So I know that we still know next to nothing – but I’ve had a chance to read all the way through the new preview for 5e Shadowrun and I continue to realize that I’m just not going to like this game.
Nothing in this preview improves my perception of the limits system. If anything, the added clarity seems to make things worse. There are two immediate problems that pop out at me. First, they mentioned in the early releases that the game was going to put more emphasis on your attributes/skills and less on gear. Well, since gear limits supersede natural limits based on your stats – well – gear has actually just become even more important than ever before. Sure, you’re stats/skills are “where you get your dice from” but since the number of hits you can keep is ultimately going to derive from your gear in many situations that’s really a more important determiner – as you would expect in this version of a “roll and keep” mechanic.
The second problem is actually connected to the first problem and maybe actually makes it worse (or moot depending on how you look at it). Judging from the example, it seems that if you consider that the average roll for someone with 15 dice will equate to 5 hits, then even the most basic gear will probably allow you keep most if not all of your hits – and once you earn a little and upgrade, then you have the ability to keep a few more for those really good rolls. So maybe limits won’t really matter much at all… because you will rarely run up against them..?
Of course, this points up another worry I have about the new system – that they are going to make starting runners really “street-level.” One of the best parts of 4e is the fact that you can make a runner from a lot of different social levels/situations… runners don’t all have to be broke-ass hardscrabble street warriors. And maybe they won’t in 5e, maybe. But all the hints I see in the releases point that way.
Also, I see we’re going back to initiative being a countdown. How disappointing is that? It was so nice to leave that behind from previous editions.
Finally – and I’ll freely admit that this is just a purely personal thing because I’m sure that for some people it’s exactly what they like – but I also don’t like the art style of the cover. This not what Shadowrun looks like in my head and I just don’t enjoy this art style. But art in games is super-subjective so it’s not the deal-breaker, it’s just another reason to realize that 5e is moving away from a Shadowrun direction I will be able to enjoy.
I’ll keep reading and keep checking in but it continues to appear that 5e is just not going to be a game for me… and another edition of another game will move on without me… and I’ll hope that 6e will turn around and come back.
Thanks for reading.
PS – oh, right, then there is that whole nonsense about essence affecting your social limit… Phooey.
Back in March, I ran a classic Battletech scenario at the local gaming convention (Madicon). Jeff, of Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog, posted about the game today and it inspired me to talk a little bit about the experience and about some general Battletech musings.
First, not to steal his thunder, but I ran a pretty classic teaching scenario at the con. It’s been in several of the “introductory” rulebooks, including the most recent, in one form or another and it’s probably my favorite teaching scenario.
The scenario is very simple, and posits a training situation for Mechwarriors still in he academy. It pits three novice mechwarriors in light Battlemechs against a single, damaged, Assault Mech and the goal of the scenario is for the three lights to defeat the heavy before it crosses two map boards and exits the field.
For my version, I pitted a Jenner, a Panther, and a Whitworth against a damaged Zeus. It was Draconis Combine versus Lyran Commonwealth and it felt great. My play group consisted of two inexperienced players (I think they were entirely new to the game) and Jeff – an experienced player. I didn’t want to play, rather overseeing the whole thing, but they decided they would take on the roles of the three lights and have me play the fleeing assault. Works for me, I guess.
I tried to do a little teaching as we went. I had kept the technology level and the mech designs to a 3025 (Level 1) standard because I wanted them to have as easy an introduction as possible and we discussed the particulars of movement, weapon fire, missles, etc. and built on to what they knew each turn as we played. Jeff was a big help because he could speak to them as a “team member” and share his knowledge while I had become the opponent.
The Assault did make it off the field but it was a badly mangled wreck by the time it was all over. I felt bad for one of the players because he actually missed with every. single. shot. he. took. The entire game… it was painful.
They played reasonably well – using cover, trying to set me up to only have clear lines of fire to one or two of them at a time and leaving someone to flank me and try to get my weaker rear armor. I was happy that the outcome was so close. I also made a pretty straight run across the board, only stopping twice to engage in a round or two of actual stand up fighting.
But there are a few things that I think are hard for new players to learn about Battletech that I think stems from the differences it has to most other games that are similar. I think certain strategies and expectations are so ingrained in the minds of players of war-games that Battletech sets those expectations on edge.
