Soloclix Part 2

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So recently I actually managed to get a (short) game of Heroclix with my cousin, who’s into miniatures, war games, board games, etc and happens to have a few Heroclix himself.

I brought over my ridiculously large collection and we gave one another some freebie pieces that either we had doubles of or didn’t really want. All in all it was a nice experience gaming with my cousin when usually there are two to three other people involved in a game we’re playing on a Saturday.

Having said that, I should note that for someone who hasn’t played Heroclix almost at all, my cousin whipped my ass raw in that short little game. We played a standard 300pt game, selecting pieces and playing to themes. My team theme formed around the old Invaders team and consisted of Union Jack, Captain America and Spitfire. His team theme revolved about something called “winning” and it seemed to really work for him, you know? Actually, to be fair, there was a sort of theme developing with his team when he combined the promo Iron Man piece I gave him (which was really kick ass, btw) and the Batman piece that came with the Gotham City board game (it was interesting but Croc is unfairly strong as an available character). He seemed to be going for the “rich guy superheroes” theme until, that is, he threw the Punisher in there armed with a chain gun.

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I didn’t take out ONE of his pieces. Not a single one.

Granted, we did some things wrong. For one, we didn’t play on a standard sized map. Really, the one map we used was about half the size of a standard Heroclix map. Next, he attacked my team before I was able to take my first turn in my staging area. Big no-no. Still, he didn’t do much damage-not right away, anyhow. Next, I didn’t have a 300pt team. It was more like a 260something point team. So that was handicapping me. Then, of course, I did what I used to do when I played at Heroclix tournaments at my old comic shop-I helped him play the game by giving him pointers on what he could do to destroy my pieces.

“You might want to use Iron Man’s running shot to base this asshole who’s in stealth. Flying units can target grounded ones-even if they’re in stealth.” I would say.

“Oh. Ok, I do THAT. :D”

It went on like that. But you know what? I enjoyed it! I guess somehow I’m a glutton for punishment when it comes to playing games like Heroclix. Either that or when I sit down to play something like Clix I do so out of enjoyment and not “to win”.

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Rise of the Zombies

Rise of the Zombies is a game by Dan Verssen Games (DVG) that was not fun to play.

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The object of the game is for the players, who are survivors of the zombie apocalypse, to get to a helicopter without getting eaten by zombies. The game has several modes of play. We decided to give co-operative a try since we were playing it for the first time. Normally, the game is a very much about everyone out for themselves-mostly towards the goal of reaching the chopper and getting to safety.  The progression to the end goal is played out through location cards. Downtown, The Hospital, The Graveyard. You get the picture. Each one of those locations have a different zombie “spawn” that, depending on the location, will make things easy or difficult for the player(s).

Though the variant of the game we played was cooperative, there weren’t that many options available towards working together other than staying in the safe house and whacking zombies for experience points. In fact, the game almost incentivizes players getting killed off since the rules state that as players drop off, the other player’s health and hand sizes increase while the threat of the zombie spawns decreases. This leads to lots of early death, as was the case with our group, and lots of watching over people play. Yeah, it was boring.

We actually tried it twice-with both times many of us dying in the first area that was played. Some of us even tried switching characters the second time through (I know I did) while others stayed with their first timers. Guess what? It didn’t help. Not unless you were the guy who picked the Boy Scout. That mother fucker starts out with 4xp, which is extremely useful in this game.

See, the only way to get better weapons, skills, special cards, etc is to kill zombies for experience points. Those xp points unlock the items you hold in your hand but can’t put into play. Want that sweet ass shotgun you’re holding in your hand? You need 5xp in order to unlock it and put it “in play”. Otherwise, it’s just sitting in your hand, waiting to be discarded for an extra attack.

Now, all characters (to my knowledge) start with a weapon and a skill. It doesn’t mean shit that you have a cheerleader with a baseball bat, though, if you can only hit on a 5 or 6 on a 1D6. Most zombies can hit you on a 2, 3 or 4-6. Zombies. You know, those (literally) brainless and frustratingly slow moving motherfuckers that just need a bump on the head to die? Yeah, they will eat most of these characters in the first location played (regardless of spawn) because you can’t use most items unless you have xp and you can’t have xp until you start killing fucking zombies! If you miss a shot, you can always discard that sweet shotgun and try again for another swipe. Good luck to you, by the way. Once you’ve used up your one attack action and discarded your gear for extra attacks, its time for the zombies to hit you back.  And if you’re the only player present in that area, guess who they’re all going to attack?

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Did I mention this game is timed? Yeah, if time runs out on the timer, the zombies eat you all, game over.

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For me, there was no point in starting the timer. There was no point or purpose to playing a location card past the Safe House. There was never a point to opening the box and getting all the materials out. If I wanted to play a good zombie game with xp rules, weapons and the whole thing, I’d ask to play Zombiecide, instead.  Like a lot of games from DVG (like Kill Shot) are, for me, not worth the card stock its printed on-let alone your saved up lunch monies.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: The New Thing In MMORPG Tabletop Gaming

The following is a (considerably) shortened and exaggerated (fictional) version of my introduction to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 3rd Edition.

