Things to Look For In a Tabletop RPG

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I love Dungeons & Dragons, everyone already knows this. But, I found myself wanting to go outside of that game in both setting and mechanics. My players got roped into running a D20 Modern campaign, which was a bit of a shock to my players who were used to 5e’s more streamlined approach when they opened up the skill and feat lists. D20 Modern’s character sheet has been removed from Wizard of the Coast’s website, perhaps stuffed in its archive mode.

A Google search leads to a fan-made character sheet, and you can only find the books at game stores that sell used copies (Games and Stuff gets a shout out here) or Amazon. It was during my search for a system (which I will write about in an upcoming post since I did manage to find one) that I eventually came to understand something in RPG product reviews.

I found that many product reviews lack a lot of information that I personally wanted to know. Usually, they boiled down to discussing mechanics and general “feel” of the system, but would only bring up cost and such in a very basic way. So, I wanted to compile a list of criteria that I had for purchasing a tabletop roleplaying game.

Cost of Entry

Simply put, if one wants to actually start playing, what do they need? I often hear about prices for core rulebooks discussed as if they’re in a vacuum when you usually need additional implements such as dice to play. This usually means that I end up looking at the introduction to find out what else I need, such as decks of cards, dice, and so forth.

Partly because my players are college students, and also because I try to be budget-conscious with my gaming decisions, I tend to go for systems that are less than $30 to buy core rulebooks for. Even now, my players are still getting their own copies of the 5e Player’s Handbook, which is understandable when the only thing separating you from total starvation is Cup Noodles.

Ease of Use and Ease of Explanation

Some RPG systems require a veteran player to show you the ropes. This doesn’t make them bad, but it’s severely limiting if you have a player base that doesn’t consist of veterans and you yourself don’t have experience with the system. My nightmare with playing the Star Wars RPG by Fantasy Flight Games is such an example. I’m sure that if a veteran sat down with me and ran through the entire system that I’d eventually get it.  But, can a completely fresh group sit down and play through a setting without succumbing to boredom?

System Flexibility and Portability

Dungeons and Dragons and, by extension, Pathfinder are exempt from this rule because of their popularity. However, for other games, I’ve found system flexibility to be a key issue when determining whether or not I want to purchase a new system. Since every system takes time to learn, it’s better to have a few systems that you use a lot as opposed to many systems that are only used in select circumstances (unless you have really patient or voracious players and money to burn).

In fact, I found myself looking for a “Not-D&D” system, which could be used when modifying D&D was too impractical and I wanted something that D&D didn’t specialize in.

Of course, there are systems that are good at solving particular design issues, such as GUMSHOE which does investigative play.

Publisher Support

Of course, when you play a tabletop RPG, you are going to have to visit the publisher’s page to download a character sheet. Additionally, you’ll probably want to see if they have additional rules supplements, campaign settings, premade adventures.

Are the character sheets printer friendly? I’ve seen many times where an aesthetically pleasing sheet gets the axe from me because of the sheer volume of ink it would require (even worse when they make these sheets in color). Are they form-fillable in PDF form? They don’t necessarily need to be since you’ll be erasing and writing stuff down anyway, but it is certainly nice if you have poor handwriting and need to write in static content.

Is there an easily accessible reference sheet that players or the GM can use? One RPG I looked at, which had problems with book organization, compounded this by having no GM or player reference sheet. Something that can be inserted into a GM screen is extremely helpful.

Is there a free introductory adventure meant to acclimate players and GMs to the game? Does the publisher have a “Getting Started” section that helps potential buyers pick what they need to play? Are there introductory rules for the game that can be downloaded as a PDF and played free of charge?

Is there a System Reference Document? How thorough is it? Has some content been removed or expanded upon? Has errata been covered on the publisher’s site?

This is a particular bugbear of mine (pun very much intended) because I find that nothing sours me on a system than a website that’s difficult to navigate or that is lacking content. If I don’t feel that the publisher is really supporting the product, it’s hard for me to get invested.

