Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Time in the Wasteland 2

There are spoilers in this post.  Go finish the game, then come back.

Another aspect of Fallout 4 that entranced me was the settlement system.  A wasteland is only a wasteland until some knucklehead like myself decides to start cleaning up and organizing it.  The game allowed you to scrap rusty car bodies, tires, and fallen trees.  I spent hours just cleaning up the areas around my settlements.  It took me a few tries, but I found an efficient hub-pattern of supply lines that connected the resources scrapping gave me, making them available to build useful new structures in any settlement.  Clothing and arming my settlers was another fun time sink. that made clothing found in the wasteland meaningful, in much the way that requiring materials for repairing things made scrap more real.

In the beginning of the game I was anticipating big changes involving restoring society, like getting bottling plants back on line or resettling cities like Concord.  With all the defenses you're able to build and the emphasis put on how happy settlements are, I also thought there would be a big struggle for the hearts and minds of these little towns by the factions in the game.

Unfortunately neither happened.  And, as I slowly learned how settlements worked I had less and less interest in messing with them.  For example, no matter how clever or overpowered your defenses, if you don't go to help when a settlement is attacked, it will lose and be conquered.  Which makes a certain design sense because then it makes the player want to drop everything and rush back to help, right?  Well, except a settlement that is completely overrun pops back to it's full population the moment you travel back.  And it takes only a tiny hit in happiness. 

In fact, the only way for settlers to truly die, seemed to be when I did travel back to help them and the battle was a rough one.  And you want to talk about rough battles, the irony of a leveled-world is that the higher in level I get the worse the world gets for everyone around me.  As a 90th leveler you don't want to return to a settlement unless you want to see everyone slaughtered around you.  So the game trained me to leave settlements to their own devices and ignore their cries for help.

What are Settlements for?
I had hours of fun playing Fallout 4, and no game is perfect, but Bethesda made some design decisions that seemed to work against it's own goals.  Maybe these aspects of the game are related to different play styles and I'm blinded by my own preferences, but let me continue talking about settlements to explain what I mean.

So, players can have fun dressing and arming settlers and cleaning up and building in a settlement.  That's enough of a reason to have them.  Well, to have one, or two, or even a few.  But 30?  Having places to set up artillery seems like an good reason to have a well-developed network of settlements, except the times I found artillery useful were very few.  You basically have to have some enemies in a walled-in area they can't run and engage you, for the slow artillery to be helpful against them.  And by the time that you have a well-developed network of settlements, you're probably powerful enough to just go in blasting anyway.

I think the best reason for settlements as little outposts for exploring the world.  You have a safe place to rest and heal.  You can dump all the junk you find in local ruins and with the supply lines feature, you don't have to worry about hauling most of it anywhere else.  As you go up in level you can make shops and sell the items the supply lines won't transfer.  Settlements make for perfect little outposts in a exploration

Except . . the game pushes you to fast travel.  Early on it gives you missions that are randomly spread all over the map.  Some of the settlement missions are time sensitive.  Because of this hopping and rushing around it made sense for me to pick a place to set up a home base.  Once I did that fast traveling back to it became normal procedure and all those many settlements became superfluous in game terms. 

I think to make the settlements more than aesthetic time sinks, Bethesda had to either limit fast travel in some way-- which would make them useful explorations bases-- or make the plot involve the settlements somehow.  The latter seems so obvious, so almost there, I wonder if it was planned and got cut.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

My Time in the Wasteland

This post has Fallout 4 spoilers.  Go finish the game before you read on.
My grandparents owned a wrecking yard.  Their "savings account" was six T-birds parked under a shed roof, with tattered convertible tops, and a flock of geese crapping on the seats.  When I squeezed between their fenders I saw the cool potential.  It instilled the idea that you could find and fix up things that might be unavailable any other way.  That, sure, money could get you a nice car, but knowledge and perseverance might get you a rare one.  So the beginning of Fallout 4 had me pretty ecstatic.  You're given an old set of T-45 battle armor early in the questline and you realize that 1) you can work on each of the parts to upgrade them 2) paint them in different ways 3) mix and match different model parts if you find them and 4) find those parts on chassis scattered around the wasteland.

