Prime Time Picture Dump!

•July 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

I genuinely don’t use puns this often in actual speech; there’s something about needing to throw a title on a post, though, that turns me into my worst self. I actually ran a search through previous posts to be sure I hadn’t already used “Prime Time.” I wouldn’t have put it past me.

Anyway, I’ve got my first non-marital Malifaux game tomorrow! Tomorrow is really today, as it’s just past 3pm. I’m very excited, which is part of why I haven’t made it to bed at a reasonable hour. Instead, in between work on my Black Crusade pbp character—who warrants a post all his own, which will probably include some gnashing regarding how the core book for the game is “organized”—I’ve been basing,


These will be bases for Hamelin’s crew, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.



Ironsides! Finally!


Ms. Feng and her people.

and priming.


Those are two Nurses and two Hanged next to the Rail Golem.


Bases for the two full crews already pictured.

Continue reading ‘Prime Time Picture Dump!’

Big Trouble on the Tabletop

•June 28, 2015 • 2 Comments

It’s Sunday, but my wife and I have already managed two games of Malifaux! Pitting the Viktorias against Mei Feng, the battles had the flavor of a truly incredible action movie. Swords bisecting bodies, kicks crumpling armor, and capering little fire monsters running around; I’d watch that!

For both games, my wife’s list was as follows:

  • Viktoria of Ashes.
    • Howling Wolf Tattoo
    • Survivalist
    • Synchronized Slaying
  • Student of Conflict
  • Viktoria of Blood
    • Mark of Shez’uul
    • Sisters in Fury
  • Vanessa
    • Sisters in Spirit
  • Taelor
    • Tally Sheet
  • Hannah
    • Ancient Tomes
  • Ronin
  • Cache 1

These were her first games using Hannah, a model we’ve had for a while, but only assembled recently. Getting the whole suit assembled ended up being a joint effort, with me tagging in to do the finger bits and so forth.

This woman is the thief of joy.

However, her impact on the games proved significant, so it was all worth it. Fitting her into the Viktorias list required cutting a couple of Ronin, though, which definitely changed how the force played.

My list was an Arcanist Mei Feng build:

  • Mei Feng
    • Arcane Reservoir
    • Recharge Soulstone
    • Seismic Claws
  • Emberling
  • Fire Gamin
  • Fire Gamin
  • Kang
    • People’s Challenge
  • Rail Golem
    • Powered by Flame
  • Rail Worker
  • Rail Worker
  • Cache 4

Continue reading ‘Big Trouble on the Tabletop’

Homework, Sure. At Least There’s Not a Quiz.

•June 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The dark machinery the heart of me is spinning up in preparation to do some real-ass, actual gaming. This is opposed to Encounters, which is more like a combination of job and teaching assignment; all this compounded by using a system that I’ve still not come to love. Actual-ass gaming means I get to pick the system, write the world, choose the players. That’s not about being in control, really; if anything, what I yearn for is the opposite. When I’m playing Encounters, I feel an obligation—due to its “official” nature—to tell the eleven-year-old “Sorry, but I did some reading and you can’t use your Dexterity bonus with those claws, because unarmed attacks aren’t listed as Finesse weapons.” This despite him having a huge Dex, being a rogue, and getting those claws from minute one as an Aarakocra. Also, I have been brutally mis-pronouncing that word for about 15 years. Also, I technically shouldn’t even be letting the kid play one, according to some rule I apparently missed in the official packet. Despite the fact that the Temple of Elemental Evil adventure line seems singularly designed to completely mitigate the benefits of having a fly speed of 50.

YOU say no to this face.

That’s far more limitation than I’d like to have, because what I enjoy is giving my players a ton of freedom. I also love building the adventure, and the world, around those players; this is difficult to do when I can’t know from week to week who’ll be showing up. However, that—as well as the in-depth options I try to provide during character creation—does mean that my players are provided with a significant quantity of setting information. This includes areas, kingdoms, and general history. It also involves a slate of races, since I’m always tweaking and fiddling with something, if not creating species outright. Finally, it usually involves some modifications to classes; prior to 4e this actually meant I’d write quite a few classes, but I never actually got around to building a class (not even a class option or Paragon path) in the entire edition. I suppose there’s no better way to demonstrate how much I loved that edition than the fact that I didn’t go in and make anything. Everything that I wanted to do was achieved with some reskinning, hybridization, and multi-classing.

The quantity of information I want to impart usually means either printed/typed materials for players to read or a sort of oratorical situation. I actually prefer offering both, since some questions only occur to a given player after hearing another player ask something else. However, this does mark the most-challenging element of switching over from playing on sites like Myth-Weavers to gaming around a physical table: turns out that players don’t like “homework.”

