Rotblossom Rose (1.3R)

Welcome to the space where I experiment, my weekly serial. It is written raw, not edited at all, and mostly unplanned.

The world is partly based on the background of an unpublished Steampunk game that I worked on with a few friends, which has grown in my mind over the last couple of years. The story is a take on those ultra-violent revenge epics of the eighties where a man’s family is abused and killed, but he survives and seeks vengeance. Needless to say it is a grim, bloody tale, that deals with bad people doing bad things, so be warned.

Here is the first post of this series.

Here is last week’s post.

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The present comes down to three names waiting to be crossed off, the last on a very long list.

“Is she really that ugly under the mask?” asks Green Jim, the youngest man on their dive. “I mean… the way she moves…”

“Ask her yourself, kid,” says Scarab, smiling as Rose steps out of the dark.

“Captain, I…” stammers Green Jim.

Rose meets his eyes and holds, letting the moment stretch uncomfortably. She has a reputation for severity. There are rumors about bad things happening to those who cross her. She lets her hood fall back, revealing the mask that covers the ruined half of her face and lifts her metallic arm. Green Jim swallows hard.

“I’d gladly bed you, boy,” says Rose, sitting down slowly. “As long as you don’t mind the rot.”

Everyone else around the fire laughs as Green Jim relaxes.

It is the third day of the dive and Rose is running a crew for Nietch, the man they call The Spider. She is the best sniffer outside The Syndicate, bringing in hauls of Wraithstone that have made her boss into the most powerful man in the Southside Hive. Deep Delving is a dangerous business, far less sure but far more profitable than mining Wraithstone blooms in the badlands further away from The Gash, at least for small outfits.

As always, Rose seats herself across the fire from Geb. She likes looking at him, and does not mind that he knows it, The big man is often smiling, even in the deeps, even with the company he keeps. It does not hurt that Geb handsome in a rugged kind of way, confident, and even-tempered. He even smells nice.

Today though, her choice of seating has more meaning. She is careful to make certain that Chris Cackles is seated to her right, fearing hat if she can see him easily, she might give herself away. It is important that he does not know that she recognizes him, and thinks that she trusts

Like Green Jim, Cackles is new to her crew. Unlike Green Jim, he is an old hand to the deeps. In spite of his grey hair, he is an agile climber and a sharp-eyed scout. The men respect him already and he has already eased into his role on their expedition with little fuss.

“Listen up,” says Rose. “Geb, Scarab, Cackles, I want you to make sure everyone is prepared. Tomorrow we are going after a live one, near the underside of Syndicate territory, bounty on it and everything. You all know what that means.”

“Sure thing, Rose,” says Geb.

“Yes, boss,” say Scarab and Cackles.

“What’s a live one?” asks Green Jim.

“A bleedwarpt thing,” says Scarab, rolling his eyes. “Why the fuck d’you think we need an extra Lancer, boy?”

“I though you just liked my company, Scarab,” says Green Jim, acting hurt.

Most of them chuckle as Scarab gives the younger man a dark look.

“Bleedwarpt have some of the best Wraithstone inside ’em,” intones Cackles. “Not a lot, but potent stuff, full of power. The stones you get from them make the strongest juice… I’ve got a furnace in my shack that still runs off a Red I got from this Bleedwarpt rat-thing fifteen years ago. Have I told you the tale?”

As Cackles spins his tall tale, Rose is only half-listening. Her focus is on the day ahead, and how she intends to cross another name off her list before they leave the depths.

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3D Printing and Games

I came across an interesting website today, Heroforge, which lets you design a miniature using a simple 3d interface, including equipping it, posing it, and creating facial expression. Try it out.

3D printing is going to revolutionize tabletop gaming.

