Thursday, July 18, 2019

Adios Adsense!

Why I enabled this here is a mystery. Consider the following:
  • Ad-blocking is a security measure, one which I use.
  • I have seen ads used to push malware, browser hijacks, and viruses.
  • Ads are a privacy issue.
  • Everyone blocks them anyways.
  • I make at-most zero to one pennies a month with this on.

How stupid was I? I bought into the hype, you know, what could it hurt? See if this pans out. Ugh, not for me. I am out.

Adios. Goodbye. Ad embedding is a dying business model that just irritates your customers and readers. I am so happy to have turned this off, and please, enjoy the articles here in peace and quiet from now on.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Mail Room: Traveller RPG Box Set


This one I bought out of nostalgia, and I am glad I did. It has been a while since I wrote here, but I keep seeing clicks and hits, so I know there are people that miss me. First off, why I have been away.

My brother passed away. We played pen-and-paper games together for over 40 years.

Traveller was one of those.

So the last year I have been getting my life in order, boxing up 40 years of history and putting those in the garage, and wondering if I would ever return to these worlds. So here I am. Prime Day and a random purchase later an I am part of the way back.

I am not playing, but reading these days, and dreaming. I suppose dreaming is still important, thinking about the what-ifs, and the places never went to and never explored. Pieces of our imaginations which shall live on for as long as we are here, and forever if we choose to share. So share I shall.

First Glance: Basic Game, Basic Gear, no Ship Design

The boxed set focuses on the basic game, with a collection of classic ships, gear, and parts to get you started. No ship design is included, as that is in the High Guard book. Note the original Traveller little black books had a version of ship design that was different than the old-school High Guard's, so that is a difference here. Do I mind?

At first I did, and after a while of thinking about it I didn't. Some of the reviews I seen said their groups got along well without ship design, and stuck with the generous collection of classic designs shown here. I like the sort of "these are standard production designs and what were made" sort of game universe because it starts you out small. The designs are known and become familiar, like the iconic X-Wing or TIE Fighters of Star Wars. You get to know the ships inside and out, even the map layouts provided for each (nice job).

Besides, why waste the space on a cut-down ship design rules set? When if that is what you want, buy the expansion book and avoid repeating the cut-down rules here. I agree with this decision, and for a basic starting game it feels right for me.

Similarly, the gear is pretty generous, but sticks to the standards of what you would expect and gives a good collection to play with without going on for hundreds of pages. You get a good selection here to start with and I feel it gives you plenty of room to come up with your own additions. Some games I feel give you too much and your creativity feels restricted by choice paralysis.

Also, what you get in this box set is equivalent to the basic rule book, so you lose nothing by buying either - except (as I hear in some reviews) information on the default Traveller Imperium setting.

No Imperium and a Starter Sector

The default Third Imeprium setting is mentioned but not included. What you get instead is a scenario book and a sector map with only one subsector filled in - the rest is up for you to create and explore. Wow. Bold move here, and I actually love this. I love this so much I feel I have been waiting for this version for most of the time I have known Traveller. This setting is technically in the Imperium, but there is nothing stopping you from saying "no it's not" and picking one world as the stereotypical Human homeworld and saying "go explore!"

You could create a new map with "future Earth" as the center system and say "go explore!"

No Imperium needed. I love the lore and history of the original setting, but for new players and a new edition this feels right. For a player coming back and my imagination needing a jump start this feels right.

The Imperium is there if you want it, or feel free to ignore it. I like this a lot, and this is close to my feeling of the original Traveller in the first place, it is a hard sci-fi game where you go out and shoot lasers, explore planets, run cargo, meet new civilizations, and generally fly around and do whatever.

You could say Earth or "starting world X" is the only human planet and if we meet a planet with a population code, make up an alien race and go. First contact, trade, war, diplomatic intrigue, galactic rebellion, star federation, evil empire, or whatever makes you happy. You were one of the first to bump into them now play!

