Reflections on a Runequest 6 Campaign

April 3, 2017

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I seem to be chiming into “sell me on/off Runequest/Mythras” threads a lot on rpg.net a lot lately. So as my Runequest 6 (RQ6) campaign is winding down I thought I might post a summary of what I think of the system after almost three years of running a campaign for five players.

The Trivial Question – should you get Runequest 6 or Mythras?

The rules are almost identical. Both were published by The Design Mechanism. My copy of RQ6 is a 456 page softback. Mythras is a 304 page hardback. Mythras has stripped out the references to Runes, dropped a font size, reduced the white space in the margins, cleaned up the presentation of Animism magic and spirits, added a few more combat effects, traits, and incorporated errata. The character sheet in the Mythras rules is much improved on the RQ6 sheet.

I will not use Mythras at the game table, simply because the smaller font size is difficult for my ageing eyes to read. Hands down, no contest, RQ6 wins for ease of referencing mid-session.

What is Runequest 6 About?

Runequest 6 is about magic-wielding adventurers who go on missions to kill enemies and take their stuff, for reasons justified by the community they belong to. Your Runequest May Vary, but this is the default premise supported by the rules.

How Does Runequest 6 go About that?

The major elements of Runequest 6 are:

  1. 1970s style character attributes (Strength, hit points, etc) with a few modern touches (luck points, passions, culture, etc).
  2. A D100 roll under blackjack core mechanic, with an extensive skill system that governs almost all character actions.
  3. A gritty realistic feeling combat system, in which the player’s feel their characters are always vulnerable to harm.
  4. A toolkit of options for tailoring magic to your own campaign setting, and five different types of magic, but generally within competent mortal bounds, not mythic levels of power.
  5. Templates for building social organisations. Without these you might as well be playing D&D.
  6. Its a “Rule Zero” game system. You’re expected to ignore rules you do not like, or to add rules if the rules fail to support your preferred mode of game play.

What Does Runequest 6 Reward?

Runequest 6 gives rewards for sessions played, fumbles rolled, and for having the in-game wealth and time to purchase training for characters.

Lets Look at the Rewards a Little More Closely

Session based play rewards whatever the GM feels like rewarding, but in an egalitarian way. The suggestions are to base the reward on the length of time since the last reward (suggested range is two to four) AND how well the characters have performed (mission success) OR how well the characters have been played. It is recommended that everyone be given the same number of experience rolls (so you can ignore mission success or roleplaying prowess and just go straight to number of sessions since the last reward handout, multiplied by a number the GM likes).

Experience rolls can be spent on:

  1. Increasing existing skills – cost one experience roll, results in a gain of +1% to +5%.
  2. Increasing characteristics – by reducing all future experience gains by one OR by spending (1+current value -species minimum).
  3. Increasing or decreasing passions – cost one experience roll.
  4. Learning new skills – cost three experience rolls.
  5. Learning new magical abilities and spells – cost varies from three to five experience rolls for spells, more for creating new traditions .

Fumbles almost never occur in actual play, due to the luck point mechanic, but if they were to occur, then the character who fumbles a skill check (a roll of 99 or 100 on the d100 roll), gains a free +1% to the skill.

Training can improve skills you currently know (but not acquire new skills, you have to have spend three experience rolls for that), but you cannot train a skill more than twice in a row. Otherwise rich characters would never need to go adventuring again.

I think there was a missed opportunity to tie the Passion mechanic to the reward system. Its implied in the option for rewarding performance, but its not explicit so it can be ignored. Overall the reward system is one of small incremental improvement, making RQ6 ideal for campaigns intended to last for years of play.

In my campaign I originally only let players spend one experience roll on a skill increase each time they were awarded experience. Mid-campaign I reread the experience rules and decided this was not what was intended by the rules, and allowed any or all experience rolls to be spent on the same skill. Player behaviour instantly changed – the warriors focused on hitting foes with swords spent the majority of their experience on increasing Combat Style, while the sorcerers spent the majority of their experience on increasing their two magic skills. While 80% skill is good, 95% is better, and 105% is much better. Developing hobby skills or secondary interests feels like its making your character weak.

Is Runequest 6 Easy to Learn?

No its not.

If you have been playing roleplaying games since the 1970s and have used any previous d100 game system, than yes, YOU can pick up and learn to play or GM RQ6 easily. If you are used to modern games with a focused coherent design of rules and roleplaying practice, and a developed setting for play, then RQ6 presents you with an overwhelming number of choices, places most of the narrative authority burden on the GM, and then runs away and hides behind Rule Zero.

In my experience, RQ6 is not suited for modern convention play unless you play with a significantly cut-down version of the rules or with people who already know the game rules. Over the last few years I have had good experiences running Cortex Plus, Conan 2d20, Paranoia, and Blades in the Dark at conventions for players who had never encountered those game systems before. My one attempt at running RQ6 was a painful morass of player indecision (see my comments on death by a thousand options below).

The shorter (and free to download) Mythras Imperative rules might do better here. I note in passing that Chaosium are putting a lot of effort into designing a quickstart set of rules for their next edition of Runequest, and an adventure suitable for convention use.

The rules are about as logical as you can get in a linear text. There are a few things in the GM chapter I wish were more player facing, the animism and spirit information is a bit scattered (corrected in Mythras), and I thought the rules for bartering and haggling might have been better placed in the Skills chapter rather than the Economics chapter.

Can You Lose the Game in Character Generation?

Yes, you can lose the game in character generation by building a character with less than three action points. Action points govern how often you get to act in combat, so building a character with only one or two action points means you get less spotlight time than the other players AND your character’s chances of surviving combat plummet. This is because defensive actions consume one of your actions, and if you are attacked successfully and have no remaining actions, your foe gains a bonus special effect.

To be fair, the GM chapter does provide some advice on Skill selection and how to survive with only two Action Points, but if your GM does not pass on that advice, then you stand a pretty good chance of your first character being pretty woeful. The advice on how to play well with less than three action points … well it applies equally to anyone with three action points as well. I note that in Mythras Imperative, all characters get two Action Points.

In terms of ensuring character survival in combat, I believe the most important factors are:

  1. Action Points – because not giving away bonus special effects when hit is pretty much the most important thing in RQ6 combat.
  2. Luck Points – because it can be used to reroll a skill check, to gain an extra action, or to reduce a wound.
  3. Combat Style skill – you want this to be as high as possible because its used for both attack and defence.
  4. Evade or Acrobatics Skill – Evade is less useful than Combat Style for avoiding moderate amounts of damage because you end up prone (which costs an action to get up from). Acrobatics is more useful than Evade, because in most cases it can be substituted for Evade and a check allows falling damage to be reduced by 75%.
  5. Athletics Skill – because falling from a great height will inflict damage to multiple locations, and a luck point will only cancel one of them.
  6. Swim skill – because fatigue from drowning is a karmic death spiral on steroids.
  7. Endurance – ranked low as it is better to prevent damage through actions, skills use, or the passive effects of armour and shields, and it is better to prevent a critical hit by using a luck point to force an opponent to reroll. I will expand on this when I discuss the skill system below.
  8. Willpower – ranked low as only useful versus certain spells and social challenges.

This encourages a degree of homogeneity among characters. I would strongly encourage players to make sure their character has a minimum POW of 13 (for three luck points), and INT and DEX scores that sum to at least 35 (for three action points).

How Whiffy is the Skill System?

It is a very whiffy system. If you have a skill of 48%, then you will fail 52% of the time. There is an option buried in the GMs chapter to adapt the multistage crafting system to social encounters, which allows you to better handle tasks resolved over a period of time. Its not as detailed as say Burning Wheel’s debate system, but it does the job and I think it should have been up front in the main skill chapter.

One thing that is good, is that when opposed skill checks are being made, the higher successful roll beats the lower. So its more decisive than the early D100 games. If I were starting an RQ6 game again, I think I would try to incorporate fail forward by offering a “success with complications” to a player when both opposed rolls fail.

