Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Deathwatch: Free RPG Day Impressions

Free RPG Day was this past Saturday, and I was able to participate in a Deathwatch game using the Final Sanction adventure produced by FFG for the event. It looks like an interesting game. It uses the same core system as Dark Heresy and Rogue Trader, which in turn was based on the 2nd Edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay rules originally developed for Games Workshop by Green Ronin. I point this out in the interest of full disclosure, because I'm a bit of a Green Ronin fanboi, and to point out that the game is based on a pretty solid system.

There are some interesting additions made to the system to better capture the sort of situations that nine foot tall super-soldiers in power armor are likely to find themselves in. Namely, the Horde rules. These rules group units of lesser beings (like rebel mobs or Imperial Guard troops) into single stat blocs that have special rules associated with them. The biggest of these special rules is that instead of hit points they have Magnitude. Magnitude is used both to record hits and to multiply the damage done by Hordes. As the Magnitude of a Horde drops so does its potential to do damage. There's also a morale rule using Magnitude whereby a Horde has to take a break test if it takes too much damage in one turn. If it fails, then the Horde is eliminated as any survivors flee.

While damage to a Horde is taken off the Horde's Magnitude, it does not act exactly like hit points do for individual creatures or characters. Instead of doing regular damage, a hit simply removes one point of Magnitude. This means that a hit from a bolt pistol does as much damage to a horde as a hit from a las cannon. In each case only removing one individual from thee mob. What really hurts Hordes are autofire weapons and blast weapons, which is to be expected as such weapons being fired into a group of people are going to do a lot more damage. Melee weapons also have a decent chance of doing more damage to Hordes, presumably because the users are wading into the Horde and downing foes left and right.

I don't want to get too specific with the rules, but for those unfamiliar with the 40K RPG system, it's percentile based where you attempt to roll under your skill or attribute to succeed at a task. By every 10 points that you succeed by, you are considered to have one "degree" of success. Every degree of success against a Horde with an autofire weapon does an extra hit and every two degrees of success against a Horde with a melee weapon does an extra hit. Since Hordes are at a +20 to hit due to their size, this makes those weapons likely to do multiple hits every time a Marine successfully uses them.

We played the system completely wrong at Free RPG Day (we treated the Magnitude as if they were hit points rather than as I just described above), but based on what we did do compared to what we should have done, I think these new rules should capture the powerful nature of Space Marines quite well. A Horde can still take down a Marine, but if the Marine uses the proper weapons for the job, then he can wade through those Hordes just like the Marines from the novels do.

One other system that I wasn't quite as impressed by, and that we really didn't use at Free RPG Day, was the Demeanours. Each Marine gets two Demeanours. One is based on his Chapter, and one is a personal Demeanour. These basically act as extra Fate points that can be used when taking an action that fits the Demeanour. The Marine is supposed to get an extra bonus if he really plays out his Demeanour well. This bonus is in the form of doubling the effect of the Fate point.

The idea is to bring a bit of character and roleplaying to what is otherwise a game about a squad of super soldiers killing things. I appreciate the effort, but I don't know how well it's going to work. There are two problems I see. The first is that the Demeanours are only useable once per session. This means that as a player I'm only going to be looking for ways to bring my Demeanour into play when I really need an extra Fate point, and ignoring them the rest of the time. If I didn't have this limitation, then I'd be looking for ways to bring in my Demeanours all the time, and thereby better emphasizing my character's personality.

The second problem is that some Demeanours are far more useful than others. In Final Sanction I played an Assault Marine with the Hot-Blooded Personal Demeanour. This is ridiculously easy to use in play. On the other hand, his Chapter Demeanour is Son of the Lion which basically means he's secretive, introverted, and untrusting. I could see this coming into play, but rarely in a way that it would apply directly to a roll. Other Personal Demeanours in the group included Gregarious and Studious, neither likely to come into play much in combat, where extra Fate points are most likely to be needed in a Deathwatch game.

Perhaps I'm being overly critical, and maybe it will work better in practice than it would seem to, but while I admire the goal here, I'm not sure that the execution really works.

Still, the game overall is looking promising, and while I don't know if I'll ever get the chance to play it again, I'm looking forward to seeing the full rules.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Warlords of Europe

It's not often that I get the chance to have a game demoed to me by the designer, so after Warlords of Europe designer Ken Griffin took the time to demo his game at Castle House this past Wednesday, I think it's only fair that I take the time to review the game he designed.