Hey Eric, are you ready to play a hot new tabletop roleplaying game?

“Uh, ok…what kind of game is it?”

Oh, its a dark fantasy game that’s based in the Warhammer universe!

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“Oh.  You mean like that 40k shit?  I’m not really too keen about that system or the setting.  Not crazy about miniatures, either.  Actually, the only thing that came from that universe that I like is that Death Angel game-strangely enough…”

Ah no worries, man!  This isn’t a miniatures game and its not set in that crazy future time.

“So no ‘space Jesus’?”

No space Jesus-honest!

“Ok…so what’s this game about then?”

Well!  Its got some gritty horror stuff with these chaos demon things, Chtulhu type stuff and you can die really easily!

“Wow…cool?”

Oh, its gothic medieval times so life sucks-you have diseases, insanities and corruption that could make your character mutate.  You could grow tentacles or weird looking eyes, tough skin…”

“Well, ok…that sounds a lot like Ravenloft from D&D-”

No way man, this game has a narrative dice system.  Its all abstract and stuff.

“Narrative?  I thought you said this was gritty dark fantasy with horror elements…?”

It is!  It totally is!  You see, it uses the same system that Star Wars: Edge of the Empire game uses.  Remember that?

“Oh yay…more dicepool games.  Yeah, I remember that…”

Cool, so you already know how to play!  Just imagine those rules but a little more complicated.  Here, let me show you all the components to this game.  Then you can tell me what kind of character you would like to play.

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“Whoa…that’s a huge box.  That’s like, double the size of most campaign setting boxes.  How much did that cost?”

Oh about a hundred bucks.  Its well worth it because the older edition didn’t come with action cards, tokens or the special dice so keeping track of your character and what he did was REALLY confusing.  I mean, before this edition you had a character sheet that was like 5 pages long and you had to roll low on percentiles.  Now everything’s right in front of you-so it’s easier to play.

“Oh, ok.  Well that sounds reasonable…except for the price, of course.”

Ah you’re gonna love it man, its like Middle Earth meets Germany during the dark ages.

“Yeah…cool.”

So what kind of character did you want to make, man?

“Ah yes, I want to play a knight.  Is that cool?”

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Ohh sorry man, but Knight is an advanced class career.

“Right.  So what can I play?”

Well, I can let you look through the different careers or you can choose the one I give you at random.

<Shrugs> “Ok, whatever you want to do dude-you’re running the game.”

OK!  Here you go-what did you get?

“…I got a Rat Catcher.  Epic.”

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Ohhhh…!  Yeah my buddy rolled up a Rat Catcher once-he was BADASS!!  You get a dog that follows you around, too.”

“I think I’ll look through some of those careers, thanks.”

Anything good?

<Shuffling> “Well, its either a Soldier or…yeah I’ll choose a soldier.”

Great! Now, you have 20 points to assign to stats and use to buy action cards.

“Cards? You mean like Savage Worlds action cards?”

No in this game all your actions are represented by cards.  Your basic actions are ones like Parry, Dodge…Are you going to use a shield?

“…Yeah, probably.”

Ok, so you’ll get Block, Melee Strike-stuff like that.

“I have to BUY those basic options?”

Oh no, you get those basic ones for free.  But if you want to pull off cool maneuvers you have to spend character points and buy those other action cards.  Here, take a look through them.

“Jesus Christ.  Dude, there are like hundreds of these action cards.”

Just look through the melee or ranged decks for action cards since you’re not taking a magic user career.

“Ok…while I look through the cards, how does magic work in this system?”

Magic is cool-and easy too!  If you’re a wizard, its really easy.  If you have points to spend, you spend them, roll to cast and the effects are simultaneous.  One of the other players made a fire mage.  Get this; he has a healing spell where he can cauterize your wounds!  But its risky because WEIRD stuff could happen if he doesn’t roll well and you can go crazy!

“Wow, sounds…crazy.  What about if you want to make a cleric type healer?”

That works a little differently.  Priests have to make a roll to curry favor with their god or goddess.  Then, if they get any points, they can have their spell go off-after they roll again, of course.

“Wait.  Wizard spells go off simultaneously but priests have to wait for favor points?”

Yeah, kinda sorta.

“Ok…not playing a priest.  Like ever.”

Did you pick your action cards yet?

“Yeah, I think so.  I wanted to get cool cards like Ride By Attack and shit like that but they’re considered-wait for it-EPIC moves!  So I ended up taking up some other hack n slash maneuvers that I’m sure will be wonderful.”

