Game Design

Letting Go Of Your Old Ways

Gnome Stew - 16 hours 41 min ago

I’m not sure what I expected when I bought a copy of Warhammer: Fantasy Roleplay 4th Edition. Ever since I began my transition, both as a woman and as a better person, I’ve had a complicated relationship with marquee product of Game’s Workshop.

I always had a love of the dark and gritty. The muddy and painful style of games. It reflected in my early writing. How so much of my creative writing was based on the idea of deconstructing the good and just things, such as superheroes and mankind’s voyages of the stars. Showing the dark underbelly of such. It’d make me a perfect fit for the property of Warhammer.

However, as I began growing as a person, I realized that I wasn’t some dealer of the macabre. I was just a jerk. I would use harmful stereotypes without a care for my privilege. Things that shouldn’t be made light of we’re carelessly added to characters for the sake of “edge.” Yes, if that placement of word wasn’t an indicator, I realized I was an edgelord.

And Warhammer, like so many properties I used to love, became a reminder of how I used to be. A person I’d rather forget.

Pleasant Surprises

So imagine my pleasant discovery when I opened the copy of Warhammer 4th Edition and begun reading through the book.

  • Gendered Career Names: Although some Careers have masculine or feminine names because of the limitations of language, all careers are intended for any gender; so, no matter how your character identifies, all careers are available.

This little sidebar caught me by surprise. Inclusive language being utilized in the book. A reference, however small, to genders outside the binary being acknowledged. I remembered Warhammer Fantasy as the series that would rarely have a strong female character, let alone acknowledgment that the “heroes” (It’s still Warhammer, so I use the term loosely) could be any gender identity.

Then, these pleasant surprises only continued.

  • Everyone’s invited to the fun: Be welcoming to new or inexperienced players
  • Off-limits: Respect people who don’t want sex/violence/horror or other uncomfortable topics in the game, and accept they don’t have to justify why. There are many very good (potentially traumatic) reasons.
  • Consideration: Nobody’s fun should come at another’s expense.

And there were many more rules, all as considerate following these, but this trio stood out to me the most because it symbolizes to me something important.

Just as I had grown and matured as a person, so had this game that I previously written off as an “Edgelord Product”. 

I realize the amazing creative Team at Cubicle 7 is partially to thank for such an advancement. But, to see a part of the hobby that used to harbour some of the far less savoury and unkinder segments of the community make strives to become a better and safer place, it helped solidify something in my mind.

The days of Grimdark and edge are ending. And that’s a good thing. Share1Tweet1Reddit1Email Respectful Edge

Now, I still enjoy dark things. I enjoy grim murder mysteries. I find fun in the occasional gory combat. And I adore gray morality in my settings.

What I have left in the past, however, is taking pride in enjoying making others uncomfortable through my own enjoyment. Cos that’s where it stops being about your “tastes” and makes you just an out-and-our jerk of the highest order.

There’s a difference in liking dark stuff and being and edgelord. And the hobby even outside of Warhammer is beginning to realize that.

Shadow Of The Demon Lord, a spiritual successor to Warhammer, takes delight in being deliciously dark. Pair that with a very easy to understand but mechanically satisfying rule systems and you have a hit. However, even this game which loves lounging in gruesome and ghastly areas of fantasy is aware that taking joy in triggering your fellow table members is not an OK thing to do.

(…)Before you begin running, talk with your players to establish hard limits on how far you can go in the game. Certain topics might be taboo for some. If so, respect their wishes. Similarly, the players should respect your limits and not push the game in directions that make you uncomfortable(…)

The sidebar appropriately titled “Mature Topics” on page 180 of the core rulebook comes in the middle of discussing how to inject horror into your Shadow Of The Demon Lord game. By placing it where the dark becomes most apparent in the book, the author achieved how important it is to obey the golden rule when it comes to delving into grimdark games.

“Always make sure your table feels safe.”

Like how I mentioned that Shadow Of The Demon Lord is a spiritual successor of Warhammer Fantasy, the PBTA rule system of Urban Shadows wears its inspiration from the Classic World of Darkness on it’s sleeve.

Now, I could go on and on for pages about the history of World of Darkness and how it’s affected gaming culture. But people with far more knowledge than me have spoken on it. And the fact is that we’re not here to talk about Vampire: The Masquerade or Werewolf: The Forsaken. We’re here to talk about Urban Shadows.

Urban Shadows was the first game I ever ran. It was a fun, chaotic and improved adventure that all my players enjoyed playing as much as I did in guiding them through. It was also the game that introduced me to the concept of Safety Tools in RPGs.

The X-Card is a fantastic tool for helping guide your table through potentially upsetting topics. And while I likely would have discovered it without playing, I’m eternally grateful to Urban Shadows for being what led me to discovering it. 

Urban Shadows never shies away from the dark, both of gothic, urban fantasy and the sad realities of prejudice, drug use and stereotyping found in our world all too often. Despite this, it in hand with the dark encourages you to always make sure you don’t fall into pitfalls that so many who’ve tried to tackle the same themes fell into.

Avoid Defaultism: (…) Swapping around a few cultural signifiers gets you the same (or better!) creepy punch without falling into boring clichés or dredging up uncomfortable history for people at your table(…)

Lean On The X-Card: (…). Use the X-Card yourself early in the session to demonstrate that it’s safe for players to use, and make sure to honor the system when a player does invoke it, even if you think what they’re flagging is a perfectly reasonable addition to the fiction(…)

Much how in the same vein of how Shadow of the Demon Lord placed the importance of safety in the horror segment of its book, Urban Shadows places these importance rules within their advice for GM’ing section. It symbolizes how making sure your table is safe is equally as important as weaving an interesting story.

