Tag Archives: RPG

The Rise of RPG PDFs

It’s been a very long time since I last bought a pen and paper RPG book. It’s been well over two years since I last played in an RPG game at all. It’s been so long that I don’t even remember where my whisky tin full of dice is, although I know my collection of RPG books is safely buried in a mound of boxes somewhere in my mum’s house.

It’s a bit depressing – even after I’ve effectively abandoned the hobby – to read about how eReaders and tablets have taken over from giant hardback tomes.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad I bought a Kindle and I found my iPad invaluable when I was still gaming, but I found that neither device could replace my RPG books. My Kindle hasn’t even come close to replacing any type of book in my life thanks to a nasty habit of buying the same book in both hardback and digital forms.

RPG books are a particularly special case though. There is something about the scent of the paper, the glossy illustrations and the crack and snap of the pages that is an essential part of the role playing experience. It’s a particular joy when someone has a newly released book which is getting handed round a group or when you find an old, out of print game in a FLGS or on eBay.

There are also advantages to paper books over their digital equivalents. It’s not unusual for game masters to ban players from reading or referring to particular books to prevent cheating, reading ahead in stories or rules lawyering. If the source books are 300 pages of glossy A4, you can’t really hide them at the table. With a Kindle or an iPad, you could be reading anything at the table.

On the other hand  PDF game books are a massive benefit to independent game designers and small publishing houses because they cut out the overheads and the middlemen, allowing direct sales to fans. Which is why they are here to stay.

RPG Blog Carnival October ‘09 – Concluding the Moral Dilemmas

RPGBlogCarnivalLogoThanks to everyone who participated in this month’s carnival. There have been loads of great, thought provoking articles from around the blogosphere.

Ravyn from Exchange of Realities kicked off the month on high form with her article On the Moral Code of characters and then followed it up by discussing the Underlying Concepts & Moral Codes. A pair of very useful posts when it comes to creating complex characters or important NPCs.

Jade at the wonderfully-named Evil Machinations explores the ins-and-outs of Dancing with the Dark and letting your evil side out to play.

Satyre from Fame & Fortune draws on some medieval thinking, as well as a variety of other sources when he looks at the idea of the moral holiday in Morality Play.

Fitz at Moebius Adventures takes the prize for longest entry this month with his four part series on Moral Ambiguity in which he explores alternatives to the established alignment grids. I highly recommend Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Sea of Stars takes on the meaning and use of evil in a campaign, in Game Theory – Moral Dilemmas: Playing Evil.

At the Geek Life Project, Chuck makes an apparently rare appearance in the Carnival line-up to talk about one of his currently characters and what it’s like playing Lawful-Evil. Part of the answer is in the title; the Fun of Evil, but that doesn’t come close to summing up the humour in the article.

Mike from Campaign Mastery gives us some amazing advice for GMs and players with his wonderfully indepth article on The Moral Of The Story: The Morality and Ethics of playing an RPG.

A warm welcome to Colmarr at The Astral Sea. He’s recently entered the RPG blogging sphere, and I hope that he’s started as he means to continue. Morality: Behind the Scenes takes a look at group moral and the effects of it on the game.

Bob from The Dice Bag, who is partially responsible for this months carnival topic as a follow up to his carnival on religion, tackles the thorny issue of alignment, by asking Alignment: Do We Really Need It?

We have two articles from tenletter. The first, by peasantbutcher looks at some of the questions I asked in the initial post with some thoughts on morality, all brought together under the wonderful title What Goes Around Comes Around. Jatori also tackles my questions head-on, suggesting Maybe I Should Include This In My New Player Interview Kit.

My own entry happens to be rather late. In it I tell a couple of stories about things I regret doing in game and what my moral limits are in game, in an article On Going Too Far.

RPG blogger stalwart Stargazer’s World rounds off the month, looking at the questions I initially posed in the simply-titled Morality.

Some great and thought-provoking stuff. Of course, it was one of the last entries that left me with a particular lasting though, so, if I may quote Stargazer for a moment:

I’ve to admit it’s not easy writing about this topic because questions of morality are usually very personal. And sometimes a player character’s action reflect on the personality of the player.

