Cool Storytelling Tools: Rory’s Story Cubes

I don’t know how I managed to go so long without learning about Rory’s Story Cubes. I mean, these are right up my alley and look like a lot of fun. I plan on snatching them up to use with my kids, and also maybe to use on my own to generate story ideas for my own writing.

For any of you who have also managed to never hear about them, Rory’s Story Cubes are 6-sided dice with various icons on each side, which when rolled to get random images, the player puts together to improvise a story, as can be seen in this introductory video:

I think this can be a fantastic way to spend some time with your kids, entertaining one another while developing creativity. Aside from the basic set, there are (as can be expected) various expansions covering Actions, Voyage, Clues, Enchanted Action, and even things like Batman and Doctor Who!

Seriously, I am going to have to buy all of these…

If you’re looking for something quick and fun to play with your kids, friends, or even alone while flexing your creativity muscles, check them out!

 

Superhero Games for Kids: Using Fate Core and FAE

I’m a bit slow…

It’s taken me some time to get around to this follow-up to my previous post about gaming with your kids. I have wanted to do this for a while, but kept getting distracted. I was reminded of it recently, however, when Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: the Next Generation fame posted a video of Fate Core gameplay. I’ve also been re-reading the book myself, so it seemed like good timing.

Fate Core
Fate Core

Fate Core is a setting-neutral system. Unlike, say, Vampire the Masquerade, which is expressly about Vampires in a modern setting, or Dungeons and Dragons which assumes a typical high-fantasy setting, Fate Core can be virtually anything that your gaming group desires.

Do you want to be Space Marines exploring an alien craft? Are you a cyborg from the future coming to prevent the world you know from coming to be? Are you a cowboy in an alternate old west, where magic is as common as guns? Maybe a giant, transforming robot protecting humanity from your enemies while staying in disguise?

You can play all of those and more. In the video below, watch as Wil, Felicia Day, John Rogers and Ryan Macklin play a session of Fate set  in the modern day, but tinged with supernatural elements. The video is a bit long, as it includes character creation in addition to gameplay, so you may also jump over it and meet me again on the other side.

Gameplay

The basic gameplay of Fate Core is very simple. There are only four actions that cover everything that the players might want to do. They are:

  • Overcome     The player rolls to overcome some sort of obstacle. This can be rolling to sneak past some guards, seduce someone, break/ repair something, climb a tree, or almost anything else.
  • Create an Advantage    Unlike some other games that include lists of maneuvers that a character can learn and attempt, Fate Core allows the players to simply Create an Advantage. If you disarm an opponent, that is an Advantage. If you trip them or blind them with a flash of light, it is also an advantage. Pouring oil on the floor to make it slippery is another example. It can be pretty much anything you can imagine can be made into an Advantage, which you (or another player) can then use for a bonus of +2 on another action.
  • Attack    Pretty self-explanatory. If your Attack roll is higher than your opponent’s defend, you may injure him.
  • Defend   Pretty self-explanatory. If your Defend roll is higher than your opponent’s Attack, you defend successfully.

In order to take an action, the player will roll four Fate Dice, which are 6-sided dice, but with two plus (+) signs, two minus (-) signs and two sides that are blank. Each + adds one to whatever skill the character is using, while each – subtracts one. For example, a character trying to use Investigate to find clues at a crime scene would roll the four dice (gaining + + – and a blank die) would add +1 to his skill and compare it to an assigned difficulty.

Unique to Fate is the use of Aspects. Each player has multiple Aspects, which serve as a way to both describe the character and further define what he is capable of. The character above may be a detective with an Aspect of Nothing Escapes My Notice. This may give the character a further +2 on his roll if he chooses to Invoke it, which is done by spending a Fate Point– a finite pool of points that allows the player to assume some degree of narrative control.

Aspects may also be Compelled in a way that is detrimental to the character, but which will earn a Fate Point for later use. In this way, the player’s pool of points is constantly fluctuating as they spend points for bonuses, but accept complications to their lives to earn more.

Superheroes and FAE

Fate Core is an awesome game that can handle almost anything you can throw at it, but when it comes to Superheroes, as great as Fate is, I find that FAE is perhaps a bit better.

FAE stands for Fate Accelerated Edition, and as the name suggests, it is Fate, but simplified. Whereas Fate uses Skills to determine what a character is capable of, FAE uses Approaches. While Skills determine what a character can do, Approaches represent how a character does things. The six standard approaches are:

  • Careful
  • Clever
  • Flashy
  • Forceful
  • Quick
  • Sneaky

I find this to be perfect for younger kids, to introduce them to the concept of role-playing. In most RPGs, the player wanting to climb up the side of a castle wall to sneak inside and steal some jewels, might be asked to roll Climb, Athletics, or whatever appropriate skill is available. If they lack the skill, they might even be refused the opportunity to try, being simply told that they have no chance of success.

