Pillars of Eternity - First Impressions
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 30 March 2015, 8:55 am
I've played Pillars of Eternity for 16 hours now, which is longer than some other games are long, but short on the time-scale of this game. I'm still in Act 1! So this isn't a review yet, but just some first impressions.

Pillars of Eternity is most definitively and old school game. Gameplay is very similar to Baldur's Gate, but the world and story is original, and not licensed from Dungeons & Dragons. There are a few modern comfort functions added, but mostly the game offers very little in terms of handholding or even just tutorials. You are supposed to find out things on your own.

Sometimes the modern touches clash with the old stuff. For example you have a modern 3D character creation tool where you can make your character look as you want him to look. But then you need to choose one of only 66 2D character portraits, and of course none of them even remotely fits the character you just created in 3D. You might as well not bother, as most of the time you only see the 2D portrait anyway, unless you zoom in a lot.

In Pillars of Eternity you control a party of up to 6 characters. You create one character at the start, the other 5 are companions which you can either pick up during the adventure, or create yourself if you have the money. *Spoiler* The first three companions you meet are a wizard, a fighter, and a priest, but you don't know that when you create your main character. What works very well is making a rogue as your main character, so you get your companions with their stories and have all the basic classes covered. If you insist on let's say making a wizard, you end up with two wizards in the group, or miss out on that free companion. Plus you have to spend money on hiring a rogue companion to open locks and disarm traps, and the created companions don't have a background story and have less dialogue and interaction.

Personally I like Pillars of Eternity a lot, but it is not the most accessible game, designed more for veterans than for new players. Combat takes a while to get the hang of, as it is in real-time, with optional pauses. You have various auto-pause settings, or can pause the game with the space bar whenever you want. What is very helpful in combat is the option to zoom in very close, as you need to be precise. The game allows friendly fire, and my rogue once managed to backstab one of his companions because that companion was too close to the enemy and I mis-clicked. Area effect spells are rather tricky, because combatants tend to move while the spell is cast, and you can easily burn your own party with a fireball. At least path-finding has much improved since Baldur's Gate, although sometimes characters still get stuck and can't find a way to melee the enemy.

Pillars of Eternity is a very big game, and I can see myself spending many hours playing it through. Being an explorer at heart I'll probably just play it once, but if you want you can play through the game at different difficulties, including very hard settings with permadeath and reduced access to comfort functions like the stash. But there is also an easy setting with a reduced number of monsters for those who are mainly interested in playing through the story and exploring the world.
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The price of verbosity
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 29 March 2015, 8:31 am
I was following a link from a post from Bhagpuss about turning your blog into a pdf or ebook file. The software didn't work for my blog. So I googled for similar services and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM failed to turn my complete blog into a book. None of the programs could handle my 4,985 posts with the 188 MB of data in XML format. Too bad, I would have liked to offer the pdf or ebook file to my readers for my upcoming 5,000th post.
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MP3Gain
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 March 2015, 9:59 am
Just a quick mention of a software that helped me with a small problem: I had bought an alarm clock which wakes you up with your favorite song as mp3 file on an USB key or SD card. Unfortunately it turned out that the volume setting in alarm mode cannot be changed, and getting woken up by music blaring loudly wasn't especially nice. I thought about buying a different alarm clock, but then I had an idea: The volume of the music must be somewhere encoded on the mp3 file. If only there was a way to easily change the volume of a bunch of mp3 files!

Turns out, there is! MP3Gain lets you change the volume of a bunch of mp3 files to the same loudness. While mostly meant to normalize the songs on your mp3 player to have the same volume, it also worked beautifully for my purpose. 80 decibels is enough to wake me up without giving me a heart attack.
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Telling the future
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 March 2015, 10:31 am
Psychochild has written a great article explaining that "Peter Molyneux isn’t so much lying as being terrible at telling the future.". For me the problem is not the difficulty of telling the future, or any specific developer being bad at it, or any specific game failing to deliver on its promises. For me the problem is gamers and game media being more interested in the future than in the present. If you want you can do the following experiment: Go to the next newsstand and buy any one random games magazine. Now count the pages dealing with previews of upcoming games and count the pages dealing with reviews or other information about games that have already been released. The number of preview pages ALWAYS is bigger than the number of review pages, up to twice as many pages talking about the future than there are pages talking about the present.

The internet isn't any better. There is endless discussion of Kickstarter projects and all sorts of other games still in development. As soon as a game is released everybody is losing interest. The level of interest is also quite evident in pricing: Many developers will happily sell you alpha access to a buggy unfinished mess for $200, but the price of the game goes down to $60 on release day, and half a year later you can pick up the game for $20 in a Steam sale. People would be outraged if a game on release day had a $100 price tag, but Kickstarter projects for games frequently get an average of around $100 per backer.

Unfortunately everything Psychochild explains about Molyneux is also true for most other game developers. The greatest visionaries are often the least able to transform their visions into an actual product. Anybody remember the Warhammer Online hype, and the "bears, bears, bears" video? Lots of people got so excited that they started a great many number of blogs, most of which quickly died when the game was actually released.

I would much prefer if the visionaries would shut up and rather try to implement their vision than telling the world about it. Visions are incredibly cheap to produce compared to actual games. And I see more and more cases where it can be suspected that somebody noticed that the cheap vision sells better than the expensive to make game, and deliberately sets out to con people out of their money. Game developers aren't the only ones terrible at telling the future, gamers themselves are also incredibly bad at evaluating the visions that are being sold. Game design has a number of insolvable problems and inherent incompatibilities, and you can earn a lot more money by promising the impossible than by trying to work out a reasonable compromise and implementing it. That makes Kickstarter a paradise for con artists rather than a way to fund the games that people actually want.
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Player agency and what they do with it
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 26 March 2015, 8:10 am
In the original Everquest, despite its name suggesting otherwise, players were not doing quests all the time. There weren't all that many quests. Most of the time a player had nobody who told him what to do, he was free to pursue whatever goal he wanted, wherever he wanted (as long as the zone was level appropriate). The consequence of that wasn't pretty, it led to what people called Evercamp: Players were most interested in gaining experience as efficiently as possible, and the most efficient method was to "camp" one location of monsters. The initial pull was the hardest, as afterwards the mobs respawned not as a group but one by one. So the most efficient way to gain experience and levels was to stay at the same spot and kill the same group of monsters over and over and over. As level gaining was much slower than in modern games, it wasn't unheard of a player staying at one spot for weeks, moving on only once he outleveled the monsters and needed a new spot.

