jewelfox: A portrait of a foxgryphon with a beak, black fur, magenta hair, fox ears, and a neckband with a large jewel on it. (Default)

For an update on the state of the game that [personal profile] jewelfox is preparing, please see our next-latest-entry.



I don't have the energy to look up citations right now. But I feel like the history of tabletop games is largely the history of diverse, fannish groups adopting games that catch on because they are "good enough" for the time. And then watching as the next 30-40 years see the people who made these games get a lot of unearned power and capital, until they are dictating the shape of their hobbies to everyone else.

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jewelfox: A portrait of a foxgryphon with a beak, black fur, magenta hair, fox ears, and a neckband with a large jewel on it. (Default)

I've been kind of uncomfortable with Pathfinder and D&D both for different reasons, and started looking for another role-playing game that has the rules for free online and lets you write your own stuff for it.

So far I've found two that look promising: Dungeon World and 13th Age. You can find their respective SRDs, or free online rules documents, here and here.

Both are strongly inspired by Pathfinder and D&D, with stock fantasy adventuring tropes and more or less stock fantasy character options. But the authors went in two different directions with them ... especially with regard to how accessible their games are to newbies. Whether those newbs are players, or fan / professional authors.

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jewelfox: A portrait of a foxgryphon with a beak, black fur, magenta hair, fox ears, and a neckband with a large jewel on it. (Default)

A week or three ago, Bungie, the makers of Halo, opened their upcoming MMO first-person shooter, Destiny, to PS3 / PS4 players, for an open beta and stress test. I played it for a few hours, the night before the beta ended.

A day or three ago, Trion Worlds made their MMO third-person shooter, Defiance (sponsored by Dodge!), free-to-play for people on PS3 consoles. It's based on a SyFy TV series that I've never watched. I downloaded it a few days ago, and have played it every day since, partly because a PSN friend invited me to her clan.

Here's what I make of the two.

Defiance

A few minutes into Defiance, I thought "This game is awfully silly." That impression has yet to leave me.

It tries very hard to be "hardcore" with its characters and world design, from the square-jawed colonel in charge of the Not A Spaceship at the beginning to the wise-cracking, alien Bad Girl, who largely pushes the main plot forward. She loves chargin' in and killin' her some post-apocalyptic mutants, and the whole game is based on the premise that you do, too.

Which leaves my "survivalist" character up shtako creek without a paddle, because so far she's run into:

  • Men who can take a direct shot to the face from a bolt-action rifle,

  • Hills that can't be climbed even with a backpack full of survival gear,

  • Wildlife that runs after her as soon as it sees her,

  • Trucks that just sit in one place and disgorge wave after wave of enemy soldiers without resupply,

  • Quests that can't be completed until I run up close to a target with no cover,

  • "Friendly" soldiers that shout at her to "Get over here and HELP!" while she's finding a position to snipe from,

And more cheesy one-liners than you can shake a hellbug at.

In a way, it's kind of a letdown. Because they let me create, as my character, a woman of colour who's a "survivalist" and a "professional" and who actually dresses the part, right down to the beat-up propane tank attached to her pack. And instead of Don't Starve in 3D, I ended up having to bro it up in the bro-iest bro shooter ever.

So why the jekk am I playing it?

Because I haven't played pretty much any shooters since DUST 514, minus brief excursions into Uncharted and Bioshock, and it's ... actually kind of fun. In a cheesy, ridiculous way, but fun nonetheless. The premise (an alien colonization of Earth gone wrong) is interesting, despite how the game handles it, and I feel invested in my character. This is one of the few games that feels like it lets me inhabit a world as myself, so I figure I might as well make the best of it, especially as long as I have a few friends here.

I just get the impression that it was made by a bunch of TV execs, based on a stereotype of "what gamers like."

Destiny

Other than that it was made by the people behind Halo, and that it involved a big sphere floating over a city for some reason, I had no idea what to expect when I logged in to the Destiny beta. But enough people were talking about it online, with what seemed to be wonder and awe, that I started it up with my headset on and the overhead light switched off.