So, here are my two “insights” about Battletech. I put the dreaded quotation marks around insights because I’m always reluctant to assume I’m saying anything particularly new or original. Anyway, take them as you will; these insights reflect my experience of playing the game.
1. Battletech rewards aggression. So many war games/minis games reward slow play, careful hoarding of resources and skulking around the edges building up your forces. Many others reward the dreaded turtle strategy. Battletech is not one of those games. Battletech rewards moving a lot, getting close to an opponent, shooting all the time, even punching and kicking as soon and as often as you can. This game is about getting up close and violent. And I love that about this game. The best part of BT is that it really does reward an aggressive strategy. Sure, moving makes it harder to hit, but it makes you harder to hit too. And closing the range is super-important. Sure, if you play games with amped up pilots with Gunnery scores of 1 all the time, you might lose some of this level of play… but how many Kais are there really? And the strange thing is, the lighter your mech, the more aggressive you want to be. Sure, you can run 10 hexes every turn and be almost impossible to hit but if you aren’t closing up with someone and taking your shots, why bother? All it takes is one average hit on your Commando or Locust and you’re out of the game – and if you never shot anything then what good did all that running and jumping do you? Get in the fray!
The addendum to this, of course, is that knowing when it is the perfect turn to say… “I’m standing still” can make all the difference.
2. Embrace inefficiency. I can’t really stress this enough. A lot of players who cross that first threshold from being total newbies to having a few fights under their belt will bemoan the ridiculous inefficiencies of the book mechs. I went through this phase. I think you have to get it out of your system as a player. And I’m certainly not saying that some book mechs aren’t just awful… but if you take the time to think through the book mechs and really break down what they are able to do – mainly through play experience – it becomes more obvious what balance the designers were striving for. And it is awesome when you have that breakthrough. There is nothing like the site of a Warhammer or a Battlemaster just going all out Alpha Strike on some poor bastard and then stumbling away steaming and shuddering. Balance in Battletech is a different animal than it is in something like 40K or Malifaux. You can’t bring the same type of thinking to the game. And I much prefer BT thinking.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. Thanks for reading. Wish I was playing Battletech right now.
My first car was a 1972 Dodge Dart. It was a shade of green that I’m not sure how to even describe. It was a monster. My high school girlfriend called it, “the Monster.” It’s also safe to say that I really miss that car. I had the 2 door Swinger. It was beautiful. (Note: mine did not look this good… it was old by the time I got it.)
Even though the new Dodge Dart and the old Dart don’t look anything alike I’ve been a really big fan of the new Dart commercials. Particularly this one:
And really, it’s just the first few lines that I’m a big fan of:
Wanna make a great car interior? Stop looking at car interiors. Get inspired by other stuff.
And it’s surprisingly hard. Sometimes in gaming there is this painful feeling that, “it’s all been done.” I mean, whenever I look at a game I find myself making the same old comparisons… “oh that’s just a D&D clone” or “well, it’s just FATE the way FATE wishes it was.” You know, that kind of thing. And with Edition wars all the rage in so many games it’s hard sometimes to remember what we’re even annoyed about. I mean, I already hate Shadowrun 5th edition and I know next to nothing about it. And I will give it a read when it comes out, to be fair. But I’m off-topic.
I’ve been working on a diceless game for about a while now. I took a break from it because of job-stuff but I’ve been diving back in. I’m thrilled that there are some other folks out there other than me who still love diceless gaming… The Lords of Gossamer and Shadow kickstarter just ended and I’ll say that I ended up as a backer. It’s a good feeling to support diceless games hitting the market.
But even as I’ve been pondering my game that I’m trying to create I was blown away to see this (from another kickstarter as it happens…) and the short version is, Exalted 3 combat is going to involve combat momentum and the gaining of advantage to allow for the combat to move forward in novel ways. I sat there and shook my head in wonderment. This is exactly what I was writing (from a diceless perspective) and far from feeling cheated or any sense of outrage I was in awe of how ideas come into focus over time and people who read a lot of games and play a lot of games start to have this feeling that something is… missing, weird, could be done a different way? I think this happens in our hobby quite often. I mean, just look at the whole “story game” revolution. Look at the GM-less games that have cropped up and call themselves RPGs. [Aside: I am biased against this notion, but they are entitled to call themselves whatever they want.]