  • The ability to create, pose, and then order a miniature in the material that you want is already impressive. Once 3D printers become more common as household items, printing your own miniatures at home for your games instead of ordering them becomes a game changer. 3D printing at current speeds is slow, but 90 minutes is even faster than same day shipping (and cheaper).
  • Customization is easier. In traditional miniatures design putting a new set of armour, a new pose, or a new weapon on the same miniature can require a new sculpt of the miniature or modifications that are beyond casual players. Using software people can get creative much more easily. Experts will be able to create even more complex modifications is less time with starting points that are closer to their final vision.
  • As the price on 3D printed figures and printers drops, it will be easier to field larger armies in miniatures games.
  • Rare component that exists as digital files do not necessarily have to go out of print. This means that less popular factions will not always get the shaft over the long term in wargames.
  • In tabletop RPGs that use miniatures it can be very hard to find a mini that looks like your character. Now you can design a model that looks how you want the character to look, print it, and update it as the character grows in power and changes equipment, style, and even attitude. As the tech improves so will the level of detail possible.
  • Even little quality of life improvements will make tabletop gaming better; how often have you lost a custom component or wanted another? Soon you might be able to buy a file and print it on your 3d printer with a relatively short delay.
  • On the production side it will reduce risk for certain types of gaming operations. Small, custom games become more viable if they are sold via digital license and the components are printed by the consumer.
  • The ability to print small, complex items will greatly enhance creative cosplay as well.

I am really excited by the possibilities that 3d printing will bring to gaming. For the first time I could see creating a Bloodlust boardgame that allow the players to creature their own custom gladiators after they get used to the basics of the game. With this new opportunity the outflow of creativity could be massive and the potential savings and accessibility could bring many new people to the table for game nights.

I look forward to meeting at the local gaming cafe and playing the newest games with those cool custom minis we just printed out, one day soon.

Review: Path of Exile

This week, after a long hiatus I returned to Path of Exile. My main computer gaming pastime of late, Total War: Warhammer, is still building up to a major and I am content to give it a rest until then.

path_of_exile_logo

Path of Exile is a free to play action rpg that has been out for several years. The game that most people would compare it to is Diablo (more like 2 than 3). Regular updates and a strong community keep it fresh.

Path of Exile plays like a typical isometric action RPG. Your character will fight hordes of enemies and nasty bosses for levels and loot. Compared to Diablo 3 the graphics are less impressive, but also less gaudy, and when the action starts much, much easier to follow than the explosion of special effects that define a high level confrontation in Diablo 3. It is much easier to follow what is going on in Path of Exile and the no nonsense approach to graphics means that special touches like an impressive boss or unusual item stand out. I also like that the combat is more tactical, with nods to positioning and ability use and less about dodging ground effects.

Path of Exile is a game that does not hold your hand. It is possible to make characters that are far better than others. The game’s skill web makes the skill trees of Diablo 2 look like shrubs and the skill choices of Diablo 3 seem like preschool.

poe-skill-tree-example

Each of those tiny nodes is a single skill point. Most are small bonuses, but can radically change your character over time, while some nodes can completely change the style of play. There are also ascendancy classes.

While the sheer variety may seem daunting, it is fairly intuitive once you understand how to read it ad the community are always, always talking about builds. The endless theorycrafting helps promote the game.

Melee (STR/Marauder) is supposedly among the weaker built types, but I have no trouble in single player on the first such character I made.

Not that anyone who likes the game would ever stop at just one character, the possibilities of that skill tree are a great lure.

At first glance the item system in Path of Exile is nothing special. The usual rares and artifacts make their appearances. Slots are in as well, though in Path of Exile this is where you get your active abilities from. In is interesting to note, however, that none of the shops use currency, but rather trade in useful commodities like identify scrolls and orbs that reroll the properties of magic weapons. There is real depth in the item system and it certainly holds the game together.

The dungeons and environments are well designed. My favourite is the labyrinth where you get your ascendancy class; a randomized set of trials with challenging traps and interesting, varying mechanics in the boss fights, all with a tight story about an emperor with no heir trying to find someone worthy.

Speaking of story, the world building in Path of Exile is unlike any of its competitors, steeped with western archetypes and what seems to be some sort of Maori warrior lore and crazy ruined empires than run on blood, gems, and the dreams of gods (and men of infinite ambition). If the story of Diablo is Dante’s Inferno cross with a world war, Path of Exile is more comparable to Vance, Moorcock, and the Malazan series. It is dark and brooding, but teeming with life and ambition. All of that grandness though is brought down to earth by interesting characters and a simple motivation: you have been cast out, exiled and left for dead, but you lived and now it is time for revenge.

Best part is the micro-transactions are not prohibitive at all. No pay to win, or pay to remove obstacles to play here.

Good game.

