Stuffed Crocodile

Mazes, Martians, Mead

Tag Archives: Games

Feline Horrors

Arkham Horror

Arkham Horror (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did I mention cats in my last entry?

Because… cats. If our tom wouldn’t also manage to be the sweetest of kittens in his good moments we would have sold him on ebay years ago.

So, after sleeving all the cards yesterday I decided to actually use today for learning the rules. My girlfriend was out with her colleagues and I didn’t have anything else to do. So I closed the door to the living room with the cats safely outside and set up the table with the Arkham Horror board.
Note to self: get bigger table, ours was only barely able to hold just the base game.
It went quite well until midnight. I was down to two open gates and had 2 locations sealed. Then, at midnight my girlfriend came home, opened the door and asked: “Why did you lock the cats out of the living room?”
“Because…” I managed to say, but our little Sherlock had rushed into this new mysterious room that had been locked for 3 hours, jumped on the table…

…and Arkham disappeared into a landslide.

“…I was afraid of this.” I finished my sentence.

 

As mentioned until then it went quite well. I was using three characters against Hastur. This made sealing the gates rather difficult, but some  luck with the Mythos cards had the monsters conveniently move out of the way in a few cases. I think I still have some issues with remembering special cultist powers though, and forgot to move them to the Sky (Hastur’s cultists all ride Byakhee obviously). I think I am slowly getting the hang of it though.

 

D&D and the Colossal Cave

English: Print terminal output of Will Crowthe...

Print terminal output of Will Crowther’s original Colossal Cave Adventure aka ADVENT (1975-76) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know if I came across this information earlier, but I think I might have: it sounds vaguely familiar.

The very, very classic game ADVENT (or Colossal Cave Adventure, or just Adventure), the game that inspired the adventure genre as a computer game genre as such, is obviously directly inspired by D&D. Not only that, it also started as an early way of computer assisted playing for a group of 8 players that didn’t have the time to meet often enough.

In a post in rec.arts.int-fiction from Oct 1994 Bernie Cosell wrote:

Well, Will Crowther made the game up after we had been playing D&D
for a few months.  A new arrival on the ARPANET project was also a
housemaster at Harvard at the time and D&D had pretty much just
appeared.  He dungeounmastered up a dungeon and a bunch of us from
the project team got sucked into playing.

Due to our inclinations, we were almost zero interested in the ‘battle and
monster’ aspect of the game, but rather a lot more interested in the
cooperation/innovation/puzzlesolving aspect.  And so quite against the
tide of the D&D world at the time, our dungeon turned into more of
a group problem-solving expedition than an every man for himself
hack-em-up.  Anyhow, it was great fun but VERY difficult for folk
who had any sort of a life: getting the eight of us together at the
same time and in the same place with nothing else to do for four
hours or so was a nontrivial problem.

So Will had the astounding idea that he could cobble up a
computer-mediated version of the game.  We mostly thought he was
nuts [but had long-since learned not to underestimate what Will
could innovate].  Given our predilections in the real game, in
ADVENT puzzles and cleverness were more of a premium than quick
reflexes and keeping track of hit-points.

[…]

No words on how well that worked though. The computer-mediation I mean. But the game itself soon spread over the servers of Arpanet and inspired other people to do similar things, or even go further than that. The genre of text-adventures/interactive fiction derives directly from this game, so do graphic adventures, and so do MUDs and by extension also MMORPGs.

The unfortunate name of Hârn

I normally take pride in going against first impressions and looking at the core of things to see what these things actually are worth. A while ago I looked into Hârn as a system and saw a game world that might be a bit too detailed and low key for my tastes, but which had a lot of interesting ideas in it. I still wouldn’t play it. And considering that the only thing I ever heard about it in German RPG media were the reviews in some magazines I don’t think many other Germans would pick it up either. And that despite the fact that the only foreign language translations of the game were into German. The game world would fit quite nicely in that German style of low magic, quasi-historical worlddesign that seems to be so common in the German RPG mainstream.
It’s unfortunate, but hardly surprising with a name like that. The word Harn in German is a formal way to say “Urine”.
I guess not too many people would proudly admit to playing with Hârn products…

[Boardgames] Real Monopoly

English: A German Monopoly board in the middle...