When games like World of Warcraft moved to a system where players were always on a quest, and the quests made them move all over the zone instead of sticking to one spot, that was considered a big improvement. Only those "quests" weren't quests in the Wikipedia sense of the word. Sir Galahad is famous for having completed one quest in his lifetime, World of Warcraft has achievements for doing 3,000 quests, or worse 10,000 daily quests. Instead of finding the holy grail, a quest often doesn't involve more than walking 10 meters and clicking on something. At most you need to run to the other end of the zone and kill 10 monsters. So by now everybody is thoroughly bored of doing thousands of minor chores, and is clamoring for sandbox games.

But the initial problem still hasn't been solved: If you give players a huge world filled with interesting stuff, how do you ensure that they actually go out adventuring and do dangerous and interesting stuff? A great majority of players is more interested in the rewards than in the adventure, and prefers the path of least resistance, even if that path is rather boring.

The problem isn't unique to MMORPGs. Besides the D&D campaign were I am the DM, I now found another group where I could play instead. But in the first session I felt the group was never in any situation of their own chosing, but was being led by the nose through a scripted story. Putting my DM hat back on, I am not sure my players don't feel the same about my game. For example in the latest session of my campaign my players came upon a troll shaman with a bear pet. They clearly had at least two options, ignoring him or fighting him, and they never thought of other possibilities like talking to him. But in any case the situation itself was one created by me, the DM (or the author of the adventure I was playing). Like a dungeon in World of Warcraft the dungeon in a D&D adventure is a collection of possible encounters, and the only freedom the players have is to choose their path through that collection, and how to deal with each situation. They rarely *create* the situation they need to deal with.

Just like with MMORPG players, people playing tabletop roleplaying games of clamor for sandbox games instead. I have a strong suspicion that those clamoring the loudest are those that don't actually play or lead a game, but talk out of a purely theoretical armchair position. The previous adventure of my D&D campaign before the current dungeon was a more sandboxy city adventure, and that ended with the group walking away and deciding not to confront the archvillain, in spite of having a strong possible motive of revenge. If as a DM you give players a strong motive to do something, they feel railroaded. If you don't give them a strong motive to do something, they won't do it. And most players you can't rely on to create their own strong motivation beyond gaining experience points and treasure. In a completely sandbox world of D&D, players would probably end up "camping" mobs. A generic fantasy world without DM-designed stories is a bland and boring place, but every story you do tell creates at least the impression of you leading the players.

I'm still experimenting with my tabletop roleplaying games, and I'm still waiting for a MMORPG to come up with a better solution. I'm not sure there is a perfect solution for either case, we might need to settle for the least bad compromise.
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The Favorites of Selune - Trollhaunt - Session 3
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 25 March 2015, 8:44 am
In the previous session the Favorites of Selune fought their way into the troll warrens. This session started with them deciding to take a long rest, as they tend to do after every remotely challenging fight to recover their daily spells. Note to self: I need to have a mechanic like a time limit for every dungeon in the future to prevent this; respawning trolls would be another option, but then they'd just rest again. At least in this case they had found a good location for the rest, a neighboring cave in which human prisoners from Moonstairs and the prince's expedition were held. The prisoners were in no condition to fight, but were willing to keep guard while the group rested, in exchange for being freed and led out of the troll warren the next day.

Having entered the warrens via the river flowing out, I would have thought that the group might continue further into the warrens that way, which would have been an option. But they decided to do the more conventional thing and followed the tunnels instead. That led them to a cave where an elderly troll shaman was circling a mound of skulls on an elevated platform, with a giant bear pet at the foot of the stairs. Their first concern curiously was to find out whether the bear was actually a bear or a transformed troll druid. Nice idea, but in this case it really was just a bear. While observing the bear they were seen by it, but the bear was content gnawing some bones and didn't attack. A further incursion into the cave likewise didn't result in an attack, neither by the troll nor the bear. And one of the two exits was thus clearly possible to reach without a fight. That caused some discussion, with the rogue being in favor of leaving no troll alive, while the rest of the group preferred to preserve their strength.

The next cave was empty except for a portal with runes on it. The runes apparently were relatively fresh, and in the script that both dwarves and giant-kind uses. With a comprehend languages ritual the priest deciphered it as announcing this door to lead towards the troll king Skalmad, "nobody escapes his eye". The door had a lock, and the rogue was able to pick it, so the group could continue this way.

The next large cave was illuminated by patches of luminescent mushrooms, with an old woman tending a patch of those mushrooms in the middle of the room. From the ceiling hung cages containing troll skeletons. After their experience with the non-hostile troll, the group approached the women with little worry. Which was a mistake, because she transformed into her real form, a briar hag. There was a second hag in the back of the cave, and from the cages descended five troll skeletons and attacked.

As the group had advanced into the cave, and not kept rank, the fight didn't have a clear frontline, and there were skeletons or hags all around and between the characters. While that has obvious tactical disadvantages, at least it made the area effect of the briar hags, who grew patches of briar to entangle the adventurers, less effective. Being right in the middle the cleric used a great combination of turn undead after an area effect spell which allowed him a total of 10 attacks where he needed only to roll a 10 or more on a d20. To general amusement he managed to miss 9 of those attacks. After this bad start the fight was a rather tough one, with lots of healing and use of daily powers needed to survive. The troll skeletons hit hard, and the hags had ranged spells to immobilize adventurers. With the adventurers being dispersed and hindered in movement, they were unable to concentrate their attacks well, which led to several rounds of combat with no monster dying. But then the skeletons started to fall, and so did the first hag. The second hag tried to get to the door to the next room, but was slowed down by some attack, and never made it.

After the fight the group found some treasure, and we ended the session there.
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Players to backers ratio
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 24 March 2015, 11:11 am
The Crowfall Kickstarter is coming to an end this week, having reached its goal. Around 15,000 backers funded the project to the tune of 1.5 million dollars, about $100 average per backer. One of the advantages of crowdfunding frequently mentioned is that it allows to demonstrate public interest in a project. Which leads me to the question of how many backers would be sufficient for that.

In today's market a MMORPG with 15,000 players would be considered incredibly niche. But we have to assume that the number of people willing to buy a game is larger than the number of Kickstarter backers. After all, spending $100 on a game that hasn't been developed yet is obviously a risky proposition and a lot of people would rather wait for the game to be out before making a purchase decision. On the other hand the MMORPG genre is full of "tourists", people who are quite willing to buy a new game and try it for a while, but who tend to be gone after a month or three, and who don't contribute to the long-term health of a game.

