Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On procrastination and good reads

Well, I've come the point where I know exactly what I want to do with Chanbara, and I seem to be putting off actually doing it since it involves throwing out a fair chunk of the work I've already done on it.

See, when I revised the game last, I had the realization that most "ninja" skills were really covered by what I term exploration rolls.  Last edition they were x in d6 rolls similar to demi-human search rolls in D&D, but the potential increase from using a skill die made it seem too easy.  I want ninjas to be good at what they do, but not ridiculously so.  So the new edition uses a 2d6 roll, more like Cleric Turn Undead (again, in Classic, not AD&D).  Gone are the % Thief skills of D&D/Dragon Fist or the d20+modifiers of Flying Swordsmen.

Anyway, if you want to be stealthy, just roll 2d6 + your Constitution related skill die, vs. a target number set by the DM (or the 2d6 + Wisdom skill die roll of an opponent actively trying to spot you).  The same goes for dealing with security devices, acts of theft, bluffing or fast talking, and all that.

So, in the previous draft, the Tricks, special abilities mostly for shinobi types, ended up with a lot of combat powers, even though they're not mainly supposed to be about combat. 

Yet, even though I realize I need to scrap some and move others to the Maneuvers list in order to make room for actual special abilities related to acrobatics, infiltration, escape and sabotage, I keep putting it off.  Well, it's a 4 day weekend here in Korea thanks to the Chinese Lunar New Year, so maybe it's time to set Chanbara aside for a few days and focus on something else with my gaming time.

And that brings me to my next topic.  I have been taking advantage of our local English language library to read some classic sci fi novels that I somehow had never read.  In the past month I've read Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Card's Speaker for the Dead, and now I'm reading Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz

I'm still in the first section of Leibowitz, and already I've seen how big of an influence it played on the creation of Gamma World, especially the Cryptic Alliances.  Groups that want to preserve the old knowledge of the Ancients, groups that are threatened by that knowledge and seek to destroy it when they find it, groups that worship (the idea of) computers, etc. 

All of this sci fi reading is making me itch to play some Star Frontiers, Gamma World, or something similar (Mutant Future, Stars Without Number, something...).  Or maybe to run something myself.  I've still got a good idea for a Terminator post apoc game.  Or something set in Stephen King's Dark Tower universe.

It might be the sort of palette cleanser I need to get to work redoing the ninja tricks in Chanbara!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Magic Users

Ah, Magic-Users.  I know in the OSR that lots of people like to dispense with the Thief (not in OD&D!  Percentile skills suck!  Everyone should be able to find traps!) and the Cleric (Van Helsing + Templar Knight isn't in any source material!  Village priests shouldn't be monster slaying!  Heal-bot!), but in my opinion, no class causes more "game balance" discussion across editions than the Magic-User.

Frank is straight up about the MU class in his description.  This is the most challenging, complex character class in the game.  It also starts the weakest, but becomes the most powerful (what's these days known as the Quadratic Wizard).  There's not much for you to do in combat, except hang back and try to stay alive.  But if you can manage that survival at low levels, you get to experience the awesomeness of the class.

Into the nuts and bolts description of the class, we're told that MUs may not use armor or shields.  Not that they cannot or don't know how, only that they may not.  Feel free to interpret that as you will.  We're also told that they can only use a dagger as a weapon.  No explanations here, either.  Simply a restriction on the class.  I know as a kid, I just accepted that.  It was a game, games had rules.  These were the rules.  I wasn't thinking of the game as a simulation of reality - or even as a simulation of an actual fantasy world.  It was just the drawback you take on in order to be able to cast spells.

Next, we get what is a fairly standard warning in various D&D editions.  Don't mix up your character's level with spell levels.  They're different things.  I don't remember exactly, but I can vaguely remember some confusion among friends that I tried to teach the game to about that.  None of the people who were confused (if I'm remembering right) became regular players.

On the next page, we get a detailed description of spell books, learning spells, and spell casting in the game.  First off, we're told that the DM will inform the player of what spells are in the spell book.  It's been a LONG time since I've played that way.  We did that early on, but quickly made the adjustment to letting the player choose what spells they would have.  I wonder how many modern players would revolt at the "DM Fiat" of having their spellbooks dictated to them. 

