It has been a couple of years since the release of the core set – Players Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide – and in between we’ve mostly seen the release of campaign books that have added their own flavour that a half-awake DM can implement to great effect in his/her own games.
Across the last two editions we’ve seen something of a template in terms of extra material, and the same with independent adaption Pathfinder; more monster manuals, more player options, flavour books that add new worlds or mixed materials that play to a theme, accompanied by campaign modules which are primarily focused on a playable adventure, rather than adding usable material for anyone to use. (more…)
This is something of a review, because one area I must criticise 4th edition D&D on was the support it received online.
Enjoying 4th edition places you in something of a minority, but it had it’s truly beneficial features. Stripping away to the bare bones of the system and starting again from scratch was a bold step better executed this time around, but in so doing Wizards of the Coast learned a few valuable lessons. However, for players new to the format the at-will/encounter/daily breakdown of powers, spells and abilities made for a readily comprehendible set-up for combat that was easy to grasp, and for DMs it made the process of creating new monsters, traps and various other key elements much easier.
Still I have come to appreciate 4th’s failings, and it’s hideous decline into Essentials – VAMPIRE IS NOT A CLASS YOU ~cough~ – anyway, and I can almost fully understand the outrage many of the die-hards and old school players felt during the releases. I’ve refuted some of it’s so-called weaknesses, espoused it’s strengths, admitted graciously it’s failures, and recognised how the mistakes I made as a 4th edition DM have hardened me into a far stronger practitioner.
But that’s not what this article is about, no edition wars in the comments please!
Wizards of the Coast offered up four pieces of support to subscribers to their Insider services: The Dungeon and Dragon magazines offered supplementary rules, errata updates and useful lore to DMs and players respectively, the former with regular dungeons and/or mini-campaigns, the other expanding on class, race and character options.
The Character Builder began as an excellent tool for… well building characters, and better yet it was a piece of downloadable software you could continue to use long after your subscription had ended, but could only be updated while you’re subscribed, seems reasonable. But when Essentials came around the software became restricted to in-browser only, and there were no more updates. Alright, not a great loss, right?
Adventure Tools started life with a catalogue of monsters that the DM could filter by level, role, and keywords, as well as searching by name. It allowed for easy encounter building, and also included a fantastic monster-building tool that did all the essential maths on your behalf, as well as offering up necessary guidelines to help prevent over- or under-powering your creations. Like the character builder it was available to download and update to subscribers, but subscribers never got the one thing they wanted most from the adventure tools, any other adventure tools. The software lived and died as the monster compendium.
Mini rant out of the way, now credit where credit is due.
5th edition began life as a series of .pdf files that were freely available to everyone with a request for as much playtest feedback as possible so that they could refine the game into a cleanly finished product that could be enjoyed by all, and it worked beautifully. What’s even better is that they have not finished the process.
If you have any kind of internet-capable mobile device that is able, get the Dragon+ app or get it straight to browser, which features a free monthly magazine with news, articles, lore, podcasts, and even better, new character options that are in a constant state of playtest. For example, the Mystic class – a psychic of many talents that falls somewhere between monk and spell-caster – is currently in its second iteration after a few months of being trialled, and is still subject to change as a final version may never reach a published book, and only ever appear in the hands of those who read regularly. The same is true of some Eberron-specific races like Shifters and Warforged, available somewhere in the archives of Dragon+, I forget where.
Free core rules are readily available for anyone to download including basics on character building for players and a limited selection of classes, races and spells to pick and choose from (although 114 pages is most of the Players Handbook, so you’re not losing all that much), and for DMs a collection of monsters, how to build encounters with them, and some magic items to hand out afterwards. Without spending a penny you can have enough to dabble into the full game, but they’ve given just enough to make the books well worth buying. If you own the books already get these downloaded onto your phone or tablet though, it helps when travelling light, or for sudden and unexpected gaming situations.
So that’s it, right? All the core rules and a nice little collection of extra supplementary material for free. They can’t give any more away, surely?
No, hypothetical reader, I am not done! And stop interrupting me!
If you’re a stalwart of the WotC flagship product then there’s a few other online tools you’ll be familiar with that some consider an absolute must for play. The virtual tabletops Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 are both now fully endorsed by Wizards and have official support for new releases, making it easier for people who prefer to play online – or are forced to by time and distance – to join in and get a richer experience. Granted that support isn’t free, but there’s a limit as to how much can just be handed out.
The DMs Guild powered by the DriveThru team who support content creators for RPGs is a dedicated platform for writers wanting to generate content for D&D within the official guidelines laid down by WotC. That may sound limiting, especially when you can just use the normal DriveThru RPG platform and make money the same way, but if you play by their rules Wizards might just pick up your content to go official, and the chance to have your work appear alongside the official staff writers. It’s a great way for Wizards to source the best material straight from the fan community, but it’s also a great way for writers to make money and get publicity at the same time.
