Remember how I was pretty vocally optimistic about the future of video games and film. Remember how I thought Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed had some major positive points that made me feel like there might be hope? What I didn’t tell you is that I actually quite enjoyed the new Tomb Raider film, thought it was alright. I started to feel like there was hope, a genuine upward swing, and hell, I even said as much in the comments of my Captain Marvel review.
Then my dear friend Mike sends me this: (more…)
Gigantic eagles circle the bay, plucking seagulls clean from the sky, as the gangplank is run out from the Merchant Knave. You push your way past the rushing deckhands down to the complex network of piers and jetties stretching out from below the bluff, that spirals up to the height of the city. As you step down you can hear the hollering of people in the simple armour of guardsmen, calling out in a variety of languages, and in a few moments you find one shouting over the crowd in a language you understand:
“Welcome to Meadsbridge! While within the confines of the city you will abide by the following laws…”
It’s something I’ve considered doing for a while but I’ve never had the recruitment power for it, a world big enough, and so full of adventure that it could support multiple groups. A couple of years ago, before resolving to be a DM for hire, I watched a video about a particular style of gameplay, The West Marches that put better form to the idle thought, and now I have a way of reaching new players.
Adventurers are centred in a single area, a point of civilisation on the brink of wilderness, within which lies adventure. There can be dozens of players, all gathered in the city of Meadsbridge, talking, communicating, sharing what they’ve found, recruiting for expeditions in the great green beyond to learn more and more about their surroundings, and follow rumours about some of the plot hooks that I have seeded throughout the small-nation sized space mapped out beyond… my map, they’re not allowed to see it.
Of course you may not want – or be able to share information, some players have already landed themselves far from Meadsbridge in one of the outlying settlements with no easy way to communicate with the larger settlements nearby, and have already got a couple of secrets they’d rather not share with everyone… but they’ll soon learn that without friends, they’ll find themselves in fatal situations with no one to depend upon for help.
The players will need to keep their ears out for rumours and plot hooks, not just from one another, but also the citizens of the cities and settlements, and the wandering caravans beyond. Wandering into the wilds will yield some results, but the true treasures must be sought, rather than stumbled across.
Every hex on the map (built in hexographer if you’re interested) works out to roughly half a day’s travel on foot, about fifteen miles, and for every half-day of travel there is an enormous random encounter table, with changing regional effects, different possibilities depending on the intent of travel, some fixed landmarks that can help with navigation, such as the estuary or certain distant forests, ridges, and settlements. The region is awash with bandits, gnolls, incursions of demons, hidden enclaves of halflings, dwarven mines, hives of serpentflies, nests of manticores and griffons, and the spawning lakes of whales. There are about a dozen side-quests, dungeons, and wandering monsters to pursue with more being added constantly, and amidst all of it a hidden story, scattered like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle between the people who set out from that single point of light and into the darkness.
Which sounds grandiose for a project that is little more than a Facebook community page, but as the first dozen players are starting to scratch the surface, now felt like the time to share the ridiculous scope of the Meadsbrdige wilderness.
For this MMTTRPG I’ve made the process of character creation a guided affair for two reasons:
The first is to try and keep things fair. Players still roll dice to determine their statistics, but those rolls have an inverse effect on your character choices later on. Points are used to buy things like the ability to choose your race and class, or to start with a magic item, or a map, or additional information, and the better your stats, the fewer of those points you receive. A player with bad stats can choose to start at second level rather than first. It makes people whose dice rolls have turned against them feel a little more empowered.
And second is to create something a little more unique and immersive. Four human nations, a twist on the subraces of both halflings and dwarves, a little more personality granted to elves, and four different human nations. Additionally I have traded the classic exotic races (dragonborn, gnomes, half elves, half orcs, and tieflings) with a collection from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, aasimar to reflect that the world is young, and the blood of gods still flows in mortal veins, goliaths and firbolgs, as giants are prolific across the world, and kenku and lizardfolk from far-off lands to lend some mystery to the world at large.
