Category Archives: rpg

For the loot, honey, for the loot.

I mentioned in a previous post how pleased I was to see that I could instruct my companion in SWTOR to toddle off and sell all my junk loot in order to keep my limited inventory space clear for more important items, such as my fifteenth cosmetic neckerchief – this one will look simply darling in any medium-to-long range combat situation. Of course I imagine that Force users don’t instruct so much as persuade, in what is apparently the Jedi/Sith equivalent of sudo make me a sandwich. I mean, I’d make a rubbish Jedi, because the potential for Force abuse would be far too tempting to resist:

Companion: “But my favourite is green!”
Jedi [making a hand movement]: “Your favourite is yellow.”
Companion: “But my favourite is yellow!”
Jedi: “Well gosh, that *is* most conveniently handy, because that means you can have the yellow wine gums, and I’ll have all the green ones – which are my favourite.”
Companion: “Yay!”
Jedi [makes a subtle hand movement]
Companion: “Ow! Damnit!”
Jedi: “The phantom knicker-elastic snapper again?”
Companion: “It’s, like, every time we’re on the ship.”
Jedi: “It really is most perplexing.”
Companion: “And then there are all those draughts that keep lifting my dress. But we’re on a ship, Jedi! In the vacuum of space! IT’S A VACUUM!”
Jedi: “It is a *terrible* mystery. Truly it is. *monch* *monch* Mmmm, these green wine gums really are delicious.”

In my fresh play through of Skyrim as well, I quickly decided that I will skip the insane levels of inventory juggling and trips to the shops to sell my leftover loot, and instead I would only collect items which would really improve my character immediately, along with any gold coins I stumbled upon.

This is no revelation, just a simple hop skip and a jump along the natural progression of ‘loot leaving’ in an RPG. At first you leave no item unyoinked, twigs, bits of frayed string, fish bones, odd socks, cabbage leaves, cat hairballs, those waffle makers that everyone buys and only ever use once. Heck, it takes half an hour to progress a yard down the first path you encounter while you collect every piece of gravel along the way. After a while you make some money –because in EVERY RPG you start out with no money whatsoever– and you start to feel a little more flush, so that you only feel the need to, say, pick up every other Marmite jar. And you manage to pretty much leave the empty ones alone entirely! A little further in your progress down the Road of Single Player RPG, you find that the weapons and armour your opponents drop are hardly worth enough to warrant collecting, and you barely even look twice at old toenail clippings any more. Yet more time invested sees you leaving even some magical items, recoiling at the thought of having to break off from adventuring in order to traipse all the way back to town to sell them. And it’s not like you’re desperate for the gold now – a little more gold and you can probably buy that really nice castle down by the lake, with the hot tub and the billiard room. You know you’re over the hill of progression and coasting down the other side towards the retirement village of Dunitallnow upon Sea when you start to leave any item that isn’t a legendary artefact, and even then you have to think twice before popping the Holy Invincible Fist of the Almighty into you backpack in order to see if someone will give you some money for it; possibly enough to buy a new gold and diamond pull-chain for your en suite toilet back at the castle. In the end you reach the point where you’re so rich you just abandon cavernous rooms full of wondrous treasure, and when kings offer you dominion over entire regions of their kingdom, you sniff haughtily and give them such a look, as though they’d just rubbed themselves all over with dog poo and asked for a hug.

And yet, despite being so rich that I could buy the moon and still not have enough real estate to store all my worldly (and moonly) possessions, I *still* can’t walk past a blarmed wardrobe and dresser without having a peak inside, just in case. Just in case?! Just in case what? Just in case this mangled camphor box –inside a decrepit old woman’s rundown house– has, amongst the mouldy long knickers, scarves and the top half of a set of false teeth, the Inevitable Sword of Impossible Greatness? A weapon which could cleave the planet in twain and complete my dominion of time and space! Unlikely as that is, it might be hidden there, I’ll just have a peak… “ah no, it’s just some mouldy long knickers and a dusty long pink rubbery… is that a… ?! A…?! Aaaa…aaahhh! Oh, ugh, I think it is! Ewww! Ewww! I think I touched it!” And then I have to spend the next five minutes flapping around the place, holding my hands as far away from the rest of me as possible, while looking for some soap and running water. Such are the hazards of the ever-looting RPG adventurer.

