Archive for November, 2011

Additional Thoughts on SW:TOR

November 30, 2011

The SW:TOR weekend beta ended Monday night for me.  After four days of playing, encountering only a few minor bugs, I have to say this is one of the best MMO’s I’ve ever played, whether in beta or full release.

First off, BioWare’s work with Mass Effect shows throughout SW:TOR.  From dialogue choices in the quests, to companions (and earning their affection), to lightside/darkside options and even navigating the galaxy map, all heavily influenced by Mass Effect.  Unfortunately, the combat system was not influenced by ME, which is a shame to me.  I’d have preferred a more action oriented shooter type combat system (maybe something like Tabula Rasa), but given all the cool light-saber animations Star Wars requires, I can see why they opted for a more traditional MMO-style combat system.

The game is pretty much a full-on themepark ride, which is par for the course these days in MMO design.  While I preferred Star Wars Galaxies’ sandbox approach (later changed to a sandbox/themepark hybrid with the infamous NGE), SW:TOR comes much closer to capturing the Star Wars experience than SWG ever did.  Usually themepark MMO’s start to bore me pretty quick.  But SW:TOR’s story oriented missions are done so well that you often forget you’re trapped in a themepark.  Likewise, the standard MMO quests are in there (Fed Ex, kill this, retrieve that, etc.), but the stories do such a good job of pulling you in you don’t feel like you’re doing Fed Ex mission #93, or the retrieve 100 rat tail missions #34.  The voice acting and mini-cut scenes for each mission help a great deal with the immersion.  The generic kill missions aren’t even given out by quest givers; they start automatically when you enter an area and kill one of the bad guys in it.  And they upgrade as  you proceed, usually with three or four stages.

I played a Trooper up to Level 19 and managed to get my first starship.  The starship serves as a means to travel about the galaxy quickly by interacting with a galactic holo-map.  Just choose the world you want to travel to and you go there, paying a small fee for fuel costs.  The map also shows space battles, which you may travel to and participate in (and get quests for).  Space combat is an arcade style rail-shooter, which is good and bad in my book.  On the good side, it allows you to focus on blowing crap up and admiring all the cool space scenery, without having to worry whether you’re traveling in the right direction or if you somehow missed an objective.  It’s also a very cinemeatic experience, flying around capital ships or space stations duking it out with one another.  On the bad side…it’s a rail shooter, with all the limitations and constraints that implies.  I enjoyed the few missions I played, but will they continue to be interesting the 10th or 20th time I play them?  I’m not sure.  There’s also some ship customization but I didn’t really get a chance to play around with it too much; from what little I’ve seen though, ship customization in SW:TOR doesn’t seem nearly as detailed as SWG was.   While I found it enjoyable, if you’re looking for a detailed space fighter simulator  you’ll likely be disappointed with SW:TOR’s space combat.

One other area of importance to me in an MMO is crafting.  Again, SW:TOR pretty much mimics the standard MMO crafting system, long established by WoW.  It’s a fairly simple system:  get resources, get recipe, spend resources to make item, skill improves so you can get better recipes; rinse and repeat.  The two minor twists on the system are 1) your companions do the actual crafting, which frees you up to do quests while they do the ‘grinding’ and 2) you can reverse engineer the items you make to get schematics for improved versions of the item, and a few of your resources back.  You can also reverse engineer loots that relate to your crafting skill (i.e. weapons if you have armstech, armor if you have armortech, etc.).  Not sure if RE’d loot items give schematics though.  Compared to SWG’s epic crafting system (still the best of any MMO I’ve played or heard about), SW:TOR’s system is completely uninspired, but I can’t say I’m surprised.  BioWare is in many ways travelling the road WoW paved, so they weren’t likely to blaze a new path in crafting, especially when the bulk of their players are more likely to be interested in living out their Jedi fantasies than being the best weaponsmith or armorsmith on their server.

However, that aside, SW:TOR is primed to be a big hit.  Every time a new major MMO comes out everyone starts talking about whether it will be the “WoW-killer.”  Well, if any MMO can kill WoW, it will be SW:TOR.   The bar for themepark MMO’s is about to raised a few notches.

FEATS for Swords & Wizardry Whitebox

November 29, 2011

Well, here are the Swords & Wizardry feats I talked about last week.  Took me longer than anticipated, mainly because I got distracted by the SW:TOR beta.  Oops.

There are 10 general feats available to all classes, and then each class has 10 separate feats of their own.  Some classes share feats, but all have at least a few feats that are unique and that, I feel, help make that class a little more distinctive.

Whenever I get the chance to use these, I think I’ll allow players to pick feats for their characters at levels 1, 3, 6 and 10.  It gives a nice distribution as they increase in power, gives them a taste of the awesome at level 1 and makes for a nice capstone at level 10.  Of course, if you play with demi-human level limits you may have to tweak the distribution a bit.

SW:TOR Impressions

November 25, 2011

Got the chance to play in the SW:TOR weekend beta today for about 10 hours (so far).  I have to say that I’m very impressed.  I haven’t played in a ton of betas, but this has been by far the smoothest beta experience I’ve ever had.  In deed, SW:TOR’s beta is better than most retail release MMO’s I’ve played.