This really is an exciting and fresh and also faithful if you want it setup, and I like it a great deal. Nothing is overwhelming and the starting space is small enough you can wrap your head around it, fly around, and get into all sorts of trouble before you head off into uncharted space.

Cyberpunk Bug-Eyed Aliens

The themes of a cyberpunk-style feel plus the inclusion of bug-eyed aliens in the scenario book surprised me. This feels different, the technology is updated from the classic 1950's style bubble-helmet style of old, the 1970's evolution, and the "computers weigh tons" editions of the past. This game feels thoroughly modern, sort of like an Interstellar meets Aliens meets Blade Runner 2049 level of technology for me, if you are familiar with those movies. It is a harder-edged sci-fi than a Star Wars and not as technology magic as Star Trek, so it really fits my idea of a more grounded type of sci-fi where science and engineering are needed to save the day.

Bug eyed aliens? Yes, the scenario book has them, and this feels like it opens the door for them in the game, which is different than my expectations for classic Traveller. I could see throwing in blob monsters, bug monsters, floating amoebas, psionic starfish, brain creatures, space zombies, silicate rock monsters, fish men, space vampires, or any other sort of classic sci-fi race or monster in the game and call it good. The game's lore seems more relaxed, and I would definitely pick up a "monster book" with ideas if they had one. I would also include many more monsters in this game if I were to run it. The door is open.

Cyberpunk? Oddly enough I get that sort of vibe from this game. They have implants and other gear and even A-I intelligences. I am like, if bug-eyed aliens are in, then adding cyberpunk elements to the game feels like a unique and fun combination for a fresh take like this game. Plus augments give power gamers a way to work on their characters with new powers and abilities, so it adds to the tactical and character-building aspect to the game.

I would even add foam-rubber faced aliens with strange skin colors (or talking anthro-animal races) to the mix if it were up to me. This would be the trifecta of "modern sci-fi B movie" goodness for me without wandering into the big sci-fi tent pole universes' territory.

I do find the combination of cyberpunk versus bug-eyed aliens (with an explore as you go universe) to be a fun game to run with this and one I wished I had the chance to run back in the day.

Boxed Set Notes

It is worth noting the boxed set comes at a price premium over the basic rule book. You get maps, dice, and the scenario book, which add to the value considering you get all of the material in the core book plus all this. I like the focused nature of this product though and that made it worth the price of a AAA game (typically the standard edition) for me.

Also, the books are full color - which is a huge plus. The art isn't always eye-popping, which is a minus. The supporting material, like the starship maps and gear pictures, are very welcome and help set the visuals for the game nicely. Good presentation overall, mixed levels of art quality, and nice full color printing.

Overall, Worthy

In my feeling this is a worthy update to the system, more colorful, visual, and updated for the times while still keeping the original game's feeling of hard sci-fi. I like the modern twists and additions, the nods to classic sci-fi, and they feel at home here. I like what Mongoose has done, how this game has evolved, and how it is keeping up with the times instead of standing against the old editions (which are still out there and playable just as well). If you like those, play those!

This game, this edition, feels like is speaks to me, and the movies and experiences I see in sci-fi movies and TV shows. It does so without needing a licenced universe, and you are free to do and pull in whatever you want and play. You could use this as a sort of generic "D&D for space" sort of universe where the classic Traveller elements (tech, ships, rules, gear and feel) hold together stories and space maps that go off in a million unexplored directions. Your universe can be as big or as small as you want, even down to just playing in the Earth's collection of planets without FTL travel. You can use the Imperium, or not.

It feels like a perfect blank-slate open-ended sci-fi game, and that excites my imagination.

More hopefully soon as I dive in and enjoy this updated take on a classic. My summer reading and dreams of a thousand stars are finally here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Get Lamp


This is the classic text adventure documentary "Get Lamp." It is worth watching, as the text adventure genre is entangled with the early days of role-playing and shared storytelling. The film goes through the history of text – based adventures and speaks with many of the pioneers of the genre.

