Running Dresden

The room was empty except for one person when we walked in.  I had a bag full of the special FUDGE dice, the two Dresden Files RPG rulebooks and a folder of pre-generated characters and cheat sheets.  I was stressed and nervous and felt ill-prepared.  I’d had the PDFs for a few months, since I’d volunteered to do this, and while I’d read them idly, I didn’t get far until I got the books, a little over a week before my time to run.

I still hadn’t read all the rules, but I got the basics. I got Fate Points, I got the tree, and I knew what the characters were about.  I mostly got Aspects.   A character in FATE 3.0, which Dresedn Files is based on, is made of four basic parts: Skills, Powers and Stunts, a Stress Track, and Aspect.  Skills are what you think they are — they’re what you roll on to do stuff.  Powers and stunts are special things your character can do.   In terms of D&D Skill are like skills, as well as your ability to attack.  Powers and stunts are like class abilities: turning undead, or casting spells.   Aspects are like feats, feats you can name. Sort of.

The lone person in the room was sitting at my table. I talked to him a bit, he had FUDGE dice already, and a copy of the game.  “This is my Dresden game this weekend,” he said. “They were all sold out, but I had a friend give me her ticket.”  He brandished it happily.  He was from Columbus, which was good — I’d set the game there, and was worried no one at the table would get those pieces. Still, the nerves in my stomach roiled a bit, he had more experience with this game than I had.  You could say I had the aspect Sressed-Out Improviser.

A few more people showed up, and I gave folks a few minutes to settle out. A couple of other people hung around, looking for another game, and wound up leaving. I had four of six people, so I passed out characters.  Someone from Michigan actually took my Storytelling Were-Wolverine (this was her high concept, the thing she is.  Harry Dresden himself is Wizard Private-Eye).  It’s also one of her aspects.

Aspects define your character, the good and the bad.  A good aspect is a double edged sword, which allows you to do something, but can also compel you to do something.  The Were-Wolverine has the aspect Scent of a Story.  What does that mean? The player could tap it to add to her ability to track by scent.  It could be used to improver her Investigation score to help her find out something that might be newsworthy (or that she thinks might be, anyway).  It could be used by the GM to compel her to look into a story.

It costs fate points to use your aspects like this, and you get fate points for compels. It’s an incentive to have aspects which can be creatively used for and against you.  It’s a game mechanic that gives incentive to making interesting characters, and thinking imaginatively.

We got into a combat, avoiding some Zombies by directly attacking the cultists doing the drumming. Most of my campaign was cribbed from the books — I didn’t want to venture far from the source material, I saw this almost as a demo of the system and what it could do as much as it was a fun role-playing event. Two more people showed up, one who had mismanaged his tickets, and another who was trying to find a Dresden game and failing.  I let them join, probably outside of con policy, but I really wanted all the characters in play.

They were reading their aspects, which are fairly broad statements, and the short two-three sentence stories I gave them to justify them, and taking them interesting places.  They asked me questions about their characters’ situations and personality (not just their stats) and I responded with how I saw it — it was up to them to breath some life into it.  I was surprised and thrilled that they did.

“Okay, that guy now has an aspect on him,” I said, not sure I was doing this right. “Say… knocked down.

“Sweet!” says another of them. “I’m going to use that to kick him.”

“Wait,” says another of the players. “How does that work?” I explained briefly to him how players can manipulate the environment via stunts, and others via maneuvers to place aspects on them, that can then be used.  “And this is something that’s beneficial for us to do?”  Vigorous nodding around the table, and he nodded once, and got a look in his eye.

Later, playing his character to a T, he placed the completely useless Iron Balls in His Pants aspect on a Toad Demon (I told you I didn’t stray far from the books, right?), thinking he was a fairy.  His character, Coyote’s Catspaw didn’t really understand where his power came from or what was going on.  He’s an Emissary of Power, Coyote’s power in particular, but is totally a pawn being kept in the dark.  I don’t know why, that didn’t seem important yet.

