March 17

Faulty Knowledge

As I think about the next Vampire chronicle I intend to run, I find myself looking at different blogs and message boards for pointers to help me up my game as a World of Darkness Storyteller.

VTM WP

Today, I’d like to share a really good idea that I came across on Reddit. One user over there suggested that the GM (he was not speaking in terms of World of Darkness, so ‘storyteller’ was not the term used), rather than the player, takes any knowledge rolls that a player needs to make. This allows the GM to roll in secret and, in the case of a success, impart any relevant knowledge to the player. The secret roll, however, allows the GM to, in the event of a failed or botched roll, give incomplete or outright incorrect information to the players without them realising their character is misremembering, misinformed or just plain stupid.

I love this idea.

My only minor concern is taking agency away from my players. Someone on the thread offered a way around this, with a player rolling three differently coloured dice and the GM selecting in advance which he will use. This gives the player more an inkling of how reliable the information is. If, for example, the player rolls a 20, a 1 or a 12, it will be more likely that the information is accurate. This is a good solution for games that only require a single dice roll per test, but it does not work quite so well with games in the World of Darkness range where you are more likely to be rolling a larger pool of dice and counting successes.

D10

With this in mind, I think that I will go with the first idea and roll knowledge tests myself. The main advantage for me is that I have a group who, for whatever reason, seem to distrust a lot of what I tell them. This leads to a lot of discussion and consideration among the group, which is something I really like and want to foster. I think that secret knowledge tests with the chance of faulty knowledge will give the players more opportunities to engage in this sort of communication.

Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to my next chronicle.

February 22

Malifaux Update: 22/02/15

My enjoyment of Malifaux continues apace and I am trying to get games in when I can. Today, my goal is to get a bit of painting done, as i have not painted anything since completing my first two crews at the starty of the year. To this end, I’ve been doing a bit of spraypainting. Here is the latest batch:

Malifaux: Spraying

This assortment includes the Hired Swords (Viktorias) set and my entire Rail Crew, including the Rail Crew (Mei Feng) set, Willie the Demolitionist, Howard and Joss from the M&SU (Ramos) set, the Rail Golem and three Metal Gamin. Got a lot of painting ahead of me!

I have also been working on other crews, including my Jack Daw crew, including this chap:

Montressor

This is my proxy for the currently unavailable Monstressor. I have used the Solomon Grundy model from the Batman range as the base, adding a hat and a hanging victim which, I believe, is an old model from the Foundry – at least it came in a job lot of Foundry cowboys I picked up at a bring and buy sale a few years ago.

I have also picked up these old Wyrd miniatures for use at The Guilty:

Proxies: The Guilty

Finally, to represent Jack Daw’s totem, Lady Ligeia, I used the Mourner from the Hell Dorado range:

Hell Dorado: Mourner

Really looking forward to putting this gang together, but a little intimidated by the apparent complexity of the crew.

February 9

Characterful Cross-Faction Crew Construction

As I delve into Malifaux, one thing I am really enjoying is formulating crew lists for different masters. Each faction in the game seems quite well defined, with each having clear specialities, strengths and weaknesses, but all ultimately feeling relatively balanced as a whole. They certainly all have a unique ‘feel’ to them. Many of the leaders, or ‘Masters’, draw units entirely from their own faction and usually have good synergy with specific types of models that fit their theme.

Children of December

Rasputina is a good example of this. Her theme establishes her as an ice witch and, as such, she tends to have good synergy with cold-themed models with the ‘Frozen Heart’ characteristic. This allows her to cast her spells through them as relay points – much like the Arc Nodes used in Warmachine. Rasputina can, and in larger games should, go beyond these models in choosing her crew, but generally stays within her own faction when choosing units.

Contrast this with several other masters, such as the Malifaux coroner, Dr. Douglas McMourning:

Body of Evidence

Dr. McMourning, in his dual role as respected Guild coroner and insane Resurrectionist, straddles two factions. When played as a Guild master, he may choose hwatever he wants from the Guild faction, but also complement this with selected models from the Resurrectionists – most notable his Nurses. As a Resurrectionist, he may employ a few Guild Guards or Guild Lawyers to reflect his association with that faction. This opens up new possibilities in crew building whilst also encouraging fun and characterful crews.