Here’s the first part of my notes about momentum as I worked to think my way through it’s usefulness as a game mechanic… these are incredibly raw but clearly going in the same direction as the Ex3 idea.
Idea of Momentum
Combat Momentum works such that players build up MP (momentum points) that can be spent to accomplish tasks.
• MP can be spent against any enemy. One pool per character used as they see fit.
• Opponents have different MT (momentum thresholds) representing what break points allow Knockout.
• Soft Opponents can be auto-knocked and generate no momentum
• MP gained from Hard Opponents can be spent to eliminate soft opponents.
• Damage is all equal.
• Armor is still in question(?)
• PCs must spend MP to disengage from an opponent or the opponent can take a free attack.
• MP can be spent to do more than be banked for knockout – they can be used to disarm, to psych out an opponent, to disengage, to protect a friend, to knockout out soft targets, perform heroic movements… and other stuff (what these maneuvers do is still up in the air).
• Total momentum can be pooled between PCs to hit a total on a tough monster but PCs must all act in the turn of the slowest initiative to do it.
• MP are earned by doing “damage.” Basically, weapon damage + margin of success.
• Instead of momentum adding up to eventually KO an opponent – each opponent has a certain number of “thresholds (?)” and these must each be met to defeat that opponent. Tougher opponents have higher thresholds for KO.
It might be useful to have players track pools of Momentum with tokens of some sort. This would be one of those ideas about making players feel like they’re participating in the combat – passing tokens back and forth – but of course, tokens are not required. Scrap paper will do just as well.
A couple of other things to keep in mind. How does poison work? How does this fit with ranged attacks? And I have this idea that momentum can be spent on defense – but you can’t generate new momentum with defense.
My primary worry is how to set thresholds for defeating an opponent that don’t simply encourage taking an opponent out as quick as possible.
It’s possible that gear/fighting styles/fatigue/stuff… could change the thresholds – which encourages a PC to spend energy (momentum) disarming opponents or messing up their gear or fatiguing them to make it possible to KO them.
This has merit.
Soooooo…. Here’s an idea. Or, a pair of ideas (ish).
First, what if Momentum doesn’t build up into a pool? What if you have to use whatever momentum you build up each turn as you gather it (or you lose it)? This would make it a much more “use it now” resource.
The maneuvers they spend the lesser momentum on each turn though could be the “building blocks” I want – they can be used to improve your ability to generate momentum in following turns… so, for example, feigning, or bluffing, or acrobatics, or small wounds, could improve the ability to generate further momentum – along with having other special effects. This would be building toward a maneuver called “Overwhelm” which would be the equivalent of the final killing blow or knocking the opponent out… or some sort of “Decisive Moment.”
Also, maybe (maybe) allow PCs to carry momentum from one turn over to another (but only once) and they might (?) lose a point for delaying? Or some other penalty for not using momentum as it is earned.
Finally – my other thought was to potentially allow a maneuver that reduces a fighter’s ability to generate momentum in following turns. Or specifically – a maneuver that allows a fighter to remove momentum from a fighter who carries it over from a previous turn?
This has actually spawned another thought… since Momentum isn’t about “hit points” or “life force” then it’s entirely functional to have maneuvers based on social or mental rolls… so you could have “tactical” maneuvers or “insults, goads, taunts” and other stuff that can build momentum while at the same time having specific effects in turns… This is good, need to keep ruminating. Thinking this way would also make the “roguish fighter” or the “smart fighter” have a bigger range of options in combat while still generating momentum. I like it.
Ultimately, I worked back through this idea and scrapped most of it because it seemed that “momentum” based combat actually exacerbated the worst aspects of gaming combat rather than improving them. It will be interesting to see what the Exalted 3 combat system ends up looking like. I’m excited at the possibilities. I’ve been ruminating on how to use “Momentum” for about two years now and it always comes back to the question, for me, of the hit point problem. The reason hit points work is because hit points are simple, can represent in a narrative, abstract fashion what this will do in a systematic and mechanical fashion, and ultimately – in games where stats turn every encounter into a math problem – it always seems that the best course of action is the one that ends with the enemies dead the fastest.