RPG Building: On Dice Mechanics and Consistency.

I was actually referencing this post for a project I am fiddling with, when I realized that it was better than what I was working on and switched over. That got me to thinking about dice mechanics in general again.

I am also reading Ready Player One, which has a lot of D&D references, so that helps as well.

The player should always know what dice they are rolling. It speeds up play and increases confidence in novice players. It seems like a stupid point, but so many games are bogged down in dice pools (older) or fancy, custom dice (newer) or finicky mechanics.

D&D is a good example of this in action, especially after 3rd edition. Most rolls are resolved with a single toss of a d20. It becomes reflexive at the table. I feel 5th edition actually stumbles a bit with this since you must figure out advantage before rolling, you cant just drop the d20 and be certain that it holds. Minor quibble, but I do think it holds.

Some of the player’s rolls in a d20 game are other dice, but these are fewer and tend to be damage rolls or percentile rolls that the player has control of and are very easy to keep track of. After 3e it is also important to note that all high rolls were positive rolls for whoever was acting. This mean that seeing high numbers on your dice always made you feel good, even before the final resolution.

Contrast this with another of my favourite game systems, Champions. This game dominated my youth, since you could play almost any genre and make very interesting characters if you were familiar with the system.I still have my 5th edition Champions in my book-case, and while the game is complex, it opens up universes of play with amazing depth.

Champions used six sided dice exclusively. The problem is that they vary both in number rolled, how they are counted, and even whether high rolls or low rolls are desired. This is a flaw in an otherwise superb game, it introduces needless complexity for simple dice mechanics in an already demanding system and really does not gain anything for it. Mutants and Masterminds recognized this, snivved some of the ideas and added a simpler dice mechanic, and it does quite well.

Then again, sometime you can simplify too much. The old White Wolf dice pool systems had a variable number to get a hit on each die. The newer ones count a 7+ as a hit, which cuts out a lot of the flexibility in the earlier systems in favour of a trivial gain in ease of use. It is not hard for a player to count successes from different numbers, especially if high rolls are always good, and the number of dice rolled is consistent.

Anyways, I was thinking about this and then I realized how awesome a Yahtzee style dice mechanic would be for an RPG. I’ll be in my bunk.

Big News in Gaming: Fantasy Flight and Games Workshop Part Ways.

Rumours have been circulating in gaming circles for some time now. Games Workshop, the dominant company in miniatures gaming for decades. Lately GW has been a favourite subject of my ruminations, especially in regard to their treatment of The Old World, the most popular grimdark fantasy setting in gaming.

Fantasy Flight is a relative newcomer to the field. It was started in 1995 by Christian T. Peterson and rose steadily in prominence over the last decade or so, often through clever use of licensed IPs, including Warhammer and other GW properties. After a merger with Asmodée in 2014, Fantasy Flight has arrived at the pinnacle of the tabletop gaming industry.

Fantasy flight knocked Warhammer 40k, GWs most reliable miniatures line out of the top spot in the coveted US market in 2015.  This is kind of a big deal, especially after GW has dropped Warhammer Fantasy Battles in an effort to retool their fantasy lines to greater profit.Leveraging the Star Wars license is just the latest and most successful foray for FF Ginto the miniatures space. For years their boxed sets have been fantastic collections of figures while GW charges 40+$ for a single space marine captain.

It seemed inevitable that as FFG rose, its relationship with GW would change. GW has met with success in its re-opened specialist games division, boardgame-like products that it has abandoned for years, that compete with FFG. Then at Gencon 2016 Fantasy Flight announced Rune Wars, a tabletop miniatures that moves directly into the space vacated by GW’s defunct Warhammer Fantasy Battles. This signals that the parting of ways is less than amicable (Though not necessarily sour) and that the two former allies will now be competing directly for market share.

It is hard to speculate exactly what precipitated the parting of the ways, but it is very interesting news.

Here are some of my thoughts on this.

