Monday, May 30, 2011

In Which The Warlock Continues to Muse on Skills...

I wanted to continue the discussion on skills/powers use into this week's entry, as I find myself looking at something very old, to come up with something very new.

Play this game!  Why aren't you playing it yet?!
You see, friends and neighbors, I've been playing Chrono Trigger again.  Now that it's out on the Wii Virtual Console, and the school year's been winding down, I've actually found some time to sit down and enjoy one of the true classics of console RPGs.  What?  You haven't played this yet?  Seriously, if that's the case, shut down the browser, go buy a PS1/DS/Wii and play this game--you owe that much to yourself.

One of the neatest things about Chrono Trigger was its Tech/Combo system.  While each character had a list of 9 or 10 skills they could access--ranging from magic or physical attacks, to healing and buff skills, to more situational skills--these skills could be combined for greater, more powerful effect.

Case in point:  Crono, the main character, gets a basic sword attack called SpinCut.  By itself, it typically deals twice as much as a normal attack, with a better chance of landing.  However, when combined with Lucca's Fire attack, you could access FireSword:  Lucca lights Crono's sword aflame before he strikes, dealing a signficantly larger amount of damage than either SpinCut or Fire alone.  In order to do so, you needed only have Crono and Lucca act together, rather than separately, and ensure that you had enough magic points to fuel both Techs.

These Double and even Triple Techs ran through all 7 major characters, ranging from the lowly, yet effective X-Strike (Crono and Frog, available at level 7 or so), all the way up to the mighty Triple Raid (Crono, Frog, and Robo, available around level 25ish).  The more powerful the individual techs, the more impressive the overall result. 

In all of my years of gaming, I've never managed to come across a single system that allowed for the combining of abilities like Chrono Trigger.  Admittedly, the bounds of player imagination are difficult to balance, but a good GM can self-balance by apply continual threat.  After all, how can Marle manage to pull off IceSword 2 with Crono, if she's busy casting Haste and Cure 2?  A Double or Triple Tech is meant to be a spectacular attack, unleashed at pivotal points.  Perhaps limit it through Action Point usage, or though a Power Point system similar to the psionics rules?

While this would take a ton of work, in some regards, allowing players to come up with their own Techs and Combos between Encounter and Daily powers would allow for some really neat buy-in from players and some intreguing creative results.  After all, who wouldn't want to perform the classic "Fastball Special" made famous by Wolverine and Colossus?

The "Fastball Special"
Okay, truth in blogging:  I did have some players try this once.  In a near-epic level mini-campaign I ran, the players fought an evil druid creature in the roots of Yggdrasil.  The infamous Nick, playing a necromancer, raised one of the druid's henchmen--a dire wolverine--from the dead, while EEE's artificer instructed his contruct minion to pick it up and throw it at the druid.  Who knew, friends and neighbors, that an undead dire wolverine weighed as much as a VW bug?!

Again, it's not likely to see this sort of thing come into play any time soon, but a gamer can dream, can't he?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

In Which The Warlock Needs Larzuk to Socket his Weapon...

One of the biggest attractions for me in terms of 4e D&D is the varied and unique nature of the power system.  When nearly every class gets new Encounter and Daily powers at various levels, one would think it would become hard to itemize all of the different bonuses, cookies, and wound dice that get tossed around between powers. 

To be honest, for all of the flak that they take (from yours truly, even), the guys at Wizards of the Coast have done a pretty solid job of both keeping things balanced and in maintaining the flavor of each class.  A fighter gets powers that mark and punish enemies for moving away.  A paladin, while in the same role, gets more healing and buff cookies, and deals a lot more radiant damage--fitting, for a holy warrior.

But, there are other good ideas out there, too...what say we come up with some creative plagiarism, shall we?

A game that I've been slowly, agonizingly anticipating is Blizzard's upcoming Diablo III.  Yes, friends, I was a DII junkie--I still have a level 70-something Holy Shock paladin around here somewhere, decked out in uniques and rares.  Last night, though, Blizzard debuted some new videos demonstrating a new mechanic to Diablo III:  that of skill-based runestones.  You can check out the full series of videos here (Diablo III--Runestones)  to get an idea of how this works.

