Friday, March 23, 2012

Endgame (A.K.A. 100+ hours and the only choices I get are different colored explosions?) **ME3 Spoilers Inside**

Mass Effect. Great game series, loved them all. Yup, even with the micro-managing in the first one, but I could do without the mineral scanning of the second one. I've replayed them numerous times. And I've even started up a second play through of the third game, even knowing that no matter what I do will get the ending that makes me feel like Commander Shepard failed.
That's right, I feel like Shepard failed.
All of the endings weren't the commander overcoming the Reapers. All the choices were given by the Reapers. I didn't feel like there was anything about forging the galaxy's own future but instead going with 3 choices that were pretty much the same. Sure, the implications of what happens afterwards are a bit different between them all but I still felt like the commander failed, all three endings where what the Reapers' creator gave not one that the commander did. And even if I go with the indoctrination theory, the commander still failed, succumbing to the Reapers.
Now, before anyone jumps on me about not really having a choice in the games I need to say this. It's all about the illusion of choice. Of course there are only so many ways that it could have played out, but I wanted to feel like I accomplished something, like my avatar managed to succeed at some monumental task. I know that it's not truly up to my decision, that it's still a scripted outcome, I just want a good illusion of it.  As a game master, it's up to me to give the illusion of choice even when there really isn't a choice and this isn't something that I do regularly when I run a game, in fact, it's something that I really try not to do. I let the players decide what's going to happen, but in a video game I don't think that it can be done where it's free and open for the players to choose from an unlimited number of options. And that is where the illusion of choice, or influence, comes in. Please, make me feel like I had some input in the outcome.
Of course, I have pulled the "No matter what you do, the outcome will still be the same." in a game, but only once and I learned my lesson to never do it again.
Did I hate the endings? No, I'm just a bit disappointed. And yes, I do understand then endings and have dissected them quite a bit. I do feel like they were a bit rushed, too.
Does it mean I'm disappointed in the game? Oh, HELL no! I love the game. Just because it didn't end the way I wanted it to doesn't mean that the game itself isn't good, in fact it's going to suck more of my time and probably more of my hard earned money too!
Was I expecting a happy ending? No, I wasn't. I was fully expecting for Shepard to die, I just wasn't expecting things to go as bad as they did. I was hoping it would be just one of the endings and not all of them. To me it would have been a perfect ending for someone who just blazed through the game without completing the side quests.
Do I support getting a new ending? Yes. At least I support getting some clarification or additional information. If BioWare wants to leave the ending as is and say deal with it, I'll accept it, I won't be really happy about it, but I'll accept it.
I think BioWare did an exceptional job with this series and I don't think the flaming hatred is warranted. I appreciate the work of the Retake Mass Effect campaign and how they are trying to keep everything civil and level headed. But as the meme states, haters are going to hate, just don't let it get you down.
To BioWare, I love the game and will still love the series. Good job over all and I look forward to throwing more money and time at you in the future. And the multiplayer has been one of the things that I have had the most fun in playing. Just give me the ability to drive a Mako or Hammerhead or Something in multiplayer with a HUGE map and I'll be happy. Nothing quite like taking a tank for a spin.
To Penny Arcade and Child's Play, I'm sorry that things got out of control and caused issues for you guys, I love what you do and hope that you will continue to do it for many years to come, maybe centuries if we get the technology to stick your brains in jars... MUAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!! Sorry, the Renegade side got out, but it would be for the good of the galaxy! Honest!
Keep your rifle handy and your aim true! Don the Evil Bassman

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Class Tiers (A.K.A. What do you mean we have another encounter today? I already cast all my spells!)

I have never understood this whole Tier system that I keep seeing on various forums. I think the tiers are set up as a Tier 1 class is the most powerful and tier 5 is the least. The main reason why I haven't understood it is because I've never really seen one of the base classes overpower the others (I am talking about base classes only, not classes from the many other source books or online resources. I find them to be rather broken).
And then it hit me the other day.
I realized why everyone keeps thinking that spell slingers are the most powerful and the other non-spell casting classes are not as good. I've seen it so many times before and never realized it, most spell casters will dump their powerful spells into the first encounter they run into. They do this and then the party will rest to let them recover their spells and/or special abilities, hence the 15 minute adventuring day.  I've seen this a bit in the game that I run on Saturdays. It's a 3.5 core books only game (with the Arms and Equipment Guide).  Right now the group is providing escort to a dwarven mastersmith as he travels. They don't have the option of resting for a day to get spells back after a difficult encounter (they got to once but that was because the bulette damaged the wagon the dwarf smith was driving and it needed to be fixed). It's great to see them trying to plan out how to use their spells and abilities so that they can last through the day. And I roll for encounters every 3 hours when they are in the wild lands, so there are days where they get 4 encounters in the day, and 4 during the night. Luckily, not all encounters have to be fights. Of course, the Wizard of the party is still first level and likes to hide behind his dogs.
So that's my take, I figure that most spell slingers use up all the spells they have in just a few moments of the first encounter and it looks like they are THE MOST POWERFUL CHARACTER IN THE WORLD!! Then they need a nap.
Don the Evil Bassman