I was thrilled.  I put all my skill points I gained leveling into perks that allowed me to repair and use my armor.  I scoured the wasteland for parts and learned to follow the rail lines and freeways looking for military checkpoints.  I searched exhaustively for the magazines that unlocked new paint jobs.  I gathered junk with a purpose.  I went everywhere in my armor and got pretty unstoppable.

And it made some sense.  How could one person make a difference in a place like the Commonwealth.  Well, what if that person was a veteran that knows how to repair power armor and dogged enough to search for parts to put together a suit that tops anything even the local mercenaries have.

Unfortunately, any non-procedurally generated world will have an end to exploration, and now that I have been everywhere on the map 3 times, have found the best armor available, and all the paint jobs available, I have no reason to explore anymore. 

But what about using my finely-tuned suit of destruction to help society get back on its feet?  I'll write a bit more soon about the new settlement system in the game and some of the ways it was a disappointmant.

In the mean time, I hope you and yours are having a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Public Domain Planets

These images of planets are all in the public domain, you can do anything you want with them.  Not the greatest, but if you add some color they might work for your space games:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ark: Survival Evolved

Where you been Telecanter?  Umm, yeah.  Kinda been addicted to an early access game called Ark:Survival Evolved.  It's a survival game with crafting and building, but the main thing is you can tame and ride dinosaurs.

The game is designed to be played with tribes.  You share experience for doing things when you are close to tribemates, for instance, and some of the dinosaur taming takes so long it really requires multiple people helping. 

It is a PVP server.  Not everyone will kill you on sight, in fact that is a dangerous way to play, but people will try to break into your buildings, steal your things, and kill your dearly won dinos.  I find the challenge of succeeding in spite of this intoxicating.

Of course, I am trying to play it solo.  And so I have mostly been living like a guerrilla, learning the land and trying to hide little outposts deep in the jungle.

There are downsides. Bugs: when you kill a creature the corpse often balloons away, denying you the resources it contains. Constant server upgrades: add cool content but teleport your sleeping character into the wild where it is eaten by dinos (yes, when you log out this game leaves a sleeping body and yes, almost every time I log in I expect to be dead).  Toxic players: you know that stereotype that games are played by young males that are racist, sexist, and immature?  Well, in the hundreds of hours I've spent playing this game online I've found it is absolutely true.  There are often lots of players on a server that are silent and I hope, hope, they are the more mature, kinder, less idiotic humans playing the game but there is no way to know.

The game has pretty frequent upgrades, almost daily.  I'm hoping the balance will shift a bit because right now it seems like it takes much less time to destroy something than to make something.  Chaos is winning.

My character is almost at the level cap, and as a solo player I will probably never be able to tame some of the bigger dinos, so I already feel my interest starting to wane.  If this game sounds interesting, or you already have it and want to tribe up, shoot me an email and I'll tell you which server I'm playing on.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

View SVGs on Windows 7

I started switching my silhouettes to scalable vector graphics to provide for better lossless scaling and such (see here), but I was working on Linux then.  Only after my computer died and I was back on Windows 7 did I realize that windows didn't even have the capability to view svgs.  I mean, if you click on them in Explorer they open up in your default web browser fine, but you can't see what you have in a whole directory at a glance.
Have a traveler

What that means is all these years, people might have been downloading my zip file of silhouettes and not being able to see all the images available at once.  Maybe having to view each separate file in a browser.  That sucks.
and a pelican

Well, I found something called SVG Explorer Extension here that gives Windows 7 the ability to draw the little picture icons for svgs.  I've never used Windows 8 so I don't know if it works there.  Clicking on an icon will still open it in the browser unlike other images, which open in Windows Photo Viewer.  (Or, if you install Inkscape a svg editor you can set them to open to that.)  But you can increase you icon size to the max and get a good overview of all the files available.  Hope this is useful.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Silhouettes LXV

More silhouettes for your maps, handouts and rulebooks.  These are all in the public domain, use them as you wish.  First, I think this would work well as a wight:
A second Treant:
And a couple horses:
I'm having some technical issues and will have to add these as svgs to my zip file later.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Serendipity XXVII

When I go looking for images I need I often find cool things I never expected to find. These images are all in the public domain:
I wish I had a bigger, higher resolution image for the next one, because the monsters are great!:
I was recently trying to come up with magical properties for masks. This might come in handy:

These images are all from this book.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Woodcut Portraits

I thought these woodcuts were cool and might be useful to represent npcs.  From this book published in 1633.  I would say that puts them in the public domain but apparently the book scanner claims copyright, so . . . who knows.  I edited them a bit.


Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Masked Ones

The old, the desperate poor have taken to wearing masks.   And in these crude pieces of wood adorned with feathers, they present themselves, one after another one, to all who know their name.  Then these masked ones fall lifeless, like spent husks.

People say doing this will give you a young, beautiful body.  People say take a mask if you want to start over.  People say children in nearby villages are singing strange songs and leaving home.  And that the Emperor himself has started touring the land in a golden chariot, wearing a mask.  People say more and more of the crowds that line the roads to watch him pass stand silent in masks as well.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

City Life, Costs

I'm currently trying to shake my players out of the city and get them back into creepy, dangerous dungeons.  But I've made it hard because the city has been interesting with unexpected events all the time.  I've known for a long time I need a way to drain off their money, to drive them to look for treasure.  So I finally sat down and worked out a chart for costs of living.  I based it on blog posts I saw here and here.
As with most my stuff this is a rough draft that needs development and revising.  I wanted simple labels for different levels of comfort to ease communicating with my players.  I wanted more than three levels.  This is because I knew I wanted sleeping on the streets and luxurious living but I doubt my players will ever use either and I wanted them to still have a bit of a choice of how comfortable they were living in the city.

I'm horrible about pricing stuff but as I was messing with the prices I noticed they were close to a pattern so I made them one to aid remembering.  Of course this immediately brings to mind how much it would be just to buy property to avoid all this.  And that is a whole other can of worms.  Although, I suppose even owning property the comfort level in regards to food and clothing could still be comparable.

I originally had a chance of having something stolen while you sleep a drawback of sleeping in common rooms, but my players weren't having any of that.  They didn't like it being something they couldn't prevent (taking their agency).  So I switched that to other people being robbed, yelling about it, and ruining your sleep.

My players requested safe item storage as a perk for the Fine/Rich levels.  I'm torn, because I'd want that too, but can nothing ever be stolen from them?

The food, lodging, and clothes columns aren't mechanically important right now and I thought about collapsing them all into a little blurb about that level of living, but it might aid me in describing how disheveled they (and npcs) are so I'll leave it for now.

I'd like a disease/affliction chart with lice and bedbugs and all kinds of filthy stuff to amusingly tell them they've been afflicted with.

I don't have anything fleshed out for the rumors or connections items either.  I might be able to use a chart I've for dreams that foretell the future, or for family drama for rumors, but I don't know.  Rumors seem to be usually DM generated adventure hooks and I' never that prepared in advance to have multiple rumors ready.

Anyway, if you've got ideas or more examples of similar charts, let me know.

Monday, May 4, 2015

8 Recent Open World Video Games III

It's been a while since I played these, but since my computer died I would have to re-dowload them all to refresh my memory about them and I don't have the energy right now.  So take my comments as what stuck in the mind of a casual player.

The Forest
The forest is a survival horror crafting game, which seems an odd mix of genres to begin with.  I'm not experienced with survival horror at all, but I thought the point was to always feel out of your depth, uneasy, unsafe.  While crafting games tend to be about mastery and slowly gaining control over an area.

The island you are on isn't infinite and the world is not a voxel world.  You can build structures and permanently chop down trees.  Food and water is a concern and tribes of hostiles.

There was a moment when a band of these cannibalistic weirdoids found me, were walking up slowly and checking me out, that I felt some real fear.  That was cool.  But being killed by them, didn't kill me, it put me in some cave of theirs that I had to escape.  So the second time it happened it felt more like an annoyance.

So, you are trapped between what seemed to be several bands of these hostiles and you are meant to build a little settlement with racks to organize your sticks and gardens to grow vegetables?  Didn't feel right.

A small annoyance was that, while there are plenty of alcohol bottles to drink from and craft Molotov cocktails from, you can't store water in them.  Which means you have to walk and immerse yourself in a pool to drink.  And thirst was off in that if I remember you could start taking damage after one day of not drinking water.

