Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Metagaming Is A Wonderful Thing

    Something strange happened in my Dungeons and Dragons 5th adventure last weekend.  Something that has been so incredibly rare I can only think of one other time when it has almost happened and that was over 20 years ago.  It was incredible, strange, got my on the verge of spitting mad - and all really was a huge misunderstanding from not metagaming.  Which has given me a revelation: Metagaming Is A Wonderful Thing.

    Okay, this one you really had to be there to appreciate, so I need to set the scene a little.  Bear with me, this will help my point make more sense.  I have a small group of friends that I play with.  As with all long term gamers we all have our stereotypes (or maybe typecasts?).  Aaron is the theif, and usually ends up the de facto party leader weather he wants to or not.  Sara is the pinch-hitter, she tends to make whatever character role no one else has filled.  Thus, she's been a cleric more times than any of us.  Brandon is our archer.  And Matt is the wizard/sorcerer/magus, usually with a cart full of crafting supplies.  I tend to GM the most, even when we were doing the rotating GM thing (which I honestly like more than being a player).  To our merry band we have added three newer players, each with less role-playing experience.  Angela, Rose and Matt's wife Karlli are all somewhat new to gaming, but have played some Pathfinder, were in our 13th Age, and tried D&D 5th ed (except Karlli who was swamped with schoolwork that day, hopefully she'll be ble to join us later).  We've all played together, from a few times to dozens of times, and we all know each other to varying degrees in real life - and we're all friends.
    Which made this so strange.  When we started our 5th edition game, I gave the party time to introduce themselves.  Half the group had been making characters before we started playing, and we had not been able to meet together to go over stuff beforehand.  So during the uneventful initial carrage ride I let everybody get to know each other.  Which everybody did - except for Matt.  He just said that his abilities were not important, and he actually seemed to walk off during that section (Matt was talking to us over ooVoo from another state).  It was very unexpected, and nobody seemed to understand what was going on.  We all knew he was actually a Sorcerer though, we had talked to him a little before the adventure began.  Still, we didn't press, we just got the adventure started.  During the adventure, Matt sent me some text messages, telling me about how he was casting spells without letting the party know, and some other stuff.  I thought it was a little weird.
    Now, I have to step back a little again.  I had never ran a 5th ed game before, so I was a little nervous.  I had been in the middle of house ruling 13th Age to the point of making a new game, so I was glad to have a pre-packaged adventure for 5th that I didn't have to prep; but I also did not know it super-well since I had been distracted.  And that day, I had not slept well at all, actually for about a week before I'd been having trouble sleeping.  So I was not on top of my game that day.  And, like a bad GM, I let things spiral out of control instead of dealing with them.  Because at one point I got a text from Matt saying that he was going to go off and search for any loot away from the rest of the party - and I saw red.

    My take on RPGs is that they are team sports.  I do not award individual XP, it all goes into the group pot along with all the gold.  I expect my players to act like a team.  I am not out to get my players, I am not their enemy as GM, I am trying to give them an interesting box to play in (little sandy, but with some rail cars here and there).  The only "adversarial" game I have ever run was the original West End Game's Paranoia. While players were at each other's throats, it was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek send up of the RPG genera and players were given 6 clones in the expectation that they would all likely be dead before the end of the adventure.  And we only played it in junior high for a couple of times (best adventures ever to read though, laugh out loud funny stuff).  So I am focused on the players acting as a team.  And because of that, with only one exception, we have never had a player break off to do his own thing or be the sterotypical "backstab the party" sneaky bastard (actually, that exception was even in Aaron's game, I just got caught in the middle of it).
    So when Matt sent that text my first assumption was that he was going for that sort of 'betray the party' character, and I was pissed.  Like, hopping, frothing at the mouth mad.  I stopped the adventure, and started a diatribe that quickly escalated out of control.
    I was also completely wrong.  And so were my players.  I did not handle that situation well, and I need to apologize to Matt about it, because I only did one right thing in the whole situation - I stopped the adventure.  I went "out of character" and started what many would consider "metagaming."