A Monopoly board in the middle of a game. (Photo credit: Wikipedia/Horst Frank)

Monopoly is one of these games everybody has played at one point or another. Everybody knows how to play that game. Hell, most likely everybody reading this has a set of that game handy somewhere.

You do?

Ok, tell you what. Go and grab that set. Open the box. You don’t have to do much. Just get the manual for the game and read what happens when a player lands on a field and doesn’t want to buy it outright.

Come on, do. I’ll wait.

Surprised?

It’s in the rules, isn’t it? Don’t worry, I haven’t thought about that either for a long time. After all, that’s not how you play the game, is it? (Actually, for additional fun: try to find the section on Free Parking, although most people know that that one is a house rule)

For those who did not have Monopoly handy: according to the rules property that is not immediately bought by a player after landing on it goes to auction among the other players. No set starting price.

No, that’s not a house rule, that’s in the actual rules. And yes, nobody plays Monopoly like that. I remember when my brother and me read the manual as kids and came across that section, and we decided: Fuck this, that’s not how you play the game.

Funnily enough, according to people who tried it, the actual rules make for a faster, better, and more interesting game, because it keeps people from having to make endless circles around the board just to collect the set of cards they need to even start building stuff. It does make the game more cut-throat though, and according to the article I linked, this might be the reason it is often left out: Monopoly is still a family game. Losing the game because the dice rolled wrong is still better for kids than losing because their siblings snatched away all interesting property and left only scraps for them.

I doubt even using the actual rules would make Monopoly a really good game, but it would certainly be more interesting than the game we played since I was a kid.

[Boardgames] Alternate Settlers of Catan Tiles

catan

Catan – Russian version? (Photo credit: ivva)

To my surprise nobody in my gaming group has ever played Settlers of Catan. Now, I am not a hardcore boardgamer, and Settlers, while fun and one of the best examples for modern games, is not the game my whole heart is dedicated to. I am a roleplayer after all, I always have been.

Still, when my players (and especially my girlfriend) talk about board games for them it comes down to 1) Monopoly and 2) Scrabble.

I cannot help to feel sad about this.

I will not get around actually buying both games for my girlfriend, but I cannot help to think that I really should show her a few other games. And my other players as well, while I am at it.

Now, Settlers of Catan in my opinion has always had one particular flaw that made me dislike it: the graphics on the game were awful. I really like the mechanics, I like the trading and civilization building, what I don’t like are those terrible graphics, both in the original and in the Mayfair editions. So I decided to make my own tiles.

OK, part of the reason for that is that I had the game somewhere at my parents’ place but couldn’t find it when I was visiting them. I don’t really want to spent 140PLN on a game I already dislike for it’s graphics. Luckily that doesn’t seem to be a problem.

The gaming material for Settlers is rather simple: the board itself is assembled out of a set of hex tiles representing a small variety of different landscapes, which give different resources. Other needed elements are: resource cards (easy to make), numbered chits (also easy), markers for settlements and streets (those are more difficult, my old set had wooden pieces and I would love to get some equivalents instead of cardboard markers, but I guess I will just create cardboard replacements), and a figure that represents the robber (hmm…easy, I guess).

I decided to create my own set of tiles, but I am still in the concept stage, so for further reference I  searched and found a few interesting other alternate sets. Most of the custom boards for Catan seem to be 3D variations of the board, which I think are absolutely awful, but I guess there is no accounting for taste.