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Those aren’t bad at all-good job!  Now, the abilities on those cards are going to change based on your stance.  Your stance determines which side of the card you use.  Everyone will have a stance tracker which will measure how conservative or reckless you are.  Reckless is good success payoff at potentially great risk.  Conservative is more guaranteed success but you could become ‘delayed’ in initiative.

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“Reckless is fast, conservative is slow.  Got it.  What’s with these numbers on the corner of the cards?”

That’s the cooldown number for your abilities.

“What?  Cooldown?!”

Yeah, its very similar to an MMO!

“That’s not really appealing.  Really, this feels like an overcomplicated version of D&D 4th Edition.”

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Oh no this is really different from that.  But, see, when you use an ability, you’ll place a number of tokens on it equal to the number there.  At the end of one of your turns, you reduce it by one-unless you roll really good on another ability and it somehow allows you to reduce your cooldowns.  There are cards and abilities that help with that.

“Whatever.  What’s next?”

This is the party tension tracker.  In the game, if the pc’s are having it out with each other-bickering, etc-then I increase the tension on the tracker where I can also give you guys Fortune Dice for you guys to share.

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“What happens when the markers get to those blue spots?”

Oh it will trigger some different events.  Generally, it gives everyone negatives since the tension is messing with all of you.  What’s cool about the party tracker is that you can slot some of the talent cards you bought that you’re not using for the party to use at anytime-or switch it out for something else.

“Right…this game is starting to feel really complicated.  Like unnecessarily complicated for what you call a narrative based system.  This system is super crunch.  So far, everything seems to point towards rolling a shitload of dice and reading their results; you either pass, fail and/or have a good or bad complication.  Assembling a dice pool, rolling, reading and comparing what you rolled bogs down a game considerably.  Don’t believe me?  Try Shadowrun sometime.  Or D6 Star Wars.  Marvel Heroic Roleplaying.  There’s trackers for your stance, party trackers, initiative trackers…FUCK!  This is supposed to be simplified from the other system editions?”

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All RPGs are like that.  The more you play, you’ll get the hang of it.

“Yeah, the more you play the easier the system gets, sure.  I’m not doubting that.  I’m saying that this is the wrong system for a game like this.  Like I would rather play D&D than this.  Somehow it would be easier.  Cooldowns for abilities?  C’mon, if I wanted to play an MMO-I’d play an MMO!  I’ve never come across a narrative game that was this complicated before.  Look at the table!  Does that scream ‘simple’ for you?!”

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Aw c’mon-give it a chance at least…!

“Yeah whatever, like I have a choice at this point…”

So yeah, there it is.  Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is Ravenloft + Ye old timey guns + Descent.  It’s basically a board game with a fuckton of rules to it.  With this group it was next to ZERO roleplaying and plenty of hacking and slashing.

Star Wars: Edge of Disbelief

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So one of the role playing games my group decided to try out recently was the boxed set for “Star Wars: Edge of the Empire“.  Edge of the Empire is a new series of role playing books being developed by Fantasy Flight Games.  If you’re unfamiliar with that company, then you’ve never played any of their board games (too various to list) or their card games or their miniatures games…you get the picture.  Yeah, they’re HUGE.  They even feature “print on demand” for their customers–something that I’ve heard some in the gaming community speculate as being the future of tabletop role playing.  That last part is a little scary when I think about it (I’m looking at you, hobby/comic shops) but that’s for another post entirely.

Fantasy Flight Games makes some really great stuff.  The production value in everything they do is outstanding and I have thoroughly enjoyed many of their board games (Talisman, Lord of the Rings, Mansions of Madness, Arkham Horror, Battlestar Gallactica, Descent…).  That being said, I did not enjoy Edge of the Empire.

I should preface the rest of this review with the fact that I HATE modules.  I used to roll my eyes and grind my teeth anytime my gaming group would go, “Hey, let’s run through this module I picked up–its got giants!”  Thankfully, I haven’t experienced that too much these days.  In the heyday of 2nd and 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons, however, there was a lot of that crap going around (and maybe it still is).  Unfortunately, this boxed set was just that; an adventure module.  No complete core rules, no players guide or rules for creating your own characters.  Nope, this is a pre-made adventure with pre-made characters that you will play.  Granted, the books that came with boxed set listed rules for advancing (only so much) your pre-made characters and essentially continuing on your adventures at the “edge of the Empire”, so to speak.  Still, there wasn’t much about this adventure-in-a-box that I liked.

The box came with a bunch of custom dice made specifically for the game’s mechanics.  There were also double sided tokens for the pc’s and npcs, slightly larger vehicle tokens for a Corellian freighter and tie fighters, a fold out full color map with four or so mini-maps on the back, player character folios for the pre-mades, a (very limited) rulebook and the adventure game book.  This whole thing will run you $20-25.  I don’t have to address how pretty the game was production-wise so I’ll just jump right into talking about the system itself.