I generally like to start my reviews with the bad first, and then move on to the good points, and this review is no different. I emphasize this because while I am critical of some aspects of this game, I have a lot of good things to say too, so be sure and read it all.

I'll start by stating up front that the style of game that Warlords represents really isn't my thing anymore. It has its roots firmly in the "ameritrash" style of games typified by Risk and Axis & Allies, and I've come to prefer "eurogame" style games.

Two key elements of Warlords' design really stand out as negatives to me: player elimination and the lack of a timer mechanism to keep the game from going on for an extended period of time. These are pretty big red flags to me in the games I now choose to play, and will probably keep me from adding this game to my personal collection.

That said, if those aren't factors that are important to you, then there's a lot to like about this game. To start with, the game is pretty to look at. The map is beautiful, and the plastic pieces are well done. Like most games of its type, things can get crowded on the map as play progresses, but using the provided token chips helps keep things under control such that the overall visual experience is pleasant.

The mechanics of the game are fairly simple, but well implemented. Combat is a matter of both sides rolling a die for each unit against a target number determined by how good the unit is. A success makes the opponent remove a unit. The target number is always the same, but the defender may get to use larger dice if in defensive terrain, making it more likely that the attacker will take casualties. There are a few other factors that are involved, but that's basically it. A combat continues until either one side is wiped out, or the attacker retreats.

There's a basic economic engine in the game, where players collect money based on how much territory they control. Different types of territory are worth varying amounts of income. Players can also earn bonus income in certain situations, such as controlling all the territories of a kingdom. Money is used mainly to buy more troops, but can also be used for a few other things.

Players all take their individual turns moving and attacking before taking common turns collecting and spending their income. This keeps things from getting too Risk-like with huge armies being deployed and used before anyone else can respond. New forces are deployed by all players before any player gets to use their new forces.

One of the most interesting parts of the game is the three card decks: conquest, papal, and merchant. These cards all provide unique abilities when played, usually either being instantaneous or lasting over one turn. Players usually have the opportunity to earn one of each type of card per turn, depending on what they do. A conquest card is earned if a player conquers at least one territory that turn, a papal card is earned automatically unless the player has earned papal disfavor, and a merchant card is bought with money.

A lot of the strategy of the game is deciding when to use the cards you have. Used properly they can often turn the tide of a battle. They also provide a lot of flavor to the game through the descriptions of what is causing the mechanical effects the card describes, such as the outbreak of plague, the return of crusaders, or the uprising of peasants.

There are different scenarios based on how many players there are (the game allows for 2 to 4 players), and how long a game they want to play. We played a "shorter" scenario and three hours later we called it quits as it was getting late, and it was apparent who was most likely to win. It probably would have taken another hour to play through to its conclusion had we continued, so even the short scenarios can still be lengthy.

It reminded me of Axis & Allies in many ways, both good and bad, and if you like Axis & Allies, then I think you could really get into this game too.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The State of Games Workshop

I don't generally make a blog post just to link to something else, but I found this analysis of Games Workshop's financials by Purple Pawn interesting enough to justify it (thanks to Michael for linking to it on Buzz).

Friday, June 11, 2010

Qin: The Warring States

I recently finished reading the Qin rulebook (well, most of it, I skipped the included adventure, and skimmed some of the ability lists, but I read the rules and background sections), and as I've been doing for most books I've been reading lately, I wrote up a review for Goodreads. While doing so, I realized that it would also make a good blog post, so I've expanded it a bit, and reposted it here.

Whether or not you choose to use the mechanics of the game, the book is a good sourcebook for gaming in the Warring States period of China's history. There's around a hundred pages just on the history, politics and life of the period. I've read a number of games set in the history of either China or Japan, and this is the first to really give me a sense of how to run a game in the setting (admittedly somewhat enhanced by having watched Hero and other movies set in the period).

The mechanics of the game look interesting, but reviews by those who have actually used them indicate there may be some weaknesses. Namely, criticals seem to give too much power to the "mooks" in the setting, taking away from the ability of powerful martial artists to deal with hordes of mooks like they do in the movies and legends of the period. Also, characters not overly specialized in combat turn out to be relative weaklings due to the way the number of actions allowed to each character during each combat round is calculated. Rather than canceling each other out, these two factors together seem to make some character concepts less viable than others while at the same time undermining a core theme of the setting.

For now I'm taking those reviewers' word for this. I can see by reading the rules that this might be a problem, but I haven't actually played the game to see for myself.

