I just wanted to talk about it!

World Building: The Creeping Doom

I’ve recently started thinking about building a world for a potential D&D game. In considering the other day, I was trying to think of some kind of conflict that hasn’t already, to my knowledge, been played out in a game or setting, and then I hit upon the idea that anti-magic has good potential for a danger, especially in such a high-magic world as most D&D settings.

The world, which for the moment I’m calling “The Creeping Doom” is a high magic world, where people are used to living their lives surrounded by magic items, used to having mighty wizards perform great and terrible works and are comfortable in expecting that if they suffer any undue hazards divine magic can whip them back to life and full health at a reasonable outlay. I figured that in this kind of setting the most palpable force that could really be a threat to people isn’t a villainous sorcerer or necromancer king or anything like that, but is in fact something that diametrically opposes the magic that so influences the setting.

The idea is that, perhaps from the bowels of the earth or from some particular region, a growing area of anti magic has begun to expand. Called by some the True Death, this isn’t a force of necromantic magic sapping the life from the world, it’s the real cessation of magical influence. As such, it would be opposed by all factions in the world, both mighty elven druid kings and terrible undead liches. I want the Creeping Doom to be something already established in the setting; not some new force, but something people have been aware of for many years, centuries perhaps, but that has had some kind of resurgence in recent years. I like the idea of a world where magic pervades almost every part of civilisation, but can only really exist inside cities and towns, walled and warded against the ever growing True Death. Obviously, the idea that magical wards can repel and antimagical field is a little off, so perhaps some kind of physical barriers are called for. I’ll have to consider that aspect further.

The world would obviously also have its own politics that exist aside from this antimagic field, and have to deal with each other as well as try and halt the encroachment of this effect. I quite like the idea of there being at least one nation ruled by a probably Lawful Evil necromancer king, just because I quite like the juxtaposition that’s created when you have a life sapping antimagic field that is probably feared by the undead more than most. After all, most of them are magically animated; it’s quite likely they would suffer more than anyone else from the effects of the True Death.

At the moment this is all just kind of off the top of my head. I’ll think about it more over the next few weeks and keep posting up more stuff and crystallising it into a more usable setting as we go.