We don't have a lot of data on the players to backers ratio of kickstarted MMORPGs for the simple reason that we don't have many successfully kickstarted MMORPGs. Crowfall has about the same number of backers as for example Camelot Unchained, but less than Shroud of the Avatar, and only about half of the number of backers of Star Citizen. The obvious problem is that the development time for MMORPGs tends be rather long, so none of these games have come out yet. We don't even know *if* they will all come out.

The other fundamental problem is that a Kickstarter backer is essentially buying a dream, while a player who buys the game after release is buying a more or less finished product. Between public beta tests, YouTube videos, and game reviews the person waiting for release is far better informed about the actual quality of the final game than the Kickstarter backer. Godus, which technically is still in beta and also got over 15,000 backers, presumably would have a hard time to attract a lot of new players if it ever gets "released". While theoretically a company could be better at making a game than a pitching it on Kickstarter, the general tendency is for actual products not living up to all the dreams and promises.

In the end I have a hard time imaging a players to backers ratio of higher than 10 on release, less after the tourists came and went. I don't think any of the MMORPGs on Kickstarter will reach a million players. The Double Fine Adventure Broken Age sold 70,947 copies in the first three months, which isn't all that much compared to the 87,142 backers, suggesting a players to backers ratio of around 2 for the second most successful Kickstarter game ever. What do you think?
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Bhagpuss mode
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 22 March 2015, 7:05 am
While technically I had unsubscribed from World of Warcraft, I continued playing for free the low-level characters that the "veteran edition" allows you to play. In what I call Bhagpuss mode, playing for relaxation without worrying about efficiency or trying to achieve much. World of Warcraft is a good game to play like that if you're tired after a day at work, it doesn't require much effort for the basic questing and similar solo gameplay. I first leveled a human hunter to 20, noticing by the way that I hadn't played the post-Cataclysm Alliance zones yet. Then I started a gnome monk. But at that point I got a bit annoyed at the free version not allowing me to do pet battles, which is also a nice relaxation mode of WoW. And so I ended up subscribing again.

One added advantage of subscribing of course is that it reactivated my higher level characters, specifically those with garrisons. I plan for them to continue to do work orders with the profession buildings, hoarding the materials needed to craft epics and upgrades. My thinking on that is that when the WoW token gets introduced, this will lead to a lot more gold flowing into the economy from currently inactive accounts, leading to more AH activity and inflation. The people buying gold for tokens will want to spend that gold on something, after all. As I can produce epics by just keeping my garrison production running with very little effort, I should be able to make a lot of gold, and translate that into free months of subscription.

One added advantage is that patch 6.1 increased the xp you get from mining and herb collecting in your garrison. So the characters I don't really want to play, like my level 96 shadow priest, are still slowly moving towards level 100 and a better garrison. On the silly side my level 100 characters are accumulating epic gear up to iLevel 670 just from missions, without even leaving the garrison.

But most of my time I'm spending on the gnome monk, collecting pets through pet battles, or tinkering around with cooking and leatherworking. Monk doesn't appear to be a very popular class for leveling, but if by level 20 I see that he doesn't work out, I can still switch to the hunter I already leveled to 20.
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Rogue redux
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 19 March 2015, 4:28 am
I've been playing some Card Crawl on my iPad. As the "crawl" in the name suggests there is a faint relation to a rogue-like dungeon crawl game. Only there is no dungeon. Instead the experience is simulated by going through a deck of 54 cards, roughly half of which are monsters that cost you health, and the other half being equipment items that prevent health loss or heal you. Only 5 cards in the deck are variable, and over time you get a selection of cards which you can put into those 5 slots. The game is played by the dealer revealing the top 4 cards of the deck, and you having to deal with 3 of them before he deals the next cards. You have 3 slots on your character where you can store positive cards, or you can sell them for gold, but negative cards need to be neutralized with positive cards or you need to take the health loss.

I'm not quite sure why the game got so good reviews. To me the optimal strategy of the game became quite obvious rather early. And once you got the strategy, whether you win or lose is simply a matter of luck. If you get good and bad cards more or less in alternation, you win. If you get a cluster of bad cards (you can lose first turn by drawing 4 non-trivial monsters) you lose. If you get a cluster of good cards, you run out of storage slots for them, need to sell them, and the fine balance of the game means that then you'll inevitably get too many bad cards later and lose. The most interesting thing about that is that there are actually rogue-like dungeon crawl games which work basically on the same principle: There are random events which can be either good or bad, and if you get by pure chance a cluster of bad events, you lose. So Card Crawl is a game of rogue redux.

I am not opposed to randomness in games. I play tabletop role-playing games where throwing dice is an essential part of playing. But a good DM would never have a situation in a game of D&D where a bad roll of the dice means everybody loses and goes home. The fun of randomness is that it adds an element of uncertainty to your strategy / tactics with which the players have to deal. But the macroscopic success or failure should rest on the decisions that the players make, and not be simply a matter of luck. This is also why I prefer the longer fights of 4th edition Dungeon & Dragon, where you roll a lot of dice in each fight and deal with the ups and downs, to the new 5th edition D&D combat where you can die from a single critical hit before you even acted once.

An important aspect there is what the penalty for bad luck is. If bad luck can cause you a minor setback, I don't mind. If by bad luck and no fault of your own you lose a game where the only option is to start over from the very beginning, I find that annoying. I prefer games where good luck or bad luck is a random factor that determines what the optimal strategy / tactic is, forcing me to adjust to events. If it's "bad luck, you lose, start over", then I'm not all that interested.
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Bartle types, gender, and game design
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 18 March 2015, 8:12 am
I stumbled upon an infographic on percentage of women playing various different video games, which shows that for some type of games there are more women than men playing, while League of Legends only has 10% women playing, and EVE Online even just 4%. And I was thinking that this is a matter of measuring what is easily measurable and then reducing a far more complex issue to a simple gender issue. EVE Online is not a sexist game, doesn't feature overly sexualized or victimized female NPCs, or limits you to playing male characters. If you took the typical list of "how to make games more gender equal", they clearly don't apply to this case.

That is because the underlying more complex issue is one of Bartle types. EVE Online and League of Legends are clearly games that nearly exclusively cater to the Killer Bartle type. People use words like "toxic community" and "cutthroat" to describe these games. That is only a gender issue insofar as women are more likely to prefer Explorer and Socializer Bartle type gameplay. Men who are Explorers / Socializers are as much repelled by these Killer games as women are.

I'm not sure whether anything can be done to for example make MOBA games more accessible to other Bartle types and thus increase the female participation rate as well as widening the male audience. Even Blizzard's Heroes of the Storm appears to me to not offer much content for Bartle types other than Killers.