My main concern with the book is the mythical back story that the authors have created for the metaplot that they intend to run throughout the game as it is developed in further products. I'm not against metaplot, but the one they have constructed seems to miss one of the main points of the Warring States period.

As far as I can tell, this backstory is largely a creation of the game's authors, and not based on an existing legend. I could be wrong, as I'm no expert on the period, but some time spent googling the issue didn't turn anything up.

Their secret back story turns Qin into the "good guys". The Qin were not "good guys". They won, and the fact that they won probably led to a better existence for most Chinese of the time, but they won through ruthless tactics and were led by a man that some consider to have been insane. This contradiction is one of the unique factors to playing a game in the period, and by making Qin the "good guys" you miss out on this and eliminate some very interesting roleplaying opportunities and choices.

Fortunately, you can ignore the back story whether you use the system or not, and the book is still well worth checking out if you have an interest in the period.

Worth noting is that this is a translation of the original French game. So far only the core rules, the Game Master's Screen with a small supplement, and a bestiary of fantastic creatures have been translated into English, but there are over a half dozen other products already produced in French.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Changing Links (Again)

Just another maintenance post. After talking about changing the links around the other day I decided to go ahead and break out the blogs from the other links, and now have a blog list in addition to the link list. This shows other blogspot blogs I follow in order of the most recent update, along with a little snippet from that last post.

I also took the opportunity to add a couple more blogs that I follow to the list.

Most everyone else I know who is blogging uses this app already, and I like it, so I figured it was time I added it. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Dogs in Liz' Vineyard

We had our character generation session for Liz' Dogs in the Vineyard campaign on Monday, and despite two of the five players having to bail at the last minute, we still had a good time. We only had one complete newb to the system, but it had been long enough since I ran my one-shot that the rest of us had to get re-acquainted with some of the rules.

Liz came prepared with a questionnaire about our characters that she wanted us to fill out. While I didn't find every question on the questionnaire useful, overall it was a great idea, and helped focus some of the ideas I had for my character.

I also got to scratch my GMing itch when Emily came up with an initiation concept that Liz didn't feel like running. I had an idea on how to do it, so she let me run it instead, which I really appreciated.

While it was fun to do a little GMing, it also made me realize that I'm going to have to work some to keep from "back-seat GMing" the game. Hopefully once we're actually playing I'll be too busy playing my own character to interfere much.

I like my character. I deliberately made him a little bland to start with, because I want to play a sheltered character going out and running smack into the real world. Because of this I had some trouble thinking up traits at first, but in the end I came up with a set that I'm pretty happy with.

I'm also liking what I've seen of Emily's and Jonathan's characters. It should be interesting how they all develop over the course of the game.

I'm now looking forward to the first full session. Unfortunately, that's probably not for another three weeks as we have a NWARPG meeting and a Magpie Gaming Night first.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Changing Paradigms (Or At Least Links)

I'm not sure how many have noticed them hidden amongst all the other apps I have on the sidebar here, but there's a handful of links to other sites I find of interest. Specifically, there are links to my other blog, blogs by a couple of my friends, a couple of forums I frequent, and links to two of my favorite game stores.

It's these last two links that are undergoing the change. When first adding the links I linked to the websites that the stores maintain, but those links seem to be less and less relevant. One has never had much more than a placeholder page linked to a forum that gets little traffic, and the other has been deliberately moving more content over to their Facebook page, going so far as to take down their private forums in favor of moving discussion over to Facebook.

With this in mind, I'm changing my links to point to the Facebook pages for both stores, rather than their websites. Those pages either include all the relevant information pertinent to their store, such as address, phone number and store hours, or at least link back to their website that has that information. In fact, one of the stores has far more information on their Facebook page than they do on their website.

I decided to make a post about changing the links simply because I find it interesting that such a change seems to be appropriate, and to alert anyone who reads my blog to the Facebook presence of these stores. Just in case they didn't already know.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Store Tour - Northwest Arkansas

A while back I read a thread on EN World (not a forum I frequent, but the thread was linked off another blog that I do), I decided that it would be a good idea to do a run down of the local retail gaming establishments. Then I promptly procrastinated. It turned out that I wasn't the only one thinking along these lines, as Liz created a Google Map showing local stores for the NWARPG forums, which eventually caused me to stop procrastinating and actually finish this "store tour" idea.