But why this compulsion to look for that next improbably powerful item on the Fantasy Top 100 Items That Could Destroy A World? I mean, if it can cleave a world in twain, is that good? Can you cleave too much? Can you have too much cleavage? If it has a thirty six times direct damage modifier when cleaving, do I really need that? In RPG terms that would be 36DD Cleavage, and I’ve just no idea if I could even handle something of that magnitude.

In the end, I know who to blame: for, every time I get the urge to search for loot, the devil of temptation and the angel of abstinence are to be found, sat upon either shoulder, giving me advice. The devil whispers in my ear “Go on, loot it, looooot it; you know you want to”. A sweat breaks out on my brow, my hand hovers over the loot key, but with a wince I draw my hand sharply back as though the keys were brands which would burn ‘inveterate looter’ onto my finertips for all to see. I turn with great effort to the angel of abstinence who looks upon me with kind eyes full of understanding. Steepling her hands in front of her mouth, she looks thoughtful for a brief moment, and then shouts “For God’s sake man, what are you waiting for?! Loot the damn handbag, there could be some amazing treasure in there!”

Stupid angel of abstinence.

Every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction.

I’m suffering from a bout of that irrepressible excitement one often feels with regards to creating a new character; this time however, it’s for Dragon Age: Origins and not another of my innumerable MMO alts. It’s something I haven’t felt in an MMO for quite some time and which I dearly miss, but I think that’s more likely down to my general quietus with respect to MMO hype at the moment, than anything that MMO developers are doing specifically wrong.

To clarify: it’s that feeling you get deep down when you are inspired with a character concept and want very badly to plan out that new character and, more desperately, to see how your new concept pans out within the game. It’s that frenzy of creation that gets your text editor all hot and sweaty, and where Imagination, Anticipation and Expectation throw caution to the wind, discard their clothing and have a frolicking good roll around together between the spreadsheets.

City of Heroes used to drive me to distraction like this when I was playing it; the sheer number of archetype, powerset and costume combinations meant that I could latch on to the smallest thing, be it a single costume item, a combination of a couple of powers, or something else, and build an entire concept around them. Then out would come the spreadsheet and the lists of powers and levels and slots and enhancements, and a build would be meticulously planned. What was worse, as that character was being built, another powerset combination would leap out at me and I’d put the current character plan on hold whilst I built up that concept in my mind; each new idea was like the innocent trickle of snow that is in fact the prelude to an avalanche, a small idea popping unceremoniously into your mind, and before you know it you are buried alive beneath a metres-thick carpet of densely compacted thoughts on costumes and names and builds and all of the overwhelming potentialities.

World of Warcraft did a similar thing but on a smaller scale, with every class appearing deeply appealing, as though they were all attuned to some fundamental primordial genetic trait that is inherent to MMO adherents. Talent specialisations initially served to expand the horizon to the good ship Customisation, offering tantalising hints at new lands that players might discover with their characters, but alas in this case the world turned out to be flat, and players who did not follow the tried and tested paths were doomed to fall off the edge of the world and be lost to the game forevermore.

Many other MMOs have offered the same: EQ2 almost drove me insane with the options and potential for my character. Maybe it did. I wouldn’t be entirely confident in denying the fact that I’m actually still sitting on the floor of my room, rocking back and forth while surrounded by a cityscape of sheets of paper, some crumpled into balls, others folded into obscure shapes, all of them covered in tiny blocks of illegible scrawl and connected by crisscrossing lines and arrows which, unknowable to anyone but me, attempts to plot my perfect character in the world of Norrath. I also expect that other MMOs would provide similar excitement if the game itself appealed to me, Fallen Earth’s expansive skill trees sound like a potential Petri dish of breeding material for the rapidly multiplying bacterial disease that is my desire to build new and interesting characters, for example.