Encounters (A.K.A. The story's speed bumps.)

I've been running a 3.5 D&D Core Book (and the Arms and Equipment Guide) game and it's been pretty fun so far. One of the best things about it is the encounters, all of them randomly generated. I cheat and use online generators for them.  Since they are in the wild lands I roll 4 times for the day and 4 times for the night, using d6s and if a die rolls a 1 then there is an encounter. If there is an encounter there is a base 10% chance that the encounter will be a major NPC from my world that they will run into and the other 90% are randomly generated by an online generator.
Some of these have been very interesting. 

Once a young copper dragon stopped by the party's camp one night to warm up by the fire before continuing to fly on home. Another time, the group came across some warriors and allowed them to travel with them. Another encounter was a bunch of pixies played pranks on the group while they were at camp and when the group played along with the pixies, the little fae gave the group items (also randomly generated and boy were those pixies nice!). I still give experience points even if the characters don't have to actually fight the encounter, but interact with it in some form or another  (They got xp for talking with the wandering old priest and his entourage, but none for the herd of bison they rode past).

Normally I don't scale down the encounters, I let the characters deal with it as best as they can. They were 3rd level (most of them anyway) when they were set upon by a Bulette (CR 7 I believe) It killed 2 of the horses pulling the wagon that was with the party, and trounced a couple of the members of the party. But they managed to kill the beasty. Then another encounter, randomly generated, was a Lich. Yes, a Lich. I decided that I would hit the random button again, got another lich.  Restarted the browser, got a Draco-Lich. Then switched to a different generator and got something not as potent ( I can't remember what it was now). Then I hit the button again on this new generator and it gave me another Lich. One of these days, I'll have to write up the wandering Lich, he lost the keys to his tower and he knows he left them somewhere around here..... And then the next time a group encounters him, he will have found his keys.... but lost his tower....

Have you seen my keys?
Don the Evil Bassman

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Gaming Strategy (A.K.A. How to form and maintain a Spank Line)

I've been running a 3.5 D&D back to the core campaign and it's got me thinking about all the groups that I've played with in the past. I've realized that hardly any group worked together in any sort of tactical strategy in combat. Sure there was the obligatory consideration of spells but that was because we didn't want to hit by them, in the old groups I was with the wizards were pretty much jerks when it came to flinging spells. They didn't care who got hit as long as the enemy was taken down.  I'm glad that most of the groups I've gamed with since then are a bit more considerate. Still doesn't change the fact that there was little in the way of strategy and tactics in the combats that occurred.

Here is an example of a combat that I recall happening.

Group (First Edition AD&D): 4 Fighters (one was me), 2 fairly powerful wizards, 3 fairly powerful clerics, 1 Thief, 1 Monk, 1 Paladin.
Scenario: Coming down from hills, the party sees a group of 12 Gnolls, 3 Ogres, 1 Ogre magi, and an evil looking wizard. Nothing our party couldn't handle. We have surprise and the higher ground. Now here is the breakdown on what happened:

Surprise round: Thief charges to get a back stab on a gnoll, 3 Fighters, the paladin, clerics and monk charge down the hill screaming battle cries. The charging characters now realize that they were not close enough to get attacks on the surprise round. One Fighter (me) already has his bow out and takes aim at the evil wizard and fires, 2 hits, lots of damage, evil wizard is still up.  The party's wizards cast defensive spells on themselves.