By don’t like, I mean that even my wife will generally not fiddle with an element of her character, let alone read up on something, until 48 or fewer hours before the session. The joys and challenges of gaming with a spouse would constitute a few articles on their own, but I always look at this as telling. She lives with me, and therefore she’s most closely exposed to any anxieties and frustrations I have about how a game is going; if even she generally says “Yeah, I didn’t really read that,” then someone I see once a week has far less impetus to do the work.

Because I’ve spent so much time playing in places like the aforementioned Myth-Weavers, this is insane to me. I’m used to needing to drop the absolute hammer during character creation, because a good game, with a good DM and compelling setting, was a game that easily drew 300% more applications than it had slots. If you didn’t come with your sheet correct, and something engaging in terms of how your character was created, you didn’t get in. I just went for a quick scan over some of my old games, and I averaged 20 applicants for each game—including both times I ran my Glittering Wildflower Fields/’Ware The Moloch dual campaign. Now, a core nucleus crops up in most of those games, because they were the crew I tended to play with. However, and I always maintained this even in the announcement posts for games, they made the cut on quality and skill. It’s why I never ran games with a “shadow-council” of already-accepted players, even though most of the folks who regularly made cuts were people I considered friends (even invited to my wedding in some cases). I always had them put their best effort forward, in public, so that other potential players could see the standard I was judging from. Re-reading one of the game ads, I saw a post from a friend who essentially said “Man, lot of great applications. I’m not going to get in on this one.” Then, roughly a day later, he was back with an application. The interactive nature of the process pushed everyone, and that had tremendous value.

Around the table, though, the self-selection has already occurred. There’s not the expectation that a boilerplate concept will be jettisoned in favor of something truly unique (like a decadent frog-druid or a robot filled with bees). Since I often bring new players into a game, I don’t mind folks testing the waters with something that hews close to the examples in the book: a fighter who likes his longsword and shield in DnD; a wizard who hates the White Council and wears a duster in the Dresden Files RPG; or an ugly, sewer-dwelling Nosferatu in Vampire: The Masquerade. However, I generally equate “I’m new at this and don’t know it” with “..therefore, I’d like to learn as much as possible.” I similarly struggle with the idea of players not updating their character sheets, even though I see it on the weekly at my Encounters table. For me, a player say “I don’t know how many hit points I have!” is just a single long horn bleat summoning the Beasts of the Old Ways. Again, though, that’s because I have a strong attachment to every character I’ve ever rolled. I’m a Johnny, so even off-the-cuff characters I throw out draw on some element or concept of my interest.

It’s at the point where I dread assigning homework. For the weekly, I just sacrifice a chunk of our two-hour weekly meetings to having everyone around the table level up. It generally doesn’t result in their actually getting fully-updated characters, but I am at least there to answer questions and nudge players in directions that would benefit their selected role and the overall party composition. For private games, though, I can’t really enforce even this; people reject being pushed, or feeling rushed, and the power dynamic is markedly different at a table of friends and/or spouses. I end up a skyclad Emperor, and can’t compel anything.

I was thinking about this conundrum earlier tonight, because that’s my reaction to any situation where I feel as though my perspective’s at odds with those of everyone else. The comparison I eventually settled on* involves the visions of our future we all had as children. Had you asked me what I wanted to be when I was 7, I would likely have replied either, “The President” or “A guy who makes action figures.” Teacher would not have been a blip on that radar. Teacher-Who-Currently-Writes-At-Home wouldn’t have…I wouldn’t have even been able to process that concept. My dad had been an accountant for just shy of as long as I could remember (when I was very, very young he was a tree surgeon, which is a thing you can be). He hasn’t stopped being an accountant, but his role morphed into City Treasurer and then Business Manager, and as a kid I wouldn’t have been able to winnow the concept of titles from actual roles to even conceive this. I could just as easily have aspired to “fireman” or “ninja,” because as a kid the future is all possibility.

As one ages, though, the prospect of ninja begins abutting some unfortunate realities. Does ninja come with health insurance? Will I make rent with my tanto-based salary? How do I even get my tabi-clad foot in the door of the industry? Suddenly, dental hygienist, bank teller, or teacher all start to become more realistic. You learn more about the world, and what you become reflects that.

In tabletop rpgs, though, you have the advantage of near-perfect knowledge. How close that asymptote sits to the y-axis is a matter of setting; no character in a Cthulhu game should expect to identify most of the squamous masses that she’ll encounter, while I took a moment yesterday to explain to my youngest player that even though I know he knows that the 18″ winged faerie the party just met is a sprite, his character has no reason to possess that information. It was trickier still to convey to him that, therefore, he as a player shouldn’t shout out the name of the creature, because that drops a rock of glowing, unearned knowledge in the midst of the entire party that they’d otherwise lack. I understand his struggle all too well, just as I appreciate his ravenous hunger for game knowledge.

