Lord of the Rings Online #12: The Pie Runner

By Shamus
on May 15, 2016
Filed under:
Shamus Plays

18 comments

If you remember from last time, Holly Hornblower just got done having me deliver rotten pies to her customers. Now she wants me to get them back.

Now, if you’ve been reading this series you know what’s coming. You know poor Lulzy is going to have to do something ridiculous. Before I get started deconstructing this acid-trip of a quest chain, I want to point out that while this is probably a lot more loony than it needs to be, I’m actually really glad Turbine included a lot of non-combat questing in the Shire. You can quest in the Human or Dwarf areas if you want to murder robbers or kill ten boars or any of the other half-dozen quest templates we see again and again in MMO games. But the Shire is supposed to be a little silly and Hobbits are supposed to be a little wrapped up in their own little vanities while the War of the Ring rages on outside their borders.

Having said that…

What do you mean FIND them? Are they HIDDEN?

What do you mean FIND them? Are they HIDDEN?

Continue reading »

1818 comments. (18 is the only non-zero number that equals twice the sum of its decimal digits.)



Rutskarn’s GMinars: Intermission

By Rutskarn
on May 14, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

21 comments

This is bad timing, but this week–in between far less pleasant excitements–I’ve become an uncle. The birth has been an all-around happy and uncomplicated one, if much earlier than anybody expected, but I will admit it’s caught me with my buffer down. It’s not that I haven’t written my next post–I actually have–but I haven’t edited and reviewed it properly, and with this series, that takes considerable time. I won’t give badly-phrased or incomplete GMing advice if I can help it; that’s the closest somebody like me can ever get to malpractice.

To make up for the lack of essay, I’ll be showing up for this week’s Diecast and Spoiler Warning recordings (typically I take the second week of the month off). Until then, I leave you with this brief anecdote from the first long-term D&D campaign I ever ran:

It’s high school, and like most high school DMs I’ve got big dramatic plans. Long before I’ve got my players lined up I’ve got this whole winding path of murder, conspiracy, and ritual intrigue planned. I can play it forward in my head like I’m remembering a beloved TV show–they’ll find the cryptic runes on an ancient corpse, dramatically uncover matching, bloody marks on a fresh victim–there’ll be the search for a killer, the trail of bodies, the close encounters with figures in the dark and glimpses of the secret powers that run the world. You know <popular, slightly overrated videogame or film franchise>? I’m not saying it’s a ripoff or anything, but I’m pretty sure it’ll feel exactly like <popular, slightly overrated videogame or film franchise.> 

I make up a full map of the main city, a list of custom-tailored Gods, a sketch of the political climate, and even–when I get really bored–some encounters. As the introductory session approaches I sit down with my first player and we play a few brief adventures set in my homemade world–something to stave off my RPG cravings and help me get a handle on my lore. She’s got as much experience gaming as I do and when it comes time to make her character for the full campaign, it’s a painless process. “Pick a class. Pick a race. Pick one of my Gods to worship. Cool. We start in a few weeks.”

A few days later I sit down with my other two players–both eager-but-inexperienced new friends with some CRPG experience but no actual table time. I walk them slowly and patiently through the character creation chapters of the rulebook.  “Here are the classes–pick one to take a level in. Here are the races–pick one to be. Here is the list of Gods in the book–pick one to worship. You got all that? Good. Remember, I totally know what I’m doing.

Only later do I realize my mistake. I have one player who already knows my setting and has picked one of my made-up deities, and on the other hand, I have two new players who have just very carefully and with much deliberation picked out premade Gods from the rulebook. The campaign hasn’t even begun and I’m already contradicting myself.

Some secret and not-terribly-subtle rewrites ensue. Suddenly the very first session features religious riots and temple burnings as a war between my made-up Gods and the established Pantheon the old orthodox traditionalists and dangerous upstart cultists reaches a sudden, never-before-mentioned fever pitch. Since I didn’t cover the schism or its source during orientation, this citywide brouhaha raises some questions–so I answer them with events, exposition, and NPCs in the next session. And some more in the next one. Very next thing I know it’s eight months later, the campaign’s over, and it turns out the whole damn thing’s been about this religious war that I invented to cover up a stupid mistake in character creation.

