March Game of the Month: Prism, rorriM, Lz

Play my March Game, Prism, rorriM, Lz.  Yes, it’s supposed to look that way!

Commentary:

The One Game a Month prompt for this month was “Rogue.”  That leaves me with the idea of randomness, due to the generation of content in most rogue-likes.  I had some thoughts about that, but the game I was working on wasn’t going to be done in time, so I had some second thoughts.  My second thought was, what if you played a twine game, but didn’t know what the choices were? Or maybe the text itself?

That led to the idea of blocking out the text, and covering it with a gradient — a randomly generated one, but one which preserved the sense of it as a set of sentences.  I wanted the covering gradients to feel like words, with the variation in length English words have.  I wanted it to feel like sentences, so I wanted to keep the punctuation.  And since I wanted it to have a real textual feel, I needed to pull it from something that was written, something fictional so there would be conversation and differing length paragraphs.

I played with Google search a bit, but couldn’t figure out a good way to target the kind of text I wanted. I thought about using my abandoned novel, but I wasn’t happy with that. I realized my idea was kind of “glitchy” and that made me think of Alex (@aandnota) .  That led me quickly to think of Travis(@theautumnalcity).  His tweeter handle refers to Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren, which I referenced in my January Twine Game.

I found a copy of the text online, and proceeded to strip out the first chapter, getting the text into ASCII only, and only using hte first part, which is called, “Prism, Mirror, Lens”.  That led me to the action of the three buttons below, one of which can widen the variation of the colors (prism), one which reverses them (“mirror”), and one which focuses them (‘lens”).  These are randomly placed, so the “gameplay” is just a slot machine. Still, I can get to the end after just a few clicks, and there’s a cheat method that I think is fairly obvious.

 

No Universe

So, the lead designer of Borderlands 2 was talking about something that might have been a good idea.  Then he called it “girlfriend mode”.  There’s some problems with that, which revolve around the intersection of the ideas of women gamers, the typical market for a game like Borderlands 2,  and the culture of video games that allows that kind of attitude to exist.  It’s a problem, but you know what? People fuck up.  They make mistakes, they may not even know they made a mistake, so in this day and age, what is important is how you react to making a mistake.

And how did gearbox react? Pretty badly, if you ask me.  Here’s a sample quote:

There is no universe where Hemmingway is a sexist – all the women at Gearbox would beat his and anyone else’s ass. – Randy Pitchford, President of Gearbox Software (the company making Borderlands 2)

There’s so much wrong with this tweet that I don’t know where to start. Maybe we start at the end and work our way backwards.

So, he’s not sexist because the women at the company he works for would beat his ass.  Or, I guess, anyone who was sexist’s ass. Okay, that may be a deterrent from sexist acts, maybe, but it’s not really going to stop you from being one.   And anyway, this smacks of the “I’m not anti-X, I have friends who are X” kind of logic.   Well, good for you on the friends thing.  I’m glad they’re fairly tolerant of you, or whatever.  This logic was old when I was a kid, and that was a long time ago.

So maybe we should talk about the thing where there “is no universe” part.  You know the part that is naive, blind and just plain wrong.  We live in a sexist culture, and to borrow a metaphor from Mary Ann Mohanraj (whose posts on racism are pretty excellent), we swim in sexist culture crap, and it sticks to us.  We can’t help it, but we can acknowledge it.

To deny it completely is to be blind to it, to be unable to apologize when we inevitably make a mistake, and to be unable to fix it when we see it.  Because we have to know a problem is there, exists, and be able to identify it in order to make it go away.  It may never go away, but it can get better.  But only if we enter our world with open eyes and minds.

And it infuriates me that someone can be in our culture, and particularly in video games culture now, and not be able to see that it exists.  So, Randy Pitchford is either clueless or lying.  Either way, there is currently no universe where what he said is accurate.

 

A quick bit of Diablo III dialog

When you get the Scoundrel as an ally, the game has forced you to have Leah with you as well.  The entire time the Scoundrel flirts with her in a way that’s obviously not wanted by Leah.  I quickly dumped him, and took the Templar back, but then I got this:

Templar:  I do not like the way he treats Leah!

PC(Female Wizard): He can’t help himself.