We're introduced to the idea of a tutor NPC who teaches the MU the spells they gain each level (one per level), and told that until the PC reaches 7th level, they get spells from this NPC wizard.  I've tried making NPC magical tutors before in games, but players were never really interested in exploring the relationship with the tutor in game.  Maybe one day I'll try it again.

We're told that MUs never, but NEVER share spells.  Again, in practice, I've rarely encountered this between fellow adventurers, and spell knowledge is a good bargaining chip with NPC parties. 

Scrolls are introduced here, and players of MUs are going to obviously be keen to find scrolls.  We're told that an MU may add a spell to their spell book from a scroll (no time or cost listed to do so) if it is of a level they can cast.  If the spell is higher level, the MU can cast it from the scroll, or save it for transcription later.  Which reminds me that I should put a couple of scrolls of Power Word Kill or Teleport in my Megadungeon's upper levels just to see what the players do with them when they find them... 

The spells listed are to be considered "per adventure" at these levels, but as characters gain power and go on longer adventures, the MU is advised to buy a mule to carry the spell book so that spells can be relearned every day.  It's interesting that Frank uses the term "learning spells" rather than 'preparing' or 'memorizing' like in other editions.  As he notes, the MU's brain is like a blackboard, and casting a spell literally erases it from their memory.  In this system, the MU actually has to learn the spell every day!  That's actually an interpretation I like for Vancian magic.  Glad I reread that!

Oh, and of course there's again a note or two about how players don't need to learn any rituals or say any special words to cast spells in the game.  Satanic Panic!

I'll wrap up this post with one last note, and I'll do the spell lists in my next post.  In the third column on page 38, we actually get a description of the magic missile spell, saying that when cast the arrow follows the MU around for one Turn until used!  Man, I'd completely overlooked this years ago when it was a big debate on Dragonsfoot (which I mentioned last post).  I'm still of the opinion that a 1 round duration is better for the spell, but we've got it from Frank himself that that's how he intended it (and a quick check of Moldvay Basic also shows a "1 Turn" duration).  Interesting.

More on 1st and 2nd level spells next week!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Plugging Away at Chanbara

Today I made some small progress on Chanbara.  I'm currently reorganizing and expanding the various special abilities - the Maneuvers, Tricks and Secrets. 

The biggest change I'm making is to make some sub-types.  For example, Maneuvers will have some subtypes dedicated to weapon groups.  Tricks will have tags for social interaction, infiltration, espionage, etc.  Secrets will be divvied up between Ki (Chi), In (Yin), Yo (Yang), and the 5 Taoist Elements.  There will also be some catch-all general categories for things that don't fit anywhere else.

This means a lot more work for me, and for new players it will also be a bit more to look over to create a character.  But the advantage is that certain classes will be able to have access only to the subsets of abilities that fit their class.

The Kensei, or Weapon Master, will choose a weapon to specialize in, and then must take the abilities associated with that weapon first, and can take general combat Maneuvers with additional slots as they level up.  The Soryo (priest) class will have access to all Secrets, being a spell-casting class, but will also have the social interaction Tricks available (but not the ninja infiltration/escape stuff) since dealing with people (and intelligent monsters) is something priests are trained in.

More general classes, like the Bushi (Warrior) will simply have blanket access to all Maneuvers, and no Tricks or Secrets.  They can ignore the existence of sub-types and take whatever maneuvers they wish whenever they qualify for them.  Customization is their shtick. 

Players will have blueprints for certain archetypes, however, with the subtypes listed.  A fire-based Yamabushi might take all the Yo and Fire Secrets they can, along with the appropriate spells. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Center Pullout Sheets

In the middle of the Mentzer Basic Players Manual are/were eight pages (two double sided sheets) that could be removed by prying up the staples of the saddle-stitch binding, removing them, and refolding the staples.  Which I did as a kid, and I think all of the pages are around somewhere or other in my files.  But for this post, I'm looking solely at my PDF version of the Basic Set since it has them in the right order and I don't want to waste a lot of time digging through old maps, keys, and character sheets - because that walk down memory lane will take me hours as I pour over all the relics of my earliest gaming days.

Anyway, what do we have here?  Basically, all the useful charts, lists, and tables, plus a slightly less than useful character sheet, and a page of graph paper to be filled with the sample dungeon earlier.