So, thank you all for exposing a bit of your personality for all to see. Keep up the good blogging 🙂

Review: Fallout 3: The Pitt

Bethesda Softworks have been responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed RPG videogames of all time. Both Fallout 3 and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion rank amongst my favourite games, and have taken up more of my time then I care to admit.

Unfortunately, Bethesda have been known to drop the ball from time to time. Such as when they produced and published the abysmal Star Trek strategy game Legacy. Or when they rushed Fallout 3: The Pitt to release.

The Pitt 1The Pitt

The Pitt is the second downloadable content for Fallout 3. It allows your character to travel to the ruins of  Pittsberg, which in post-apocalypse has a booming steel industry manned by slave labour. Like Operation Anchorage, you loose most of your equipment. Who’d have thought that slavers don’t like heavily armed killing machines walking around in their settlement? Fortunately you are quickly launched into the plot and rearmed, with the rather cool auto-axe (think a cross between a chainsaw and an axe).

From here, you are once again on a rather linear quest chain. It’s not as bad as Operation Anchorage, with various different activities popping up, including an all too brief trip to an Oblivion-style arena. The plot is thankfully more involving then Operation Anchorage, with nice twists and some interesting moral choices, but again, I found myself wishing it was longer. The newly added weapons aren’t quite as good as those on Anchorage, but they focus more on melee and defence.

The Pitt 3What lets The Pitt down is the fact that it was rushed to release. Bethesda had already delayed it by a month to ensure completion, but this clearly wasn’t enough time. On the day of release, the add-on was causing major problems for users who bought it. Despite a quick fix and re-release by Bethesda, many bugs remained. During my playtime, The Pitt caused my Xbox to crash four times and corrupted my save file. Not the most positive of gameplay experiences.

My only other quibble with the add-on is the map design. Both The Pitt and Operation Anchorage have had quite small maps. Bethesda have got round this in two different ways – in Anchorage, it was to use few texture variations and lots of cliffs to block long views. In The Pitt, the map cointains a great number of levels, with endless stairs, ramps and gangways connecting them. It is far too easy to get lost in this network of rooms.

The Pitt 2Despite the addition of an Ammo Press which converts any ammo into any other ammo, I can’t see myself revisiting The Pitt any time soon. The add-on is certainly not worth the money as long as there are still some nasty bugs showing up, and is disappointingly short.

Fallout 3’s third downloadable addon, Broken Steel, which sees the player resolve the conflict between the Brotherhood of Steel and the Outcast Brotherhood, is due out on the 5th of May, again retailing for 800 MS points.

Review: Fallout 3: Operation Anchorage

One of the advantages of living in the future is that video games can be updated quickly and easily with new content over an internet connection. For PC gamers, this is nothing new – PC games traditionally attract big modding and homebrew communities. Paying for that extra content, on the other hand, was lambasted at first. This was not helped by Bethesda Softworks, developer of the Elder Scrolls series and Fallout 3, who charged for a near-useless content such as the now infamous horse armour.

Over time, complaints over paid downloadable content have died down and we now pay for much more. Operation Anchorage and The Pitt are two examples of this. They are currently exclusive to the Xbox 360 and PC, costing around about $10 each.

Operation Anchorage 2Operation Anchorage

Operation Anchorage takes your character back in time to the early days of the American-Chinese War which resulted in global nuclear annihilation. The lead in to this quest arc manages to retain the in-world immersion – shortly after you start playing with the addon downloaded, your receive a radio transmission from the Brotherhood Outcasts seeking help. After fighting off some Supermutants and being shanghaied by the Outcasts, the real game begins when you step into a holographic training unit. This handily strips you of your guns, armour and items.

From then on in, you are effectively a commando behind enemy lines. The first part of the quest is great fun – sniping, sneaking, scouting out terrain and finally making some big explosions. My one problem with it is that like the main quest, Operation Anchorage is a very linear experience. Take away VATS and much of the initial quest could be lifted from Call of Duty.