I can, somewhat, accept a character who is a scoundrel, who treats women badly.  But this however was jarring.  First, the obvious, where my character is made to excuse the Scoundrel’s remarks with, essentially, “Boys will be boys.”  The other for me, was the way it was voice acted, and the surrounding context that the Templar must by right of his White Knighthood protect Leah from this scoundrel.  (Never minding, of course, that Leah seems perfectly capable of taking care of herself.)

Sure, not all of the comments are problematic, and the game is delightfully fun. (And I’m aware you can like problematic things), but this in particular bothered me.  Last night I got to the Enchantress, and the Templar started going all bubbly on her.  I quit soon after because I was exhausted (and mainly just trying to fix my latency issues).  I’m a bit concerned about what happens next.

[I also want to play as a non-wizard and a non-female to see how these conversations play out, if it's any different.]

Harry Barefoot (Of the Bigglesport Barefeet)

I’m hoping to play some original D&D with the Riders of Lohan tonight, so I spent a very few minutes making a character.  This is an absurdly simple task in Dungeons and Dragons, which is good, because I think we should probably rename ourselves Strikeforce Morituri, if their previous adventures are any indication.  I used rolz.org for dice, which I’ve been using for my G+ Pathfinder game.  And thus Harry Barefoot, (of the Bigglesport Barefeet) was born:

Harry Barefoot

First, the stats. A quick repeat 5 3d6 on rolz.org, and I had the bad news: 11,12,10,14,14,7

Okay, maybe not so bad after all, there’s a couple of 14s in there, we can work with this. Only this is original D&D so that’s my DEX an CON.  My INT is 12, at least so I can read and write.  My WIS is 10, so I can find my ass with my hands, at least. And a STR 11 seems respectable for someone of the Halfling persuasion*.  I did note that halflings can only go to 8th level, but as I doubt I’ll survive that long, I think it’s probably irrelevant.

The DEX gives me an extra point of AC (or rather a lower one) and a +1 to missile attacks.  I guess DEX was always an overloaded stat in D&D.  Not complaining.

I get lucky and roll max hit points,  with a 14 CON I get a bonus point, giving me 7 total hitpoints.  Truly Harry is a halfGod among halfMen!  Next, I roll a 10 for 100gp, which means I even get armor too!

I got a short bow and 20 arrows; a sword, a backpack, a few torches, 50′ of rope (in case I need to be lowered into a pit) and some food.  Halflings always travel with food.

Harry’s family is really big in Bigglesport, but there was a minor (Seriously, it was no big deal!) scandal and Harry had to hi tail it out of town.  He met with someone who told him he was a Scion of the Cerulean Shrimp (and after beating the guy up for calling him small) moved on to wherever the adventure is awaiting, and joined it.  Treasure is good, right?

And here’s a link to Harry’s Character sheet.  Even back then they couldn’t fit the whole thing on one side of a piece of paper.

* By which I mean, someone who hides in a shadow and shoots arrows.

 

 

On Paying Attention

My daughter (aka Goddessdaughter) is lacking in certain important life skills.  She doesn’t know that you jump on Koopa Troopers so they won’t be able to attack you in Paper Mario. (And never mind that that lowers their defense so that your other attacks work better.)   She skips past dialog faster than any regular person could read it, and then wonders why we know stuff she doesn’t (when we haven’t been playing Paper Mario any longer than she has).  ”You have to read that stuff,” I told her.

“I like it better when someone reads it to me,” she said.

“You don’t always get voice overs,” I said to her.  ”Particularly in these older games.”

“Oh,” she said, looking dejected.

I play a lot of these jRPG style game, not so much lately as a few years ago.  Back then we had a roommate who played them even more than I did.  The Goddessdaughter always asked to play them, but we told her she had to be able to read to play them, but then she could play them all she wanted (well, within reason). Now she can read and doesn’t bother.

She wouldn’t last 5 seconds into Ultima Underworld.

I’ve recently started playing UU along with Corvus Elrod; we’re blogging about it on G+, and I’m generally having a good time with it.  We talked about doing this sometime last year, probably August or September, when I started playing through the entire Elder Scrolls line (I didn’t quite finish Arena, and “played” Oblivion mainly by watching Kat finish every quest in it.).  Ultimately, I want to think about how these games are similar and different, and what they do well.