The problem with doing what the guys on EN World were doing is that I'm cheap and lazy and don't really feel like driving around to the various stores in the area just to write up a blog post, so instead I'm going to go by memory with a dash of rumor thrown in. Not ideal, but better than nothing, and I suspect that after I post this, I may end up getting more information. Also, since there's only really one "true" game store in the area, I'm going to include all the stores that I'm aware of that carry at least some hobby games.

Barnes & Noble: First on the list because it begins with "B". There are two locations in Northwest Arkansas, one in Fayetteville, and one in Rogers. They generally carry a number of RPG books, mostly D&D with a handful of other titles. The one in Fayetteville had some Shadowrun books, and some Dark Heresy books the last time I checked. It's been well over a year now since I've been to the one in Rogers, but they had a similar selection back then. The Fayetteville store now has a permanent board game section (as opposed to the seasonal section it had in the past), and I imagine that the one in Rogers may as well. It's mostly full of dreck like Monopoly variants, but has a handful of good games as well.

Castle House Hobbies & Games: Next up in alphabetical order is the only "true" game store currently in Northwest Arkansas. Located in Fayetteville, this store carries board games, miniatures games, card games and roleplaying games. It has the best selection in Northwest Arkansas, but that's not to say there isn't room for improvement. I wish there was a bit more selection in some areas, but it's still one of the best to ever grace the region. They do have the largest gaming area in Northwest Arkansas and are fairly free with its use as long as it doesn't interfere with a scheduled event. They have several such events that run there, including regular ones for CCGs and the Boardgame Night I run, as well as several RPG groups that meet there regularly, and periodic Warhammer 40K tournaments.

Dickson Street Used Books: This is an awesome used book store located in Fayetteville, but its connection to gaming is pretty thin. There's often a small selection of used RPGs available here, but it's very hit or miss as to whether or not there's anything worth buying.

Gamer's Utopia: This is a new store that apparently just opened up in the Frisco Station Mall in Rogers. I know nothing about it beyond the fact that they hold Magic tournaments. This may be a second "true" game store, but I don't know yet if that's the case.

Hastings: Another big chain, it's been a couple of years since I visited, but when I did it had a selection comparable to Barnes & Noble, with a bit more variety, as well as a handful of used game books. As something of a historical footnote, this store once carried the full GW line of miniatures and a huge selection of CCGs, but that was well over a decade ago. There are stores in Fayetteville and Springdale.

Rock Bottom Books: This store in Fayetteville is one of the comic shops in Northwest Arkansas. The only reason I included it is that they sell a few CCGs and have a couple of bookcases of used games, mostly RPGs with a few wargames. Prices tend to be a bit high for the used games, but partly as a result of that they usually have a better selection than Dickson Street Used Books.

Tshirt Explosion: I have yet to go to the new location in Springdale, but I have it on reliable authority that it is like the old location in that from the outside there is no indication that this business has anything to do with gaming. On the inside is a large selection of GW product as well as several gaming tables. I'm unsure as to the hours those tables are available. Based on posts I've seen it seems rather hit and miss. The owner runs two annual miniatures tournaments, one for Warhammer Fantasy and one for Warhammer 40K. Both are fairly well attended, drawing quite a few players who make a trip here to play in them (incidentally, Patriot Games, the 40K tournament, is going on as I post this).

Vintage Stock: The other comic store in the area that I'm aware of, Vintage Stock has three locations: Fayetteville, Springdale, and Rogers. Although in the past they had a rather extensive selection of GW merchandise and RPGs, today they only carry CCGs, which is just enough to justify putting them on this list, but not enough to make me a customer.

That's pretty much it. As far as I know, you have to travel at least 120 miles in any given direction to get to another game store, (Springfield, MO; Tulsa, OK; and Russellville, AR being the closest three that I'm aware of).

There's some small possibility that the Hobbytown that recently closed in Bentonville might reopen under new ownership, but that's just rumor at this point, and not very reliable rumor.

2013 Edit:  Hastings and Castle House are no more, but in their place we have two new stores:
Gear Gaming in Fayetteville and Galaxy Games in Springdale.

Both stores have good play areas, but limited selections of merchandise. They are both responsive to their customers' suggestions as to what to stock, so will generally try to have the "new hotness" if it's available and they have been made aware of it.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Rolling it Old School

We finally got in another session of Magpie Gaming Night this past Monday, and I ran a one shot adventure for Swords & Wizardry White Box. It wasn't anything too fancy, but I had fun, and I think the players did too. After a lot of indy games it was nice to get back to some classic hack and slash for a little bit.