Diablo III's Witch Doctor casts an Acid Cloud
Essentially, each type of runestone changes trappings and effects of the skill.  While remaining mechanically similar--in each case, the Acid Cloud deals ongoing damage acid damage, followed by an additional, smaller effect--the change in the cookies makes all the difference.  One rune changes the skill to a puked-out cone of acid, while another turns it into an immediate burst, stemming from an exploding corpse!  While in all cases, those cookies are still a tasty delicious treat, it's like replacing your chocolate chip with white chocolate and cranberries!

Imagine, my lovelies, if D&D could manage to work this way!  Rather than taking a set Encounter power at each level, you could instead assemble your own from a table.  The runestones in Diablo III are separated into seven tiers of quality...much like D&D has Encounter powers at levels 1-3-7-13-17-23-27.  Let's say that, for example, you're building a level 1 Wizard.  You might start with a base level 1 Encounter power that deals 1d8 damage of a specific it lightning, for the time being.

Then, you'd get to pick a an option or two from a table of choices, based on what you'd like that power to do.  Among other things, perhaps you could:
  • Push X squares.
  • Daze the enemy
  • Deal an extra d8 damage.
  • Make the attack into an Area Burst 1 or a Close Blast 3.
  • Slow the enemy.
  • Attack two creatures, rather than one.
In each case, no two powers would look alike!  You could easily start off with a "Chain Lightning" type spell that attacks two creatures, dazing them, or turn the spell into a more druidic "Call Lightning", calling down a column of lightning from the heavens in a burst, knocking enemies backwards.  Two spells, relatively equivalent in power, that come from the same pool...and the options are left in the hands of the player.

At higher levels, you'd get more "sockets" that you could use for customizing your powers, as well as be able to pick from "better" tables.  You'd still be able to pick from lower tables, but would be able to name, customize and prioritize your powers based on what you want!  Naturally, the table should be customized for each "archetype"--a rogue-type would probably have to make a much more significant investment to be able to teleport than a mage-type would, simply because it's out of their purview. 

While I really love this idea for its customizability and its flexibility, I can't imagine ever seeing something like this take effect.  It's simply too flexible, too individualized to fit into tournament-style or "sanctioned" play.  Unless there were a way to standardize the selection process--which a good solid Character Builder could do, but I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon--it'd be too difficult to implement.

But, maybe...someday...

Monday, May 23, 2011

In Which The Warlock Makes a List and Checks it Twice...

Man, I just can't seem to stick to my schedule in recent days!  Yesterday, the PlatinumChick joined Lion-O, EEE, and Will the ManMan for a summer excursion to go see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.  As such, the weekend blog entry was relegated to today. 

You see, in amongst all of the chaos of the school year ending, I've been compiling exactly what I have to do this summer.  All in one place, it's a little frightening, children!  Take a look:

  • Revision for SunnyVale Acres
  • Begin work on [EXPURGATED RESULT] for Cubicle 7.
  • Finalize ICONS scenario:  "The Near-Orbit Mass-Driver Blues"
    • Character Sheets
    • Table Tents
    • Revised Outline and Villain Stats
  • Revisions of Origins Scenarios:
    • Deadlands--"Westward on the San Juan Express"
    • WEGS--"...WEGSthulhu"
    • CoC--"Chrysalis"
    • D&D--"Lawfully Blonde"
  • Prepare game supplies for Origins
    • Minis
    • Scenarios
    • Character Sheets/Table Tents
  • Pack for Origins
    • Buy gamer chow and other necessaries
    • Pack suitcases
  • Origins 2011
    • Run 6 games
    • Play in various events.
    • Live-blog notes for seminar--"Dirty Secrets of Game Design"
    • Handle donations for Sauer family.
    • Buy swag!
    • Live-blog (with photos!) each night.
    • Contact Slugfest Games, re: SunnyVale Acres
  • Mail out donations to Sauer family.
  • Continued work on [EXPURGATED RESULT].
  • Outline and write manual for Lumberjack Wars
  • Begin revisions on "The Yawlamoo"--2-3 passes.
  • Process game feedback forms from Origins.
  • 5 day weekend in Reading, PA for wedding.
  • Organize day-trip to GenCon Indy.
  • Revise and rebuild Dungeon Slam
  • Finalize drafts for [EXPURGATED RESULT].
  • Submit SunnyVale Acres to interested parties.
  • Prep for next school year
    • Shopping
    • Syllabus and lesson plan organization.
As you can see, friends and neighbors...this is going to be a busy, busy summer!  If I thought I wrote a lot earlier, I've got even more on my plate now!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

In Which The Warlock Swings on the Pendulum Once More...

