Category Archives: First Thoughts

Superman…

…what happened to you?

This post is basically all spoilers. Fair warning.

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Old Edition D&D pdf Site? I’ve been out of touch.

So, I’ve been out of touch. I haven’t been able to blog with the frequency I want and I especially have not had time to read other blogs as much as I would like… but apparently I missed something huge. I checked the ICv2 site feed today, in a spare moment and saw a story about the new D&D web store from DTRPG being absolutely hammered it’s first day… So I went looking for said store.

Now I know I’ve been out of touch.

The store is great though. I mean, I’ve only explored in a cursory fashion but I’m excited. I love the old B-series modules being available and can’t wait to pick up a few of them. And if/when they add the Thunder Rift stuff I might actually explode. Really.

Of course, when I’ll have time to fully mess with the store is another question.

I’m wondering if anyone has purchased anything yet. How do the PDFs look? Does it work just like DriveThruRPG? Sorry, still soaking it in. Still excited.

More on Shadowrun 5e… and Editions in General.

So a new blog post is up from Catalyst about 5e Shadowrun. As I look back at my initial – admittedly knee-jerk – post when the whole thing was announced I still find that I feel the same way. As much as I love Catalyst and I love what they’ve done with Shadowrun and Battletech this new edition rubs me the wrong way already, and I know next to nothing about it(!).

I’ve been musing on that since my initial post on the subject – but first let’s engage in some pointless speculation about the scant knowledge we have from the Catalyst post (because it will make me feel better).

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Exploring Diceless Play: A Beginning

I have found, as I near the three year mark here at the Rhetorical Gamer (and it amazes me that it’s been that long) that I have landed on a few topics I feel very comfortable writing about. One of these is diceless gaming. Specifically, I’d like to explore diceless games and play – an endeavor landing somewhere at the intersection of review and rumination.

I thought it might be helpful to have a first post which set out certain basic perceptions I’ll be carrying into the work; for example, what I mean when I say diceless (vs. without dice). So this first post will be short but it is also a chance for me to get my head on straight as I commit to writing about a specific topic in a less-than-random fashion (something I tend to be less good at).

Diceless vs. Without Dice

Many games exist which could be termed “Diceless RPGs.” Some of these games are truly diceless – meaning that they don’t use a randomizing element at all. Some are strangely diceless – in that they don’t use an external randomizer (like dice) but still have some method of injecting a little chance or “gaming” into their systems. Some are “diceless” but use another method – such as playing cards – to achieve the same effect. (as an aside, I often find when gaming that I truly enjoy the many and amazing ways that games in our industry/community have found to manipulate the basic roll of the dice or turn of the card to achieve differing levels of control over these randomizing elements.)

The first category, games with no randomizer at all, can still be broken down further in the way they deal with having no element of chance working on the lives of characters in the game. These range from strict number comparisons vs. static difficulties to resource-juggling systems, and points between.

Games which use cards are another fantastic category all their own (and one I am also fascinated with) but in many cases the use of cards is merely a substitute for dice and the random elements are still powerful controls over the game… though in cases where a hand of cards is kept they give players a stronger sense of control.

The middle category – a weird alternate world that blends a competitive randomizing element with an elegant resource mechanic is an amazing example of game design – one that still fascinates me and is the place I intend to start this exploration.

A couple of small disclaimers… I am not completely opposed to “games with dice/randomization.” Diceless games are my preferred play-method and I find they work better for me but I know that such games tend to be at their best only for specific play-styles. And they are infinitely harder to make work well in some ways – as a game designer or a game master (though also freeing in other ways). Also, as I work through this – I ask for a little understanding. I have made a habit over the years of playing games – both diceless and “without dice” – but I have not played every game that uses some other option besides traditional dice any more than I’ve played every game that uses dice. If you happen to know of a great diceless or “without dice” sort of game that you think I should read or learn – please – let me know!

I still feel that games without dice – or any sort of traditional randomizer – are a fascinating subset of our collective hobby and one that deserves some special attention, even if that attention does nothing more than make us think a little bit about the way we play.

As always – thanks for reading.