But where I see a big opportunity for improvement is in sandbox virtual world games. Currently many of them are far less successful than they could be because the Killers have been given free reign, and they are driving out anybody else. It is a mistake in a game like DayZ to give players lots of tools to kill or torture each other, but not enough tools to cooperate or socialize. A survival sandbox game based around cooperation being more efficient than lone wolves would not just be much more realistic in terms of early human history, it would also attract a larger and more diverse crowd.
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Featuritis and Sid Meier's Starships
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 15 March 2015, 5:55 am
Any genre of PC game accumulated features over time. If you make a new game you are expected to have all the features of the classic games of that genre, and then some. As a consequence modern games often suffer from featuritis, with too many features making the game overly complicated and susceptible to bugs. Less sometimes would be more.

I am playing Sid Meier's Starships on my iPad. It is a fun little 4X space conquest game which has been seriously slimmed down of features compared to classics like Masters of Orion. As a consequence the PC version of the game got a horrible Metacritic score of 71. The iOS version of the game, which is identical and costs the same, got a great Metacritic score of 93. Basically the PC version got unfairly downgraded for not having all the features of a genre which is well established on PCs, while on the iOS Sid Meier's Starships is basically now the reference for the 4X space genre.

I believe that Sid Meier's Starships is a better game than a hypothetical new 4X game with far more features and all the bells and whistles of the whole history of the 4X genre. It is more likely to attract new players to the genre, and more adapted to the needs of people who don't have all day to play games. And I can think of several other genres who might well need a similar "reset" of going back to basics and less features. Which is why I am finding myself more and more playing mobile games or indie games. And there is the financial advantage of a simpler $15 game often being more bang for your bucks than a $60 triple A game.
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Pornography and the right to sexist games
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 March 2015, 6:34 am
I am a liberal in the Europeans sense of the word, that is I believe that society should strive towards maximum freedom, whilst taking into account that my freedom to swing my fist ends where your nose begins. That is not an easy position, because more often than not two different freedoms clash on specific issues. I am for sexual freedom as well as religious freedom, but then you get into those questions where you can have only either one or the other, and not both. And one of these difficult issues where different freedoms clash is the question of sexism in games.

I totally agree with Anita Sarkeesian that sexism in games exists, albeit often at a relatively low level. But I don't agree that this means that we need to do something in order to guarantee that every single game is absolutely free of sexism. Using Zite I randomly stumbled about the story of a sexist Japanese game that people want to censor or ban. And would consider such a ban a greater imposition on freedom than the existence of that game.

The parallel that I am drawing is with pornography. Pornography is sexist. But it is also a multi-billion dollar industry that enjoys a legal or even constitutional protection in many countries. Lots of people consider 50 Shades of Grey to be sexist, and it is one of the highest grossing films of this year, having already earned $550 million since Valentine. One of the most successful TV shows there is, Game of Thrones, while having some strong female characters is also full of gratuitous sex scenes, and has also been accused of being both racist and sexist. For me all these examples establish that there is something like a right to consume sexist media content. And I don't see why games should be excluded from that right.

That is not to say that there shouldn't be games with strong female characters or feminist messages. I'm just saying that in the interest of liberty, all sorts of content should be on offer. People who are offended by either feminist games or sexist games have the right to choose a different game. But in a free market in a free society, both should exist. Of course with the appropriate ESRB rating and labeling. But telling an adult that he can consume porn, but he isn't allowed to play a game just because there is a busty anime character covered in chocolate in it doesn't make sense to me. Personally I think that the ultra-violence of games is a far bigger problem than their sexism, but an informed consumer should even have the right to play such an ultra-violent game. Unless in the process of content creation somebody is actually hurt (e.g. child pornography, snuff movies), nobody should have the right to tell somebody else what content he may consume.
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Making readers think
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 13 March 2015, 3:37 am
Some days ago somebody tagged me with the Liebster award, which is a kind of chain letter currently making the round in gaming blogs. I ignored it. But then I thought that I should at least explain why I would not want to participate, and then my thoughts quickly turned onto a wider issue. MMORPG bloggers and blog readers are probably familiar with the concept of the Bartle types, the idea that different people play the same game for very different reasons. There is a lot less discussion about the fact that different people also blog for very different reasons. The Liebster award is like an invitation to a MMORPG event which only appeals to a specific Bartle type.

I am not a sociologist, so I won't try to categorize blogger types. But I would like to point out two families of blogs that I am not particularly interested in. The first is blogs where the author is principally motivated by writing about himself, which would be the kind of blog that would be most interested in a Liebster award. The thing is I don't think that I am a very interesting person. You might be interested what I say about games because you care about games, but that doesn't mean you care about me, especially not about the boring details of my private life. I never understood the idea of posting what you had for breakfast on Facebook, I mean who could possibly care?

The second type of blog that I am not interested in are echo chambers, the Fox News of game blogs. I've been called "controversial" or other less polite forms of the same concept, but the thing is that if you read a blog post of mine and think "I totally agree, this is exactly what I was thinking myself", you and me both wasted our time. There are certain blogs I don't read not because I disagree with them, but because I know *exactly* what they are going to say about any given piece of gaming news. Those blogs are like trying to discuss American politics at a tea party convention: You already know what everybody is going to say, there is little hope of any original thought that challenges preconceptions, and the participants aren't open to different thoughts. I am not interested in the creation of "facts" by group think, an opinion doesn't become a fact by lots of people chanting it.

Personally I write with two goals. One is to archive my thoughts and my gaming history for myself. And the other is to make my readers think, to challenge their preconceptions, to come at a news story everybody is talking about at a different angle. I'm aware that this can make for less comfortable reading, or be perceived as "weird". But I think, therefore I am. If I express ideas that do not require thinking, I cease to be as a blogger.
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The Favorites of Selune - Trollhaunt - Session 2
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 12 March 2015, 6:06 am
Let me start this post with an advance warning: I am writing these journals of the sessions of my D&D campaign in order to have an archive of them for myself. I have played and mastered several great campaigns over the last 35 years, and now find that the memory of them is fading. I lost most written traces of those campaigns as well. So this is an attempt of conserving at least the history of my current campaign. Having said that, not every session in a campaign tells a great story. This session was void of interesting story decisions, but filled mostly with tactical stuff. We had a really great combat encounter, but the fun of that is very hard to put into words for an audience that wasn't there. In fact the whole adventure is more about rolling dice than role-play, as this is planned to be the end of the current campaign. So the following post might be short and boring.

In the previous session the Favorites of Selune came to Moonstairs and discovered that a new troll king called Skalmad is in the process of recreating the old troll kingdom that had existed in the surrounding marshes over a hundred years ago. And the center of Skalmad's kingdom is just the cave system with the portal to the Feywild that the group is looking for. [As I said, this isn't a very subtle adventure.] So the adventurers are leaving town and travel through the swamplands with the help of a rough map in order to find the troll warrens.