Round 1: Gnolls get initiative, they charge into the chargers, all 12 are able to hit various party members, Thief goes down, still alive but unconscious. All the melee characters get to attack, they split their attacks among the gnolls, lots of hits but no one goes down. Ranged fighter goes, 2 hits on the wizard with arrows, evil wizard falls. The Ogres play with the paladin and manage to take him out. The wizards with the group finally get to go, they let loose on the battle field with powerful magics, the gnolls are dead, the fighters are all unconscious, the thief, paladin, and monk are dead, the clerics are hurt. Ogre Magi goes, uses a wand of fireballs, clerics are now down, but not dead.

Round 2: 1 Fighter and the 2 Wizards are still up. Fighter, still using his bow, hits the ogre magi with 2 arrows, ogre magi is still up. Wizards detonate spells on the area again, everything but the ogre magi dies, yes, that includes the clerics. Ogre Magi runs up the hill (it can move FAST) and smashes a wizard into paste, he is dead. Other wizard drops a fireball on the ogre magi, last remaining wizard falls, ogre magi is mad.

Round 3: Fighter and Ogre Magi, Fighter wins initiative, hits ogre magi with 2 arrows, ogre magi falls.

Because I stayed back and was trying to make the enemy come to me rather than me to go it I was able to survive and take them down. Of course, all the players were calling me a coward and such at the beginning of the battle, along with chastising me for not staying right next to the wizards. By the end of the fight (which took only 4 minutes in game time, but 2 hours real time) they said that it was luck that kept me alive and that my fighter was still a coward for not charging in. Only our DM knew that I had actually planned it out.

Here was my idea on how to handle this scenario:

Surprise round: All non-spell casters use their ranged weapons (Bows for everyone but the monk, and the monk would use his sling), 4 targeting the Ogre Magi, and 3 targeting the evil wizard. The wizards and clerics would detonate their long range, area effect spells across the enemy ranks. That would probably take out the Gnolls and severely hurt everyone else, though the evil wizard would have probably been dead.

First Round: Repeat actions from surprise round, with the exception of all ranged weapon attacks would be aimed at the Ogre Magi if the evil wizard was down. That would probably have taken everything out.

Second Round: If anything is still alive, melee characters drop ranged weapons and pull melee weapons and engage the remaining enemy that has charged the hill. That should finish any remainders of the enemy group.

Of course I didn't actually voice this to anyone but our DM and even then it was in a note that I passed him. I was about 11 or so when this happened and the group thought I was just a kid who only played because my dad was gaming. I don't think they ever caught on that I was the one causing all sorts of problems for them... but that's another show. Back on to the strategy side of things.

Luckily for me, all the groups that I have gamed with since then have understood a bit of strategy, at least in regards to spells at any rate. Don't think that I'm insulting anyone by saying that few people give much thought to a strategy when gaming. See, I'm a bit of an odd one when it comes to things like this, I LOVE thinking up strategies for various scenarios. Yeah, I'm weird. But in the few times that I have been party leader, our tactics have enabled the groups to take out creatures with relative ease, much to our various DMs frustration a few times.

You don't need to study everything in the books or even historical battle tactics, just get a basic idea of the rules and what the party members can do.  Here is my basic advice:
1. Range is your friend, in most cases. Make the enemy come to you, whittle down their numbers from a distance. Always concentrate on spellcasters if able to.
2. Spell ranges and area of effects need to be considered. No fireballing your melee people.
3. Melee attacker needs to have healing nearby if it is going to be a drawn out fight. They are going to be the ones who can keep the enemy from getting to the squishy members of the party.
4. Always try to get an enemy to come at you one at a time. One butt hallways are good for funnelling enemies down, but you have to be set up somewhere that more than one melee attacker can get at the enemy.
5. Running away is okay.  You don't have to fight to the death every time.

There are a lot of different strategies that can be used, but don't worry about getting bogged down in tactical discussion or planning. It's a game, not a war simulation.

Don the Evil Bassman

Friday, July 8, 2011

They aren't yours! (A.K.A. My issues with Fan Fictions! Also titled, Reasons to stop reading things on the internet!)

Fan Fictions..... *shudder*
I have yet to see any that are worth my time on reading. Of course, with how harsh I am on books in general this isn't something discouraging. I can't even read Harry Potter, or even Lord of the Rings, I am way too harsh of a critic for most books. It's due to something that happened long ago. I dissect any story I read. Heck, I can't even read my own writings (trust me, I think it's horrible and most will never see the light of day) without completely destroying them. I haven't even cracked the spine on a Twilight novel. There are very few books that I can bring myself to read without demolishing. Role-playing game manuals and recently, The Dresden Files. Okay so the RPG manuals really don't count, but the Dresden Files do. I really love the Dresden Files. And yes, I've tried reading Codex Alera, I dissected it and couldn't get into it, nothing against Jim Butcher or his writing ability, I think it has more to do with the first person conversational style of the Dresden Files... but I digress.