Excitement, friends and neighbors!  My first draft of The Pendulum Method is done!  Sitting at 17,000 words, I'm really looking forward to see what comes of this.  With revisions set to begin--among my other massive slate of projects--this should really be impressive!

And, since this month's RPG Blogger's Carnival (May) deals with Mixing Genres, I figured there'd be no better way to celebrate than by posting a preview of the most dramatic type of Pendulum adventure:  that of Genre and Theme.  Enjoy this sneak preview of the introduction to Section IV:  Pendulum of Theme/Genre!

A Pendulum in Theme/Genre—Finding an Eternal Champion

Out of the three forms of Pendulum adventures, those of Theme or Genre may be the most difficult form to re-create and run.  Doing so requires an incredibly flexible GM, as well as a group that is willing to take on continual challenges both in the context of the game and around the table, as the game itself evolves and changes around them.

The premise behind a Genre-Pendulum adventure stems from an evolution of the Time/Setting-Pendulum concept, though also contains elements of a Character-Pendulum adventure.  It is this blending of ideas that makes a Genre-Pendulum adventure difficult for a GM to run, and difficult for a player to be fully invested in.  However, with a little practice, some quality GM skills, and an enthusiastic group of players, the Genre-Pendulum game can be one that your table will never forget!

In a Genre-Pendulum adventure, the GM changes not just the time period or setting of the adventure, but the entire genre of said adventure midway through.  This concept may be an ongoing conversion—one genre drifting inexorably into another—or in motions more similar to the Pendulum structure previously detailed.  However, in both cases the characters within that adventure also morph and change to reflect their surroundings—while the characters are fundamentally the same, their mechanical abilities and skills are altered to reflect the setting in which they take place.

One classic, if inadvertent, example of a Genre-Pendulum adventure comes from Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu sourcebook, Strange Aeons II.   In it, the adventure “Time After Time” begins simply enough—the character portray members of an FBI raid on a New England cult house.  However, as the characters are overwhelmed by the cultists and die off, it becomes increasingly apparent that all is not what it seems.  The characters, in fact, were nothing more than memories projected into the past by mi-go scientists.  Naked, bereft of identity, and far from “home”, the characters must find some way to escape from the mi-go hive without alerting the creatures to their presence.

That’s one dramatic shift!  What started as a noir-era, 1950s investigation ends with a soul-crushing escape from a dystopian future nightmare!  That fundamental dramatic shift epitomizes Pendulum theory at its core—by asking players (and the GM!) to shift gears so abruptly, an emotional high is reached and tension is maximized.

However, the real genius of this adventure stemmed from its seamless transitioning.  The disconnect felt when the characters are suddenly wrenched from the 1950s into a totally different setting is palpable, yet the mechanics flow from the original character into their new body in a near-perfect manner. 

The greatest advantage found in a Genre-Pendulum game stems from its sheer diversity in scene and malleability.  Fred from the strictures of published campaign settings or even a single pseudo-historical period, the GM is free to create adventures the can truly span the entirety of time and space.  Games that previously seemed difficult or impossible—such as a replication of Michael Moorcock’s Multiverse, complete with Eternal Champion(s), or a game based on Zak Snyder’s film Sucker Punch—now become feasible, even alluring.

One major difference between Genre-Pendulum adventures and its Pendulum-predecessors typically falls in scope.  Where it can be easy to finish a Setting or Character-Pendulum adventure in a single sitting—typically a 4 hour convention slot, or a single night of gaming with friends—Genre-Pendulum adventures tend to take significantly longer, and can even serve as the basis of an ongoing mini-campaign.  The dramatic shifts within a Genre-Pendulum adventure can be so drastic, so encompassing, that multiple sessions are necessary simply to accommodate these changes. 

