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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Thoughts on RPGs, Warhammer RPG Campaign

Hello internet!

So I know that I go through quite a bit of gaming ADD, but my latest (or rather, reawakened) obsession is with the Warhammer Fantasy RPG (3rd edition). A while back I ran a mini campaign for three friends. They are used to D&D 3rd Ed as that is the only RPG they've played. None of them have had any experience in the WHF world and have generally played a rules-lite type of game, which I find perfect for me.

First off, I'll briefly go into my experience with RPGs. I first started with Star Wars RPG (about 2 editions ago). In my first session I was mostly corralled around as a newbie playing with my seasoned group. The only tabletops I played before that was 40k and board games.

Gamers (bless their hearts) are not always the best teachers. A lot of people get caught up teaching the mechanics of a game over the overall feel of a game. Had someone approached me and said, "RPGs are basically interactive stories, where one person creates the plot and you create characters to advance the story" then I would have had the context to understand how the mechanics come into play. Instead I was given, "You want a high dex. It helps you shoot."

So, I was off to a bad start. I found it very interesting though, when I was observing the other seasoned players and how they creatively reacted to situations. I was driven to understand how to participate actively, so I borrowed the core book and had a rudimentary understanding.

My first session was essentially a one shot campaign, as a lot of people can attest to a GM who starts off wanting to play then quitting after one session. I don't even remember what the plot really was. I just remembered I wanted to be a sniper and used a Vindicare Assassin as my stand in.

The next campaign went much better, however. A good friend of mine ran it as a DM and was much better and weaving a better plot. He used D20 Modern with a backdrop to the old Rifts RPG (a very good settting, by the way). It took place in futuristic Japan and I relished in the idea of playing a futuristic samurai.

We probably played 3 or 4 sessions and it was fun. So fun that I ended up buying the core set, about 3 expansions and ended up trying my hand at DMing a campaign. I did it simultaneously for two different groups and learned a lot about RPGs by jumping in head first. I've played a few other RPGs since then and can now see the difference between the systems and how it affects gameplay.

So, what are my thoughts on RPGs?

Well, at first I was confused, mostly because of my entry into the genre. How do you win? What is the point? What does anything mean?

Now that I'm more seasoned I understand that your entire experience relies solely on your GM. No ifs, ands or buts. Your GM has to understand how your group likes to play and caters to that, and (to me) the only way to properly satisfy your group is essentially liking to play like they do. If the entirety of the group doesn't play similarly it will be a difficult time to have a good session, simply because the combat monkey may be bored with story or the talker can't do anything with a fight heavy campaign. This is all territory that's been walked on before and there are numerous articles, blogs and books discussing this.

Another thing I've come to realize is that most systems cater to solving all your problems through fighting. I get it, in D&D you don't always have to fight, but most classes have combat oriented abilities and everybody wants to be the bad ass. Sure, I love being a tall glass of ass kick. But when everyone wants to be Daredevil I wanted to be Foggy. There are so many damn Boba Fett players but where are the R2s? I wanted to stir trouble.

(Again, keep in mind I know it's all about your group and GM, this is all from my experience alone and not a slight against anyone else.)

I realized that a lot of the times you play you're fighting. I would usually make strong fighters with the worst intelligence. I made barbarians who would nod when told how to proceed with the stealth plan then immediately kick the door in and generate face palms from my party. I made Jedi who cut holes in the hull then asked questions later (it worked out in the end). I generally made characters who would be competent in combat because I pretty much had to and only had fun with the roleplaying part by acting dumb.

Sure, it's possible to do whatever you want in a game. But how many people can say they've played a whole campaign of D&D without getting into one fight? A whole chunk of the rules is devoted to combat, and most classes contribute to it. How is every adventuring party so damn good at cleaving creatures in two? Is there no group of people traveling who don't know or want to fight at all? Just because you don't have combat doesn't mean it can't be fun, and I'm not saying you have to play without fighting for a unique experience. It's just that most systems inherently create situations where conflict involves bloodshed. Would a GM who's prepared a combat for the group be willing to let them talk their way out of it? Or simply run away?

Every group I've played with solves their problems with fighting, and every GM uses combat to advance the plot. Maybe the genre demands it. There are systems that don't involve combat, but that isn't really what I'm talking about.

Anyway, that was a long tangent on combat.

Generally, I want to be able to be the talker in games. I'm rather sharp on my wits and can create funny situations, but I've discovered it's much easier for me to be creative in the seat of a GM. I actually prefer to GM over playing a character, but it depends on the group. If I play with a bunch of min-max munchkins with a side of rules lawyer someone's not having a good time. Random dragons will pop up and the plot will be really quick so I can end my misery.

This thinking brings me to my second topic: Warhammer Fantasy RPG.

I fell in love with this game since I first saw the huge box. It was the perfect RPG for my tastes. I hate looking up rules in books, I hate bloated character sheets, I hate exact measurements and five-foot steps. D&D and other similar systems were rooted in this binary system of pass/fail and large amounts of math for something simple. You either hit or missed and the mechanics did not lend very much to story telling short of what a GM may add for flavor. The higher levels got ridiculous with the adding and subtracting, but most systems don't scale too well.

