ProFantasy Software

Wednesday, 20. April 2011

CC 3

Someone sent me a nice link to some mapping software earlier today, and I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts or experience with it.  The companies name is ProFantasy and they have an entire product line.

The flagship program is called “Campaign Cartographer 3” and seems to be about the best put together piece I’ve seen so far for the purpose. It’s available digitally and you can get the physical product as well if you prefer although it will cost you a little extra money.

Thoughts at a glance
Heavy Duty software
Entire selective suite of software
Priced for it’s capabilities (meaning expensive for more than 1)
Very good looking maps with a variety of products
Modular, with most building off the main software
campaign cartographer)

Anyone have any experience that they could comment on this?

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System Selection: Heavy Gear

Thursday, 30. December 2010

Heavy Gear, 2E

Moving along to one of my more perennial favorites, Heavy Gear. It’s always good to be able to stomp around in mid sized gasoline powered mechs in the desert. The setting is pretty harsh, and there are a lot of ways to die if you take it as a role playing game rather than a pure tactical simulation. The system has a inherent simplicity within it, so it makes picking it up or running a game very easy. You can quickly focus on game play and the storyline elements, or run complicated tactical scenarios because of this without an entire manual of character sheets. It likewise plays very quickly, so everyone can get in on the action.

General Setting: Terra Nova, a desert planet in the future a couple jumps away from Earth. Left abandoned during hard times the colony survived and flourished. When Earth returned to reassert its control, the people of Terra Nova fought off the invasion using gears, smaller gasoline powered mechs. There is plenty of other vehicles, but the gears are what makes the system what it is.
Read more Ľ

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Errant Beta Live

Monday, 20. December 2010

Errant cover

Greg Christopher creator of Synapse has decided to toss his hat into the D&D OSR ring on the off chance you haven’t been following.¬† The entrant in this particular case is Errant.¬† The systems are quite different¬†however they¬†have a couple of the same flavor elements that marry them in a similar fashion.¬† Both are of course, free for the plundering however any feedback you can provide is quite appreciated.

The main immediate similarities are that of a simple gaming style, familiar statistics and a couple of old school classes.¬† Of course, claims of old school D&D being simple is somewhat of a nefarious misdirection.. old school was a byzantine labyrinth of rules and regulations.¬† Errant really is simple however, staying true to it’s predecessor Synapse.¬† The game retains¬†the original¬†6 statistics of STR, DEX, CON, INT, WIS and CHA.¬†¬†Actions that aren’t tied to anything specifically¬†are resolved through a simple stat check.

Major differing points are relatively in depth character creation for an OSR game (Gifts and some character customization in skills) and taking another leap for the time frame.. actual character motivations other than raiding dungeons for loot and fame.  Spell casters in this set are also very specialized and themed versus the generic wizard or mage.  Notably absent however is the cleric or priestly class, with the Paladin filling the holy mans void.

The books artwork is rather light versus some of the major producers, but filled with good quality pieces that have been donated.  The location of each piece is rather well themed and fits in well.  The books character creation and rules flow rather well and is condensed into a neat 80 pages.

Rather than making this review overly long, I will suggest taking a look at it if you’re interested.. (and even if you aren’t~)

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Art Styles in RPG’s

Tuesday, 14. December 2010

Art of HG Vol1 (DP9, S. Jackson Games)

As we look at any reference book for games, you see a continuous evolution of the rules, for better or for worse.  Along with this in most cases, is an evolution of art styles between one edition or another.   If you look further from one game to another, the styles are wildly divergent from intense black and whites, to anime, to themes that fight right into movies.  Does the art style of a particular game influence your style of play?

I think it definitely influences how consistently the game world is viewed from player to player.¬† Along with that, it¬†sets a tone for the style of play within the game world itself.¬† This isn’t to say that it can’t be deviated from, but the set idea of the game comes from its artwork.¬† If it’s say, dark and gritty then it’s hard to get the mind out of the idea that the setting is in fact the same, even if it is in reality less serious.¬† Likewise if the art has a lighter feeling, it takes a little work to get into a darker mood.¬† White wolf and Heavy gear would probably be my 2 examples there, anime art always has a little bit of a cartoonish feel to me.¬†

Likewise, we¬†can also look at art between editions.¬† D&D is the most obvious¬† in my case, so I’ll use that as an example.¬† It spans from the classical art in first and second edition, moving into a very Tolkien feeling in 3rd and 3.5, finally to a somewhat cartoon world of warcraft feeling in 4 and essentials.¬† I think this ties more into what the public acceptability of popular is.. but generally invokes the feeling of an epic fantasy from all of them.¬† The styling just dictates the flavor of epic fantasy.¬† I think the flavor in this case changes more from one setting to another.. looking at Greyhawk or Darksun or Ravenloft. It seems to me that affects my perception of the play style considerably more.

