Space Age

December 6, 2011

I am working on a SF adaptation of the Dragon Age RPG rules, hence the name Space Age.  Probably the three biggest changes I am making to the rules are (1) no classes (2) no levels and (3) much lower initial health and maximum health.  Changes (1) and (2) are linked together.  For a futuristic game, restricting initial player stories to three classes feels to narrow to me.  Instead, I prefer a broader range of modern professions to be available as background elements in the character generation.  By having no levels, what I will have instead is sessional experience, which the players are free to spend as they choose on developing their characters.  They could emphasise developing their attributes, their skills, or their masteries.

Low health pools reflect a desire on my part to fit multiple short combats into a single four hour gaming session.  When characters have 60 health, 10 points of armour, a defence of 18, and the weapons that only do 2d6+3 damage, then combat becomes very drawn out … it only starts to get tense if you drop into a zone where a special success and stunt points could let an opponent do 4d6 damage.  So why not start combats in a state of tension?

Low health does incentivise play towards being cautious, setting up ambushes, and min-maxing defences and healing options.

From a mechanical point of view, I can have pistol weapons doing 1d6 damage, rifles doing 2d6 damage, and then I can have exotic high tech weapons doing 3d6 damage.  I would rank light armour at three points, medium armour at six, and heavy armour at 10 points.

Initial health depends on background more than constitution.  So characters from privileged backgrounds, who get the benefits of literacy, education, credits, etc, start with low HP totals (as low as 10), and characters from proletarian/feral backgrounds start with higher HP totals (as high as 15).  There are no levels, so Constitution is a one-time bonus at the initial character generation.  In play I would allow a limited number of HP boosts to be purchased, and one qualifier for these would be “survive being reduced to zero health” – a hard to kill feat.  I think someone would be doing well to get over 30 HP though.

For background, my inspiration draws on classic space opera like Andre Norton’s Solar Queen series and various Forerunner books, Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy, and Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity. Technology will include various pulpy tropes like Ansibles for FTL communication, FTL travel, intimidating Blaster weapons, stun guns, cloaking devices.  I am not sure about cyber/biotechnological modification, its not intended to be a Cyberpunk in Space game.  I’ll write more about the background in another post, although I imagine the setting to be a few centuries post the start of the diaspora from Earth, after first contact with aliens, and immediately after the end of a brutal war against a Saberhagen style exterminating menace.

The next trick, is to figure out what the players do.  There are two types of space RPG campaigns, those where the players have a starship, and those where they do not.  I have run both in the past, with mixed success.  Another option is to imitate Deep Space Nine/Babylon-5, with the characters based at a Casablanca Crossroads of the stars, in which case all the trouble comes to them rather than the other way around.

I’m leaning towards a trading/espionage game, with the players floating the eddies of vast political currents.  So a ship would be useful.  I think I’d make the ship the reward for successful completion of the first major story arc.  The starship does act as a mobile base, but it can also act as an anchor, as the players need to be very careful about its security.  Destroying a spaceship is just about as bad as killing a player character in terms of emotional impact.

A common way SF groups get split up, is simply by having a couple of people decide to stay on board rather than go shopping.  A solution for this that I’d like to try, is to adapt Ars Magica and allow the players to have multiple characters.  So one character can be bridge/engineering crew, another character can be a security red shirt, and a third character could do something more interesting (they can be the emo ninja with memory loss and a shiny forerunner artifact embedded in their spine).

Still a long way from looking for players, as the Dragon Age game has at least one more year to run yet.

RIFT: first impressions

April 24, 2011

Installation, took about an hour with the 2 GB download of patches.

First I played a Defiant warrior (paladin) to Level 20, then I played a Guardian rogue (assassin) to Level 20.  This gets you through the training quests and first major zone.

The Defiant storyline features a lot of fantasy technolgy, and a few examples of tech being used in situations where the means justifies the end.  There is some background dialogue in the starting instance where its clear that your comrades are using machines to turn living people into medical experiments.  The major story arc in the first zone is to deal with a former King, returned from the grave, and his army of crypt things.

The Guardians try to be more the good guys … if doing exactly what the Gods tell you to do is your idea of good.  The major story arc of the first zone is dealing with an Elf who is choosing to defend his own terriotry from Goblins, rather than sending all his resources off to Sanctum to do the Vigil’s bidding.

Its probably impossible to play a Defiant pacifist as you have to complete the story arc to leave the starter zone, which involves killing.

I ran into my first gold farmer spam within 70 minutes of play.  With my first character, just about the only trade chat in the city was from people trying to run gambling games.  With the second character, it was a bit better.

For the most part, the quests are the standard “Kill X Floozles”, “Collect Y Widgets” and “Express Delivery” to the next quest hub.  Not a lot of room for thinking here, although I found the rogues stealth ability allowed them to complete quests much more quickly as they could bypass a lot of potential enemies.  The poor warrior on the other hand spent a lot of time slowly killing things that objected to her breathing oxygen.  I did encounter one puzzle quest in the Defiant zone which was fun to do.  One annoyance I ran into, is that quests involving Elite NPCs that will squish you like a bug are not explicitly flagged for “bring friends with you or die”.