We didn’t use a lot of scene aspects or compels, and I was loose on making them pay for tags.  They needed the Fate points in the end to make use of the aspects on the badguy, in order to both beat him — and to avoid being beaten too soundly by him.

This is true to the Dresden Files universe: they took a beating, but still won.  They won not by overpowering the enemy, but out maneuvering him.  The game mechanics supported that style, and it works well.  I had a great time doing this, and look forward to playing Dresden again.

My Week In Gaming: June 14, 2010

I began my week still having Nier, Blur, and Red Dead Redemption. Nier got moved up the Gamefly list, and Blur is on it waiting for Tam’s approval/desire for it.  I’ll play it when she gets it, but I’m not feeling pressed to play it; it’s not like I’ll do any of the online races, anyway.  Travis suggested that I play RDR until I got the lasso, so I gave it one more shot, and got to the lasso mission, but got to frustrated to complete it.  I pulled it off the Gamefly list; I’m not sure what my deal is, but missions that early in the game shouldn’t be so hard — I have to assume I’m missing something, but at this point, it’s probably “caring about this game.”

The good news was that Demon’s Souls was coming from Gamefly.  I played this around the time it came out, and had real difficulty with it — something I now understand was made more difficult by there being “black soul” weekend events when I had it. When I played this on Thursday, it was substantially easier, aided by a different class (Royalty, this time) and an almost incredible amount of healing drops.  I finally finished off the first boss, and am getting into the meat of the game.

I guess it befuddles me a bit, Demon’s Souls has a reputation for being incredibly hard, picky and punishing, and I’m not only doing well, I’m enjoying the game. RDR does not have anything like that reputation, and I find it stupid and frustrating.  I’m not sure why this is; certainly I wasn’t invested in RDR’s story, but DS doesn’t really supply a story to be invested in (beyond my own narrative, of course).  Certainly there’s overall less different options in DS, so I’ve focused on what I have in front of me, and have a general idea of what is available (if not entirely possible) to do next.  Some part of me still wants to play RDR to answer that conundrum, but, well, maybe some other time.

Kongregate has a few games that caught my attention this week. Necronator is a sort of 16-bit game about a necromancer out to destroy a fantasy world. It’s by Toge Productions, who also did Infectionator, a similar game about destroying the world with zombies.

My favorite flash-game developer, jmbt02, put out  a new game this week, as well.  I did a little happy dance when I found out, although this isn’t one of my favorites of his, his games seem to be regularly high quality.  I followed his blog, so I wouldn’t miss this sort of thing again.

I also spent a bit of time playing The Enchanted Cave, a sort-of rogue-like rpg.  Much like Demon’s Souls you lose all progress when you die, and can leave (dropping all normal equipment). There are ways to progress, and I think I’ve got the strategy down now.  The other game that kind of intrigued me was Castle Wars 2, a game very much like the card game from Might and Magic VII.

As you can see, there’s a real problem for flash game developers, as I found four enjoyable games in a week. Getting noticed is hard, and while Kongregate has some tools for that (it’s how I found these games), I imagine there’s a lot that is good and is missed.   Of course, this was a particularly good week for this, too.

Given that Fantasy RPGs were the theme for the week and weekend, I returned to Dragon Age: Origins, this time to play a violent warrior.  I was reminded of one of my favorite D&D fighters, a character who didn’t want to be still. She always just wanted to go on to the next thing, and be pointed at the next batch of monsters to kill, or door to knock down.  I created her to take a break from the more intense story and characterization of GMing, and she was simple and a blast to play.  My City Elf Warrior is much the same, and it made the clichéd City Elf origin story much more fun to play. Particularly when I got to the king.  (Of course, I k new I didn’t have to make nice with someone who was just going to die, anyway, too).