The first page, p. 29, has an abbreviated version of the character creation process on the top half, and the weapons, armor and equipment price lists on the bottom half.  Want to create a Basic Set character?  Everything you need to do it, step by step, is given on this one page.

P. 30 gives us the advancement tables for all classes up to level 3, plus hit dice, Thief Skills, demi-human special abilities, encumbrance movement rate table, container volumes, and mule encumbrance/movement rates.  The oddity is that the prices of mules and saddle-bags (which are on the container chart) aren't given until the Expert Set.  I wish they had been included now, as we never really utilized them.  But then, since there were only about a dozen miscellaneous magic items and bags of holding are on the list, I don't think it was long before we didn't really need mules anyway.  But that's a pondering for another day.

Pages 31-32 give us the Basic character sheet, front and back.  But it's less that ideal, since the ability scores and saving throws of the nameless Fighter have already been filled in.  Also, the "Hit roll needed" chart at the bottom of p. 31 has the low level PC numbers to hit (all Basic characters use the same numbers) filled in already.  This, plus the fact that it's also filled in on the black character sheet on the back cover, led to one of my biggest "failures" to understand the rules early on.  We just used that chart for EVERYTHING.  Yeah, even the top dogs hit die wise like gold dragons needed to roll a 17 or better to hit someone in plate and shield.  Our earliest games were NOT low level slaughter-fests.  Sure, lots of PCs died and many were then forgotten, but a lot made it through when they probably shouldn't have.  It wasn't until I picked up the Companion Set two and a half to three years later that I finally got the "going up in levels/hit dice increases attack probabilities" thing into the game.

Now, I have to say, I really like this character sheet.  It's sparse but thorough.  I like the little shield graphic to record armor class.  I like that there are separate places to record normal gear and magical gear.  I love the "character sketch or symbol" box.  When I get around to making a character sheet for Chanbara (or really, probably paying Lee B. a bit of cash to do it for me) I think I'll try to go for a more slimmed down basic design like this.

Page 33 is a sheet of graph paper.  Thick black lines, looks to be maybe 4 squares per inch (my inch ruler and measuring tape are at my kindergarten right now, since our American math book had a page of measuring in inches, and our Korean kindie sure as heck doesn't have any). 

Page 34 has six sample characters to complement the sample Fighter from the tutorial.  The cleric, magic-user and thief all have the same ability score rolls (wonder if Frank actually rolled a set, or if he just decided which scores to use on his own?), obviously placed in different areas.  Everyone gets one below average score (an 8, for a -1 penalty), two average scores (9 and 11), and three above average (14 for +1, 16 and 17 both for +2).  Demi-humans get a slightly different set, although again all three classes share the same numbers.  They have one low score (7 for -1), three average scores (9, 9, 11), and two high scores (14 for +1 and 16 for +2).  All of the characters have starting equipment, including weapons, armor, and spells.  The Magic-User has Read Magic and Sleep, the Elf has Read Magic and Charm Person.

The next time I run a pick-up game somewhere, I think I'll pull these guys out to give to players.  I also am pretty sure that one of the NPC parties I have in my megadungeon uses these characters along with the names given in each class description describing how to use the level titles [Fleetwood the Warrior, Belrain the Warrior-Medium, etc.].

Page 35 has the spell lists for Clerics and Magic-Users.  All 1st level Cleric spells with name, range, duration, effect.  All 1st and 2nd level M-U spells with the same descriptions.  I remember someone years ago on going on about one of the typos on this table.  Magic Missile is listed as a duration of "1 Turn" here, where later it's given "1 Round."  Much debate about which was right, and whether a Magic-User at higher levels could cast multiple times before going into a battle to have all these magical arrows floating around him and unleash like 100d6 damage on some poor unsuspecting Elemental Ruler or something.  For this reason, I prefer the one round or instantaneous duration.

Finally, page 36 has combat related charts.  There is the combat round sequence, the hit charts (again, only the ones for Basic level characters), armor and AC chart, variable weapon damage table, missile fire ranges and penalties table, saving throws for all classes (up to level 3) including Normal Man (but not for more powerful monsters), prime requisite bonus/penalty table, ability score modifiers, special intelligence and charisma adjustment tables (two separate ones), and the retainer hiring process sequence. 