In FAE, however, the player can declare how they accomplish this. Do they find an area of the wall that is obfuscated from the view of the castle guards? They are being Sneaky. Do they climb up using their incredible natural agility? Maybe they are climbing Quickly or being Flashy (which would probably not be the best way to sneak in…) Do they go slowly, taking their time to search out each toe-hold on the way up. They are being Careful.

Some might find this unappealing, as they prefer the relatively more realistic use of skills, rather than assuming characters can take virtually any action, but Fate in general and FAE in particular, is about characters who are very capable and proactive. This is great for kids, because noting ruins their fun more than continually being th=old their character “can’t do that.”  With Approaches, they simply have to be able to narrate the manner in which they do something and roll the matching Approach.

When it comes to superheroes, that is where FAE really shines, in my opinion. In most games, if you wanted to play the Avengers or the Justice League, it would be incredibly difficult to balance the characters. After all, having Superman and Batman on the same team represents a massive range in power levels. In many games, Superman would overshadow Batman by quite a bit. If characters were made with a point-buy systems, where they could assign points to their abilities, a character like Batman would likely have half as many (or fewer) points as Superman, but in FAE, both characters would be able to shine.

How?

Each Approach is rated between zero (0) and three (+3). Both Batman and Superman would have one Approach at +3, two at +2, two at +1 and one at 0. Superman, for all his powers, wouldn’t have any higher ratings than Batman. One might assume that Superman would be +3 to Forceful and Batman +3 to Sneaky, or Clever (depending on your interpretation). They can thus be of equal effectiveness mechanically. Where they differ is in Aspects.

Aspects, as mentioned earlier, are ways to define the character with a simple phrase. Superman’s Aspects might be Last Son of Krypton, Man of Steel, Mild-Mannered Reporter Clark Kent, or something similar. Batman might have Dark Knight Detective, Trained to the Peak of Physical Perfection, Criminals are a Superstitious and Cowardly Lot and others.

Within FAE, Aspects are always considered true. so they can be a great shorthand way to describe a character. For example, Last Son of Krypton would mean just that. He is Kryptonian, with all that implies: super strength, speed, invulnerability and more. What this does is give permission to do certain things. Having this aspect, for example, would allow Superman to lift a car, or fly, or even allow him to ignore gunfire from street-level thugs. Batman wouldn’t have those same permissions, so while it allows Superman to do some things that Batman can’t he is still limited to a maximum of +3 on his rolls, the same as Batman.

This can be used a variety of ways.

Let’s say that the duo are facing off against Doomsday, one of Superman’s most powerful enemies. Superman, by virtue of his Last Son of Krypton Aspect, has the ability to harm Doomsday physically. Batman, being a normal man, cannot simply walk up to the monster and punch him. There wouldn’t even be a need to roll; he simply cannot affect him. What Batman can do is make use of other systems in the game, such as Create an Advantage.

In this case, knowing he cannot physically match Doomsday, Batman Cleverly uses one of his gadgets (maybe a smoke bomb) to temporarily blind Doomday. On his next action, Batman Sneakily gets in close and plants a device on Doomsday that emits high frequency sonics that throw him off balance. At this point, Superman can take advantage of the two Advantages to give himself a bonus to his attack, which as a result does enough damage to put Doomsday down for the count.

Both characters have contributed to the battle in ways that are consistent with their abilities and portrayal in the comics. It’s entirely possible that without Batman’s help, Superman wouldn’t have been able to harm Doomsday enough to stop him. Mechanically, each character was able to roll his highest score (Batman’s Sneaky maneuver and Superman’s Forceful punch), which was +3 for each of them. It wasn’t a matter of Superman rolling 20 dice versus Batman rolling 3 as might happen in other systems.

I love both Fate and FAE and consider them both to be excellent games. If you are interested in introducing your child to RPGs, either one is a good place to begin, with FAE having a slight advantage for the younger crowd and certain genres. Pick up one (or both!) and have some fun with your kids, or even your adult friends.

Let me know what kind of games you are running!

Craig

Fate and FAE are available as pay-what-you-want PDFs at Drive-Thru RPG

 

I Need Elite Dangerous on PS4!

Ok, seriously now. Ever since they announced Elite Dangerous on PS4 I have been waiting for more information, but there has been precious little. I am really looking forward to this game, though. It has been too long since I’ve had a really good space game. I had been hoping that No Man’s Sky would be an awesome game, but sadly, it just wasn’t. I know it’s popular to hate on the game, but I won’t do that. I actually didn’t hate it at all. It just wasn’t what I expected or wanted. Elite Dangerous, however, seems to be much more in line with those expectations.