I tell all GMs the same thing–if you can keep your mouth shut and think on your feet, there’s no limit to how often and how hard you can screw up.

20121 comments. Blackjack!



Mass Effect Retrospective 47: Space Magic Nonsense

By Shamus
on May 12, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

281 comments

We were all prepared for some exposition that would explain what the Crucible is, what the Catalyst is, and how it can beat the Reapers. We found the VI on Thessia, but before it could tell us anything useful Kai Leng showed up and stole it in a cutscene.

Kai Leng has a gunship protecting him. Apparently the writer totally forgot that the Reapers were blowing the hell out of the planet and that gunships were getting shot down in droves. I guess that doesn’t apply to Kai Leng? He can just stroll in here without being killed by either the Reapers or the Asari military?

“But Shamus, Kai Leng is indoctrinated so the Reapers leave him alone!”

That’s certainly an explanation a writer could have put in the game if they had the ability to think about more than one concept at a time. But this is a one-concept writer who tried to write a three-way fight, which leaves the rest of us to patch over the gaps and holes with conjecture. And if you head-canon that excuse in this scene, then the very next mission destroys that notion by showing the Reapers attacking a Cerberus base. It’s not so much “The Reapers won’t attack Cerberus” as “The Reapers only attack Cerberus when it’s convenient for the writer”.

After the big “Kai Leng Wins The Whole Universe Because He’s the Best” cutscene, everyone gathers on the Normandy to discuss their next move. James of all people – who I realize I’ve never covered in this write-up but he’s our meathead space marine squaddie – asks why we don’t hit Cerberus back.

Continue reading »


A Hundred!A Hundred!202020201There are more than 280 comments. But less than 282



Ruts vs. Battlespire CH8: Last “Hope” of Humanity

By Rutskarn
on May 11, 2016
Filed under:
Lets Play

18 comments

I’ll spare you a recap of what’s going on in the Scufflescaffold, because this wizard I found bravely cowering in a hidden chamber has furnished a fabulous one. Take it away, Clarentavious.

You mind turning that staff down? This is neither a pool hall nor a busy intersection.
You mind turning that staff down? This is neither a pool hall nor a busy intersection.

So some old man’s yelling at me–in “very small words”–to go find his chambers and get a bunch of McGuffin plates spinning. Which is a pretty good recap, and it certainly jogs my recollection of how much I hate this wizard. I do have a few follow-up questions:

Where. Your. Quarters?

Are. Legs. Broken?

Continue reading »

1818 comments. (18 is the only non-zero number that equals twice the sum of its decimal digits.)



Content This Week

By Shamus
on May 9, 2016
Filed under:
Notices

180 comments

This blog has a really steady posting schedule (exaggerated, magnanimous bow) so when it’s interrupted I think it’s a good idea to let people know about it ahead of time:

  1. No podcast this week.

  2. No Spoiler Warning this week.
  3. No column this week.
  4. As far as I know, Rutskarn’s content should proceed as usual.

Some of my recent columns have been about crunch, which is funny because they were written under conditions that – if someone else had been imposing them on me – would have been considered pretty egregious crunch mode.

I roll out of bed in the morning and start hammering away at making content. The weekly column. The Diecast. The post for the Diecast. Spoiler Warning. The Spoiler Warning posts. My duties for Good Robot. Keeping up with moderation and reading the comments. Editing the Mass Effect post for the weekThe series is already written, but I still need to format them, add links, gather screenshots, tag the screenshots, proof them, and address various points people bring up in the comments.. Editing the LOTRO post for the weekLike Mass Effect, the words are already written. It’s just a matter of formatting.. Keeping up with correspondenceI’m super-bad at this, and tend to answer emails in weekly bursts.. Managing the various back-end systems for the blog, the website, and my Patreon.

On top of that is the creative work I do that doesn’t usually end up on the blog: Making music, coding experiments. And then there’s playing videogames. Which – while not technically work – is something that needs to be done if I want to feed the content mill.

All of that together eats about 70 hours a week. I’m not complaining. This is self-imposed and I’m not looking for pity. I do this because it’s fun, and I’d rather do this than have a boring programming job that only eats 40 hours a week.

