Friday, June 26, 2015

Malifaux Factions: The Ten Thunders - To Defeat Your Enemy, Become Your Enemy

Malifaux. We've got Wild West cowboys, ghosts and zombies, steampunk engineers and their creations, otherworldly demons, and hillbilly gremlins. What more could we possibly need?

How about ninjas to infiltrate and aid all of those other groups, all while pursuing their own goals?

The Ten Thunders are a faction unlike any other. In addition to being a faction unto themselves, they meld with every other faction in the game. Every Ten Thunders master with the exception of Shenlong can be hired either as Ten Thunders or as something else, and with their Infiltration abilities they can still bring their crew along even out-of-faction.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Infested Planet: Great Theme, Great Game

To me, Infested Planet demonstrates the power of two things: that a fantastic game-play trailer can hook you into purchasing a game, and that a great thematic atmosphere can make a good game great.

Infested Planet immediately sets you up as the underdog, and that's truly the great appeal of this game.  It captures that feeling so well that you want to keep playing, want to keep going up against a campaign that willfully makes each level a dilemma where you're grinding through thousands of foes just to stay alive.  Soon, the sound of mini-guns warming up to stem back the tide of bugs will be the most beautiful music to your ears.  Welcome to the front lines, soldier: try not to die.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Post Replica: An RPG For Non-Humans

     Listen, you may not know it, but I'm a total sucker for trans-humanism. The chance to examine what it means to be a cognizant human when we have the ability to modify our bodies with robotics and technology is a subject that I find endlessly enthralling. It's for that reason that I often find myself playing characters that want to transcend life and attain immortality, whether that be through song and story, replacement organs, or just good old fashioned lichdom.

Post Replica: a tabletop RPG for the 21st century

     A friend of mine turned me on to a Kickstarter that is stabbing right into the heart of what it means to be human by approaching humanity from the complete other side of the spectrum. Post Replica has the players controlling sentient androids in a world that has been utterly torn apart by the fear of true artificial intelligence. The setting takes place after the fall of civilization in a burnt and destroyed wasteland, with human communities eking out a meager existence among the bones of their grandfather's achievements. Androids were built for war, and like many tools of destruction were so frighteningly effective that humanity tried to shut them down. Fifty years after the end of the War, the androids begin waking up again into a hateful new environment. Xenophobia and mistrust run rampant, and the cleverly disguised androids must avoid suspicion while trying to find out what life means to them. Beset by monstrous, broken androids that have lost their own consciousness on one side, on the other the crusading Reclaimer sect of humanity out to wash away the taint of machine minds, Post Replica forces the players to consider what they will do in a hostile and alien world.

     With a setting that's already chock full of amazing content for deep and serious narratives, the team at Rational Basis Media is tackling this project with modern tools that have been largely ignored by more traditional games. In the interest of knitting together a living world the Post Replica team is developing an app for tablets, phones, and computers that will deliver algorithmicly generated plot hooks for the party to explore. While this provides a broad range of material for the players, it also allows the game to receive feedback about missions whether successful or unsuccessful and incorporate that in other player's stories. If Farmer John has been asking for help from local androids and it ends up being a Reclaimer trap, perhaps some other group will run into that dastardly front in the future.

There's still a base class system, androids or not.
     I feel like this is a new paradigm for role playing games to explore. MMOs have enthralled players around the world for countless hours (about 6 million hours in World of Warcraft alone, and that was measured back in 2012) by providing reactive worlds with evolving storylines. Many role-playing game franchises have meta plots that can be advanced and affect the nature of the content in the game, like World of Darkness' deep lore, or the Legend of the Five Rings' overarching plot being influenced by the outcome of their yearly CCG tournaments. Post Replica is the first role-playing game (to my knowledge) that supplies the granularity of story offered by a dedicated GM with the immersive world-building supplied by an MMO. As a parallel I know that Dystopia Rising - a post-apoc LARP with franchises throughout the country - has a similar system, but they also have the impetus of 7 years development with a massive community that spans the United States.

     I bring it up because the Rational Basis Media team is only a handful of people. They are inviting us, the players, to join in on their player-driven narrative and world-building through this app. As an avid LARPer, I'm incredibly excited to find something that will allow me to get my role-playing fix with the regularity of a proper forum, without the weird baggage that comes from such defunct platforms as AIM Chatrooms or anonymous role-playing forums. Or seedy alleys behind the Auction Houses in MMOs.

The ruined Androids that wander the wasteland give you and your characters a bad name.  It's up to you to either blend in, or help take these things out.  Or both.

