or, What Would You Do?
Yesterday evening, my wife and I were leaving the kids’ swimming lessons. The pool is located at Forest Heights, where there is also a high school and public library. It was about 7:45pm, so it was dark. There had been a light rain in the air all evening, so the ground was wet and water was pooling in the parking lot. At this time, a lot of lessons are ending, and a public swim is getting ready to start.
Don’t say a word to me about the fact that I haven’t posted anything here in a damned long time. I don’t want to hear it! I’m going to try to resurrect my blog with something that I thought about on my drive to work this morning while I listened to the radio. It’s not a new idea, by any stretch of the imagination.
We’re sometimes dumbtstruck for ideas for our tabletop RPG sessions. If you’re doing your own thing and not running a pre-published module or adventure path, you can sometimes look at your blank screen or notebook and think “Well, what are we going to do tonight?”
My suggestion? Turn on the radio and listen to music. Listen to the lyrics and craft an adventure seed or hook out of what you hear. This morning I heard Hell’s Bells by AC/DC on the radio, and after some thinking, I’ve put together this adventure hook for you to plunder if you see fit.
The Shadow Temple
It is early evening, on the leading edge of what promises to be a terrible storm, when the PCs finds themselves in a village, far from any major center. The people of the village seem distant, frightened and initially stand-offish of the newcomers. Soon though, the village’s reeve approaches the adventurers and begs for their help. The village is being terrorized by what they call the Shadow Temple – a dark structure that only appears in the village during night-time storms. Shadowy creatures that the villagers cannot harm spring forth from the temple, hunt and ultimately devour inhabitants of the village. The hunt continues until the bells of the temple peal their awful tones, causing the creatures to howl and return to the darkness from whence they came.
Try something out! I’ll post more ideas using Adventure Rock in the future.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last two weeks – or have next to no interest in video games – you’ve heard about Minecraft, a sandbox game which allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world. It is currently in development by Markus Persson, aka “Notch”. The game is currently in it’s “alpha development” stage, but had already become enough of a fleshed-out game that it’s playability is remarkable. It’s Java-based, so it’s got cross-platformability, has a great community in place, and is damned fun to play. I don’t want to get too much into the cons, as it is still very early in development.
While I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty details of the game’s development history (you can find that easily enough on Wikipedia), I will mention that I first heard about it through a post on Penny Arcade. The PA guys put together a comic based on their initial experience with the game, and the next day I purchased it.
And not a moment too soon. The weekend after the PA comic surfaced (on or about September 17th, 2010), Minecraft.net was crushed under the weight of overwhelming interest. Even unrelated community sites, such as minecraftwiki.net and the forums at minecraftforum.net suffered similar server overloads. As the Minecraft servers came back up the Tuesday after Penny Arcade’s comic was released, Notch explained that people were buying the game so fast that PayPal couldn’t keep up with it. After the first day of the new server, he claims there were 10,000 orders for the game. While the game is being offered at 50% off right now – which comes out to 9.95 Euros – that’s pant load of money. No wonder Markus announced recently that he and a friend were going to be starting a game development company, and are already looking at office spaces (one with a sauna, it’s told).
My own experience with the game has been great. The concept is simple – you’re dropped into a large virtual world. You’ve got nothing to your name, but the world is rich in resources. Wood, stone, ore and other crafting materials are abundant – some harder to find than others. Unless you read through some of the fan-made tutorials, though, you won’t realize that while docile animals wander the landscape during the day, at night the nasty critters come out. Before sun sets on your first day, you’d better get yourself a little hidey-hole made, or you’ll do what I did and spend your first night cowering half way up a cliff face.
You’ll also need to craft yourself some tools – but how? Without the aid of an online tutorial, I probably would have gotten frustrated and given up relatively quickly, but according to the game’s launch screen, there will be a tutorial level to play at some point in the future. With the help of a fan-made outline, I was able to sort out collecting wood, converting them to useable resources, creating a crafting table and sorting out some rudimentary tools.
Time moves quickly in the game, and before I knew it, night was falling. I had to create a home, and fast. Crafting a few wooden mining picks (I made several because wood doesn’t last long when digging through rock with it) I began carving a hole in a cliff wall, collecting the stone as I went. While I was at it, I also managed to find coal – which in the game looks like stone with flecks of black in it. Coal can be combined with wooden handles in your crafting table to make torches. Torches are the only easy source of light at night, and burn indefinitely. With only basic materials (stone and wood) I was able to create a cozy little nook in the side of a cliff, a crafting table, a furnace (for smelting ore, cooking food and crafting other materials) and a large storage chest.