Quest hubs were okay.  I did get screwed around at first by the fact that the system stopped tracking your first five quests when it got another five.  So I had a few cases where I revisited an area 3-4 times.

Public quests and automatic grouping are a major feature of RIFT.  People can just invite you to groups, and you’re in the group without having to click accept.  When you encounter mobile armies of extra-planar invaders, or their actual invasion footholds, you get the option of joining any group that is already fighting them.  The main advantage of this, is that your will be easier for the healers to help in the default User Interface.  For the most part, I found invasion groups to be 100% Zerg and Zero% Communication.  I do wonder if rifts were ignored completely, where the game engine does allow the world to be overrun. Certainly if you play in short bursts the rifts can be extremely annoying, as they eat questgivers.

The pvp quests do not come with a warning that attempting them at level 11 will lead to pain and humiliation, which could be off-putting to a new player to MMOs.

Graphics are okay, tending towards green and dark shades in the zones I have seen so far.  More like LOTRO than WOW.  certainly the individual characters are pretty, although the plate/chain armour displays for female models are ridiculous … lots of exposed skin so that the gear you have by L20 makes you look a lot like a go go dancer.  A major plus for me was that when I looked at slope/wall and thought I can climb/jump it, I nearly always could do that, unlike WOW where I often mistake whetehr or not I can climb a particular slope on a hill – leading to much futile jumping on the spot.

User Interface is a lot like WOW, with a few more options than baseline WOW, but less customisation than you can get in WOW with addons.  The macro system might be a little more powerful in terms of stringing different abilities together.

In common with where many MMOs are going, each of the four main classes (Cleric, Mage, Rogue, Warrior) has multiple talent trees and options.  There are no pure dps classes, they nearly all have solid tanking/healing options.  So a Rogue includes assassins and bards and hunters with pets.  When you spend points in the talent “branches”, you get matching points in the talent “roots”.  So the roots provide common abilities, while the branches provide optional customisation.  The roots also make it hard to spend your talent points in a way that builds a complete failure of a character.  There is an increasing cap on how many points your can put into one soul tree, so as you level you are encouraged to spend a few points in the other trees open to you.  Access to multiple souls is interesting, but the early root abilities involve a lot of repetition of duplicate attacks (with different names and icons, took me a while to notice this and delete half the icons off my action bar).

I found the defiant city of Meridian to be grey and dull. I disliked the lack of connections between the different wings. Felt like a fortress, not a city.  The Guardian city of Sanctum was a little better, essentially one big cathedral full of NPCs surrounded by a ring road connecting all the services together.  The music inside the Cathedral was nice enough to make me stop and listen to it for a while.

Crafting: the big yawn. One reason I stopped playing LOTRO was the immensely frustrating craft system, which was filled with pointless grinding. No innovations here, beyond daily quests at skill 1. I dislike the model, where to level skill, you produce duplicate copies of items that are worthless. Its also difficult to tell at the start, which of the skills would be useful at the level cap. Based on previous experience, skills that modify gear in games are always more profitable than skills that make gear. So I choose enchanting and artificing, and took mining as the 3rd to get me into trouble (Rock! Shiny Rock! Must have the Shiny!).   For my second character I choose to ignore professions entirely.

There are reputation grinds too, again, not a favourite feature.  Again, I decided to ignore this completely.  I know there are NPCs out there that will sell me cool stuff if I’m “decorated” with their faction, but I really couldn’t be bothered trying to figure out who would sell me what.

Levelling experience: not too hard, nearly always get a new talent point or two each time, which I prefer to the crazy mix WoW now has of a point every second or third level plus one more for each of the last five. Skill training is still retrograde – run back to a trainer, hand over the cash, and now you are Johnny Awesome. I did like how certain skills in LOTOR were learned from practice in the field – its just a pain that it took a lot of Kill 100 mobs, kill another 100 mobs, to get anywhere.

Combat experience: typical, level equivalent normal mobs are trivial, elite mobs eat you for lunch, packs of mobs will nibble you to death. Game makes it clear form the start you are an ascended immortal soul, so one perk is once per hour you can rez where you died rather than running back in ghost form from the GY.

Instancing: yet to try this. Its old school in that you have to build a group by asking for help from people, and then actually walk to the instance.  Nothing I have seen in game suggests its all that different from WOW, although probably more like old school MMORPGs with a bigger requirement for communication and crowd control.

Rewards: quest items usually offer small upgrades to existing gear, with something for everyone.  Quashing rifts, especially the major invasions when 20+ rifts open at once, grants you extra currency for use in buying pretty good items.

In summary:

– its a competently executed fantasy theme park MMORPG, nothing too radical but so far I have seen no bugs, which is what killed several other games launched to compete with WOW

– solo play is fine, a good way to kill a few hours … but I doubt its going to keep my subscription for very long as my intial motivation to buy was to play with my brother, and he has already cancelled his sub

– for me, nothing to quit playing WOW for … there is nothing here my WOW guild would stop playing WOW for.  Its very much everything we do now, just in different skins, but we would all be starting scratch again for resources.