The Swamp Hag

The swamp hag, Zoraida, is another example of characterful cross-faction crew construction (yay, alliteration), as she not only has the option of being played as leader of a Gremlin or Neverborn crew, but may also choose any model from any faction that has a willpower score of 4 or less. This reflects the control that she may exert over weaker minds, again opening up a lot of opportunities for more varied crew construction.

There are many, many more examples of cross-faction crew options all through Malifaux, but I do want to point out some other games that take a similar approach to promoting characterful armies. Warmachine and Hordes from Privateer Press encourage themed armies by giving specific, tiered bonuses for creating an army based on the characteristics of their various characters. For example:

Warmachine: Lt. Caine Army

In this example, Cygnar Warcaster Allister Caine chooses to limit his army to specific units that are deemed appropriate to his style and theme. Immediately, Caine is given bonuses for making this sacrifice. At tier 2 Caine, himself a Gun Mage, is rewarded for including two units of Arcane Tempest Gun Mages. At Tier 4, he is then further rewarded for including a specialist Gun Mage Unit. In this way, the Caine player has the choice to include whatever units they want in their army, but are actively rewarded for including only thematically appropriate models. There are similar tiered lists for each character in both Warmachine and Hordes.

I’m sure a lot of games do this and I am aware that both Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 did some of this too. Specifically, I remember things like Logan Grimnar of the Space Wolves unlocking the option to field an entire army of Wolf Guard Terminators and a marked Chaos Lord unlocking mark-specific cult units as troops, rather than elites.

I think these tweaks and adjustments to army creation serve to give more options to serious players looking to find new combinations and synergies, and gives a more characterful army for those who, like myself, enjoy imbuing their games with a sense of narrative.

 

January 30

Mali-Tracker

In the interests of Posterity and against the collapse of the first rule of Malifaux Paint Club (You do not buy more Malifaux until you paint your existing Malifaux), I am adding a little accountability box (Accountabilibox?) to the side of this blog to track my purchased vs painted Maligoodies.

Pretty sure I said Acountabilibox, not accountabilibuddy...

Pretty sure I said Acountabilibox, not accountabilibuddy…

So… yeah.  Let’s try even out those numbers!

January 30

Dragon Ball!

Messing around with some Dragon Ball themed Triple Triad cards has really put me in the mood to just dive back into the series from the start.  I’ve always liked the franchise, particularly Dragon Ball Z, but it occurs to me I haven’t actually seen every episode of any of the three series, nor all of the films.

DB

I’m only a couple of episodes into the original Dragon Ball, but I’m really pumped to go back through the whole thing and both rewatch my favourite moments and catch the bits that I missed first time through.

I am also looking forward to sharing some of the highlights and best bits on here!

I really need to find all the Tenchi Muyo episodes once I finally finish this impressive stack of animated awesomeness…

January 27

‘What Alec Bourbon Said’, or Why Fluff Matters

When it comes to tabletop games, flavour can be very important. Background information and stories – or fluff, as it is often known – enrich the game and give a context to the mechanical actions we take.  Battlestar Galactica gives context and atmosphere to what would otherwise be a quite simple cooperative/traitor game.  A Game of Thrones  adds character (and literally, characters) to a Risk-like strategy game, helping you to really get invested in the game and develop your own narrative as you play.

Carcassonne: good game, but no story

Carcassonne: very good game, but no story

Some games rely more heavily on fluff than others.  Some game, particularly euro-style board games like The Settlers of CatanCarcassonne or Hive, don’t have much in the way of character, story or narrative at all, relying purely on the mechanics and a loosely pasted-on theme.  And I’m not even saying that these games need stories and characters; it really is a stylistic choice.  This is one end of a spectrum, with the polar opposite end being occupied by the RPG.

