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Month: November 2017

Steam-Powered Hope

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you’ll permit me a quick aside from subjecting myself to weekly adventures in my Steam Library.

We are now entering the holiday season, and I certainly wish nothing but the best for all of you this Christmas season. However, for several people, it is a season of loneliness, hopelessness, and despair. The holidays, so frequently advertised as the most wonderful time of the year, can be especially trying to those already suffering from depression.

That’s why resources like the Calgary Distress Centre are so important. They provide a 24 hour hotline for those in need of assistance in time of mental and emotional crisis. This hotline provides a listening ear and a gentle voice to help someone in their darkest, most despairing moments. I know because I’ve used this service. It’s helped me get through some of the worst days of my life.

Furthermore, the Distress Centre does more than just provide the 24 hour crisis hotline. They also act as an information resource, they provide free professional counselling services, and they run the Connecteen, a confidential support service for teens and youth. The Distress Centre provides all these services free of charge, and their hotline is manned largely by volunteers.

In this season which promotes charity and goodwill towards all, I’d like to ask the readers of Almost Infinite to help support the Distress Centre. I know that there are dozens, if not hundreds of worthy causes asking for support during this time of year, and I don’t for a second pretend mine is any more deserving than others; this is simply the one I am most familiar with, and I’m using what small platform I have to promote it. In support of this organization, I’d like to introduce the Steam-Powered Hope funding drive.

For what it’s worth, I’m prepared to offer incentives for donation.

Below, you will find a list of every game in my library. This is the randomly-generated order of the games I’m playing for Full Steam Ahead. I decided at the start that I would play the games as the random order dictated, no matter how good or bad that order was. Now, I’m giving you all a chance to mess around with it, however you see fit.

For a $5 donation to the Distress Centre, you can move any game from anywhere on the list to anywhere else on the list. This means you could put all the games from the Prince of Persia bundle in order for $25 Or you could make me play through the Strong Bad games in reverse order. Or you could make your favourite game the very next one on the list. Or you could make me replay games I’ve already played.

For a $20 donation to the Distress Centre, I will add a new game of your choice to a location of your choosing on the list. I will cover the cost of purchasing the game, your only cost is the donation.

Donations will close December 31st. I know that it’s a lot to ask, but I’d really appreciate your support in this. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me in the comments. Without any further ado, here is the list. Game I’ve already completed have been italicized:

  1. Total War Shogun 2
  2. Assassin’s Creed 2
  3. The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind
  4. Arma 2: Operation Arrowhead
  5. Sleeping Dogs
  6. Supreme Commander
  7. Star Wars Battlefront II
  8. Jade Empire
  9. Wargame: European Escalation
  10. Half Life Deathmatch: Source
  11. Mount & Blade
  12. Street Fighter IV
  13. Arma 2 : PMC
  14. Bioshock
  15. From Dust
  16. Poker Night at the Inventory
  17. Poker Night at the Inventory 2
  18. Half Life 2: Episode 1
  19. The Ship
  20. Mass Effect
  21. BattleBlock Theater
  22. Mass Effect 2
  23. Divekick
  24. Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
  25. Age of Empires 3
  26. Batman Arkham Asylum
  27. The Ship Tutorial
  28. Sims 3
  29. Cosmic DJ
  30. Endless Space
  31. Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
  32. Brink
  33. Terraria
  34. Half Life 2: Deathmatch
  35. Hotline Miami
  36. FTL: Faster Than Light
  37. Bastion
  38. Age of Empires 2
  39. Eversion
  40. LA Noire
  41. Just Cause 2
  42. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People – 2
  43. Alpha Protocol
  44. Civilization V: Gods and Kings
  45. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode 2
  46. Total War Rome 2
  47. RWBY: Grimm Eclipse
  48. Strike Suit Zero
  49. Crusader Kings 2
  50. Cities XL 2012
  51. Awesomnauts
  52. Half Life 2: Lost Coast
  53. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People – 5
  54. Hitman: Blood Money
  55. Titan Quest
  56. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness, Episode 1
  57. Star Wars: KOTOR
  58. The Ship Single Player
  59. Monaco
  60. King Arthur II – Roleplaying Wargame
  61. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People – 4
  62. Psychonauts
  63. Stacking
  64. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
  65. Heavy Bullets
  66. The Wolf Among Us
  67. MLB 2K10
  68. Mount & Blade: With Fire and Sword
  69. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin
  70. Blood Bowl
  71. Arma 2
  72. Sid Meier’s Pirates!
  73. Banished
  74. Company of Heroes: Tales of Valour
  75. Borderlands 2
  76. Darksiders
  77. Saints Row: The Third
  78. Darksiders Warmastered
  79. Costume Quest
  80. Company of Heroes
  81. Gratuitous Space Battles
  82. Chroma Squad
  83. Half Life 2
  84. Grand Theft Auto IV
  85. Castle Crashers
  86. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
  87. Prince of Persia
  88. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II
  89. Arma 2: British Armed Forces
  90. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People – 1
  91. Hitman: Codename 47
  92. Super Hexagon
  93. Batman Arkham City
  94. Invisible, Inc.
  95. Grand Theft Auto V
  96. Grand Theft Auto IV: Episodes
  97. Jackbox Party Pack 3
  98. Team Fortress 2
  99. Organ Trail
  100. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts
  101. Kerbal Space Program
  102. Just Cause 2 Multiplayer
  103. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines
  104. Half Life 2: Episode 2
  105. Influent
  106. Kinetic Void
  107. Portal 2
  108. Torchlight 2
  109. Metro 2033
  110. Papers, Please
  111. Red Faction: Armageddon
  112. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood
  113. Speed Runners
  114. Universe Sandbox
  115. Lethal League
  116. Zeno Clash
  117. Tales from the Borderlands
  118. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
  119. Magicka
  120. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
  121. Super Meat Boy
  122. Audiosurf
  123. Civilization: Beyond Earth
  124. Racecraft Tech Demo
  125. Portal 2
  126. Batman Arkham Origins
  127. Sega Classics
  128. Civilization IV
  129. Bioshock Remastered
  130. Mount & Blade: Warband
  131. Strong Bad’s Cool Game For Attractive People – 3