The players each rolled up a 4th level character. We ended up with a Cleric, a Magic-User and an Elf. The adventure found them killing time at a tavern (imagine that!), when the small town they were in found themselves inundated by a horde of undead, mostly skeletons and zombies. The cleric went to turn them, but found them strangely resistant to his efforts. He could still turn them, but it was not as easy as it should have been.

The group held back the major push of the undead long enough for most of the villagers to make it to the keep before being forced to retreat into the keep themselves. As the drawbridge was being raised the cleric fell, and the others pulled him back into the keep where they were met by a Lieutenant Nunoz who led them to the makeshift infirmary to drop off their fallen comrade before heading to a meeting with the commandant.

The commandant outlined the situation, which they were already mostly aware of, and then conscripted them into the militia for the duration of the siege. He explained that they could spend the time on the walls if they wished, but that he had a special mission that he believed they would be perfect for, if they were willing to volunteer.

He had reason to believe that there was a necromancer behind the attack, and he wanted the group to find and deal with the necromancer in the hopes that once the necromancer was gone the siege would be lifted. The party agreed, and the cleric was raised from the dead by the local priestess so that he could help them (don't ask why a priestess of high enough level to raise dead couldn't deal with a horde of skeletons and zombies on her own, this is not the plot hole you're looking for...).

If this had been a campaign I would have come up with some sort of system other than the default one of zero hit points leading automatically to death, but as a one shot I tried to just let the dice fall where they may for most of the adventure.

Lieutenant Nunoz led them out of a secret tunnel that opened beyond most of the siege lines. A short skirmish got them the rest of the way through, and they eventually decided to follow the tracks of the shambling horde back to where they came from in the hopes of locating the necromancer.

They managed to track him down to a broken down tower on the edge of an old battlefield. On the way they destroyed one of his wight lieutenants. In the tower they found another wight along with the necromancer working on animating more undead. They destroyed the wight, but only after it drained one of the cleric's levels, while the necromancer decided to exercise discretion and used a combination of hold portal and dimensional portal to delay the group long enough for him to get away and join up with the main part of his undead horde.

This was the one point in the adventure where I decided to pull a punch for the good of the game. The necromancer had a fireball ready to go, but as I looked over the spell again, I realized it would almost certainly lead to a total party kill if he used it on the group, so I decided that instead of using it on them, he was going to use it to attempt to breach the walls of the keep.

So, instead of using his one fireball on the group, he escaped from them and returned to the keep, where he used it to burn through the gate of the keep.

It took a while for the group to figure out where the necromancer had gone, so they arrived just in time to see the gate on fire and getting ready to collapse, with the horde of undead getting ready to storm in.

They attacked, and while the cleric kept the undead away with successful turning, the others managed to take down the necromancer. As he realized he was about to be defeated, he polymorphed into a small dragon to gain the protection of its scales and to fly away, but just as he was about to escape, the magic-user thumped him on the head with her staff and brought him down!

All-in-all I thought it was a fun little adventure, and I think the ending worked out pretty well considering that I really didn't have anything planned beyond "confront the necromancer".

It was definitely a big change from the kinds of games we've been playing up to this point. We've been playing mostly games with systems built in for handling social conflict, and Swords & Wizardry doesn't even have skills!

Thursday, June 03, 2010


We had our first Board Game Night where we had too many players for the featured game! I've been saying that this has been coming for a while now. I think it was Liz who even suggested that I was jinxing it by predicting it, but thanks to Seth bringing his wife and a couple of friends we finally did it!

This meant that we got to break out a second game to be played simultaneously with the featured game. While I explained the rules to Ideology to the main group, Jonathan set up and figured out the rules to Horus Heresy.

Liz ended up winning the Ideology game, while I proceeded to lose a game of Horus Heresy.

While I don't think this will be an every week occurrence yet, I certainly hope this isn't the last time that we have this many people! For those keeping score, eight people showed up, although once chose not to play.

Incidentally, I don't know if I'll do a full review, but I wasn't impressed by Horus Heresy. It wasn't because I lost, but how I lost. I think the odds were that Jonathan was going to win anyway, but instead of a hard fought game coming down to the wire, I saw all my hard work undone by a single random event card draw. Just about the worst way to lose a game in my opinion, and something I consider to be a serious flaw in the game. I may give it another try eventually, but where I'd been looking forward to giving it a try, now I'll probably have to be talked into it before giving it another go.