Another good thing is that a single Combat Style skill can incorporate as many weapons as you think is appropriate to your campaign. This avoids people tracking a dozen different skills. If I ran another RQ6 campaign I would look at bundling other skills together this way, e.g. a “College Skill” could incorporate a package of related Lore and Language skills.

My least favourite feature of the skill system is the incorporation of division into the process for calculating skill checks. A hard difficulty check requires you to reduce your skill level by 33%, which always elicits groans and eye rolls at my gaming table when I ask people to do the maths. Then you try augment your skill with another skill/passion or help from another character, which requires you to divide that skill by five and add it to the original skill. In the RAW your critical score remains at the unaugmented level, but I think its a common house rule to adjust it up to the augmented level for simplicity.

I have definitely encountered people who think this is a simple process, but I disagree. I note that RQ6 has an option alternative for flat +/- 20% to difficulty levels. If I ran RQ6 again, I would be very tempted to use the advantage/disadvantage die system used in Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, simply to speed up play. I also note that in Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, all three difficulty levels that reduce skills are pre-calculated and written for easy reference on the PC sheet.

System Mastery Shock

You might think an 80% skill is good. But its possible to run into a situation  where you have little to no chance to succeed. This is because on many “survival” checks, such as Endurance, Evade, and Willpower, not only do you have to roll under your skill, but over your enemy’s roll as well. This is an all or nothing check.

So if you have 80% Endurance skill, and your foe rolled a 70% attack against you that dealt you a horrible wound, you need to roll either a critical (01-08%) or a success better than 70% (71-80%). While it fits elegantly with the rest of the RQ6 system, it feels like your survival skills need to be about twice as high as your attack skills to be at a similar level of effectiveness. Now imagine your opponent lucked out and rolled a 07% critical, now your 80% Endurance Skill gives you a 1% chance of success, only a roll of 08 will help you.

This is the reason why if my players had to choose between increasing Combat Style or increasing Endurance, they chose to increase Combat Style. Point for point its a better investment for character survival. It took quite a few sessions of play before we really picked up on this feature of RQ6. After a longer period of time we realised that you could spend Luck Points to force the enemy to reroll their critical successes, and that this was a much better way of ensuring survival than rerolling your own Endurance check.

With Luck, Fumbles Never Happen

One feature of the system is that I found that in play, fumbles almost never happen. My players would see the 99 or 00 on their dice, and spend the luck point to reroll. This is a perfectly reasonable thing for them to do, as fumbling in combat both increases the number of Special Effects gained against you, and opens up more severe special effects to be applied. A fumble only happened if luck points were exhausted, if it was in a relatively safe situation with healers on hand, or in the rare situations where a second 99 or 00 was rolled (so about one chance in 2,500 rolls). I think that happened once during the entire campaign.

As a GM, I felt frustrated by the lack of opportunities generated by the game system to take scenes in unexpected directions. I took this lesson into running Conan 2d20 where I told players that my job in using “Doom” generated by the players was to make the game more interesting for them, not to slaughter their characters with it. In a similar way, I was groping for something to handle long term story arcs, like Fronts in Apocalypse World. But that might be a house rule for another day in the future.

Combat – Death by a Thousand Options!

One of my reasons for starting an RQ6 campaign, was that I was looking for a system with a bit more meat on the bones than the Dragon Age system I had been using for the previous three years. RQ6 certainly delivers on this point with a rich system for conflict that can be tailored to either realistically grim or lighter cinematic heroism. My campaign involved musketeers, so it had some important rule decisions:

  • the players had access to musket pistols, which do 1d8 damage and ignore four points of armour
  • the main melee weapon is the rapier, which does 1d8 damage, and in an interesting quirk, has the same engagement range as a spear
  • only primitive cultures still used shields.
  • the PCs ( and many foes) had access to a combat trait that let them Evade without going prone
  • I allowed Luck Points to be spent to reduce a Serious Wound to a Minor Wound.

Initiative ignores your skill in fighting, and is based on a 1d10 roll plus the average of DEX+INT, minus worn armour. This was pretty much the only step in the game for us where Encumbrance mattered. I have never seen players who enjoy tracking encumbrance or fatigue, and RQ6 doesn’t really change the world on that point.

The key tactical feature of RQ6 combat is to concentrate efforts so your opponents run out out of Actions, so that you start gaining a bonus Special Effects when you hit them.

When my players first consulted the Special Effects table they were overwhelmed by the options. There are just too many of them. Humans stop being able to make good decisions when presented with more than about five options to choose from. Instead of making a choice, the brain just adopts a short cut. So our experience was this:

  • in the first few game sessions, after several minutes of agonising about the choice, the players would finally choose “target head”
  • after a few months the players just started choosing “target head” after a few seconds, and I got to put away the one minute sand timer I had been using to encourage them to make a quick decision
  • after a couple of years the players just said “target head” automatically. About once per game session one of the players would choose a different effect.
  • the only interesting decision was when people got a critical effect and had to choose between target head, maximise damage, and bypass armour.

So for me, one of the big selling points of “why play RQ6 and not another d100 game” ultimately proved to be a bug and not a feature. In a similar vein, I found the combination of a chart of situational difficulty modifiers for ranged weapons, and a second chart of penalties based on range and target size to be so complex as to be junked after one session of use.

One thing we had a lot of trouble with early on was charging into combat. While almost everything else happens in actions, a charge takes an entire five second combat round. This was frustrating to my players, who invariably wanted to exploit a moment of surprise to get into contact with the enemy right now.

Out of all the combats I ran, only one lasted long enough for the fatigue rules to really kick in meaningfully (most of my combats were over in four combat rounds or less, probably due to the lack of shields and the use of musket pistols or sorcery). So I stopped bothering about encumbrance and fatigue, as the handling time did not pay any dividends in game play.

Three things I struggled with as a GM were the Counter Spell and Ward Location actions. Counter Spell allows an incoming spell to be dismissed. Because it took the sorcerer PCs several actions to cast a spell, the game would have been rendered excruciatingly frustrating for them if I had NPCs countering their spells. So I almost never did it. Ward Location is a free action, allowing you to change the hit locations being guarded by a weapon or shield. The damage reduction from passive blocking is usually sufficient to negate an attack, and it does not cost an action. As with Counter Spell, I felt reluctant to use my knowledge of the player’s choices to block their actions. Outmaneuvering was another action in game that I never dared using against the players – if I had an NPC spending one action and making an Evade check to effectively negate the actions of all the PCs facing them, I would have had very unhappy players.

In play I found two activities more threatening than combat. One is climbing, the other is drowning. Climbing involves a risk of falls, and falling damage is realistically lethal and can strike multiple locations. Drowning is dangerous because it inflicts fatigue damage – which rapidly reduces your Swim skill making it more likely to fail the next Swim check.

The price of realism is time. RQ6 combats take a lot of time to resolve – make an attack roll, make a defence roll, choose special effects, determine hit location, roll damage dice, make endurance tests). In a faster playing system, like D&D, the whiff is forgivable as you get another action quickly. In RQ6 when you miss it takes a while to get back to you. So there is a lot of time where players are passively watching the action.

Linear Warrior, Quadratic Mage!

Sorcerers are better than other character concepts in RQ6 because they are more effective in combat. This is because a Sorcerer’s spells can be cast against multiple opponents, and the effect is continuing. This makes Sorcery incredibly disruptive to the action point economy of the RQ6 combat system.

A combatant with 100% combat style and a Longsword used in a two-handed style will inflict 1d10 damage on a hit, assuming it is not parried or evaded. On a critical, the weapon could do 10 points of damage. It still has to penetrate any worn armour. This costs one action to do, and might use up one enemy action on a defensive counter.