This is the game from this list that I played least.  But if you are a fan of survival horror, maybe it will be more interesting to you.

Savage Lands
This is intended to be a metal, hardcore, barbarian vision of survival where you have to worry about starving, freezing, and getting killed by wolves and monsters at every turn.  The monsters aren't quite as thick as the zombies of 7 Days to Die, but you'll have to fight them over and over to get needed crafting resources.

This is not an infinite world, in fact it is actually a set island map which appears to grow in difficulty as you travel inward.  You can build structures, but not change the landscape otherwise.  You use up ores you mine from rocks, I don't know if they eventually respawn.

One of the ways the game makes things difficult is to strictly limit your inventory.  Everything you build needs sticks and rocks and logs and you can barely carry anything. 

Another common way to increase difficulty in a crafting game is to add wear to items.  Which is fine, unless you get the balance off.  I made a pair of leather boots in this game that wore out before I could get the required materials to make another pair.

A third, obvious, way to increase difficulty is to increase the amount of items a crafting recipe requires or the difficulty of acquiring the items.  Probably the moment I lost interest was when I saw the crafting recipe for all the clothing required logs!  So, they want you to feel a sense of accomplishment when you have finally managed to craft enough bags and backpacks that would allow you to even carry the ingredients to make your leather armor, but requiring 25 logs to make a set of clothes seemed so absurd it threw me right out of the game.

I've always been more of an explorer, interested in seeing not only what's in the world but what's possible in that world, so survival games that are more about balancing on a knife edge of luck and anxious, perfect strategy lose my interest pretty quickly.  If you are the kind of player that loves the Dark Souls games you might like Savage Lands.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Regatta Gloriosa

I mentioned previously trying to have events that make a city feel different than the rest of the world.  After many delays and several sidetracks my players got to witness, and take part in, a religious procession of barges that determines which religion will be dominant in this city for the year to come.

The city they are in is a dingy, trade-oriented republic.  Ulminster has five big families that struggle for power and religion is party of that.

First, here's what my new take on character sheets turned out like.

I ended up using one by Dyson Logos' sheets and deleted a lot of the labels.  I also rearranged the stats (I like mine grouped as physical/non-physical rather than the random traditional order).  So it wasn't a collage, but since everything was pretty much unlabeled spaces of varying sizes, my players each chose what they wanted to put where.  I think that's pretty cool.  We also had one visitor join and I just rolled him up on an index card.  I figured if he comes back we can migrate to a folder like the rest.
Not good picture quality, but you can see the dim, tableless environment I DM in :).  Below is a bit closer view of how I handled the Regatta Gloriosa:
The chips weren't part of play, just representing the barges
The idea is that The Regatt Gloriosa is a festive event sort of like Mardi Gras.  Citizens each get one clay chip from their neighborhood.  These chips have a hole threaded with a ribbon and are thrown onto the barge passing that the citizen prefers.  There were five neighborhoods that border the city's central river.  A majority of these had to be won to win the regatta.

The Captain vs the Doge
My one player decided to build a float and take part int the Regatta, so I designed a mini-game to represent it.  I set it up as five hands of cards, but playing off of three shared cards.  Two of which were hidden until we moved into that region.  I was playing the frontrunner and expected winner (the current Doge representing the biggest religion).  I didn't want to involve the other barges for simplicity's sake, but also because I didn't want to set the mini-game up as a competition between my players.  So it was him versus me, the DM.  That's also not a good situation to be in, an adversarial DM, but I tried to alleviate that by giving him a session to creatively acquire some advantages and I went first so he could react to what I did.

So my player and I started with 10 cards each-- enough to complete a poker hand for all the districts.  My player, G, had earned another card in a previous session by buying thousands of meatpies for the onlookers in one neighborhood.  He also spent money to set up fireworks on his barge.  He had enough to shoot them off twice and could draw an extra card for the particular neighborhood he shot them off in.

So, when the regatta moved into a neighborhood, I flipped the two hidden cards and had the Doge play first.  It was iffy if this design was going to work-- I didn't want my player to win or to lose, but for there to be exciting tension.  And the way it worked out we went into the last neighborhood tied, so it worked perfectly.  My player won.  The Captain (as in Morgan) is now the dominant religion in Ulminster for the next year.