Mind you, that’s not a bad thing!  One of the biggest complaints from gamers is a dearth in variety.  Oftentimes, both players and GMs feel burnt-out after numerous sessions in the same setting, same genre.  A Genre-Pendulum adventure addresses this problem head-on, providing numerous degrees and opportunities for both change and variety.  In addition, in the style of Moorcock’s aforementioned Eternal Champion, a Genre-Pendulum series of adventures offers different and unique looks at the same character, as each iteration of a given character, NPC, or locale provides a different perspective on what is fundamentally the same idea.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

In Which The Warlock Misses the Mark...

First off, apologies for the missed entry this week, assorted gamers.  This one wasn't actually my fault, though--Blogger was down for a bit, due to some technical issues, so even when I went to put up an entry on Thursday, I wasn't able to.  As such, here we are.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the only thing I missed.

Rather, I've been working with El Willy on revising the WEGS "Ultimate Dungeon Party"--a series of advanced Arks set to debut at Origins this year.  Containing the Monk, Templar, Dungeoneer, Warlock, Glaivemaiden, and Sneak, the UDP really has some great content to it, all in a little 54 card deck!  However, I haven't gotten a chance to play with it yet, and told El Willy that I'd give it a go at Wright State's Glory Con this weekend...

I'm not going to mince words here.  Wright State's gaming scene is massively frustrating.  They did absolutely minimal advertisement for Glory Con; we didn't even hear about it at Wittenberg until Gem City ComicCon, where they had a half-page ad in the con's on-site book. 

The last time we went to Glory Con, the amenities were nice, but there were next to no events whatsoever.  EEE and I ran the WEGS classic "Return to Castle von Yumenstein..." for three sessions, but our table by itself made up most of the events in total.  Overall, things were poorly organized, poorly advertised, and poorly set up.

It appears that things haven't changed. 

I arrived at WSU today, ready to throw down the UDP, only to find a totally blank room.  Walking around the WSU Student Union, with an armload of minis and other WEGSing supplies, I managed to find my way to the bookstore, where the clerk was kind enough to pull up the university events list.  Glory Con, apparently, is only opposed to the 14th-15th date, in the ComicCon ad. 

This could have been easily prevented, if the WSU group had a website or responded to e-mail (I've personally e-mailed the current president, only to receive no response whatsoever).  Even a Facebook page would be helpful, in both advertising and organization.  No such luck.

Honestly, guys.  Get your poop in order.

So, it appears that I have a free evening for once.  That means that I can finish out some of my major projects right now.  I'm about 1,000 words away from being done with Draft 1 on "The Pendulum Method", which will be sitting at 16,000 words total.  And, as mentioned, there's also the UDP, which is a total blast. 

Time for me to limber up those fingers, friends and neighbors.  I've got to get started!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

In Which The Warlock Breaks in Some New Bones...

Just as with most gamers, we're a little dice-nutty out here.  We love dice in all of their incarnations.  I have more than a few sets of Lou Zocchi's GameScience precision dice, a set of Q-workshop's Call of Cthulhu dice, and even bought EEE and the Patriarch each a set of glow-in-the-dark Arkham Horror dice for Christmas two years ago.  Will the ManMan and Chris III even make a habit of using d30s to determine their characters' birthdays!

But, when I got an e-mail from a blogger/dice-crafter about his new store, I was blown's a guy who really has a handle on the dice-crafting!

Unconventional Dice
From tubular (literally, and figuratively!) dice made from aircraft-grade aluminum, to more standard etched dice with a variety of pop culture symbols, to dice with literal screws built into them, he's got it all!

Check out his eBay store here:  Unconventional Dice eBay Store

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

In Which The Warlock Games Too Much to Blog!

Apologies on the missed entry, friends and neighbors.  This weekend's been beyond hectic, with enough dice being rolled to make the Bellagio jealous!  It's no small irony that I've spent so much time gaming in the last few days that I haven't even gotten a chance to update my gaming blog...

But, that changes now. 

Friday night got us off to a storm of gaming, as we tried out our full-conversion of Arkham Horror for the first time.  Tyrian Horror, as we're calling it, came together beautifully.  When ChaoticFrederick unveiled the board, I was in awe--I had expected to be a quick scan-and-print job; but he brought out a massive, laminated, full-color board!  Absolutely gorgeous. 