There’s more, there is so much more, from the fan site toolkit, the Podcast (which featured the writer of Rat Queens one time and I squealed like a fangirl), the Open Gaming License, to associations and respective nods to other major companies, many of which fan-made that have grown to industry giants, some of which seemingly unrelated… like My Little Pony… just, click that link, you’ll be richer for the experience. Is it all perfect? No, but it is a huge step towards improving company-customer relations, and one that a company like Wizards sorely needs in order to keep revenue flowing. Those books aren’t cheap, but when you feel like your money is put to good use it all suddenly becomes a little more worthwhile.
Dammit Hasbro, you cunning puppet-masters, you made me love you a little bit.
Netflix just keep proving, not just validity, but dominance in the media market. Is it still appropriate to call it a TV show any more if the best examples are no longer on television?
Further to their expanding catalogue of Marvel properties, part of an already popular collection of original series boxsets like House of Cards, BoJack Horseman and Orange is the New Black, introducing the horror series that follows a group of young boys in 1980’s Indiana as they search for their missing friend, instead discovering a young girl with strange powers, who plunges them into the middle of a supernatural plot. (more…)
Level design is never an easy job, especially when you have to manage a large variety of levels and worlds. However some levels are so dreadful, that even years on, we as gamers raise our arms in frustration and say “Ah, sod this!” With all this said though, we’re not on about levels that are poorly made per se, but just levels that are genuinely bad to us.
So whether the level is downright frustrating because of how hard it is, or if the level is simply terribly designed, we’ve got you covered in this Top 10. Now it’s time for us to exit stage left and check out our best of worst levels!
10. IntelliLock – Mystery of Time and Space (MOTAS)
Ah the Intellilock, a lock that was designed to be incredibly intelligent, or so you would think. Actually, this lock is pretty smart in that it puts you through a rigorous game of “hey, press the right button!” There’s a lot of buttons you can press and when you press the right one, they all change to become another puzzle in amidst the already annoying puzzles. One moment, you could be looking at crosshairs, the next you could be given a simple number puzzle.
The issue with Intellilock isn’t that it’s a bad lock per se, or even that the level around it is bad. Instead, it makes you seriously think and it slows down your whole gameplay through Mystery of Time and Space. MOTAS as it’s affectionately known, is a flash game which you can play absolutely for free (just click this link). It’s really good fun, but when you come to the Intellilock screen, be sure to have a good memory or a strong logical brain!
9. Shalebridge Cradle – Thief: Deadly Shadows
This is a bit of an awkward one, and would have been placed far higher in the list if it weren’t also one of the best levels in Deadly Shadows. Throughout the game so far you’ve possibly walked the City streets merrily koshing or stabbing your way through a world that’s all too easily unburdened of life and valuables, and extinguishing every light that would reveal your presence, and a few you probably didn’t need to.
Welcome to the Cradle, half orphanage, half insane asylum, leave everything you’ve learned at the door. None of the lights can be extinguished, space is limited, and every occupant died a long time ago, but that hasn’t stopped them shambling the halls. If you’ve grown comfortable playing the master thief Garrett, be prepared to be made most uncomfortable, and otherwise freaked out, unnerved and generally annoyed. You’ll hate it, but it’ll make you want more.
8. Caustic Caverns – Borderlands 2
Good idea to replace all the water with acid, adds an element of risk, especially if you have to cross said acid a few times to get to essential locations. But jumping isn’t difficult in Borderlands, better make the acid bubble and splash so that it’s harder to dodge, OH and maybe if you put treasure and things in places you can only reach by jumping into said bubbles just as they burst! That’ll be great.
What else? What else? What if this is filled with creatures that can throw you great distances into the acid, or things that fly so you can’t look at where you’re going, or creatures that spend half the fight underground?! That’s sounds like a lot of FUN! PEOPLE WILL HAVE FUN! And now that we’re all having fun, let’s have a lot of quests in there, a lot more than any of the other dungeons in the whole game! Or at least let’s make it feel that way.
7. Kaizo Mario World
Kaizo Mario World is a trial-and-error game or “rage game”, I.E a game just like I Wanna Be The Guy. It’s a game where you might jump over a pit which would be an insta-kill, just to have a bullet bill fly at you JUST as you jump. Of course, this would go and kill you anyway. It’s the type of game that was made to intentionally annoy the hell out of you – and it’s pretty brilliant at it.