Like I’ve said in my articles: “Crunch” isn’t that bad if it’s done voluntarily, and in pursuit of your passions. Maybe we need a different word for “I’m spending a lot of hours on this but it’s okay because I’m really into it and I’d rather be doing this than something else”. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to put this behavior under the same umbrella as a job where you’re obligated to work 70 hours a week all the time because some numb-nuts thinks they’ll get more work out of you.

It’s Time to Goof Off

Why did a BEACH become the universal symbol for relaxation? It`s hot. It`s loud. It`s usually crowded. You get wet sand inside of your clothing, which is the opposite of relaxing. It`s expensive to go there. It`s too bright to use a screen, which is bad since screens are where entertainment comes from. And if you`re a white person, you might accidentally roast your flesh with solar radiation. And there`s the risk that you`ll be filled with existential dread over the fact that you`ll never again be as young, as beautiful, or as fit as the people around you. Ugh. You guys go down to the beach without me. I`m going to hang out in the hotel room and stare at the ceiling.
Why did a BEACH become the universal symbol for relaxation? It's hot. It's loud. It's usually crowded. You get wet sand inside of your clothing, which is the opposite of relaxing. It's expensive to go there. It's too bright to use a screen, which is bad since screens are where entertainment comes from. And if you're a white person, you might accidentally roast your flesh with solar radiation. And there's the risk that you'll be filled with existential dread over the fact that you'll never again be as young, as beautiful, or as fit as the people around you. Ugh. You guys go down to the beach without me. I'm going to hang out in the hotel room and stare at the ceiling.

But despite how fun this is, I do need to let off the throttle every once in a while. So that’s what I’m doing this week. I’ll still post Mass Effect, and there’s a Good Robot patch in the works, but other than that I’m generally goofing off. I actually had a breakthrough with my music recently, so if the productivity bug bites I might turn that into a new installment of Bad and Wrong music lessons.

But! Before you hit the back button in search of someone to fill up your insatiable need for content, you could help me out by suggesting some column topics. I don’t always use them directly, but having people ask questions is always a great way to get the wheels turning.

Note that since I’m putting up columns on my site, I have more leeway in what topics I’ll cover. The Escapist never imposed any demands on me with regards to article content, but I always felt like talking about stuff that would drive traffic was the Right Thing To Do. So I tried to talk about newer games and current events, and I tried to go easy on the technical stuff. But now I’m free to write about the obscure and esoteric.

So that’s what we’re doing this week: Nothing.

I just realized I wrote half a column about how I don’t have time to write a full column. (Facepalm.)


A Hundred!20202020I bet you won't even read all 180 comments before leaving your own.



Lord of the Rings Online #11: Easy As Pie!

By Shamus
on May 8, 2016
Filed under:
Shamus Plays

12 comments

I’m still trying to earn enough money to buy some fancy clothes and some dye. It hasn’t been going well.

My next hopeful employer is Rollo. He wants to hire me to play hide and seek for him.

No I am not making this up, you suspicious reader. You know, I’ve had just about enough of your baseless accusations. Here:

Like the EULA for the game itself, nobody actually expects you to read this.

Like the EULA for the game itself, nobody actually expects you to read this.

Someday we’re going to need to talk about these trust issues you keep having.

Rollo explains, “It’s just no fun looking for someone when you already know where they’re hiding. So maybe you can have a go of it?”

I look sideways. The mayor is actually standing nearby. I need this money, but I don’t want people to know what I’m doing to get it. I’m sort of hoping they’ll just assume I’m having sex for money or something. After looking around, I tell Rollo in a low voice that I’ll do his seeking for him.

“Thank you!”, He replies cheerfully and with needless volume, “I mean, I don’t know how many more times I can pretend to be surprised that Daisy is hiding in the bushes or that polo is right beside that statue over there.”

Continue reading »


12There are a dozen comments.



Rutskarn’s GMinars CH3: Find Your Swing

By Rutskarn
on May 7, 2016
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

54 comments

By now, three posts into my series of GMing tips, some of you may be tapping your feet and waiting anxiously for the “real” advice. It’s all well and good to talk theory and principles, but to a novice GM the real mysteries are more looming and practical. The questions I get are rarely along the lines of “how do you maintain the complex illusion of authority with a group of players?” Far more often, people want to know how you go about actually planning a game. How do you conjure up an adventure from nothing? What do you need to plan, research, write down, and what can you afford to fudge or make up? Do you use a template? Do you write stuff down? Where do you even begin?