The Hobbit: I didn’t like it much…

I thought I’d save anyone who didn’t want to read a negative review the trouble and just put it all in the title. Full disclosure – I’m not really sure how you can have “spoilers” on a story as old as The Hobbit but I’ll just say – there might be information below that might upset someone who hasn’t seen the movie yet… so you’ve been warned.

Additional disclaimer… in Peter Jackson’s previous trips to Middle Earth he’s 1/3 with me. I loved Fellowship but hated Two Towers and Return of the King.

My wife didn’t like the movie much either. She disliked different things than I did – but the more I think about her point of view, the more I actually agree with her and think many of my problems with the film are rooted in the problem she critiqued. She said she felt like the movie didn’t have an identity. That it didn’t really know if it wanted to be “super-heroic fantasy” or “slightly comedic fantasy” or something entirely different — with the result being that it all crept in and eventually became something of a wash.

The more I consider this point, the more I agree with it and think she’s dead on.

For myself… well… I could list the number of things I actually did like with one finger. Gollum. The portrayal of Gollum was pretty much the only redeeming quality of Return of the King (the movie) for me and it was the one part of The Hobbit that I actually found myself warming to and loving.

Everything else was wasted film in my opinion.

Well, that overstates the case a little. I very nearly loved Thorin’s character and thought the portrayal was spot on until that final, ridiculous showdown with the completely pointless super-goblin “from his past.” Why, exactly was that albino monstrosity with the stupid prosthetic necessary? How, exactly, did his presence enhance the story of The Hobbit?

Right – actually, scratch that, because that’s the other really important point to mention. Despite all assumptions to the contrary — you know, it’s in the title — the “Hobbit,” Bilbo Baggins is actually not the main character in this story. Thorin seems to – in fact – be the main character in this movie. Bilbo was second fiddle – and a distant second fiddle at that. As the movie went on and that realization sunk in I became more and more disappointed with the film.

I’m not one of those that holds to the “it’s a children’s book” theory. I think the Hobbit is an excellent tale for all ages with layers of meaning that you glean as you read it in new ways across your life (that sounds way more overblown than I mean it to — I’m making the point that “UP” or the story of Thanksgiving mean different things at different points in your life too — so does the Hobbit. I really hope that was even a little clear.). The point is, The Hobbit is this fancy little story with a little bit of whimsy, a little bit of longing, a fantastic adventure, a few monsters, a plucky hero in over his head, and a few wild moments of just fun. The Hobbit film I saw this weekend was not that story. It was a strangely disjointed movie with some stilted performances, a rampaging horde of pointless cameos (I mean really, why were C3P0 and R2-D2 in the prequels?), that replaced whimsy and wild fun with ridiculous overblown action sequences that had all the charm of a rabid squirrel, and a pretty strong sense of well, I’m Peter-freaking-Jackson so I’mma do it my way even if my way bears only a passing resemblance to the heart and soul of the story I’m making a movie of.

Also, I’m not a fan of all the “stuff” they packed into the film. Why did we need the opening sequence with Frodo? That could easily have been collapsed into “Bilbo sits down to write…” “fade to Sixty Years Earlier” and shaved about 10 minutes off the running time that really only existed because PJ wanted to put a little more of Fellowship back in a different movie. Why did we need the council seen or the ridiculous fight between Radagast and a ghost? Why did we need “epic battle scenes of epic dwarves fighting epic goblins in epic battle?” Seriously – you could have shaved a good hour off of this film, kept everything essential, and been in great shape. Especially because that would have allowed you to spend all that money you spent on those scenes plucking up the scenes you had left…

Which was another problem. For a movie that really should have had nearly a blank check for a budget, the special effects left a lot to be desired. Most of the time when live action and CG were mixing it was painfully obvious and looked surprisingly cheap. Some of the character animations were ridiculous in the way they stood out from their surroundings, and even the Great Eagles looked kinda lame. I could go on an on about the special effects – but honestly, they aren’t really that important to me. Radagast and his Rabbits were so absurd and pointless that I really don’t care that the CG sucked… I didn’t even want to watch the scene anymore. The bad CG just made an already bad thing worse.