It pulled me in right away, with graphics that seemed almost PS4-quality and ... a reverence I rarely see, for the power of myth and the people who want to be part of it. Just the way they use words, like Titan and Ghost, that makes it seem like these are the names for something sacred. I didn't feel like I was "playing a game" so much as that I was physically there, helping act out a story, like when I went on the Star Trek: The Experience "ride" years ago.

I didn't know what was shooting at me, or why I was able to shoot back. I just knew these things were somehow responsible for the destruction that I'd woken up in, and that my revival was supposed to somehow bring back ... what?

Transhuman civilization, apparently, including both living machines and mysterious "Awoken." "These worlds were once ours," says the poster in the limited edition set, depicting the solar system. But what was that civilization like, besides grand and ancient? It felt kind of like playing Journey, and having to use your imagination to fill in the intentional gaps in the myth. This was no dystopia I was fighting for; it was whatever I thought was ideal. The best impressions I'd gotten from living on Earth.

I'm sure there's story material that fills in the gaps, somewhere. But they don't give it to you up front, and there aren't all the silly, ridiculous things in the gameplay that jarred me out of Defiance. Granted, I haven't played Destiny as long. But it left a strong impression, and I am tempted to preorder it.

Oh, and the gameplay was fun, too.

jewelfox: A portrait of a foxgryphon with a beak, black fur, magenta hair, fox ears, and a neckband with a large jewel on it. (Default)

Thinking about my attempts at roleplaying online, and the work that I've had to do for them, and whether or not I enjoyed that work.

With D&D 4e

  • Basic rule explanation: NONE

The basic rules are online, in a free PDF. Its explanation is very concise. In about 10 pages it goes over which dice you roll for what, and all the rules you need to know for combat and movement. Another few pages explain skills in detail. The rest of it is DM advice or premade characters.

  • Character creation: A LOT

4e characters are basically "plug and play." There's an enormous array of options, but very few of them are actually bad, and the newer Essentials classes especially make things easier by giving more comprehensive packages of abilities.

The problem? Almost none of the character creation material, except for the "Class Compendium" remakes, is available online for free. The rest of it is scattered through sourcebooks and Dragon Magazine articles, none of which it is easy to link to. Most people seem to use the Character Builder online, and/or the D&D Compendium ... both of which require a paid subscription. Without those online tools, you're screwed, unless you want to a) email PDFs to your friends and b) write up your own power cards.

This last part took us an enormous amount of effort to do in [community profile] nentir_vale, even compared to what it would have cost to write up the power cards in person. Theoretically, though, once this part is done I don't have to redo it; I can just copy the templates I've already made to introduce new powers.

  • Game preparation: A FAIR BIT

D&D 4e rules make it easy to put together an ostensibly "balanced" encounter, meaning one that won't murder the player characters. I'm personally not used to having to balance tactical wargame considerations on the one hand, though, and roleplaying concerns on the other. Like, the D&D Encounters games I went to were basically half listening to the DM exposit, and half killing mindless foes that won't back down.

I feel like I have pulled it off fairly well before. The encounter I'm most proud of featured a pair of wolves as antagonists, and I tried to roleplay them as actual people instead of as mindless combatants. They were surprised at the carrion (a revenant PC) that fought back, and extremely wary when another player character showed up. The PCs, in turn, didn't see their goal as "inflict enough damage to reduce them to 0 HP," but were trying to drive the wolves off.

After another encounter went poorly, though, to the point where one of my players left soon afterwards, I lost most of my confidence in my ability to create interesting 4e encounters.

  • Running the game: A FAIR BIT

My workflow for running a 4e game consists of setting up the map and its tokens, then taking pictures which my phone automatically uploads to OneDrive, where I can rotate and share them with minimal effort. The circular cardboard tokens included in the post-Essentials D&D 4e boxed sets work very well for this, because you can see them most clearly from directly above, whereas if I were using miniatures I'd have to balance making them look good with making the map itself legible.