Nonetheless – I’m fascinated by the way we often see new ideas trickle into gaming. I’m fascinated by the way ideas come to life and we end up with new ways of doing the same things over and over again. It’s not a bad thing, it’s one of the most amazing aspects of our little hobby.
Thanks for reading.
PS… Oh, alright, I’ll admit it, I was a little bitter when I read that post… but just a little.
…but never do?
The other night, my wife and I were watching one of the old BBC Sherlock Holmes episodes (I still love Jeremy Brett as Holmes) and she was mentioning to me that she loves the stories where social propriety and status play a big role in how the story is shaped, how it plays out. I agree. I find those stories fascinating. And I’d love to run a game where that sort of thing really mattered. Combine that with the familiar refrain that I am currently without any gaming – a truly sad state of affairs – and I started thinking about all the campaigns I want/have wanted to run and just don’t/won’t.
1. I’d love to run a game set in a huge city where the players are all part of the very complicated apparatus of this city’s Thieves’ Guild (or guilds). Not that every player has to be a thief, you could have the bodyguards/heavies, the fences, the faces, even guild associated mages, nobles, etc. Personally, I find the idea of this amazing and would love to run this game – positioned in play style somewhere between Grand Theft Auto and Shadowrun in the way it would feel. I’ve had a stack of ideas for this game for a long time now but I don’t see myself ever actually running it…
2. I’d love to run a game that was basically what I describe as D&D meets the West Wing. I’ve actually started this game a few times… trying to set a group of player characters up in roles as young nobles in positions of value in a kingdom and giving them the freedom to devise their own plots while also dealing with outside threats. I had hoped when I began the Kingmaker AP that it would evolve into something like that… but it really doesn’t. I’ve started it from other beginning points as well but never been able to make it fly.
3. I want to run a war. A big war. A civilization-changing, nation-shattering, mind-blowing war. I’ve run games on the fringes of a war, or at the start of a war, or touching on a war… but never run just plain WAR. And that’s on my list of “games I want to run.” But every time I think about setting this game up I find myself pulling back from it because the way I envision it, I’m not sure I could ever make it work. And of the three games I’ve listed here, this is the only one that I blame on my interactions with rules… I’ve never found or been able to create a set of domain/mass combat rules that struck anything like the balance of rules that I want and that make it possible to actually feel good about running a domain level game. I’ve written about the domain-level game before and it honestly seems to me that narrative/fiat is really the only way to do it and not want to go around punching goblins in the face out of frustration…(which also means you’ve gone crazy enough to believe that you see goblins).
4. This one is incredibly silly, I know, but I would love to run a Masters of the Universe game. Like, totally over-the-top adventure with powers like “I have a really long neck and sensor abilities” or “I smash things with my head” or “I’m a bee-person.” Then there is that guy covered in scented moss…
Ultimately, there are a million campaign ideas… I’d love to run a lot of games and when I have the chance I do. But I think these have become my bucket list for the reason that I struggle with the knowledge that I want them to be really player-driven (well, except for #4) and I seem to be incredibly bad at convincing players that games should be this way… Player-driven play is pretty much what makes the games work for me as a player and a GM. It’s why I gravitate toward Amber, it’s why I’m currently sitting on the sidelines as a GM. I think – as well – that I gravitate toward a soap-opera style of play. I’m as concerned with the character’s inner lives as their outer ones. If we never “level” and spend three months playing talking-head relationship-building style sessions, I’ll be happy as a bug in a rug. But I also realize that I’m crazy and that most people would like that seesaw to swing both ways.
So – if you’re still with me, tell me – what do you want to run that you never have? Do you know why?
And as always, thanks for reading.
Sometimes there are people doing or saying interesting or important things that you just want to share… So I want to promote a couple of pieces of work by others today that I think are worth sharing and reading/exploring.
First, a great editorial by Greg Rucka about the new Man of Steel movie (well, not about it precisely). I appreciate what Mr. Rucka has to say here. I think that Warner/DC could take a lesson from this – and from what Marvel has been doing with their movies. Not that Marvel has always had perfect movies mind you… but they realized that superheroes are fun. Iron Man, Thor, Captain America – all the way to the Avengers – didn’t tell their stories with a sneer but with a smile. The laughs in Thor were what made that movie work, more than anything else… and Thor is a pretty solid candidate for straight-man of the Avengers if ever there was one.