A Sorcerer with 100% Skill in Shaping and Invocation casts a Magnitude 1, Range POW, Targets nine Wrack spell. This strikes nine opponents for 1d10 damage to a random location every time the sorcerer takes an action and concentrates on the Wrack spell rather than doing something else. This damage ignores worn armour and can only be resisted with an Evade check (which costs an action point). Spending one action to inflict 9d10 damage, or possibly exhausting nine enemy actions – its hard for the characters who choose not to use magic to feel that their character concepts were a good idea.

Towards the end of my campaign, I attacked my five PCs and three NPC allies with upwards of 30 opponents. The party was camped for the night on a rise of stone in a swamp, and managed to spot the approaching attackers in time to prepare defences. One sorcerer boosted the damage resistance of the party and then locked down nine of the enemies with a crowd control spell, the other sorcerer let loose a fire elemental to disrupt the attack and then wracked another ten of the foes to death. The remaining 11 enemies were dealt with by the other six characters. The dozen odd enemy archers not in the main assault force did manage the odd effective hit (range and darkness reduced their effective skill to around 10%) but if they had stuck around after the main assault was defeated the sorcerers would have pinned and burned them in short order.

Monsters are not Scary but a Heavy Infantry Shield Wall is Terrifying

A single monster lacks the Action points to be an intimidating opponent. Even a Dragon has a mere four action points. Two combat rounds of “target head” special effects should be more than enough to take care of it. The only monsters my players found intimidating in the game were opponents with > 100% combat skill (because every point over 100 reduces a PCs skill by a matching amount), immunity to damage or armour greater than weapon damage, or mystics with the ability to grant themselves bonus actions for parrying/evade actions (suddenly finding out that your opponent has six actions, not three, is a great discomfort to a player).

Groups using the Formation Fighting trait on the other hand … your action points are reduced by one just by engaging them! Now if they are also using overlapping large shields to passively block five of the seven possible hit locations, you can get a long extended sitzkrieg where those fatigue rules start being a deciding factor. In my campaign, when the PCs ran into a formation of shield and spear troops their reaction was to nuke it from range with spells.

Social Stuff – A Strength and a Weakness

I have an issue with with the Seduction skill. As a professional skill its restricted to the Courtesan and Entertainer professions, and its the only way a character can romantically or sexually persuade another character – its explicitly different to the Influence skill all characters have. While its true that you could take the seduction skill as your one elective “hobby” skill option, or Rule Zero it, I just found this weird.

One thing I noticed about RQ6 only after getting into the middle of the campaign was that the light touch for “social effects”. Where combat has 50+ options for extra detail, most social skills have at best four options (for fumble, fail, success and critical success). This does make social interactions play much faster than combat, but its also another reason why I think the default premise of RQ6 is social justified killing with magic, because that is what most of the rules focus on.

A weird thing in my campaign was that my players did not trust their Insight checks. I could tell them after a successful roll that the NPC they were interacting with wanted to help them, and the players would still choose not to trust them. I think that is on them and not the game system.

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Supplements for the Game

With a toolkit system like RQ6 a lot of GMs are going to be running home brew campaigns. What follows is my short summary on the available settings and supplements:

  • Mythic Britain: Dark Ages Britain with a potential King Arthur. Its really hard to compete in this space with Pendragon, and while the Winter Council scenario showed promise, the rest of the adventures in the book underwhelmed me.
  • Mythic Rome: reads like a history textbook. I’m yet to reach the point in the book where they start discussing how its a game.
  • M-Space: a homage to 1970s sci-fi roleplaying. I found it uninspiring, except for its explanation of Revolution D100’s extended conflict system, which it does better than the source.
  • Classic Fantasy: a homage to 1970s fantasy roleplaying, its a skinning of Basic D&D into a D100 system. Rather than extra hit points, you get a lot more Luck Points.
  • Korantia: a traditional bronze age fantasy setting. I quite liked some of the background elements, but again, the published scenario I had for it did not enthuse me.
  • Luther Arkwright: a homage to a 1970s comic about a multiverse hopping agent of order. Good, but you may have noticed a retro theme to the RQ6 settings, and this one really nails that classic random generation feel by restricting psionic powers to people who make a lucky random roll.
  • Monster Island: a superb sandbox setting on a jungle island. This was my first RQ6 supplement, and almost everything else from the Design Mechanism has left me disappointed in comparison to this gem.
  • Hessaret’s treasure: a good one shot adventure mixing some urban social interaction, overland journey, and a cave crawl at the end.
  • Ships and Shield Walls: Rules for ships and mass battles. I had to adapt the battle rules for gunpowder but they worked well enough. The second time we had a mass battle, I did not use the mass battle system, as the PCs side would have been wiped out in it (they had 1,000 conscript spears versus 1,000 trained musketeers).
  • The Book of Quests: seven roughly linked scenarios. I found the best of these to be The Curse of the Contessa, with its competing sets of NPCs, while the worst was the introductory scenario Caravan, where all the clues for the behaviour of the big bad monster at the end misdirect the players.

My main creative tools: Silent Legions, which was invaluable for generating cults and great old ones (because nothing from Call of Cthulhu surprises anyone anymore – the moment I told my players they were going to a coastal town, they all collectively muttered “Deep Ones” at the same time), and The Harrowing Deck, which I used for quick generation of NPC motivations, or pulling three cards for a past/present/future structure for a scenario or in game event.

Invaluable for any RQ6 campaign is the Mythras Encounter generator. This allows you to quickly generate any number of NPCs and print them off for use in combat. With the other creative tools I could generate enough material for up to five sessions of play in around two hours.

So you Obviously Hated this Game System?

No. I had a really good time planing and running the game, and my players enjoyed it. Towards the end of the campaign, however, all the players agreed that they did not want to play RQ6 again. Their request was for a simpler and more flexible game system, and I have one player who is dead keen on the Conan 2d20 game – which I backed on Kickstarter and should be getting a pile of supplements for in the middle of the year.

My own ideas about what I want in a game have also evolved. Over the last three years I have probably read more roleplaying game systems than in the previous 30 years. While I was able to bring insights from this reading to bear fruit in the RQ6 campaign, towards the end of the campaign I had reached a point where the RQ6 rules were hindering me more than helping me.

If I did it all over again I would do a lot of things differently based on my improved understanding of the game’s strengths and weaknesses, and by the time I finished adding that layer of adjustments on, the game would only barely be recogniseable as RQ6. I did read through the Mythras Gateway license for people who want to write game supplements using the Mythras rules, and almost everything singled out as a feature of the game system not to be changed, is something I want to change!

I think they key lesson for me, is that I am no longer looking for a simulationist roleplaying game system for running long campaigns with. I checked out the beta for a recent Kickstarter for a realistic combat system, and stopped reading at the point where it said “Roll 14d10 to climb the wall”. My own knowledge of martial arts and history means I just find too many edge cases in the rules that bug me, whereas a game that adheres to emulating a specific fiction or collection of tropes is probably going to be better for me as a GM now. For example, if I want to do a samurai game, then Usagi Yojimbo will do a better job out of the box than me spending three months rewriting RQ6.

But, there is that new edition of Runequest (no edition number) from Chaosium later this year. And the draft rules at GECON last year looked so good … so I am sure I will run some kind of d100 game again in the future.

 


Capsule Reviews of various RPG stuff

April 14, 2015

A few one paragraph reviews of various roleplaying game PDFs I have been reading over the last few months.

Dyson’s Delves, by Dyson Logos

“Being a collection of maps & adventures set under the earth”.  153 pages. $9.99 from Drivethrurpg.com. Old school fantasy dungeon crawl maps. The first half are keyed with generic encounters, the second half are just the maps. One 11 level dungeon, and another 49 individual location maps (tombs, mines, bridges, throne rooms, monasteries, etc.).  I have found it useful for off the cuff dungeons and planned encounters. There are quite a few people making a few coins by publishing old school dungeon crawl maps.