I’ve seen people die whilst just walking in that game. I’ve seen people die by being inactive. I’ve seen deaths by star blocks, deaths by chomps and deaths by goombas… Who appear out of nowhere! Kaizo Mario World is the ultimate test of patience. It’s not really a bad game at all, it’s rather clever in fact. But it’s such a bad idea for how a level works, that it deserved a mention. Please note: Kaizo is actually a fan based ROM Hack, so if you don’t own the official game, you’re not likely going to be able to play this legally! Still, it’s highly amusing to have a look at people dying pretty regularly on it!
6. Test Chamber 18 – Portal
One of the final phases of preliminary testing of the Aperture Handheld Portal Device, subjects are required to traverse elaborate corridor networks, and resolve a rather awkward puzzle in order to complete the chamber.
Test Chamber 18 is a bit of a doozy, and is often referred to as one of the hardest puzzles in the game, more than a few people were trapped in the little chamber for a very long time. The turrets add very little complexity, as they’re easily dispatched, but the solution is not all that obvious, and being trapped in that side room by a sliding panel, and some parts requiring rather narrow timing add little stressors that make the puzzle just a little harder.
The exit is a series of tall platforms reached by hurling oneself higher and higher, tempering your relief at completing the chamber with a little vertigo and nausea. Not to worry, there’s time enough to settle your stomach before the cake.
5. Safari Zone – Pokémon Red/Blue
Games seem to really love completely removing their own fundamental mechanics occasionally just to screw us over. The Safari Zone is just a prime example of exactly how gleefully the modern masters like to upset their fans. The whole point of pokémon is to pitch your pokémon against another pokémon and slug it out through means of tactical application of their various powers or abilities to whittle the opponent down far enough to defeat or capture it. The system works, and it would certainly be a great deal harder if you were just throwing rocks at your opponent, or if they could just run off whenever they liked.
Welcome to the Safari Zone, where your pokémon are removed from you and you have a limited time to throw rocks and/or bait at a kangaskhan until it either wanders off or actually stays in the damn Safari Ball. Oh, and your supposed to figure out that there’s a particular method when you’re 10 and don’t have a clue about strategy and just blast everything with hyperbeam until your PP runs out? Yet more proof that children should never be permitted to play children’s games.
4. Robot Masters before Dr. Wily – Mega Man games
The Robot Masters are the big baddies of the Mega Man series. Mega Man 2 is my all time favourite Mega Man, probably along with many other people. I’d always fight Metal Man first, then I’d take on Wood Man. Next I’d kill Bubble Man, followed by Air Man, then Flash Man. Crash Man is next, Quick Man and finally Er… Zippo Man. Heat Man, that’s his name! Then once you defeat all of the Robot Masters and take their powers, you can go to the middle section, which is Wily’s castle. Defeat the enemies before the big skull part and boom! It’s time to fight Wily.
Actually, no it’s not. Instead, you just find 8 doors that you can step through. Each of these doors have lights above them, indicating that they’re currently still active. All you have to do is go in and de-activate all of them. How hard can this be? Well, it can be incredibly hard if you’re only getting by with the skin of your teeth. You have to now fight all 8 of the Robot Masters all over again… And guess what? You don’t heal all of your health between fights either. Good luck, Mega, you’re going to need it!
3. Biker Tunnel – Battletoads
Have you played Battletoads? If you have and you’ve played this game with a friend, you know that most of this game is one massive mess. It’s a great mess, a glorious one at that. People only really took it seriously after it became subject to a bit of an internet meme targeting shops like Gamestop for a pre-order of Battle-Toads for the Nintendo Wii. All thanks to the above video: isn’t the internet an awesome place?
Nevertheless, it let people see the insanity that was Battletoads, inciting many people to then actually get frustrated with the games absurdly high difficulty. One moment, you’re playing a typical beat em up, with massive boots to kick the butts of your enemies. The next moment, you would be driving along a tunnel on a bike, with obstacles coming into contact with you every second. Don’t worry; that’s not all you have to contend with. Ramps are the only things that will save you from falling into the massive pits and you even have to hit those at the right speeds, else you’ll just lose. The Battletoads really had all odds stacked against them!
2. Water Temple – Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
If you thought the Water Temple wasn’t going to make our list, then you were only fooling yourselves. Yes, the Water Temple clocks in at a whopping number two on our list, which is totally understandable, considering the infamous nature of this level. People go so far as to call levels “the Water Temple of this game” when referring to the worst levels of whatever game they’re playing. At least, I’ve certainly referred to levels in such a way.