I’m glad that I have, for now, found the bug again through my enjoyment of Dragon Age. I’ve just recently completed the game on its easiest setting whilst skipping many of the side quests, just in order to get to the end and experience the core of the game, something I am notoriously bad at achieving; I am not a game finisher, in the main. However, having finished and got an ending that was pretty much all that I had hoped it to be, I am left wanting more. Thankfully there is plenty more to be had: I have many side quests to complete, party character personal quests, and other such content to explore. I can also try the game now on a harder difficulty, knowing that it won’t put me off entirely if I have to replay a fight a few times and attempt to be more tactical about things rather than just charging blithely in and hoping that it will turn out for the best.

And of course I get to create a new character. I played a Warrior the first time around, a feisty noble lady who become a Templar and a Champion and swung a huge two-handed sword at her foes. Now I’m tempted by an Arcane Warrior, a mage who can get into the thick of melee and mix it up with the best of them. So there are spells to consider now where my Warrior had none, and which armour would be best, and what weapon. I won’t be able to wear my beloved Templar Armour this time around – the most gorgeous looking heavy armour outfit I think I’ve ever seen – both because it’s restricted to Templars only, and also because it is not the best armour in the game; I could afford to wear what looked best when playing the game on the easier setting, but the rules of the Maxminati come in to effect at greater difficulty levels, and so style has to be eschewed for stats, as is regrettably the way in so many RPGs, MMO or otherwise.

So here’s to you, Velkyria, Grey Warden and champion of the people of Ferelden. Enjoy your retirement travels with your dear Leliana, and I will see you again with the coming of the next DLC and Dragon Age 2.

VelkyriaVelkyria in Templar Armour

Until then, I have a spreadsheet and a few text editor windows burning a hole on my desktop.

Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young.

I decided to grab the Dragon Age: Origins character creator last night; I’ve no intention of getting the game any time soon because it sounds like it’s going to be one of Bioware’s typically epic games, and I really don’t have the time at the moment to dedicate to it.

But I’m a sucker for a good character creator.

So I downloaded the three hundred and seventy-odd megabyte installer, ran it and then launched the newly installed character creator.

The first thing that popped-up was an ESRB rating certificate, with the following advisory text:

“M for Blood, Intense Violence, Language, Partial Nudity, Sexual Content”.

“Wow”, thought I, “this is going to be some serious character creation”.

So I rolled up my sleeves and got a box of tissues handy.

I’ve never been so disappointed to see a bunch of sliders, stats and text dialogues, in all my life.

Story, achievement and progression

The Beatles: Rock Band, Guitar Hero 5 and Rock Band 2 (yes, they really did release the Wii version in the UK) are RPGs. Honest. Oh, all right, they’re actually music games, you’ve defeated me with your piercing logic, but they do have some RPG elements.

All three games share the basic push-coloured-buttons-in-time-to-music basic gameplay; you can just launch in and play on your own or in a band with friends for fun, or you can play competitively, with each performance gaining a number of points and awarded a rating out of five stars. All three games also offer some sort of extended gameplay mode.

The Beatles: Rock Band features a story mode; those of you who like to play amateur detective may be able to deduce from the title of the game that it’s the story of the Beatles. In this mode the songs are arranged chronologically rather than by difficulty and inextricably linked to famous venues like the Cavern Club and Abbey Road studios, through which you progress linearly. You’re always represented as your chosen Beatle, with garb and instrument appropriate to the time, and have no way of affecting the story; you can’t decide to split the band up in 1968 or keep it together in 1970. It’s a bit like an early laserdic game, one of the ones that basically just played a series of sequences and forced the “player” to push the right button at the right time to keep it going. It makes a lot more sense when pushing the buttons is quite fun, though, and in the case of The Beatles the story is the music, which is the gameplay. As a linear story there isn’t a great incentive to play through it more than once, though there are some bonus bits n’ pieces (mostly photographs and some audio and video clips) for either compulsive completionists or Beatles fanatics.