    Metagaming tends to get a bad rap.  If you are not "playing in character" then you are doing something wrong is the usual assumption.  And I can kind of understand that.  I like associated mechanics (to borrow The Alexandrian's phrase) that keep the player in the character's headspace.  I like to keep my players engaged with the adventure.  But metagaming is not bad, and it is not wrong.  Actually a couple of great articles by The Angry GM (which I'll link below) really got me thinking about it in a clearer light.  And metagaming is great because it is the one thing that can clear up what I did wrong:
    I made an assumption about my player.
    I assumed that Matt was being an antisocial pain.  I assumed that he wanted to find some loot for himslef and not share it with the party.  I made a lot of assumptions and I didn't do the one thing I should have in the very beginning:
    I didn't ask him.

    Now, we all share some of this.  Even the players knew Matt was acting oddly, not the guy we had gamed with plenty of times before.  We knew something was up.  But none of us just steeped out of the game and asked him directly, "hey man, what's going on?"
    Instead, it took my blowup and nearly ejecting him from my game to actually stop and talk about why he was being the way he was.  And when we did, it made perfect sense.
    If you don't know 5th edition, it adds some role-playing stuff not in previous editions of D&D.  Namely, you get a Background, what you did before adventuring (and maybe still), and that comes with an Ideal, Flaw and Bond.  Your Ideal is what you value, your Flaw what tends to get you in trouble, and your Bond something or someone in the world that matters to you.  It adds some depth to your character beyond your abilities to kill monsters effectively.
    Thing was, Matt was just playing his character.  He had taken the Background of being an Urchin, and his Ideal/Flaw/Bond were all about how he had been hurt before and had trouble trusting anyone else.  So he hid his actions and his powers - not to backstab the party, but because Matt is an Actor at heart, and he was acting his character to the hilt.
    And I'm okay with that.
    I see an RPG as being two parts.  One is acting: speaking and making decisions in character.  The other is the game: having an adventure to discover and obstacles to overcome.  Monsters to kill, things to talk to.  I'm okay with acting, as long as it doesn't get in the way of playing the game.  As long as we keep moving and overcoming the obstacles, unfolding the adventure, I don't care how much or little acting a player wants to do.  And metagaming is a part of stepping in-between the two.  Of asking for clarification, of seeing the things that can't be properly replicated at the table.  Of setting up future stories and directing the game towards things the players find interesting.  Metagaming, talking about the game from outside the characters, is a great and wonderful thing because it can eliminate confusion.  It makes sure that everyone is on the same page, and that each player and the GM are all helping to create something specific and engaging to all involved.
    Funny thing is, for as much as I was mad at Matt at the time (and chagrined now), I actually like the kind of character that he created.  One of my favorite characters in fiction is Vin, from Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn fantasy series.  Vin is just like Matt's character, she was a street urchin, betrayed by her own brother and expecting to be hurt or betrayed by everyone.  Her story of growing and becoming a part of a team, and eventually a sort of savior of the world, is very compelling.  Also, in our own group Rose made a character with a very similar background, an urchin Half-Orc who grew to become a Cleric.  So knowing what Matt's character is, we can actually make a lot of great stories out of him discovering a better way to live, learning to trust his fellow adventurers, and possibly even make a great bond between Matt's and Rose's characters.  There is some great material to work with.
    Which we would have never realized unless we did the "metagaming" thing and actually talked about who everybody was.  So while I'm not proud of my own behavior, I think something very useful came out of the whole sticky situation.  A reminder of what we all knew, just managed to overlook.

    So my advise to you, from hard experience, is: don't be afraid of metagaming.  Step out and make sure that everybody is one the same page, then go back into inhabiting your character's head.  It's not a bad thing - it's vital to having an enjoyable experience for everyone.

*    *    *    *

    And since so many others tend to say things better than I can, here are a few links to The Angry GM about this very topic that I think are highly worth reading and discussing with your group-

Angry Rants: Stupid Decisions (and Metagaming)

Angry Rants: Stop Playing Against Stereotypes!

Angry Rants: Secrets (Part 1)
and find parts 2 and however-many-else because Angry is always worth reading :)

Music I Like- Blue October

    These guys are a little depressing, but I really like their music.  If you are in a bad spot in your life, or have ever been, odds are you can relate to at least some of their lyrics.

"Hate Me"
    I totally get this song, though my addiction is not booze.  I sincerely hope that you don't get this song, or feel this way, as much as I do.

"Bleed Out"
    For when you feel like your relationship is killing you.  I have never known this song personally, but I have been the one doing the cutting.