This version of Star Wars runs on a “narrative” (or story game) mechanics system that will seem very familiar to anyone who has played Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (not surprisingly, also made by Fantasy Flight Games).  Despite not having played WFR before myself, we all coincidentally made characters for a future WFR game just prior to going headlong into Star Wars.  As one of the players assured me during play, “This is a much simpler version of what you’ll be seeing in Warhammer.”

So what is a narrative/story game?  Well, according to Boardgamegeek.com:  Story Games…”Are RPGs which focus more on the overall story than character building or rules enforcing. Most RPGs can be made to be more story driven given the predisposition of the GM/Players, but clearly some RPGs are more tailored to this style of play.”

Ok, I really like the sound of narrative/story games…but this didn’t feel like a narrative game.  For one, it was fairly structured and straight forward; all characters have the same 6 or so stats, a damage “soak” stat, skills and edges (for lack of being able to remember the actual terminology) damage scores for weapons, and so on.  Alright, I’m fine with that.  I’ve played and ran really straightforward games in the past and have enjoyed the majority of them.  According to the GM (who confided with me after the game) our group did not ‘run’ with any of the narrative elements the game had to offer.

Another thing this game suffers from the same predicament as West End Games’ (D6) Star Wars game and other games like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying; lots of fucking dice rolling.

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With this game, the only recognizable difference is that the dice don’t have numbers on them, but symbols instead.  There are symbols that indicate the player made a good success, a great success, no successes but provided an advantage (?) a failure, a grand failure or that there’s some kind of negative aspect involved (despite success of lack of it).  So if you had a good success symbol, those could be cancelled out by its equal opposite on “challenge” dice that you roll along with your character’s skills or ability dice.  Yes, that means that the GM only suggests a difficulty by handing the player 1-3 challenge die (plus any setback dice-which are also basically bad) and asking them to roll them as well as their ability dice to see ‘what happens.’  Advantages don’t mean a hell of a lot unless you get two of them on a die roll.  Typically, whether your action succeeded or not, it can possibly aid another player with a boost die (opposite of the setback dice), change something in the narrative (your shot missed but it hit a pipe and now the bad guys can’t see you too well) or accomplish some sort of secondary goal.

If that sounded at all confusing, that’s because it is.  If it didn’t sound confusing to you, it may be that you can take in and understand everything this game wants you to intake.  Or you just haven’t experienced it for yourself.  Throughout the course of the extremely narrow progression of the adventure, many of the players around the table (including myself) exchanged confusing glances and shrugs.

“So after cancelling out successes and failures, I succeeded in installing the piece of equipment but something ‘negative’ happened?”

“Yeah.”

“So what was it?”

<Silence>

“We’ll see.”

“Ok…”

Or you would get the following exchange:

“Ok, I have totally missed the storm troopers in the marketplace with my blaster but I got buttload of advantages on my die rolls.  What happens?”

“I don’t know, you tell me what happens.”

“What?  You’re the GM, you tell me what happens.  No really, I have no idea how that would help us.”

<shrug>

<shrug>

The one thing I can say about the die mechanics is that once you learn what all the symbols mean, the flow of the game is improved.  Despite that, however, I found myself confused at a lot of the results.  Also, I roll terribly.  So more than half the time my character SUCKED even when I was actively using skills and abilities he excelled at (I played Pash, the smuggler).  Also, the Force die was pretty interesting.

The Force die is a D12 with black and white dots on most sides.  At some point in the session, the GM makes all the players roll it.  According to what comes up, the GM provides a series of 5-8 bennies that act as a pool of tokens that both the GM and players can flip back and forth between good die and bad die.  Basically, if the GM flips over a bad die token, he can change a difficulty die (bad) to a challenge die (really bad).  Alternately, the players can flip a good die token to change an ability die to a specialty die.  And so none of the bennies are removed from the game but help to propel this constant back and forth tug of war between the GM and the players.  Although being an interesting mechanic, I really missed the Force Points that I have come to understand and use in various other Star Wars games.  I kept failing (or succeeding with ‘bad stuff’) constantly, going: “Where are my Force Points?!”  All in all, I didn’t really feel like I was playing Star Wars, which is a pretty good indication to me that the game (or the group) is not suitable for what we as players intended.

I am a total sucker for boxed sets.  Anytime a box came with rulebooks and a set of dice…?  Yeah, go ahead and take my money.  I will even admit to wanting to buy this boxed set when I first saw it in my comic/hobby store a few months back.  Hell, I even almost bought the Pathfinder Beginner’s Box and I don’t even play D&D anymore.  I don’t recommend getting this boxed set.  It seems like something a store would buy to have as a demo to get people interested in the actual game (which isn’t out yet in full as of this post).  Star Wars: Edge of the Empire may be a great game.  Who knows, that session might have been great if it was divorced from the adventure that screamed ‘no matter what you do, here’s what happens next.’  Even with that, I will be very wary of this Star Wars in the future and I may be dreading having to play Warhammer Fantasy.