By the same token, there needs to be an easy access point, lest a neophyte get inundated with the sheer number of options. Otherwise, people will have no idea where to start.

Community

But a game where people play together is only as good as the people who play it. How easy is it to find a community? Do they have presences on Facebook, Reddit, and other channels?

Are they exchanging house rules? Settings? How is the user generated content handled?

I must confess that Wizards of the Coast’s method of focusing on premade adventures as opposed to rules supplements was a strategy I didn’t understand very well until I looked at the corresponding community pages like DM’s Guild. In actuality, a publisher should not act as an opener of floodgates, showering players with content. Instead, there should be a mix of publisher and community support, creating an ecosystem where content can be shared.

So, I find this list to be something that I would use in any given review of tabletop RPGs, and eventually, I’ll submit some reviews of my own.

Rayman 2 and Nostalgia

 

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Screenshot of Rayman 2: The Great Escape. Taken by Dylan Greene

 

I don’t usually listen to nostalgia. My childhood was pretty awful all around, and I have little desire to return to it. However, I must confess every once in a while I manage to get my hands on games that I enjoyed long ago and get little jolts of nostalgimine (totally legit, I swear) from playing.

The retro game du jour is Rayman 2: The Great Escape. Released originally for the Nintendo 64 and ported to just about every console on the market at that time and beyond.

I have found that my reaction to old games has been split into two broad reactions. One is “Cool, I forgot about this!” and the other is “Ugh, I forgot about this!” Either way, memories give way to the reality of the game.

In the case of a game like Sonic Adventure, I got to rediscover fighting with the camera, playing as Big the Cat in fishing levels that make no sense in a Sonic game, and the cold realization that this and Sonic Adventure 2 was used as a blueprint for the ill-fated Sonic ’06. Not that there weren’t good moments, but it certainly lacked the sense of wonder I had conferred upon the game in my childhood.

Fortunately, Rayman 2 has not succumbed to that effect. All of the elements that I enjoyed are present and while I have gripes about small things the game is solidly built.

My main criticism, at least when it comes to the PC version, is that it suffers from “consoleitis”. This is when a console game is taken and ported to PC without much care. You can see this in the way that the controls are bound. Instead of the typical WASD for movement and building around that, the movement is bound to the arrow keys. The “A” key jumps, and the space bar attacks.

This goes against almost every PC gaming convention since the space bar is usually reserved for jumping. Short from diving into the game’s .ini files, there is no way to rebind these keys to my knowledge.

Still, once you get used to these controls, Rayman 2 is still Rayman 2. There are the Robo-Pirates, the cartoon fantasy world, and of course a limbless hero with a lot of pluck. Since it’s only $5.99 on Good Old Games, I’d definitely give it a shot!

Every Tear

Attribution Coming Tomorrow, Currently Mobile

My experience with Final Fantasy XV is slowly, but surely coming to a close. I had to start over so I could try once more with a steadier supply of gil and items. I have much to say on the game itself, more than a single article could possibly contain.

But, since I previously wrote about the soundtrack I figured it would be the best approach to start, because it is also the part of the game that I have the most positive things to say about. Not that I had a negative experience with the game as a whole, but if there was any element worthy of praise in my eyes, it would be Yoko Shimomura’s soundtrack.

I have heard some people describe the soundtrack as “disjointed”, and I think that has to do with the fact that the music’s intensity does not match the narrative’s intensity (though I think that has to do with the way the narrative is delivered in the game rather than anything that Shimomura did). However, when viewed as a whole product, I am pleased with how it turned out.

The soundtrack was quietly released on iTunes. I took the opportunity to snatch it up and give it a listen. Even though “Somus” is the main theme of Final Fantasy XV, the song that was played the most during Final Fantasy XV and the time it spent as Final Fantasy Versus XIII was “Omnis Lacrima”.

The best music in the soundtrack is built around the tone that Omnis Lacrima sets. The sweeping orchestral score, complete with choir, is excellent for conveying intense combat scenes in the game.I remember it being most effective when I confronted the Adamantoise (it seemed like a good idea at the time).