Arriving at the troll warrens they found that the trolls have built a door at the entrance. Next to that door is a stream flowing out of the caves, with stalagmites forming a sort of natural barrier to entrance. But as the adventurers are a lot smaller and thinner than trolls, they decide to squeeze through that barrier instead of knocking at (or knocking down) the door. The rogue of the party sneaks ahead of the group to the point upstream where the walls give way to a tunnel in the cave, with a big log serving as bridge over the stream. Trying to look into the entrance cave the rogue rolls low on his stealth check, and is seen by one of the trolls in the cave. Combat ensues.

The front line fighters of the group place themselves on the side of the stream that goes towards the troll cave, while the others place themselves on the other side of the bridge, away from the trolls. As the tunnel only allows two trolls to attack in melee combat, that keeps the trolls from swarming the group. There are 3 regular trolls of the kind the group has fought before, and 4 war trolls with weapons and armor, that are tougher. The trolls not in melee can still throw rocks and do some damage, but with less effect than their melee attacks. So two of the war trolls go out of the entrance cave by the door, and start breaking down the stalagmites at the stream entrance to come at the players from a different side. They succeed in that two rounds later, come up the stream, and now are between the front line fighters and the rest of the group. Fortunately the sorceress manages to pull off a spell that pushes one of the trolls down the stream, and the front line fighters manage to retreat over the bridge and reunite with the rest of the group.

Having learned about the importance of fire against trolls to prevent regeneration, the group manages to beat the trolls down. But the fight wasn't easy, and the players made some good moves to overcome this challenge. As that took some time, we ended the session after this fight.
Tobold's Blog



How cheap do tablets get?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 11 March 2015, 9:09 am
I own an iPad Air, that is a 5th generation iPad, and the third one my family bought. After having run into troubles with insufficient memory on the first two, I bought the 128 GB one. With WiFi and cellular. Current retail price for this is $929. Which means I am taking a certain care that I don't break the thing or leave it unattended. So I'm not taking it everywhere I go. So I was wondering whether I could buy somewhere a far cheaper tablet for more mundane purposes, like reading ebooks and pdf files.

Not being an expert on various systems, it is hard for me to figure out what the cheapest solution for my purpose would be. For example the Kindle Fire looks very cheap, but I'm not sure in how far it allows me to read pdf files with color and images (I have an early generation black & white Kindle where pdf functionality was very limited). Is a Samsung Galaxy Tab better? Are there even cheaper Android tablets with less known brand names, and are those reliable? How is the battery life when I use a tablet mainly as electronic book?

The internet is full of information, and some shops have well informed vendors, but it is hard to find anybody who is unbiased and isn't just trying to push a specific product onto you, regardless of whether that was the closest to your requirements. So I was wondering if one of you can give some recommendation on cheap tablets, or where the best place would be to find information on them.
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I laughed in World of Warcraft
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 9 March 2015, 3:31 am
Normally I am not a big fan of the humor of World of Warcraft. I really dislike the stupid jokes that the peons and lumberjacks for medium and large timber make every time you call them. And I'm not a big fan of "Justin Timberlord" and other real world references either. But it just so happened that I was watching CSI Miami on Netflix before my "veteran edition" human hunter entered Westfall and met "Lieutenant Horatio Laine" investigating a murder all over the zone. And that parody was just so well done, including the sunglasses and mannerisms, that I just had to laugh.

But that pretty much shows the problem of this sort of humor based on real world references. If you haven't watched CSI Miami, Horatio Laine is just weird. A real world reference like the S.E.L.F.I.E. camera works better, because it doesn't depend on you having seen a particular TV show or movie, or having read a particular book. But in either case the supposed humor is from things in a fantasy world not corresponding to our expectations about that world, but instead relating to something from the real world. Not good for immersion.

Then of course there is the issue of how often you see that joke. You meet Horatio Laine several times while questing in Westfall, and then the joke has run its course, and you move on to the next zone. Justin Timberlord is in your garrison every day. And if you are on a timber run you'll hear the jokes of the lumberjacks over and over. Why couldn't they just have stuck to the sound bits from Warcraft 3 that they used for the small timber lumberjacks? No joke survives endless repetition.

I think overall I would be happier without those attempts at humor in World of Warcraft. Even if I liked the parody on David Caruso.
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Procedurally generated worlds
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 6 March 2015, 2:43 am
Syp doesn't like procedurally generated worlds, while j3w3l is more positive about them. I'm not sure whether this is a problem of how good the algorithms are to generate those random worlds, or whether it isn't mostly a problem of the gameplay of the game in question.

In World of Warcraft since patch 6.1 you can buy treasure maps that show you where the treasures in the various zones are hidden. But you don't really need to buy those, as there are addons that show you exactly the same information. The zones are static (except for phasing) and identical for each and every one of the 10 million World of Warcraft players. You can't actually have "hidden" stuff in small, hand-generated zones that are the same for everybody.

I played games like Anarchy Online with procedurally generated worlds which were rather boring. But I think the main problem in that kind of game is that you don't interact all that much with the world. A tree tends to be just decoration, a mountain is just an obstacle. Play a game with different gameplay, like A Tale in the Desert or EQ Landmark, and the procedurally generated world suddenly becomes a lot more interesting. If you need a specific type of rare tree to get some type of wood you suddenly care a lot more about those trees. If you are building a house in that world and depend on certain geographical features either for the house or for the actions you want to do around that house, searching for the best spot becomes a huge game in itself. Now imagine a game where players create castles and walls and wage war against each other, and a mountain pass which was boring before now becomes a strategic hotspot.

Civilization would be a boring game if it only had a few small, hand-crafted maps. It is because in Civ you care about what the terrain is that makes the random worlds interesting. If we want procedurally generated worlds to work in MMORPGs, we first need to invent more ways to interact with the landscape.
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Biased game news reporting
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 5 March 2015, 2:55 am
EA shut down the main Maxis studio Emeryville. And the internet erupted in a wave of stories how the evil overlord company destroyed the developer studio that has produced some of our favorite games like The Sims and SimCity. Without any shred of evidence it is assumed that everything that went wrong is the fault of EA, while the developers of Maxis are innocent victims. But can we really be sure about that?

Both the latest SimCity game from 2013 and the latest The Sims 4 had huge problems which made them far less successful than previous games. On Metacritic SimCity got a score of 64, and The Sims 4 got 70. This are not high quality games. And I think it is too easy for a developer to claim that his game was shit only because of some high-level corporate decision or budget constraint. I played SimCity on release and for me it was clear that the code was flawed way beyond what could be explained by an evil overlord theory.