RPGs are all about the fluff, all about the story, all about working together to build a narrative.  White Wolf Publishing hit the nail on the head when they refused to refer to their World of Darkness line(s) of games as ‘Role Playing Games’ and insisted instead on ‘Storytelling Games’, also replacing the ‘Game Master’ title with that of ‘Storyteller’.  I think more and more companies are recognising this too, and this is why there are more and more RPGs released that do not rely as heavily on detailed combat mechanics and pages upon pages of rules, but instead focus on storytelling and interaction.  There are also a lot of new games that employ innovative mechanisms to replace more traditional rules.

Dread - an interesting take on horror gaming

Dread – an interesting take on horror gaming

Take the horror RPG, Dread, for example.  Dread does not ask players to roll dice for skill checks, but instead has then remove bricks from a Jenga tower (other block towers are available), ensuring that whilst early tests are an absolute breeze, later ones become progressively more and more likely to fail and kill the character.  This is a great mechanic for developing tension and also gives the opportunity for someone, should they feel it fits the narrative, to purposefully topple the tower and make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of their character, killing themselves to save the rest of the party.  This incredibly simple mechanism has a huge impact on the creation of tension and the apprehension that the party will feel with every skill check.  The impact on the narrative of these elements is similarly massive.

Whilst Dread works to encourage an engaging narrative through mechanical innovation, other games do this through flavour text, stories, character profiles and background information.  The World of Darkness  series, in both ‘classic’ and ‘new’ iterations, does this very well, although each edition does it in a slightly different way.

VtM Logo

Vampire: The Masquerade from the Classic World of Darkness line has a core rulebook that is probably equal parts rules to story and background flavour text.  There are loads of short stories, tidbits of information and brilliant descriptions that do a lot of the creative work for the storyteller.  Across the huge range of supplements and other books released for Vampire, a huge meta-plot is developed and a rich story is told.  Even the end of the world is plotted out with the End Times series that led to the eventual winding down of the entire classic World of Darkness.

The rich, involving story of Vampire: The Masquerade was something of a double edged sword.  It was great that you had this amazing world in which to set your stories, and many people just picked up supplements to read more about the setting rather than using them for their own chronicles.  However, it was also a little daunting to try and fit your own story into the larger meta-plot.  As a single example of this, do you have a Vampire of clan Ravnos in your party?  Are they affected by the sudden urge to eat their clanmates that afflicted the clan in, I think, 1997 or 1999?  If not, why not?  If so, how does this change your story?  The meta-plot walks a difficult line between enriching and constricting, and it is this difficult balance that, I believe, led to a lot of the narrative changes that came with the launch of the new World of Darkness.

Changeling: The Lost

The approach to new World of Darkness games like Vampire: The Requiem, and Changeling: The Lost, is slightly different.  Whereas the older games dropped you into a rich, ongoing story, the newer games spend less time developing an overarching story and more time developing a rich but open world.  This is not to say that the newer settings are not fleshed out, as there are many short stories and bits of flavour text to get your teeth into in both the core books and the supplements.  There is just no single overarching story or vast conspiracy that you need to buy into.  You are given much more free reign to go where you want to go, where your story takes you.  You have more opportunity to create your own content and not have that one pedantic player point out that, no, the Gangrel would not be involved in this particular event after they grew disillusioned by the Camarilla in the late 90s and left to strike out on their own.  This is not to say that the old way was wrong, but to acknowledge merely that they are different, and that each approach will appeal to different tastes.

Old or new, one thing that all World of Darkness books gets right, however, is the opening story.  The opening story is so important to so many games, and is the first impression that a new reader will get of your game world.  It should capture the tone that you want your game to convey.  It should really showcase an important aspect, location, character or other element of your game. It should, and this is the most important one, entertain.  My favourite introductory story for any World of Darkness book is the short story, ‘What Alec Bourbon Said’, from the Changeling: The Lost core book.