The Temple

I went into last week’s Swords and Wizardry one-shot with one goal in mind: have a miserable village beside a resplendent temple, and make that the result of a magical glamour. That’s all. No maps, no written notes, just an idea stemming from a similar visual in Path of Exile when my witch said something like “I wonder what manner of magic this is” when she stepped into the Lunaris Temple for the first time. I sketched a crude map and added some names I plucked from an Uncharted Atlas map and had the players start rolling up some characters. My ideas were far from original, but that’s not necessary for tabletop improv. I just needed something that could move.

The players, whose characters were a loosely formed mercenary squad who banded together to deal with a bandit crisis but were dismissed as soon as things calmed down, dutifully reported to the tavern (because of course) where they heard that the patron of the temple was sponsoring a witch hunt. I was hoping that the phrase “witch hunt” would arouse some suspicion about his motives, but nobody grabbed onto that hook immediately. So I ran with it, knowing that whenever there is a way to play straight into the villains hands, players sometimes jump at the chance. Sometimes they should know better, sometimes it is unwitting, but a DM must always be prepared for the response “OK, sure!” when the villain is making demands.

I decided that there would be three sets of witches, of increasing difficulty. The first would put up more fight than one adventurer could handle, but having seven was complete overkill. The second I would make a relatively even match, and then the third would be as difficult as the rules suggest is possible. This would give the party an opportunity for some pause during the witch hunt, and hopefully to find a reason to cast Detect Magic, which was critically important to discovering that the temple was a lie. I had read the description of the spell ahead of time and decided that this would be the tell: if a person could see magic, they would see that there is something deeply wrong with one of the relics in the temple. It was not until after the first witch was killed, beheaded, and her hut set on fire that the magic-user found the occasion to cast that spell.

Character sheets for old-school D&D can be fairly simple, which is an advantage when you have one night to run an adventure from start to finish.

It was only after meeting the second witch, this time a pair, that the adventurers started to turn sides. Perhaps it was because it was readily apparent that these were more powerful than the last, as they reacted with annoyance rather than fear when a squad of heavily armed men and women showed up on their doorstep. Perhaps it was lingering remorse over not even trying to ask questions of the first one. Whatever it was, it was back to what I had expected would be the main plot of discovering the illusion. Because I didn’t take the time to prepare (a common DM sin) I felt that I was spending more time than I should have consulting the rule book. After a few awkward pauses (“you are on the road to the temple, please chat amongst yourselves while I frantically look something up”), I found that a single ogre-mage appeared to have hit dice suggesting that it would be an appropriate challenge for a party of seven. I quickly split the abilities and HD evenly into two creatures, there being two witches, but didn’t get to use this information yet because the adventurers decided not to continue the witch hunt.

Like many references, the Swords and Wizardry book offers information about antagonists who are primarily monstrous beasts who fight physically, rather than the humanoid spellcasters I was looking for. I had the same problem with the 4th Edition Monster Vault, though they saw fit to include a few things that aren’t instinct-driven dangerous cryptids. In the case of this adventure, the first witch was a blink dog according to the statistics provided in the Swords and Wizardry book.

The second set of witches sent the players back to the patron with a cursed scroll (looted from the last group of failed witch hunters who came through), which I rolled for the effect based on the table in the rule book. I was hoping for something immediate and decisive, whether instant death or emitting a strong odour for several days. In retrospect, I probably should have just declared it to be something like that rather than rolling on the table since the experience drain effect sent me back to the rule book trying to figure out what that means to a monster rather than to a player character. Once I came up with a way to handle it (pretend that the patron was going to be more powerful than he was, but that this scroll level drained him to the actual stats I had), the party started to dismantle the illusion. This provoked an angry response from the patron, who now had a matron counterpart.