Now, for all those people saying that the Mentzer Basic Set is terrible for reference during a game, I'd just direct their attention to these pages.  Minus the graph paper and character sheet, there is really enough information here to run a simple game, assuming you had a module with monsters, maps and treasures (or a home-made adventure) prepared.  Everything a player needs for levels 1-3 is right here in a basic form.

Of course, being removable pages meant they can be easily lost or separated.  Like I said, I'm pretty sure I still have all of them among my various notes (in a plastic file box), but they're not in handy reference form for a game.  I should think about making my own DM screen maybe (of course adding in higher level info, too...).  If you've lost or just can't be bothered to find these pages, yes, the Mentzer Basic Set is not a great reference book.  But with them, it is.
Image from earlier in the book.  I think I forgot to use it, so I'll stick it here.
And folks, we are now more than halfway through the Players Manual!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Is it OK to be arbitrary?

Working on Chanbara again today, and I'm almost done with the revisions to the actual game-play parts.  I decided to do this part first this time, to better build the classes and special abilities.  Last time, I did the classes first and then tried to match game play rules to the classes.  It's going much faster this time, partly because I only need to rewrite or tweak sections of the previous version, rather than construct it whole cloth.

And I'm now at the part about rewards.  The game will allow standard D&D style play, where you go fight monsters and bring back loot.  It's a good way to run a fun game, so Chanbara supports it.  But since this is a Japanese fantasy game of samurai and ninja, I want the game to do more than that.

I mentioned a while back that I was re-inspired to do more than just D&D in funny hats with this by some posts by Tedankhamen.  I want to reward players for behaving in genre appropriate ways, but without needing to go into pages and pages of blather about Confucian societies, Bushido, etc.  Because really, I'm not an expert on that stuff, so it would be blather.  Maybe better blather than someone who's only experienced Japan through anime, but blather nonetheless.

Giri, or duty/obligation, was easy.  I'd figured that one out before Ted penned his pieces.  PCs have allegiances to their feudal lord, high abbot, jonin ninja, sensei, family, comrades in arms, peasant association, etc.  The norms of a Confucian culture expect one to respect these bonds.  In game terms, the simple way to do that is to award gold for XP, but ONLY for gold donated to one of the (NPC) groups a character is allied with.  Of course, story awards can also be given for performing some duty or quest, but the fastest advancement comes from giving up your hard earned loot to advance the goals of the group in which you are a member.

Ninjou, or humane/compassionate acts, is harder.  As a GM, you can't railroad your players into behaving that way.  At least, not if you want the campaign to go anywhere.  So there needs to be some system to recognize and reward such acts.  But again, assuming the average person who buys Chanbara* and plays it won't have a strong grasp on Japanese culture and genre traditions, it's going to be hard for them to figure out what constitutes an act of "ninjou" and what doesn't.  And how to reward it?

At first, I thought about an Action Point or Story Point mechanic as a reward.  But I don't think having meta-game mulligans will add anything to play.  So that leaves us with XP awards and in-game rewards.  In-game rewards should of course be possible, but then they are also possible for acts in line with Giri as well as acts that aren't in line with either giri or ninjou.  So there's no point in trying to codify them.  The XP rewards, though, are trickier.

In adventures I write and publish, I could always include examples of how an encounter could be resolved to earn a "ninjou" reward.  But that doesn't really help the GM making his or her own adventures a lot.  I could do a bunch of research and blather on for pages and pages in a (probably vain) attempt to get the reader to understand a foreign cultural concept - but I won't.

Instead, what I'm thinking of now is something like this.  Acts of "ninjou" will have a set reward level, something like 5% or 10% of the XP needed to reach the next level.  I'll give a brief example of the idea of what acts of ninjou are like (similar to Ted's post linked above).  During play, any player may elect ANOTHER player's actions as deserving of a "ninjou" award.  Arbitrarily.  All other players and the GM must agree that the action was in-line with their understanding of the concept.  If they agree, the player earns the bonus XP for their character.  Again, arbitrary.  And while it means that some groups will misunderstand the concept and award things that a Japanese person might feel doesn't qualify, I think it won't matter.  It will be as rare or as common as the group wants, and will hopefully get players thinking of ways to RP their character so as to earn the award.