Back onto what this post is about.

Fan Fictions... My main issue with Fan Fictions is that they take characters that aren't theirs and come up with their own stories about the characters, often taking them into completely opposite directions than what the original author was going for. Now, I'm not against stories set in the same universe/world of the story that you are fan fictioning, and even then, to have the main character from the published book make a cameo would be okay. I think that it would be a good exercise to do a story about something happening to different characters in the same universe as the main story, but something a bit different. You get your story and you don't do anything that would be taking away from the original author’s plan. I know, I know, the original author probably would never see what you have written and you are writing it for your own amusement. These are just my thoughts. I also know that imitation is the greatest form of flattery. But I have been disturbed by reading a bit of a fan fiction where Harry and Ron hook up....

This also applies to Role-Playing games... I think that the original author should be the only one with stats for their characters. (Drizzit Do'Urden fans, I'm looking at you with this one.) But again, that is just me. I will admit, that I have stolen ideas for characters from movies, books, tv shows, and video games, but I have always used it as a starting point and changed the character and never claimed to be the same character, just inspired by that character. My biggest rip off... I mean inspiration.. was for a character named Xeron Shardliss. He is heavily based on the Prince from Prince of Persia the Sands of Time Series. Mainly I swiped the abilities (even then changed them around a bit), dropped the whiny attitude the prince has and replaced it with a more noble attitude, then added a roguish twist. Inspired by, but not the same as the Prince.

That's my take anyway. Again, I'm just an Evil Bastage if you ask the group I game with and I'm extremely harsh when it comes to writing.
The Evil Bassman and Neutral Evil DM

The Fighter (A.K.A. What do you mean he hit me 4 times for 39 points each AND I have to roll fort save vs bitch slap?)

I've been seeing a lot of stuff about how the fighter is a worthless class. How that it isn't powerful because it can't cast spells and doesn't get a lot of skill points. That after 5th level fighters are useless.

For all of that I have to say... Have you even played a fighter past 5th level?

I really enjoy playing all the classes, but fighters have always been a favorite since my first real character was a fighter. Well, he ended up being a fighter magic-user at the end of it, but it was his fighter abilities that carried him through his adventuring career for the most part and the magic-user was added mainly for flavor rather than power. Anyway, fighters can be powerful in their own right. In fact, I don't believe that a single class is really any more powerful than the others. Each class has its pros and cons. And I'm not talking about all the other classes out of the other books, I'm talking core books.

The examples that I always see being given are a single 20th Level Fighter with no magic items goes up against a full powered 20th Level wizard, sorcerer, or other spellcaster. Yup, that is pretty much the only example ever given, just in different flavors.

A 20th level Fighter with no magic items attacking a fully equipped 20th level anything is a pretty poor example. A 20th level rogue with no items wouldn't fair any better. Neither would a Paladin, Barbarian, Cleric, Wizard, Sorcerer, Ranger, Druid, Bard, or Monk.... Okay, the monk might be able to do more while being nekkid but not much....Okay, so the monk would be able to stand up to most things... Fine, remove the monk from the list.. Anyway..

The point of the fighter isn't to be a blasting character. They aren't supposed to be the “gesture and a load of low level enemies just die”. They don't channel the divine power of their gods, they aren't a living embodiment of rage, they don't seek perfection of the body, and they aren't in touch with nature. Fighters are experts in martial combat. Play to that strength.

My example of a high level fighter, straight class.
Elric Kaliburn: Fighter, 20th level (I think) Specialization: Full Blade sword. Main Stat: Str 20
Items: Alchemical Full Blade (+2, Adamantine, Silver, Cold Iron) Could strike anything. - Non-Magical sword, Full plate of speed (+2 with haste for 10 rounds), Helm of Brilliance, Amulet of natural armor + 6, belt of Giant Str +6, Dancing Shield (large) +2, Boots of striding and springing, ring of water walking, ring of overland flight, cloak of protection +3, and a couple of other magical items that I can't remember at the moment.
Armor Class: 33 (dex +2), Hit points: In the 200+ range (good con and I rolled really lucky)
Feats: Weapon focus and specialization: Full Blade, improved sunder, cleave, power attack, great cleave, mobility, point blank shot, precise shot, dodge, lighting reflexes, iron will, eyes in the back of your head (from the fighters handbook), a combat reflexes, improved critical: Full Blade, and defensive sweep(a very broken feat from the ph2 or complete adventurer. What? I ran out of feats that I wanted for him and everyone else was using the other source books. This one feat was so broken I was accused of taking nothing but broken feats for all of the feats for this character).