The people who made UU went on to make some of my favorite games.  Their studio became Looking Glass Studios where they made my favorite stealth game, Thief  (which might also make for a nice playthrough, before Thief 4 comes out.)  I knew it was an older game, which comes with challenges.  Gog.Com took care of the primary one — getting it to run, but there’s a big difference, as I noted to my daughter, between modern games and the ones from the UU era.

There’s precious little voice acting in UU, and very very little hand-holding. I have hints about where I can go, and there’s no log of quests (or todo lists) for me.  I’ve got the basic one: find the princess by going deeper in the abyss.   But there’s notes everywhere, and little bits of dialog.  Everything is there to politely imply things, to make you think about the puzzles and environment in certain ways.   This led me to a bit of logical reasoning that simplified one jumping puzzle, and made me feel really smart.

Here’s the thing: UU hasn’t just abandoned me to figure things out, much like Arena did (where sometimes what you needed to do was go somewhere, find out about it, and then load a save game to prepare for it. see: Ice Wolves).  The information is there, but I’ve got to find it.  It’s often right in front of me but I have to look at it, I’ve got to read.

And reading is both literal and figurative here.  There’s lots to read: conversations with the denizens of the abyss; scrawls and plaques on the wall; notes left behind in haste.  There’s the map that fills in as you go, but doesn’t show you everything; and sometimes shows you things you didn’t (or couldn’t see).   This is a functioning world, moving on without you, much like TES.  You have to inform yourself about it, though, no one is going to just lay it all out for you.

I like this, it feels like I’m actually exploring, not just going to where there’s an arrow over someone’s head. I loved Skyrim, but sometimes I needed to just unfollow the quests so I could see the world without the games’ interpretation of it.  It was nice to turn that on, and do my todo list, but UU makes me pay attention.  I have to, to survive.

And when I do, it rewards me, and I feel smart, competent and capable.

I descend to the second level soon, where I hear things get that much harder.

Pen and Paper Gaming Without the Pen or the Paper

Well, it’s time to do some online gaming.

I knew G+ would be good for this when I first saw Hangouts, but they made them better, and I played in one of Corvus’ Bhaloidam demos (which funded, yay!).   I was busy doing two of the free Stanford classes, as well as running a bi-weekly D&D game. One of those things had to go, and thankfully the classes ended a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what I want to do, and my own time commitment to things.   Basically, I’ve got a couple of things warring within me: Let’s to a bunch of small one-shots of uncommon systems vs. let’s run something familiar, perhaps a module, and just enjoy the process of playing.

Both of these have their advantages.  I’d love to get away from D&D and typical gaming, and try some new things.  A lot of those things are weird, and probably wouldn’t have a lot of staying power, but that’s okay. On the other hand, running a good module well can open up a lot of opportunities for roleplay and lets me focus on making it fun and roleplaying instead of planning dungeons, to schedule.

So I’m going to split the difference a bit.  I’ve got two time slots for every month — basically the Sunday afternoons (EST) that we don’t run our regular pen and paper D&D game.  I’ve got two one-shot modules. One is for Pathfinder which is not quite D&D but for whom there are rich modules that play to my strengths as a game master.  The other is a Dresden Files module with pre-generated characters and situation.

Both of these would be a good introductions to the systems, and let me and the players get a feel for how to do things on Hangouts.  If, after playing them, we want to do a full on DFRPG or Pathfinder, we’ll do that if there’s a commitment to do it.  If not, then perhaps we’ll try some other stuff.

The first game, which will be running the Pathfinder Module “We Be Goblins” (where players play as those disgusting and hilarious eponymous creatures), I’ll run on Sunday January 8th at 1:00pm EST.   The second, a Dresden Files RPG Casefile called “Evil Acts” which is chest-deep (relatively powerful) one-shot adventure at the intersection of mystery, the supernatural, and a theater production of The Tempest.  That one I will run two weeks later, on January 22nd at 1:00pm EST.

Please comment here on this post, or greet me on twitter or G+ where this post is linked if you are interested.  You will need a G+ account, and a microphone to play (a camera would be a bonus, but not required).  If you have interest, but these times aren’t great, still let me know, and I’ll add you to my not pen and paper circle on G+ so you’ll know what’s going on and what is upcoming.

