Saturday, March 30, 2013

Toning down the action in my Survival Horror / Resident Evil 5 DLC

Yes, this is late. I play video games late, normally when I can get them in sales or in special edition packs. This is why I'm only just playing RE5 now.

I played RE4 through on my Wii (after it'd been out a while) and thoroughly enjoyed it - I.e. it scared the willies out of me.
I loved the tension. I loved the claustrophobia, the fear that a mob of infected villagers could be lurking round the corner, or, worse, a chainsaw wielding mutant that feels no pain. Or a dog. Or a ludicrous boss.
I found that whenever I reached a save point I was "right, that's it for the night" even if it was only 15 minutes of play, because I was scared.
The first time I reached the village encounter, where the villagers swarm and you first see a chainsaw gimp, I had to switch the game off and go and have a quiet lie down somewhere safe.
I enjoyed that as the game progressed and I upgraded my weapons and became a better shot that the low level villagers dropped like flies and dreaded the boss encounters and set pieces.
And I hated Ashley...

So I had high hopes for RE5. I'd read the previews and seen some of the gameplay and decided to ignore the controversy.
It apparently was more like RE4 than the other RE games, which was good. I found the first three unplayable due to the fixed camera angles, so something more like 4 was a good sign.

Playing it, though, is a very different feel. RE4 was a slow burn. The plot unfolds slowly, as does the cluster fuck value. You just meet aggressive villagers at first, and chainsaw mutants only appear to signpost significant challenges and to let you know that things are going to get much harder soon.
The story starts off as a simple hostage rescue and evolves over the course of the game into a conspiracy to control mass populace with a mutant parasite.

In contrast Resident Evil 5 pretty much starts off with "look, all these tribesman and townsfolk are definitely infected with the parasite from the last game!"
There is no mystery. No tension. It's a tactical shooter from the first encounter.
Oh, and I keep dying.
In the first encounter.
Which sucks.

So I was ready to give up on the game, but only once I'd tried out the extra material from the Gold Edition DLC I'd bought.
The multiplayer verses mode didn't appeal to me. I'd just die. I have no idea what Mercenaries is either, so I tried Lost in Nightmares, which tells the story of one of the main characters don't something previously (I'm sure that the actual details are not important).

It's ace! It's set in what looks like the mansion from the original Resident Evil, and is dripping with tension.
I've reached two checkpoints so far and not had a single combat encounter, which is brilliant.
I've come across lots of foreshadowing of the immense cluster fuck yet to come - blood on the walls and floor, destroyed scenery, dead security agents, broken cages and cryptic entries in abandoned journals.
It's going to go south very soon.
Which is the key. I'm loving the anticipation. I'm not disappointed when there's nothing around the corner, I'm relieved.

So I'm probably going to play through the DLC before returning to the main game, which is probably a bit perverse.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Bringing the Aberrant smackdown / Conforming to my players expectations

I am faced with a dilemma in my Aberrant game.
Do I actively try to kill all the player characters in one session, or not?

The game has been ramping up to the point where the player characters find themselves opposed to the local equivalent of the Avengers and the cliffhanger for the last session was the seconds directly before a direct physical confrontation.
The players have uncovered evidence that Utopia are not all they seem to be, and have effectively teamed up with a recurring villain to break into a Utopia facility and free a Terragen affiliated Nova.
Which has put them squarely at odds with Alpha Strike, the city's primary Nova team and Utopian agents.

The players have seen this coming from a way off, especially as we took a six month mid season break, and have started statting new characters because they don't believe they'll be walking away from this one.

Which is the source of my dilemma.
They expect me to throw everything at them and to wipe them off the face of the game world, which is exactly what a team like the Avengers should do to them.
Thing is, I'd be an irresponsible Storyteller if I just threw a straight fight at them. I have no intention of killing them, this is a story encounter as well as a set piece combat.
But they don't know that. They have to go into this presuming that they should be putting their affairs in order. They also can't be allowed to think that I'm going easy on them.

I'm going to have to kill one of them.
Which one?
The Adonis, the honourable and reserved tank?
Solar Flair, the narcissistic and slow witted fire starter?
Max Control, the arrogant and superior mind controller with Terragen leanings?
Tim Roley, the shape changer with multiple personalities?

They all bring something important to the group dynamic. They're a pleasure to play with and easy to place in situations.

Who should I kill?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The siren song of the dungeon crawl / Guilty pleasures

So I've been playing this game, Pixel Dungeon, on my Nexus 4 a lot recently. A lot.
It's getting a little out of hand.

It's one of those retro RPGs that are so popular these days. As the name suggests it's a pixel heavy, lo-fi dungeon bash. You descend through randomly generated levels of an unnamed dungeon, kill anything that moves, collect gold and items (weapons, armour, wands, potions, scrolls) and face off against occasional bosses.
Your progress is determined as much by the luck of the draw - which items are randomly placed on each level - as your tactical skill as a player (at least, that's what I tell myself).
Death is usually tragically often and frustrating, so much so that a friend and I have taken to messaging each other stating what killed us and how far we got:
L1 Rat
L5 Goo (fucking goo)
L4 Sewer Crab
L7 Burned to death after drinking an unidentified potion

All of which has got me thinking about the old school dungeon crawl, a mode of play I've strenuously avoided as a GM.
I... I think I'm ready to run one now.