However, even with those barriers on how well a player can express knowledge gleaned from studying the books, everyone still has the opportunity to know—and use— a lot. You know how many hit points a Fighter’s likely to possess, and much damage you can expect to do with Magic Missile. You know whether your high-dexterity character will hit more often with that longsword or the similarly-damaging rapier. In my campaigns, you also get to know whether your dwarven character is likely to be welcomed with open arms by a citizen of the Silken Kingdoms (no), a bullywug is likely to serve Lincolua (no!), or if someone who’s been Beneath the Mountain would get on well with a member of the Vulture Clan (yes!). That information can be conveyed in one of three ways:

  • First, players could read it in the provided information.
  • Second, players could ask me during character creation, “Hey, I was wondering if…”
  • Third, the player could just do whatever and then seem surprised when it doesn’t work out for them.

I genuinely want to avoid that last option. It’s not fun for me or them. However, if I’ve proffered the information in both visual and auditory formats, and barring some sort of choreography to hit those kinesthetic learners, I don’t see another option. I’m not a telepath.

Sarcasm aside, I am exploring some way of giving players pre-generated characters to start their gaming off, so that we can run through some of these questions and examples in real time. This is a struggle for me in the same way that providing a more guided sandbox is proving difficult in the Wednesday Elemental Evil campaign: I don’t like it. It’s not how I play, it’s not how I want to play, and it’s not how I think the game should be played. I don’t like to railroad, and I find pre-generated characters to be as unsettling as hand-me-down underwear being passed between two adults who I know possess the income to secure individual underweardrobes. Striking a balance between making easily-accessible characters and making the kind of characters I actually like to play (He only thinks he’s a mage! He’s actually a psion! And crazy! And that is not his wife!) feels like a much greater effor than just giving players the tools that they need to build their own characters.

However, providing those tools hasn’t proven to be enough. I need to find a way to chew for them too.

*A tremendous amount of my life is dedicated to thinking about something until I come up with an analogy for expressing my perspective on the topic.

The Many Deaths Available to You in Ark: Survival Evolved

•June 16, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Here’s a short list of ways I’ve died in Ark: Survival Evolved since I picked it up on the Steam Summer Sale:

  1. Being stepped on by a dude’s pet Spinosaurus. Not a wild one. Had a saddle and I think a wee little hat. This was a tame Spinosaurus. A pet. I can’t be mad about that. Dude had on a jumpsuit and a cowboy hat, too.
  2. Taking a spear in the throat from a guy. Different guy, though he had a pet raptor. Thing is, prior to being impaled by the dude, I hadn’t realized that you could throw spears. That was extremely valuable information, and made my subsequent hunting of triceratops and dodo alike much easier. Thanks, Murder Guy!
  3. Megalodon. I’ve yet to get a survivor to the point where he’s in a position to do anything about this. I see the shark and…boom.
  4. Megapirahna. It’s because I can do more about this that I consider it a more frustrating demise. One megapirahna isn’t a huge deal, unless you’re cold (which you will be) and thus low on stamina (which you will be) and thus not really able to swim (which you will be) and thus running out of oxygen (which you will be). In that sort of situation, a single megapirahna can be that last issue I’m just not equipped to deal with. I’ve managed to kill them even then, usually. When there’s one.However, there’s almost never just one. Usually one will bite me on the ass, and while I’m dealing with it three more will flank me and get to munching.
  5. Being super hungry, but also super sleepy, because I had to eat a bunch of “narcoberries” to avoid starving to death. This results in passing out, then starving to death. Slowly. With no options but to watch.
  6. Being killed by myself, because I thought the save function worked. The save function involves—as I understand it—finding this particular alien device and uploading one’s data to it. I did this, on a public server. I was so proud of myself that I built a house a half-day’s journey from the device, and I built a little plot of land, and I hunted and grew strong. Every few levels, I’d fight my way back to the spot and save again.Now, I knew that uploading such characters wouldn’t be allowed on public servers, since the file exists on the hard drive and can be all-too-easily fiddled with. That was fine, but I wanted to be able to load the character up on my machine and keep progressing.Apparently, no. I assume I did everything correctly, since I performed the operation multiple times. I’m fully open to the idea that my character will just appear at some point, but until then I count this as a tragic death.
  7. Falling. Falls in the game are brutal. They’re made far worse because the first-person nature of the game, combined with the generally frenetic pace of the resource grind, means that is very easy to hit a cliff without realizing there’s a cliff to be hit. If I’d played Rust first I might have acclimated to the pace and, you know, gravity faster. But before achieving the death mentioned in the previous item, I almost got to a save point only to realize that there was only a single land-bridge to the point…and it was about 200 yards from where my body hurtled off of the cliff.This is all the worse because fall damage is very high. Falls that would be ignored in most games are instant-deaths here. I’ve not experimented with how armor interacts with all this, though. Maybe my cloth pants and cloth tunic would render me invulnerable!
  8. A giant turtle. The important thing to understand about this is that the giant turtles take a long time to kill, but aren’t especially damaging or quick. You can strafe them, jabbing away. As long as you have the necessary resources to repair the spears you’ll break, everything works out.Except for this one time, when I was fighting a giant turtle in the dark of night, well-armed and armored. I wanted the food, and the hide. I had things well in hand.Then the turtle hit me, and I didn’t realize that my strafing had put my back against—my true nemesis—a cliff.