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Magical Theorems and Dark Pacts, by Dyson Logos

“Being a treatise regarding Magics, Sorceries, and Dark Arts for Fantasy RPGs”. 161 pages. $9.99 from Drivethrurpg.com. Old school renaissance (OSR) with 13 magic using classes, some familiar looking spell lists from Labyrinth Lord, 28 pages of magic items, and a few monsters. I found the section on magic items useful, lots of good ideas to borrow for my tabletop games (I now try to always have a 1d100 chart of wondrous junk and treasure for the players to encounter while shopping).

Eldritch Skies (Savage Worlds), by John Sneads

A roleplaying game of cinematic Lovecraftian SF. 196 pages. $14.95 from Drivethrurpg.comEldritch Skies extrapolates from the Lovecraft canon into a future where human governments make deals with aliens and start exploring the depths of space in the post-revelation era. Its a pulp game, much more optimistic and hopeful in tone than classic Call of Cthulhu. PCs are likely to work for the UN agency OPS, trying to protect the remaining secrets of the Great Old Ones, and to prevent aliens from harming humanity/earth. I’m not really familiar enough with Savage Worlds to judge the adjustments it makes to the system, but PC generation and play looks straightforward. Bonus points for allowing PCs to be Deep Ones or Half-Ghouls. Rather than Sanity, you have a rating for exposure to hyperspace. From a design point of view, I found the notes on the fate of alien species (ascension into hyperspace, extinction due to carelessness, or cautious stasis) to be useful for any setting where you might want to think about the implications of Drake’s Equation.

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A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe (2nd edition), by Joseph Browning and Suzi Vee

This book aids the creation of a generic Western European medieval world consistent with D&D (3rd edition). 194 pages. $14.40 from Drivethrurpg.com. Its history plus Fireballs, Resurrections, and magic swords/wands. I think it succeeds in adding a touch of realism, but for me its almost a valiant failure, because D&D magic would be so subversive of what happened historically – Castles and Knights just don’t make as much sense in a world with flight, invisibility, etc. So for me, the real value is just the plain historical guff on crop rotation, manorial tithes, etc.

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Lords of Gossamer and Shadow, by Jason Durall

This book updates and reprints the Amber diceless roleplaying system with a new setting. $19.99 from Drivethrurpg.com. I am not sold on the diceless system – on the one hand it pushes for a character ranked first in an attribute to always win contests with that attribute, elsewhere its clear that other characters can negotiate, argue, twist to another attribute, etc to win – despite not being first rank.  It did, however, make me interested in exploring rules for campaign settings where the players design all the PC races (because really, why should the GM decide Our Space Elves Are Different?), and then also design the enemy races (spend lots of points to build the big bads/masterminds, spend no points and create a race of pitiful mooks). The Grand Stair, and its infinite doors linking all the worlds together is a solid idea for any campaign setting. The Dwimmerlaik were also an interesting great enemy race.

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Red Tide: Adventure in a Crimson World, by Kevin Crawford

Another OSR product.  $7.99 from Drivethrurpg.com. The language of OSR systems is familiar to me from the D&D games of my youth, so its easy for me to ignore it and focus on the cool ideas in the setting. TLDR Red mist drives people crazy/mutates them, people flee on boats to an island crawling with Orcs, which the mist does not extend to. Flavour is oriental, with demon worshiping Samurai, and Chinese cultural elements. The Orcs are not just mindless savages, and their background gives them a lot more depth than they usually get in D&D. Favourite bit though was the Dwarves, the reason they accumulate gold, is because its essential for forging spirit weapons/armour used in the afterlife to fight a vengeful Goddess the Dwarves have rebelled against.

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Torchbearer, by Thor Olavsrud and Luke Crane

This is a wonderful homage to the dungeoncrawls of yesteryere, with modern mechanics to improve story telling (based on Mouse Guard). $15.00 from Drivethru.rpg.com. A key focus of the game is on rigid accounting for time and inventory. Torches, rations and other supplies are all carefully tracked. If you don’t have room in the sacks, you cannot take the loot with you. The black and white artwork really reminded me strongly for the Fiend Folio and the Steve Jackson Fighting Fantasy books. An interesting tough, is that one way of increasing your XP, is to increase your chance of failure on an important dice check.

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Chuubo’s Marvellous Wish-Granting Engine, by Jenna Katerin Moran

This is a Nobilis spin-off, some kind of pastoral kids growing up story telling theme. Not my kind of thing. I stopped reading after about twenty minutes. YMMV.

Nobilis: the essentials volume 1, field guide to powers, by Jenna Katerin Moran

A lot more comprehensible to me than Chuubo’s, but still a struggle for me to read and complete. $19.95 from Drivethrurpg.com. The accompanying side bar text is very evocative, some of the best I have ever seen. The illustrations were a lot more perky than usual for roleplaying games, even when handling some difficult topics. The background world concept, Estates (your role as a fundamental expression and guardian of the universe) and Domains (home bases), was also quite nice. Mechanics are very text based, even though there are some numbers in there, its a conversation resolution system, not a dice fest. I think I would struggle to run a game with this, unless all the players had spent a lot of time with the rules beforehand.

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Rocket Age, by Ken Spencer

A retro sci-fi future past. $19.99 from Drivethrurpg.com. Its ray guns and Flash Gordon rockets within the Solar System, with a 1930s setting. So the Great Powers are being colonial bullies on Mars, and the Germans are developing war technology to conquer the solar system with. The artwork is solidly in that retro art deco style, which I like. Lots of alien species. Its take on a Barsoomian style Mars is quite engaging, and I like it more than the Space: 1889 take on red Mars and its canal civilisations, but there is plenty of room elsewhere in the system for different flavours of adventure. Main mechanic is 2d6 + Attribute + Skill +/- modifiers compared to difficulty setting.

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Runequest 6th Edition

September 8, 2013

The sixth edition of Runequest is a comprehensive successor to previous editions, and for me, comes the closest to capturing the look and feel of the second edition that was one of my favourite roleplaying games.  As well as looking at this new edition, I will also present my thoughts about the supplements and supporting material released so far.  I have played and run games with the second and third editions, looked at the fourth edition drafts that never went anywhere, and had the Mongoose edition – but for some reason I just never liked the they way they put the game together so I did not run any games with it.

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Runequest VI is a hefty 456 page all-in-one tome.  Its available as a softcover & pdf bundle from http://www.glorantha.com/product/runequest-6th-edition/ or http://www.thedesignmechanism.com/products.php ($62), and in pdf format from http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/index.php?&manufacturers_id=4057 ($25).

A hardcover version has been funded through Indiegogo and should be out soon for backers and direct sales.  Runequest VI is primarily a set of rules, but provides examples of game mechanics through a backstory set in the bronze age city state of  Meeros and the aspiring female warrior Anathaym.  This is kept in the sidebars, and I found the story entertaining, like Rurik’s story in RQ II, but not too distracting from the main text.  Apart from the cover, which is a colourful homage to the RQ II cover, the interior art is black and white illustrations, and largely complements the overall mood and themes of the text.  More setting specific supplements are due for publication in the future, including:

  • Luther Arkwright (based on a time travelling secret agent character, apparently a big UK comic in the 1970s-80s)
  • Mythic Briton (after the Romans have left)
  • Shores of Korantia (based on Age of Treason, a fantasy setting that tries to capture the feel of a rising new Empire, where internal threats may outweigh external threats).

A number of free pdf downloads are available for Runequest VI at the Design Mechanism website, including:

  • A supplement for Firearms (and futuristic weapons)
  • A GM pack
  • Character sheets.

Two generic, setting free, game supplements are already available:

  • Monster Island (a “sandpit” jungle island)
  • Book of Quests (seven loosely connected scenarios).

Organisation and Layout

There are sixteen chapters, plus reference sheets and an index.  While the material is in a logical order, there will be a bit of page turning in character creation as people start with the process in chapter one, but may need to dive into the skills, equipment and magic chapters to figure out what they want their character to be like.  I had some confusion on first reading the rules, in that while skills are mostly explained in chapter four, some specific parts of skill use, such as haggling, are dealt with more thoroughly elsewhere in the text.  If I were running a game, I would want prepared material for the players with example combat styles, magic traditions, cults and brotherhoods for them to join.

