Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Weekend: Books, Dice, Gaming, And One Dud

Talk about a good gaming weekend. Here are the highlights (with a single lowlight at the end):

-At long last, my softcover copies of BareBones Fantasy and Keranak Kingdoms arrived from the RPGNow printer! I have been working off my pdf copies, but it's nice to have a physical copy for reference, too. I absolutely LOVE the 6"x9" format, which isn't used enough in game products. Here's a pic:



-You'll notice there are some dice in that photo. I also ordered more Gamescience dice from Noble Knight games, including a couple of d5s. They should make some handy prizes for players and such. I inked everything myself, which is an art I'm still perfecting with time. My Sharpie did not fail me this time around, for which I was grateful.

-In addition, I'm reading (or rereading) all the old Birthright novels. A couple by Simon Hawke arrived, courtesy of an Amazon vendor, on Friday. Birthright had some issues, but I always loved the dynastic struggles and idea of realm management, even when the execution was lacking.

-The third session of my 1867 Savage Worlds campaign went very nicely indeed this weekend. The PCs were tasked with assisting General Burnside (long story) with the defense of Baltimore, due to a series of demoralizing and costly arson attacks. They ended up defeating a superpowered trio of British baddies including a flame-controlled, an individual capable of deflecting energy, and, most dangerous of all, a creep with the power to plant powerful illusions in anyone's mind. The PCs stopped the arsonists with their burgeoning superpowers (and some awesome creativity!), but not before I almost took out their speedster with a cunning illusion. The cliffhanger was looking out and seeing Fort McHenry covered some strange green glow. What is it? They'll have to wait for next session...

I will say that after a few initial roadbumps with Savage Worlds, I feel like we're getting into a flow where combat is concerned. The Bennies flowed easily and quickly, and they were certainly needed. On the GM side of the screen, I really liked having Bennies for my Big Bad Guys (Wild Cards) as well. I'm still not sure how the game will scale as the group keeps grabbing XP, but that's not a concern just yet.

-There was one dud over the weekend, which also counts as one of the stranger gaming experiences I've had in some time: I was roped into playing a short Skype session of Dungeon World, which appears to be wildly popular by both storygamers and some gamers I wouldn't have expected to like it. With apologies to their sensibilities, I didn't care for it. (I should have known I was in trouble when I read the review stating Dungeon World was a "modern thinking game that every serious role player should own a copy of". That probably counts me out right there).

The game bills itself as some updated form of old school gaming, but it didn't give that experience for me. First, we discovered there was no initiative, which means between the four of us, things got very confused, very quickly. Our starting characters all seemed wildly powerful, and character creation was just odd (why can't two of us pick the same class? They want me to pick my name from a list?). It seems to have a lot of arbitrary rules, yet be annoyingly too freeform at the same time. That's a poor mix. It's almost like a recipe for chocolate cake made by someone who has heard of, but never quite tasted, actual chocolate cake.

Out of our Skype group, I can't say any of us particularly cared for it. We have dozens of games that do classic play better than this, from Basic Fantasy RPG to the Rules Cyclopedia to BBF. I know folks are having fun with that game, but I just don't get it. It was a rare miss on a weekend chock-full of gaming goodness. Not every weekend can be that good, but man, is it great when your cup runneth over.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Concerning DriveThruRPG/RPGNow Reviews

With another release of old TSR pdfs, Wizards of the Coast has assured another few weeks of discussion in the online communities regarding their releases, company, and what it all means for folks making and selling neoclassical games. (Tell me I'm not the only one excited to see the re-release of Castle Caldwell, written of course by a fellow with the incredible pen name of Harry Nuckols).

Moving past all that for a moment, I've lately been viewing my purchase history and library at RPGNow. All the freebies and sales over the years, plus plenty of flavor-of-the-week grabs, have left me with an extremely long purchase list.

As I was poking through the list, I honestly couldn't remember what some of the items were. When I clicked on their links, I noticed many of the reviews others had done seemed to fall into one of two categories: either wildly extensive, or brief and sadly not very descriptive. Certainly there were some very good ones that fell in the middle area, but for many of them, they weren't what I was looking for.

Now, usually if a product has 20+ reviews and is 4 stars or higher, you're going to get the idea this is a game that is offering something part of the hobby wants. Still, it would be nice to see a few more reviews on products that manage to give you the highlights of a product in 200-500 words without going overboard.

A good RPGNow or DriveThruRPG review doesn't have to be a full recap of the product--it can hit some key highlights and lowlights, and recount a bit of the experience that purchaser had with said product.

What isn't helpful? Well, here's a random selection of reviews from products I purchased or viewed recently, with the names withheld to protect the guilty. Each one of these is an honest-to-goodness review in its entirety at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG:

"Great product... Usually 5 stars worth... minus two for the missing print-on-demand option...!"

"The product is in perfect condition on the final product. I am able to read every word and it is easy to access."

"having problems getting the book to come thru here,i need help" (Note: This one was rated 2/5 stars).

"This is my favorite RPG ever. The stories are so grand, and I like that there is no metaplot that has to be followed! I can't get enough of this game."

"The quality of pdf are very good. The product is perfect"

"Good book on Victorian times, but not my favorite."

"This is a good game thanks for the stuff lets do it again sometime"

"I do not know yet as I am only just downloading the product... (?)"

It's not that the comments are simply brief; brevity can be just fine. The problem lies with the fact that they're as useful as a fart in a tornado. Just put a tiny bit of thought and elaboration into your review; it's better for the publisher and the next gamer to come along.

For my part, I'm going back and attempting to review as many of my purchased items as I can. The reviews won't be novels, but I'm going to try and put some thought and consideration into each one. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece, but a little effort can go a long way. Someone created that gaming product; they deserve at least some honest feedback. I also know that when I look at a product, I wish someone would have taken the time to offer their thoughts on it. There's no compunction to do so, but it would be nice if more gamers extended that courtesy.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Not A Bad Second Session...

This weekend marked the latest installment of my Savage Worlds 1867 campaign, that odd mashup about the end of the American Civil War, low-powered superheroes, and alternate history. Now, I'm really essentially a novice at Savage Worlds, as are almost all of my players. So I was a little alarmed when I found out I was going to have 2 new players that had done little tabletop gaming before to replace two regular members of my gaming circle.

I shouldn't have been so worried. Despite the late notice, our new players jumped right in and performed admirably, despite the odd campaign hook. We ended up with the female of the group playing a former double spy (earth elementalism), and our other new member played a somewhat elderly surgeon (healing power). Both had their big moments in battle, and the game ran quite nicely. Other other player, a regular who missed the last session, is playing a former Confederate Cherokee sharpshooter (kinetic energy infusion), and had probably the biggest blast of the game, thanks to some teamwork. That's one thing I really enjoy about Savage Worlds--it pays immensely to be a good teammate and work together to kick butt. There's nothing wrong with lone wolf characters, but cooperation can sometimes be pretty rare in gaming groups. Fortunately, we don't have that issue--presently, anyhow.

No, it wasn't perfect. But by the end of the game, the rules were clicking, and I think we all had fun.

Aside from that, in non-SavWo news, I spent a bit working on some submissions for DwD Studios' next issue of Decahedron Magazine. We'll see what passes muster, but it's nice to get in the swing of making stuff for gaming again.