Does anyone else find there is something of an expectation based on the art styling?

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System Selection: Dungeons and Dragons

Thursday, 9. December 2010

The Traditional Red Box

Moving along in our commonly available systems, we move into one of my favorite old school games; Dungeons and Dragons. Technically speaking, I could probably make this a 5 part post considering all of the versions of it out there and maybe even more if I consider revisions. In the spirit of going with what is commonly available at the stores however this really needs to only tie into 2 editions… 4th edition and Essentials. Bashing the game for its inadequacies is as old as time itself and yet it still manages to hang in there with the best name recognition out there.

Game System: 4th Edition & Essentials. Technically they both use the same system although essentials is a bit of a step back in simplicity and game nostalgia with the available classes. It’s also a good opportunity to correct all the errata that 4th generated. Love it or hate it, I think it plays very similarly to world of warcraft with its abilities and style.

General Setting: Vanilla fantasy with a modern theme, although a tremendous number of well defined settings are available: Darksun, Forgotton Realms, Al-quadim, Ravenloft to name a few. The settings a quite different from each other and you should be able to find a setting style you like with a little bit of looking. If you’re into custom worlds, that is essentially fully supported through templating.

Detail Focus: Combat, Adventure and Exploration. The original game themed somewhat in the reverse order, 4th and Essentials are very much a fighting game at heart. The system is designed to be used with miniatures and is a miniature tactical combat simulator. Abilities and classes are well defined as is their role within the group. D&D is very well setup to be a team game, with everyone covering each others weaknesses and playing to their strengths.

System Difficulty: Moderately difficult (6 of 10.) Dungeons and Dragons is a game of rules and abilities… and there are a lot of them to learn. Even at a basic tactical level it is very helpful to have someone showing you the ropes until you figure out what you’re doing. This is particularly important since you’re supposed to be working as a team.

Kid Suitability: Moderate to Well. Depends on their age…how well they are able to grok what they are supposed to be doing. The team aspects and elements work well for kids in my opinion, as roles are pretty clearly spelled out. The setting is not particularly horrific or flowery and plays well as it’s supposed to… epic fantasy.

Cost: $20 to get started for essentials. More for 4th Edition which you’ll probably be picking up eventually.

Other Notes: I haven’t played a whole ton of 4th Edition as I’m more of a 3rd edition guy. Wizards of the Coast owns this, so it’ll be interesting to see what direction they take the game as far as online support and how long the current edition sticks around. Most schisms in this game focus around the various editions.¬†Love it or hate it, the game pays to be somewhat familiar with as it’s been around forever and is widely played in one form or another.

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System Selection: White Wolf

Thursday, 2. December 2010

It’s nice to be able to talk about all sorts of obscure as well as ancient systems and their tweaks, but what if you want to get a game and play something right now?¬† Well, you are limited to what you can get off the shelf or at your local hobby shop.¬† With dwindling numbers of hobby stores, if you’re really lucky (like myself) you might only be able to get whats available at your local book store.¬† Fortunately however,¬† they are carrying more and more.¬† So, over the next while I’ll be looking at commonly available games, as well as their flaws and perks.¬† You might think I’d start with Dungeons and Dragons in this case, but actually I’m going to start with White Wolf, simply because I think it gives character details the emphasis that are required to get players somewhat excited about them from the get go.¬†

Game System:¬† White Wolf – Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, Changeling, Wraith.¬† I am gloming these all together because they’re all World of Darkness settings, even though they have vastly different focuses.¬† The various groups tend to hate each other as well so it can make for some pretty interesting role playing if you have a mixed group.

General Setting:¬†Wold of Darkness – Alternative contemporary, but can also be alternative historical given the number of resources available.¬† This makes setting up games rather simple as you can simply look around your area and “White wolf-ify it” as in make it dark and sinister.

Detail Focus:  Mystery, Intrigue, Drama, Character relations are all major driving factors in white wolf games.  These games are very heavily based on actually role playing and the character generation and notes reflect it (as does the character sheet!)  There is a lot of complicated interpersonal relations that get played out that drive the plot.  Combat although important is a small portion in comparison.  The game certainly can be a combat game, but the system is rather abstract compared to others out there.

System Difficulty: Simple (3-4 out of 10) with a major Caveat.¬† The system in WoD is very simple to learn the mechanics of and you can be up and running in a day pretty confidently.¬† Caveat – Tons of customs and behaviors need to be learned to play your character effectively.¬† You’ll either be riding the learning curve with a storyteller or more hopefully have a group and storyteller that will be along with you to help you “ride the lightning,.”