What Alec Bourbon Said

This story, which you can read over at Scribd (third page), perfectly encapsulates many of the core ideas and the tone of Changeling: The Lost.  It deals with the idea of the supernatural hidden among the mundane.  On the surface, a well known local drunk is approached in his local bar by a beautiful young woman before leaving to carry out some mysterious task.  As the story progresses, we realise that the young woman is not as she seems, and is actually a young changeling, hiring Alec to dispose of an obstacle that stand in the way of her ability to reclaim her old life.  The story builds up slowly and only really gathers speed at the point of the reveal, once we know what Alec’s task was.  I have avoided going into much detail in the interests of not rining the story for those who wish to read it, but that it deal with several key elements of the game whilst also being both short and, crucially, very entertaining, makes this one of the best introductory pieces of fiction that White Wolf has put out since my previous favourite, the introduction to the revised edition of Vampire: The Masquerade.

RPG books are, and should be, treasure troves of rich, inspiring fiction, because they need to be.  Without fiction to inspire GMs and players, it becomes difficult to convey the tone and purpose of the rules to these players.  The fiction should be a template or exemplar of what the players can do, and should excite the players at the opportunity to jump into this world.  This is something that some developers do better than others, and I’m not sure if the move towards smaller, more minimalist RPGs is helping or hurting this aspect of the product.  It is also one of the primary reasons that despite the relatively few number of RPGs I have actively played, my RPG library is quite large and continues to grow.

January 26

Welcome to Malifaux: Part 1 @ WorldHopping.net

My new post on the World Hopping blog is the first part of an introduction to Malifaux, the miniature skirmish game from Wyrd Miniatures. This part deals with the background and the models.

Since December, I have been really getting into a new miniatures game.  This is unusual for me, as I had kind of sworn off them a bit after getting somewhat tired of the prices and shenanigans of Games Workshop, and a percieved lack of time to paint anything I was actually interested in, such as my Hordes starter set from Privateer Press.

The game in question, as you have likely deduced from the title, is Wyrd Miniatures’ skirmish game, Malifaux:

Malifaux

Now, the best way to explain Malifaux, I believe, is to use the developer’s own words.  This is taken from the Wyrd Miniatures website:

Based in an alternate Earth, Malifaux uses gothic, steampunk, and victorian horror with a dose of the wild west to inject fun and depth into the magical lawlessness of a world rife with monsters, necropunks, man-machine hybrids, gunslingers, and powerhungry politicos. Actively using character-driven stories to define the world of Malifaux, seek your fortune in this fast paced and brutal 32mm tabletop miniature skirmish game. Assemble your crew and stake your claim!

Malifaux 2E completely updates the rules of the game, adding strategic depth, clarity, and choices. New stories, new factions, and new characters continue to pull you through the Breach and leave you battling for opportunity and survival in the dangerous world of Malifaux.

Continue reading on worldhopping.net

January 26

Malifaux Wave 3 Beta

Having only recently gotten into Malifaux, I was interested to see the launch of the open beta for the Wave 3 models and rules.  I like the openness that Wyrd is showing by inviting their fans into the development process and would love to see more companies adopting a similar outlook.

The biggest changes that are coming with this wave seem to be the alterations to Avatars, the powerful alternative versions of each master that may be manifested for short periods of time.  The old models for these avatars are, im many cases, quite gorgeous. Here a couple of my favourites:

 

Justin outlines the changes to be made in an open letter to fans and potential testers:

 

Hey all,

 

I know that Avatars are going to be a hot topic during this playtest, so I wanted to start this thread both to give you a place to discuss them and so that you can have all of the details about what is going on with them. Avatars are going through three major changes:

 

1) The story involving them will be advancing with this book. Nothing from past books will be retconned, but in Malifaux’s usual way the world is growing and changing. Basically, it becomes clear that changing into an Avatar is a dangerous process due to the sheer power involved. This becomes apparent when a relatively major character assumes Avatar form and is killed in the process. So all of the other major players in Malifaux learn to channel the powers granted them by the Event in different ways. This means that manifesting is more of a spiritual process than a physical one with characters surrounded by auras of power rather than changing physical shape.