  • Chapters 1-3, character creation, culture, community, careers and development
  • Chapters 4-7, skills, economics & equipment, game mechanics, combat
  • Chapters 8-13, magic systems
  • Chapter 14, cults and brotherhoods
  • Chapter 15, creatures
  • Chapter 16, games master.

Character Creation

Basic character creation involves the seven traditional characteristics: Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, and Charisma.  These can be rolled for randomly, or purchased with a point buy system.  Secondary attributes are calculated based on the characteristics: Action Points (number of actions per combat round), Damage Modifier, Experience Modifier (bonus improvement rolls, based on Charisma not intelligence, as you smile sweetly at your instructor…), Healing Rate, Height & Weight, Hit Points, Luck Points (one use per game session), Magic Points, Movement Rate and Strike Rank (initiative in combat).  There are some fairly significant break points in these attributes, for example your Action Points are determined by combining Intelligence and Dexterity, 12 or less is one action, 13-24 two actions, 25-36 three actions.  If using a point buy system, I suspect the temptation for players to have intelligence and dexterity summing to 25 will be strong.

Standard skills are available to all characters, most are self-explanatory (Dance, Perception) but Customs (of your community), Evade, Influence (persuasion) and Insight (into motives) will need a look at the rules to figure out what they are about. Evade is not quite the old Dodge skill, its more a throw yourself to the ground that leaves you prone to vulnerable to whatever happens next.

Combat styles represent a major design choice for the individual game master.  For a combat light campaign you could decide to just have two styles, one for melee weapons and one for ranged weapons.  For a detail rich gladiators in the arena campaign, you might have a dozen or more combat styles (spear and net, spear and shield, etc).  Deeper in the book (page 135) its explained how combat styles can have special traits, such as Formation Fighting, where a group of soldiers work together to reduce their opponents action points by one.  Quite nifty, and an obvious place for house rules for campaign specific chrome.

Four generic human cultures are presented: Barbarian, Civilised, Nomadic and Primitive.  Each culture comes with a set of standard skills, combat styles, and professional skills.  Of these, I think the primitives are the weakest, but I just don’t find the stone age all that interesting.

A 1d100 random background event table is included. If choosing an older character, its suggested that you roll more than once.  I quite like 13 “You believe yourself to be suffering a divine or magical curse. Moan, groan and whinge at every opportunity, or remain completely stoic at every misfortune that befalls you in the future.”

Social class is an option, with as usual, the lucky nobles getting wealth, land, horses, weapons and armour. Personally, I like the idea of starting a campaign where the nobles start with equipment and hideously huge piles of debt.  One can keep rolling randomly for family, but for contacts, allies and adversaries you’re expected to use your brain and think of something.  The rules do provide a major incentive for the players to come up with a reason for hanging out together – Group Luck Points (tucked away on page 124) a pool of shared luck points anyone in the group can use, and you get one per player who has a good reason for being in the party.

The last section of culture and community is the most important from a roleplaying perspective: passions.  Passions are cool! Passions represent:

  • loyalties and allegiances
  • strongly held beliefs or ideals
  • emotion felt towards someone or something.

Passions are rated 1-100, can change over time, and be created or discarded in play.  Passions are described by a verb such as: comfort, desire, despise, destroy, espouse, fear, flee, forswear, hate, love, loyalty, protect, repudiate, respect, seek, subvert, torment, or uphold.

Over 20 generic careers are provided, offering a package of standard and professional skills for the player to spend points on for their character.  The careers are fairly broad, the Agent for example, is intended to include Agitators, Assassins, Detectives, Informers, and Spies.

An older character gets more skill points, and can spend them to a higher starting level.  Age penalties don’t kick in until 40+, so I see players being strongly incentivised to choose middle aged (200 bonus points) over young (100 bonus points).

Game Mechanics

Its the old 1d100, roll against skill level system, but with some developments:

  • 01-05 always succeeds
  • 96-00 always fails
  • A roll of 1/10 of skill is a critical success
  • A roll of 99-00 is a fumble.

Rather than providing an exhaustive list of modifiers to skill checks, the approach taken in Runequest VI is to adjust the skill level by fractions, e.g. for an Easy task, add half again to the skill value, for a Formidable task, reduce the skill by half.  Characters can augment a skill with one other skill, e.g. using local area knowledge to improve drive skill checks, equal to twice the critical success value of the augmenting skill.

For contested rolls, critical beats normal beats failure, but if two people have the same result, e.g. critical perception versus critical stealth, the character with the highest roll on the dice wins (i.e. a 13 beats a 7). Pro tip: because of the need to compare rolls you need to train your players to leave their dice on the table, untouched, until the roll is fully resolved.

Equipment

After that mechanic introduction the rules take off on a tangent for equipment, before going back for more mechanics.  Mostly familiar stuff with the traditional kitchen sink lists of ancient to renaissance era armour and weaponry. What I noted here was the armour penalty to Strike Rank (the average of Dexterity & Intelligence), which is determined by total armour encumbrance value divided by 5.  For a full set of plate mail this works out to a hefty -9 penalty.  This is also applied to the the characters movement.  I grumble about this, a custom fit set of plate armour can be easier to run in than a maille hauberk, but I can put aside the stickler for accuracy and recognise it for a game balance device that ensures some niche protection for those leather clad (or skyclad) character concepts out there.

Weapons have a list of combat effects they can do, for example the Glaive can inflict Bleed and Sunder (smash armour) effects, while the Rapier can Impale.

More Game Mechanics

Specific rules are given to handle: Acid, Ageing, Asphyxiation, Blood loss, Character improvement, disease, poison, encumbrance, falling, fatigue, fires, healing, luck, passions, wilderness survival, traps, visibility and weather. Phew!

Skill increase is familar, roll 1d100 and add 2-5% if you roll equal or greater than the skill, or 1% if not.  As a freebie, if you fumble, you get to add 1% as well.  Increasing characteristics is not easy at all, essentially you sacrifice experience rolls, both now and in the future, to boost a characteristic.  Stop making the sacrifice, and your characteristic goes back down to its natural level.  I think this is fine with a point buy system, but if using 3d6 rolls in the old school style, its very hard on the unlucky player.  An optional rule is provided for people like me who prefer something a bit more like RQ II.  FOr those with time and money, training is an option, allowing skill increases of anywhere from 1-2% to 5-10% depending on how much better than you your trainer is.  You can’t stay at school forever though, you have to spend an experience roll on a skill before you can work with a trainer again.

Encumbrance remains the rule most likely to be ignored by both players and game masters.

Healing serious/major wounds takes a very long time unless you have magic.

Luck points can be used to:

  • reroll dice
  • gain an Action Point
  • downgrade a Major wound to a Serious Wound (this is how player characters survive the brutal, gritty, Runequest combat system).

Combat

This is comprehensive enough for my re-enactor background, and complex enough to be intimidating – there is even an Android App for helping sort out combat effects!

Actions can be spent on proactive actions or reactive actions.  When you run out of actions you just have to suck up whatever hurt the bad guys are throwing your way. You probably want some tokens/counters to track this around the game table (and that might help with luck points as well).

Proactive actions include:

  • attack
  • brace
  • cast magic
  • change range (moving in closer or further away)
  • delay
  • dither
  • hold magic
  • mount
  • move
  • outmaneuver (make an opposed Evade check against a group of foes, those who fail cannot attack you)
  • ready weapon
  • regain footing
  • struggle.

Reactive actions include:

  • counter spell
  • evade (dive or roll clear, ending up prone – this is not the dodge of RQ II)
  • interrupt
  • parry (combining parrying, blocking, leaning and footwork to avoid the blow)

The detail about evade/parry is included as that seems to be one of the most common misapprehensions about how the combat system is supposed to work.  How effective your parry is depends on the size of the weapons/shields involved.  Equal or greater size mitigates all damage, one size less mitigates half damage. Two sizes down mitigates nothing. So if the giant is swinging a tree trunk at you, throw the buckler shield away and evade!