There are many games that symbolize this belief and style, of “Respectful Edge” (Cheesy, I know). I like to think it’s the new generation of dark and gritty gaming. Of a world where we leave the dark in the game, not in real life.

Learning From Your Past

I can never change the flaws of my past. But I can learn from them. I can be a better woman from them. I can move forward and be a kinder person everyday because of it. And if this article hasn’t shown already, I’m not the only one.

The TTRPG hobby is not perfect in the present time. Not by a longshot. But with every little step we take like the above, of making sure that even our most grim of games will have the players comfort into account, we’re learning from the mistakes of the past. We’re making better games. Better communities

Be it Warhammer Fantasy realizing inclusion is a far more kinder future. Games like Shadow Of The Demon Lord knowing there’s a limit to everything. Or Urban Shadows advising it’s players to balance confronting the dark with taking into account your own safety, the genre of grimdark is learning from it’s mistakes. And it’s pretty nice to see.

Now if you excuse me, I have a game of Warhammer to get ready for.

Do you have any grimdark systems you feel are making actions to become safer and welcoming? 

Categories: Game Theory & Design

PixelCast 25, Devs' Meetup at Guy Fieri's Dive... - by Jeremy Alessi

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 16 hours 41 min ago
In episode 25 Jeremy sits down with Andrew, Nathan, Joseph, and newcomer Josh to discuss each of their current game dev ambitions and captures the complete essence of any good PixelFest Devs' meetup. BTW, .kkrieger (created by .theprodukkt)
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Game Dev Digest Issue #32 - AR/VR, Character Controllers, Scene Loading, HDR Graphics, And More - by Mike Marrone

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 16 hours 41 min ago
Game Dev Digest Issue #32 - AR/VR, Character Controllers, Scene Loading, HDR Graphics, And More. The latest from the free weekly Unity3d/gamedev newsletter.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

PUBG, Black Desert add new PS4 and Xbox One cross-play features

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 20 February 2020 - 2:15pm

Two major online games announced new features for cross-console play this week, continuing console games†™ slow march toward a more cross compatible future. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Kitfox's Victoria Tran aims to kill toxic game communities with kindness

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 20 February 2020 - 12:19pm

Kitfox's Victoria Tran will be at GDC 2020 to show you how to build kinder communities around your games! Here she chats a bit about why you should go, and how studying prisons shaped her perspective. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Mystery at Ravenrock - Pathfinder

New RPG Product Reviews - 20 February 2020 - 10:14am
Publisher: Frog God Games
Rating: 4
An Endzeitgeist.com review

This module for PF1 clocks in at 25 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD,1 page back cover, leaving us with 20 pages, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

All right, so, first things first – this is the second of James Thomas’ modules dealing with the frontier’s region of Ravenreach. The module focuses on a very Borderlands-ish feel and should slot seamlessly into such regions – or e.g. the River Kingdoms in Golarion. Of course, you can also use it in the Lost Lands-setting without any hassle. The module is intended for 4-6 characters of 4th to 7th level – a well-rounded group is strongly recommended. The module does feature read-aloud boxed text, and e.g. does come with extra boxes for looking through keyholes, creatures bursting through furniture and the like – kudos!

While this module does benefit greatly from being ran as the follow-up to “Menace in Ravenreach”, the adventure does feature several adventure hooks that allow it to be used as a stand-alone adventure. While the players will be slightly less invested in the proceedings, the module does not require exposition dumps or the like to catch them up – in a way, it behaves very much like a second episode, as it assumes that the PCs return to Ravenreach after being absent for a while.

Genre-wise, this module offers a dungeon, but its central premise is that of an infiltration – in the way that most such modules will devolve into fighting; the module very much assumes that your group won’t be Stealth-ing through the materials. The adventure also certainly has a touch of irreverence and very dry humor – I know the author doesn’t live in Britain, but I’m not sure regarding nationality; the humor? Pitch-perfect. And n, this is not a funny-haha-module, nor is it gonzo, but it does have plenty of scenes that can be funny at the table. Very subdued and subtle – I like it.

The module includes three nice, mundane/alchemical items – one type of toxin that helps deal with a specific monster defensive ability, and two means of delivering this substance. This does add a nice tactical angle here. Speaking of which: As a nice bonus, the full-color maps (with grids and scale noted) are included as player-friendly, key-less versions as well – and yes, they’re full color. As a minor nitpick, two of the maps use a 10 ft.-grid, when a 5-ft.-grid would have been more useful for PFRPG, but that is me nitpicking.

Now, as far as the system is concerned, this deserves some serious praise: More so than most Frog God Games modules, and modules that exist for multiple systems in general, it is readily apparent that the author really KNOWS PFRPG. Not just gets it, but knows how it behaves, how it plays. This can be seen in a variety of choices: We have e.g. reskins of monsters with custom attacks and special abilities presented herein, with said text being delivered in the most concise form possible: acid arrow 1/hour +5 ranged touch, 2d4 acid damage for 3 rounds – simple, easy to grasp, no book flipping, complete. Like it. In spite of the relative brevity of the adventure, there is thus more content herein than you’d expect. The module also shows off this degree of system familiarity with the challenges posed – this is an old-school module, and as such, it is challenging and can easily result in a TPK if your players act stupidly – but more importantly, it does provide very in-depth tactical information for the GM, which is particularly helpful in the final encounter, which is truly and aptly-named “boss battle.” These tactics are btw. obviously bred from contact with actual players – the module has been playtested, and it SHOWS. The capabilities of the characters actually influence the plot and are reflected by a narrative – the adversaries have enacted a plan that represents the abilities they have. This, in short, makes the module feel very much “realistic” as well. Authors, take note – this is smart. This is a module worth winning, and won’t require that you redesign every single NPC to be an actual challenge. So yeah, mechanically, the PFRPG-version is certainly one of my favorites from Frog God Games’ oeuvre.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS, Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.