And groups that just want to loot ruins full of bakemono and rokuro-kubi can ignore it and have fun hacking and slashing through their adventures with nothing lost from the game-play.

Best of both worlds, I think.

*yes, I'm going to have it for sale, which means a PDF and a PoD version since so many people asked me for print versions of Flying Swordsmen.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Adjusting the classes in Chanbara

At the moment, here is my thinking on what classes to include in the game:

Budoka (Martial Artist): expert at weaponless hand-to-hand combat, will be customizable to emulate karate, jujitsu, aikido, sumo, or whatever.  Will have access to some weapons, probably no armor.  Special Abilities: a mix of Maneuvers and Tricks.  Spells: none.

Bushi (Warrior): all around combat expert class, can be a samurai, ronin, peasant hero, or what have you.  Will have access to all weapons and armor.  Special Abilities: lots of Maneuvers.  Spells: none.

Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior): stealthy warrior with some mystical training, for the ninjas who want cool magical powers.  Will have access to some weapons and light armor.  Special Abilities: a mix of Tricks and Secrets.  Spells: none.

Kensei (Weapon Master): combat specialist devoted to a single weapon.  This could be a melee weapon, ranged weapon, or even unarmed combat.  Will have access to a small number of weapons, no armor.  Special Abilities: only Maneuvers, fewer than the Bushi but with faster advancement for the specialized weapon (probably).  Spells: none.

Ninja (Spy): an expert at espionage, sabotage, and infiltration.  This will be the more traditional "gadget" oriented ninja class.  Will have access to all weapons and light armor.  Special Abilities: lots of Tricks.  Spells: none.

Onmyoji (Exorcist): diviners and experts trained in combating spirits and demons.  Will have access to all weapons and no (maybe light) armor.  Special Abilities: a mix of Maneuvers and Secrets.  Spells: yes.

Sohei (Warrior Monk): religiously trained fighters with some mystical abilities.  Will have access to most weapons and all armor.  Special Abilities: a mix of Maneuvers and Secrets.  Spells: probably none, maybe a few.

Soryo (Priest/Monk): religious figures who have a knack for dealing with social situations.  Can be used to emulate mendicant monks, shrine maidens, etc.  Access to limited weapons and limited armor.  Special Abilities: a mix of Tricks and Secrets.  Spells: yes.

Yamabushi (Mystic): religious hermits who practice asceticism to gain physical endurance and magic powers.  Access to limited weapons and limited armor.  Special Abilities: lots of Secrets.  Spells: yes.

As always, Maneuvers are combat related abilities, Tricks are for exploration and interaction, and Secrets are magical abilities.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Progress on Chanbara

I figured out the changes I wanted to make to the game system.

First of all, instead of d6 rolls for most exploration/interaction rolls, which skill dice give too big bonuses for, I've switched them to 2d6 rolls (similar to Classic D&D turn undead rolls).

Second, I figured out how to make the spellcasters non-Vancian but (hopefully) not overpowered.

Spellcasters know X number of spells by their level.  They can cast any spell they know once per day, and may make a 2d6 roll, possibly with a skill die bonus if the skill die they rolled matches the domain of the spell, to be able to recast the spell.  The target numbers for recasting get higher with each casting, up to a maximum of 5 times for 1s through 3rd level spells, 4 times for 4th level spells, and 3 times for 5th level spells.  TNs are also more difficult for higher level spells.

Additionally, in order to allow for "quests" for spells, or spells to be taught as rewards, caster classes get a number of "spell points" each level based on their primary ability score's skill die.  When they encounter a teacher, a spellbook, or something else they might be able to learn a spell from, they can spend 1 spell point per level of the spell, and one devoted day of study, or a bit of study every day for a week for each spell point spent to learn a new spell.

I think this should work the way I want it to, allowing casters a bit more power, but without allowing them to run away with spells.

In other news, while searching for the image above in Google, there's a lot of Soviet space race propaganda posters that would make good illustrations in a retro-future sci fi RPG.  Maybe once I get Chanbara done and Flying Swordsmen revised (and maybe do a bit more work on Presidents of the Apocalypse), I'll get to work on "Rockets & Saucers."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Mentzer Cover to Cover: Fighters

The Cleric class took four pages (2.5 of class description, 1.5 of First Level Spells), but the Fighter class takes only one.  And doesn't really need more.