So many things wrong. So few things right.

I could rant about the absolutely mind-boggling stupidity of the stone giant fight. I could gripe for days about the fact that the Great Eagles should be more than just big birds. I could try to figure out what the heck PJ was thinking with that awful final fight scene with Bilbo tackling a goblin… there’s a lot to gripe about… But it’s all really sort of pointless… what’s done is done and the Hobbit is now a movie and we can’t “take it back.”

Let’s just leave it at… The Hobbit: I didn’t like it much…

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: The Basic Game (First Thoughts)

Not really a review so much as my initial impressions of the game, I wanted to take a quick tour of the new Marvel Superhero game from Margaret Weis Productions.

First Impression: Physical Appearance and Layout

The book is beautiful. Of course, I only have the PDF, but even so, it’s actually enjoyable to read on my laptop (as opposed to many game PDFs which I often find frustrating to read.) The presentation is clean, the colors are bright and enjoyable to look at without detracting from readability. The visuals in terms of presentation of game content and examples of dice pools, etc. are all well done and the superhero art is well chosen and improves the quality of presentation of the book.

Layout is often a consistent complaint for me with some modern games but the layout and design choices here all seem to enhance the reader experience rather than detract. Also, I haven’t read the book in minute detail yet, just two relatively quick reads for content but the editing of this product seems at first blush to be very well done as well. Poor editing in RPGs is a constant problem and MWP seems to have put in the work on this one to make it great.

Basic Dice Pool and Simple Mechanics Talk

I don’t want to overly analyze the mechanics until I have the chance to actually play the game but on the surface I found them — again, after reading the game — to be interesting and innovative without being divorced from the expectation of players of other RPGs. The dice pool mechanic is a little bit of a mix of a “roll and keep” system with an effect die (like Dragon Age RPG’s Dragon Die). The rolling of 1s on the die is also important to the system and generates dice for the Doom Pool — a collection of dice used by the Watcher in place of Plot Points (which villains don’t have).

The use of plot points can manipulate either of those (the pool/kept dice or the effect die) and in multiple ways. Plot Points are a vital currency of the system flowing back and forth between players and Watcher (the very Marvel term for the GM). In this way I am reminded of the use of points in FATE style games but without all of the baggage that always bothers me in FATE games.

The basic dice pool resolution (with application of Plot Points) covers the majority of actions in the system (including combat) and is easy to keep up with. Whether you make the same connections I did above or you are a relative newcomer to RPG play, this dice system should be simple but robust enough to remain consistently interesting in play.

Heroes, Character Creation, and Powers (and Stuff)

I’ll admit, I’m still learning the powers system. I get the way it works. I think it will work well at the table. But I’m not going to wax on about it beyond saying… I like it, I like how free form and open it is and the availability of crafting powers on the fly. This system seems to make it very easy to balance the game no matter what powers you give to the characters… I think at one point the book mentions that they system is very forgiving and it really is. I think the power system and the hero and villain profiles reflect the comics well. I was impressed with these.

Now, I’ve read a couple of other reviews (here and here) that mention the oddness of the character creation rules. But here’s the thing… if you read the book, there are no character creation rules. Or, at least, there are no rules for “new” heroes. The rules in the book (more like guidelines) are really there to suggest how to make a profile for an existing Marvel character you want to adapt. That’s what they are designed to support. Now, can you make original heroes with this? Absolutely. But it’s not what the book is set up for and if you are looking for any kind of “balanced system” that tells you “how many powers you can have, etc.” you won’t find that here.

Other Notes

This is my first Cortex system game (I played the Leverage Quick Start but that hardly counts). I had put off diving into the game because, as much as I love Firefly and Leverage, I knew I would never get to play them, so I had no impetus to buy them. But superhero games are an easy sell to me — and the Marvel Saga System (old card-based version of the game) is probably still my all time favorite superhero game. The best thing I can say for this game is that if it performs as well at the table as it seems like it will in the book, it will easily become my new favorite.

Except for one thing. I wish it had been DC. Because now I have another Marvel System I have to convert all the DC characters I love into because they aren’t here… Oh well, I guess I should get on that.

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