When there are questions and time-consuming discussions, they tend to be around players not knowing which of their powers to use in a given situation. I've tried to mitigate this by writing little "strategy guides" for each of my players, and I also try to allow players to do things not explicitly spelled out in their powers; those aren't the only options they have, just the ones which are always available.

In Pathfinder

  • Basic rule explanation: A FAIR BIT

The online Pathfinder Reference Document does an extremely poor job of explaining to new players how to play the game. Which makes sense, I guess, from the perspective of people trying to sell a product, but the Core Rulebook is basically a printout of its section of the PRD.

The only Pathfinder RPG product explicitly aimed at beginners is the Beginner Box set, and it's a) not available for free online, and b) verbose and poorly laid out. So it's not really an option here.

On the plus side, the basic Pathfinder rules are simple. On the down side, they have a lot of edge cases and confusing inconsistencies. I will never forget the look on the face of the girl across the table, when she was told that she doesn't roll to attack with her Sorcerer's spell; her target rolls to dodge it. Which is the opposite of how it works for people who attack using physical weapons, and for everyone in 4e.

  • Character creation: A FAIR BIT

All the Pathfinder rules and options are available online for me to link to. I don't have to write up power cards or anything. The downside is that a lot of the options suck, and are basically "traps" for those who don't know any better.

Just this Friday, the guy next to me playing a Druid in Pathfinder Society got all excited when he realized he could convert any of his prepared spells into a Summon Nature's Ally spell. Then he found out it'd take his entire turn to cast, and the snake that he summoned would last only one round.

  • Game preparation: A LOT

The biggest challenge, in preparing to GM Pathfinder, is making encounters that will challenge but not kill the player characters. Its "Challenge Rating" system doesn't do a whole lot to help, because there are special rules and edge cases that can make it basically impossible for the PCs to defeat a particular foe, and unlucky die rolls can screw PCs over a lot worse than in D&D 4e.

Pathfinder GMs have to do a lot of non-obvious things to get around this. For instance, the designers of the adventure we played this last Friday had to give us a way to beat the boss demon's Damage Reduction. Also, since Pathfinder lacks a Skill Challenge mechanic, several parts of the adventure just consisted of "you spend X hours doing " and then seeing a result, instead of the players collaborating around the table and finding ways to use their skills to solve noncombat problems.

  • Running a game: A FAIR BIT

Not using a map, for online play, in some ways reduces the amount of work needed. Since Pathfinder also relies a lot on positioning, though, I've often ended up having to redescribe the setting each time a player's turn comes up, or having to correct someone about who was where.

Beyond that, the simple fact that the PCs are fragile means I have to be much more careful about how I approach them. In some ways I find this fun; there's a temptation, in DMing 4e, to throw lots of tough mobs at the players just because they can handle it. Whereas in Pathfinder everyone's much more inclined to resolve encounters through roleplay, instead of trusting their fate to the dice.

The winner?

I honestly don't know. I think I like 4e much better, and enjoy the work it requires more. I'm just not feeling confident about my ability to DM it right now.

jewelfox: A portrait of a foxgryphon with a beak, black fur, magenta hair, fox ears, and a neckband with a large jewel on it. (Default)

(With apologies to Wreck-it Ralph. Linked video contains spoilers.)

I used to get Lawful Good on D&D alignment quizzes, because I only picked the "right" answers. Later, and for most of the last ten years, I answered honestly and got Neutral Good ... because I didn't want to rock the boat, but I still went out of my way to help people.

I still do, sometimes. But the most recent alignment quiz I took pegged me as Chaotic Neutral, and the more I think about it the more I think it fits.

I think the tipping point, for me, was seeing how corporations like Mozilla -- which I thought were purely benevolent -- were really more concerned with ensuring their own survival. And while a lot of Free Software volunteers do so out of the goodness of their hearts, after being thrown away by GNOME I saw how others like me were being manipulated thanks to their desires to do good.