..
.

So, while the party was busy adventuring, Master Minder has enacted his master plan (pardon the bad pun) and seized control of Ravenrock – with the Baron geass’d into essentially an imprisoned vegetable, he put a simulacrum of the Baron, one subservient to his whims, in charge. See what I mean regarding capabilities? Anyhow, he has managed to do so without arousing overt suspicion, though his lockdown of the keep Ravenrock does raise some eyebrows. Worse, his experiments with troll bi-livers have yielded fruit, and thus, the keep’s charmed guard captain and his men now have a serious case of immortalities – i.e. they regenerate. If nobody stops Minder, things’ll look grim indeed. Enter the party of stalwart heroes.

Via one of the hooks provided, the party will need to get inside the keep and stop the nasty wizard’s plans – and thankfully, there is a convenient means of ingress, which will be shared with the party as the primary hook: There is an all but forgotten cheese cave that was abandoned when the sewage system of the keep started making it…well, disgusting. You can’t see it from the keep, and only the family of the erstwhile cheese-maker knows about it, knowing it colloquially as the “Raven’s Arse” – and it’s up that metaphorical rump that the party will attempt to secure access to the keep. Told you this had some dry humor.

Which does bring me to the perhaps most pronounced weakness of the module: While access via this brief dungeon is the intended route, the issue of PCs charming/sneaking/flying etc. into the keep is mentioned, and the GM is encouraged to point the players towards the dungeon. I get why. And yet, it represents a serious lost chance – the keep begs to be an infiltration scenario, it really does. However, there is no summary of the total inhabitants and most likely rooms anywhere, nor is there information on watch shifts and the like. The module teases a freeform, sandbox infiltration and then goes the safe route, telling you to urge your players to use the dungeon. With a single page, at the very most, this module could have had all the necessary information to allow for a truly free-form experience with a variety of vectors. You can still easily run the module as such with a bit of work – but you’ll need to map the vicinity of the keep (since no map of the surrounding area is included), and you’ll have to piece together the number of available characters, etc. This is work that is a) unnecessary, and b), ultimately detracts somewhat from what this module feels like it is set up to be.

In a way, the whole infiltration angle is ultimately just an excuse to delve into the dungeon, and treat the keep like one. This is, once more, not something that makes the module bad, but it most assuredly is an exceedingly puzzling decision, considering that the adventure has all the pieces in place to go that route. This structural decision also extends to a degree to the keep itself, making it behave a bit more like a dungeon than I would have liked.

That being said, the dungeon that is here? It is not a place that will have your players grumble for playing it – it is genuinely interesting. Aforementioned Raven’s Arse, as it turns out, has become the home of filth fairies, and the first part of the dungeon, where we explore the sewage system, is genuinely icky and hilarious – the fairies in PFRPG are an example, btw. one example of those heavily modified stats mentioned above – they are based of ooze mephits, but the players will never notice, believe me; the modifications are this helpful. This part of the dungeon also ties in with the region’s history and the legend of the dragon slain – one combat encounter features the immortal ire of the dragon, and the fairies have used bones and the like to generate some funny vistas.

Obviously, the main meat of the module will thus be covered by the party exploring the dungeon of the keep and the keep itself; the well-designed component of the module is reflected here in traps, in lists of Perception DCs that yield varying amounts of information and the like. It should also be noted that, from holding ells springing open to the labs themselves, the module does a good job blending themes and providing variety within a given adventure. Obviously, the PCs will have to defeat Master Minder (who’ll most likely have prepared a devastating ambush with his troll bi-liver enhanced super-soldiers), rescue the Baron and depose of the imposter-simulacrum to bring peace back to the region – but easier said than done…the wizard does have a pretty devastating tactical array, and the fact that the players might not want to kill everybody doesn’t make things easier either. That’s a good thing.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules language level, with only a terrain feature, namely a room that adds a bonus to a certain skill check not noting a bonus type being my only admittedly petty nitpick. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column full-color standard, including the usual amount of lots of text per page; locked door DCs are noted in the room headers, if applicable, which is a great way to handle that. The pdf does feature a couple of really nice full-color artworks, and I certainly appreciate the full-color maps, particularly the inclusion of a full set of player-friendly maps. Kudos! The IndieGoGo-version offered token in b/w and color – cool! I am not sure if those components are included in the retail iteration.