But Mr. Rucka is saying something important… Superman does not need to be “dark” or “realistic” to have merit. Superman needs to be inspiring… and I am hoping more than anything that this new movie achieves that.
And I don’t think there is anything wrong with comics/stories about superheroes that are not all about “fun.” I enjoyed The Dark Knight Returns, I enjoyed Knightfall, and probably some of my favorite Batman stories of all time came out of Greg Rucka’s time on Batman writing No Man’s Land. But what always makes Batman work for me is completely lost in the newest set of Nolan-verse movies. I realize it is not a popular opinion but I absolutely hate Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises. I feel that they weren’t very good movies – but even more so – they weren’t very good Batman movies. I’ll move on.
Just take a moment with Mr. Rucka’s editorial and see what you think.
The second thing I wanted to point to was a recent collection effort by Wrath of Zombie. I’ve always enjoyed the heck out of his blog and I love what he did, asking people to put forth what they think is their best. I’ve been tripping slowly through the list and there is so much good **** here that I really do not know when I’ll find the time to get through it all. I regret only that I couldn’t come up with anything I felt right enough about to share with his list… so I’m doing my part by giving it a little extra press.
Check out this post – it is a great idea and brings together too many great ideas for me to even explain – you have to browse it for yourself.
Call it thought exercise, or a challenge, or an exercise in futility… I’m not really sure. I feel like maybe the answer doesn’t even matter but I found myself wondering about the evolution of the term/concept of a campaign.
So here’s my simple answer. A campaign is a series of interconnected adventures. At least, I’d say that’s the most common way I would describe the concept to a new person. If I say, “I’m starting a new campaign,” what I’m probably saying is, “I’m running a series of interconnected adventures.”
But saying that really involves a lot of assumptions which are not explicit. Not the least of these is the fact that when I’m running some games — like Amber DRPG — I don’t actually run “adventures” at all. Not in the discrete sense of, well, you completed this adventure… that is, it’s not modular so much as continuous.
I get a sense when I read some older gaming products that at one point (and I could be totally off base here with the real history of our hobby, this is just my impression) campaign – as a concept – was much more closely tied to setting. We hear talk of the “Greyhawk campaign” and the “Blackmoor campaign” and these seem to be tied very closely to their settings, if not defined by them. As I’ve been reading Arcanum in preparation for possibly running it, I’ve been struck by some statements that feel like they are using the words “campaign” and “setting” in such a way that they might be interchangeable. This might stem from the fact that Arcanum is a game and a supplement so it doesn’t always assume the default setting will be Second Age Atlantis… even though the game parts refer to themselves as “the Atlantean System.” It’s also worth noting that when I say the word setting, I am including NPCs in that. I don’t just mean physical locations.
But is campaign more than setting? If it is, how can it be? The setting of a game would, by default, seem to dictate most of what is going to happen/be possible. If I’m playing a no-magic spy game in the modern world then I won’t have a character (or a villain) who throws magical fireballs and I won’t tell stories about orc invasions… Yes, those are very surface concerns and seem obvious – but are they also more important?
Is a campaign story? A game’s story can’t really be told until it’s over after all, because the players are still making that story happen until they aren’t anymore. I’ve run and played two Pathfinder Adventure Paths over the last couple years and it’s interesting to me how the presumed story of these APs is threaded through. I was reading the Legacy of Fire, part one they other day and I was blown away by the fact that at the end of part one – the players are rewarded with a year of downtime. Um, I don’t know about you but I’m pretty sure that if my GM came to the table and said, “Yay, you win, now tell me what you do for the next year…” my answer would be, “I go find some adventures.”
Time passing is an important element of many fiction stories but time is a largely ignored element of tabletop RPGs. Time passes but only insofar as the players move time along more than the needs of the story in most cases. And not having that element of time passing often tends to make stories feel odd after a while in games.
But not to get distracted from discussing story – it seems that many new games are built in such a way that the rules support exactly the kind of story you expect the game to tell instead of providing a set of tools which allow you to build any kind of game from them. Note, I’m not saying all new games – but a significant subset of modern games are built to allow the rules to shape the play experience rather as a specific design goal.