"Not Broken Anymore"
    Not all of their songs are about pain and heartbreak, but they seem to be kind of deep no matter what.  I like this song a lot, though the lyrics a little confusing.  It seems like the singer talking to himself, but it's phrased a little odd I think.  Still, great song.

The Homeless Nerd Reviews- The Last Witch Hunter

What Is It?  A Dungeons and Dragons adventure brought to B-movie life on the big screen

    Okay, I'm a die-hard, life-long gamer.  I love pen and paper RPGs.  In fact, they are one of the few things I really feel strongly about.  But I will be the first to admit that, weather home-brew or professional, they do not tend to have the most compelling or well-crafted plots.  I've read lots of books based on RPGs starting with Gygax's Gord the Rogue series through some Forgotten Realms and Eberron books, detouring through Arena for Magic the Gathering and even the couple of Top Secret S.I. novels.  None are what I would consider great fiction like Brandon Sanderson or Brent Weeks.  Just like with a game at the table, RPG-based stories tend to wander a little.  Now, for RPGs this is not such a big deal- the fun is in making the decisions and exploring the world, you generally are not expecting a tight and emotionally deep plot with so many cooks in the stew.  But when it comes to novels and movies, well, you generally want something just a bit more refined.
    Which leads me to The Last Witch Hunter.  This is a lot like a D&D adventure, which means it does not hang together as well as a movie should.  A lot of the screen time feels like it is chasing something that while a key part of the plot, does not really feel that dramatic or compelling.  There are enough explanations for everything, but none feel very well fleshed-out.  I really walked away with the feeling that there was a great movie buried in there somewhere, but it just was not quite executed right.  So many events could have been very interesting, but did not feel like they were set up.  There is a betrayal, but I had honestly forgotten that character was even in the movie - betrayal scenes only have an emotional beat if you are attached to the betraying character.  Not the character being betrayed, no, the character doing the betraying - that is where the real emotional punch is for the audience.  And the final plot hinges on being merciful and that mercy coming back to bite the characters in the posterior - which just did not really get set up with the right groundwork to have an emotional payoff.  So many things that were close, were good ideas, just not built right.  It actually reminded me a lot of Tomorrowland, another movie I thought had great concepts buried under poor execution.
    I did like Vin Deisel, thought he did a fine job with his character.  Rose Leslie was a really cool sassy street witch.  Michael Caine was in the movie, in a cameo basically.  And no one else left that much of an impression.  But the best character of all was the sword.  There are not many flaming swords in film, and the effect does not always look that cool.  A good flaming sword should be as awesome as a lightsaber, and in Last Witch Hunter the sword is awesome, looks perfect, and honestly was a big part of why I went to see the movie.  The sword deserved more screen time.

My recommendation- wait for it to come out on cable, it's good enough for passing a lazy afternoon

Sunday, October 25, 2015

First Play- Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

    Yes, I know I'm about a year late to the party :)
    Yesterday I ran my first game of D&D 5th, with 2 players who had played it a few times, and 4 players who had never played it.  So, here are some off-the-cuff impressions.

Simple But Flexible
    This is a turn away from the rules-heavy 3rd/4th editions to the mechanically lighter original D&D.  Which is good.  Every action is basically 4 things: attribute + proficiency + d20 roll (normal, advantage or disadvantage) + class/item/spell modifier (if any).  That's a pretty easy formula to get used to, and a lot of it is binary.  Either you have proficiency or you don't.  Either you have advantage or you don't.  Things don't stack, so if you have 2 things giving advantage and 1 giving disadvantage then you roll normally.  I'm not as sure about that, I kind of think it would be fun to pile up modifiers Fate Aspect styled, but it's fine in play.  Lots is also fixed, the proficiency bonus is the same for all characters of the same level, and attributes don't change very often.  Really easy to adjudicate on the fly.  The tight mechanics means even being bad at something still gives you a chance to succeed or contribute.

Not A Lot Of Class Abilities, But Usually Enough
    At first level most characters had 4-5 skills they were good at, and one or two decent abilities.  It was not as much as in Pathfinder, or even 13th Age in some ways, but it seemed to be enough.  I am a believer that the fewer abilities you have the more flexible they need to be.  Having Advantage on tracking Goblins is pretty specific, but having Advantage when Tracking is a bit more flexible.  5th falls just a little on the "too narrow" side to me, but is still playable enough.  Really, that's up to the players and while one did comment that he felt short on options everybody seemed to roll with it okay.