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tl;dr

The more I realize how little I know, and how messed-up my programming is thanks to my upbringing, the less confident I am that it's even possible to be a "good" person in the conventional sense. Not without massive conflicts of interest, and potential for abuse / exploitation.

Instead, I'm trying to be a kind person. Both in the sense that I want to treat others as people, and in the sense that [personal profile] aliaspseudonym referred to in its Xenotheism essay. Where "kindness is goodness," because the most genuinely good thing any person can do is to just be the kind of person they are.

If you don't believe that, then you can't really help anyone anyway.

jewelfox: A portrait of a foxgryphon with a beak, black fur, magenta hair, fox ears, and a neckband with a large jewel on it. (Default)

"Civ V" lets you build a civilization (of humans) "to stand the test of time." In game terms, this means you start with stone-age settlers and end up with world domination, in or before the modern age.

That's the first thing that's horrifying in hindsight, to someone who grew up with these games and just played them again last night. The goal isn't to coexist and appreciate global diversity. It's to dominate all life on Earth, whether through armed conflict or cultural hegemony. And while there are benefits to cooperating with "minor city-states," in your struggle against the other players, by the modern age you drop all pretense of a mutually beneficial relationship and go straight to rigging elections. Because if you don't, your opponents' spies will.

The second thing is the cultural biases. They let you choose from dozens of historical leaders, but whether you're playing Boudica, Hiawatha, or George Washington you end up playing America F*** Yeah in practice. Either that, or a cartoon version of 20th century dictatorships.

Here's a short list of disturbing stuff from the "social policies" interface, as of the Gods and Kings expansion (I'm one behind):

  • "Faith" and "Rationalism" are mutually exclusive.

  • Socialism is a precursor to Communism in the "Order" policy tree. You can't have it active at the same time as "Liberty," which is the only way to grant universal suffrage.

  • Somehow, you can have Theocracy and Religious Tolerance active at the same time (and are rewarded for doing so).

  • There is an honest-to-goddess Meritocracy social policy, which was not ironically named (at least not on purpose).

You're rewarded for producing Great Artists, Engineers, Scientists, and so on, all of whom are named after real-world figures. There's no argument or discussion about what makes these people "great," and there are an awful lot of white guys, like patent troll Orville Wright.

Building a bank and stock exchange in every city won't result in rampant speculation, housing crises, and market crashes. There's no such thing as international banking. Money's a tool to be used by political leaders.

"Wonders of the World" are unique and exclusive, to the point where if your civilization's one turn behind in producing the Sistine Chapel you have to abandon it and start over once Catherine of Russia builds it instead. Awe-inspiring temples and monuments aren't ways to bring the world together, they're just more tools for domination and promoting inequality.

"Natural Wonders" are special and inviolate, and can't be "improved" by your Workers. They're pretty much the only land tiles that are like this, however. Everything, and I mean everything else, eventually gets railroad tracks, lumber mills, and strip mines laid out across it, until your country's a patchwork of farms, city skylines, and smokestacks. There are no ecological consequences to building coal-fired factories, nuclear power plants, dams, quarries, and gaudy landmarks everywhere. The sea level does not rise. Resources are never depleted. No continent-sized islands of garbage form in the ocean. If nonhuman species go extinct, you don't hear about them.

And that, to me, is the most horrifying thing about Civ V. Watching a game of it play out feels, to me, like it might to most humans watching the robots from the Matrix plate the Earth in cast iron. Nonhuman species have zero agency, zero voice, and zero way to fight back as they are annihilated, mere obstacles in the way of "progress." Rewards for leaving wild areas wild are few and far between, and there's always the possibility that you'll strike oil right next to the Great Barrier Reef.

This game is nightmarish.

I'll stop playing after I finish one more turn. :P

jewelfox: A portrait of a foxgryphon with a beak, black fur, magenta hair, fox ears, and a neckband with a large jewel on it. (Default)

The following essay was originally posted on the Final Fantasy XIV forums, where it will probably be eaten alive.

Full disclosure: I played FFXI for seven years or so, starting in 2004. I love FFXIV, but for different reasons than I loved FFXI.