At night, while it’s dangerous outside, you mine. Digging through the stone and dirt can get tedious, but there’s always the thought of what’s behind the next rock? Is it a vein of iron ore? Is it a deep cavern that descends into the dark where you may find diamonds, gold or even electrically-charged red rock? Will the next block you break release a gush of water into your mine? A deadly flow of lava? A swarm of blood-thirsty zombies? Only one way to find out… keep going.
Speaking of which, another aspect of the game is farming. With the right tools, water can be collected and moved around, creating irrigated fields where you can grow things like wheat which can be used to make bread. Food in the game is scarce, and while you don’t need to eat regularly, you do need to eat to restore health. Some of the food sources are pork collected from wandering pigs, mushroom stew and bread. You can collect milk from cows, but that is currently just a placeholder and has no use. Another farmed resource is reeds, which can be used to create paper, and eventually books. These will all be fleshed out further as the game develops.
You don’t need to create a hole in the ground for your home, either. You can utilize the common materials in the game to craft any type of structure. Gravity also works differently in Minecraft, meaning that if you can attach a block to another block, it will hang there in space until you destroy it. Want to craft a floating monument? Start by attaching it to the ground, tree or cliff face and then break away that connector at a later time. The stone will float freely in the air, allowing for creative and fascinating constructs.
I’ve been talking about the single-player aspect of the game, but it is also going to be available as multiplayer. People will be able to join in on servers to work cooperatively or competitively in Survival mode. Work together to build a fortress against the creatures of the dark, or separately to steal each others’ resources and become king of the castle. Multiplayer isn’t currently very bugged right now, with some resources not working properly, and filled with “griefers”, folks who deliberately try to destroy the work of others just for kicks. Already there are anti-griefer mods and scripts being developed by third-party coders and I’m willing to bet that the best of them will be incorporated into the final release in some way, shape or form.
With it’s simplistic design, deep complexity and interesting concept, I’m going to give Minecraft four blocks of dirt out of five, even for it being in it’s alpha stage. As I delve more into multiplayer, I’ll follow up with a discussion about it.
It’s been a long time since I entered anything into this blog, and it’s not for lack of things going on. There’s something coming up, in fact, that’s got me wanting to post something about it. In a week’s time, I’m going to be travelling to London, Ontario for a weekend of gaming at ColinCon. It’s not really a game convention, more like a weekend get-together. Dice will be rolled, beer will be consumed. That’s pretty much it.
Here’s some of the stuff that’s going to be happening at ColinCon;
My friend Fraser Ronald from over at Sword’s Edge Publishing is going to be play-testing his new RPG system, Sword Noir. I’ve tested Fraser’s games in the past, most notably his game, Chosun (I probably got the spelling wrong), a game set in medieval Korea. We played this at GenCon 2008 with some of the guys from Fistful of Comics and Games. As I’ve seen Fraser do before, he once again confused us with the names he had given to the NPCs and environs, which to our ears, started all sounding the same. In our gaming group’s premiere D&D game with Fraser, set in the City of Brass, we often didn’t know who people were, who we were working for, where we were or what we were supposed to be doing. Because of that, we often had our characters spend hours staring at silk merchants, or answering difficult questions.
Oddly-Named NPC: “What happened?”
PC: “Um. Don’t know. Shit blew up.”
My hope is that Fraser will dial the period-accurate names back from 11 and set them at about an 8. Aside from that, what I’ve seen of his development notes for Sword Noir, it should be an interesting game.
￼Lots of 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons
The host, Colin, and myself will both be running D&D 4e games. I’ll be running Keep on the Shadowfell, an entry-level adventure which was the first published module put out by Wizards of the Coast when 4e was made available. I’ll be pulling out all the stops, using maps, miniatures and hand-outs. My hope is that it will only make the game that much better. Colin is going to be running an Epic-level adventure of some sort, so we’ll get to see what the system is like at both ends of the Level Spectrum.
￼Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 3rd Edition
We can’t have the third host of the Accidental Survivors Podcast at ColinCon and not expect to see something to do with Warhammer, his Game to End All Games. Chris is going to be putting us through what is expected to be a no-win situation that’s going to feel like a horror movie. My guess is that there will be lots of zombies, and something to do with Nurgle or Slaanesh.