Decent Starter Adventure - The Lost Mine Of Phandelver
    I did pick up the Starter Set box a while back, so I ran the adventure straight out of the box (just adding a few monsters here and there since I had 6 players to start with).  It is not high fiction, but it is a pretty solid adventure/ mini-campaign.  We only got about halfway through it, but each the locations and encounters had enough interesting bits to keep everyone engaged.  It also goes from clearing a cave to talking to NPCs, and while the traditional goblin fight leads things off, there are a varity of opponents after that.  Overall I was satisfied with it, and it has enough dangling plot bits that I already know how I can continue it if the players want to keep playing.

Worst DMG Ever

    Wow, I cannot say enough about just how godawful that stupid DMG is- it's like it was written by children instead of experienced game designers.  A million random-roll tables to build everything from worlds to plots to plot twists to NPCs !?!?!?!  Really?  Have you never heard of the Internet?  A Google search will give you literally thousands of random generators for anything you want.  But even more importantly, have you never heard about creativity?  About building a world and NPCs and scene for a reason, to illustrate a point or convey an emotional beat?  For a purpose, not "because the dice said so"?  Really?  I would have expected a book like this back in the early 80s when the industry was new, not now.  And the stuff you really need, the peek inside the designers' minds to help you understand the fundamentals of the game?  Barely there at all.  No table for "expected wealth by level" to know how much loot and magic the monsters are scaled to be challenging against.  The section on making your races, classes, backgrounds, spells and magic items - the foundations of understanding the game's power and options - that's a whopping 7 pages.  And most of it boils down to "look at the existing and make up your own stuff" which is, well, pathetic.  You really never made a chart of abilities you think work for each level when you designed the classes yourselves?  You just threw darts at the board and hoped you'd get lucky?  Like I said, not very professional.
    There are at least about 10 pages of how to build a monster, so some solid advice, though I highly recommend you go to The Angry GM and check out his articles on building a monster in 5th.  And the obligatory list of magic items.  Not much else of use if you've ever GMed any RPG before.  I literally would not buy this book if I could find the magic items somewhere else.

Rangers Suck
    My players were a group with a Cleric, Barbarian, Fighter, Bard, Sorcerer and Ranger.  All were okay except for the Ranger.  What the hell happened to the Favored Enemy?  Talk about weak-sauce.  You learn their language, when the game already gives you more languages than anybody in even modern times learns.  You have Advantage to track and recall information about them. And THAT IS FRIGGING IT ?!?!?!?  W with a T and a giant all-caps in bold and italics F.  That's not a favored enemy, that's a favored friend.  A casual acquaintance.  No combat bonuses at all?  I remember back in D&D Next them talking about adding abilities to the favored enemy that would be targeted at that race's abilities.  So, a favored enemy of dragons would mean you were immune to fear, since all dragons had a fear aura.  That would not only be good against that favored enemy but also all other monsters with the same ability.  So, flexible.  Instead we went from that, I have to say brilliant, idea to this weak snot?  Somebody dropped the ball.
    Otherwise, the Bard's inspiration only applying to one character also kind of sucks.  If they can do it so infrequently then it should at least effect the whole party.  The rest of their abilities are useful enough though.  The Barbarian's Rage is crazy strong, he soaked damage like a sponge.  Everybody else seemed okay.

    I've got some more ideas, and a more detailed write up on some elements of 5th that I'm working on.  So I'll try to publish a more detailed review, or at least look at certain aspects of the game, soon.  Again, I'm pretty late to 5th so odds are you can find lots of people talking about everything I've noticed already - but since it's new to me I'm gonna blab about it anyways ;)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A Great Article About Being Poor

    Lifehacker is one of the sites I visit every day.  You can find all kinds of great articles about how to do all sorts of things in day to day life.  So when I read this article I had to link to it myself.

Being Poor Is Too Expensive - Lifehacker

    This isn't the usual tips and tricks, instead it's a very interesting look at some of the difficulties of being poor.  The thing is, in my experience, being homeless or poor is actually a lot harder than most people think.  There are a lot of different factors at work, not just economic but also often psychological.  The stereotype is that homeless people are alcoholics, but actually mental illness may be far more common.
    So what? I hear you ask.  Well, nothing really.  This is just a great look into a lifestyle that hopefully you cannot relate to yourself - if so you have led a blessed life.  If you have been there, well it's just kind of nice to know that you haven't been the only one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Music I Like- Rachel Platten

    I don't listen to the radio, or any streaming radio services, so I find new music in different places.  In this case, I really liked the song on the trailer for the Supergirl TV series coming out.  A quick Google and I found it was Rachel Platten, so here are some links.