 

2) Avatars will only be available to use during the game while playing a Campaign. This means Avatars will essentially become optional, non-competitive rules (don’t panic! see below…). Of course, if two players agree to both use Avatars during a non-Campaign game they are free to do so, but they will not be tournament legal. The Avatar rules are not receiving an errata, however every Avatar Upgrade which we print will have the “Campaign” trait, meaning it is an Upgrade only available for use during the Campaign. This means we’re keeping open the option to release non-Campaign Avatars in the future. While I’m glad this option is remaining open to us, I should stress that we have no plans to take advantage of it.

 

3) Masters will not receive their own avatar sculpts. Instead, each Faction will receive a single Avatar sculpt. This sculpt will be more of a base insert than a model. It will be 50mm with a place to slot in a model on a 30mm base. So, for example, the Guild Avatar Sculpt might be a pillar of flames on a 50mm base with a slot for a 30mm base on top which you can put your master on. The Resurrectionist avatar might be a bunch of Undead hands protruding from the earth carrying a throne which you can slot your 30mm Master base on top of, etc etc (these are just me guessing, nothing final). In this way there will only be seven avatar sculpts, each themed to a Faction, which act more like base inserts. I should stress that these base inserts will only be necessary while using the avatars during the campaign and only if you don’t have the original sculpts. For using avatar models outside of the campaign we have something much more interesting…

 

If you have the older Master specific Avatar models, you are still more than welcome to use them as Avatars in campaign games. As for tournaments and other competitive events, you need not fear – we have plans to ensure that your old Avatar sculpts do not become obsolete. Instead, this book will also be adding a series of new, large based centerpiece models, for which the old Avatars will be legal proxies in tournaments. These new models are called the “Emissaries of Fate.” Story-wise they represent the seven Faction Effigies taking on the power of the event and assuming their own sort of avatar forms. Each Faction will receive one Emissary of Fate, and any Avatar in that Faction will be a legal proxy for it during a regular game of Malifaux (for example, Avatar Seamus, Avatar Nicodem, etc will all be legal proxies for the Carrion Emissary). To ensure that these Emissaries are properly synergized with each Master, every Emissary will receive one 0 SS Upgrade per Master which can take it which is themed to that Master. So, again using the Carrion Emissary as an example, while using it with Nicodem, you can equip it with the free Upgrade associated with Nicodem and it has lots of interactions with Mindless Zombies, but when using it with Seamus you attach Seamus’ free Upgrade to it and all of a sudden it heals when enemy models fail Wp duels. In this way the Emissaries are themed to each Master in such a way that proxying in the Master’s Avatar for it makes sense. I should also mention that we will, of course, be making a cool sculpt for each Emissary, giving each Faction a big, impressive, centerpiece model. And, finally, I feel obligated to mention that the Emissaries have no weird hiring restrictions. You don’t need to manifest them. You can take them outside of the campaign. They don’t restrict you from taking the normal Effigy. Just pay their points and put them on the board.

 

Alright, I know that’s a lot to stomach. Before you reply let me explain why we are making these changes. There are two major reasons, and the first is economic.

 

The whole idea behind Avatars is that they were going to be these big, impressive centerpiece models. The problem with big, impressive models is that they are expensive. And, unfortunately, we combined this expense with the most limitations in the game. Each Avatar is linked specifically to a certain Master. Now, assuming it is properly balanced it won’t be an auto include, so that Master would only want the Avatar some of the time. So, taking the Lady Justice Avatar as an example, only Lady Justice players would ever be interested in it and, if we balanced it properly, only some of the time. This means that we have taken these huge, expensive models and made them the most difficult to sell models in the entire line (totems used to have the same problem; they come automatically in box sets now for a reason, and they’re a lot cheaper than Avatars).