BioWare does a good job of hitting most of the MMO conventions that have developed since WoW’s appearance on the scene, though it does have the advantage of 12 years or so of MMO development hindsight.  I do wish it were more sandboxy, like SWG was (before the NGE), but I realize that isn’t what they’re going for, and probably wouldn’t work well given BioWare’s excellent track record of creating story-driven CRPGs like Mass Effect and Dragon Age.  It’s not a huge departure from the themepark style games that have become prevalent, but it does introduce a few new wrinkles, like companions.

All in all, I think BioWare has a winner here (not that there was a lot of doubt, I suppose).  I’m looking forward to this game’s release.  And now I’m off to play some more before the weekend ends.

Pathfinder MMO

November 23, 2011

Paizo’s announced a deal to make a Pathfinder-based MMO.  Wow! (no pun intended…really)  I knew they were stomping WotC on game books, but jumping into the MMO business, too?  Just…wow.

Reading their blog entry on it, it sounds like it will have a lot of sandbox elements, something most MMO’s have been moving away from since WoW came along.  Start towns, build castles, be the ‘best’ crafter on your server, found nations, fight wars.  That’s all stuff I can get behind, and if they can pull that off I’d play it in a heartbeat…especially if I can play a PF Goblin.  Pathfinder Goblins just rock.

Of course, it’ll be years before it goes to market, so who knows how it will evolve along the way.  Still, pretty cool news.  This is something I’ll be keeping my eye on.


November 22, 2011

Got an invitation to the SW:TOR weekend beta next week.  Yay!

Now I just need to download a 20 GB file.  Boo!

In the meantime I think I’ll work on that S&W feat list I mentioned yesterday.


On Feats

November 21, 2011

When it comes to RPGs, my sympathies generally lay with what’s come to be called ‘old school’ gaming; i.e. earlier incarnations of D&D, or the many retro-clones.  Given my druthers, I’d rather be playing 0e or Swords & Wizardry rather than Pathfinder (though the PF Beginner Box looks promising).  But I figure playing Pathfinder is better than nothing, and besides my current group is a great bunch of guys, even if they don’t like old school D&D. 🙂

Given that, one thing I do like about 3e/Pathfinder is the inclusion of feats.  Just as the introduction of ascending AC was one of the greatest improvements to The Game, I think old school games would also benefit greatly by introducing (simple) feats.  Feats are a straightforward way to introduce mechanical differentiation and specialization between PCs, give players more choice in their character’s development, and in old school games they can help dramatically increase PC survivability right out the gate.

However, my appreciation for feats is conditional.  I really don’t like feats that add new mechanics to the game, feats that are highly situational, or feats that require additional bookkeeping.  I prefer feats that boost or modify something already on the characters sheet or that simplify or remove existing mechanics (which really is a benefit in PF since it has so many moving parts compared to old school games).  That’s one of the things I like about the Beginner Box – it ditches, or simplifies, the more complex feats.

Take Deflect Arrows for example.  Once per round you can deflect a missile attack that would have otherwise hit you.  Simple and quick, no additional roll required, it just happens.  Awesome.

Another good feat is Dodge.  It adds a +1 bonus to AC.  It’s always in effect, so all you need to do is make a simple adjustment to an existing stat on your character sheet and you’re done, as with other feats like Skill Focus, Improved Initiative or all the ‘Extra X’ feats.  Nice.

Toughness is another decent feat, though a little more complicated because you have to remember to adjust hit points every time the character gains a level.  Not too bad though, and very useful to low-level characters.

Mobility is a feat that is more problematic for me.  Mobility grants +4 AC against attacks of opportunity.  First off, this feat is conditional, so you have to remember to apply it.  Secondly, you need to keep track of a separate AC score for Mobility.  I’m already tracking AC, Touch AC, Flat-footed AC and Combat Maneuver Defense…now I have to track an Opportunity Attack AC, too?  Bleh.

Point Blank Shot sounds like a straightforward feat on the surface, but in practice is a pain in the ass.  It gives you a +1 on ranged attacks made within 30 feet.  Sounds simple enough, except now I have to record a separate set of attack bonuses for 30 feet, and I have to keep track of when I’m within 30 feet.  It doesn’t sound that hard, but in practice it’s really easy to forget.  Of course, in a game like Pathfinder, 1 point either way isn’t that big a deal, especially at higher levels.  But then why even have it in the first place (other than as a prerequisite in a feat chain)?

Well, you probably get my point by now, or quit reading a long time ago.

I realize I’m not the first to propose adding some form of feats for old school D&D.  Delta’s houserules includes about a dozen simple feats for fighters, but doesn’t give them to the other classes.  I think a list of about a dozen or so simple, straightforward feats for every class would be a nice addition to The Game…another project for a rainy day.

Pawns & Tokens Working Together

November 19, 2011

I originally bought the 4E Monster Vault tokens as a cheaper alternative to miniatures.  And then Paizo comes along and puts out a bunch of high quality pawns with their new Beginner Box, which imo are vastly superior to the MV tokens.  Paizo’s said they plan to release more pawns, but it will probably take them a while to get it done.