The game’s not all caprice and cruelty, though. Playing on a PVE server, I was accosted by a gentleman with the kind of name that players select for avatars they plan to use for trolling. He stood around while I was gathering berries, and punched me. For about two minutes. Now, in a PVE server it turns out that you can’t actually kill another player, though you can knock them unconscious. It appears that punches don’t overcome two cloth armored items, though I didn’t know at the time if this was true. All I knew is that a guy was decidedly trying to kill me, and I had some things going that I didn’t want to risk having spoiled. So, after he had his two minutes to swing, I stabbed him to death with a spear.

Well, stabbed him unconscious. Like I mentioned, can’t kill a player on a PVE server. That meant that he eventually got back up and immediately started punching me again.

That’s when the game sent a dilophosaurus, like a tiny fringed angel. Mobs can kill players on a PVE server, and the violent naked gent was entirely too focused on punching me to position himself properly. Once the dilo spit hit home, it was easy to keep him between the dinosaur and me, until such a blessed time as he perished.

I looted his corpse, which was full of valuables.

Our Golden Arches are Comprised of Faerie Fire

•May 20, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Just now, in the shower, I was thinking about Magic Missiles.

Specifically, I was thinking about how the party for my weekly Encounters game has apparently “lost” their wand of Magic Missiles. They received one for defeating an earlier foe, a necromancer whose downfall sort of took three sessions. By this I mean it took two sessions for the party to penetrate to right outside his door, at which point we had to call the game on account of time and their dwindled resources. They were missing the party healer and all of the hit points represented by the party’s heavily-armored ranger, so the fight was mostly a battle between a horde of small targets and the party’s not-ready-for-prime-time DPs and druids. Druids, at level one, don’t entirely know what kind of class they’re going to be and it definitely showed as they fought their way through these catacombs. The third night was going to be very “boss fight” in nature, with the party’s resources still low but primarily facing one high-burst, buffed target and some incidental minions.

Then my wife walked into the room, rolled a crit with her half-orc two-handed fighter, and decapitated the dude in the first round. Continue reading ‘Our Golden Arches are Comprised of Faerie Fire’

Soooooo….MORE Khorne, eh!?

•March 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

My primal scream from last week retains all of its anguish, sorrow, and perceived urgency. I still want more Slaanesh, still think it’s a tragedy I don’t have it. I had a conversation the day after posting about Khorne where a friend casually said “Well, aren’t they getting rid of Slaanesh?” It’s horrifying that such a concept has permeated the consciousness, or that it could gain any traction in the first place.

All that said, though, it sounds like the Khorne Daemonkin codex is quite solid. Though there’s been plenty of not-ink spilled on its behalf, this article provides a pretty solid overview of the codex and its offerings. In all, and before seeing the rumored point reductions, the codex gives me hope that I will see one of these for the slickest, writhingest of Gods soon. The mechanics presented do some interesting new things, fix some stuff I never expected to see changed, and address one issue I freely admit I hadn’t considered for Khornate fellows. Let’s hear it for the boys in red!

“Cheering Bloodthirsters” brought up the “Drinkin’ & Modelin'” blog, and it’s hard to disapprove of that.

Continue reading ‘Soooooo….MORE Khorne, eh!?’

A…Well, Less Than a Thousand Reasons to Rock the Sons

•March 18, 2015 • 2 Comments

So The Larkins asked me about what pitfalls a friend would hit getting into 40k with a CSM Thousand Sons army. I thought that I’d again poach answering the question to get an entire blog post, and further wanted to format my response according to some organizing principles. It kind of resembles a “Good News, Bad News,” but acknowledges that some challenges are of varied significance for different types of players. Continue reading ‘A…Well, Less Than a Thousand Reasons to Rock the Sons’


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