Guitar Hero 5 and Rock Band 2 have career and tour modes respectively that start with that RPG staple, character creation. Name your band, pick a logo, and create the band members. Rock Band 2 is the more traditionalist, allowing you to select your face, hairstyle, physique etc., then handing you your starter gear of a tatty t-shirt, jeans and a basic instrument; Guitar Hero 5 is more akin to City of Heroes or Champions, offering a massive range of outfits to select from and customisable instruments down to the pick-guard colour and knob configuration (Matron) on your guitar. Both games then despatch you to various venues, and hand out cash as well as points scores and star ratings for playing songs.

The Guitar Hero 5 career is fairly structured. There isn’t a story as such (some of the previous games had little cut scenes, usually of a generic small town band becoming global megastars as you progressed with the odd digression into rock heaven/hell), you’re turned loose into a series of venues, broadly arranged in increasing difficulty, each with five to eight songs. Future venues, and songs within venues, need to be unlocked but it’s a fairly swift process with a degree of freedom, not the strictly linear progression of the first few Guitar Hero games or The Beatles. On top of the usual five star rating each song also has a challenge, as I outlined previously, giving plenty of goals for the achievement-centric, offering a further three stars to collect plus various costume and character unlocks.

Tour mode in Rock Band 2 has the strongest elements of development or progression. Starting out clad in an old t-shirt with $100 to your name, the money you’re awarded for successfully completing songs is vital for expanding your collection of clothes, instruments and accessories. You pick a home city for your characters and the band, and initially have access to a limited selection of small venues in nearby cities; as you play, you can compete in challenges to unlock vehicles, allowing access to venues further afield, and bigger venues as you become more successful In addition to cash rewards you earn fans for performances, giving a measure of success, and you can even hire a member of support staff like a promoter or merchandise vendor. You could almost remove the playing-along-to-songs bit and still be left with a tycoon-style band management game.

While not quite meeting all four of Bioware’s pillars of RPG (“you’ve got exploration, you’ve got progression, you’ve got combat, and you’ve got storytelling”) it’s interesting to see cross fertilisation of mechanics across game genres. Next stop, a proper guitar-wielding Bard class in an MMO! Or maybe a dual-wielding mace class using a drum set for the input, I can think of someone who’d be ideal for that…

Thought for the day.

I think the general discussion, triggered by Zubon’s original post has covered most of the bases, but my basic thought is thus: computer RPGs are to pen and paper RPGs as movies are to books; it’s about having your world defined, as opposed to having it outlined. It’s much harder to bring one’s imagination into play in the former. Not impossible, but the odds are stacked against it.

Life is either a great adventure or a tiny one.

If you have, like myself, been dragged kicking and screaming by relatives and friends into the hellish nightmare reputation grind that is online social networking, you may be able to take some solace from the fact that there is a refuge for nerds even in these deep dark depths of despair. If you subscribe to the behemoth of online friend networks, Facebook, it will be well worth checking out the charming Dungeons and Dragons Tiny Adventures.

A nice in-depth review can be found here on the ever impressive

For such a simple interface, in such an unlikely gaming environment, it provides one of the more compelling fantasy RPG adventures that I’ve had in a while. The little adventure stages, with their descriptive and evocative text, rather than the simple “WINNAR!” or “EPIC FAIL!” that would have been so much simpler for the developers to employ, take the game a level above what one would expect from a miniature application tucked into a social networking site. I find myself excited to log in and find out what adventure my character undertook and whether they were successful, it’s like reading a mini adventure story with your character at the center of it all, just as RPGs are supposed to be; the text is short but descriptive, and your imagination, assuming it is above the level of a lobotomised newt, can fill in the blanks and produce the visuals, as one does with any compelling storytelling.

I’ve yet to try adventuring with friends, but seeing as I have at least TWO WHOLE friends on Facebook who might be interested in trying it out, I expect I’ll have a go sooner or later.

A word of warning though, the game has been suffering with the usual launch problems, in particular I think their network/database back-end is having trouble coping with the number of players, and I assume that this may well only get worse as word gets around about this nifty! little application, that a lot of grown-up MMOs could learn a thing or two about usability and pure essence of fun from.