James Thomas’ second foray to Ravenreach is a module I actually enjoyed more than the first one in many ways; he seems to have found his own distinct voice, and the execution of the challenges herein is great. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed by it. Because it is SO CLOSE to being a phenomenal adventure that embraces nonlinearity, and then elects to go the safe route in a pretty predetermined and linear dungeon-crawl. With but a single page, this could have been elevated to the ranks of modules that deserve to be called an example of excellence; as provided, the adventure is certainly good; whether you consider it to be very good, though, is mostly contingent on what you want from a module. If you want a great little dungeon-crawl that is challenging, at times funny and at times scary, then this delivers in spades. If you want a free-form adventure that presents multiple ways to tackle its challenges and focuses on providing a dynamic environment, then this might leave you wanting more. My final verdict will clock in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Mystery at Ravenrock - Fifth Edition

New RPG Product Reviews - 20 February 2020 - 10:13am
Publisher: Frog God Games
Rating: 4
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The 5e-iteration of this adventure clocks in at 28 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD,1 page back cover, leaving us with 23 pages, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

All right, so, first things first – this is the second of James Thomas’ modules dealing with the frontier’s region of Ravenreach. The module focuses on a very Borderlands-ish feel and should slot seamlessly into such regions – or e.g. the River Kingdoms in Golarion. Of course, you can also use it in the Lost Lands-setting without any hassle. The module is intended for 4-6 characters of 4th to 7th level – a well-rounded group is strongly recommended. The module does feature read-aloud boxed text, and e.g. does come with extra boxes for looking through keyholes, creatures bursting through furniture and the like – kudos!

While this module does benefit greatly from being ran as the follow-up to “Menace in Ravenreach”, the adventure does feature several adventure hooks that allow it to be used as a stand-alone adventure. While the players will be slightly less invested in the proceedings, the module does not require exposition dumps or the like to catch them up – in a way, it behaves very much like a second episode, as it assumes that the PCs return to Ravenreach after being absent for a while.

Genre-wise, this module offers a dungeon, but its central premise is that of an infiltration – in the way that most such modules will devolve into fighting; the module very much assumes that your group won’t be Stealth-ing through the materials. The adventure also certainly has a touch of irreverence and very dry humor – I know the author doesn’t live in Britain, but I’m not sure regarding nationality; the humor? Pitch-perfect. And n, this is not a funny-haha-module, nor is it gonzo, but it does have plenty of scenes that can be funny at the table. Very subdued and subtle – I like it.

The module includes three nice, mundane/alchemical items – one type of toxin that helps deal with a specific monster defensive ability, and two means of delivering this substance. This does add a nice tactical angle here. While we’re on the subject of items – considering that 5e has less standard treasure books than e.g. PFRPG, I very much applaud the inclusion of a variety of magic items here. As a nice bonus, the full-color maps (with grids and scale noted) are included as player-friendly, key-less versions as well – and yes, they’re full color. As a minor nitpick, two of the maps use a 10 ft.-grid, when a 5-ft.-grid would have been more useful for 5e, but that is me nitpicking.

Now, as far as system mastery is concerned, Edwin Nagy did a surprisingly good job – the PFRPG-version excelled via its mechanics and the very well-DESIGNED components of its challenge; the 5e-version does not shirk from this challenge, and presents a surprising amount of different critters (which make up the bulk of the additional pages of this version), and the statblocks I checked do check out! That’s usually one thing that multi-system adventures fail horribly at, so kudos for providing proper stats AND getting the formatting for 5e right! The book also uses proper rules-language and default stats for guards etc. where applicable. Moreover, the version manages to retain the sense of being very tightly-wound and controlled, being well-designed as a hard, but fair adventure. That’s how it’s supposed to be. Big kudos for the conversion here. On the nitpicky side, I did notice some very minor formal hiccups here: A Languages line that reads “[stuff]”, a “Wand, uncommon” that’s not in italics, etc. – but the rules language-relevant materials? Precise and pristine. My only complaint here would be that the module has no inherent mechanic or rationale to prevent or dissuade from long-rest-scumming.

All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS, Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.


..
.

So, while the party was busy adventuring, Master Minder has enacted his master plan (pardon the bad pun) and seized control of Ravenrock – with the Baron geass’d into essentially an imprisoned vegetable, he put a simulacrum of the Baron, one subservient to his whims, in charge. See what I mean regarding capabilities? Anyhow, he has managed to do so without arousing overt suspicion, though his lockdown of the keep Ravenrock does raise some eyebrows. Worse, his experiments with troll bi-livers have yielded fruit, and thus, the keep’s charmed guard captain and his men now have a serious case of immortalities – i.e. they regenerate. If nobody stops Minder, things’ll look grim indeed. Enter the party of stalwart heroes.

Via one of the hooks provided, the party will need to get inside the keep and stop the nasty wizard’s plans – and thankfully, there is a convenient means of ingress, which will be shared with the party as the primary hook: There is an all but forgotten cheese cave that was abandoned when the sewage system of the keep started making it…well, disgusting. You can’t see it from the keep, and only the family of the erstwhile cheese-maker knows about it, knowing it colloquially as the “Raven’s Arse” – and it’s up that metaphorical rump that the party will attempt to secure access to the keep. Told you this had some dry humor.

Which does bring me to the perhaps most pronounced weakness of the module: While access via this brief dungeon is the intended route, the issue of PCs charming/sneaking/flying etc. into the keep is mentioned, and the GM is encouraged to point the players towards the dungeon. I get why. And yet, it represents a serious lost chance – the keep begs to be an infiltration scenario, it really does. However, there is no summary of the total inhabitants and most likely rooms anywhere, nor is there information on watch shifts and the like. The module teases a freeform, sandbox infiltration and then goes the safe route, telling you to urge your players to use the dungeon. With a single page, at the very most, this module could have had all the necessary information to allow for a truly free-form experience with a variety of vectors. You can still easily run the module as such with a bit of work – but you’ll need to map the vicinity of the keep (since no map of the surrounding area is included), and you’ll have to piece together the number of available characters, etc. This is work that is a) unnecessary, and b), ultimately detracts somewhat from what this module feels like it is set up to be.