Elric was a fighter. Pure and simple. His to hits were 32/27/22/17, and damage was 20-39 points meaning average damage was 28 points per hit with a critical being between 40-78 damage with 56 points on average meaning medium creatures have to roll fort save vs death. If Elric were to just hit and do average damage with each of his hits it would be 112 average, with the range of damage being 80-156 for non-spell damage. Only Meteor Swarm comes close to that damage and that's only once or twice when you look at Elric being able to dish it out EVERY round. Not to mention Elric's love of sundering weapons and cleaving into the soft wielders of the weapons.

Yes, a force cage would stop him in his tracks, but that is why he is with a group of adventurers. He's not alone. That is what the adventuring group is for. Elric was a contributing member of the group and extremely valuable in combat. He was one of the group’s 2 major damage dealers. The other being Calixto, the ranger.  That's another thing that is forgotten in these debates, an adventuring party. Everyone has a place, no one can do everything. The spell casters support the big damage dealers and help take out the lesser folks while the tanks bee-line for the big bad guy.

Try this one, who would win if they were in a null magic area, the 20th Level Fighter or 20th level Wizard? Neither! Cause the great big ancient red dragon stomped them into oblivion. HA!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Encumbrance and Equipment (A.K.A. Why wagons are handy in D&D.)

For a long time I've played in and run games where the players didn't have to worry about encumbrance with their equipment. Usually due to having magical bags to store the stuff in or having easy access to transports. However, in this new D&D campaign I'm starting, encumbrance is an issue. Players are not only having to watch how much they are carrying, but where they are carrying it (I need to be able to determine what pickpockets can get their hands on, hee hee).

Back long ago when I was playing AD&D, I had to worry about encumbrance and the weight of my character's equipment. After struggling with it for a little while, I realized that I could use a wagon! So from that moment, when my characters started getting enough loot/equipment they went and got a wagon. We almost always had hirelings that would watch the party's camp so I just gave them a bit extra gold and they watched my wagon as well. It caught on with other members of the group and soon everyone had wagons and boy did it get interesting. The best time was when the group had about 10 wagons, most of them were covered or enclosed and they all had magic on them in some form or another. We would circle them around our campsite, set up the watch, then put a cover over the whole thing with a hole in the center of the cover for the smoke to go out, and then activate the magics to make it secure. The group was about 15th level when doing this. We called it our portable canvas tower. Then the group would leave their hirelings and followers there at the camp and trudge into the dungeon, if we needed anything that was at camp, our mage would teleport back to it, grab the stuff and port back, it was easy.

Then someone ticked off a demon.

But that is another story. This is about the encumbrance and equipment.

Treasure has a weight, all treasure, and equipment has weight, so what happens when you combine both? Things get heavy, characters start to slow down. No more are the characters going to be carrying around 1000s of gold pieces at at time. Now, I'm not doing this to be mean (Though part of me is getting a bit of a sadistic kick out of it), but I wanted to do a "back to basics" game, even though it is in 3.5 D&D. So I wanted to count encumbrance again, get people to think about how they are going to accomplish these tasks they set out to do. And having to keep track of what your character is carrying is part of that. You have to plan more to get through. In all honesty, I think that the players will get more out of it since they are going to have to put more into it. And this is where a wagon would come in very handy.

Recently, I've found groups(not just members of my group, others that I have talked to as well) scoffing at the idea of having a wagon coming along with the group. This boggled my mind until I realized that no one was used to encumbrance. At the time it was easy to transport thousands of gold pieces and treasure, but not this time. This stuff can get heavy so it's time to figure out how you get the treasure back to town to sell it off. My suggestion? Get a wagon and a bunch of sacks. Big ones if you are lucky enough. Oh yeah, a horse to pull the wagon. I've seen groups forget to get a horse for their wagon. But remember, someone needs to watch the wagon while the characters are in the dungeon otherwise things might go missing.

Never underestimate the usefulness of a wagon.