Randomness as Puzzle

What strikes me about this documentary and text adventures in general is the complete removal of randomness from the game. You will see concepts such as mazes and puzzles discussed here, concepts similar to dungeon based adventures in role-playing games that use dice. In general, players and designers of these games hate mazes and love puzzles. My tastes also agree with this generally.

One could say that randomness, character design, character builds, and combat strategy is merely a puzzle to figure out based in statistics. That is what I find fascinating about watching a documentary such as this and seeing the designers talk about puzzles and how they love them, and then taking this fact role-playing games and how pen and paper gamers love character design and combat strategy within the rules. It seems to me that "doing well" within a pen and paper game with dice and character design is just a puzzle to figure out. How do I improve the odds?

How do we survive in this impossible situation? What gives me as a character the best chances of winning? What gives us as a party of characters the best chance of winning, based on synergies and strategy?

The puzzles in today's are all based around statistics and rules design, and players eventually figure them out and find "best builds" that give them the greatest chance of succeeding against challenges and enemies. Once this puzzle is figured out players tend to lose interest, and the factor that holds them in the game the most is story. I get this feeling the same is true with text based games.

Freedom

There is a freedom in both text based games and pen and paper games that does not exist in normal videogames. The designers of text based games tried to make as much as possible able to be examined and manipulated by the player. You could pick up a brick and look at it, and it may or may not have a use later on in the story. A lot of items could be manipulated like this, more so than in normal videogames.

Of course in pen and paper gaming the interaction is only limited by the imagination of the referee. Text based games were still limited, but they had the freedom to do a lot more than a typical game that you would find on a video game console.What I find with text based games is that they approach the interaction ability of pen and paper games, at least the well-designed ones do. If a designer puts a lot of thought and work into a text based game you could have thousands of objects and interactions, with everything being able to be manipulated and examined by the player. It is almost an order of magnitude higher in the level of interaction between a player and the objects in the world than a videogame on a console.

The Fall and Rise

And the documentary chronicles their fall from grace, and limited rebirth. I get why people don't like text adventure games, they are fiddly bits of figure out the parser and type commands in while beating your head against a wall exercises of frustration - at first. Once you learn the rules of the road they apply to most text adventure games, how to examine, how to move, how to look, how to get, how to drop items, how to open up containers - all the basics. We get into implementation problems where the designer didn't account for everything, and the obvious to a player becomes an impossibility because the designer has not accounted for the interaction.

My Experience

When I first encountered these games I shied away, mostly out of fear I would mess something up or "not get it." I had this almost instinctual reaction of "not for me can't figure out" and walked away. Or that the text-adventure game would "punish me for being stupid." You know the feeling, like a designer would walk an inexperienced player through obvious choices and then make them look like a fool for taking what was the obvious route to someone who didn't know better. You have died. Next time try smarter!

These days, I love exploring and reading, so my patience has adapted my tastes more for text adventures than when I was younger and wanted to be wow'ed by great graphics and tight controls. I do admit liking a certain style of game, one that doesn't punish you for mistakes, can be solved with enough careful effort, understands you may have difficulty with the concepts and puzzles, and gradually expands and changes based on where you are in the narrative. I don't want to map and get lost in a maze (unless that is the point and we know going in). I want to have unexpected results to my actions, and my clever manipulations to be rewarded.

Comparisons

And I fire up games like Grand Theft Auto or other open-world games and they feel empty. Despite the promise of an expansive, unlimited world, once you know how things work they do not seem to change. The pedestrians and people that inhabit the world are all the same. Nobody lives and works there, they just spawn in. People obey a very limited script. There isn't much you can do with the objects in the world except collide with them. Few items are interactive, but they typically have a very limited set of interaction associated with them.