There’s plenty of direct and practical advice to be given here, and I intend to give it–and soon. But before we move on to such practical matters, I’d like to address and hopefully allay the underlying tone of anxiety I often hear behind that question. The implication is sometimes clear: “I don’t know the answer to this, and therefore, I probably don’t have what it takes.”

But the thing is, you couldn’t know what the right way to plan a session is. There is no right or wrong way to plan a session. Consider the following GMs, all successful in their own way.

Continue reading »

20201454 comments. It's getting crowded in here.



SOMA EP17: Pathos, Too

By Shamus
on May 6, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

89 comments


Link (YouTube)

One thing still worries me about the ARK: Can you stop participating? Can you die? Kill yourself? Erase yourself? What if you become monumentally bored and frustrated with your existence? Sure, it’s a nice simulation and all. But no matter how idyllic the setting, after a few thousand years you might really be done with it. Human beings haven’t experienced lives that long, and we don’t know what kind of mental health challenges that sort of timescale might pose.

The more I think about it, the more I think I’d decline an Ark invitation. Unless it comes with a level editor and some space to call my own. And some tools for composing music. And maybe some programming tools. Actually, this is starting to sound pretty good.

So that was SOMA. The best part of this series has been the interesting comments. People have offered numerous bits of analysis, background, alternate interpretations, and philosophical viewpoints that I’d never considered. This really is a game that gets larger when examined in greater detail.

I feel like I didn’t give this game enough credit in my initial play-through. I went in expecting “Amnesia, but in Sealab” and when that didn’t work out I got frustrated with the crappy monster encounters and sort of plowed through the game. I liked it, but I think I missed out on a lot of interesting things the game had to say.

We don’t get a lot of this sort of science fiction in the world of videogames. Sure, we get a lot of games about shooting aliens with zap guns. And maybe we shoot robots once in a while. But proper speculative fiction? There’s not a lot. And lots of it is strategy stuff like Alpha Centauri, Master of Orion, or Homeworld. Don’t get me wrong, those are wonderful games. But aside from Mass Effect and SOMA, what other major releases feel like someone took science fiction ideas out of a novel and put them in a story-driven game?

202020209There are now 89 comments. Almost a hundred!



SOMA EP16: Queen of Humanity

By Shamus
on May 6, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

55 comments


Link (YouTube)

The scene where we say goodbye to the last human is amazing and made me forget the previous annoying section where I got chased by evil fish. It’s genuine, intimate, and gut-wrenching.

I’m curious: How many people spared the WAU, and how many killed it, and what was the rationale?

I killed the WAU because it was making the monsters that had been harassing me the whole game. The WAU doesn’t make a very good case for itself. At least not directly. Ross claims that if you let it live, humanity will suffer forever. I’m not sure what he’s talking about. We just saw the last human die. And the WAU hasn’t messed with the Ark.


20201555 comments. It's getting crowded in here.



Mass Effect Retrospective 46: Kai Leng

By Shamus
on May 5, 2016
Filed under:
Mass Effect

302 comments

It’s finally time to talk about Kai Leng. Except not. Because first we need to talk about…

Dungeons & Dragons

NERD!

NERD!

Imagine you’re going to play one of those nerdy tabletop games with your friends. The group has a kind of grounded, low-key approach to worldbuilding. The world is basically “middle-ages Europe”-ish with a very understated dash of magic. Rather than invent new characters for my hypothetical game, let’s just borrow a few. The players around the table have the following characters:

Boromir: A son of nobility but not royalty, he’s a stalwart man who trusts more in arms than in magic. His mind is often on his troubled homeland.

Frodo: A gentle idealist. He hates violence, but understands the necessity of it. He’s reluctant to draw blood, but also curiously wise and forward-thinking for a halfling.

Gimli: Dwarf. Proud. Practical. Loyal. Simple.