Kid Suitability:¬† Rather Low.¬† The setting is very dark and sinister, and if you aren’t getting the life sucked out of you, ripped apart, tortured, turned into a ghoul etc (or doing the same to others) you are doing something wrong.¬†¬†Not something I¬†would teach to kids although teens are going to get into it for¬† those very factors.¬†

Cost: 35$ or less if you find it used gets you started on a particular journey.

Other Notes:¬† While I don’t play this a whole lot, I love the concept and settings as well as the simplicity and role play focus.¬† I am back in second edition with these games however, and I understand there have been at least 2 more revisions since then.¬† Not a huge problem, but apparently a lot of what was considered canon within the¬†settings¬†have been changed which makes for some interesting schisms.

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The trouble with Initiative..

Monday, 29. November 2010

Looking at Christan’s post over at Destination Unknown,¬†I have some mixed feelings about initiative systems in general. A lot of them are cumbersome and generally a pain to work with. It’s another layer of complexity that slows down the action… depending on how its handled that is. There is some added obscurity in that the first acting person isn’t necessarily first… depending on the circumstances.

As the title was saying, the trouble with initiative is that at least in melee combat – the person who is “first” is often the loser. The trick is to get someone to mentally commit to an action, then respond to it. There is a large variety of methods of accomplishing this, but unless the defender really is “flat footed” so to say, its often to their great advantage to go second. Make them miss, then kill them. Of course, this only applies with melee weapons.. if there are ranged weapons such as guns that are brought into play then the first person to connect wins. There is no choice but to beat them and control the weapon or take evasive action until you can bring your own weapons to bear (Incidentally, 4-10 feet is about the worst possible distance you can be in that instance, but thats another conversation entirely.)

Any case, the point is that the person who shouldn’t be “first” per say isn’t always at an advantage.. which is where at least somewhat of the random factor in initiative comes from. So what factors are there to consider?

1) The mental willingness to commit acts of violence – #1 the largest single factor in combat. It is one thing to hit someone with a fist, it is another large step to attack them with something that is obviously lethal. If the mental resolve isn’t there, this person loses. Period.
2) Physical preparation for combat – If your hands aren’t up you’re probably going to get sucker punched. Likewise for the person balancing oddly on one foot or in other strange positions. There is a weight shift necessary to respond and it works in strange fashions.
3) The characters speed in question – How fast can the character respond.. both mentally and physically. This places a pretty respectable effect on how bit that reactionary gap is.
4) Weapon type & Distance – What weapons are being brought to bear, and how far away is your target? Woe to the person who is within the reactionary gap of the weapon in question.
5) Luck – Not to be discounted. Training only hedges your bet to survive a fight – sadly it has diminishing returns as well.
6) Superseded action – An interrupted combat plan has a tendency to slow people down considerably further as they have to rethink what they’re doing.

I would rate speed based on the above, with a healthy dose of luck and an order change in between rounds based on interruptions, if I were to normalize away from regular systems dice throws.


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Play by Email – PBEM

Friday, 26. November 2010

I had looked at this a while ago in methods of playing, but due to popular request we’ll look at play by email games (PBEM) once again.¬† The biggest advantage to this setup by far is that your players only need to have access to email.¬† Location and time¬†are irrelevant, although timely replies are highly useful in keeping a game going.¬† One of my readers Don had mentioned a method I missed as well in the previous post skimming over gaming methods, so I’ll add that into the this as well.

There are a couple methods generally worth looking at for running PBEM games.  How centralized of control do you want.. are you going to have one specific storyteller or not?  How quickly do you want play to progress and what are you willing to sacrifice for it?

Centralized Control РThis is the method that I have usually used and involves one person taking the role of a storyteller and the others the standard roles of the players.  The storyteller is the officiating member of the game and official play proceeds through him.  Private conversations can happen inbetween players however the storyteller is typically copied on in game actions.  The pace is set by how fast the storyteller writes and of course how quickly the members can get their responses in.

Free Play – Something I hadn’t considered.. (but should have!)¬† There is typically no officiating members here, this is typically more in line to something that is played on a forum.¬† All official members are copied with the exception of private convesations, in which case only the players involve see.¬† All of the players are responsible for writing and storytelling. This game can move at a much quicker pace, however it has a small cost.¬† Replying too quickly or too slowly can cause some problems with people not getting their actions in before the game continues.

PBEM games obviously have some major advantages worth looking at.. here are a few of them.

Email access is only required – Self explanatory, there is no location to meet up at. This makes games very flexible.
No specific time required – No specific meet up time is required.
Replies can be well crafted and worded – Good for shy players, responses can be thought about in depth, this also makes role playing much easier.
Rulebooks aren’t specifically needed – Typically only one person needs to know how to run the game and needs the books, although more are useful in a free play style.