Regardless, the Water Levels is interesting in that it has 5 layers, which sees you navigating all 5 layers just to get through it. If it were just a case of having to do each layer, that’d not be so bad, but you need to go back and forth between the layers just to progress. You know something’s up when they admitted they made it easier during the remake for the game on the 3DS, because they felt guilty for how hard this level was. Traps, layers, puzzles – It threw everything it had at you and only the patient would survive.
1. Rainbow Road – Mario Kart
Wait a minute, before we continue, how come we’ve got a second Mario item in the Top 10? Aren’t we only supposed to have 1 entry from each franchise? You’re absolutely correct, it’s one entry from each franchise. However, Kaizo Mario World is a fan-made ROM Hack, which does not count as part of a franchise. With this out of the way with, let me now explain why Rainbow Road not only makes it into the Top 10, but why it’s our number one pick.
Rainbow Road is infamous amongst people who have played through Mario Kart, in any of it’s various iterations. When you start playing Mario Kart, you get frustrated by the players who are throwing those red shells at you and the people who leave banana’s behind. You get frustrated that people are better at drifting than you are and you want to just give everybody the Luigi Death Glare whenever they try to pass you and you hit them with a shell.
Rainbow Road stops everyone dead in their tracks, because now instead of contending with other contenders, you’re fighting with the game itself. You now need to try to get this road, this wavy, moving, wiggling road, to treat you a little bit better. In the Wii version, for instance, the Rainbow Road has the occasional ripple in the ground, allowing you to gain speed for making a jump off the ground itself… But that doesn’t always help, as it can throw you full speed off one of the many curved sides of the road. There are no railings to save you in this exceedingly long level! It’s a nightmare to navigate and the colours can be highly disorientating.
There are so many levels out there, but to call them all the worst would be a massive overstatement. However, we thought we’d show off two more levels that at least deserves a mention; One isn’t even really a proper level!
Tomb of Horrors – Dungeons & Dragons
Omitted by a small technicality, the Tomb of Horrors is a module for D&D that is used by DMs when they are sick to death of their group, it’s veritably infamous for how cruelly it tortures those adventurers foolish enough to try its entrances. Sudden death is abundant, puzzles are difficult, and non-lethal penalties are dramatic to say the least. The place is the current final resting place of the demi-lich Acererak, and is a death trap riddled with hazards, monsters and deceptions of a most sadistic nature.
Expect loss of limbs, change of gender, altered philosophical views, and the very real possibility of just starving to death. Being a challenge for medium-high level characters, most of these penalties would be a mere setback, even death would be a revolving door. Would be! But the necromancer Acererak isn’t so polite as to let you die like normal, death is an absolute, no coming back from this one.
Kill Screen – Pac-Man
So we all know and love Pac-Man and I’ve mentioned this highly broken screen many times before on this website, however it’s interesting to note that this is technically a playable level, even though it isn’t really a proper one. What I mean by it not being a proper level, is that this level isn’t supposed to be like this, but it’s just a memory issue with the game, where it doesn’t know what you want to do with all of the fruit ever.
Rotten fruit aside, the Kill Screen is infamous in Pac-Man. Having supposedly been beaten only once before, which is seemingly unverified, the Kill Screen is basically the end of the line for the most hardcore Pac-Man players. Some modern versions of the game include it just as an Easter Egg to those who figure it out and get that far. On the plus side, at least the screen is visually different than the 255 maps that preceded it!
I’ve had enough of going through dungeons and caverns filled to the brim with krakens, because how many of these guys can fit into such a small space? Not to mention that there are fire monsters inside of this water cave, how did this even make it past play-testing!? Nevertheless, we’re done for this week’s list and now it’s once again over to you, our audience, to decide what we do for our next list.
Did we mention those levels that were so dastardly to you? What about the order in which we ranked these worst levels? Do you think we unfairly put any of them in, or do you think we were justified in our reasons? Did we miss any out?! As always, life isn’t fair, but you can help us make it right by telling us your personal worst levels in the comments below, or over on Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. Help us check through these games for the future of mankind’s sake: We’ve had enough of these worst levels!
- A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
- A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
- A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
These are the laws that may one day save us from a Matrix/Terminator style situation, the rules that all artificial intelligence must be bound to, with some possible extra stipulations to prevent I.Robot happening too. Despite the fears of luddites who still beat their phones with rocks hoping for the fire that might cook their freshly slain microwavable pasta, science marches on with an army of entirely hypothetical robots at its back with only the purpose of discovery, and also having a cool butler who makes drinks and you don’t even have to pay him. (more…)
We’ve had a few weeks of inactivity on our YouTube channel whilst we prepared for Kitacon and the last GeekOut Bristol Meet… But now we’ve returned and we’ve got some new games to get recording and we’re starting our podcasts over on the platform! Read on to find out more about our upcoming schedule.