 

The cost of the models combined with their niche nature means that they will be apt to sit on store shelves. This puts a huge strain on the game stores and distributors with whom we do business. Considering that we would be committing to pumping out 39 of these things, it puts a huge strain on Wyrd. And, finally, since these things were going to end up costing between 50 and 75 dollars retail, it puts a huge strain on you, the player. For the cost of an Avatar you could get a whole new Crew. Assuming we made Avatars good enough to be desirable we essentially doubled the cost of playing the game over night. And forcing new purchases through power creep was simply not something we are willing to do. We firmly believe that our customers will be happier (and spend more money, let’s be honest, this isn’t charity) when we design fun things they *want* to buy, rather than expensive things which they are *required* to buy.

 

The second reason for this change is due to the game mechanics themselves. Avatars have a lot of baggage both due to expectations from the fluff and the previous edition. Avatars need to be ultra powerful, but available only for a limited number of Turns. They need to replace your Master, but still be worth taking (I have a whole blog post on it here: http://justindrawingdead.com/?p=140). And while I’m sure we could hit the mark on some, even most, of the Avatars, 39 is just too many. Relegating Avatars to the campaign allows us to do some more fun things with them which better fit people’s expectations, as the Campaign is by definition both optional and less regulated than the regular game. Also, the changing story will hopefully help to temper some of those expectations.

 

Whatever your opinions, please be polite to your fellow posters here.

 

Alright, that’s what is happening. I know not everyone is going to like it, but this is a situation where we couldn’t make everyone happy. If you love this change, I am genuinely happy for you. If you hate it and you feel cheated, I genuinely apologize. But whatever you think about this direction, it is the final one. This is what is happening with Avatars.

Having not used Avatars myself, and having only really started the game in the current edition, this is not a disruptive or upsetting change for me, and I really like what they are doing.

That said, what do I know?  I only played my first game last night, and most of that was just experimenting to get my head around the rules.  I enjoyed it though, and am really looking forward to a proper game next week.

If anyone is interested in taking part in the beta, the discussion and relevant files can be found on the wave 3 beta forum.

January 11

Enthusiastic Aside (Tabletop Gaming as an Organic Social Experience) @ WorldHopping.net

I have a new post on the World Hopping blog that was meant to be about something completely different but was the victim of some serious mental meandering. A little rambly in places.

Before I start, I would just like to share that I played The Resistance on Thursday and, as one of the two spies in a five player game, won the game without a single mission being resolved.  The other spy and I managed a beautiful display of shenanigans and BS that had everyone not only furiously rejecting every team composition that was put forward, but so preoccupied by this that they did not notice the rejection tracker ticking up towards the magical number 5 that means the spies have been victorious.  It was so awesome that you may have noticed I’ve even gone back and jazzed up that number 5 back there.  That one too.

I was going to say that my little outburst there was just an enthusiastic aside and nothing to do with the actual topic of today’s article, but thinking about it now, I’m going to stick with it.

Continue reading on worldhopping.net

 

January 10

Makin’ Cards and Takin’ Names

Over the holidays, I was really impressed by the progress that a friend made on his new website.  I’m not going to link it here yet, as it is still very much in development and although it is definitely playable, there are still some bugs to work out, and I know he would rather iron these out before more people see it.

The site is a playable implementation of the card game, Triple Triad, which originated as a minigame in Squaresoft’s Final Fantasy VIII.  There have been and still are other sites to do this, but I’m really enthused about this project, as Daniel is a good guy and I really like the attitude he is taking to his site and game.  His work ethic, speed and competence have also been incredible to watch.

My enthusiasm for the project had rekindled my long-held love for this game.  With that in mind, I have dusted off my templates and started putting together some cards of my own.  I have been putting them up on another site which I hope to fill up with my own work and that of other fans in the near future.  Here are a few of the cards I have made over the past couple of days and a link to the blog where you can always see the latest card that I and others have put together:

freyab  freyar  tkujab  tkujar

carbb  carbr  archib  archir

voljinb  voljinr  Sylvanas

If you’re interested in seeing more, you can follow along at:

Triple Triad Cards