At GenCon ‘08, Colin, Fraser and I recorded a commentary track for “13th Warrior”. We plan on doing something similar at ColinCon, most likely a track for “Dog Soldiers”. I’m hoping to set up a better audio system with multiple microphones and headsets so we don’t need to worry about hearing the movie in the background of the audio commentary track.
There will also be many litres of beer consumed, and perhaps an impromptu episode of the Accidental Survivors will ACTUALLY be recorded!
I’ve had it!
For the last several years, I’ve been a pretty loyal drinker of Tim Hortons coffee. On a road / camping trip to the Maritimes, my wife and I found ourselves timing our stops along the way to where the roadside Timmy’s were. i recently cut back my visits to Hortons recently, just because of cash flow. However, when Roll Up The Rim started, I ramped my trips back up again.
I haven’t really been keeping close track of my coffee purchases since Roll Up The Rim started, but I’ll guess that I’ve had somewhere in the neighbourhood of two dozen coffees. Now, let’s compare that to the number of items I have won on those coffees.
Purchases = 24.
Wins = 0.
Aren’t the odds supposed to be 1 in 9? Is my luck so bad that I can’t even win 2 in 18? That’s abysmal.
Either that, or the 1 in 9 odds are bull.
F-U, Tim Hortons. I’m going to Coffee Time from now on.
Well, maybe one more Breakfast Sausage Sandwich combo… and then I’m done!
Last night I got together with a group of guys from some good ol’ RPG fun. The game was a “wierd west” setting run by Stuart Robertston from over at Robertson Games. Stu always puts a lot of detail into his games – at lest, he did with the two that I’ve played in. This game, in particular, had a sizeable collection of non-player characters (NPCs) that Stuart had generated a lot of detailed information about. On my way home after the game, I got to thinking about some of these NPCs and how they certainly added a depth to the game that other NPCs I have encountered in-game (either of my own creation or those of another game master) have not managed to accomplish. So, here, for your reading pleasure, are some of the NPCs that I’ve been remembering. Feel free to plunder, laugh at, or criticize.
The one that got this whole idea rolling. In the Arizona silver-mining town of Tharsis, Donald Smith ran things for the chinese merchant Li Chang while Mr. Chang was out of town on business. Mr.Smith wore the suit of a banker, a bowler hat, small round spectacles and was short, stocky, with an over-eager smile. Donald instantly gave me (or, should I say, my alter-ego PC) a “bad feeling”. Stuart (the GM) gave a lot of personality to Mr. Smith when interacting with the players as him, and his wide, bulging eyes and perpetual greasiness certainly made him stand out.
Jimmy, the cab driver
Many years ago, my friend Matt ran a modern-era vampire adventure for myself and another friend. Along the way we ran into Jimmy, a cab driver of Asian decent. Matt’s horrendous Asian accent and the campy personality he gave to Jimmy really made him stand out. What also helped was having Jimmy appear in several other RPG games later on, be they modern, sci-fi or fantasy. When Jimmy showed up, refueling starships in a space station near the Cron Drift, we all had a good laugh.
The leader of a thieve’s guild, the DM behind Kraus did a fantastic job of making the PCs in the game fear him – and not once did we ever raise a blade to him, nor him to us. Kraus was a man, average height and average build and carrying no discernable weapons. What made us fear him was how the DM described how other NPCs around him reacted – the guys we did raise blades to and had a hell of a time with were genuinely terrified of Kraus, and nobody would tell us why. The mystery of Kraus’s power over seemingly everyone was what scared us. The DM’s portrayal of Kraus was nothing notable, but his description of what went on directly around him was we bought into.
In a small colony, on a small Outer Rim world, the sith lord Darth Malaije had built himself a tiny empire based on fear. Those in the colony were scared of Malaije because of his incredible powers and brutality. When three Jedi Knights were sent to investigate, they found Malaije to be a small man that, though exceedingly clever, had no Force abilities to speak of. He had spent many nights creeping about the town installing hidden devices that made it appear as though he had incredible powers. When push came to shove, Malaije cowered before the might of the Jedi Order and admitted that he was really Ralph Nebulo, an accountant from Corellia who had tried to make a better life for himself. Ralph’s sniveling, cowardly reaction to the PCs when the truth was out was what made him memorable, and the players felt genuine pity for them man when he spilled his back story about a broken marriage, dead-end job and no hope for a bright future.
Or… “Holy Crap a Blog Post”
I’m not going to mention the fact that I’ve not posted anything since April or something like that. I’m not going to talk about it one bit. I’m going to go straight into a rant.