Thugs versus Lepers on the Winning Barge
So what did I do with the rest of the players while only one was involved in the regatta?  Well, I was trying to bring in threads from former sessions.  So, Oma the female fighter took part in smuggling weapons into the city for the Redsashes (the local hireling guild) in a previous session, because they expected an attack.  Aphrodisia, the female cleric, sees the future in dreams and she saw people jumping from a bridge to attack a barge.  There happen to be three bridges.  The players set up on the middle bridge and then had to run frantically to the last bridge when the attack occurred from there.  From a previous session Aphrodisia knew her grandfather was going to be killed by being fed some serpent-like thing and she saw one of the women from that dream on the barge of a new religion.  This is me trying to set up for them having to deal with a weird serpent cult in future sessions.

The final battle was nothing complicated by D&D standards, they were pretty much low level thugs.  The party was never really in danger.  But the thugs were attacking lepers that G had converted to the Captain's cause, so there was some tension trying to save those unfortunates.  You can see dice representing the lepers and their hit points below.  The glass beads are the thugs.  I let my players roll attacks for the lepers so they were all involved.
At the end, it was very satisfying, the regatta went off as planned with fireworks, nailbiting, and a photo finish.  Everyone clapped when we finished.  We had two people watching and one of them was really getting into it and my players were trying to convince him to play next time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rethinking my Character Sheets

So, my main computer's hard drive just stopped working.  After just getting gimp/inkscape/files set up to make more silhouettes-- after months of struggling to get data off of my last computer's dead hard drives.  In defiance of the fates that are hounding me I want to post a bit about character sheets.

Index cards or notebook paper are fine if you have a few experienced players.  If you're going to have new players, character sheets need a bit more to them to help players understand and navigate all their character's info.  You can see one solution I came up with here.  And, one I was very proud of, a character sheet that folded up to hold handouts here.

But, if you have different players rotating in and out and/or a lot of player deaths, you can end up with a lot of these.  And if you're a traveling DM like me, they can get lost in the shuffle.  Also, the player handouts I give like maps and such, are often too big to fit in that neat little character sheet 2.0 I designed.  So, last time I met with my group I mentioned I was thinking of going to full-sized character sheets so I wouldn't lose them.  And one of my players mentioned "yeah, and clipboards we can all write on." 

That gave me the idea to glue a character sheet onto a manilla envelope and slide something stiff inside that.

The idea being that these would be big enough to not lose, capable of storing whatever players want inside, and stiff enough to function as a clipboard they can write on when we play.

I had two stiff plastic three ring binders that I actually hate as three ring binders.  I chopped them up with a paper cutter and they were perfect as stiffeners for my envelopes.

I need to print character sheets and glue them on the front (and backside on the back) now.  I downloaded a few but they all have clutter I don't use in my game (like lots of space for the old saving throw categories or to-hit rolls because they use descending AC).  I can make my own, but that will take a bit of work (like finding my icon/symbol files from my old computer's data recovery).  But I thought the idea might work well for you if you have a similar play environment (no game table, dim lighting, and adult beverages in abundance).  Let me know if it works well for you.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

An Interview about Wayscape

I was contacted by Patrick Mooney about a project he's working on.  I was interested so I thought an interview might be the best way to find out more about it and the purpose of it.  The project is called Wayscape and involves different real world play groups existing in the same shared world.  You'll find out more specifics below.

So, first, can you giving me a bit of your gaming background?

I've been interested games since I was young, with my favorites quickly becoming videogames with a strong narrative or experiential focus like Morrowind or Shadow of the Colossus.  Around high school I discovered the late, great Dungeons and Dragons CRPGs and quickly fell in love with Planescape: Torment.  I first started playing tabletops at the very tail end of AD&D, learning to GM while working my way up through various D20 rulesets and branching out to other systems like GURPS and World of Darkness.

Yeah, Torment was just really interesting, I think Morrowind fits that same bill in my mind, where I, as a player, didn't know what to expect.  Did you ever play Neverwinter Nights?  It had that Dungeon Master feature.  And how about your experience with MMOs or online play through G+ or virtual table tops?  I'm also curious about your experience DMing, did you find it difficult, did you attempt to engage your players in grand narratives?