To that end my dwarf warlord is off adventuring through the Stronghold of the Drow again, starting from level one due to a rollback that had to be performed which reverted to a date before I had started playing, and even now I frequently experience the frustrating +1 Message of “Too many connections”.

However, should you wish to undertake this adventure, and should you make it past the demon-headed database dog of doom, you will find a tiny experience of what online RPG games should be about.

Thought for the day.

Considering all the posts we’re seeing in the MMO blogsphere about how Warhammer Online is just another MMO in the same vein as World of Warcraft, Everquest and co – that is it’s based upon DikuMUD design philosophies, which in turn were based on ye olde Dungeons & Dragons – I wondered what features that didn’t get ported from D&D would be excellent to have in this current generation of MMOs.

The Eraser of Infinite Gold Supply would be a fine start. Need to get that epic mount? Don’t have the means to afford that magic sword? Simply wait for an opportune moment when the GM isn’t looking (perhaps distract them by throwing a cheese ball at their head) and then quickly apply the Eraser of Infinite Gold Supply to your inventory; suddenly you’ll have more money than you could ever spend! And don’t worry about the suspicious looks that the GM throws your way, there’s no denying that you earned that gold, it’s etched right there on your character sheet in indelible pencil…

How about the Gatling Wand of Token Healing? Grab a wand, stick a hundred charges of healing on it, and watch even the most unlikely characters become healing gods. But where one wand is good, ten wands strapped together firing off of a chain driven rotating cylinder is just enough to make your GM cry. Suffice it to say that I found wands in 3.5ed DnD to be a bit daft.

There are plenty of excellent skills that could be ported as well, including but not limited to:

  • “I meant to position myself out of their line of sight, honest.”
  • “We never declared our marching order so the armoured dwarf was definitely at the front”. (Handy for ambushes)
  • “Switch to a flanking position when the GM is on a loo break.”
  • “We never declared our marching order so the trap-spotting elf was definitely at the front”. (Handy for trapped hallways)
  • “Re-roll for attack because the ‘dice was cocked’, until you get a 20.”
  • “We never declared our marching order so the cloth-wearing gnome was definitely at the front”. (Handy for when you hate gnomes, or people who play gnomes)
  • “Re-use a weapon I dropped earlier and hope the GM doesn’t notice.”
  • “Retroactively add item to inventory.” (Always handy when you forgot to bring rope. Again.)

Then there’s the Instant Re-roll of the Alt Addicted, where your character of twelve levels, who has adventured through hell and high water with the current band of merry adventurers, suddenly and unexpectedly develops a bad case of buttock warts which prevents them from adventuring further, but luckily there’s another level twelve character of another class (which is going to be much more fun to play, oh yes) to take their place almost instantly!

It is interesting to note, though, that many forms of metagaming have already been ported to MMOs. For example, when your character enters a room that is full to the rafters with furnishings, it’s uncanny how they know to make their way over to the mundane and modest looking book that’s second from the left on the third shelf up of the fourth bookcase. Heroes have the funniest skills.

Like a true Nature’s child.

I can’t help prodding these things when I see them going around the various blogs. I try to answer them honestly. And I always come out as an apathetic tree-hugging hippy loafer. Next time I do one of these, I’m telling it that I’m four feet tall, have bulging muscles everywhere – including on my eyebrows – and that my hobbies include chopping up things with big axes, and drinking the blood of my enemies.

I Am A: True Neutral Human Druid (4th Level)

Ability Scores:

True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he’s not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment because it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Druids gain power not by ruling nature but by being at one with it. They hate the unnatural, including aberrations or undead, and destroy them where possible. Druids receive divine spells from nature, not the gods, and can gain an array of powers as they gain experience, including the ability to take the shapes of animals. The weapons and armor of a druid are restricted by their traditional oaths, not simply training. A druid’s Wisdom score should be high, as this determines the maximum spell level that they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character You Would Be.

Or just make one up, and then you won’t be disappointed.