In the past few days I've found myself flicking through my Pathfinder books reading up on hidden doors, traps, monsters, potions, magic items and treasure.
I've been looking up dungeon mapping apps and websites.
I've been thinking of ways to make a cool, engaging, three-dimensional dungeon that makes sense and what set pieces I'd want in there.

There's a possibility that I'll be using some OSR micro lite rules as well...


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Do it your way, for a limited time only / Playing Star Wars before Episode VII

I had a sobering thought today... I've only, what, a year, 18 months, to go before the new Star Wars movie comes out and crushes the post Jedi game ideas I have.

Yes, I'm sure (I hope) they'll be good; that the story will be more finely honed than George 'I'm an ideas guy' Lucas's prequel efforts, mainly because he's not writing or directing and that they'll be inspiring.

The thing is, all the ideas I have for how I'd run a Post Jedi game, a New Jedi Republic game, would be moot.
It'd be like running a prequel / Clone Wars game and ignoring Episodes I - III.
Which wouldn't be a completely bad idea, but still...

Because the game is based on a franchise, the franchise defines the game setting. Drift away from the franchise and you kind of lose the reason for playing.

I have these ideas for a Star Wars game that I probably won't get to use now.

Over throwing the Empire creates a power vacuum which the Rebellion faithful naturally expect someone like Mon Mothma, Leia Organa and the reinstated Senate to fill.
More realistically other factions move to fill the void as well. The Imperial command structure will exists and their bureaucracy has been running the galaxy for 30 years thank you much. Organised crime has flourished under Imperial rule. It's foolish to think that crime families died with Jabba.
Then there are the Rebels. They've been fighting for years and have finally won. What do they do now? War time generals don't always make the best peacetime leaders. Lando will fall on his feet, he governed a colony. Others will not be so skilled, resulting in dissent amongst the population and a foothold for corruption and organised crime.

Then there's the new Jedi Order, founded by Luke Skywalker.
Skywalker is not a true Jedi. He received less than half the training that even his father did, and he was considered too old to train effectively. He received only perfunctory schooling in the Jedi Code and history with Kenobi and Yoda focusing upon the martial applications of The Force, due to time constraints. They needed a serviceable warrior to challenge Vader and Palpatine, and this is the legacy they pass onto the new Jedi Order.
Luke Skywalker has flirted with the Dark Side, turning to it on the second Death Star before pulling himself back from the brink. He is still an emotional being and put the fate of the galaxy on hold to pursue a personal quest. Any Jedi he trains will follow his lead, his example.
In short, he is not training true Jedi, not any Jedi that a Master emerging from decades of hiding would recognise, anyway. He is training Force users that are as likely to turn to the Dark Side as be a force for good. Maybe they'll be the balance in the Force that the galaxy needs. Maybe not.

Add to this the forgotten history of the galaxy. Palpatine destroyed the library in the Jedi Temple when he seized power, and it is safe to assume that he did the same elsewhere. He definitely effectively purged all recorded knowledge of the Jedi Order so that it was regarded as a "hokey old religion" by the likes of Han Solo. Any knowledge that could be a threat to Palpatine's rule was destroyed.

So, it is conceivable (to me) that eventually the New Republic would wish to recover this lost knowledge, that someone would be given Senate backing to uncover it and restore the libraries and academies and arts and technology that the Empire plundered and hid.

From this I would run an exploration adventure - the players form the core of an archeological expedition, including pilot, security, bureaucrat/academic, technician etc tasked with finding Imperial sites and raiding them for information.

Cue encounters with resistant Imperial cells, half crazed Jedi still in hiding, corrupt planetary officials, pirates, smugglers, the discovery of forbidden lore, dark secrets, temptation, fear, anger and suffering.

Like I say, I've only a limited time to run this game before the new canon likely invalidates it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Is it really broken? / Why not just commit to a Second Edition?

I am a long term White Wolf fan. The first RPG I cared about was Ars Magica 3rd Ed, which in turn coloured my opinion on the Tremere in Vampire: the Masquerade and the Order of Hermes in Mage: the Ascension for years afterwards (I regarded them as poor reproductions of their mighty heyday. On reflection I realise that they were my favourite clan/order. To this day I regret not playing a Tremere.)
The first game I successfully ran as a Storyteller was Masquerade.
I played V:tM, M:tAs, Changeling: the Dreaming (1st Ed, with Bunk Cards), Werewolf: the Apocalypse, Dark Ages, Aeon Trilogy (Trinity/Aberrant/Adventure! [Best game ever]), Hunter: the Reckoning, Orpheus and Exalted 1st Ed.
I embraced the new World of Darkness games when they came out, preferring the revised Storytelling system over the old Storyteller one.
I lamented the apparent death of White Wolf as its parent company, CCP, had to regroup and restructure in the changing economic climate and effectively closed WW down, and I genuinely rejoiced when Rich Thomas set up Onyx Path Publishing and secured the rights to continue publishing new gaming material for the World of Darkness.