Open world games probably highlight the most why the promise of "true interaction" has failed in the world of video games - one you know the envelope of how the world reacts, that is all you can do and expect from the world. I typically lose interest shortly after this moment and then wait for another open world game to see what they add to the formula.

The Future?

I see hope though. There are already interactive fiction games on the Amazon Echo and Alexa platforms, where the text-to-speech and speech-recognition functions narrate the world for you in speech and audio. I would love to see an Inform interpreter for Zork-style games on the Echo platform where you could just sit and explore through spoken commands to the device, and have it listen and take the place of the flashing command prompt. Perhaps this is the future the documentary was searching for, an experience beyond the command prompt and purely in the mind.

Maybe that interface layer has finally been broken and we just can't see it yet. Maybe we are entering another golden age of the text adventure. Perhaps this is a new path, unexplored, and we have not yet stepped into this deep and foreboding cavern - just through what we hear - and interacting with just what we say. While I still like reading, this offers another way forward and perhaps a new realm of adventures to explore.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Mail Room: B/X Essentials Monsters


Look what came in the mail yesterday! My hardcover copy of B/X Essentials: Monsters. This is currently a cool project I am following, a digest-ifi-cation of the B/X rules and a project that feels like a solid basis for creating B/X style games on, where you can add and remove books at will to simulate a variety of settings without introducing cruft or out-of-genre parts to the game. The basic rules book is really all you need to get started, and you choose what to add with other books.

I love the idea, and having another piece to my collection puzzle is complete. Now, I await the Adventures and Treasures book...

Friday, August 10, 2018

Tabletop Simulator



https://store.steampowered.com/app/286160/Tabletop_Simulator/

Tabletop Simulator. I gifted my friend this on Steam during last weekend's sale and we played around with this, and she enjoyed it a lot. I wanted to play traditional pen-and-paper games with her right away but we ended up playing with the physics sandbox a whole lot, and then we played a couple traditional games, and then we made up our own games with the pieces we had available.

I gave her spawn permissions and she had a blast. She crashed one game by spawning a couple dozen bowls into the game all at once but live and learn.

We are still playing this and her interest is shifting to pen-and-paper games, and I find that this sort of online play tool with a lot of other things and games to play is ideal for introducing new players to online play. While this isn't as full featured as a Roll20 or other dedicated virtual tabletops, there is a lot of "other stuff" to do to get someone interested in virtual gaming than other packages.

We can play chess, checkers, Chinese checkers, dominoes, poker, or any other board game she was familiar with. We got used to how online tabletop gaming worked with familiar games.

The downside is that we need to stick to simpler games, such as B/X style games, and that is also an upside as well. I can get complicated character sheets for "big book" games, but I would rather not. I would like to keep it simple and just use the note cards and a simple set of rules. I don't want to overwhelm players with complicated setups to start, though it is nice to have workshop content to cover these games.

This is an excellent introduction and sandbox for new players and we are both happy we set this up.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

In Stores: B/X Essentials Monsters (Hard Copy)


I put in my order for the B/X Essentials: Monsters book over on DriveThru RPG today and now I start the waiting. I have the PDF, I just love the feel and size of these digest style books, and having a hard copy takes me back to days gone by.

Plus the system is like no other, compact, concise, expandable, well organized, and just what you need to play any B/X style game. I cannot wait for the adventures book to be done, and then, another, and another...

A new collection starts and it feels good again.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Car Wars Classic Rules Free Online

http://www.sjgames.com/ill/archive/December_04_2015/Car_Wars_Classic_Rules_Now_Free_Online

This one is a couple years old, but it is a cool throwback freebie from the game's publisher, Steve Jackson Games. If you like to see what the pre-computer world of 1/10th of a second car combat sims was like, here is a good chance to turn back the clock and spend 4 hours simulating 20 seconds of car combat.

We loved this game so much it lasted 40 years of tabletop gaming, and even the setting was iconic throughout our gaming years.