"Fight Song"
    This was the trailer song, and I really like this a lot.

"Stand By You"
    I have a friend going through some trouble right now, and this song perfectly says how I want to be there to help.

"Beating Me Up"
    And finally, here's another cool song I like.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

13th Age (and others?) House Rule - Combat Tactics

    Okay, I have to give props, again, to the great work done on Large Polyhedron Collider about adding tactics to RPG combat.  That series of posts kind of influenced this 13th Age idea, and while I have linked to them before I think they are worth mentioning again.
    That out of the way, let me ask you a question: what do you spend the most time thinking about in combat?

    Rolling dice, adding up modifiers, those certainly take up a chunk of the combat turn.  Deciding what spell to cast, or limited-use power, might take a little time too - assuming your class has those.  In Pathfinder we had all the combat maneuvers, you could try to disarm or trip or stuff - but I found they rarely took a lot of time to contemplate, since they generally sucked.  In Pathfinder if you didn't build a character specifically for maneuvers then they were very hard to pull off.  Even if you did take a feat or class good at them, a lot of times they were hard to do (unless you wanted to grapple the mage) - generally you would have better odds of success by stabbing something with your sword.
    13th Age seems even worse.  They don't have any maneuvers.  The flexible attacks trigger on die rolls, so you don't need to think about them at all.  1/Battle and Daily abilities you think about, but once you actually use them then you have nothing to think about again.  From my limited playing and watching my players as GM, there is not a heck of a lot you really have to focus on.  At least, not much that the rules help you with - sure, you could concoct some wild scheme, but without a rule or guideline you have no idea if that might be possible or even helpful.  Rules give you a degree of understanding - this might work, that probably won't - and you can't make a choice without some knowledge.  New players, I think, really have a hard time trying to pull some hair-brained scheme out of their back pocket.
    So, tactics.  Tactics are specific maneuvers to accomplish some kind of goal.  Strategy is a broad framework, I'm the Ranger- good in the wilderness and with a bow.  Tactics are specific, I'm going to shoot that guy.  Strategy is pretty well represented in most RPGs, it's all the character creation stuff.  The character you built (or rolled) defines your general strategy.  But every fight is not at 30 feet on a flat field at noon (or, well, hopefully it isn't) - so you need tactics for how you change your fighting style to accommodate the environment or the opponent.  Sadly few games have tactics, mostly tactical choices instead are strategic abilities when you build your character.  Pathfinder was pretty bad about that (again, if you didn't specifically build for maneuvers you had slim chance of pulling them off successfully, and who cares about an option that doesn't work?).  13th Age really seems to suck at that, since the flexible attacks that should be tactical are instead taken out of your control and there are no maneuvers, fighting defensively or aid another.

    Okay, all that complaining out of my system- here's a house rule to add some tactics to your 13th Age game, that shouldn't imbalance things too badly (actually, given that combat is generally against the players, this might really help them avoid the TPK).  Fair warning, I haven't implemented this system in my own game yet, so use at your own risk.
    My 13th Age game is a mashup with some Fate elements, but you don't need that for this house rule.  I am going to present the tactics tied to the Fate Approaches, but that's just flavor text in this case (though, honestly, I love them a lot better than the default 13th Age "skills").  So this is something you can actually drop on top of your vanilla game despite the strange wording.
    So, tactics are about choices.  I want these to be choices that anybody can make - so these tactics are available to every character (and monster, if you want).  The best choices are conflicted, they have elements that are good and bad, so I'm going to try to make these both positive and negative (in different ways).  I'm going to say that a character can change tactics at will, but the post above has a good point that once you start fighting a certain way it can be hard to stop (given the focus on staying alive) so you could say that you have to disengage to switch tactics.  You could also say that the lowest initiative has to declare what tactic they are using first, then they are resolved from highest initiative to lowest.  This lets the characters/ monsters with good initiative try to pick the best tactic for the situation, which might be worth the extra time (and means some monsters at least need to use tactics, like the "elites" and/or normals - mooks don't seem like they should be skilled enough to use tactics).  Basically, there are a lot of ways to play with this system that I will leave up to your imagination.