You won’t need rules for these games.  Pathfinder has free basic rules online, and I have a cheatsheet for DFRPG.   I’ve got 4 slots open for the Pathfinder one-shot (a longer running game could accommodate more) and have up to 6 slots open for DFRPG.  Observers will be welcome once we fill the slots.

The Ongoing Search for the Perfect RPG

I don’t completely remember my first gaming experience.  I know it was one of the few at my friend Blair’s house, before his father — a Southern Baptist minister — decided what we were doing was demonic (So we switched to Traveller when we were at Blair’s).  I do remember that my red-box human cleric died, and Blair handed me another character, “Belwe” a cleric with perhaps the lowest Intelligence I’ve ever played.Belwe went on to horribly ruin his relationship with his god, when he failed to capture the sould of what I believe was the lich in Tomb of Horrors.  Still, something about that: making up stuff that you could do, rolling dice, the bit of sadistic glee of the youth minister who ran the games was fun.  The morals of the time meant we switched to Traveller fairly quickly, but I picked up a red box set, then the AD&D books, along with Traveller, Boot Hill, Star Frontiers, Gamma World, DC Heroes and Champions.

I was, to put it mildly, completely hooked.

I was also a tinkerer.  D&D wasn’t quite right — why were demi-humans capped in level? Traveller had too many different types of guns.  Champions’ point-buy character creation was too easy to manipulate, and so on.

So I went on the search for the perfect gaming system, even as I kept playing D&D and Traveller.  Generic systems interested me, GURPS tried to hard to allow all genres all the time, and FUDGE required a lot of setup work and had problems with advancement. FATE (which is based on FUDGE) answered helped with a lot of that, but you still needed skill lists for the players, for whatever setting you decided to settle on.

Even so, I was changing as a gamer. I cared less and less about the system, and how it simulated the world, and more and more about having fun and telling good stories.  I started writing more and more, and telling tales became more important.

I started looking at narrativist games.  These games tied the mechanics of their systems heavily into the story world and the character motivations.  They were limited in scope — you always play an amnesiac in A Penny for My Thoughts; you always play a horrible minion in My Life With Master.  These games vary, but in general they get player buy in to the setting by tying character, mechanics and setting tightly together.

In doing so, through the character and mechanics, it invest the player in the story.  In most of these games, players can frame scenes or decide how they work out.  In some the GM is very limited in what she can do, to allow for more player freedom and involvement in the story.

None of these systems were perfect, but they were often perfect microcosms.  Instead of one big perfect game, you had many that were perfect within their scope.  The problem is, you have a fun game, and you say “Anyone want to play amnesiacs, or people who don’t sleep, or…” whatever, but it’s not quite what everyone wants to do.  So you play a bit more D&D.

And that is where we get to Bhaloidam.

The first time I saw someone play Bhaloidam (long before it was called that) was at PAX.  Corvus and I were friends from online — I’d been following his blog for some time, and we’d been talking on IRC for a while.  Meeting him (and a bunch of other people) was one of my main reasons to go to PAX.  Another, not wholly unrelated, was to see and play Bhaloidam.

I watched as Corvus ran the players (three folks I didn’t recognize nor remember) through what sounded like a fairly typical RPG scenario.  They were homeless teens, being trained or taunted by a Fagin type character.  This was a battle, and I watched as they rolled dice, and moved around the board. One of the players said, “I’m going to knock him into the trashcan.”

“No, no,” Corvus said.  “Roll the dice first, then tell me what happened.”

And I thought hmmm.

The dice were rolled, and it went very well for the player.  “Now,” Corvus said, “You can do something else if you want, because the dice is more than you need than to just attack him.”  He went on to describe the mechanical aspects, which involved moving the Fagin character behind a trashcan or something, and improving the overall lot of the part in creative ways.

Players already have some investment in their characters.  Some expand that to an investment in the story being told.  By letting these player say what happened, to tell the story that makes their characters heroes (or whatever they want them to be), Bhaloidam was leveraging that investment into investment in the story.  Like narrativist games, the storytelling balance shifts a bit from the GM to the players, and everyone gets more involved.