I first got involved with early 2nd wave Massively Multiplayer Online games like Everquest and Star Wars Galaxies, always playing on the unofficial roleplaying server.  I worked on a few large-scale plots with some guilds I participated in, but communication was mostly limited to forum posts in those days, so it was difficult sometimes to get any traction.  Because I was a little late to the tabletop scene I missed out on the big experiments like Living Greyhawk or the White Wolf apocalypse master-plot, but they're fascinating (and certainly divisive) case studies. The ideas that eventually became Wayscape started when I checked out some old-school MUDs and Neverwinter Nights, logging a ton of hours particularly in NWN2 persistent world servers.  Think of them like small, DIY-style MMOs.  The community is small and specialized enough that players and GMs talk every day, and basically anyone can propose a new plotline if they have a cool enough idea.  The downside is that it can be difficult on a technical level to implement new content, and the game engine is mostly concerned with combat, not narrative.

Aha, I thought NWN might be down your alley.  So, what exactly is Wayscape?

So Wayscape is a web-based map system for massively scaled roleplaying.  We built it as a tool for living world campaigns; an online environment that's shared between many different groups of players.  Gamemasters can push changes to the map in real time, allowing playergroups to leave their mark on the world.  They do this by dropping pins we call Narrative Objects; markers that stand for characters, places, or events, which can be updated over time.   Currently we're using the D&D 5th edition ruleset, although we plan to support other systems in the future.

So, if I've got a group playing here in Fresno and we loot a tomb, a game group in Seattle coming to that tomb will find it looted?  Assuming this is true, do you have a certain buffer distance you put between where groups are playing on the map, or are they able to be, say, in the same city at the same time?

That's right, although we're more concerned with creating plot hooks than inventorying someone's session. GMs can create new Narrative Objects, even flag them private so only their party can see them on the map.  So if the second GM really wanted to run a dungeon crawl, they could always make a new haunt in a different location.  Or, they could incorporate what happened in the crypt into their story.  Maybe ghouls from deep within have emerged after their resting place was desecrated and wander the countryside.  Maybe a cleric from a nearby village has arrived, and asks the players to investigate a mystery that the first group's adventure uncovered.
        We tossed around the notion of tying players' physical location to in-game geography, and decided against it for our current prototype.  I think it's a cool idea, but it really only works for some types of games.  In the long term, we want users to be able to create their own worlds and have some flexibility with sharing and persistence options.  But for right now we're playtesting a basic proof of concept.

 Ok, so players can't really bump into each other or interfere with each other in a resource competitive way.  Would you say Wayscape is, overall, about trying to make worldbuilding easier and richer by having DMs share pieces (these Narrative Objects) they are already having to create for their own games?  I suppose another way this might be different than just running your own group is that things would be happening in the world as time passes so there would be constant sort of external prompts of creativity for a DM.  I mean, it wouldn't be just that a npc created by another DM would save me work, but I didn't expect that npc to show up at that time and that gives me something to bounce story ideas of of.  Am I on the right track?

That's right.  Ideally, Wayscape will slip seamlessly into a GM's regular prep time.  We want it to be quick and intuitive, to cut the bureaucracy out of living world systems.  I think the most interesting and fundamental way different playgroups can interact with one another is by cross-pollinating content, in effect.

These Narrative Objects are still neutral though, so one playgroup's actions might affect another's in a deleterious way.  For instance, Playgroup A could have a brawl and burn down the tavern that Playgroup B uses as a home base.  When Playgroup B has their next session, they realize that the world is growing and changing, sometimes out of their control.

They could chose to help rebuild the tavern, or maybe hire some mercenaries (so long as both GMs approve) to go after the other party.  We have plans for more sophisticated PvP systems later on, but for right now we want to use a simple "cold war" actions for rivalries between playgroups.

To continue with the idea of shared world building, are there communal encounter lists?  I suppose anything you could encounter might be a narrative object but where you encounter them and how likely might be dependent on the a more overarching view of how you want the world to feel.

Is there anything you would like readers to know?  And, finally, how would someone get involved if they are interested?