Gamers are frequently demanding unbiased game news reporting. I think that would be great. But what they often mean is that they want biased game news reporting that corresponds to their personal bias, the Fox News concept of game news reporting. I don't think that is such a good idea. Just because many people dislike EA for good reasons doesn't absolve Maxis from blame for the bad quality of their games.
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Game vs. improvised theater
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 March 2015, 9:31 am
Sly Flourish has an interesting analysis of a PAX Acquisitions Incorporated D&D game. One player of that game clearly thinks inside the box, thinks in "game" terms, and during his turn performs the standard actions the rules allow his character to do. A second player thinks outside the box, thinks in terms of improvised theater performance, and uses his turn for a long series of spectacular actions. Unsurprisingly the first player is angry about that. Seen from the "game" side the actions of the second player are cheating, and the DM is perceived as playing favorites by allowing them. When in fact the DM would probably have allowed the first player to also do spectacular stuff, if he had only suggested it.

Both parts of a tabletop role-playing game can be a lot of fun: The game and the improvised theater. But any game is a social contract between the players, and tends to fail if during play it turns out that there was in fact no consent as to what exactly that contract contains. Unless you carefully select your players to make sure they all want exactly the same thing, the more common case is that you will have to compromise between the wishes of the different players. As pen & paper RPGs aren't symmetrical, one player (the DM) has far more power over the rules than the other players, it is up to the DM to look for what the players want and arrange that compromise.

In game terms a rules system which describes in much detail what players can do, and uses visual aids like maps and figurines to create consent about the current situation is inherently more fair than a theater of the mind system. The map and figurines tell the players exactly where they are and where the monsters are, and various rules and stats like the speed noted on their character sheet give a very clear and indisputable answer to the question of whether they can run this far or how hard they can hit this monster. The rules empower players, especially the less creative ones, but leave less room for decisions to the DM, and less room for creativity in combat for the players. In addition the DM needs to prepare more, create all those battle maps, provide all those figurines or tokens, know more rules, and generally "work" more.

RPG systems with less rules and more improvisation are often more fun for the DM and certain highly creative players. That is perfect if you have a group where everybody is very creative. But as soon as you have some "gamers" among your "role-players", the situation changes. Gamers tend to have a very strong sense of fairness, and nothing turns them off more quickly than any perceived unfairness of the game. A good DM can't allow one or few players to hog all the limelight. Between those who dislike the "mother may I?" gameplay where they can never be sure what their character is able to do, and those who dislike another player being far more effective because the DM allowed him to do some crazy stuff, the theater of the mind style of play has lots of pitfalls and dangers. A possible compromise is keeping the game part of combat under stricter rules, and allowing more creative freedom in the roleplaying outside combat.

In the PAX game an added problem is that part of the group started the game with that DM under 4th edition rules. Social contracts are unwritten and are established by custom and experience. I asked my group whether they wanted to switch from 4th edition to 5th edition and explained the difference, and they flat out refused to change, because they are more gamers than roleplayers. The PAX game is in part a Wizards of the Coast marketing action, and as such didn't have the choice of keeping the old system. But it is very clear that some players still play under the old social contract of the 4E rules, doing what the rules allow them to do, which then leads to conflicts with the new players who fully embrace the freer spirit of the 5th edition rules. Different systems suit different players, and I'm not sure if the PAX game ends up being such a good marketing for 5th edition as it was for 4th edition.
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How much is WoW gold worth?
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 4 March 2015, 3:01 am
The announcement of the WoW token with which you can exchange a month of game time to WoW gold has started the speculation for how much these tokens will go for. It is not a free market, Blizzard is both selling and buying the tokens for gold, and it is unclear to what degree they will regulate the price or adjust it to supply and demand. But as reader "8F55..." remarked in a comment yesterday, you can today buy a thousand gold for a dollar from various illicit gold trading websites. Apparently $10 pets from the Blizzard store also sell for around 10,000 gold. So even if players value legit gold slightly more, a WoW token can't go for less than 10,000 gold.

I am less worried about the lower limit than about the upper limit. I don't think Blizzard is planning to give you that little gold for a WoW token, or rather they won't sell you a month of subscription for that little gold. Gevlon was talking about his million gold pieces, I counted over 200,000 on my account, and I'm sure a number of people who were a bit interested in the economy of WoW have hundreds of thousands of gold pieces. I really doubt that Blizzard is willing to give me over a year of free subscription to World of Warcraft in exchange for the gold I accumulated. Especially since I could easily "go infinite" by making more than 10k gold per month and playing without paying forever. During my two months of WoD subscription I made more than 10k gold per month just by selling crafted epics from my garrison crafting buildings.

10,000 gold for a WoW token would also not be all that interesting for the potential gold buyers. Yesterday bryksom posted a list of bind on equip gear that would bring you up to iLvl 668+, enough for the "mythic" level of dungeon/raid content, but estimated the price for that at around 1 million gold pieces. At 10,000 gold per WoW token that would be 100 tokens or $1,500. I doubt there will be all that many people who would be interested at buying gear for real money if every single item is a hundred bucks or more.

GaelicVigil was thinking a WoW token would go for 100k to 150k. I think that is too high. The idea that somebody without a clue would like to spend money on high-level epics and go raiding at mythic level is probably just a strawman anyway. Raiding isn't really an attractive activity for the supposedly time-poor, money-rich player anyway, as it requires too much time and commitment. And you don't need those iLvl 668+ epics for the kind of content a more casual player might be interested in. Apart from buying rare mounts and pets on the auction house, there isn't really much you can spend that gold on at the moment. A fully built-up garrison might cost you 30,000 gold, but you'll make that sort of money in the time it takes you to get there.

So I was thinking that Blizzard will set the gold price for WoW tokens to between 30,000 and 50,000 gold. That is significantly more gold per dollar than the gold farmers offer at the moment, and thus likely to put a lot of gold selling companies out of business. It is an attractive enough price for people who have accumulated some gold to exchange it for game time, and an attractive enough price for the gold buyer as well.

The long-term effect on the economy and price evolution depends on factors we aren't really sure about. Is Blizzard only an intermediary in this trade, selling only as many WoW tokens for gold as other players are selling for gold? In that case the total quantity of gold in the economy would remain unchanged. If a player buys gold for WoW tokens and then buys things on the auction house with that gold, most of the gold remains in the hands of other players. The only gold sink would be the AH fees. But Blizzard could also decide to sell WoW tokens for gold even if there are no players putting up those tokens for sale, in which case they would create a real gold sink and remove gold from the economy. Which would have a significant long-term effect on prices.
Tobold's Blog



The WoW token
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 March 2015, 11:56 am
Blizzard now announced more details on the upcoming "PLEX" system for World of Warcraft, the WoW token. On the one side I always prefer a legal system of exchanging money for time over illicit third-party RMT. On the other side I am not so sure that the system is really all that suitable for the game World of Warcraft.