My turn to try out the game came a few hours later.with several of my closer online friends: Dierdre Kiai, Travis Megill, and Max Battcher.  “We’re doing something different, if you don’t mind,” Corvus said.

“Go for it,” I said.  Different is good. If I wanted to fight enemies, I have a bookcase full of D&D books.

He then went on to describe to me what has become known as the Kiai-Megill variant.  I had a slip of paper with a secret, a suspicion and a short background written on it.  I had one of the character boards, and quickly placed my token on it, describing my character.  (Or it was done for me — I’ve done it several times since, and it’s pretty straightforward, and probably even easier with actual tokens in your hand than on a spreadsheet).

In this version, which Corvus writes about recently, and which Travis described closer to the time we played, we didn’t move about a board.  We could talk, when it was our turn (and we could adjust when that was).  As our Ego was spilt (as we lost health, so to speak), we could be pushed to reveal some of our secrets, suspicions or other information.  The whole thing was just us talking, but it felt balanced, nuanced and yet mechanically played just like the earlier group who was fighting.

Most of narrativist games today do that by tying everything to the setting, but Corvus has found a good way to do that without tying to setting, so we can collectively tell any story we can imagine. I’m pretty sure that Bhaloidam is my next step along the way of searching for that perfect game.  I’ve backed the Kickstarter, and so can you.

Elder Scrolls Replay: Arena, Part 2

If there had never been another Elder Scrolls game, Arena would have been forgotten, or fondly remembered by a few gamers but largely ignored today.  Perhaps there would have been a bad third-person console game made from the license a few years ago, and then nothing else.  Instead the parts of Arena that are interesting today aren’t the main gameplay elements, but the rich, fertile soil of everything else that surrounds and feels almost extraneous to the actual play of the game.

The brick which hold Arena together is dungeon crawling.  You find a dungeon (either by wandering there yourself, or by following the very bare-bones plot), you enter and kill monsters and gather treasure, balancing treasure against what you can physically carry (which seemed both a maximum number of items as well as a maximum weight of items — the latter affected by your strength statistic).  You level up, which gets you more health, mana and stamina and makes you better at fighting; more importantly the equipment you find makes the biggest difference.  You get to the bottom of the dungeon — and if you’re on a quest — get the Maguffin of Awesomeness, and get out and move on to the next thing… which is also a dungeon crawl.

Each dungeon is a set of 2D levels filled with monsters, some optional some not.  There are a lot of ways to deal with them: melee, bows, magic spells.  Be invisible, or use passwall to undo the maze of the dungeon, if you can.  Each ends in a riddle more appropriate for a modern westerner, but not completely out of place (unlike the one in Swords of Xeen that asked my who the captain of the Enterprise-D was).

The levels are hard, often brutal and were what ultimately crushed my desire to keep playing.  There wasn’t anything amazing about them — they were just hard, and it wasn’t getting better.  This is possibly due — at least in part — to my getting one of the best non-magical swords in the game in the first or second dungeon.  With no improvement, things just kept getting harder and harder and more frustrating.  Eventually I got tired of hammering my head against these bricks, but they weren’t the most interesting thing, anyway.

The mortar which holds these bricks together is the world of Tamriel itself.  It’s a huge world — the largest of any of the TES games, Arena covers all the provinces of the Empire — the worlds of Daggerfall, Morrowind, Oblivion and Skyrim are all contained within it. The different provinces are here, the playable races where they are from, the cities.  You can go to Daggerfall and Wayrest; Mournhold and Ebonheart.   The cities are populated by (largely) the race from that province, and you can talk to them about work; or where there’s a nearby temple, inn, shop or mages guild; or even about who they are and what they do (I met a disproportionate number of butchers).

The inns are there for rest and side quests — the majority of which were about taking someone from one location in the city to another, or typical fetch quests.  These paid cash — more as you leveled — that would help you buy or repair your equipment, get more potions and spells.  In my play through the main quest, I rarely bought equipment — that early good sword kept me from needing it, and my chosen class prohibited most armor, but I did repair my main weapon several times (this took days of game time, passed in an inn). The Mages guild has a spellmaker that wasn’t very different than the one in Oblivion, and sold potions which were pretty necessary for navigating the dungeons.