Buckets of Dice: AKA “Marvel Heroic Roleplaying”

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So recently I was going through that phase that (almost) every roleplaying geek goes through where they think; “Oh hey, I should totally make a roleplaying game….from scratch!”  Like most other gamers that get this weird itch, I had no idea what I was doing.  But I knew that I wanted to make a superhero roleplaying game that simulated the concept of playing a superhero inside of a comic book.  Long story short, I was getting nowhere pretty fast.  This was even after I had looked to various supers games that I knew and even a few that I didn’t.  I wanted to take little bits that worked from all of them and incorporate them into a simple, fast action, story flowing roleplaying system.  While I was doing this, of course, I took a look (again) at the latest Marvel rpg called “Marvel Heroic Roleplaying” by Margaret Weis Productions.  Somehow, my interest was derailed from creating something from scratch to tweaking the hell out of this system to that it wasn’t so damn complicated to follow on paper or to play at the table.

Now, I should probably point out that I have never played or ran this game with any group.  I’ve never even seen the game being played.  However, even after reading COUNTLESS reviews, forum posts and responses from one of the designers on the system, I have discovered that attempting to simplify this game may actually be a fool’s errand.

For anyone who’s not familiar with the game, MHR was advertised as a simple to play, unique system by which players can control their favorite Marvel characters and play out a gaming session that will end up feeling very much like playing through their favorite comics.  Sounds great.  Except that if you read what I read this past week on all these online forums for the game, you would probably be more confused and aggravated about the whole thing before you ever sat down to roll your first bucket ‘o dice.  Yes, this is a dice pool game.  A dice pool game that, apparently, has players rolling anywhere from 3 (minimum) dice to 12+ dice.  Keep in mind that the main mechanic in this game is:

“Choose which abilities/distinctions/specialty dice your character is using to do something and roll those dice.  From the results, keep two and add them together–that’s your effort/attack target number.  Then, you choose one of the dice you didn’t add up as the ‘effect/damage’ die for that action.  The GM rolls difficulty against your effort or a character being attacked rolls THEIR dice pool (using the same mechanics/methods) and compares their numbers and effect dice to yours.”

Sounds simple?  According to those who have actually played it, its a lot easier to play than it seems in the instruction manual.  Apparently, the manual for the game isn’t very easy to follow.  Whether its a layout or writing issue is anyone’s guess or opinion, I suppose.  But I have to admit, trying to grasp the immense amount of terminology the game uses made my brain explode and want to do something else.  Just to give you an idea, the GM “cheat sheet” that was put out by Weis Productions is three pages long!  Looking at it, it was like someone was trying to say, “Marvel Heroic Roleplaying is as easy to understand as…” a Honda engine.

Behold: The Watcher Cheat Sheet

In writing this post, I actually found a much easier to follow explanation of the rules here.  Go ahead and take a gander at that one if you’ve never read the main book–its a really good indication on how overcomplicated this game is on paper.  For starters, there’s like six different things you can do with Plot Points/Doom Dice.  Then there’s the terminology:  Assets, Complications, Stunts, Push Dice, this list goes on.  Its an overly complicated game for what’s supposed to be a fast, easy to understand game where you play superheroes.  Its overly complicated in that there are so many little facets to the game that the mechanics seem to get in the way of creating a simple scene of actions.

There’s a fairly infamous example of play on the internet forums and blogs for this game that has Spider-Man using his super strength to rip up a piece of machinery on top of a building and hurling it at the Vulture (who’s trying to get away) in order to “Shutdown” his flying ability or his “Asset: Far Away” (whatever that means).  In the example, the author explains how that scene would play out via the rules of the MHR game system.  The fucking thing takes up almost three pages of text!  In any other supers system (yes, even M&M) this simple action scene would have taken infinitely less time.  Well, go ahead and read the example yourself.

Like I said, buckets of dice.  Buckets of dice for a scene that should have been resolved a little longer than it takes to read the illustrated version.

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Soloclix

WARNINGFor my non spanish speaking friends, be careful Googling Soloclix.  Whatever you do, don’t hit the images tab and DON’T click anything on there.  You see, “Un Solo Clic” in Spanish means “Just One Click”.  Its an invitation to click onto malware and spammy delicious porn/illegal movie download sites.  Yeah, definitely NSFW territory.

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Sad as it is, I have actually been considering playing Heroclix by myself. I looked online and found a few REALLY old forum post that offered some useful options when it comes to…playing with yourself.

Since first picking up the hobby back in 2005, I can say that I have never seen or heard of these things called “event dials” but apparently they exist and are sometimes used by people to do Soloclix. I think if my local hobby store had one, I would have bought one already–considering that they’re going for next to nothing on Ebay.

Alternately, you can roll some dice to decide who goes first, etc and maybe use cards or some other determining factor to see which characters inside that team act first.

Also, a more expensive alternative would be to purchase some of the big figures like Galactus or the Anti-Monitor and have a big ass brawl fest.