The game ran surprisingly smoothly, too.  With 7 players around the table--ChaoticFrederick himself joined, as well as guest appearances by the PlatinumChick and ChainMailleSarah--the game did run long, but that was primarily due to the sheer number of players.  The encounters and Mythos cards really helped capture the feel of Tyr, but the board and the characters were what made it.  Superimposed over the City of Tyr map from the 4e Dark Sun Campaign Setting book, the locations ranged from the Ziggurat of Kalak, down to the depths of Under-Tyr. 

I mean, really, the pics speak for themselves!

Jess and Chris I examine the Encounter Chart!

Our full Tyrian Horror set-up...

Fred looks over the board, anticipating his next move...

Actorios, complete with Sword of Glory and...Tommy Gun?!
If that wasn't enough, the next day was the WittKids' annual trip to FOPCon!  Scheduled to run two sessions of WEGS and another of Deadlands, I had a full day of gaming on the docket!

Really, this was a good rehearsal for Origins, which is slowly-but-surely rising on the horizon.  While my sessions went off really well--though, unfortunately, my last WEGS game didn't go off--I did find a few minor issues with my write-up of WEGSThulhu.  I had totally forgotten to write in the Chapter Rewards for each section, which led to some confusion as we finished the first encounter!  But, throwing down the Cold Roll Gospel did give me a chance to take a look at something new--the always-crafty El Willy e-mailed me a playtest version of a new Ark:  none other than the Warlock!  Full of hellfire and brimstone, this guy made for a massive change around the table, compared to the prior Mage-based Arketypes...

Deadlands, though, ran absolutely perfectly.  I couldn't have asked for a better table of players--the fellow playing Ricky "The One Armed Bandit" Parker, spent the entire session with one arm behind his back, shuffling his deck of cards with one hand.  Spectacular!  Couldn't beat it with a stick!

As I mentioned, my last game didn't go off, which meant that I got to sit in on EEE's Deathwatch scenario.  While we were getting our butts handed to us by beasties of Chaos and their accompanying Chaos Space Marines, I'd forgotten how much fun the maelstrom of the Dark Heresy line of games really are.  Brother Octavian, my tactial marine, engaged in a swift descent into madness, while Apothecary Lucian avenged his (rather explosive!) death, by hewing into the lead Chaos Marine with his chainsword. 

Just as the night ended, as our fellow gamers packed up, our party went once more around the table, hoping to take down the massive Chaos Captain.  And, lo and behold, the dice spake once more:  Lucian lucks out with an 03 on the percentile, hewing through the Chaos Captain's power armor with that mighty chainsword, bringing him to his knees...a great end to a great day of gaming all around.

I'm loathe to put all of the great pics from FOPCon 3 here, so I'll just link you to the album on Facebook:  FOPCon 3--Return to the Scene of the Con!
If that wasn't enough gaming action, that Sunday brought even more:  the finale of our ongoing Deadlands:  Follow the Walkin' Man campaign.  While LuckyDee wasn't able to make it, our posse rounded the table one last time for some resolution to the ongoing plot arcs.

Chris III's prospector-Agent Yukon Cornelius and Will the ManMan's replacement character, Texas Ranger Jason Cauldwell both decided to climb the Dark Tower...I won't spoil the end of the Dark Tower books for you, but suffice to say that their end was true to the end of Book 7.

The PlatinumChick and KungFuJake's characters, though, traveled south to Tombstone, where Bat Masterson was already meeting with Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Sam Pelfrey...better known as the Arizona Kid.  Deciding to join up with them against the Cowboy Gang, they were shocked to find out that a new influx of Chinese immigrants had flooded Tombstone--led by Xu Lei's villainous brother, Shang Lei!  Shang had taken possession of the medallion once possessed by Xu Lei's ancestors, gaining massive arcane powers...

...but they weren't enough for our heroes!  In a blaze of bullets, kung-fu kicks, and hexes, the heroes prevailed.  Roxanne ended up marrying Bat Masterson, then pursuing her father up the West Coast, eventually finding him in Winnipeg, Canada.  Xu Lei returned to China with his defeated brother in tow and the cursed medallion in hand.  And so, they lived happily ever after.

Whew.  That's a lot of gaming!  Now, it's onto the next bit...who knows what's going to come next?

Oh yeah!  This is officially my 250th post!  Woot!  Thanks for the support, all!