    On to the actual tactics.  I have two sets of them, you can use some or all.  First, let's look at the active tactics, the ways a character can modify how they attack.  These were mostly designed for melee combat, but might work well enough for ranged combat too (this is a work in progress).  There is one tactic for every Approach.  With every tactic you have to set an Approach Die (AD)- which is just a d6, you choose what number, before rolling or resolving the tactic:
  • Forceful- add the AD to the damage you do and also to the damage you take.  This could be to only one opponent, or to everybody (up to your GM (or how crazy you're feeling?)).  This is like the "power attack" from Pathfinder, better damage at the risk of taking extra damage.
  • Clever- roll your attack normally, without any modifier from this tactic.  If you hit subtract your AD from your opponent's AD for any positive elements.  For example, if your opponent does a forceful tactic subtract your AD from their AD damage bonus - but do not change the extra damage they take from the tactic. (this could go only on hit, or weather you hit or not depending on how hard you want to make combat)  This is only good if monsters (by which I mean any bad guy, including humans and humanoids) can also use tactics, but hey- you only need to be clever against damgerous opponents.  I guess you could re-work this as a penalty to a foe's special ability (like spells, spell-like abilities and such) depending on your system and how you want it to work.
  • Quick- add the AD to your to-hit roll, but subtract it from your damage.  This is a fast attack (or series of attacks?), but that means not well aimed or very strong.  Good for when you have a hard time hitting anyways (I'd say a minimum of 1 damage after the AD mod) and to make weaker monsters a little dangerous.
  • Deliberate- roll your attack normally, without any modifier from this tactic.  If you hit your maximum damage is the AD (or, each die rolled maxes at the AD).  However, if you get hit the maximum damage you can take is the AD.  This is "fighting defensively," looking to protect yourself, at the cost of doing less damage.  Good if you need to buy time for an ally to come to your aid.  Exactly how to convert the damage depends on your system (I'm actually moving to a different, simplified HP system myself which I'll describe later).
  • Noticeable- roll your attack normally, without any modifier from this tactic.  On your next turn only, add this action's AD to your next action in a positive way (for example, to the bonus damage done with forceful, but not the extra damage taken).  Noticeable is about being seen, so this is where you create a false opening to lure in your opponent.  It's planning for the future, watching the fight unfold.
  • Sneaky- choose weather to add the AD to hit or damage or armor class/defense.  After the action, lower the AD by 1.  If the AD is still in play (above 0) then the next time you use a Sneaky tactic in this battle you re-use the die.  You can still choose what to apply it to, and again lower by 1 after until it is out of play.  Being sneaky is very powerful, and flexible, the feint or backstab kind of maneuvers.  But, once you've stabbed someone in the posterior the odds are that they are going to pay more attention to you to avoid that happening again.  So I designed sneaky to stick around and lose effectiveness over time, keeping that "burst damage" feel I think.

    With those 6 tactics, players now have ways to modify how they act in combat, hopefully giving them something interesting to think about and a meaningful choice to make.  But after working out the above system I noticed that something was still lacking. There wasn't really a way to do that "aid another" like in Pathfinder.  I debated adding it as another tactic/approach, then had a really crazy thought- what if each tactic could be used either for oneself, or to aid an ally?  Now, there would be 6 different ways to help your teammates, which again hopefully you could customize to the situation.  So here is a list of six more tactics, when used to help an ally instead of yourself.  You still roll a normal attack/action - but instead of adding the Approach Die somehow, instead the AD is used for your ally.  If you hit, or no matter what if your GM is generous (since something that you know will work is worth doing as opposed to trying something that may or may not work).
  • Forceful- knock your foe off-balance, giving your ally your AD as a bonus to hit.
  • Clever- create an opening, giving one ally a free attack (with or without tactic modifiers?) against your opponent.
  • Quick- interrupt your foe, subtracting your AD from their positive tactic bonuses against one ally.
  • Deliberate- interpose yourself between your foe and an ally, taking the foe's attack against yourself instead.  You can intercept 1 attack for every point of your AD, but you also take your AD as a penalty to your defense.
  • Noticeable- attract a foe's attention, giving that foe your AD as a penalty to hit any allies.
  • Sneaky- set up your foe for an ally to finish off, adding your AD to your ally's positive tactic modifiers.