Someone likened it to playing chess by yourself. With that said, I suppose another useful tidbit would be not to favor one team over another. I guess use two teams that you really like (JLA vs Avengers?) and have them duke it out. So if you like the X-Men, for example, why not pit the old school heroes versus the new school folks?

Hmmm, I have to find time to rummage through my hundreds of clix.  Thinking I can make pre-build teams and place each one in some ziplock bags.  That way, when I want my 80’s X-men vs the Brotherhood of Mutants, I can just go grab me some clicks in a bag and eat them play with them.  By myself.  Yay!

Enjoy.

Problems with Mutants and Masterminds

Mutants and Mastermind’s new 3rd edition still has trouble with its mechanics.

For me personally, I really don’t like M&M. I didn’t like it when I played it for the first time at a comic shop all those years ago. For some reason, it bugged me that their system utilized the D20 mechanics everyone (including myself) was familiar with from Dungeons and Dragons. I’m not a D&D purist but for some reason that just felt…wrong.

Nevertheless, in my quest (hur hur) to take part in supero rpgs of any kind, I tried playing in various games that utilized the system. The games themselves left a lot to be desired from me but I took them in stride and did the best I could with whatever character I was able to play. What I found consistent from game to game was that no one agreed with how several character properties were portrayed by the rules (or how some players portrayed those same characters). Toughness rolls felt stupid to me. Also, the rules regarding group attacks (gang-up style) felt really ridiculous. But despite all of those nitpicks from me, the one glaring problem I found with this game is that players tended to start around the same “power level.”

Now here is where I seriously draw my line of disbelief. Its where characters like The Punisher and The Sentry can stand next to one another in a scenario and consider themselves “equal” in terms of game balance. For a game system or a GM to ask for game balance between two such characters is completely insane to me. There is no “balance” between Superman and Catman, nor should there be–ever. Sure, every hero brings something different to the table. The Punisher doesn’t possess the strength of a thousand suns but he has a certain set of skills he can use to hunt you down and kill you with any weapon (look out, Liam Neeson). In M&M, if Superman successfully punched Catman, the player controlling Cat still makes a Toughness roll and could use a Hero Point to negate damage or stave off negatives, etc. In the comics, Catman would be out with one hit from Superman, period.

This isn’t to say that M&M is a bad game system to use to create super hero characters.  In fact, I can make the argument that the system has too many options for players to go with-at least when it comes to portraying characters from Marvel and DC.  Trust me, when you see a Wolverine build with “Invulnerable 4” instead of anything that says “Regeneration” on his sheet, you know you’re in rpg bizarroland.

So, to me, M&M doesn’t portray established characters very well through their mechanics.  The very idea that The Silver Surfer should be portrayed “with balance” when entering a game with power level 8’s is completely outside of my reality. That might work with D&D or some other supers setting, but it just doesn’t work with licensed characters from Marvel or DC, for example.  Not for me.

Now with that said, the most enjoyable (or at least memorable) M&M games I took part in were actually low level games that didn’t use established heroes and villains. Instead, the players were told to make their own characters with unique powers. Now the power levels were ok with me. I know its strange to say that, but it just worked for me. This may vary for many other people but, for me, M&M works when players are made to make their own characters in their own made up universe.  I think this is where players can get the most enjoyment out of that game system.

By doing that, it avoids situations where one player says to the other, “Batman can’t do that?! WTF bro?!” According to my friend Stephen, this exact thing happened to one of his players that was portraying the Dark Knight Detective.  It was a case where this player felt that the game mechanics were not doing justice to Batman’s ability to outsmart and take out foes tougher than he was. As a result, both of my friend’s players pretty much quit the game partway through the second session. This surprised me because; what is a system?

A gaming system is just a delivery vehicle for a story, really. If roleplaying game stories were plays, the game mechanics just serve as the stage, lighting and acoustics so that the actors (characters) can perform as they should and create a “suspension of disbelief” for the audience (the players). If I enjoyed the story of a game but found that the mechanics to a game was getting in the way somehow, I would ask that we change systems to something else that will allow for a better flow of story, handle on character actions, development, etc.

Perhaps the story was lacking in strength (not surprising, since I contributed to it) or maybe M&M was just getting too much in the way of the player’s portrayal of their favorite characters. Either way, a good time was not had by all and the game was suddenly cancelled. Did this have something to do with the fact that it was a super hero game? I think yes.

When I imagine running a super hero game, I think of an easy to run system with benchmarks for abilities, without complicated or silly rules when it comes to adjudicating damage, etc.  One system that did this very well was the out of print Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game.  My friends have successfully played that game for years and it still continues to entertain with its elegant simplicity.  In fact, it was so simple that my friends and I made up house rules for it to make it a little more interesting (we added a die roll for initiative, for one).  Maybe making the game your own is one way to having a better time with a system overall.  I think of all those “old school” D&D lovers who still enjoy the old system.  Of course, that old system is usually house ruled almost into a different game altogether.