There aren't encounter lists per se, though I'll look into that idea.  As far as monsters go, we have a Bestarium page that lists creatures (old and new) appropriate to Shrouded Isles, as well as templates so GMs can use to adapt entries from the Monster Manual.  The idea to establish a certain atmosphere for the world, but to still give GMs creative freedom to add new story elements.  That's why a lot of the Codex entries are based on folklore, or have stories of vague or conflicting events.  A lot of the history has been lost to time, because we want to embrace different perspectives and allow the narrative objects to get a little messy.

We're always looking for new GMs, players, and collaborators!  We're just starting to build a community around Wayscape and the Shrouded Isles campaign is taking off. User feedback is really important to us moving forward, and we want Wayscape to become the best tool available for living world campaigns.  If you're interested in participating, please get in touch with me at info@wayscape.net. 

I don't have any experience with living roleplaying systems or even mmos, so I might have been the wrong person to interview about this.  And yet, when I first looked at Wayscape I thought it was more about story driven play (that's why I was asking Patrick about grand narratives above) so it was helpful to realize that its kind of communal world prep might actually be something that a old school minimalist like myself could find very helpful.  So in that sense, if readers of this blog are similar to me, then this may have been a great place to have the interview.

Also, my questions were about sussing out what the project's goals were.  I don't particularly want PVP.  From my experience every online game ever devolves into PVP and I think D&D can be much more interesting than just trying to exterminate or out-compete other parties.

Feel free to add your own questions in the comments.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

8 Recent Open World Video Games II

I think I'll talk about two similar games in this post: Salt and Stranded Deep.  Stranded Deep is basically a Castaway simulator with relatively realistic graphics of islands and sea life.  Salt is a more cartoonish island-exploring game where your main enemy is the pirates that pepper various islands.

But both involve gather rocks and sticks, crafting tools, acquiring food, and exploring infinite islands.  These games focus more on the exploration part of a sandbox game than some of the others on my list, and island hopping is a really good way to do that.

I think the strong point of Salt is that the islands you find can be quite different.  Some have pirate encampments, some ancient ruins.  I found an ancient altar once, and have found merchants that traded with me and gave me a simple quest.  I've hunted black deer at sunset and had a few terrifying nights fighting spiders by torchlight.

While you can build better boats as you get more materials and the books that teach you how to build them, one thing I found myself craving was the ability to make a change in the world-- to build a house or somehow make an island mine.  But the world is not a voxel world, and when I last played the only things you could build on land where a campfire and a flag.

The worst thing about Salt for me was the poor quality of the art work for the pirates and the item icons in the UI.  I realize the game is still in development and that you might want to put some placeholder artwork in a game you are making, but if your main enemy is going to be pirates I think you need to find artist to make you a better representation, even if a cartoony one.  The item icons are small and cartoony and I would often have a hard time distinguishing them.

Stranded Deep
It is really cool to be able to dive into a shipwreck and find random loot in them.  After a while you know all the possible items you can find in this game, but more items could be added- the point is that this setup scratches a fundamental exploration/scavenging itch I have.  It's also neat to be paddling along and see a marlin, a sea turtle, or a great white shark.  There are whales and sea urchins and sting rays too.

One of the things that get's frustrating is dealing with your limited inventory.  I think this is another common way some of these 8 games try to make themselves more difficult and more "realistic" than minecraft by limiting how much you can carry.  But when you have to go from island to island with sharks trying to bump you off your shaky raft carrying your precious bundle of sticks, rocks, and palm fronds, it can get irritating.  I wonder why I can't make a raft of logs and then break it up at another island, or at least tie a bundle of fronds or sticks to my raft.

Another thing that bugged me was the way the game renders distant islands.  Islands in your peripheral vision zoom closer and then zoom back out when you look directly at them.  It makes it quite disorienting when trying to judge which island is closest and which you were trying to reach before the sharks attacked you and you lost your line of sight.

But I'd say the most disappointing thing is the homogeneity of the islands.  Yes, they have interesting assortments of wrecks around them, but once you've seen one of the islands you've seen them all.  The game really needs some islands that are bigger, with hills, waterfalls, and caves.  The latest update to the game introduced Sea Forts and I've heard they might be trying to add caves, so that's cool.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

8 Recent Open World Video Games

I've spend a lot of time exploring single-player video game worlds.  I wanted to reflect a bit on what I've experienced in the last few months.  Of course most of these are early access, but from my experience that doesn't mean a game will change significantly once they once they remove that label.