When I started playing FFXI, I was completely taken in by its graphics, its community, and even its timesinks. It taught me the ferry arrives in 15 minutes, you need to have food to go levelling, and be careful ninjaing past Valkurm Dunes goblins. I took it all without questioning it, because this was my world and I wanted to go on adventures in it. And when it came time to do Divine Might, I /shouted and rallied my friends until we were herding 18 cats, which to me was the bigger challenge than the actual boss fight itself.

I'm glad that I have those memories, and I think the world needs more sandbox (or sandbox-ish) games. FFXI and EVE Online are "niche" titles, but with surprisingly loyal players. And if FFXI's slowly shrinking while EVE's slowly growing, it's partly because FFXI's based on 10-year-old tech and went neglected for years.

I'm not sure it's possible to build into a game, by design, the kinds of emergent gameplay those two have to offer. I don't think you can queue up in the Duty Finder, for the kind of unforgettable experience that was my friends and me beating FFXI's Ultima with 10 seconds left on the timer. I don't think scripted, themepark games should replace sandbox ones, and I think it's sad that 1.0's fans and SWG's fans lost theirs (multiple times, in the case of SWG).

But I also think they're unfairly romanticized. And I think sandbox fans like me tend to gloss over their faults, and give other people the sense that we think we are better than "casual" gamers, which are really just "anyone not as invested in ___ game as I am."

I think we should stop doing that.

For every one who has glowing memories, there are a lot more who remember a bewildering and frustrating game. For every one who remembers discovering how to beat a tough boss fight, there are a hundred who looked it up on FFXIclopedia (or Erecia's guide, remember that?). Sometimes you want to do it yourself, but you want to be told how to do it. And sometimes, you just wish the darned ferry would get here already.

For every day I spent having awesome adventures, I probably spent ten getting my head handed to me in Valkurm, or running around doing tedious crap and waiting for JP midnight. We don't remember this stuff as well, but they're all that the people who quit remember, which is why FFXI and EVE both have so many haters. Not because the "casual" gamers weren't "hardcore" enough to "learn to play," but because the games disrespected their time and money investments, and failed to fulfill the promise of being an awesome Final Fantasy / Internet Spaceships adventure.

Who made that promise, and how they made it, we could probably argue about. But FFXI and EVE are simply not like the games next to them on the shelves, and someone who bought FFXI thinking it'd be like FFX would be in for a rude shock.

(Just got my FFX/X-2 preorder, BTW. It's gorgeous.)

FFXIV:ARR, I feel, fulfills that promise. Say what you want about it, it is a Final Fantasy game, complete with boss fight and ending sequence. It's just unique among FF games in that you can keep playing after you beat it, unlocking more jobs and teaming up to defeat superbosses, and the developers keep adding new features and storyline quests.

I think their "ideal player" is a core FF gamer, who's new to the MMO world. I think that's the person they design for. And while I sometimes miss not having stuff spelled out for me, I'm also not sure what the difference is between having to research crafting recipes and food stats on FFXIclopedia, and having the game's UI just tell me. Beyond the fact that one of those things makes me do the same work as FFXIV's devs, unpaid.

TL;DR Sandboxes are fun, but people aren't worse gamers than I am because they don't want to do unpaid dev work.

jewelfox: A portrait of a foxgryphon with a beak, black fur, magenta hair, fox ears, and a neckband with a large jewel on it. (Default)

So, I'm reading Final Fantasy series fans' criticisms of Final Fantasy XIII and its spinoffs, as found in the comment section of this article and the apparently-widespread attitudes that it addresses. They seem to amount to:

The story is weird and convoluted, and the characters are unlikeable anime stereotypes.

As someone who's played and/or watched Advent Children, Kingdom Hearts, FFVII: Crisis Core, FFXI: Chains of Promathia, and Final Fantasy IX, I have to wonder ... are we talking about the same series of games here? Are we even on the same planet?