Operation Anchorage 1The second half improves on this slightly by giving you some choices. You get issued with fixed packets of weapons to replace the pistol and sniper rifle from the first quest, you get to choose some squad members to come with you and you get to choose which order to complete the objectives in. Thankfully, these do have a pretty big effect – I choose well for the first objective and dispatched it in a timely manner, but on the second quest I picked the wrong set of weapons and the wrong squad members and it was far more difficult. It’s nice to see effects like this – I played through the main game on Hard and found that by the time I was level 11 or so, it was an absolute cake walk. More situations requiring tactical thinking please developers!

The final part of the quest before you come out of the machine is a rather good boss fight. This was a great addition – in the main game, even central characters go down with a couple of shots and some key fights are disappointingly quick. Instead, this one last several minutes, while power-armoured US troops fight around you. Very immersive.

Operation Anchorage 3And that’s it…it’s all over rather quickly. It took me about two and a half hours to complete, maybe a bit less. Which disappointed me because I was expecting something with similar scope to Oblivion’s Knights of the Nine addon quest, which added ten hours or more of gameplay.

Would I recommend Operation Anchorage? Yes, largely because it fills you in on the background to the Fallout universe and provides a few nice rewards which are useful in the main game. Would I say you are missing out on something Earth shattering if you don’t buy it? No.

Coming soon…review of Fallout 3’s second addon “The Pitt”

Edit: Thanks to Bob from The Dice Bag for pointing out that Fallout 3 DLC is avaliabe for both PC and the Xbox 360, not just the 360 as I originally stated.

Top 5 Bad Guys Who Wouldn’t Work in an RPG

I don’t know about you, but I generally love bad guys. I’ve never really worked out why, but I always wanted Darth Vader, Jason Vorhees, Sauron or whoever else to win. Just to see what would happen.

It’s probably why I like being GM so much – I get to play the bad guys and find out what happens.
Consequently, I try and use my favourite fictional characters in different guises. Many of them are tropes, but they are also good inspiration. There are some of my favourites which just don’t work though.

So, in the spirit of presenting varied reading, here is my top 5 list of entertaining fictional characters who wouldn’t work in an RPG.

5 – Q (Star Trek: TNG, DS9, Voy)
Q is both the first and last enemy encountered by the crew of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D during in Star Terk The Next Generation. His role remains a mystery throughout TNG and is only explained in the excellent finale, All Good Things… He makes return appearances in DS9 and Voyager, expanding the lore regarding his race but in much more sympathetic roles.
Why He’s A Bad Enemy: Omnipotent, all powerful, able to manipulate the entire universe at a whim and a mischievous temperament to boot: Q’s powers read like the power trip of a bad DM and render him nigh on undefeatable.

4 – Darth Maul (Star Wars: Episode I)
The weakest character in the most reviled of all 6 Star Wars films, Maul existed solely to look badass on PR material and provide the deus ex machina to give Obi-Wan a chip on his shoulder. He had nearly no lines and about ten minutes of screentime.
Why He’s A Bad Enemy: The ultimate two-bit looser bad-guy. As he stands, he only exists to be killed. No background, no development, nothing.

3 – Frank-N-Furter (Rocky Horror Picture Show)

Transsexual alien with his own cloning project, ghoulish servants and one hell of a clothing line. Amazing singer.
Why He’s A Bad Enemy: Not too hard to use in a sci-fi setting, but I dare you to use him in your next D&D campaign.

2 – Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal)
A egomaniac serial killer and cannibal, Lecter is one of the most memorable horror movie characters of the 80s and 90s. Despite being a mass-murderer, he actually manages to retain the role of anti-hero rather then all-out villain.
Why He’s A Bad Enemy: Lecter spends most of his screen time helping the FBI and not that much actually being a bad guy. When he is a bad guy, he takes it to a whole new, charming level, which, quite honestly I don’t think can easily be conveyed in an RPG.

1 – Scorpius/Harvey (Farscape)
Scorpius and Harvey, his counter-part implanted in the head of main-character John Crichton, are very possibly the best sci-fi enemy of all time. Scorpius is creepy and unhuman on his own (despite being a forehead alien), Harvey adds to this though some of the best black humour which has ever graced the small screen. Harvey causes Crichton to slowly loose his mind, his ship and just about everything else in his life.
Why He’s A Bad Enemy: You want to try inserting a character into the mind of a PC? It’s a great idea in theory, but in reality it’s impossible without the GM practically controlling the PC.