I live in Ontario, Canada. So do most of the other people who live here. Most of us have lived here for a significant portion of their lives. Like me, for instance – I’ve lived here since I was born.
Ontario has, to the best of my knowledge, experienced similar temperature shifts from season to season for at least one hundred years. Maybe longer. In the spring and summer, temperatures are warm. In the fall and winter, things get chilly. Downright cold, even.
One would think that people would have learned this by now, especially after living in this province for thirty to forty years.
I am sick to death of people complaining about the weather. As October sets in, people start to bitch and moan. “Ooooh, it’s cold. Oh, when is it going to get warmer? I can’t believe how freezing it is!”
Meanwhile, they’re wearing jeans, a thin little t-shirt and an equally thin sweater. To combat the colder temperatures (in their home, or in their workplace for instance), they simply pump the heat to tropical levels. I personally have seen thermostats recently set to 81 degrees Fahrenheit (about 28 degrees Celsius). Have these people not heard of energy conservation? But hey, at least they look fashionable, right?
In Other News
I recently began thinking about creating an adventure series based on a (very) short lived Pulp Era campaign I tried running a couple of years ago. Players take on the roles of Pulp heroes and hunt down items and locations of myth and legend. I’ve thought about such goals as finding the broken set of stone tablets that Moses broke after receiving them from God, the legendary city of Shamballah, searching out Tarzan, or even Atlantis. We’ll see how it goes. If it does go somewhere, perhaps my good friends at Sword’s Edge Publishing will put it out under their name.
It’s been over a year since I first decided to organize a play test and review of Fantasy Grounds II for the Accidental Survivors Podcast – for which I am very ashamed. Hopefully the kind folks over at Smiteworks aren’t going to be too irritated with me. They were kind enough to offer the podcast licenses in order for us to do so, and to have waited so long to do it, I won’t be surprised if they;
- Are royally pissed and think they got taken, or
- Completely forgot about it.
When the actual play and review gets posted to the feed, I’ll let them know about it and see what happens.
In the mean time, I’m going to track some of my thoughts about it here.
Originally I was going to create a custom adventure in Fantasy Grounds. While tutorials are offered, I haven’t found anything by Smiteworks that gives a really close look at properly creating an adventure for a total newbie like me. There seem to be good third-party (fan created) tutorials, however, that are available through Fantasy Grounds’ online community which is tremendously well used by some raving fans.
So – what I decided to do instead is use a free adventure called “The Wizard’s Amulet”. This was an adventure made for the original release of Fantasy Grounds, which has since been “fan updated” for Fantasy Grounds 2. I found getting the adventure installed into FG2 a bit of a process. There is no simple import or load function to allow you to easily run downloaded adventures with your friends. You need to go into your file structure on your computer and manually put it in place. Not a big deal for the technically-inclined, but we’re not all like that. I got some help via Twitter from another FG2 user which was a big help.
Once past that hurdle, I found that the conversion that was done on the adventure files was poor in regards to properly linked images. You can link from your adventure story to particular images in the adventure, and I found multiple links that opened up the wrong image. I kept getting Belfin’s background story when I was trying to open the adventure’s overland map. This isn’t a problem with FG2, but it did affect our game play.
I had to manually create all of the pre-generated characters, and this pissed me off – for a couple of reasons. First, in an FG2 adventure with pre-generated characters, those characters should be included in the adventure – not just their names and backgrounds. Secondly (and this brings up my biggest beef with FG2), the character creation tool is fucking awful. It’s clunky and not the least bit intuitive. I don’t remember how long it took for me to figure out how to put a weapon into one PC’s weapon list before I figured out I had to load up the basic rules book, drag it into the combat window, and then fill out more stats for it. Entering inventory was completely opposite – it all has to be entered manually. It seems counter-productive and ill-designed compared to some of FG2′s other very powerful, very helpful abilities.
Once I finished pulling out my hair in character creation, I was essentially ready to go. Myself and three others (Fraser, Darcy and Melodie) sat down one evening to get playing. While FG2 has a built-in chat system, we found that using Skype to speak with one another was a big boon. We still used FG2′s chat for the adventure’s (poorly written) boxed text, character emotes, secret messages and die rolling (another cool feature). I found the chat pane to be a little bothersome, because some players might just want to spend their time rolling as many dice as possible at once (casting “Wall of Dice” as Darcy puts it) or entering silly messages. That’s the beauty of the GM’s “clear chat window” function.