Yes, the first half of FFXIII was more or less linear. So was a lot of FFX, as I recall. And Cloud Strife, FFVII's protagonist, was getting flack for being an emotionless anime stereotype with unbelievable weapons and hair since before it was cool.

Here's where I think the real issue is. This is the first half an hour or so of Final Fantasy XIII's gameplay, but you should be able to spot what "mainstream" gamers don't like about it in the first five minutes.

Click here if you can't see the video, or if you'd like to skip the 30 seconds where the player configures game options.

Notice something about the protagonists? That's right. The first two that we see on-camera are a white woman and a black man. The white woman never gets a love interest, and the black man never stops being the Voice of Reason and standing up to white characters.

Now take a look at this footage of a LAN party.

Click here if you cannot see the video.

What do pretty much all of the gamers there have in common? What two characteristics do virtually all of them have in common? And if you answer with parts of their anatomy, I will slap you.

That is all.

jewelfox: A portrait of a foxgryphon with a beak, black fur, magenta hair, fox ears, and a neckband with a large jewel on it. (Default)

It's like the freaking WordPress of tabletop RPGs.‏

Everyone uses it. Everyone knows how to extend it. Everyone knows how to break it. Nobody cares that it's broken.‏

The people who love it most are the ones who make money off of selling stuff for it so you don't have to write your own.

It wasn't as bad in the 3.5 days. 3.5 classes were as bare-bones as you can get. Some of the rules were really messed up (how the heck does polymorph work, anyway!?), and Pathfinder fixed some of those and clarified some things that were ambiguous.‏

But the biggest thing Pathfinder added was options. Loads of options. Tons of options. Lots more system complexity. Lots more moving parts bolted on, until it was like a blinged-out drag racer with fins and chrome hubcaps and flashing police lights.

Ranting and explanation )

I'm trying to think how to take the good parts from both 3.5 and Pathfinder. Here's what I'm thinking of so far:

From D&D 3.5

  • The basic core mechanics. How most spells work. How most classes work. Cleric domains. Each class should be only a page or two long in description. Psionic stuff's probably okay as optional add-ons.

From Unearthed Arcana

  • Action Points, ideally as the only secondary resource for most classes. Being able to add a +1d6 bonus to any roll you make really makes level 1 characters feel more heroic, and takes the frustration out of missing your attacks and skill checks.

  • Spell Points instead of spells per day. Clerics, Druids, and Wizards still prepare spells each day, but they cast them with Spell Points, which makes it feel more worthwhile to experiment with interesting spells because it's not as much of a waste if you never cast them. Plus everyone gets the concept of "mana" or "MP" more readily.

  • Certain optional class archetypes. Monk fighting styles aren't much more complicated than Wizard schools. Paladins shouldn't have to be Lawful Good to begin with. Whirling Frenzy is a neat Rage variant. So long as they don't add too many moving parts to keep track of, I'm cool with thematic abilities.

From Pathfinder

  • Advanced Race Guide rules for creating a species, but trimmed waaaay the heck down to stuff that'd be useful for anthros.

  • Certain bloodlines, mysteries, and the like could be simulated using feats, maybe. It'd be sort of like 4e multiclassing: You gain a class skill and a cool ability, maybe one for your familiar too if you have one. Higher-tier abilities depend on the lower-tier feats. Don't have enough feats? Take an Unearthed Arcana weakness, why don't you.

  • Clarifications on some spells, like polymorph.

  • Character traits, just as options. If you want you can take another feat instead. Could probably make these a lot simpler than Pathfinder has it, anyway, especially since most of the traits seem like reprints of each other (+1 to a combat stat, +1 to a skill and it's now a class skill).

Jury's still out on whether Combat Manoeuvres are an improvement on how 3.5 handles it. I think that they're doable as long as we make them an optional system, and stuff all the "fancy tricks you do in combat" into it.

We're open to suggestions and stuff.

About us

~ Fox | Gem | Rei ~

We tell stories, paint minis, collect identity words, and share them all with our readers. If something we write helps you, let us know.

~ She / her ~

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