As for the best systems I’ve used to run supers, I nominate the old DC Heroes game (with some slight modifications, perhaps), the obscure and equally out of print Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game…and that’s it. Neither one is flawless, despite how much I liked running and playing them, but they run much better than M&M.  The new Marvel Heroes game (at a glance) from Margaret Weiss productions seems…just OK.  There are some nice bits in there but the game mechanics are way too gamey for my taste.  Not a fan of lots of dice rolling.  Happy gaming.

Dying is half the battle

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So recently I thought that it would be a cool idea to do two things:

1) Try out a new generic rpg system I purchased called HeroQuest with a group of friends.

2) Run a GIJoe one-shot based in the dark and gritty IDW comics Joeverse.

Like most things, I thought wrong.

Short version:  It was another disaster.

Long Version (go ahead and grab a drink):

I like narrative based role playing games.  I really do.  Maybe its a thing with getting older, but I really dislike games that feature overly complicated rules.  This is especially true of systems that tend to pigeonhole your player’s characters into a specific role.  Ironically, I think those type of systems fit the GIJoe modern-military-adventure-genre much better than ones like HeroQuest.

With that said, I really like HeroQuest and wanted to try to make it work for this game.  Even after the repeated failures of running the horror-mecha-military-action based Cthulhu Tech with HQ, I foolishly thought, “I think can make it work!”  I even sent a draft copy of the scenario I wrote to my friend Stephen (who is a HUGE GIJoe-phile, like me) and he said “…it sounds like an awesome one-shot!”  Well, after that confirmation, I got to work.

For days I wrote, re-wrote, researched the characters, consulted real world maps, consulted my friend’s advice, spent $40 on printer cartridges in anticipation of all the printing I would be doing.  I even made themed “filecard” style character sheets for the players, printed out 13 black and white photo profiles of the Joes and had them individually laminated so that they just sit on the portrait area on the character sheets (much easier and cheaper than printing out 13 different blank character sheets).  I printed out a roster sheet, the adventure (of course) and even a cheat sheet for rules.

Note:  The laminating was done ENTIRELY by my lovely wife as I possess NO technical or crafty skills whatsoever.

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The main idea was fairly simple; the players would portray 4 of the “original 13” GIJoes.  The story would alternate between their nighttime raid on Cobra Island (set in the recent past) and cinematic interludes (in the present time) where Generals Joseph Colton (the original GIJoe) and Lawrence Flagg testify before a senate select committee on intelligence.  So, if you can imagine beginning an action scene with a hard cut to some boring back and forth between two old guys (always a bad idea, btw) that’s what this game was kind of like.  Strike one.

The mission would involve the 13 splitting up to complete different tasks around the island in order to achieve an overall goal; find and kill Cobra Commander.  Breaker and one other Joe would end up jamming Cobra’s communications and shutting down the power to the Spanish fort that served as a headquarters.  Some other Joes would be part of a massive assault on the base in order to draw away the majority of Cobra forces away from the fort so that the rest of the team (the players) could successfully infiltrate the fort via underground escape tunnels.

As for the opposition, I only had a few small fights planned.  One had the Joes easily taking out a small patrol of Cobra Troppers as they HALO jumped into the island’s forested areas.  The second involved the Joes fighting some crocodiles in the tunnels on their way to the fort.  The third fight was against two Cobra agents (Crocmaster & Guillotine) and was purposely designed to be difficult since everything else was supposed to be simple.  Even the showdown against Cobra Commander was supposed to be pretty easy.  There’s a rhyme and a reason for this that I will touch on shortly.  The last fight was supposed to either be really easy or somewhat difficult.  The players were going to face off with Cobra Commander and his personal guards, after all.

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The scenario I wrote ended with Cobra Commander dead and the Joes flying away in a chopper.  But just as the players were supposed to be flipping out about how they popped a cap in Cobra Commander’s blue clad ass, Firefly steps out of the shadows on the island and shoots down the chopper.  The chopper crashes into the ocean and the subject of “who died, who didn’t die” was purposely left ambiguous.  Once again, there is a rhyme and a reason for this.  One of the last interludes that switches back from the action had Joe Colton admit to the committee that he didn’t know what went wrong with the operation and that he’s not sure who’s alive or dead at the moment.  He then storms out of the committee chambers after they effectively shut down the GIJoe program for good.  Almost immediately after this, a guy in a long coat approaches Colton and shoots at him three times.  Flagg tackles Joe to the ground, trying to shield him, but fails to do so.  When Flagg looks up, the shooter is GONE and Colton has three bloodstains on his chest. Then somewhere in a dark office a phone rings and the REAL Commander answers the phone.  Firefly reports that GIJoe is dead, mission accomplished.  Cobra Commander says ‘nice work’ but then is interrupted by Firefly with some other news; Joe Colton is also dead but no one knows who did it.  The Commander is surprised at this but doesn’t give it too much thought.  Good riddance, right?  Cobra Commander then tells Firefly to proceed and hangs up the phone.  The end.