What I found so far:

  • Lasercut Tiles: an early version of a project that now has a kickstarter page, a beautifully simplistic but well thought out variation on the gameboard, unfortunately it only makes real sense if you have a lasercutter around
  • Boardgamegeek-user Andre Viana offers a nice looking set with photographic tiles
  • Hexes of Kaathan (also on BGG) looks more sophisticated, the sets (multiple ones, also for the extensions) provide tiles looking completely different from each other.
  • Ryan Schenk offers these highly abstracted tile graphics. They look very nice, but not really what I am looking for.
  • The settlers of Oz is a complete graphical conversion to something Wizard of Oz themed. A bit too saccharine for me, but looks really nice. The largest army card is replaced by a “Most Munchkins” card, which almost makes me want to play this
  • The Settlers of the North Pole is the same, just Christmas themed. Kinda meh for me.
  • deviantart user murz has a set of tiles he made as a replacement when he didn’t have his original set available. For me a bit too close to the original (which, remember, I don’t really like)
  • Not really alternate, but well: tiles designed for colourblind people, based on the artwork from Mayfair games

And this is why I stopped playing M:tG

Blast from the past!

Oh look, this is why I stopped playing Magic: The Gathering: Serra Avatar.

Seriously though, I was one of the first people in my area who knew Magic. My first set was 3rd edition with additional cards from Legends, Antiquities, Fallen Empires, and Arabian Nights. I showed it to this neighbour of mine who would also be one of my long-term rpg players.

That was roughly around the time when Urzas Saga came out. We played a few dozen games with the cards I had, because he didn’t have any, yet.

Two weeks later he invites me again, by then he has one of the most extensive card collections in the county. Among the cards: Serra Avatar.

He stomps me, two or three times, the last time even taking his time because he felt it was more fun if I could put up a fight. And that’s the moment when I gave up on Magic.

Oh, I of course could have bought the cards to match his decks. But then of course I would have lacked the funds for roleplaying games, and as it was rpgs that brought me to M:tG in the first place…

New School Psionics

Blasphemy, I know.

I looked at the various versions of Psionics and Psion classes that are floating around the Internet and decided that no, I don’t want any of these. They either appeared too limited in scope or too complicated to integrate into a game that should be flowing without problems. What I wanted was… well… not a spellcaster again. But something that would work in a similar way I guess.

So, yeah, i went to the SRD and transported the 3.5 system over whole cloth, then I started to chisel it down until it looked like something I wanted to use. It now should work pretty close to the normal magic system while still maintaining a few interesting quirks of its own. I still think it might be a bit overpowered in higher levels, but from what I see until name level this barely should be a problem. And if one compares it to the higher levels of the magic-user it might even be underpowered. Although: I won’t know that until we play and someone decides to play one. Considering the normal class choices of my players that is not really likely. But for some reason it had to be in there.

What i don’t have so far is a Psychic Warrior class or a Soulblade. Both might be interesting options for a game, but I am not really sure if I want them in my game.

Which also is the same for gnomes. I don’t know why, but I just don’t like gnomes. Maybe if I make them more garden gnome like they might get better. And then when I also add a pixie class we can play Fairy Meat the RPG.

Whatever happened to the netbooks of yore?

One thing that I haven’t heard mentioned anywhere in the last few years are the Netbooks. Not those small and handy computers everybody went  crazy for the last few years. No, I am talking about files of the collected wisdom of the internet crowd on one topic or another (I know them mostly from Fantasy Roleplaying).

Whatever happened to them?
Okay, I know what happened to them, they still are at Olik’s and the Blue Troll’s websites, just as they were in 1998. But what happened to the idea of Netbooks? When I started with the Internet they seemed to be one of the biggest things on the Net.

Basically in the late 80s/early 90s people using the Net, and with that I mean mostly the Usenet and BBSs, were compiling wondrous resources for people with tight money but an internet connection. Now I hardly can say that those things were up to par with the best of the officially printed material of the time, because they were not.
But I can say that a lot of them contained a treasure of new ideas, rules, and mechanics to enrich (or bog down) the Fantasy Roleplaying of the time. And sometimes there would be the occasional little gem in between all the bad stuff. And this actually would be why they are not mentioned anymore: all the bad stuff in between.