All of this is evocative of the later games, and the forms are there — if refined and made more complex (or simpler, in some cases).  It hit me when I was in Hammerfell, which I think is the province of the first staff piece/maguffin retrieval quest.  It was the names of the Inns, and my knowledge of the Redguards (I enjoyed the game Redguard enough that I paid more attention to them in later games, and to Sentinel in Daggerfall when I replayed it years ago).   I can’t quite place specifics, but the names felt right for what I knew of those people.  Swords and ships and desert, and a refugee people — it was there.  Maybe it was in the minds of some BethSoft people back then, or maybe they looked through all these names and worked into the subconscious of the writers.

I like to think that it’s the latter, and that all this grew naturally from the early seed that is Arena.  From what I know about the Warp in the West (which I’ll discuss more in my Daggerfall article), I think that’s the case.  Without all that later germination, though, this game would just be hard — some part of it would be fun, as it the difficulty and newness of it (new to me, anyway) was quite fun.

But mostly, for me, it was tourism.  Going to places I had been before, in the future of the game (Daggerfall and Wayrest). Places I couldn’t quite go yet (Skyrim).  Looking back on just how much raw materials were there to make the next game — both the richness and the flaws of Elder Scrolls are here in Arena.  I’ll talk more about that in my Daggerfall posts, because I think exemplifies all the best and worst of the Elder Scrolls.

 

 

 

Shattered Earth in Play

A few months ago, I started a campaign with my Shattered Earth setting.  It was the product of some soul-searching about what makes a game fun for me as a GM, and what makes a game fun for the particular players that I have. As such, the setting is quite different than anything I’ve done before, and the restrictions I’ve put on myself have led for some interesting storytelling.  One thing that appeals to me is that I don’t see just one story here, or one campaign.  There’s more than I can do in this setting than a single game, and that makes me happy.

Constraints are wonderful things, and lead to a burst of creativity.  For SE, I had a few important constraints: I invited a lot of people, from all over, all of whom have fairly conflicting schedules. It was originally going to be an online game (and I could still do this in the future).  It would be easy for someone to be at one session, then never again for weeks when they’d show up for another session.  One of our players who has been regular since she showed up will be dropping in and out, I suspect, as her work schedule changes.

To accommodate this, I made two changes to the way I normally run things.  First, I calculate experience for everyone who was there on a per player basis, then I reward that to everyone.  It means everyone is always the same level, so those who can’t show up don’t fall behind.  To reward the players who are there, and for extraordinary play, I’ve added faction tokens, which can be turned in for favors from factions, or for a bonus for dealing with the faction.

I don’t have concrete mechanics for this yet, but the tokens represent influence with a faction, and that’s not always spent.  I’ll probably require that the players relinquish a token for something big and extraordinary, but that the total represents how the group gets along with them.  It hasn’t been used a lot yet, but we’re still in an introductory part of the adventure, where I’m putting things into play.

The other important thing is that whatever I run has to be done the day we start it.  There can be threads that carry over (and there are a lot of those right now).  But no stopping in the middle of a dungeon, or in the middle of the mystery of the week.  (I reserve the right to have a multi-session murder mystery sometime.)  This way there’s no hand-waving about where a character came from or went to in the middle of the dungeon.

In fact this requirement has largely done away with the large dungeon crawl, which I’ve come to realize is one of the things I have the least patience with as a GM.  They are fun to draw and set up, but they’re a bit of a bore to get through.  There’s no spontaneity to a dungeon — it’s all drawn there on your paper, and while you have plans that surely get wrecked by the party, often that’s not the case.

Instead, what I’ve been doing is borrowed form 4E, where I design encounters.  Those encounters are connected by plot, or a hallway, or whatever. I can make that up that day, out of several plans, and in response to the party.  I can say, “I like that” when someone says something at the table, and change the plot to make that work.  (Sometimes I forget to say “I like that”, but it does happen fairly often.)

A recent article I read talked about making combat go faster, and after timing it the author realized that he as GM was the main time sync, and had gone about trying to fix it.  I thought about that, and for the last couple game sessions, I’ve written all the stats for the main monster groups on a 3×5 card, and pre-rolled initiative in the upper right corner.  The players all have a card too, with their init on it, and I just work through the stack.