Let me know if you have any idea how to work any of these guys into a campaign 😉

Review: Dungeons & Dragons – Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide 4th Edition

Forgotten Realms CG SmallIt’s not really surprising that the first proper supplement for Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition (D&D 4E) is a revision of Ed Greenwood’s long standing Forgotten Realms setting.

This is one of Wizards of the Coast’s most successful brands and the only campaign setting other than Eberron to feature AD&D, D&D V3 and D&D 4E versions. It also has a long history outside of the main D&D game, with a number of videogames and books being set on Toril.

The changes for 4E are numerous. Like the core game, a lot of rules have been simplified and a good deal of the setting has been simplified as well. There have also been ground-shaking changes to the Toril, which will allow players to explore a whole different world from that encountered in the V3 setting. However, the best place to start is probably with the physical book itself.

One of the most striking changes to book is that the logo and styles of artwork which once made Forgotten Realms stand out from the Core Rules are gone. They have been replaced with artwork and logos identical to that of the three Core Rulebooks. This is a sign that Hasbro/Wizards of the Coast are being much stricter with the design than in the past or that they are trying to make Forgotten Realms a bigger part of the core D&D experience (for reference, at least some of the pre-made campaigns which have been issued in the past few months are set in parts of the Forgotten Realms).

Physically, the book is slightly thinner than the previous edition, with around 280 pages compared to the V3’s 320 pages. The arrangement of chapters has also been improved and now bares a resemblance to the Monster Manual, with each country or major town receiving two (or occasionally four or six) pages to itself. Other short chapters cover new monsters, the history of Toril, the Gods, the Planes and a selection of sample adventures.

Unfortunately, the majority of these chapters appear to have had content cut since their V3 iteration. Much of what has been cut is of no great consequence and can easily be restored by the GM, or indeed, supplanted with homebrew ideas and rules, but it is clear that WOTC want you to purchase the forthcoming Forgotten Realms Player Guide as well, which will presumably contain cut content such as the additional character classes and races, further information about the deities and the rather useful information about running a FR campaign.

Having looked at the outside of Toril as it were, it is probably best to turn to the actual setting for a while.
The biggest plot change, and indeed the premise for much of the setting, is that roughly ten years after the information in the V3 setting was published (1375 DR in the in game calendar), a massive catastrophe known as the Spellplague destroyed The Weave, which was the main source for much of Toril’s magic. The consequences of this were far reaching, resulting in much death, destruction and the worlds of Toril and Abeir (or Earth) colliding in a massive inter-dimensional rift.

The year is now 1479 and while magic has been recovered, there are many scars left on the landscape and on the people of Toril and a large number of consequences in the world, such as the death of some of the Gods, realignment of some Gods (in line with the reduced number of alignments in the Core Rules), the destruction of some Planes and a redraw of much of the Southern portion of Faerûn.

I don’t have problems with the vast majority of these changes. In fact, I really like the idea of a campaign that runs through the Spellplague – something the book suggests as a way of updating older characters or allowing them to be replaced.

Overall, I do feel disappointed by the 4E setting so far. It seems less detailed and less comprehensive than the previous editions. On one hand, this is a blessing for GMs because they can just lift areas of Toril for use without using the rule changes that are forthcoming in FR Player Guide, but on the other hand, GMs may be asked to purchase (or indeed feel obliged to purchase) the extra book because players want the extra rule changes, races, classes and so on. I suspect that with the addition of the Player Guide, it will feel a lot more rounded and like a complete setting instead of just an empty world.

Other then that, my only real niggle is to do with the condition of the book. Unfortunately, I bought the last copy from the usually excellent Static Games in Glasgow, and it has a couple of very damaged pages which I didn’t notice until I got home. Not sure if they’d let me swap it, but I might mention it next time I’m buying from there and see if I can swing a discount.

Dungeons and Dragons – Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide is out now priced at £24.99 (±$50). It’s companion volume, the Forgotten Realms Player Guide is due out September 2008.