    Combat is important, life is on the line after all.  So we want it to be meaningful, to be engaging.  Which I think a lot of games have a hard time doing well.  Too much combat seems to be crunching numbers or adding dice, and not enough thinking about the situation and trying to find the best actions.  You should ideally be thinking about the fight from your character's boots, not juggling standard/move/quick/free actions, attacks of opportunity/reactions and 5 foot squares.  I think this tactic system might help add some meaningful choices to the player's list of things to think about.  I'm still polishing it to use in my current campaign, so I'll let you know after I have a chance to use it.  If any of you are brave enough to try, please throw me a comment below.  Theoretically you could use this in any game, Pathfinder or D&D 5th say, that had similar mechanics for resolving a fight.

Random Note- in Fate Accelerated the approaches have slightly different names.  What I call Deliberate is called Cautious.  And my Noticeable is called Flashy.  I kind of like my names better, for reasons, but I wanted to point it out to clarify any possible confusion.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Homeless Nerd Reviews- The Intern

    I ended up seeing this one with some friends, it was not something that looked very interesting (given that I'm a SF&F guy) but I decided to tag along and give it a try.  First, as a 40 year old guy the Robert De Niro character says something to me (granted I'm not his retirement 70, but I can see that down the road (and it terrifies me)).  So I had a little bonding to the premise.  "Ben" has retired, lost his wife, and is bored out of his skull.  So he decided to try an intern position with a fashion/web company founded by "Jules" (Anne Hathaway).  He is the fish out of water, with his old-school ways amid a group of twenty-somethings. But his unique perspective helps everyone around him re-evaluate their own lives.
    It's a cute movie, and a lot better than I expected it to be.  It starts at a good pace, and things keep unfolding steadily with some interesting characters.  Until the end.  None of the plot threads really seem to wrap up well, I was trying to think of how to describe it for this review and "lack of closure" is the only phrase that comes to mind.  It does end, but I did not feel a good sense of closure from anything.
    Still, it was well-acted, and entertaining to watch.  There were some great moments (the break-in scene, classic).  De Niro is great, of course - and so is Anne Hathaway and the supporting cast.  I liked everybody, as characters and performances.  My only real complaint is how the story just didn't seem to close very neatly.  It kind of fades away instead of ending on a good cathartic note.

My recommendation- catch the cheap show and give it a chance, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Homeless Nerd Reviews- The Martian


Okay, that's not really a review.

    IT IS AWESOME !!!!!!

Music I Like- The Script

    A good friend of mine sent me some songs that really moved me, which prompted me to spend a while searching YouTube for some songs to send in return that said the emotions I was feeling.  I don't listen to the radio, so I don't hear a lot of new songs.  Mostly I just replay the music I've accumulated over the years.  And since this blog is about whatever random things I like, well, here are some links to a band that - like me - you might not have heard of, The Script.

    I like a good, upbeat song- so here's one.

"No Good In Goodbye"
    So, let's switch gears and listen to something kind of sad (in an upbeat way).  This one has some personal meaning to me, I lost someone I really cared about some time ago, and it has been difficult to deal with.  Mostly because I was an idiot and treated her badly, but that's going to be another post.

"If You Could See Me Now"
    My biological father passed away when I was in High School, and I've met a lot of great people who I will likely never see again - so this is another song that has some personal meaning to me.  Also, this is about the only kind of "rap" that I like.
    As the video says, there is some language in the song - one whole swear word.  So it's not much, and if you don't like cursing then don't play the clip.

    They have a lot of other cool songs, but if you don't like these three odds are you won't be a big a fan of their music.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