Another particularly noteworthy track was “Invidia”, which plays during the battle with Aranea Highwind. “Premonition” and “Nox Divina” are also tracks of a similar vein, which play upon summoning an Astral. When Shimomura is given the instruction to work with intensity, it brings out the best in her music. “Valse Di Fantastica” conveys a sense of triumph and adventure that

Where Final Fantasy XV’s music falters is that the other side of the emotional palette,  moments of extreme sadness, are not present. Though I fully believe this is within Shimomura’s capability to produce, the tracks that are meant to convey sadness don’t quite reach the levels that say “Aerith’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VII does.

“Sorrow Without Solace” feels too subdued, as does “End of the Road”. It feels like the listener is kept at arm’s length from really experiencing the sadness that the scenes are supposed to convey.

I think Shimomura’s talent for conveying emotion is clearly there, but I wish I could have seen the other side more clearly. While I love the intensity of tracks like Omnis Lacrima and Invidia, I also like the somber tracks that arouse a sense of deep sorrow. Somnus is the closest to get to this point, but it still doesn’t feel as impactful as Uematsu’s work. Perhaps in an another time, Shimomura will showcase that aspect in a different soundtrack. If she has produced this work already and I am not aware of it, please link it to me in the comments, because I would love to hear it!

The Apathy of Mighty No. 9

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As with many game releases, I often hold back for a while in order to get a more accurate and less charged point of view. I had heard of the infamous “Mighty No. 9”, helmed by Keiji Inafune. While he was not the creator of the Mega Man franchise as is often believed, he certainly was a major part of it.

There is a certain element of modern folklore to Mighty No. 9’s development history. Indeed, many can easily recount Mighty No. 9’s rise and fall.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Capcom virtually demolished the Mega Man franchise after Keiji Inafune’s severance, relegating the property to cameo appearances (which varied from extremely unflattering to being fairly well-received) and an abysmal mobile game with gameplay so stripped down that it was easily replicated within 24 hours, minus the card game aspect.

So fans were eager to back Inafune’s Kickstarter, the spiritual successor to Mega Man known as Mighty No. 9. But how was that going to play out?

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 These Aren’t the RPGs You’re Looking For…

 

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Photo by ClaudioT at Morguefile.com

In my experience as a Dungeonmaster, I have desired to expand my horizons. I have had a good experience with the diceless horror RPG, Dread. Although I prefer telling longform campaigns, Dread is a good one-shot horror RPG. I had a moderately successful run with my campaign that took place in the Silent Hill universe. I am retooling that for a D20 Modern campaign.

 

We also played Maid RPG, which quickly went off the rails. We had a good time playing it, but we weren’t drawn to it like Dungeons & Dragons. I wanted something meaty that I could sink my teeth into. Something that provided a rich backdrop upon which to build a larger than life story. If any universe fits that criterion, it was Star Wars. Indeed, the universe is very conducive to RPG storytelling.

If you look around at other properties, there are RPGs for a good lot of them. There are RPGs for Firefly, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek (which is upcoming), and probably any other piece of pop culture that is moderately familiar has a tabletop RPG.

Star Wars does indeed have an RPG, though perhaps more accurately you could say that it has three. In my attempts to broaden the RPG palette, I purchased the beginner games to each.

$90 and twenty minutes later, we reached a conclusive verdict: we were not adding it to our RPG lineup anytime soon.

So what happened? Why did it bomb so hard?

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When Will We Get a Good Final Fantasy Movie?

 

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Photo by mconnors at Morguefile.com

 

Recently, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV was made available for rent on iTunes. Being a Final Fantasy fan, I decided to check it out. But I was also keenly aware of its critical response on RottenTomatoes.

Was this going to be a hidden gem? Was it going to be the movie that defied previous expectations for Final Fantasy movies? Was it going to be an improvement on “Final Fantasy VII Advent Children” or the ill-fated “Spirits Within”? Spoilers for all three movies will follow.

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