Once a character is made each player gets a short .pdf with all the information they need to get started, and a hefty chunk of lore that they can dive into for inspiration. Any character options, like their magic items, extra rumours, or anything else they might have chosen gets added to this file. After a few levels of play, players may want to retire their character, because doing so yields more options at character creation, with additional points depending on the successes and deeds of their last character, and the positive behaviours of the player.
The Shropshire Dungeon Master IX
So this is kind of a business diary, because this grand idea of mine (that I stole) currently has thirteen players, of which only seven have played, and four more at the weekend. recruiting isn’t too difficult, as interest is always high, the problem will be finding venues for games as most of the groups will eventually be strangers to one another (to start with) and will want to meet on neutral ground, at least for their first few sessions. Pubs are often busy, and most private spaces require a fee – usually more than my margin, thus negating the point of running games as a living.
As regular readers know – especially if you read my old DMing 101 series – I do not like playing online, it’s fine for some, and has some amazing benefits, but I find it hinders the enjoyment of the game and as my players now pay to be at the table, I want them to have the best experience possible.
I have been working on this project for months and it is so gratifying to roll it out to real players, but I knew there would be pitfalls and problems, and there’s a certain amount of fun to be found in overcoming those problems, but when your players are your customers it’s always better to be on top of the minor issues so that the game is the focus of the experience, not the days spent finding a table at which to play.
This April I will be disappearing a long way north for a week to run a long game of D&D at the Wargaming Nationals that I attended last year, and then shortly thereafter at Insomnia in Birmingham. Additionally in June, I have a table at Comics Salopia and upcoming celebration of Shropshire’s deep connection to the comic book industry, the wealth of local artists and writers, and I will be raising by geeky standard and running games for anyone who comes to see.
The release of Captain Marvel marks the last step to End Game and the first female lead across twenty two MCU films, a milestone that has been long awaited, and there was general consensus that she was a solid choice. Most of the good options from Marvel’s roster of female characters are either X-Men (or memebers of a team), villains, or female iterations of someone else, of those that remain Carole Danvers is easily the best known which, sadly, doesn’t say a great deal. DC at least have always had Wonder Woman to lean on, and they recently found some success with two thirds of a good film, Marvel have never quite had the same fortune.
Nor can we say that origin stories hold up against the big titles that Marvel has become revered for, Doctor Strange was a good enough film, Ant Man was ok, and certainly none of them are as bad as Thor 2, which I maintain still has some redeeming qualities, I’m getting off topic. The Avengers have been the films we have come to respect and love, characters are established and made strong on their own and then brought together to be stronger. A wise man attempts to build his house upon the sand, and tells us that because the house stands so tall that it will stand forever.
There Will Be Spoilers but I’m not going to lie to you here, it won’t make much difference if any at all. (more…)
I may have mentioned in the past (repeatedly) that I have no intention of streaming myself playing games because I would be all kinds of boring. I am patient, thorough, I double back, take very precaution, and repeat myself over and over until I feel like I’ve done something right. It makes the collection of RPGs I play considerably slower paced, strategy games tend to be drawn out advances and heavily fortified positions, and for stealth games it makes me… well, equally dull to watch, but it also means I do fairly well.
Before discussing stealth games, first take a look at this Extra Credits video that delves into what makes Mark of the Ninja delivers stealth mechanics that make for an engaging game and what it is that makes stealth games engaging in themselves.
Also note the comment about living the fantasy of a badass ninja, I’ll be revisiting that point.
I have been playing a lot of Dishonored 2 lately, Bethesda’s Thief-like stealth game that perfectly captures the essence of the Thief games while weaving in spectral powers of a dark god. The forces that operate against you have challenges and means to counteract your incredible abilities, technology capable of killing you with a single arc of electricity, strolling automatons that cannot be so easily felled, and powers counter to your own. These make you less of an indomitable assassin, a knife in the dark, and make you a more fragile predator, meaning every confrontation risks death.