The big focus for my weekend was tabletop roleplaying.  I’m getting the Dresden Files RPG books soon, and I need to pound out an adventure and more characters over the next two weeks, as I’m running it at origins on the 26th.  This weekend was also the Columbus D&D Meetup, and I’m running a game there. I’ll write more about that later, but overall the adventure was fun to run, and I think everyone enjoyed it. It was a bit short, I admit, but, again,  that’s what Girl and I want, and worked for our players.

Of course, I spent a good amount of time playing Dungeons and Dragons Online this week. We had a couple of good days playing our low-levels.  I really enjoy these particular quests, when it doesn’t feel so overwhelming and where we feel competent and successful. Of course, it could also be that our complement works better, since we have most of the roles covered (Fighter/Cleric and Rogue/Wizard).  It’ll be interesting as we get a few more levels and take on some more difficult dungeons.

I had a good run with Tam in Puzzle Pirates, as well. One issue with Puzzle Pirates is that there’s very little you can do on your own or with a small group.  That means that until you join a steady crew (which requires being a more steady player than I am, I think), you are always risking joining a group that has overshot their ability or who has interpersonal problems.

Tam and I got planked (kicked off the ship) during a battle we were winning, because someone’s little brother had a fit of pique. So we headed out to do something a else, perhaps a bit easier.. “I want to win,” I told her, so we joined something easy.  And did very well with a smaller group, and even made pretty decent cash.  Hopefully we’ll play again one night this week.

Heavy Rain is on its way from Gamefly as I write this, and I guess we’ll see how long I keep that one. I don’t have high hopes, but again, it’s a game I feel I should at least try before passing on it.

Over the Weekend – June 7, 2010

Given my schedule, I only have a few nights a week to focus on gaming, but tend to get a lot of gaming in on the weekends, particularly on Sunday, which is ‘my day’.  I don’t focus on games for hours at a time — usually — so typically drift from game to game over the course of the weekend, building up impressions of the games.  These are those impressions.  And a bit of a log of what I’m doing lately.

Royal Envoy

I do play a variety of games, beyond the big-budget AAA games, and Royal Envoy is one of those side, casual games.  I played through the 80-minute demo from Reflexive Arcade (which goes away at the end of the month).  Royal Envoy is a building/time management puzzle game, where you meet certain building goals on each level, getting more difficult as the levels progress.  The primary difficulty here is in getting the time bonus on levels, as that requires some thought and planning; otherwise my 7-year old GoddessDaughter has no problem with the game.

I thought it was fun, and think that’s a good way to gateway difficulty, allowing you to decide a level is too hard to meet the speed goal. The voice acting and story appeal more to my 7-year old than to me, but that’s not surprising.

Blur

I picked up Blur, and the next two games at Blockbuster, which means I have five days to decide whether to bump these games from my Gamefly queue (or to bump them up).  I tend to rent games several different ways, and rarely buy them.  I’ll hang onto them from Gamefly if they deserve serious play.  Blur is more for Tam and for me, as she loves racing games, and still plays Burnout: Paradise on occasion.

Blur was criticized for it’s “making fun of casual games” ad that came out, mocking Mario Kart, but given the presentation and style of the game, the marketing of it makes sense. Blur is basically Burnout style graphics and aesthetic, but it’s Mario Kart-style game play.  Yes, the cars handle like real cars (at least ones in racing games), but there are power-ups that mimic those in Mario Kart.  There’s a shield, mines, a weapon that attacks the next player in front of you, etc.

Given the other games I wanted to try out, I didn’t play this much longer than enough to get an impression for Tam. If she likes it, we’ll Gamefly it and, I’ll have a chance to get competent at it, at which point I think it will be fun.  If I can’t manage that, it wasn’t for me anyway.

Red Dead Remption

I’m not sure why I keep trying Rockstar games.  The last one that I liked at all was GTA:Chinatown Wars, and before that, just GTA III. I didn’t like the expansions, and couldn’t get into San Andreas. GTA IV never really interested me, and Bully recently left me cold.  And that’s about the right answer for these games, I’m given a world to explore and do things in, but nothing that I want to do or explore.