As the descriptive text tells us, every party of adventurers should have at least one Fighter, with more being better.  Fighters don't have special abilities, but their normal abilities (to hit and damage monsters, to take hits and damage, to use a variety of weapons, their generally high Strength) make them self-sufficient and more likely to survive than other classes, especially in solo or small group adventures.

I can agree with that.  And the advice also dovetails nicely with some other advice to new players - Fighters are a simple yet effective class.  As a veteran gamer, I can appreciate efforts like 3E and 4E D&D to give the Fighter more options (I do a bit myself with my current set of house rules, and Flying Swordsmen/Chanbara are all about options to customize your fighting style).  *And now I'm failing in my Google search to find the artifact I'm looking for.  There was an ad from Dragon or Dungeon magazine or some such, giving advice to beginner players to ignore what the group says about needing such and such class to fill a gap, in your first game insist on playing a Fighter.  Maybe someone out there can help with a link, I'm not finding it.*

Anyway, Fighters are simple to play yet effective for a reason.  I like that.  They're also the fantasy trope most likely to be familiar to new players.  We all have heard stories of King Arthur and his Knights, or Greek heroes like Theseus and Hercules, or Conan, John Carter, and other pulp heroes, not to mention that aside from Gandalf the Company of Thorin Oakenshield and the Fellowship of the Ring are mostly made up of what in D&D would be Fighters.  Swords & Sorcery and High Fantasy/Romance alike tend to feature the guys with swords as the heroes and the guys with sorcery as the villains.

On the text itself, one thing that jumped out at me on reading this that didn't upon reading the Cleric entry is in the "XP" section.  When you collect the listed number of XP, you automatically move up to the next level.  Again, this is a point of the rules that became ingrained in me from the start.  I've never liked the "training" rules in AD&D.  Yes, it's more realistic to need to train (and it can siphon off excess cash), but I'm not sure that I find those rules to be fun.  Much better to just let the characters level up when they have the points, and stick to the adventure, IMO.

Another interesting tidbit is at the end of the description.  It advises players of Fighters to seek out magical weapons, and also especially potions of healing, since they're more likely to need them.  Funny that the other Basic Set potion that is most useful to Fighters, the Potion of Growth, is not mentioned.  Magic armor is also not mentioned.

Movie Review: Ender's Game

On New Year's Day, the family and I went to the cinema.  My wife and son saw a dubbed into Korean kids' movie called "Dinosaur Adventure" (may have a different name in English, I didn't check, that's the Konglish name anyway), while I went all by my lonesome to see Ender's Game.

And I liked it. 

Short digression about the political BS, feel free to skip to the next paragraph:
Now, I know there are many people who said they were boycotting this movie for political reasons.  They don't like Orson Scott Card's devout Mormonism and his political activity against homosexual equality.  But just like I don't let Robert E. Howard's or H. P. Lovecraft's personal views on race detract from my enjoyment of their fiction, similarly I don't care that OSC may take a fraction of the $8 I spent on a ticket and possibly use it to lobby against equal treatment for gays/lesbians.  He's got a right to free speech, even if I disagree with him. 

Now that that's out of the way, on to the movie review itself.  Since the movie's been out for two months or so already in North America (it just opened here in South Korea), and since a lot of readers of this blog may also be familiar with the books, please forgive any spoilers I may have in here.

The movie opens quickly, with Ender's first confrontation with a bully after getting his monitor removed, and before you really know it, he's headed off to Battle School with Colonel Graff.  Already there are some elements being condensed, such as Bean being in Ender's launch group (or maybe I'm misremembering the novel?).  Soon, Ender has earned his launch group's respect and he's graduated to Salamander Army.  The plot moves along quickly, but yet it still manages to hit all of the important parts.

Personally, I wish they'd had more time for more of the Battle Room, but we see enough (barely) to set up some of the things Ender will be doing later when he's in Command School.  And if Battle School seemed condensed, the parts at Command School really get cut short, but it makes the movie flow well.

We skip some of the subplots.  Bernard is there, but downplayed.  We don't see anything of Valentine and Peter's subplot back on Earth, which actually was just as well.  It may play into the book sequels (haven't read them yet), but in this film it would have just been a distraction.  This is Ender's story, and they stick with him.