The whole thing was a trend that already was over when 3rd edition came around. All of a sudden people took to the Open Game License like dwarves take to mead. But people still were remembering the old netbooks back then, and so at least one page was formed which wanted to create new Netbooks for the new system. They actually got quite far, building a few interesting things with new character classes and monsters, and had a lot of gorgeous ideas for people who were doing this essentially free, and then they quietly disappeared again in 2005. They said that the market was oversaturated with free d20 content and that they could not see anyone really taking to their books. I guess if you really were into publishing anything for the D20 system in that time you would just try to get it to a publisher. Or something like that.

Anyway, what I am interested in right now is the ways that I can use the old netbooks from the 90s for my campaign. They have a wonderful community-created homebrew vibe, not unlike the roleplaying blogosphere of today *coughcough*, and there should be some ways of putting that stuff into a campaign, even if a lot of the stuff in them seems to be a tad stupid.

But I am missing the concept as such, especially the fact that they seemed to be mostly just made up of Usenet entries collected into a larger text file, and then allowed to be distributed over the net. It just was so… what’s the word? Neat. Something like that would be hard to do today, where everyone thinks they’ll be able to  publish the next big thing with their own OD&D-clone. Although I do understand the attraction in 1. having the possibility to have your own things published and bound, and 2. not having to search for these things all over the Internet. Do you remember the days when every role-playing site around had a download page where you could get different files and programs to make your DM life easier? (or harder, depending on what you brought onto yourself) Roughly around the times when 3rd edition came around and the Internet bubble burst, all of a sudden the traditional download page was disappearing. I used to hunt through the webs for ages, trying to find new hidden treasures that I did not know about before, a feeling that is largely gone by now.

Beyond the Hills

For some reason the German translations of the Midkemia Press books were 1. having different names for pretty much everything and 2. had much better covers. Especially the second one is interesting considering what they did to, for example, Fighting FantasyGamebooks of the 80s. But here we had some people in charge of the publishing house that actually put effort into what they were publishing.

Here are the German versions of Towns of the Outlands: Jenseits der Hügel (Beyond the Hills), and the City of Carse: Corrinis, Stadt der Abenteuer (Corrinis, City of Adventure).

And yes, the right picture was sold in toystores like this. It might also be interesting to notice that both call themselves “Supplements for all Roleplaying Systems”, while being soon afterwards integrated into the Magira/Midgard campaign setting. If I remember well enough the first city supplement for DSA “Havena” claimed the same, even though it was integrated tightly into Aventuria within months after the supplement appeared.

Free Midkemia Press Modules

I just found that Midkemia Press has free downloads of their modules “The Black Tower” and “Towns of the Outlands” available on their website (look at the bottom of the Products page to find them). Especially Towns of the Outlands I was wondering about for years. It’s a supplement with descriptions of six different fantasy towns/villages that can be dropped into pretty much every setting. Useful I think, very, very useful.

It was translated into German back in the 80s, and I think all the Midkemia references were replaced by Midgard ones, Midgard being the first German RPG and desperately in need for supplements.

I never saw the supplement itself, that was long before my time, but I saw ads in other old gaming material advertising it as the translation of “Towns of the Outlands”. And then there was “Die Rache des Frosthexers” (Revenge of the Ice Sorceror) where the author lifted the town of Oswestry directly from the pages of the supplement and used it as a setting in his adventure, just adding a new name and  two or three hooks for the campaign it was part of, but fully acknowledging it as being taken from that supplement. I don’t know why.

Which keeps me thinking, I always thought the idea of a town supplement might be a good idea? Just a supplement with a few hamlets/villages/towns which can be dropped anywhere to provide the backdrop for an adventure. I always had the feeling this might be a good idea.

Updated: Obviously because I’m blind I wrote the name of the company wrong despite having had the cover in front of my eyes