The problem principally is how people make gold in World of Warcraft. Some of it is made by what I would call regular game activities, like questing. But as Gevlon has shown back in the days, most money is made on the auction house. And that more often than not involves some sort of auction house manipulation. Somebody using a bunch of addons like Auctioneer can make significantly more money than somebody trying to "farm gold". I frequently see people buying up all of one commodity on the AH and then reselling it for twice the price. I'm not sure how effective that is, but I can sure see its going on.

At the time Gevlon was constantly complaining about the "morons & slackers" buying or selling stuff at stupid prices on the AH. The reason for that was that gold was not actually all that important for many activities in the game. People handled virtual money stupidly because it wasn't really worth all that much for them. The WoW token system risks to change that, because it now attaches a real money worth to WoW gold in the mind of people who wouldn't have bought gold from RMT traders before. I'm not sure if is viable to try to pay for a subscription by "farming gold" in a way that doesn't involve the auction house.

As I always enjoyed toying with the player economy, I'v always had more than enough gold, and still have over 200,000 gold on my account. I wonder what a month of WoW subscription will go for. But weirdly, even if I had enough gold to buy a subscription and wanted to do this, I'm not even sure that I could do it. Because my characters are "inactive" due to not having a subscription, I cannot buy a subscription with gold without first buying a subscription with money.
Tobold's Blog



Dreams and deliverables
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 3 March 2015, 3:00 am
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Martin Luther King Jr., 1963
The world needs visionaries. Shared visions are the best way to get people to work together towards a common goal. And with the vision you can verify whether your decisions bring you closer or further away from the ultimate goal.

Having said that, a vision is not the same as a deliverable. The civil rights movement made enormous progress since 1963, but can Martin Luther King Jr.'s three surviving children really claim to "live in a nation where they are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character"? Visions also often fail to detail what the best way towards the goal is. You and me might share Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision of a world in which there is no racial discrimination, but we might disagree on whether positive discrimination (affirmative action) is the way to get there.

I have a dream of a virtual world in which player actions matter, where these actions shape a dynamic virtual world, and where everybody has fun without grinding.
The typical MMORPG Kickstarter, 2015
I noticed that visions feature very much in many Kickstarter game projects. Ultima Online is in it's 18th year, Everquest has 16 years, and World of Warcraft recently celebrated it's 10th birthday, but a lot of the visions of the early days of MMORPG have not been realized yet. We want player actions to matter, but the industry standard is that you can just walk through another person, because developers found that otherwise people will block doorways and negatively impact the game for others. We want dynamic worlds, but if an event happens and is then over instead of respawning, lots of people who missed it will complain. And nobody has found out how to balance the different possible activities in a game in a way that there is not one path of least resistance to maximum rewards, which people then grind.

I agree with many of the visions for better MMORPGs in many of the proposed Kickstarter projects. Unfortunately this isn't somebody standing at the Lincoln Memorial and pronouncing his vision for a better world with better games. This is people who want to *sell* you their vision. Promises are being made: "Give me your money, and I will create this visionary game, and you will get to play it!". It is an extreme form of pre-purchase for a game that only exists as a vision yet. And because of the disadvantages of visions listed above, I am very much against selling visions.

The recent controversy about the Godus Kickstarter is in fact close to a best case scenario: The Kickstarter money finances a game which moves the genre towards the stated vision, even if it never quite fulfills all its promises. At least the backers actually got a game, and it actually did some of the things the Kickstarter promised. A lot of other projects never even get that far. No vision, nor a list of famous team members, can tell you anything about the quality of the project management, which is frequently the point which makes or breaks game development.

So what I would like is Kickstarter projects with the vision toned down a bit, and a bit more attention to the details. How exactly do you propose to solve those inherent problems of virtual world design that have existed for nearly two decades? What exactly are the deliverables, and what makes you think that you can reach them? At the moment visions sell well on Kickstarter, because so many people share them. But that doesn't necessarily make the person who can formulate those visions in a Kickstarter page the best one who can get us there.
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A multi-layer approach to role-playing
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 March 2015, 4:58 am
Pen & paper tabletop role-playing games are a combination of two very distinctive parts: A mechanical rules part in which your character is a collection of stats and numbers, with dice, mathematics, rules, and tactical decisions deciding what happens. And a "playing a role" part comparable to improvised theater where a character has a background, history, and personality different from that of the player controlling the character, where "what would my character do next" decides what happens.

Since the early days there have always been conflicts between the two parts. Different players prefer different approaches. Some are perfectly happy to play a tabletop game like you play a computer game, as a tactical combat game with numerical character advancement. Others insist on the role-playing being essential, especially in view of the fact that it the part that tends to fall short in the computerized games, and thus is the unique selling proposition for the pen & paper version. Also gamers have a strong tendency to tell other gamers that they are "playing it wrong", and get into pseudo-religious arguments about stuff like this.

When I started my current 4th edition D&D campaign three years ago, I was faced with two problems: A group of players where I knew that not all of them liked to role-play, and a rules system which was new to us and very much on the complicated side. Tons of options (which my players loved), but requiring a lot of rules knowledge and mechanical game preparation by the DM. So at that point I decided to keep the role-playing on the light side. I didn't push anyone to create a character background, and only one player did it voluntarily. And the episodic form of the campaign with the characters not having strong bonds or loyalties, but just being a band of mercenaries traveling from one adventure to the next didn't encourage role-playing either.

Now this campaign is drawing towards the end, and I would like to have a bit more role-playing in the next campaign. We won't change the rules system (because 5E isn't available in French), but at least we are sufficiently familiar with the rules now that we can add role-playing layers to the game without causing a total chaos. I'm going for the Zeitgeist adventure path as campaign, so the world and campaign has a lot of background that can encourage role-playing. But what I still need to overcome is that some of the players might not be terrible interested in the role-playing part. How can I offer role-playing opportunities to those who would like them without forcing those who don't like them?