See, I had those numbers for an ogre-mage in two persons and I wasn’t about to stop the action again to figure out how the patron should fight. So that is where the matron came from. The players even asked where she came from, did we meet her before? The answer, unfortunately, was uh yeah, she was around the whole time. She wasn’t.  She was an invention to make the action keep going as we were coming to the end of the fifth hour and it was time to move on to something else. It was time for a triumphant battle of… wait, no it wasn’t, this is old-school D&D where heroic plot lines are not guaranteed. It was time for the villain to cast sleep on everyone and get out alive. The players woke up and returned to town to find that the second pair of witches left the area after they destroyed the home of the potion merchant who was sympathetic to the patron’s witch hunt. With their job complete, the players’ party moved on. In my world, other people have other adventures while you are out having yours. The game may revolve around the players, but the world doesn’t need to. In case you were wondering, the plan for the third witch was to have a steampunk-ish gnome in a giant mecha suit. I try not to keep every cool idea on the “good” path.

So, what do I take from this experience? Swords and Wizardry is good for one-shots. Never neglect to keep different paths valid, whether “good” or “evil.” A DM does not need a detailed map or backstory, but combat statistics should absolutely be prepared beforehand. One good setting idea is better than all the written lore in the world. And lastly, never count on a large group of players to play their characters in a morally and ethically consistent manner. There is still a witch’s head in the possession of a fraudulent patron who is still at large, somewhere.

Full Steam Ahead: Arma 2 – PMC

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: None.

For those who have read my past posts, you’ll remember that I bought the Arma 2 bundle during one of the Steam summer sales. For those of you haven’t read or can’t remember the previous post, featuring Operation Arrowhead, I’ll sum up: I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like the over-complicated control scheme, and I really didn’t like the characters in the campaign. I didn’t play very far into the campaign, and I barely spent any time in the individual scenarios. Immediately after finishing the post, I was somewhat disheartened, because I thought I’d said everything that could be said about the Arma series in that one post. I had no idea what I was going to do when the other four games showed up in the random list.

Bad news: less than ten games later in the list, it’s time for another game in this military simulation series: Arma 2 – Private Military Company.

Good news: Arma 2 – PMC surprises me.

Welcome back to Takistan.

The Partial Success

“Here, try reading this,” my dad says. He is, in his retirement, enrolled in Latin classes. He hands me a printout of a passage that he had been looking at for his class. Not being fluent in any of the modern Latin languages, let alone the original, I certainly was not able to understand the whole thing. But between the cognates between English and Latin, cultural and scientific loan words, and cognates with the little French and Spanish that I have dabbled in, I was able to make out a few of the words.

Libro, Satyricon, celebrato, monstrum, lupus, ferrous, argentum. I don’t read or speak Latin, didn’t understand that it was a reference to a specific tale of a werewolf, but I managed to figure out that the passage was a reference to a book full of monstrous beasts of fantasy. My immediate thought was that I wish I did more of this at the D&D table. I think there is an unfortunate tendency towards the simplification of interpreting languages that aren’t “Common” which is a euphemism for English. Players are usually eager to check their character sheets to see if, by virtue of being a Dwarf, that it was Goblin or Giant or Orcish that they are assumed to be able to speak. But without the rule book saying that their character by virtue of race or class speaks the language fluently, the player might give up right away.

What about Giant? Can someone try talking to them in Giant? No? How about Goblin?

I can also appreciate as a DM who has definitely run some sessions with less time to prepare than what was desired, that it is a lot of work to either plan or improvise these extra steps rather than calling for an intelligence check, picking a number between one and twenty, and then either giving the player the page from your notes detailing what the ancient stele has written on it, or give them nothing if they fail. However, there are some things when it comes to extra effort on the DM’s part that makes more of a difference than others. As much as I like making visual maps, I have to admit that it’s not the highest priority a DM should have. One thing that I think does make a big difference is allowing for the partial success. An experience like the one I had in real life can make things really interesting. Think about it… rather than just having a scroll of unintelligible writing in their inventory, your players could get: something something vampire, something something cave, something something priestess. Even without expertise and/or the favour of the dice, this could be enough to keep them going on a (mis)adventure.

I don’t know if this is going to make it into the very next game that I run, but I do hope to remember that little moment I had when challenging players to try and make some sense of something that isn’t written in their everyday language. Overcoming a challenge should not always be an all-or-nothing scenario, especially not when it’s trying to pick apart a written text at the characters’ leisure. I think a really good DM is one who can make partial successes the most meaningful rather than reducing the game to rolling high numbers on polyhedral dice. As a player I would certainly rather go ahead with a partial success than be told “no” and get stuck because of that 3 on a d20. In a game of fantasy we’re certainly foolish to expect everything to be “realistic” but a little dash of realism here and there to make it feel like the character’s situation is a life that a person could live helps players feel more invested in their characters than in their dice.

Today (November 4, 2017) is officially the game day for Extra Life, but my team is holding our private event next week. If you have not yet done so, please consider clicking here to contribute to my page. Note that this year I decided to try something different and play in support of the CMN hospital in Puerto Rico because I am sure they can use some extra help. I will play for my home town again next year. I don’t know how long after official game day that my donation page will be available, so if you have the means and the inclination please don’t delay any further.

Next week, Alastair continues his Full Steam Ahead series with Street Fighter IV. If all goes well with running a tabletop adventure with my Extra Life group, I will post all of the DM’s notes with additional commentary on November 18th.