And then there’s this guy. Let’s call him JoshNot my friend Josh from our podcast. I’m talking about this Josh.. Josh brings in this character:

Xantar Shadowwalker: A reincarnation of an elven god that was slain by an army ten thousand years ago. He’s a half-elf with a clockwork robo-arm. He carries a glowing samurai sword, wears a Zoro mask and a black cape, and has glowing white eyes. Xantar doesn’t have a fixed personality, but seems to jump from being a swaggering sarcastic joker, to a gravel-voiced agent of vengeance, to an unflappable gentleman, depending on whatever will make the biggest scene.

Some people will complain that he clashes “thematically” with the setting. And he does. Others will worry about his character being overpowered. And he probably is. But that’s not really the problem with Xantar. The problem is that Josh is trying to make him the main character. Xantar is so outlandish that he will stand out in every scene. He’s screaming for attention, and the other characters look like extras when they stand next to him.

The other players are here for a cooperative and symbiotic experience. They want to work together to make an interesting story about their adventuring party. Josh is here for a competitive and parasitic experience. He sees the other players as people to play audience to his one-man show of attention-whore badassery.

Josh is fundamentally a problem player in this particular group. Unless his real-life charisma is so astounding that people don’t mind mind playing his sidekicks and passively watching his antics for hours at a time, then he’s a social vampire and he’s going to suck the life out of the game. Good D&D games – and even a few friendships – have been ended because of selfish assholes like Josh, who entertain themselves by magnifying their own glory at the expense of others.

Now imagine Josh isn’t just a player. Imagine Josh is running the game. Everyone still has to play grounded characters like Boromir and Frodo, but Josh designs the villains using the same self-indulgent approach he used to design Xantar.

That’s how you end up with Kai Leng.

Continue reading »


A Hundred!A Hundred!A Hundred!2302 comments? What, did somebody start a flame war or something?



SOMA EP15: Under Pressure

By Shamus
on May 4, 2016
Filed under:
Spoiler Warning

37 comments


Link (YouTube)

We keep coming back to the question of “Did Simon need to be such a dummy?” Which leads you to the question of “Who was this game designed for?” The problem facing the design team is that there’s a huge difference between people who read sci-fi novels and people who get all their sci-fi from television.

I’m reminded of the time we showed off Good Robot at a trade show. Everyone played through one or two levels before they died and walked away from the game. But then one guy completely destroyed the demo. Instead of reflexively running from bullets like most people, he held his ground and weaved between them. He was obviously a fan of bullet-hell shooters, and so our game was completely trivial to him. He plowed all the way through the entire gameWhich wasn’t done, so it was maybe half the size of the completed version. The game was also much easier at that point. on the first try.

This led to a question, “Who is our game for?” This guy is obviously our core audience, but anything that’s fun for him is going to be impossible for everyone else. Do we tune the game to appeal to the most likely fans, or to the masses, where we might have some prayer of making money? And really, somehow we’d like it if the same game could satisfy both groups.

I guess I’d feel better about Simon’s apparent slowness if I got the sense that a large number of people needed the extra explanation. I can imagine a scenario where a bunch of relative sci-fi newbies were working with the mental model of (say) consciousness working like a “soul”. They begin with the assumption that there can never be more than one version of you at a time, and they never examined the idea of what would happen if you could copy a brain. Maybe those people needed the extra hand-holding not just to explain how a mind-copy works, but to disabuse them of their original assumptions.

There’s going to be a massive difference between people who have never been exposed to these ideas before, and people who have read dozens of different versions and detailed explanations of this over many sci-fi novels, to the point where the core concept is now boring and needs to be mixed with some other idea to be at all interesting. Maybe the developers were thinking, “Better safe than sorry” when it comes to explaining the premise that drives the conflict.

Still makes him annoying, though.

201737 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.



Ruts vs. Battlespire CH7: A Wizard Hid It

By Rutskarn
on May 4, 2016
Filed under:
Lets Play

16 comments

That`s probably for the best.
That's probably for the best.

I think I’ve hit on my primary stumbling block in this game: I have no idea where I am, who anybody’s talking about, what’s happening, why it’s happening, or how I go about fixing it. In this exciting chapter of Ruts vs. Battlespire, nearly one of these mysteries will be revealed.

Continue reading »

1624 comments. (That's 10 in Hexadecimal.)




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