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OK.  So, to sum it up; In this one-shot the Joes assault Cobra Island and kill Cobra Commander.  Firefly then kills the Joes and Joe Colton gets plugged in Washington by an unknown attacker.  The game was intended to encourage discussion and questions about the plot.  Shit like “you just killed Joe Colton?!” and “did we just die?!” or “oh shit, it was a setup!” or even “OHHH Firefly!!!!!11!”  Intense!  Right?  Well, not so much–as it turned out.

As an aside: After the one shot I was planning on running a directly related storyline that explored what happened to the Joes after they were shot down (surprise! not all of them died), who shot Joe Colton and why (it wasn’t Cobra!), stuff like that.  I had thought up a semi-episodic style of gameplay that involved the players choosing new Joes that would be tracking down the original Joes who were either dead, captured or captured and brainwashed by Cobra.

Anywho, the combats were fairly clumsy and awkward.  There was little to no roleplaying by the majority of players.  In addition to that, there was no sense of danger at ANY point in the adventure–even when I improvised some traps in the underground tunnels.  I received a lot of blank stares, and long silences when I prompted the players for a response to something that was happening in the game.  There was a lot of that especially at the end of the game when the chopper crashes and Colton gets shot.  Lastly, there was no feedback.  None.  Somehow, that’s worse than, “awww man, wtf?” or “man, this system sucks!” or even “what was that all about?”  Folks got up one or two at a time and emigrated out of that game room faster than I could realize what was happening.  Needless to say, no one mentioned the game or GIJoe after that at all. Well, after the game I had a loooooong time to think about what went wrong and why.  This sort of thinking, by the way, keeps me up at odd hours of the night when I have to get out of bed to pee.  Fun times.  But the next day I sorta kinda figured out what happened and why the game sucked so fucking bad.  I broke it down into 3 possible culprits:

1) The GM

2) The system

or

3) The players

It’s not the players.  Normally, they’re the first ones I target when I ask why things went wrong.  For instance, I have always said and adhered to the idea that it doesn’t matter what game you’re playing, just with WHOM you’re playing it with.  Granted, there wasn’t a lot of roleplaying on their part, some kept playing with their fucking phones or walking out of the room to chit chat with someone else not playing and at times and I needed to prompt them to action, but that part gets explained in the next portion.  So despite my hangups with the group, they were not at the crux of the problem. It wasn’t the system.  HeroQuest is not perfect, it has problems just like any other roleplaying game–quibbles, if you like.  Even with those problems, I really like the system and would love to use it for every genre of gaming.  Having said that, even I can agree that some genres are better fitted with other gaming systems.  This game, for instance, I know works really well with Savage Worlds and D20 Modern.  I know this because my friend Stephen that I mentioned earlier wrote some pretty awesome games set in the GIJoe universe with both systems–most recently Savage Worlds.  So although the game proved to be lackluster in the crunchy bits for the crowd that’s used to rolling lots of dice and getting excited whenever they rolled a crap ton of damage, the game system was not the problem.

I was the problem.  Here’s why:

1) After the game, I thought of much better ways to have utilized the system to my advantage and created a much better flow for combat.  Just by doing that, I would have probably engaged the players better, generated interest in their character’s fates and stir up some mystique with Colton’s murder.  So, in short, if I would have had more time to prepare, if I would have thought it out more, it would have been a better running scenario and thus a better running game.

2) Not enough visuals.  Here’s the thing about this gaming group; they LOVE board games.  And the roleplaying games that they do play depend a lot on the use of miniatures (not so much tactically but definitely for visual representation) maps, tokens, etc.  Again, after the game I had all sorts of ideas of what kind of visual representations I could have used to constitute Result Points (abstract hit points, for lack of a better term, in HeroQuest), Heropoints (used as both xp and ways to boost successes and turn failures into successes) and other things.  Action figures like Heroclix would have been great to have, for instance, if I couldn’t get my hands on actual GIJoe figs.  So no visual cues = bad.  Got it.

3)  Different system.  These guys were used to much more traditional rpgs.  You know, the ones with rulebooks that resemble tomes or phone books?  The ones that have a gazillion sourcebooks that cost upwards of $30-50 each?  Yeah, those.  Actually, I can’t knock their preferences since the only rpgs I’ve played in the four months I’ve been gaming with them are D20 Star Wars Saga Edition (not a big fan) and Savage Worlds (BIG fan).  That being said, in retrospect, I should have gone with Savage Worlds or something like it to simulate something like GIJoe.  Having played it before with Stephen, I knew it worked but I wanted to both experiment with a new system AND run a one-shot with it.  Nothing out of this world with that idea.  But ultimately, the system just didn’t seem to fit with both the genre and the players, despite how easily they made characters for it and were underway playing and understanding the mechanics.