I also hate tables for things like conditions or wounds, or abilities spread out throughout several books. This game took those components and made them easier to digest for players (in my opinion). Instead of a player needing their whole book, or transcribing abilities from book to character sheet, you selected your abilities through cards and essentially made a deck of everything your character could do. There are tokens for your conditions like stress and fatigue, and cards for things like wounds and insanities. They flipped on its side what people thought of for RPGs, and most veterans scoffed at it. It's no longer in print now, but I bought into a while back and love it.

I'm not a die hard RPG player, but I want my experience to be easier than looking up references in books. Sure, the game didn't do everything perfect. If two players had similar characters you may end up fighting over ability cards. The rulebook is poorly laid out and confusing at times (although not impossible to decipher). Some of their products are just weird (like a mostly useless but pretty GM screen, or not creating a mini softcover book of the Creature Guide like they did with the GM toolkit). But for the most part it catered to my kind of group - one where the players don't have to crunch a bunch of rules to participate. It's all very visual, and I've taught this entirely new system to players who have hardly any RPG experience and it's sunk in like a board game (which is how they designed WFRPG).

A lot of complaints about the system are leveraged at using the components to relate ideas that other systems have successfully done with pen and paper. I argue that it's successful exactly for that reason! I prefer having a token represent my stress and fatigue than writing it down. I'd rather have a card with the rule for stunned in front of me than having to remember it. In my group most of the players don't know the rules that well, and having it in front of them makes it easier to implement, especially with abilities. I mean, in D&D a starting level character's abilities are all over the place even if they are in the same chapter in the same book. If I did play D&D again I'd put all my abilities on cards like WFRPG does to make it easier.

Enough about components!

Another reason why I love the system is the fact that most of the PC careers are mundane classes. A boatman? Awesome! A barber/surgeon? Sweet. A fricking commoner? I love it!

RPGs are so much more interesting when a threat comes through the forest and you fear for your character's life. Something imposing shouldn't have to take the form of some rare powerful creature like a dragon or giant. If a blood thirsty goblin came barreling at you in real life you'd shit your pants. That's what I want to feel in games. Sure you can be a badass, but you only have a real stake in a fight if it was one you'd be scared to partake in, otherwise it's not much of a fight.

There are the heroic classes, but for the most part when I saw them I thought to myself, "Man, I would not want to be that guy in real life." In a good way, like a way that would make your character feel interesting and grounded. Hero types from the get go make my eyes roll, I want to feel my character transition from a lowly human to something better.

I've always loved social characters. But who really wants to be the only bard in an all rogue party? Everyone's being all bad ass and sneaky and you play a damn fiddle. I'm not saying you can't have fun being a social character in RPGs. Let me put it this way: one way of dissecting RPGs is that there are two components to gameplay - combat and social. To fully experience the fun that can be had you should partake in both aspects. Now a combat character definitely participates in the combat aspect. He's kicking ass, taking names, and lootin' bodies. Now let's take the social aspect: in which he's intimidating these NPCs, he's using his rep as an ass kicker, he's thrashing around and can generally also partake in the social part using his combat stats.

Let's analyze the social guy. He's got a winning smile. Maybe a lot of money. How does he work with the two game aspects? In social settings, he's the talker and he gets things done... smoothly. In combat? He wimpers in the corner and is essentially ineffectual unless you min-maxed a combat oriented stat, basically catering to the combat portion out of necessity. Social abilities don't tend to affect combat situations nearly as well as the other way around. I've found that in WHFRP they have abilities that affect both aspects for a social player, and all it depends on is how you use the ability (recklessly or conservatively).

Anyway, I love the system. Next time I'll post logs on our past mini-campaign.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Completed Zuzzy Mat, Unfinished Projects and Idea Rambling

I had just realized that I never posted completed pics of my Zuzzy Mat!

Featured with another unfinished project: buildings!

Yet even more unfinished along with it, Som'er and a building!


So there you have it, a pretty functional Zuzzy Mat. It's nothing fancy. I feel like it lacks variation considering I only have two tones in it, but who cares. If I use it for Warmachine then it won't really be noticed since terrain is sparse in that game anyway. In Infinity there should be plenty of terrain to cover the ground. Malifaux uses a 3x3 board so I won't use it too much for that anyway, although that game uses plenty of terrain as well. Essentially I just have it for function and there's nothing wrong with that.

Since I have them in the picture I guess I'll chime in on my other unfinished beauties. The buildings are from Pegasus Hobbies and are a modular Gothic building set. Unfortunately it doesn't come with a roof, This essentially put a wall in front of my yearning to finish it. I may just get back with it if I decide to push forward with my terrain ideas for Malifaux. I'll get to that in a bit...