In conjunction with the chat pane, there are Quick-Slots that run along the bottom of the program’s window that you can put nearly anything game-related into for quick access. Drag your d20 into it to have a quick way to roll your 20-sided die. Drag your attack-roll for your longsword into one to have a quick way to roll attacks (you can do this with your damage dice, too). When pressed, FG2 throws the dice for you and displays the proper text into the chat pane.
Our first session was a lot of set up and learning how to use the program’s features. FG2′s ability to allow players to place tokens on maps, move them around to help with combat, mask certain areas so players cannot see sections of a map, draw areas of effect for various spells and more is probably one of it’s greatest strengths. Second to that, in my opinion, is the combat tracker. You can enter all the personalities into the combat tracker and it will give quick access to all combatant’s vital stats (if entered correctly into the character sheets) for rolling attacks, damage and more.
While our first session was a lot of fumbling around and only one minor combat encounter, there were some skill checks made. This is easily performed by dragging your skill check modifier to a box below the chat pane marked “modifier”, using your mouse to “pick up” the requisite die, and throwing the die down on to the chat pane. The die is rolled, modified as per your skill modifier, and a line appears in the chat window showing your character name, skill used and total roll. In some situations like flanking during combat, a “sickened” effect from a ghast, and other temporary modifiers, we didn’t find an easy way to enter and track these modifiers during combat.
Ah yes – the ghast.
The second session started with a nice camping spot after about 4 days of good travel. There was some conversation as one of the PCs finally cleared the air about why he had hired the rest to come with him. As the night’s watches started, I rolled a random encounter – a ghoul and a ghast wandered into the camp from a nearby, forgotten pioneer cemetery. Melodie’s character, the elven ranger Belfin, downed the ghoul with a single longbow shot, but the ghast proved to be a challenge for the ranger, rogue and sorcerer. Thirteen rounds of combat certainly gave us an idea of how to run an encounter and use the Combat Tracker. This is where I pined for an easy way to track temporary modifiers like flanking bonuses and effect modifiers (everyone was affected by the ghast’s stench), but it also showed us how to properly use the grid function of the battlemap, how to track movement and how to have players request token movements around the board.
I don’t know why it was, but I found that my dice were rolling like maniacs. I would regularly roll 15-19 on a d20, while the others were rolling 1s, 3s and 5s an inordinate amount of time. Not just one of the players, but all of them. Fortunately, they successfully saved vs. the paralysis of a ghast bite several times.
We ended the second session with destroyed undead, badly wounded players and a more solid idea of our thoughts on the software. We’re going to have one more session to finish up and then we’ll do our review (along with the recordings of the play test sessions). Hopefully we’ll have things ready to go by the end of May.
First of all, I’d like to apologize for the lack of effort I’ve been putting into the blog lately. My excuses are many and varied.
- I have a 2 1/2 year old and an 11 month old at home. I love my children. Their every waking minute takes up my time, when I’m not at work. After they are asleep, I prefer to vegitate, being exhausted from a day at work and only a couple of hours running around after them.
- My video-game playing has increased as my daughter has gotten older. When not asleep, I like to spend time playing games. This is escapism, plain and simple. I have been enjoying the Champions Online beta, Mass Effect, PuzzleQuest Galactrix and I recently discovered a nifty game called Evochron Legends (a game which I find tremendously impressive for it’s scale and remarkably small download size). I’ll talk more about Evochron later.
- My work life has gotten very, very busy. I don’t write this blog for a living. I’m a graphic designer. Since the studio I was working for was bought out last September (which was a good thing – it was either be bought out or close the doors), my workload has increased tenfold. To my embarrassment, many of my blog posts were done during work hours. I simply don’t have that kind of time at work any longer.
Secondly, I would like to take a moment to make perfectly clear that this blog has nothing to do with Andrew Bub’s Gamerdad.com website and blog – a blog that deals specifically with video games, parenting, violence and children. Andrew has a lot of great game reviews on his site, and has expressed concern to me that our two blogs may be confused because of the similar names. I don’t think this is the case, but to be safe I just thought I’d mention it. The last thing I want is a GamerDad vs. Gamer Dad cage match. On the other hand, I think I’d have some backup based on the number of other Gamer Dads out there. I’d just have to stay alive long enough to tag out.
Lastly, I want to let everybody know that this week, the Accidental Survivors podcast is going to be talking to Ross Watson from Fantasy Flight Games again, along with his good buddy Mike Surbrook. We’re going to be talking about sci-fi gear in modern and cyberpunk games. We record on Wednesday night this week, so the episode should be going live by the 23rd or 24th of March.