In a way, the whole infiltration angle is ultimately just an excuse to delve into the dungeon, and treat the keep like one. This is, once more, not something that makes the module bad, but it most assuredly is an exceedingly puzzling decision, considering that the adventure has all the pieces in place to go that route. This structural decision also extends to a degree to the keep itself, making it behave a bit more like a dungeon than I would have liked.

That being said, the dungeon that is here? It is not a place that will have your players grumble for playing it – it is genuinely interesting. Aforementioned Raven’s Arse, as it turns out, has become the home of filth fairies, and the first part of the dungeon, where we explore the sewage system, is genuinely icky and hilarious. In 5e, we have a wide array of supplemental creatures. This part of the dungeon also ties in with the region’s history and the legend of the dragon slain – one combat encounter features the immortal ire of the dragon, and the fairies have used bones and the like to generate some funny vistas.

Obviously, the main meat of the module will thus be covered by the party exploring the dungeon of the keep and the keep itself; the well-designed component of the module is reflected here in traps, in well-chosen DCs and proper application of 5e-mechanics. It should also be noted that, from holding ells springing open to the labs themselves, the module does a good job blending themes and providing variety within a given adventure. Obviously, the PCs will have to defeat Master Minder (who’ll most likely have prepared a devastating ambush with his troll bi-liver enhanced super-soldiers), rescue the Baron and depose of the imposter-simulacrum to bring peace back to the region – but easier said than done…the wizard does have a pretty devastating tactical array, and the fact that the players might not want to kill everybody doesn’t make things easier either. That’s a good thing.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are excellent on a rules language level, and evry good on a formal level, with only cosmetic nitpicks. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column full-color standard, including the usual amount of lots of text per page; locked door DCs are noted in the room headers, if applicable, which is a great way to handle that. The pdf does feature a couple of really nice full-color artworks, and I certainly appreciate the full-color maps, particularly the inclusion of a full set of player-friendly maps. Kudos! The IndieGoGo-version offered token in b/w and color – cool! I am not sure if those components are included in the retail iteration.

James Thomas’ second foray to Ravenreach is a module I actually enjoyed more than the first one in many ways; he seems to have found his own distinct voice, and the execution of the challenges herein is great. Edwin Nagy’s conversion to 5e manages to retain the strengths of the adventure, and is simply well-executed. The main complaint against the PFRPG-version, though, remains: I couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed by it. Because it is SO CLOSE to being a phenomenal adventure that embraces nonlinearity, and then elects to go the safe route in a pretty predetermined and linear dungeon-crawl. With but a single page, this could have been elevated to the ranks of modules that deserve to be called an example of excellence; as provided, the adventure is certainly good; whether you consider it to be very good, though, is mostly contingent on what you want from a module. If you want a great little dungeon-crawl that is challenging, at times funny and at times scary, then this delivers in spades, particularly if you like old-school style gaming and are fed up with sloppy conversions to 5e. This does actually operate properly in 5e. If you want a free-form adventure that presents multiple ways to tackle its challenges and focuses on providing a dynamic environment, then this might leave you wanting more. My final verdict will clock thus in at 4.5 stars, rounded down for the purpose of this platform.

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Mystery at Ravenrock - Swords and Wizardry

New RPG Product Reviews - 20 February 2020 - 10:11am
Publisher: Frog God Games
Rating: 4
An Endzeitgeist.com review

The OSR-version of this module clocks in at 24 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD,1 page back cover, leaving us with 19 pages, so let’s take a look!

This review was moved up in my reviewing queue at the request of my patreon supporters.

All right, so, first things first – this is the second of James Thomas’ modules dealing with the frontier’s region of Ravenreach. The module focuses on a very Borderlands-ish feel and should slot seamlessly into such regions. Of course, you can also use it in the Lost Lands-setting without any hassle. The module is intended for 4-6 characters of 4th to 7th level – a well-rounded group is strongly recommended. The module does feature read-aloud boxed text, and e.g. does come with extra boxes for looking through keyholes, creatures bursting through furniture and the like – kudos! The rules-system used herein would be Swords and Wizardry (S and W), which is based on 0e, and the adventure ultimately can thus easily be converted to other OSR rules systems.

While this module does benefit greatly from being ran as the follow-up to “Menace in Ravenreach”, the adventure does feature several adventure hooks that allow it to be used as a stand-alone adventure. While the players will be slightly less invested in the proceedings, the module does not require exposition dumps or the like to catch them up – in a way, it behaves very much like a second episode, as it assumes that the PCs return to Ravenreach after being absent for a while. Nice: The OSR-version makes use of the room freed by requiring less rules language for optional encounters

Genre-wise, this module offers a dungeon, but its central premise is that of an infiltration – in the way that most such modules will devolve into fighting; the module very much assumes that your group won’t be Stealth-ing through the materials. The adventure also certainly has a touch of irreverence and very dry humor – I know the author doesn’t live in Britain, but I’m not sure regarding nationality; the humor? Pitch-perfect. And n, this is not a funny-haha-module, nor is it gonzo, but it does have plenty of scenes that can be funny at the table. Very subdued and subtle – I like it.

The module includes three nice, mundane/alchemical items – one type of toxin that helps deal with a specific monster defensive ability, and two means of delivering this substance. This does add a nice tactical angle here. Speaking of which: As a nice bonus, the full-color maps (with grids and scale noted) are included as player-friendly, key-less versions as well – and yes, they’re full color. Two of the maps use a 10 ft.-grid, another a 5-ft.-grid.



All right, this is as far as I can go without diving into SPOILERS, Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.


..
.