The other unfinished business are the gremlin models. I currently have 3 of those guys finished, including the two in the pictures. All I have to do is add the resin for the water effects, which dictates that I finish painting the remaining models in the crew to do the whole batch at once. I, however, am sticking to my resolution to paint whatever I want when I want, and the steam I had to finish those guys has dissipated. Right now I'm only wanting to finish Shenlong, and that's what I'm doing until I decide otherwise.

Speaking of Shenlong, last night I poured the resin for his base. It was overall successful although it wasn't quite what I pictured. Keeping in mind my first experience with resin I decided to start more prepared. I actually followed the instructions on how to use the resin, and what a surprise - it worked much better!

I warmed the hardener and resin bottles in the sink 10 minutes prior to mixing, I used a shallower cup, I used two different cups for mixing and mixed in the garage with a respirator to make sure those strong fumes don't do things to me. The difference was night and day, hardly any bubbles formed during the mixing as opposed to the cloudy mess that formed in my previous encounter. Fifteen minutes after the pour only 1 or 2 bubbles were seen and popped.

The only trepidation I have is the color. I had a basecoat of black in the base to make it appear deeper and ended up putting in two drops of turquoise ink rather than one. I knew that a single drop of ink tints the resin significantly and makes it much darker but added the extra drop in anyway. The darkness of the tint coupled with the black undercoat made the water very dark. After I poured it I dropped in 2 drops of green ink to create swirls in the resin. I thought that the green would actually make the water darker due to the concentration of color, but it actually made it lighter which was a welcome surprise - I'm guessing since there is something to reflect light in it.

It's looking good for now, but not as bright as I wanted it to be. Oh well, I said earlier that it would be a great exercise on resin and it was a learning experience. I'll post pics of it later.

Okay, so I usually have a whirlwind of ideas in my head for hobby related projects. I usually buy the materials and don't do anything from there for years, I'm sure we all have experience in that vein. Here's one I've been thinking about recently: Modular Terrain Boards for Malifaux.

It's been done before, I know. Nothing new. What I like about this board is that the joins are disguised once they are together to make it look like a cohesive board without sacrificing modularity. A lot of modular boards just look modular. Like a bunch of boxes put together. I want to try making an interesting board that doesn't look cobbled together, hopefully using things like buildings and bridges to hide the joins. In the end I'd like to build a simple 3x3 board with a rim to hold it all together. 

The plan would be to cut 1 ft squares from hardboard (which I already have). 9 tiles would complete a Malfaux board easily. If I want to add interest I could make them diagonal and cut additional triangle tiles so that you could have the same tiles work for a table shifted 45 degrees.

On each tile would be insulation foam levels. The majority would be flat levels to place footprint terrain on like buildings and forests/parks/water features. This creates more modularity while hiding the joins.

In the center of each tile there will be a small magnet so that no matter which tile is the middle tile it will have the exact center marked. A magnetized base/counter can be used for marking Strategies like Turf War

To go with the levels idea I want to also incorporate a canal/sewer system. This would be the lowest elevation and the actual "ground" level is about 2" higher (the width of the insulation). This should create visual interest and LOS variation in the game, along with great hobby opportunities like grating to keep the ground level the same but have a sewer running beneath it.

This is just me rambling and brainstorming but it is very exciting. I already attempted this with an Infinity modular board using Foamboard, but it warped and immediately killed any enthusiasm I had. That really sucked because I thought it was looking awesome.

Pre-Warp Pics

These are pics of my foam board terrain I started. The night after I took these the base warped an unbelievable amount due to the glue that was used for the sand. I can only imagine what would happen when the primer goes on. It was a huge bummer because I worked pretty hard on it and it was looking flawless. The joins were hidden with miter cuts and whatnot, it was flush with the ground tile, and had corrugated metal roofs and barricades. Damn that warp!

I've thought of fixing it by gluing it to either hardboard or cork, but really it's more work than I want to do right now. Maybe I'll get to it and fix it to use as a standalone piece of terrain. I'll paint it and see how bad the warp is afterward as an experiment for future foam board projects.

But back to the idea at hand. The warping shouldn't be an issue when using hardboard as the base and insulation foam as the bulk of the material. I also will not need to use sand as the base texture, as I want to use stonework as the ground. This avoids gluing and warping issues, minimizes mess as the texture will be carved into the foam, and creates a very interesting and unique quality to the board. Plus it's easier in game terms to walk on and you can place footprint terrain without it looking out of place, such as a building or a park with a perimeter. I've got ideas, man. Probably won't follow through, though. Maybe I can do just one tile. With these parameters it actually won't look out of place as a standalone terrain feature, like a stone hill or something.

Brainstorm time! Here is where I vomit out ideas for the terrain features I could do.

  • Pipes for wall features
  • Well
  • Sewer Grating at ground level with running water beneath
  • Large water/pool feature
  • Stargate-like portal as Centerpiece/Objective
  • Park
  • Merchant Carts
  • Arched Walkways over Water
  • Magnetic Lamps for scatter terrain
  • Collapsed bridge

Well, that's enough rambling for me. I just thought I'd get some ideas out there considering that this blog is about my progress in the hobby as well as my plans. Maybe I'll work on a tile this weekend considering I have an additional day off.