So in the meantime it occurred to me that I could stick the MV tokens into the plastic stands that came with the BB.  The tokens are about the same thickness as the BB pawns, so they fit just fine.  Obviously the tokens don’t stand as tall as the pawns, and the pawns are easier to recognize.  But it is an expedient stop gap until Paizo gets around to putting out more pawns and, to me at least, it looks better than mixing flat tokens with standing pawns.

‘Stuff’ as Treasure

November 18, 2011

Reading this play report at Planet Algol got me thinking about treasure.  The group there is exploring an abandoned fort called Fortress Eibon, once the abode of wizards or necromancers who ran afoul of their own dark magic – and pissed-off demons.  In exploring the fortress, and fighting its denizens, the party finds piles of coins laying about in various monster lairs, which in turn reminded me of some thoughts I’d had a while back concerning treasure in D&D.

It seems to me a more interesting approach to mundane treasure would be to reward items instead of coins.  And by items, I don’t mean gems or jewels.  I’m talking about objects, things.  Books, tapestries, strange idols, trade goods, furniture, fine wines and liquors, clothing, works of art, fabrics, spices, drugs and the like.  I realize this idea isn’t exactly new, but as I’ve seen it implemented in other forms, some portion of the treasure is represented by objects, with the larger portion still made up of coins and gems.

What I’m proposing is that virtually all non-magical treasure be represented by ‘stuff’ instead of coins.  Doing so I think is more, well, ‘realistic’ for lack of a better word.  After all, just why are all those coins sitting in a monster’s lair?  You could say that less intelligent monsters collect shiney objects, but then from where do they get those shiney coins?  I suppose they could come from the remains of the monster’s last meal, less fortunate adventurers, but then where did those adventurer’s get all their coins?  Realistically, you wouldn’t carry thousands of coins with you on an adventure, unless you found them somewhere along the way and hadn’t had a chance to return to civilization yet.

And more intelligent creatures might prize vaulable objects, but what good do gold coins serve them?  They’re cut off from civilization and all the things those bright, shiney coins buy.  I’d think your typical orc or goblin would be more concerned about daily survival needs, like where their next meal is coming from, than hoarding useless coins.

Giving stuff instead of coins also creates a number of interesting delimas for the players:

  1. Transportation – Just how are they going to get all that stuff to civilization?  Moving a marble statue is not as simple as just separating out the copper from the gold.
  2. Waste – Some goods may be perishable.  However, a more common problem would be paying for goods and services in small towns and villages.  The entire town probably doesn’t have enough coin to pay for even one of the party’s treasures, so unless the party brought sufficient coin with them, they’d be paying for goods and services with the items they recovered, and surrendering a significant portion of their value to the villagers and townsfolk.
  3. Conversion – Once they get their treasures to civilization, they’ll have to find buyers to convert them to currency (unless they just want to barter for everything).  Collectors may pay more, but there’s always the chance of a double cross.  Merchants definitely won’t pay an item’s full value.  Not to mention entanglements with the thieve’s guild.
  4. Sentimentality – Player characters may form an attachment to an item and decide to keep it as a trophy, for sentimental reasons, or just because they think it’s cool.  Are you willing to give up a significant share of the treasure for a cool keepsake?

From an ‘old school’ perspective, numbers 2 through 4 provide a way for the DM to give a party full XP value for their treasure while reducing the actual material value.

On the down side, using a system like this requires more work on the DM’s part, constantly thinking up new and interesting items of value.  It also increases the party’s recordkeeping, having to track the value of multiple items instead of just recording X number of gold pieces.  And some players may feel dealing with the logistics of transportation and unloading the loot takes away valuable game time that could be spent exploring dungeons.  That said, next time I run an old school D&D game, I think I’ll give it a try and see how things work out.

Troll Hunter

November 17, 2011

A Norwegian film shot fake documentary style, like Cloverfield, though with much less shakey-cam.  Not a lot of action, but it does have some good scenes, especially when the trolls make their appearances.    And the troll hunter dude is just the coolest character ever.  Some great scenery of Norway, too.  Makes me want to visit (though it looks cold as hell there).

The only thing that didn’t quit work for me was trolls being able to smell the blood of a Christian man…I know it’s from fairy tales, but it doesn’t really fit the rest of the troll pseduo-science presented in the movie.  That quibble aside it’s a fun movie.

Boot Hill-ish game: Wanted: Dead or Alive

November 15, 2011

I have a copy of 2nd Edition Boot Hill somewhere in storage, which I’m too lazy to dig out.  So instead I looked around the internet for some information on Boot Hill with the thought of using it as the basis of a Gamma World type game, something tactical, quick and deadly.  I gleaned enough information to come up with this:  Wanted: Dead or Alive.

It’s not exactly a Boot Hill clone, especially considering I don’t have a copy of that game to reference.  But I think it is tactical, quick and deadly with a whiff of a RP element.  However, it is only a first step, a framework if you will.  Next I’ll bolt on the post-apoc elements (tenatively titled Dead Mutants) to get the game I wanted all along.