So, while the party was busy adventuring, Master Minder has enacted his master plan (pardon the bad pun) and seized control of Ravenrock – with the Baron geass’d into essentially an imprisoned vegetable, he put a simulacrum of the Baron, one subservient to his whims, in charge. See what I mean regarding capabilities? Anyhow, he has managed to do so without arousing overt suspicion, though his lockdown of the keep Ravenrock does raise some eyebrows. Worse, his experiments with troll bi-livers have yielded fruit, and thus, the keep’s charmed guard captain and his men now have a serious case of immortalities – i.e. they regenerate. If nobody stops Minder, things’ll look grim indeed. Enter the party of stalwart heroes.

Via one of the hooks provided, the party will need to get inside the keep and stop the nasty wizard’s plans – and thankfully, there is a convenient means of ingress, which will be shared with the party as the primary hook: There is an all but forgotten cheese cave that was abandoned when the sewage system of the keep started making it…well, disgusting. You can’t see it from the keep, and only the family of the erstwhile cheese-maker knows about it, knowing it colloquially as the “Raven’s Arse” – and it’s up that metaphorical rump that the party will attempt to secure access to the keep. Told you this had some dry humor.

Which does bring me to the perhaps most pronounced weakness of the module: While access via this brief dungeon is the intended route, the issue of PCs charming/sneaking/flying etc. into the keep is mentioned, and the GM is encouraged to point the players towards the dungeon. I get why. And yet, it represents a serious lost chance – the keep begs to be an infiltration scenario, it really does. However, there is no summary of the total inhabitants and most likely rooms anywhere, nor is there information on watch shifts and the like. The module teases a freeform, sandbox infiltration and then goes the safe route, telling you to urge your players to use the dungeon. With a single page, at the very most, this module could have had all the necessary information to allow for a truly free-form experience with a variety of vectors. You can still easily run the module as such with a bit of work – but you’ll need to map the vicinity of the keep (since no map of the surrounding area is included), and you’ll have to piece together the number of available characters, etc. This is work that is a) unnecessary, and b), ultimately detracts somewhat from what this module feels like it is set up to be.

In a way, the whole infiltration angle is ultimately just an excuse to delve into the dungeon, and treat the keep like one. This is, once more, not something that makes the module bad, but it most assuredly is an exceedingly puzzling decision, considering that the adventure has all the pieces in place to go that route. This structural decision also extends to a degree to the keep itself, making it behave a bit more like a dungeon than I would have liked. Particularly in the old-school version for S and W, this does feel like an unfortunate oversight when contrasted with comparable modules.

That being said, the dungeon that is here? It is not a place that will have your players grumble for playing it – it is genuinely interesting. Aforementioned Raven’s Arse, as it turns out, has become the home of filth fairies, and the first part of the dungeon, where we explore the sewage system, is genuinely icky and hilarious.
This part of the dungeon also ties in with the region’s history and the legend of the dragon slain – one combat encounter features the immortal ire of the dragon, and the fairies have used bones and the like to generate some funny vistas. The filth fairies are presented as a new creature in the OSR-version.

Obviously, the main meat of the module will thus be covered by the party exploring the dungeon of the keep and the keep itself; the well-designed component of the module is reflected here in traps and the like – it is hard, but generally fair. It should also be noted that, from holding ells springing open to the labs themselves, the module does a good job blending themes and providing variety within a given adventure. Obviously, the PCs will have to defeat Master Minder (who’ll most likely have prepared a devastating ambush with his troll bi-liver enhanced super-soldiers), rescue the Baron and depose of the imposter-simulacrum to bring peace back to the region – but easier said than done…the wizard does have a pretty neat ambush ready…

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are excellent on a formal and rules language level. Layout adheres to Frog God Games’ two-column full-color standard, including the usual amount of lots of text per page; locked door DCs are noted in the room headers, if applicable, which is a great way to handle that. The pdf does feature a couple of really nice full-color artworks, and I certainly appreciate the full-color maps, particularly the inclusion of a full set of player-friendly maps. Kudos! The IndieGoGo-version offered token in b/w and color – cool! I am not sure if those components are included in the retail iteration.

James Thomas’ second foray to Ravenreach is a module I actually enjoyed more than the first one in many ways; he seems to have found his own distinct voice, and the execution of the challenges herein is great. Jeff Harkness does a great job converting the module to S and W, and all in all, the adventure holds up. However, system-immanently, the module loses one of its most pervasive strengths in this iteration – the system simply doesn’t offer as much tactical options, and since there are less rules to finetune, this impressive aspect is simply not there. Conversely, OSR-adventures do tend to assume that the players use their brains, that they can approach a challenge from various angles, and particularly in this context, the module’s baseline of railroading the PCs away from other means of ingress, ultimately, hurts the adventure. In this iteration, my final verdict can’t exceed 3.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo – provided your players can stomach that. If not, round down. If you have the luxury of being able to choose your system, I’d suggest getting the version for a more complex rules-set instead.