The only thing that doesn’t work well is HP counting as the NPC isn’t on a card in front of me when the player attacks, but otherwise it goes much faster.  I only had to consult the rule books twice on our session on Saturday. Once was because I thought I’d written something down on the card wrong (I hadn’t, but I could have been neater) and I don’t remember what the other was about, unfortunately.

The other thing he talked about was having a self-made GM Screen with the rules you need on it.  I don’t use a screen, but I did print out the rules on object damage, since that was a key to the adventure and something I was rusty on.  All in all, we ran 6 combat sessions (one, particularly the last one was incredibly short), but we’ve normally only been able to do 2. I was worried about time, and we were done right on time for dinner, which made me happy.

No one was frustrated, including me, and things went well.  I plan to keep working with this system,expanding on it as I go.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Avencast

Avencast is an action RPG by ClockStone Software, an Austrian game development company.  I’d never heard of it, until I saw it on Steam, and there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of it either.  I’ve found that a lot of Action RPGs, like this one, don’t make a big splash within my user community.

In Avencast you play as a student in a school of mages, just coming of age when the whole place is attacked by demons.  The rest of the game is spent fighting demons and possessed apprentices and masters, doing quests for the few survivors and trying to stop the demon invasion.  The story itself isn’t bad for a gaming story, but it’s primarily an excuse for all the fighting. One of the story arcs ends on a comedic note right before the final big battle, which feels a bit off to me, but again, story isn’t this games’ strong point.

In fact the story is pretty much what you’d expect, nothing fancy.  This game does take risks though, and that’s worth talking about.

Most of the action RPGs I’ve played are based on the Diablo click-to-slay model.  A power or attack is mapped to each of the mouse buttons (with a quick keypress to swap those things around) and you click on monsters to kill them, and click on things to pick them up, and so forth. It’s a mouse oriented game, with either a fixed camera, or one which floats over the shoulder of your hero, or something simple like that.  Torchlight uses the same interface, with the button bar at the bottom mapped to hotkeys (aka the World of Warcraft interface model).

Avencast is nothing like this at all.

Instead, the system is more based on that of fighting games, where you push a sequence of keys (left, up, down) and then a mouse button (left for melee attack, right for ranged) in order to cast a spell.  The spell then goes off based on it’s area of affect — some summon monsters or add buffs, some have a cone or line based on your facing and the placement of your mouse.  I played as a ranged character, so the melee method may be more click-to-kill, since you’d probably click directly on the enemy you want to attack, but ranged required some aiming, and thought about the shape of the spell.

The key combinations were frustrating, and since you were pressing your movement keys, the combination of facing, and movement to cast spells made things awkward.  A guide suggested some alternate keymappings, and I was able to map the 1-8 keys to 8 spells — I needed more of that, but I could then put 8 spells up on the screen so I could see their combos, and that got me through the game.

It was an interesting experiment, I think, and it somewhat worked.  Although I realized to myself how much I made it into the Blizzard style interface that is becoming common, in large part, I think, because it works. Having to do fighter-combo type spells while being in a third person viewpoint was a bit awkward at first, but 12 hours or so into the game it became easier — by then I’d largely settled into the spells and types of spells I’d be casting, though, and had seen most kinds of monsters and had strategies for fighting them.

Overall (on Easy) it took me 16 hours to play it (thanks Steam for counting), and while I might have a more refined thought about the game if I played a bit on melee, there’s nothing there to call me back to it.

There are things which are annoyances today — not everything that was clickable (the various things which are containers in the world don’t glow or highlight when moused over, so I’m sure I missed much of them).  The overall experience was a bit grind-y, as the only reason to go to some areas was to kill more monsters (and since they don’t respawn this is necessary to level).

According to the game’s wiki, Avencast’s engine was written by the founder of ClockStone, and he had several people working with him, none of whom had any previous experience in game design.  This sufficiently explains the rough edges of the game to me, and those are largely why I probably won’t play it again

I am glad my alphabetical playthrough forced me to do it, as this game had an interesting idea or two in it.  It was just buried under some learning curves and rough edges that were frustrating.