Not one of the 8 and obviously not new, but the benchmark.  If you want a tenuous connection for this series to pen and paper gaming, Minecraft is the D&D of open world games and the rest on this list are fantasy heartbreakers.  Which, actually is a pretty good fit because I think most of these games are trying to fix one of two traits of Minecraft -- making the world less cartoony and making survival more difficult.

7-Days to Die
Set in something like a post-apocalyptic Arizona, you scavenge, gather resources and try to survive.  It's a voxel based world, so you can dig up every block.  It touts its building physics which requires building with adequate support to prevent structural collapses (unlike Minecraft's floating blocks).

It's fun to go through the modern buildings looting, but there are way too many zombies for me.  I think this might be because it's aimed at multiplayer, so they expect you to have help.  Ammo is limited, weapons wear out and do less and less damage as they do, gathering and cooking meat brings more zombies down on you.  But worse, for a game that includes building, it undermines any kind of building you do.  You can't prevent zombie spawns in an area, so walls are useless.  Zombies will dig at anything in front of them, so ditches or moats will just mean they eventually end up digging up through your floor.   Worst of all, the dead flesh hands of zombies can break through anything given enough time, even reinforced concrete.  In my play-throughs the only viable strategy has been to build an underground bunker, which is kind of boring.

I finally got frustrated and turned zombies off completely, which turned out to be a lot of fun.  It felt oddly peaceful being the last person on earth.  I was quite surprised, then, when I came back from a short break to find out I'd been killed.  Apparently the zombie sieges are coded separately from normal spawns and there is no way to turn them off..  Hah, how's that for hardcore, you get monsters even when you specifically turn off monsters.

So anyway, this heartbreaker succeeds in being more realistic than minecraft, but over-does it on the difficulty aspect.  Unless you enjoy killing infinite zombies forever and living in a hole, it will lose it's shine quickly.

The other 7
I'll talk about these in future posts:

Stranded Deep
The Forest
Savage Lands
the Long Dark
Space/Medieval Engineers

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Update with Magic Item

My blogging computer died sometime in July.  I attempted to recover the data myself and failed.  My next step was to check local businesses with good Yelp reviews.  Found one.  And they proceeded to give me the run around for months.  I finally got my data back and the good news is that it looks like most of it is there.  The most important stuff anyway.  I'm now on what was my gaming rig trying to set up a smooth process like I had before, but little things make it feel weird (like the fact Windows 7 can't understand svgs).  It feels like swimming against the tide to get back going, but I value the conversations with you and I like making stuff, so I'm going to do my best.  I might do some mini-video game reviews as a start.  Anyway, here is a magic item I came up with right at the tail end of that last set of posts:

Aspasia's Shroud - Cover yourself with this threadbare length of linen, fall asleep, and your body will disappear until you wake.

(DM might want a table for who picked up your shroud when you were sleeping and where they took it :)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Yet More Magical Treasures

More things that might make braving the dungeon worth it:
  1. Brass Saddle - No mount can fall while you ride in this intricate, decorative saddle.  Neither gaping wounds nor small scrapes will have any effect on your steed until you dismount.
  2. Skull Rattle - Shake this and all your enemies must change the target of their attacks.
  3. Meddler's Coffer - Say a name, open this small coffer, and you will be able to rummage through that person's things.  Anything in chests, purses, cupboards, or baskets can be seen and picked through.  Nothing can be taken through the coffer, but one might awkwardly read letters, study a map, or inventory items.
  4. Selfish Chisel - Use as you normally would a chisel, but arrows, inscriptions, or beautiful decorations made are only seen by you.
  5. Bone Comb - Use this simple comb to clean gore from your hair and reflect on your actions immediately after a battle and you will learn twice as fast (2x xp for that battle).
  6. Spider Brooch - When you are still (not moving, not fighting) this stylized copper spider comes to life and, with bites and webs, sees to your wounds (2hp per turn healed). 
So,  4 would have been good for the solo magic item list and I'm worried that 5 and 6 are too powerful.  The spider brooch is basically a limited ring of regeneration.  You might limit the bone comb similarly by requiring the grooming take 3 turns or an hour, the rest of the party might be less willing to wait around that long.