All of the above is a long way of saying "I love White Wolf/World of Darkness games and am one of the faithful".

Which, in turn, leads to this post and me expressing my concerns about updated rule set being introduced with the God Machine Chronicles and the new Demon game.
One of the things I looked about the new WoD was that every game used the same system, same skills, same mechanics and that every game was able to mechanically cross over with each other without having to fudge the incongruities.
This changes with Demon, as it uses a revised Storytelling system as laid out in the God Machine.

As far as I can tell, to play Demon you need to own the World of Darkness core rule book, Demon and the God Machine.
I can also see that some of the core mechanics have changed so that examples of game play read significantly differently.

So, my question is, are the rules contained within the World of Darkness core book actually broken?
If they are broken, then surely a second edition is warranted rather than an additional supplement?

I guess that there are marketing concerns at work. Onyx Path do not own the games or the system, so maybe CCP don't want a new edition of every single game coming out.
Maybe Onyx Path decided against a second edition because they wanted to retain the good faith of their players.

At the moment though I am keen to see what Demon is, but very reserved about the system updates.

The Onyx Path G+ account (which I think is Ian Watson) had informed me that the rules updates will be available for free, and there is no need to buy the God Machine to get them.
Which is very good.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

It's not Post Apocalyptic until someone owns a dog / Zombie Survival Game Quick Start

For my own reference, but shared for your own zombie apocalypse convenience, here's a quick start aid for defining your game's setting and initial challenges.
All sections require a d10 roll, either one for the group or for each player.

Named Survivors
Roll once for each player.
1. Child (under two years)
2. Child (under twelve years)
3 - 4. Teenager
5 - 6. Useless sibling/best friend (adult)
7 - 8. Incapacitated partner (injured or pregnant)
9. Elderly parent / grandparent
10. Dog

Where are you holed up?
Roll once for the group.
1. School
2. Bank
3. Prison
4. Block of flats/Apartment building
5. Office building
6. Supermarket
7. Gated estate
8. Farm
9. Medical centre
10. Pub

How long will your food last?
Roll once for the group.
1. You've not eaten for days
2 - 3. You've run out
4 - 5. A day, at best
6 - 7. Two days
8 - 9. Five days
10. A week

What specific supplies are you nearly out of?
Roll once for the group.
1 - 2. Medical supplies - antibiotics, painkillers, antihistamine, bandages, insulin
3 - 4. Ammo - you've a handful of shells left, barely enough to take yourself out once you get bit
5 - 6. Fuel - You've enough to keep the generator running for a night, or just enough to get to town...
7 - 8. Tools and spare parts - You've something useful; a truck, a generator, a radio, a water pump; but it just needs some spare parts and some work to get it up and running again
9 - 10. Environment appropriate clothing - the seasons have turned since everything first happened, and now your group is left with summer clothes as the snow starts falling or winter fleeces in a summer heatwave

Sources of Internal Conflict
Roll once for each player.
1. You've been secretly stockpiling your own personal stash of supplies. They've gone. Who took it? Do they know it was yours?
2. You have taken in love with another member of your group, but they are involved with someone else
3. You disagree with the decisions that the group have been making recently. You could do a better job, and if they'd listened to you, then we wouldn't have lost Jimmy last month
4. You took meds before, to help with your moods. You've not had any for awhile now, and you're having troubles. Mood settings. Anxiety. Depression. You know that you're not speed to cold turkey off them, but you didn't have a choice
5. You've found a secret stash of food, medicines, ammo and survival gear in the camp. You don't know who it belongs to, but you're keeping an eye out. Someone's been holding out on the group, and might be planning on bugging out soon. Who knows what they've got planned
6. One of the other members of your group has been making thinly veiled advances at you/your partner. It's pretty obvious, and it's pushing a wedge between the group.
7. You made a bad move recently, and one of the group paid the ultimate price. You messed up and left Jimmy to die. No one has said anything, but someone knows it's your fault.
8. You basically just don't like one of the group. Something about them rubs you wrong. They've got everyone else fooled, but you see straight through them. Choose one other player and start hating their characters guts. They don't even have to know.
9. You're terrified. You've been having nightmares about these things since your Aunt died when you were 8 years old, and now they're walking around and you can barely stand to think about it. Thing is, people are counting on you, and you have skills that the group needs. Even so, you freeze or panic when they're near you. It's only a matter of time before you or someone else gets eaten because of it.
10. Despite everything you've seen, everything you've heard, you don't like killing these things. They were people once, often people you knew. You just can't bring yourself to do it. You volunteered to kill Jimmy when he got bit, but just let him shamble off instead. Of course, you told everyone else that you put him down quickly.