First Play- Death Angel: the Space Hulk card game

    My friend Aaron got the Space Hulk board game back in High School, and we also got into the Warhammer 40,000 wargame too.  So I kind of fondly remember the WH40K universe, and when we saw the Death Angel card game I talked him into getting it (which just involved putting it in his hands).  That was a few years ago, and just now I finally played it solo (apparently he forgot about it).
    I was not a big fan of the Space Hulk board game, while a hard game makes winning feel even better, I don't like games so hard that you should expect to lose far more often than you win.  I'm kind of a wimp gamer that way.  And Space Hulk was hard.  You played a group of Space Marines, basically super-soldiers in high-tech armor, exploring a "space hulk" - a ruined starship - infested with Genestealers, basically the aliens from Alien.  There were only about 6 marines, and a whole bunch more of the aliens.  Like Descent you had terrain tiles that made up the rooms of the ship, and you had a "quest" to get to a certain room or do something.  It was a tactical wargame, and the Space Marine player needed a lot of luck and smarts, and the Genestealer player got to enjoy being evil.
    While I was not a huge fan of the board game, I had some sort of fond memories playing it - so I was more than willing to give the card game a try.  Essentially the two are the same, in the card game up to 4 players control the Space Marines, and cards set up the rooms and control the Genestealers.  Which was one of the things that intrigued me about the game, you can play it solo.  At the end of each turn there is an event card that creates new Genestealers, moves a random number of them to random places, and basically controls everything else.  I played solo, everybody else was at work.  The Space Marines form a line, and each row is like one space or hex.  The Marines also have facing, and can only use some abilities against Genestealers in the same facing, so there is a real boardgame feel of space and positioning.  Most Marines can shoot 1 or more rows, so they can help defend other Marines, but a few are melee only and restricted to their own row.  Each room has terrain, like a corridor or door or grate, and each piece of terrain is in a different row, and the Genestealers spawn from those rows at random.  There can only be one Marine in a row, but the Genestealers can form groups.  To attack, the Marine rolls a custom D6 and has a 50% chance to hit, killing 1 Genestealer.  The Marines also roll to defend, and the die has numbers from 0 to 5.  If the Marine rolls a number greater than the Genestealers in the group attacking he survives, roll equal or less and he dies.  Thus, a group of 5 Genestealers is a automatic death sentence, which has that feel of dread and pack tactics that the board game also had.

    The game is hard, but the funny thing is that it feels artificially hard.  Like it was deliberately stacked against you, not that the circumstances themselves were difficult.  Each pair of Marines chooses one action to perform each round - from Support (help another Marine), Move + Activate (switch places or change facing and use a door or terminal if it is on the same row) or Attack (try to kill Genestealers).  In the board game each Marine could move and attack using Command points, and basically vary exactly what and how much they did from turn to turn.  In the card game, you cannot perform the same action twice in a row.  So if you attack this turn, you have to Move or Support next turn.  Why?  This feels like a totally artificial problem, it does not make any sense on its own.  Also, in the board game the Genestealers were represented by "blips,"  face-down markers that could be anywhere from 0 to 3 (I think, maybe even 5, not sure) individual Genestealers.  Basically, it was like the Aliens motion tracker, you were pretty sure something was over there, but not exactly how many.  This lack of knowledge was a big part of the suspense and downright fear of the game.  In the card game however, every blip card is exactly 1 Genestealer.  So there is no guessing, no fear involved.  To move on to the next room you have to clear one of two blip piles, and to win the game you have to clear the final room.  I lost 2 Marines in the first room, and then 2 more in the second room, and survived a turn or two in the third room - the fourth was the last.  So it was hard, like I remember the board game being, but it didn't really feel fair.  I felt like I was supposed to lose, like the rules wanted me to lose, not like they wanted to challenge me.

What I liked...
  • Has The WH40K Trappings - you have the Space Marines, one that carries a Heavy Flamer, another has the Autocannon, going room by room trying to survive the wave of Genestealers; so it has that Warhammer feel that is pretty cool.
  • Tactical Positioning From Simple Rules - getting that "board game grid" feel from having rows and facing is actually a pretty neat trick for just some simple rules, I would love to see that layout used in other card games to give them some depth.
  • Solo Play - it is neat to have a game that you can play without an adversary, or even without any other players.  I do like that sort of thing.

What I didn't like...
  • Doesn't Feel Hard, Feels Mean - hard is okay, when there is a good reason for why things are hard; this just felt mean.
  • No Good Example Of Play - the rulebook is not that long, and really the game is pretty simple, but there is not a great example of play to make the game and its steps clear and easy to understand.  Still, you get the hang of it pretty quick.
  • Not Sure What Good Having Friends Is - I played the game solo, and honestly I don't know what benefit it would have been to have friends with me.  So much of the game is random, and so hard to plan ahead, I would think adding more people would actually make it harder, not easier.  Still, I never did try it with multiple players, this is just an impression.

My recommendation - skip this one, or borrow a friend's deck to try it first.  May not be everyone's cup of tea.