  • Fantasy Flight will ‘win’ this confrontation, at least in the short term. FFG has a good market strategy and holds the upper hand with the star wars license. The real winners will be gamers I think, because both companies will step up under increased competition. GW, in particular, is going to have to take a serious look at the price point of their miniatures — FFG offers much better cost per figure than they do (although Cool Mini or Not
  • The real downside to these two companies parting ways is that some very good games will just disappear. These include Chaos in the Old World by the amazing Eric Lang, one of my personal favourites as well as an extensive list of Board Games and RPGs.
  • Rune Wars is not an especially strong entry into the field (The IP is underdeveloped and pretty generic), but it comes at a time when few companies, none of them with clout comparable to FFG are in the space of making big class of armies miniatures games. Their timing is good here, people are excited, and if they capitalize on early successes and release new content intelligently they will still dominate for a while.
    • FFG is hit and miss on innovative mechanics. They love custom dice, cards, dials, and movement templates and Rune Wars has them all. Sometimes these work such as the Star Wars games or the Star Wars RPG, and sometimes they fall flat. I’m leaning toward functional.
  • Talisman is returning to GW. I preferred the old characters to the new, generic take on the game so I am looking forward to a new release.

That’s all I have to say on the matter now, but it is very interesting.

The Rune 1.9

After much soul-searching, I have decided to write a few short stories, unrelated to the other works, before continuing on with the next of the Shadow Wolf Sagas, just to keep it fresh. As always, this is raw and uncut; enjoy responsibly.

The Rune 1.1

The Rune 1.2

The Rune 1.3

The Rune 1.4

The Rune 1.5

The Rune 1.6

The Rune 1.7

The Rune 1.8

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I awake in a cell, a concrete tomb that has never seen the sun, a barren womb that emanates stillborn despair.

My head is heavy, my eyes are leaden. Sleep in this place is hard and my dreams are unquiet. It takes me time to situate myself in this forgotten place. I am a prisoner, taken for my secret knowledge of the runes. I am cogent, but something stirs beneath the surface of my thoughts. Flashes of deeds and hidden memories threaten move in the deeps of my unconscious mind. Something has happened.

I remember a girl; Andrea, Adrianna, Amy? or was it a man? Andrew, Daffyd, Mikael? There was a gun. Corridors much like the one outside the cell. Monsters in the dark. And Runes, always Runes. Wierder things that I cannot quite grasp. I push deeper, trying to remember, willing myself to recall. But the images confuse me, overwhelm me, like a child leafing through an entire library shelf of books all at once. I feel like I am drowning. I gasp for air and let it go. Something is wrong.

After some time, I gather my wits. I decide it is best not to plumb the depths of my mind in such a place. At least not right now, not in such a dire place.

I take stock of what I know for certain. The easy stuff. How long have I been here? It seems like forever, but I cannot remember more than three days. I know that I failed a test somehow. They know I can see the runes. How did I give myself away?

And, of course, I know that on the wall across the cell from me, like an old companion, sits a rune. Massive and powerful, waiting for me, always waiting for the answer that only I can provide.

<End, For Now>

The Rune 1.8

After much soul-searching, I have decided to write a few short stories, unrelated to the other works, before continuing on with the next of the Shadow Wolf Sagas, just to keep it fresh. As always, this is raw and uncut; enjoy responsibly.

The Rune 1.1

The Rune 1.2

The Rune 1.3

The Rune 1.4

The Rune 1.5

The Rune 1.6

The Rune 1.7

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Amy with the gun, looked down, face ashen grim. She stood still, knuckles white around the handle of her weapon, lost in thought.

“Mark them,” she said after a long moment. “They want to follow us… They must want to use us to find the others. That means that they are alive and well.”

“It also means that they know runes. I thought runes were the tools of the enemy?”

“I’ll bring up the inquisition’s hypocrisy next time we meet for tea,” said Amy, recovering some of her vivacity. “But now you understand why I met with you, Gun in hand. These people will stop at nothing to destroy us.”

“Why?”

“… I don’t know, actually. They hate runes, but they use them. Power and control I guess. There are people who can answer your questions better than I can. We need to find them, but we cannot risk leading the Inquisition to them.”

“Can we lure something through the ‘mark them’ rune?”

“I don’t think so. It seems to be keyed to the runes marking the way. It will only mark people who are following those runes.”

“Maybe we are making this too complicated.”

I bent over the “MARK THEM” rune, concentrating. I reached out to the Rune.

“Wait, what are you…” began Amy.

Then I touched the rune. I felt a rush of power, a pure jolt running through me. Then I was flying through the air. I hit the wall and everything went black.

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