Endzeitgeist out.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Another 05 Pro Business and Marketing Tips for Game Developers - by Andre Faure

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 20 February 2020 - 7:52am
Here are 05 EXTRA tips on business and marketing from my 23 years of experience developing and publishing games to help you out on decision making. Enjoy!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Crafting Nightmares - Othercide's Art Direction - by Alexandre Chaudret

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 20 February 2020 - 7:51am
Finding the "soul" for Othercide's art direction was a thrilling journey. Born from our own traumas, here is how we tried to make our game stand out from the tactical genre.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

StoneShard, 10 reasons for success - by Davide Pessach

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 20 February 2020 - 7:46am
The incredible success of StoneShard is not magic nor chance. I believe we can pinpoint the roots of it to how the demo is built, and how precisely good is the design of the game's multiple parts. I try to get to the bottom of it.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Are you Meta? An Overwatch analysis - by Cameron van Velzen

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 20 February 2020 - 7:45am
This is a general look at the shifting meta of Blizzard's game Overwatch and how it applies to professional players and casual players. Examine current themes and practices for evaluating meta in online games.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Decade Retrospective: Indonesian Games 2010-2020 - by Kris Antoni Hadiputra

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 20 February 2020 - 7:41am
2020 marked my 12th year making games in Indonesia. In my years working in the game-making business in Indonesia, I have seen a lot of things, good and bad. Here's a decade of Indonesian games in retrospective.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Dear colleagues, GO TEACH! - by Franck Fitrzyk

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 20 February 2020 - 7:40am
As workers in the video game industry, we have a huge responsibility to participate in the training of our future recruits, we cannot just wait for someone else to do it. Developers, get involved in our juniors' education!
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Gnomecast #86 – Best and Worst

Gnome Stew - 20 February 2020 - 5:00am

Join Chuck, Jared, and John for a discussion about their best and worst gaming experiences on both sides of the GM screen. Have these gnomes learned enough from their experiences to keep out of the stew?

Download: Gnomecast #86 – Best and Worst

Follow Chuck at @InnocuousChuck on Twitter.

Follow Jared at @KnightErrant_JR on Twitter and check out his blog What Do I Know?

Follow John at @johnarcadian on Twitter and check out his website at johnarcadian.com.

Keep up with all the gnomes by visiting gnomestew.com, following @gnomestew on Twitter, or visiting the Gnome Stew Facebook Page. Subscribe to the Gnome Stew Twitch channel, check out Gnome Stew Merch, catch the Gnome Stew YouTube channel, and support Gnome Stew on Patreon!

For another great show on the Misdirected Mark network, check out Bonus Experience!

Categories: Game Theory & Design

GTA IV to return to Steam after cutting Games for Windows Live support

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 19 February 2020 - 2:36pm

Grand Theft Auto IV†™s exodus from Steam wasn†™t a permanent one; the game is headed back to the platform, but must sacrifice its multiplayer to do so. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

Our indie game KUNAI got review bombed to a 1.7 - by Benjamin de Jager

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 19 February 2020 - 7:38am
We're a small indie studio and our metroidvania KUNAI just got review bombed to 1.7 on Metacritic. The process is simple, explains our bomber on Reddit.
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Returning to Olympia in Style w/Agon

Gnome Stew - 19 February 2020 - 7:30am

As at least 2,661 might have heard, but Agon is coming out sometime in April! In case some of you are wondering just what Agon is: “Agon is a game of fast-paced heroic adventure inspired by ancient legends,” or at least by how the super successful Kickstarter describes it as. It’s a uniquely paced RPG written by Sean Nitter and the well-proven John Harper. You know, the guy that wrote and designed Blades in the Dark and constantly the target of my System Splicing knife? Honestly, I’ve gutted more mechanics out of Blades in the Dark to shove into other systems than over systems HAVE in mechanics.

Before we start with the legit review, can I start with one major gripe? Agon lets you be either the Scion(distant kid) or the target of an Olympian God’s favor. So how the Hekate is Hekate one of the 12 gods listed in this game and not my sweet Dionysus? They list out literally 11 of the 12 Olympians, but give Dionysus’ seat over to the Goddess of witchcraft and magic? Is it to make the game more family-friendly? Was wine, madness, resurrection, and theatre just too out of it? I understand that the game likely needed to take in some degree of magic, perhaps to appease the wizard pals who want to play this, but I just think it’s a darned shame to use most of the 12 Olympians and make such a massive swap.

Alright, enough of that.

Let’s get started.

A Confession

Admittedly when I was going through Agon the first couple of times it was actually fairly difficult to get through all of it. There’s a lot to take in and it can be a bit overwhelming—in a way, that’s a good thing. The game, the tone, and how the game plays is such a departure from what I’m used to that it was somewhat difficult to entirely process. I’ve played a lot of different systems between D&D 5e, to FATE, to Rifts(1990), to Genesys, to Savage Worlds, and plenty of others. Even with all of them, I’ve been able to refer to some other similar system on the regular to compare them. Finding something that stood apart from all of that was difficult. However, the very pleasing art and layout are particularly helpful in making it easy to get sucked back into the book.

When running it I noticed how it very much felt like I was telling some sort of epic. The flowchart-like phases for each section made it all feel like an epic. It was less about the individual tales we were telling and it all felt like I was one step above that. It was interesting playing with players not necessarily focused on what they were doing, but always thinking about how it would affect the next immediate narrative phase.

If that makes any sense.

At a Glance

The first thing that anyone can immediately tell is how… /stunning/ it all is. It really calls out to anyone that appreciates solid Greco-roman influences and, honestly, it reminds me a little of Monster Hunter or the movie 300. Admittedly, I’m not exactly culturally acute enough to fully appreciate the attention to detail, but anyone that is would absolutely adore its look. I have a feeling that nowadays not exactly everyone is the most up-to-date on Greco-roman things to be nitpicky about it, so as part of the various unwashed masses I’m loving the whole thing.

Honestly, I’m not even certain if I’m using ‘Greco-roman’ correctly.

The layout is clean and simple and the margins have this beautiful wavy-labyrinthine(have I mentioned I’m unwashed?) outline to it that makes me feel like I’m looking at some epic tapestry or bardic scroll. Evil Hat is always stellar on making their books clean and non-cluttered and this is no exception in the slightest. Reading through it makes me think ‘yeah this is definitely Evil Hat’ at the reins.