I spent some time riding around in RDR, and I like the mechanic that keeps me with the people I’m riding with, but it just made me miss Agro.  I don’t think any in-game horse will ever touch my heart the way she did, though.  I did enjoy the riding, what gets me though, is that it was mostly aimless.  I never got invested in the story, and then I got killed, and when I went to load my game, I thought, “Why?” and watched some Doctor Who instead.

There’s more to say about this, and Rockstar, and open world games, but that’s a blog post, not an impression.  RDR is definitely beautiful, and I suspect I’d like it more if I were competent at it (much like Blur in this respect), I don’t feel any pressing need to become competent.  I loved Westerns as a teenager, so I get some of what they are doing (but surely not all of it), but I’m just not invested in what is going on enough to continue.

Nier

When I rent games from Blockbuster or the G-Box, I tend to pick up games that I’m less likely to love. Something I can play for a couple of days, realize I was right about not liking them, give them back, and cross them off my Gamefly queue.  Why play a game that I don’t think I’ll like? Well, I want to make my own determinations, and even bad games do some things well. Also, it’s sometimes instructive about why games fail, which can inform other things and game designs.

This time, Nier was my game like this.  And of the three I got, I like playing it the most.  It’s brawler style combat is something that I’m generally competent at already, and that’s part of it.  It’s environments (and some of it’s characters, particularly the daughter) evoke Ico in a positive way.  This game isn’t graphically brilliant.  My character is kind of ugly, actually.  I’m not sure the story is complicated, and it’s filled with fetch quests.

I probably have a lot more to talk about with this, and want to play it more. I definitely had an interesting moment with those fetch quests, though, that’s worth some more writing. But first, more playing.

Hello Worlds

Hello Worlds is a pure platformer and flash game (this is a link to it on Kongregate) that has some interesting platforming ideas, notably that your character exists in multiple worlds, and is affected by the floors, walls, and other environmental features.  I played through it a week or two ago when it first showed up on Kongregate, but they’ve added achievements, so I went back and played it a bit more. They’ve cleaned up and added some levels, and it’s worth a look.

The ever-present Dungeons & Dragons Online

Girl and I play DDO at least once over a typical weekend, and this was no exception.  We spent a lot of time over the past week playing, actually, as it was a loot-bonus week (they’d upped the level of chest loots by two levels, allowing us to get some nice drops — or at least stuff that sold well).  Friday we did a bit more, but had gotten tired of the Dave Arneson area, realizing it was as hard and annoying as the Gary Gygax area (Imagine!).

We took our level 10′s and tried to do some level 6 quests we’d never done, and got wiped doing them, until it was at a point where we weren’t succeeding just because we were in a fail mode.  Our characters (a Wizard and a Rogue + henchmen) don’t seem to do well with elementals.  Give us humanoids and we waltz through a level, but elementals always kill us.

We switched to our level 3/4 chracters (my Wizard/Rogue and her Fighter/Cleric) and tried a mission which we somehow failed at the end. We just quit and decided to table DDO for the weekend. I did a couple of solo quests on Sunday with my level 3 Wizard/Rogue, and nearly leveled, but tried another dungeon and died, again, and decided I was done.  Maybe my fascination with Nier is that it was the only game I didn’t fail in all weekend.

Non-Video Games

Girl and I also played the next module of Descent, which we got through by changing one rule that I don’t understand why exists. (Or how the players would ever win with that rule in place).  We also worked pretty hard Sunday morning creating characters for my Dresden Files RPG game that I’m running at Origins. I have a feeling I’m going to crash and burn.  I really need to run combat before I’m doing it for people who paid for the privilege.

And finally, I finished The Toughest Developer Puzzle Ever 2 last week.  Talk about feeling competent (and failing a lot)!