     Mechanically, Post Replica offers a fun mathematical puzzle. "Potential" stats dictate how many dice you can roll, while a "Capability" stat lets you reroll some amount of those dice to achieve a target number. If I have 4 Discipline and 2 Clarity, when faced with a distracting nightclub I can roll 4 dice, then re-roll any 2 in order to hit a target of 12, to successfully track a fleeing suspect out the back door.  It's a system that supports succeeding, and since it has multiple dice the probability distribution will end up being a modulated Gaussian curve. I find the normal distribution tends towards better narratives, because it causes wild successes and massive failures to be more rare and thus more dramatic. That tickles the engineer in me. I prefer die pool systems to d20s and flat probabilities.  If you want to take a closer look at the mechanics, check out the Kickstarter materials.

     There's a lot of deep philosophic territory to be explored in the setting that I'm itching to delve into. Acting as entities that are distinctly nonhuman, but still swaddled in the appearance of humanity speaks to an understanding of the concept of being an outsider that every person has to deal with daily. Being a human means being separated from others, and by drawing that stark boundary between the "self" and "others", Post Replica offers the potential for some really emotional and cathartic role-play, if you choose to follow that path.

     Of course, if you'd rather just play a bad-ass Blade Runner style robot, carving out your life in the apocalypse, bashing renegade androids and cultists alike, then I'm sure you'll find the game you're looking for in Post Replica just as much as me.  Go ahead and take a look, as there's only ten days left to get in on the ground floor to this great looking system.

      If you want to talk to me about robots, games, robots that play games, or games about robots, hit me up on Twitter @Dkjolner!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Worms Armageddon: For Lulz and Glory!

Worms Armageddon has something of a cult following, and it’s not hard to see why. All of the usual qualities are there: it’s fun, quirky, a bit silly (okay, more than a bit silly), and occupies a niche all its own. I’d heard the title before, but I’d never actually played until a couple of weeks ago. A friend of mine has it on his computer and so, on a night filled with pizza, alcohol, and boredom, he talked me into giving it a try.

Worms. With bombs. That's really all you need to know.
The Worms series is an old one, and it's sort of a blast from a previous era of gaming. It's a physics-based war game, the kind you saw on computers in the '80's and 90's, like Bang Bang. In addition to LAN or online play through Steam, multiplayer can be played hotseat, as you and your friends crowd around one computer, taking turns trying to win.  All of this might seem a bit backwards and old fashioned now, but then you realize there's a very good reason why Worms Armageddon has lasted all this time as a favorite: it's just so damn fun.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Kat Murphy the Con Artist: Emotions and Manipulation in Role-Playing Games

     Kat Murphy, of the stellar Oneshot and Campaign Podcast over at the Peaches and Hotsauce network, sat down with me to discuss some of the finer points of storytelling and game mastering.     I asked Kat what was her greatest strengths as a Game Master, and she explained her technique of playing the campaign like an emotional confiendence game. If a GM is able to make the players feel certain emotions out of character, then it will draw them into behaving more in-character and deepen the sense of immersion.

     I've written about being a game master before, but Kat has some great insights here. If you want a tabletop RPG to feel like it's real and has some depth, you are going have to trick your friends a little.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Malifaux Factions: Embrace Freedom With The Arcanists

In my first article on Malifaux, I made it a point to talk about the sheer variety of flavor and play-styles that are available to try out.  There's something for everyone, and as people play the game, they often find they have a favorite faction: one that really captures either a particular way to approach war-games in general, or their thematic backstories resonate with them as a player.

Fight for freedom the smart way: with twelve foot steel golems!
After three years, the Arcanists of Malifaux are still my go to.  Sure, I've flirted with the Guild, with the Neverborn, with the Ten Thunders and Outcasts... but in the end, I always find myself being drawn back to the Arcanists.  Let me show you why for me, these underdogs are my favorite faction in this dystopian other-world.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Kaosball: Soccer with Barbarians. And Pirates. And Angels. And...

Going into the third period, the Barbarians are trailing by 3. They'll need to work fast if they want to catch up with the Ninjas. Here they go with a hard drive up center, OH! A fire trap! That's gotta hurt. The kung-fu panda takes the ball and- 

Wait, what?

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Kaosball. Cool Mini or Not created this game, which is apparently an attempt to answer the question, "how ridiculous can soccer be?" Half war game, half board game, yet another half being fantasy sport, Kaosball isn't quite like anything I've seen before. The object of the game is simple: Get the ball, take it to your goal, and score points. Along the way, you can do things like create walls, start fires, kill the other team (which is also worth points), and blatantly break the rules of the game.

You know, the usual stuff.