What I came up with is a multi-layer approach where different levels of role-playing are possible, and there are some house rule incentives to trying them. At the most basic level every character has the same motivation: They are all members of the Royal Homeland Constabulary of Risur, and loyal to king and country. So if in doubt to the question "what would my character do?", this basic premise should already provide a lot of answers. And even that basic level is a lot better for interactive story-telling than the characters being orphans without loyalty or bonds to anything. It is what the Zeitgeist adventure path strongly suggests as premise, because without the loyalty to the king and to Risur a lot of the story of the campaign doesn't make much sense. Imagine Game of Thrones where the various characters would not have bonds and loyalties to their houses, it would make for a much weaker story.

As medium level option for role-playing I decided to use character themes. This is something that has been added to 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons later in its life-cycle, often as part of some campaign setting. Basically a theme describes what your character did before the first adventure starts. The Zeitgeist campaign setting has a list of pre-made character themes that fit into that particular campaign world, for example the Docker, the Gunsmith, or the Skyseer. But there are also some more generic options, like the Aristocrat, Scholar, or Street Urchin. It is character background and history made easy: Choosing a theme from a list is a lot easier than creating a background from scratch by yourself, and as the DM you can make sure that the list of proposed themes fits into the campaign story and is relevant for giving role-playing opportunities. As an incentive for players who are more comfortable to think in min-maxing terms than role-playing, the theme gives access to different skills, and I am going to give every character with a theme or self-made background one additional encounter power which will be based on that background.

For those who really want to get creative with role-playing, I have created an added page for the character sheet using a mix of 13th Age and 5th edition D&D rules. If they want the players can invent a "One Unique Thing", a freely created unique characteristic that sets their character apart from everybody else. They can also choose personality traits like their ideals, or flaws. And their background and personality can then give rise to bonds with places, organisations, or NPCs. Again I'm using a bit of an incentive here, from 5E rules: A player who makes decisions based on the personality and background of his character, especially if those decisions aren't just the strategic or tactical best choice, will get a point of Inspiration, which he can use to roll two dice instead of one in one future dice roll.

The Zeitgeist campaign world is both sufficiently rich in story, and sufficiently open to additions to that story so that I can use all those possible levels of improved character description and create some interesting individual stories besides the main campaign story. Whatever theme or One Unique Thing a player chooses, it will figure somewhere in one of the campaign adventures. But if the players don't want to play along with that, I can also run the whole campaign just on the basic level premise of loyalty to the king and country. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink. I will see how it goes.
Tobold's Blog



WoW veteran edition
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 2 March 2015, 3:22 am
My subscription to World of Warcraft ran out this weekend. The last thing I did was set up a new character to test the new "veteran edition" of WoW. That is a minor tweak to the so-called "starter edition", the free trial that lets you play characters up to level 20 without a subscription. Up to last year, if you already had an account on which the subscription had lapsed, you needed to create a *new* starter edition trial account if you wanted to play low level characters for free. Now you can just log on your regular account, all the characters above level 20 are marked "inactive", but you can play the lower level characters.

Basically the new system has two advantages: If you really like the character you played up to level 20, you can subscribe again and continue playing without having to pay for a character transfer. And with the new heirloom tab you can also use all your heirlooms for the trial characters.

On the other hand you might not necessarily want to use those heirlooms. At the very low levels your heirlooms (especially if you went to the added effort of enchanting them) are rather overpowered. Not only are they better than the gear that you are likely to find, but the heirlooms also cover slots like head and shoulder where regular characters just won't have anything. Besides making an already trivial game even more trivial, and not giving you a good impression of how the character will play later, the heirlooms also have an added disadvantage: Many of them come with a bonus percentage to experience gain. Thus the already short path from level 1 to 20 is going to be even shorter. Which might not be what you want if at level 20 it's game over.

I did a short tour of all my still existing WoW characters (with the help of the AllPlayed addon) and counted that I have played 6500 hours of World of Warcraft. That is about 4 years worth of a full-time job. Playing a series of characters up to level 20 that cover every single class and race probably wouldn't even add another 100 hours to that score. So what makes sense for a free trial version of World of Warcraft isn't really all that useful for an actual veteran. Still, it is nice to have the option, and Blizzard is obviously hoping that once you start playing a veteran edition character, you're going to want to subscribe to keep playing. For myself I'm not so sure. If I actually try it, it will be later. Right now I've had enough with 2 months of subscription and would prefer to do something else.
Tobold's Blog



WoW "final" status
Posted by Tobold's Blog [HTML][XML][PERM][FULL] on 27 February 2015, 5:39 am
My World of Warcraft subscription runs out this weekend, so I thought I should give a final status. "Final" as in "final for this episode of me playing WoW". It is possible that I will resubscribe at some point in time, but judging on past form that might well take until the next expansion.

Overall I liked Warlords of Draenor. I know some people disagree with me calling the garrison "player housing", but in my opinion this is one of the best player housing systems that I have seen in a MMORPG. I'm not much of a decorator, so not being able to place the furniture where I want isn't of any concern to me; I much prefer gameplay functionality and world integration, and I think WoD did that very well. I don't think perfect player housing is possible, due to conflicting demands, so I consider the garrison to be a very well balanced compromise.

I'm ending the expansion with two characters at level 100, and two at level 96, thus short of my initial goal of three characters at 100. The reason I decided to cancel instead of playing another month and getting there is that ultimately I wasn't all that happy with the warlock I created and paid €50 to boost to level 90. He was a lot better than the priest in terms of power, in fact he might be my most powerful character overall. But I found him somewhat boring to play, as most of the time I was just spamming very slow spells with long casting times. I pull with Soul Fire, cast an instant Corruption, and then most mobs are dead before I even manage to pull off a second Soul Fire. The whole "I turn into a demon and become more powerful" thing is nice in theory, but in practice I only ever used it on boss mobs. Between my demon and the imps that spawn automatically I feel I already have too many pets before I even got to the point where I could hire a bodyguard. I'm not a big fan of pet classes, even if they are powerful.

On the positive side the Alliance warlock gave me the opportunity to play through all the Shadowmoon Valley quests, which I couldn't do on my Horde characters. On the negative side, once I came to Gorgrond I discovered that half of the quests, including the grand finale, were just carbon copies of Horde quests and I didn't experience anything new. That didn't motivate me to keep playing to 100.

What was exceptional about these two months of World of Warcraft was that I only visited one single dungeon (on normal, for a quest for an epic ring). I basically opted out of PvE or PvP group content, being disillusioned about playing with others. Of course if I don't want to group, I'm excluding myself from tons of content, which explains how I can "finish" Warlords of Draenor in two months. I fully recognize that there are a bunch of other possible activities where I could grind this reputation or that currency to advance my character further. But why should I? Why gear up for a content that I have no interest in? So in the end beyond experiencing the story of the expansion through quests I ran out of goals to pursue. Time to put the game aside again.
Tobold's Blog



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