But the pleasure comes in the patience. The same excessive attention to detail trains you to enjoy sitting on a lamppost for half an hour watching the city guardsmen wandering to and from, lounging against walls and the attending civilians, memorising their movements, and preparing a plan to isolate and kill each and every one of them, so that you can walk free and uninterrupted. Or… whatever, I suppose you could just go around them and leave them alive, but why take the risk? Some of them have money, some of them can’t be avoided if you want a particular piece of equipment, might as well carve and slice your way around.
In many ways a stealth game has a lot more in common with a puzzle solver like Myst, being almost meditative in their demand for care, attention, a willingness to take multiple attempts at the same problem until that moment where you feel as though you have got it right. The key difference is that stealth has a varying scale of “right”.
“Could I have done that better?”
“I took damage, let me try that again.”
“Someone saw me, I don’t like that.”
Most, if not all games of the genre reinforce some of these thought processes by noting how often you’re noticed, your kill-count, how much of the potential loot you found, but there is so much that we self impose. We can always heal ourselves (at least most of the time) we can always recover resources, but I for one like to lose none of the above. Expended ammunition is a sword swing not taken, and perhaps the arrow was easier, but now it’s gone. Blood spilled is a misstep, or a hit you should never have taken.
The act of escaping discovery can be a giddy thrill if you can escape, but often the act of fleeing the scene of your crimes can lead you into a worse situation, so plotting your escape routes becomes part of the joy of the hunt, while you wait patiently for your pursuers to give up the chase and come to the conclusion that you’ve fled, so that you can resume the process.
I found myself recently playing Dishonored, and reliving the same moment repeatedly so that I could get it exactly right:
In behind the guard and kill him, put the maid to sleep, start stealing everything from the room- wait, is that machine dormant or will that switch on if I get too close… oh!
Ok, kill the guard and- dammit she’s seen me.
Ok, kill the guard, whoops, oh gods, now the machine’s awake…
From the bookshelf this time, the chandelier is doing nothing for me. Kill the guard, knock out the maid, start work on the machi- ahh dammit!
Ok, all done, break open the container to get what’s inside and… oh dammit, you people heard that?
This became a game of “ring the dinner bell”, the room I was in offered advantages and the potential to set traps, lie in wait, and be exactly where I needed to be at every available opportunity, so smashing open that cabinet became an invitation, goading people to join me. I must have occupied the same room for an hour, wholly unsatisfied until everything was in my pockets and everyone anywhere close was dead, unconscious or dismantled.
Considering your own thought processes while playing a game can help you to become a better writer and designer. Consider what motivates you to take certain actions. What outcome do you deem a failure? What kind of options do you want to open up to your players, and what are they likely to pursue? Does possession of an expendable item give you a desire to use the item or to save it for the proverbial “rainy day” that never comes? I’ve been considering ways and means to implement stealth as a central mechanism to my own games, how the games that I run use stealth, and what I can do to make the process as engaging and involved as Dishonored, Thief, Mark of the Ninja, or even the Batman-Arkham series.
Next time you play a game consider the thought processes, what’s a victory, what’s a failure, and how you measure your own success. I can’t stop thinking like this any more, and I refuse to be alone in my inability to play a game without considering design elements!
Ok, we started Kickstarter Highlights to shine a light on smaller or lesser known projects that we wanted to see shine, or managed by people we love, but occasionally we like to talk about projects that we love that really don’t need the help. Case in point, Critical Role, the series that broke MCM London, a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors who play Dungeons & Dragons live on the internet for a few hours every week and draw massive viewership and crowds, and have been partially responsible to the exponential boom in popularity of the hobby!
I’ve talked about them before. They’re a good – if inaccurate – representation of the hobby, vastly more entertaining to watch as it’s being played by actual performers, voice actors who know about taking turns when talking so that there’s no cross-talking, who can totally immerse themselves in their character so deeply that we can more clearly envision the action, and who get visibly emotional about the narrative, reacting appropriately to every moment of drama and capable of deftly improvising moments of their own.
So it makes sense for a bunch of actors with characters that they love and live, with connections in the industry who also love D&D, to club together and make a cartoon! One to go alongside the comics written by Matt Colville, and all of the other products, the books, the art, the live appearances… you get the idea they’re doing well.