There are of course, some disadvantages worth considering before you setup a game as well…

Potentially slow play – If everyone can only reply once a day, you are looking at very paced game play. Good for drawing out those dramatic moments however.
Missed replies if you’re typing too quickly – Free play games mostly have this problem, if players are responding at mismatched speeds.
Lack of combative control – Generally you can dictate a general strategy, but fine control of your character in fights is typically out of your hand.
It’s still not face to face – One of the real charms of gaming is the social interaction involved with it. This is playing, but misses all the banter, gags and good food that can come with tabletop play.
Character creation can be slow – Often you’ll need some help in this, and this is often the longest process. Slow email replies only drags this down further.

Overall PBEM is a good setup when you’re separatedgeographically or by time. You get to play on your time and can make some nice detailed responses, despite the game going somewhat slower.¬† Dramatic pauses and cliffhangers really stick, as players have to wait until a response comes around for them.¬† It’s not quite tabletop play, but it beats no role playing by a long shot!

What experiences have you had with PBEM games?

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House Rules = Cars Continued

Monday, 15. November 2010

Continuing along with my question last week, there were a some very good answers regarding them.¬† Rujikol had a very pertinent comment regarding house rules.. as to what really breaks systems fast.¬† In this case, I especially play attention to the first sentence…

“What I try to avoid changing:
Basic combat mechanics; how to attack, defend, etc. Creating a dependent tree of exceptions can quickly break a game.
Basic damage mechanics; hit points, critical wounds, effects thereof.
Skill resolutions; messing with this makes it very odd. I find that one can trim a resolution system, by discarding what situations a test might be required in, without the same problems as expanding those situations.
Silos: if there are silos, like class/profession, don‚Äôt intrude into other silos. Undermining a silos specialty will make it collapse and remove its niche. Have to say that I avoid games with silos.”

Tearing into the core system and monkeying around with the base defining rule sets can quickly cause problems unless you are prepared to do a lot of play testing.¬† If you give yourself the opportunity to be undermined, you will and it will happen in very dramatic and sometimes quick fashion.¬† Which creates another issue of what exploitations you’re letting players get away with.. another issue in itself.

I disagree with the statement on Silos… with the exception being that you are playing a game that relies on that as basically its total existence.¬† MMO’s make fine examples of this, simply because the underused classes simply aren’t played because numbers are the sum¬†totality of the game.¬† Some encroachment into what other classes do is necessary for redundancy¬†as long as there is that crossover exists universally.¬†¬†In that particular case classes might have the same method of¬†getting the same job done…¬†a thief picks the lock, a warrior kicks the door in and the mage can do either depending on what set of spells¬†they have memorized.¬† The difference is just a matter of efficiency in how they accomplish a given task and how much energy and noise it takes to do it.

Hit points can be tweaked… but its usually¬†into a wounds based system and then it’s a significant amount of work particularly if you incorporate any sort of death spirals into the combat.¬† I’m not¬†entirely sure critical have a tremendous effect on the game unless you’re doing some sort of permanent wounding.¬†¬† Typically its just an ego boost, as the damage increases they pull off are usually that of a second¬†or 3rd swing. (Granted, in any of the¬†OSR style games that can be devastating.)

Another sacred cow that I can think of would be essentially class power mechanics.  Your warriors typically amount to what the baseline is, and everything falls behind them.  Their overarching efficiency in combat is checked against the other classes and their skills are somewhat tuned from there.   Or Visa Versa; Skills, Number and frequency of spells  and other abilities are typically balanced against this in a combat based game.  Frames are a lot of work to modify!

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House Rules = Cars?

Wednesday, 10. November 2010

Everyone does it to a lesser or greater extent.¬† We take our systems and tweak them either adding our own rules, changing the stock ones, or removing unnecessary parts.¬† Hmm, this sounds an awful lot like something else we own.¬† Vehicles perhaps?¬† Games; like vehicles are designed to function in a¬†particular fashion with parts changes affecting their performance.¬† Everyone knows what a “stock” car looks like and how the normal game plays.¬† It’s somewhat expected that when you’re running a game, that there are some default guidelines that make¬†it what it is.¬† The question is¬†of course how much can you change under the hood before its no longer stock?¬† I’ll answer these after I get some feedback of course..

Unfortunately unlike cars there are some other complications behind lots of house rules or rules changes.¬† Unlike cars, where you can normally just hop in and drive without too many problems rules¬†changes have¬†to be memorized.¬† They have to be¬†taught and they have to be remembered as well to be put to use and¬†of course¬†there are always the rules lawyers there to protest and exploit.¬† I’d guess with cars of course, this is assuming you aren’t swapping the¬†gas and brakes or moving the steering wheel¬†to the other side or¬†messing¬†with the shifting¬†pattern…¬†¬†¬†So what are the structural components that are usually avoid being changed when house rules come into play?

What are some of your standard or nonstandard house rules?

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