In addition to damage, you get special effects, potentially as many as three, if one side fumbles when the other criticals.  There are a LOT of special effects, too many to sum up, but I think its likely that players will choose things like Select Target (head) and Maximise Damage (instead of rolling one of the damage dice its treated as being at full value, so a 2d6 weapon becomes 6+1d6).  For those who want it though, you can do a lot more to your opponents than “whack, and I whack it again” which is where RQ II was it in 1980.

Shields are a passive block, not an active block, so you need to pick the locations being warded. A bigger shield can ward more locations.  As in past editions, weapon damage minus armour = hit points lost to a body location.  Damage and wounds are pretty horrific:

  • minor wound: location has HP left
  • serious wound: location has zero or less HP (this will put most people out of the fight very quickly)
  • major wound: location reduced to negative starting HP (this will kill most people without first aid or healing magic).

Magic

It is a joy to see all of the magic traditions in one rule book.  Each of them is quite different, and a game world might not have all of them present.  We get a primer on the runes too, as this is Runequest. What I would really like is a set of the runequest runes on some small tokens I could draw randomly from a bag for oracle type stuff in game sessions.  A quick web search did not find anyone with something like this for sale.  Maybe I’ll track something down later on.

Folk Magic – this is what we called Battle Magic or Spirit Magic back in RQ II, its fairly low power community magic.

Animism – dealing with the spirit world and its monsters, Shamanistic traditions.

Mysticism – warrior monk/Jedi enlightenment aiming for transcendence.  Potentially the most overpowered of the magic traditions as a skilled mystic can be very hard to kill and very dangerous in combat, not at all the glass cannon of your traditional RPG mage. Beware of little old men with brooms!

Sorcery – a complex system, potentially powerful but often very narrow in focus and difficult to use (but good for villains who need long rituals to be interrupted)

Theism – religious cult based magic and power.

Off-hand, not too different from past editions, but the GM should decide for the campaign how common magic is, how long it takes to cast a magic spell or ritual, and how quickly magic points can be regenerated and by what means.  A world where you only regenerate magic on the night of the full moon is very different from one where you get new magic points every sunrise.

The Rest of the Sixth Edition

The creatures, cults and brotherhoods and game master sections are all fairly straightforward stuff for world and adventure building.  On a second reading of the GM advice, it was better than the first time, and gives some good tips for using the preceding material.

How does it play?

This is not a convention friendly game, its just too rich and complex for people unfamiliar with the rules to get a lot done with it on the three-four hours you get.  The combat and magic systems, while powerful tools, are likely to confuse people at first.  It is much more a game system for running a long campaign with, and for people who love detailed world building … because you can always write up one more cult!  I am very much looking forward to running a campaign with it when my Dragon Age game wraps up.

The GM Pack

This 78 page free supplement contains two scenarios and charts and reference sheets for use with Runequest games.  Meeros Falling is a “prove the hero is innocent” scenario, and involves finding the conspirators/evidence and bringing this back to the authorities, with a potential earthquake to complicate things.  Has a deceased NPC called Mysoginistes!  The Exodus Matrix involves more action, monsters and magic and the plot involves stopping the bad gal from activating the matrix to do bad things in a temple in some post-apocalyptic post elder god intervention Earth.

The Firearms Supplement

Short, to the point, and free.  A few notes on myths about firearms accuracy and lethality, it has the tables you need for primitive and mdoern firearms, as well as blasters, flamethrowers, laser weapons and other far future oddities.  Does the job well.

The Star Wars Supplement

This free 47 page supplement was only available online for a short period of time before it was pulled.  If you search carefully, you may find it online somewhere.  The skills, equipment, vehicle combat, and homeworlds sections would be useful for any science fiction setting.  I quite liked the rule whereby the number of “magic points” spent in a session by a Jedi was the chance of the Emperor detecting them and sending off some assassins to hunt them down.  A useful mechanic for any setting with a Dark Lord and player characters who have special secret powers that can get them killed.

The Book of Quests

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I found this a bit disappointing.  Its generic and flavourless, which is not like the epic RQ supplements of yore.  In particular the opening scenario Caravan is weak, in that at its conclusion the players may feel like they have failed, as the merchant they are escorting will most likely scarper for safety rather than see their caravan through to its intended destination.  I also think players would struggle with the monster, which prior to their arrival had essentially acted as brute force deliver of a massacre, but now the players are present becomes a sneaky skulduggery murder in the dark.  The Curse of the Contessa is the diamond that makes this book worthwhile, an excellent city intrigue game with multiple factions, including a well portrayed demon.  Most of the other scenarios just felt a bit too linear, but this is one you could have a lot of chaos and fun with as the outcome is very open.

Monster Island

Wow. After the Book of the Quests, this is the sandbox pack to make you want more from the Design Mechanism!

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The main supplement is 298 pages, plus another 17 pages of companion material and maps.  It details a huge volcanic/jungle island, with mountains, ocean, highlands and ancient ruins and tombs.  It has a strong pulp theme, with shades of Mu, Lemuria, Skull Island, E. R. Burroughs, R. E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft coming through.  The main protagonists on the island are the serpent folk, found in both degenerate lowland villages, and the vestigial remnants of the sorcerous priest-kings who once ruled the island.  Other foes can be found in the bestiary. The rationale for packing lots of apex predators into the island is that there are magic gates which drag them here from other dimensions.  So you can mix dinosaurs, werewolves and tentacled aliens in powered armour if you wish.  Humans have a colony struggling to establish itself on the island, with the natives preferring the obsidian weapons over the rusty iron the traders have.  Everything is detailed to the level you would expect from the great RQ adventure supplements of the past, a good bestiary, some magic and cults, ancient gods and lore, some nice tombs and traps and a world with shades of grey that leaves the players free to decide who they will ally with and who they will work against. While this is not something I will run out of the book anytime soon, I will be pillaging its pages for a lot of its ideas in a future campaign setting.

Summing Up

I am very happy to have these game books sitting on my shelf and in my hard drive. While there are some bits I disagree with here and there, on the whole the Runequest Sixth Edition rules are clear and comprehensive and I look forward to sharing them with a gaming group in the not too distant future.  I’m torn between some kind of Star Wars/Lovecraft mash up, or a Byzantium/Spider Oracle fantasy setting.  Its good when a set of game rules unlocks my imagination like this.


Mists of Pandaria: First Week Impressions

October 2, 2012

Launch

I took Tuesday off work, as well as the following week.  I had a nice brunch in town, and did some book shopping.  By 5pm I was home and logged in, mucking around.  There were frivolous shenanigans going on outside the Warchief’s Hall, and I took part in an impromptu display of Azure Netherwing Drake mounts, while someone mounted on a scorpion rode back and forth making inspirational speeches.

Eight minutes to the hour of seven, Mists went live, the quest popping up earlier than expected.  I quickly trained my professions, handed in 20 daily quests, then took the zeppelin to Pandaria.

The next few hours was like a D-Day movie.  Intense action based quests, zeppelin crashes, wiping out an Alliance stronghold, then the breakthrough and penetration into the Jade Forest … where all the locals were nice and friendly.  Quite a change in tone from the starter zones of Cataclysm and The Burning Crusade, more like the Wrath of the Lich King zones.

Skipping the instances, I relentlessly ground through the quests and harvested as much Ghost iron ore as I could grab.  then I pushed on into the Valley of Four Winds (Level 86), where quests and following the lure of yellow gold dots on the mini-map took me over a cliff edge and into a jungle.  Then I headed north into the mountains of Kun-Lai Summit (Level 87), which was an endless wasteland of quest hub after quest hub, going ever higher into the mountains as the sun rose outside my bedroom window.