There were a couple of places where they soft-balled a few issues, a bit of Disney-fication.  But while I think that takes a bit away from Ender's internal struggle, the film-makers did have a lot on their plate, and this may make Ender a bit more sympathetic to a general audience.

The characters were all true to their depictions in the novel, and I think that's important.  If the plot is condensed, and the ending is modified slightly (not the salient parts, really just condensing two locations into one), the film still felt true to the source.

This is not your standard style "military sci fi," but it was well done, moving, and relays the message of the novel.  One bone to pick is that the trailers for the movie pretty much showed the whole ending of the film.  But considering that's the most "action packed" part, I can see why marketing people did it that way.  If you haven't seen it yet, and haven't read the novel, just be warned that it's not an action movie, it's a coming of age drama with a military sci fi backdrop.  Don't let that keep you away from it.  It's worth seeing.

Compared to the last movie I saw, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, this movie feels like the creators really cared about the book and wanted to bring it to the screen, rather than just making something full of sound and fury signifying nothing that would rake in a big box office.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Is it third thoughts or fourth thoughts by now?

Was gonna title this little post "Second thoughts on my second thoughts" but I'm not really sure what iteration of the current redesign process this is.

Yes, talking about Chanbara again.

Just the other day, I posted about having three base classes, each with a pair of subclass options.

Now, I'm thinking of just going with seven or eight simple base classes, which can then be customized with the combat maneuvers, tricks, and secrets special abilities.

Now, to decide what exactly those classes should be!

Got an opinion?  You're on the internet, you'd better have one!

When you think of feudal/fantastic Japan, what are the character tropes/archetypes that spring to mind?  Leave a comment.

If I get enough variety, maybe I'll post a poll later.  But I'll likely ignore the results unless there's some archetype that everyone just loves that I hadn't made its own unique thing.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Outcasts of Ur

Justin ran another session of Vaults of Ur last Saturday, the last game of the year for me.  Fitting that the play report of it then becomes my first post of 2014!

We had some new players joining us.  Gord has been in our Facebook group for a long time now, but finally got around to playing with us, as ...crap, maybe I should have posted this earlier, I forgot his character's name, but he was a gecko-like Beastman. 

Gino, who is new to Busan, also joined us, as a Tengu Thief named ...again I forget.  Sorry, guys.  Usually I write them down.  I will for sure next time.

And while Dean couldn't make it (and Elder Karl's character sheet was lost in his computer crash), Alexei was there playing Maya the Elf (with more or less the same retinue from my megadungeon game the week before), Jeremy had Noctis the Orc with new sidekick Sadaauk the Orc (more of an assassin type than gladiator type), and I was playing both Thidrek the Sleestak and Thomas the Visionary. 

I joined a bit late, with the party having been sent through one of the teleportation pools out of Fort Low into exile.  We were in a large chamber that was apparently part of the old orcish civilization's underground city.  We explored quite a bit, and had a battle with garbage.  Living garbage.  Or maybe it was a magical construct of some sort.  Thidrek got pretty beat up by it, but managed to give it the killing blow in the end. 

Every round in the combat, Justin had Thomas the Visionary up first on the roster, so he kept asking what Thomas was doing.  The answer every round was - staying the heck back.  Thomas has divination type spells, and lots of useful knowledge, but other than a shield spell, he has on combat prowess at all.  :D

We didn't find any loot, so we continued our explorations.  Thomas's Locate Object spell did cue us in that there was a large source of water across a chasm, so we made our way towards the bridge.  Across it, Gino's thief scouted ahead and heard a large force.  He was less than perfectly stealthy coming back, and the force sent some of their men our way.  After a brief parlay in orcish done by Noctis, we made peaceful contact with a merchant and his savage, tattooed guards and mutant white ape pack beasts. 

After discussing our options and trading the undead captain's helmet for information (with Thidrek using one of his ESP potions for insurance purposes), we decided we could trust this guy well enough, and plan to travel with him to the "City of the Veiled Ones" (apparently the freak masked orcs we fought just before getting framed for murder by the ogres). 

Should be interesting, but Justin will be back in the States most of January, so it will be a while before our next adventure.