The project will be supported by the studio Titmouse Inc, famous for shows like Metalocalypse, Venture Bros., Tigtone that I put on my to-do list lately, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, alongside a host of other major projects, so the animation will be in excellent hands. The cast will be played by themselves, with Matt Mercer serving the bulk of the NPCs… or rather those characters who are not the protagonists.
The test will be how well a D&D style narrative can be translated into a linear format, as it rarely crosses well into other formats – at least those that endeavour to capture the spirit of tabletop RP. As this project is dedicating itself more to existent characters and a well developed and explored world, things could be very different.
So, to the campaign itself. The target is $750,000 to fund the actual animation to a high standard, with a projected release of late 2020. Backer rewards do not include access to a digital stream or download of the final result, rather heavily implying that the final product will be available for everyone to enjoy, likely via their (newly independent of Geek & Sundry) YouTube channel and probably Twitch as it is their principle platform.
The rewards backers receive are instead encouraged to pledge for loot, some digital downloads of music uniquely composed for Critical Role, including a piece written and (partially) performed by the cast. Dice, sticker packs, art prints, cuddly toys, accessories for roleplay and memorabilia, and of course the upper echelons include personalised artwork by Titmouse, producer credits, and when you hit a five figure sum you get a studio tour and more.
Those upper echelon rewards? All gone. I would not be surprised to find a lot of D&D executives towards the top of that list, and possibly Matt Colville himself. The campaign? When I started writing it was at about $2.1 million, it’s now approaching $2.4M, and the campaign started less than five hours ago. IGN managed to squeeze out an article last night a few minutes after the project passed $1M, and I won’t be publishing this for another ten hours, who knows how much money might have poured into the pot. Stretch goals are disappearing, and the twenty-two minute animated short will be treble the length before I go to bed, and will be a feature length film by morning unless pledges slow down.
Sam Riegel and Travis Willingham have apparently been talking to producers for a while, and the attachment of the hobby still makes studios reluctant to engage with projects, presumably offers may have been made with limitations or changes. Crowd funding may lack security for the consumer… fairly certain the same group have ripped me off twice now… but it does put creativity in the hands of those passionate about a project. The CR team have proven time and time again that they are capable of producing high quality content. Here’s to another one.
Oh… there goes $2.5 million!
Side note…! Hot damn, 514% funding on Lasers and Liches!! Go check out this awesome project blending sci-fi and D&D, and adds bonus dinosaurs, perfect for anyone wanting to RP their way through Kung Fury or a Shadowrun Rave. You still have a week to get involved, and there are still stretch goals left to reach.
~Text message from Tim~
What do you mean it was made by a “different Chris”?
I’ll be honest with you, I lost count of people some time around three o’clock, did anyone count much past that? We were busy, so many new people came, and left with smiles and assurances that we have not seen the last of them, and so many old hands, we are rapidly reaching that promised day when half of the pub is ours…
But for now, we can but dream. (more…)
Slowly but surely we are seeing those creators who grew up on anime and manga break into the industry and bring some of their favourite pieces to a more receptive audience. Robert Rodriguez has always worn his geeky side with pride, and his directing credits swing wildly between the more mature content and the kid’s action, you’d never believe that Dusk ‘Til Dawn was made by the same guy as Spy Kids. He also brought the Sin City comics to the big screen and made them household names, so to see him turn his action adventure skills to a 1990 manga (and a ’93 OVA) is something to be excited about. (more…)
I have been quite unwell, and with all the time spent glaring at a screen from behind my diseased haze I have consumed quite a lot of the newer releases on Netflix. Rather than draw out reviewing each of the more interesting titles until past the point where anyone is interested, here’s a trio of opinions in quick succession, and relatively spoiler free.
The Umbrella Academy
What do you get when you cross X-Men with Preacher?
It’s an academy of kids with super-powers being trained by an eccentric old lunatic with a monocle, his monkey butler and robot maid! It’s been a while since they all got together, one died, one vanished through time, the others just filtered away to live their own lives until the only one that remained was sent to the moon. This all makes sense, right? We’re keeping up? Based on the 2007 Dark Horse comic series of the same name, the show takes us on a story of loneliness, time-travel, family conflict, and why eccentric billionaires shouldn’t keep secrets from the children they purchase.