Is campaign better described as a series of interconnected events happening to/around a group of characters? I struggle with this definition as well. Our Carrion Crown group had significant character turnover with a party of four having seven deaths (5 were my PCs) in 8 levels and having two other PCs ‘retire’ and their players bring in new characters. By the third chapter of the AP we did not have a single character who had been part of the first chapter. Please note – this is partly because the second adventure in that AP is one of the worst adventures I’ve ever been unfortunate enough to be a part of. Part One is pretty good, Part Three is great… Part Two is awful. I also think about living games – like Shadowrun Missions or the Pathfinder Society. Are those campaigns since they can involve different players every week. What about descriptions of the old Greyhawk games where it seems like they played with different people in the group all the time? Again, I’m not sure I can pin this down, but it seems that campaign can’t really be tied directly to the player/characters either.
I’d love to hear what you all think of this question… what do you think of as being a Campaign? I’m a gamer without a cause right now and it’s leading to the madness of asking questions like this so… hopefully a game is in the offing for me soon.
As always, thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
So, I’ve decided to give running Arcanum another go. It’s a good game to run over a summer and it’s a perfect fit for my “Blighted World” setting I made up a couple years ago. But as I’ve been rereading the game I’m stunned by the number of things I simply didn’t remember, didn’t understand, or completely ignored when I was younger.
First off, don’t get me wrong, this game is a constant favorite and is always in the back of my mind. It’s just full of really random stuff sometimes. Sometimes when I’m reading this I can hear the author almost talking and sometimes I’m reading and asking myself… is that really how that’s supposed to work? As is, in my experience, common with games from the early days of the hobby, especially D&D-types, it’s interesting to get that sense of what the author thought important to cover in their game. It’s so difficult to get any sort of authorial voice in most modern games (well, the mass-produced ones) because they are: 1) mass produced, 2) team efforts, and 3) have multiple departments they pass through before they ever get to the printer. Reading this game is a very different experience.
I’m a big fan of the occasional asides where the author compares notes with the real world. The discussion of longbows, for instance, is awesome. But there are some very interesting bits tucked away in this game that are alternately awesome and confusing.
Take the Charlatan class, for example. The Charlatan is this wacky hodge-podge spell caster who is also part thief and part performer. A Charlatan can acquire a ridiculous number of abilities along with spell casting (though their spell casting is never at greater than level 1 ability). I completely misunderstood this note for almost the entire time I’ve been playing the game, by the way. Charlatans are a little less awesome now, in terms of raw ability, but are still my favorite class in the game. Ignoring their spell casting ability, you also find that…
All first level charlatans begin with the same abilities as a first level magician. Thereafter, a charlatan may become proficient in any 1 additional thieving or performing skill per level of ability gained. Optionally, a charlatan may forego the learning of any two such skills in favor of gaining first level skill in any magical field of study (except Divine Magic). In lieu of any single performing or thieving Skill, a charlatan may also opt to acquire proficiency in any new weapon, or may acquire a + 1 to hit with any known weapon (see Skills: Weapon Training).
How is that not awesome?
Nowhere does it say that those +1′s to hit don’t stack either… so it’s possible you could become really, really accurate if you wanted. And there’s all kinds of stuff like this in the book. Just little pockets of crazy ****. It’s actually refreshing.
Of course, you might be accurate but how hard do you hit? Well, that’s actually a question for everyone. In the Atlantean system fighters are rated as Highly Trained, Skilled, and Untrained. It says in the explanation of Highly Trained fighters that…
Highly trained fighters (such as warriors, paladins, etc.) gain bonuses of +1 to hit and +1 damage per every two levels of ability gained.
…but in the class write-ups the warriors, paladins, etc. only list a +1 to hit, mentioning nothing about damage. I’ve actually never used the +1 to damage bonus – but looking at the Weapon Specialization skill, it also grants a bonus to damage that increases with level (which means that high level Martial Artists would be terrifying). I’ll admit, I’m conflicted about which way to rule this and how I feel about it.
I could go on… there is so much to love and so much to ponder as I prepare myself to dive into this game again. I’m deeply looking forward to the experience and when I get it a little more put together I’ll throw some of it up here.
It’s gonna be a fun ride. Welcome to Arcanum.