I just also want to just slide in that Character Creation in this game is just so… clean and crisp. It takes up, at most, 3-pages and is incredibly clear on the role of each decision you make during it. It’s possibly the best example of modern character creation I’ve seen in a long while. The example character sheet fitting right in the end as well is a great reference. “Did I do this right?” isn’t something that many creators seem to care about since it’s obvious to them, but many players do.

The Rules

Agon uses 4 major ‘Domains of Conflict’ for their skill/conflict & resolution mechanics. This is split between Arts & Oration, Blood & Valor, Craft & Reason, and Resolve & Spirit. All conflicts tend to fall under one of these, and these are represented not in modifiers, but dice. So your Blood & Valor could be a d6 while your Craft & Reason is a d8. Not only are those associated with dice, but also your ‘Name’ or how famous you are, and your ‘Epithet’ or what you’re about.

When you roll various contests, or engagement, or any other conflict resolution mechanics, you typically roll your Name(let’s say d6) and the domain(let’s say Craft & Reason at d8). If your Epithet applies(High-Scholar at d6) you add that dice too. Let’s say you rolled 5, 3, 4. What you do is add the two highest values, or 5+4, for 9. There’s additional dice you can add either using your resources such as Bond(to add your ally’s Name die), taking damage(Pathos) to add additional Domain dice or invoke your Divine Favor from your God to add a d4. Unlike all the other dice, Divine Favor is added to the final result. The rest is simply adding to the pools of fate to draw from.

The rule system reminds me a lot of some form between FATE and OVA: The Anime RPG: FATE because you’re looking to draw on the right situations to pull out your Epithet and Divine Favor to give you an edge; OVA because you simply roll larger and larger pools of dice only to sum up a small number of values. The fact Agon stands out even between those two RPG-oddballs is incredibly striking to hipster swill like me.

Nitpicks

Honestly, there’s very little that I can personally say that’ll result in a non-recommendation. This book is glorious from front-to-back with solid and clean mechanics and I would personally recommend folks to pick it up the moment it’s available. However, there’s always something to nitpick.

The main issue I have, at least in the version of the book I’ve got, they currently call the GM, or Gamemaster, the ‘Strife Player.’ I’m of the belief that ‘Strife Player’ isn’t particularly… striking in a way that’s meaningful. Essentially it’s the player that ends up leading the game. From a phonetic stance, Strife Player doesn’t roll off the tongue as cleanly and it doesn’t feel distinctive enough to identify the different roles between the GM and the players. The whole way through the book I kept thinking to myself ‘wait, am I able to assign who the strife player is?’ I imagine this was done to help level the playing field and identify that yes, the GM is ultimately just another player in the grand scheme of things. However, its lack of distinctiveness just added a layer, albeit a thin one, of befuddlement through the reading experience.

I’d personally just suggest going with the classic Gamemaster or Storyteller, or Record Keeper, or Seer, or something. If not, I’d like them to at least refer to the Strife Player in its description to something of those lines in a clearer manner. It’d be easy enough to insert an ‘as the Strife Player, you act as the Game Master of the game and take a role to facilitate the play of the other players-‘ etc etc. There’s a whole section of cultural touchstones in the book for the players, so why can the Strife Player have some sort of recognizable reference to their role? It feels like an arbitrary omission.

Another concern I have is how processed it almost feels? The way the game works makes it extremely easy for the GM and players to switch roles and even switch characters. Honestly, this type of game really supports ‘West Marches’ or ‘Troupe’ style of games where you can change up who you are and what you do completely on the fly. While that’s good for some, it doesn’t work for all. It also walks you through its ‘Trials’ and ‘Respite’ phases in a very organized fashion. It has the players consistently hit the same beats of gameplay that, at least for the gaming group I played with, it almost felt samey at each run. For groups that desire revolving players so that no one feels ‘trapped’ as the Gamemaster, Agon is absolutely perfect for them. It really just depends on what you’re looking for.

My Takeaway

Agon is an extremely modern game that plays with very old themes. It reminds me a bit, honestly, of Supergiant’s recent hit Hades. It goes back to bring a modern take to old stories, or at least the atmosphere of that time and succeeds greatly in the delivery. As someone that loves trawling and hunting around for old games and mechanics, I can say that Agon is the most extreme departure I’ve seen thus far from tabletops in the 70s and 80s, with no point of reference to folks of that time.

It applies dice mechanics to your name/fame, your title, and it consolidates rolling mechanics to pools of varying dice shapes that sometimes but doesn’t always get added together. It’s even so different from so many current games that you need to wrap yourself around a new headspace, a new way to think, about how games are played and stories are told. For me, someone that likes to drink upon my aforementioned hipster swill, this game is fresh and exciting. I can see it setting a stage for modern games as would say, Pheonix Dawn Command might have if it was far more accessible.

I’m fairly excited to see what direction Agon takes us, as a community.

Categories: Game Theory & Design

The Design Challenges of "Children of Morta" - by Hamid R. Saeedy

Gamasutra.com Blogs - 19 February 2020 - 7:25am
In this article, I will try to describe the design process and the various challenges we faced along the way of making "Children of Morta".
Categories: Game Theory & Design

Stadia support arrives on 19 non-Google Pixel phone models this week

Social/Online Games - Gamasutra - 18 February 2020 - 11:39am

Google's not-so-steady rollout of new Stadia features continues with the announcement of support for nearly 20 new devices, the first non-Pixel mobiles to work with the service. ...

Categories: Game Theory & Design

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