Plot beats are fairly predictable once you’ve got a solid grasp of the characters involved, the end of the world is coming, there’s a time-travel plot including a time-cop agency that’s done moderately well, although it’s impossible not to draw comparisons to the agents of heaven from Preacher. Also like Preacher the tone strikes an odd balance between comedy and heavy drama, you have Robert Sheehan playing his own typecast of troubled class-clown with super-powers that he laid down in Misfits* alongside a fifty-something time-traveller in a child’s body, and opposite them you have Ellen Page as “the plain girl”, a mother torn apart by celebrity and relationships, an edgy “Nightwing” dealing with his own ego, and a man who has spent years alone on the moon.
All in all, not a bad watch, nice to see something that is neither Marvel or DC, and the performance from all parties is thoroughly enjoyable. The series does not balance its tone as well as Preacher, which can make it hard to invest in the stakes or characters, and of course the constant reveal of secret after secret does rather have you twiddling your thumbs waiting for the next “grand reveal”. Still, not a bad series, and easily worth watching an episode or two.
*Another Misfits and Preacher bridge, after a dramatic cast-shift in Misfits the character niche occupied by Robert Sheehan was taken up by Joseph Gilgun who plays the vampire Cassidy in Preacher! I hope those two are friends.
The Dragon Prince – Season 2
An improvement on season 1 which was already good, and I’m glad I gave The Dragon Prince chance to develop. We pick up where we left off, a potential war between humans and elves is beginning to reach the boiling point, and the only ones actively trying to put a preemptive stop to it, the newly orphaned prince who has the inexplicable ability to talk to animals, his older half-brother whose determined to learn magic despite the human inability to tap into primal energy, and an elf who is slowly learning to trust humans but whose scrutiny is proving far to useful to ignore.
Again, the real strength of the showrunners shines through in their character and world building that they proved in Avatar: the Last Airbender, although the narrative is still hitting some fairly tame plot-beats. Our main villain is, once again, evil for the sake of being evil, and I can see no reason for him to have gone kill-crazy. His best friend, the deceased king, was nothing but loving to him, heeded his counsel, gave reasons when he turned it down… anyway, let’s kill that rant early.
The show sticks to the D&D party paradigm, each party member fulfilling a role within the group and within the adventure, you can practically see the DM’s screen in the backgrounds of certain scenes. At times it feels a lot more “kids show” than Avatar ever did, but it doesn’t make it less fun, and the fact that you can consume a season in an afternoon makes it worth committing a bit of time to.
End this with one hell of a moodshift, a new horror that has been on Netflix for a couple of weeks now, we have a story of a mad artist whose work causes strange deaths among those who sell it. Told from the perspective of those in the art industry, the world we occupy is quite removed from a classic horror setting, bright, cheerful, full of life and business, no one is isolated, no one is removed from society or cut off from rescue, and that alone makes this an abnormal and interesting approach.
Our cast of characters are cutthroat and volatile, consumed with their own dramas, almost oblivious to the terror unfolding around them, more caught up in their own dramas, undermining and outdoing one another, that by the time it occurs to anyone that anything spooky is going on they’re already screwed. It’s a joyous thing to enjoy watching a cast of characters that you utterly despise, and there’s something a little cathartic about watching a horror film where you are not encouraged to feel bad for anyone except for Zooey Deschanel in the role of “innocent”.
It’s different, but I cannot say that it’s all good. The all star cast is great, sure, but it’s never proof against a failed experiment or a horror film that lacks tension. While I enjoyed what I watched, I found it all too easy to simply not pay attention to the story, skipping great chunks of the inter-personal drama, having to backtrack occasionally for bits of tension I’d inadvertently ignored while working on something else (work’s good, you?) and coming back to enjoy the grizzly moments and Zooey Deschanel finding another body and none of the nearby police thinking to arrest her for always finding the bodies.