From the top of the mountains I headed down into the Townlong Steppes (Level 88), which ends up in a peninsula island chain (the islands will probably end up as content hubs in future content patches).  I hit Level 89 here, managed to solo one of the rare elite mobs that drop useful loot, and found one of the random grey vendor relics that is worth 100g (and 300k xp) while exploring some caves.  That’s when it really struck me how different Mists was from Cataclysm.  While the quests provided direction, it was not the linear freight train of most of the Cataclysm zones, and there was just so many interesting caves and pathways to explore.

Ding

A bit before midnight on Wednesday I hit Level 90 in the Dread Wastes, as I was freeing one of the insectoid Klaxxi Paragons from being trapped in Amber.  My flatmate with his Warlock beat me by about four hours. I chatted with my flatmates for 20 minutes, then fell asleep after 30 hours of gameplay, and 41 hours up in the waking world.

Graphics

I was amazed at what Blizzard have pulled off here.  While WOW is starting to look dated compared to new games (e.g. SWTOR) in terms of graphics, they have built a beuatiful landscape that is recognisably oriental in themes and still a continuation of WoW.  The zones are nicely different, with the established motif of corruption being veiwable in the landscape as elements of Sha corruption turn the ground soil black.  Perhpas the only tiring zone is Kun-Lai summit, which has a lot of dreary brown landscape before you hit the snow white mountain peaks.

Some of the monsters look like liquid smoke, very cool, and some monsters have spray attacks which look very liquid as well, and a side effect of the changes is that “force” can be exerted on characters , e.g. wind/water currents, pushing the character around.

There is a lot of audio in the game too, the audio team has expanded from 3 to 40 people, and it shows. The insectoid Klaxxi sound a lot like the insect race in the prequel Star Wars movies, full of clicks and humms in their speech.

Cut scenes are much improved over Uldum.  They are used sparingly, and to great effect.

The Pandaren character models are beautiful, and make the vanilla models look crude.  I hope the pull off a revamp of the older model skins someday.  Monks in action are also very cool, lots of soothing green animations.

Story

Both Horde and Alliance tell the story of “The other side got here first, we got here accidentally, then pushed them back and established a defensive position”.  Sounds a lot like the propaganda element of a casus bellum.  After the Jade Forest entry zone the Horde/Alliance conflict takes a back seat to learning more about Pandaria.  You meet the various peoples and learn about their history and culture.  Some of the quests and dialogue are laugh out loud funny, others are heartbreaking – one quest chain dealing with a death in childbirth brought tears to my eyes.  Anyhow, current bad guys appear to be the Sha, the Klaxxi, and ourselves.

To start getting a handle on the Sha menace, the dungeons help bring it out.  Its a focus on inner feelings of a negative nature: fear, hatred, anger, violence, and these show up in the fights.  One fight in ShadoPan Monastery has a Hatred meter, the more you do in the fight the more Hatred you build up, until you take a time out ad chill down options (or go crazy, I decided not to let the Hatred bar max out…)

As a bonus for finding a lot of lore objects, you can buy the nifty flying disc (see picture above). It makes a windy swish swish sound as you fly around.

The Monk starting island was good, but very linear.  Just follow the story to its end, then wave goodbye to the island forever.

Gameplay

On the whole, I am a huge fan of the “less is more” approach to the new Talent system.  A lot of bloat and useless decision-making has been eliminated, and I expect future iterations of the talent system to make it stronger.

Hardest boss is still the Elevator Boss, every freaking time!

Paladin DPS: having more holy power generation made leveling much easier, as self-healing was stronger.

Holy Paladin: healing has changed, and damage in dungeons has changed.  People either take almost no damage (say a 20k hit off a 300-400k healthbar) or they get hit like trucks (usually on trash pulls gone wrong). Debuffs that need cleansing also suck the mana bar dry.  I have healed all the “heroic” 5 mans, and the difficulty bar is much, much lower than in Cataclysm.  A few wipes here and there, but a few instances I managed without the mana bar going below 75%. Absolutely nothing is like the hell that was Heroic Stonecore.  That said, Blizzard has given us the tools for the job, but its built around our free heals.  Because the free heals are free, the heals that cost mana really hurt to cast.   Today I got asked if I wanted to raid with another guild, based on my healing with a pug group I chain ran three instances with.  A nice compliment!

Blood DK: I started with Unholy spec for leveling (perma pet has its uses in grabbing herb nodes) but switched to Blood spec – its just so much more stronger a solo spec in terms of its self-heal ability (I can self-heal about 80% of my 200k health at level 87 using two DK powers and the 60k heal of the Life Spirit that drops from Herb nodes).  Tanked the first two normal dungeons easily enough.

Warlock: I found Affliction too complicated for me, Destruction was better, I like the Ember resource system. Load up on trash, drop four nukes at thet start of the boss fight, rebuilt during the fight, drop four nukes at the end of the fight.  My flatmate in 463 gear and glyphed for +20% health runs around with 500k health in 5 mans, often 100k more than the tanks…

Gearing for dungeons: completing the quest chains in Dread Wastes should reward in three iLevel 450 blues, then do the Arena quest from Monastery of the White Toger for a 450 weapon, and you should be in dungeons a few minutes later.  A hotfix has also made Justice Point gear much more reasonable to obtain (seriously, Exalted rep for JP gear, what was with that!?!)

Note the Dalek on the shoulders… I’m liking the look of this armour set very much.

Reputation Grind

Hoo boy.  There are a lot of reputations, and some have to be completed to exalted before the next one in the chain starts. Very gated … but as there is no longer a limit on daily quests, I think it will help stop people over exterting themselves in the game.  Still, the quests are new, and many of them are fun.  I like the fact it won’t all be done in three months. A lot of opportunity cost decisions, so I’m sorry Tillers, but Farmville in WOW will have to wait a few months.

Crafting Professions

Getting your skill to 600 is easy.  The hard part is that a lot of the good patterns require exalted reputation, sometimes with two factions.  Its going to be harder to make gold from Alts.  Blacksmithing is an exception here, most of the patterns are obtainable after you complete Dreadwastes in exchange for Kyparite ore (easily mined). Possibly this was done to make it easier to gear tanks.   The primary block to mass crafting is all the good stuff requires Spirits of Harmony, which are bind-on-pickup and mainly drop from mobs.  When doing a full round of dailies you might get one.  Most of the crafted epics requires 5-8 of them.  So I managed to finish some epic gloves for my Paladin yesterday, but its likely to be another week before I make another.

I was worried that the JC metagem cuts, which are BOP world drops, would be hard to get, but they are dropping like hot cakes, my Level 86 Warlock already has half-a-dozen cuts.  JC used to require a huge time commitment to daily quests to learn cuts.  The new research model speeds up cut acquisition by a factor of three to five times, so I’m expecting medium term gem prices to be low (just as soon as the price of Golden Lotus drops to allow cheap rare gem transmutation).

Archaeology was surprisingly useful: its pulled up three 463 BOA items (Healer off-hand, Agility Polearm, and Mastery trinket) which I have put to immediate good use.

A big change is that Darkmoon Faire cards require a Scroll of Wisdom, which has a 24 hour cooldown.  This means by the end of the first Faire, most scribes will have made less than 20 cards.  So the old technique of make 60 cards and hope to get the eight card deck you were after is not going to work.  people are going to trade, haggle, and then finally scream and pay thousands of gold for the cards they need to complete their sets on time.  Wish me luck!

Auction House

The Black Market – boring.  So far it only has 2-3 items listed, and they are pets or PVP gear.

AH prices are all over the place. Green gems selling for 3-300g, blue gems for 100-500g, metagems for 1000-3000g.  I’m selling healer/tank shields at a steady rate and a few metagems, and a bit of spare change from the new glyphs.  My flatmate has done well selling cloth PVP gear.  Mats are cheap as cloth is dropping at a much greater rate than in Cataclysm or Wrath, and a lot of people are buying the PVP gear.  I just don’t feel like parting with the Spirits of Harmony required to learn the PVP patterns.

I blew 120k on mounts (see picture below), but have made around 70k from questing and the AH.  Totally worth spending the big bucks on the vanity mount as it is now  account bound.  The Reforger on the Yak is a nice quality of life feature. Finish a 5 man, hop on the mount, and reforge your new gear on the spot!

Well, that is enough for now.  Back to work tomorrow, but its been a fun week.


Star Wars the Old Republic MMORPG Review

June 19, 2012

TLDR: initially promising, ultimately disappointing.

(Original feedback to Bioware in plain text, tonight’s reflections in italic)

Biggest problem: on minimum graphics the game causes my two year old Gateway P-79 laptop to shut down from overheating.  This has damaged the graphics card.  At best I can get 20 minutes of play now, which is insufficient to do group activities.  So I’m choosing to play less demanding games instead.  Ultimately I went out and got a new gaming laptop, but it would have been nice to have held off from that purchase for another 6-12 months.

Launch: pre-launch guild creation was good, however the chat bug which disabled Guild, Party, and Officer chat on my account was vexing to say the least.  I didn’t feel well served by customer support in resolving this.  This bug prevented me from leading my guild, or engaging in group content.  Lesson learned: do not try and set up a guild when you still have an ongoing guild commitment elsewhere.  Its hard to find time to do both justice.

World design: the lower level worlds are the best. By the time I reached level 40+ worlds, the design was feeling stale and repetitive.  When I reached Corellia, I was forcing myself to finish quest lines just to see the next bit of my class story.  Playing the game had become a chore, rather than fun.  On Corellia, being surrounded by buildings I couldn’t enter, made the game feel fake.  Also, it feels weird that I am not sharing the same game universe with the both Empire & Republic players on all the worlds.  Levelling my second toon into the 40s, the process feels a little easier, but I’m still dreading Corellia.

Travel: is tedious.  First, running through starports is really dull. I often reach a starport, think about the long run ahead of me, and then log out of the game.  Second, speeders look weird, travel slowly, and don’t let me bypass mobs that I dealt with on earlier quests. Being constantly pulled off my speeder by mobs I defeated in earlier quests ruined any sense of progress and accomplishment in the game.  This has been slightly improved in terms of travel through Starports now being possible while mounted on a speeder.

Grouping: I don’t have time to waste hanging around the fleet hoping to find a group for instances.  Watching trade chat is not compelling gameplay.  If I’m waiting longer than a few minutes, what I want to do is log out of the game and switch to a game where I can do stuff.  They still don’t have a good Looking for Group tool, consequently you will mostly miss out on heroic (2 or 4 man world content) or instanced content while levelling.

Starship mini-game: the low level scenarios were interesting.  I was able to identify mistakes in my gameplay, and correct them.  When I realised that completing mid-level scenarios required grinding commendations for ship upgrades I stopped playing them.  Three months later – its still tedious and I’m still avoiding it.

PvP: I have avoided this entirely.  I don’t find WoW-style pvp gameplay compelling.  I play World of Tanks for an hour or two each night instead.  None of the scenarios available at launch appealed to me, and the concept of not being able to avoid Hutt Ball was a big turnoff.  World pvp looks broken to me, and I was quite surprised that you made it so broken, given that the problems Blizzard has had with designing open world pvp zones are so well known.  My flatmate put it best “I’m grinding through gameplay I don’t enjoy playing to get better gear that will enable me to be more effective at gameplay I don’t enjoy.  Why don’t I just stop grinding…”

Endgame: I started the questlines on Illum and the prison planet and died of boredom.  When I looked at the amount of grind required to acquire upgrade modules, I rebelled, and just said “No” to daily missions.  I also found that I just didn’t enjoy playing my class, so once the class storyline was done I was finished with it.  I still have not gone back to the Assassin.

Companions: I don’t regard the robot that comes with the ship as a companion.  Companions have been a big disappointment.  Levelling an assassin tank I really wanted a healer companion, but had to wait until Hoth.  Levelling a Bounty Hunter healer, I really want a tank companion, but I don’t have one yet.  I was really disappointed at the companion story for the Inquisitor’s medic companion, maxing full affection resulted in …. some obsequious dialogue.  I remember sitting in front of the screen thinking “That’s it?!”  Once the Bounty Hunter got its tank companion, it was far superior to the Assassin tank player character + companion.  Maxing out companion favour does now result in a small in game boost (+20 presence with other companions).

Talent trees: design feels old and dull, the approach Blizzard is taking in Mists of Pandaria just blows the SWTOR talents out of the water.  Choosing talents that boost my effectiveness in a single ability by 1% really doesn’t feel like an interesting choice.  With the Bounty Hunter, perhaps 3-4 of your talent choices result in gameplay changes, the other 35 odd choices just make you 0.5% better at what you do.

Abilities: at low levels I got abilities too quickly to figure out what I should be doing with them.  For the Inquisitor, signature abilities that make the class cool either looked dull in tank spec (force lightning) or were worse than useless as tanking tools (overload). Visually it ends up being a really dull class to watch in combat. Stab. Buzz. Stabby. Bzzt. Yawn.  Ability overload is a little easier to deal with now you can adjust how the UI displays action bars.  I still think having 30-40 abilities you use frequently is on the order of 10-20 abilities too many.

Music, Sound effects and Voice Acting: all good/excellent.

UI: I know you are overhauling this. My main feedback here is that I find it really hard to identify the abilities my opponents are using. I see strange coloured symbols and I’m not sure I should interrupt or not, and then its too late to interrupt anyway.  The setup for healing also feels awkward.  After years of using Healbot, Grid/Clique or Vuhdo in WoW, going back to pushing function keys to target party members feels painfully slow and prone to error.   I still find it impossible to determine which ability I should be interrupting.

Sith Inquisitor/Assassin feedback: This is the class I really wanted to play, as the storyline pitch of a slave rising to power really appealed to me.  In tank spec I was unable to complete the class questline solo, requiring help from other players on Voss (the dream boss) and Dromund Kaas (the fight with Zash).  I was unable to identify what I was doing wrong in these encounters, and after the second set of armour repairs I gave up all hope of figuring out what to do as I simply couldn’t afford the credits to keep experimenting. This made me feel incompetent.  The assassin does not feel heroic or awesome, when I fight mobs they die very slowly, and in an unspectacular fashion.  In play, I found myself forced to watch a small display of buffs right above the action bars, rather than being able to focus on the onscreen action. I’m still sad about this, and I screwed up the characters name when doing the server transfer when Dalborra was launched.

Specific turnoff points in the Inquisitor story line:

– I liked Khem Val, until I realised a tank companion was useless to a tank spec class

– I liked Zash, and I felt the betrayal came too early

– Not being able to defeat Zash solo (I never felt competent to do anything challenging again after this)

– Not being able to choose a more useful companion to face Zash with

– I did not like Zash/Khem Val in one body

– I didn’t feel like I earned the big ship superweapon, I just had some NPCs walk up and say “push the button for us, please”

– last act confrontation just felt like grind, grind, grind, I was always reacting to the bad guy, never setting the initiative.

The Bounty Hunter storyline has been better, at least insomuch as that I never been forced to beg other players for help in finishing my class quests.  It’s the Bounty Hunter that I will be doing a few more instances with, and trying to see some of the endgame content.  In the end I’m just too comfortable being a healer than trying to be a tank in a system that makes it really hard to know what the hell your tanking abilities do, and forces you to look away from what the mobs are doing on-screen so the buffs that keep you alive do not expire.

Many things are executed well in the game, although the Auction House is painful to use.  It looks good, and sounds great … but I struggle to want to play it more than 1-2 times a week.  So it’s not going to replace WoW for me.  It is nice that they launched servers based in Australia … but the maintenance schedule is such that they are offline most of Tuesday night, so its only a game ANZACs can play six nights a week.