One of the first games to really make me feel the scope and size of space was Klingon Academy. I love the way I could warp into the Sol system, aim my ship at Earth, go to maximum Impulse speed and then walk away for an hour only to come back and find I’d made less than 10% progress in my journey. That might sound boring (and it really isn’t something that I recommend doing) but the point is it let me see just how big space is. At sub-light speed, I just wasn’t going to get anywhere because space is huge.

You might be thinking “well, duh,” but up until that point, I hadn’t really played any games that let you feel that size. Everyone knows space is big, but to actually feel it in the game was pretty impressive to me at the time.  Elite Dangerous, which is modelled on our actual galaxy, seems to have that scope. Tales abound of the lengthy trip to one of the game’s destinations, Hutton Orbital. Like in my Klingon Academy example, it seems that players must simply aim at the station and then sit back and wait. One can’t walk away from the game however, because being even slightly off-course could take you far from your destination.

Elite Dangerous has been adding on quite a bit of content, though there are still the complaints of “nothing to do” in the game, other than transporting goods or exploring. It would be great to see more of a narrative side added to the game, but I don’t know what is planned for the future. I’m hoping, however, that with the addition of actual character models, players will be able to eventually leave their ship and explore on foot or interact with others. If Elite could develop along the lines of what we are seeing in store for Star Citizen, I would be ecstatic. You might as why I don’t just wait for Star Citizen. That’s a fair question, to which I would say that I can’t afford a top-of-the-line computer to play one game. Elite will run on the PS4 that I already own.

So far, the release date has not been narrowed down beyond Quarter 2. That’s fine though, as it will allow me to finish some other stuff before it arrives. I’m sure that once I get ahold of it, Elite will be taking up most of my free time.

What is your favourite space game? If it is an older one, are you still playing it? Would you like to see it updated? I’d love to see a new version of Klingon Academy, with the same gameplay, but updated graphics.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Craig

From virtually no tech skills to my own site! Learn how you can do it too!

Batman the Telltale Games Series

I Am Vengeance!

When Telltale Games announced that they were doing a Batman game, I was both thrilled and a little apprehensive. I love Batman and I had played two of Telltale’s previous games– the Wolf Within and Walking Dead Season One– which I had enjoyed quite a bit, so on that front, I was excited. Having become accustomed to the style of the Arkham Asylum games, however, I wasn’t sure exactly how such a dynamic character would be handled in a Telltale’s narrative style.

 

I Am the Night!

So, what is Batman the Telltale Series?

If you ever read Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid, proceed to paragraph 6.

If you never read Choose Your Own Adventure books, go to the next paragraph.

When I was growing up, I couldn’t get enough of the Choose… books which– as the title suggests, allowed you to make decisions as you read. At certain moments in the narrative, you would be offered two or more choices on how to proceed with the story. Each decision would guide you to a particular page number to continue the story, sometimes resulting in a heroic triumph, but other times resulting in your character’s defeat or even death. I remember reading these books with each finger tucked between different pages to mark the various crossroads I had reached– kind of an old-fashioned Save Point…

Batman: The Telltale Games series is like those old books in video game form. Fully animated and voice-acted, the games from Telltale allow you to make the same kind of decisions as the CYOA books used to. When confronted with the alluring Catwoman for example, are you going to flirt with her, or arrest her? The decisions you make alter the course of the story and affect your relationships with other characters.

There are action scenes as well, consisting of timed button presses corresponding to what appears on screen. A certain margin of error is allowed, with Batman having something of a health meter, but for the most part combat is not terribly challenging.

I Am Batman! Or, Well, Bruce Wayne Most of the Time, Actually.

Much of the game focuses on Bruce Wayne, rather than Batman, with the story set in what would correspond best to Year One of the comics. There is no Robin and Batman is still largely dealing with organized crime as opposed to his better-known enemies.

Bruce must deal with startling revelations about his family while trying to establish himself as Batman and helping Harvey Dent in his bid to become next mayor of Gotham. Much of the plot is driven by his friendship with the pre-Two Face Harvey, who edges closer to darkness as the story progresses.

The other main plot point concerns the Children of Arkham, former inmates of Arkham Asylum with a surprising link to the Wayne family. Lead by the mysterious Lady Arkham, the Children seek to bring down the upper class of Gotham society.

Thrown into the mix is Oswald Cobblepot, a childhood friend of Bruce’s, better known to Batman fans as the Penguin, and a certain grinning patient at Arkham Asylum. Other supporting characters include the ever-loyal Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Catwoman and Officer Renee Montoya.

Or Is It Puppyman?

There are a number of things that I like in the series, but there are just as many that I don’t. One in particular that drove me nuts was the facial reactions of some of the characters. Bruce in particular would often make what I like to call a “puppy dog face,” when surprised or concerned, which made it harder to take him him seriously as the Dark Knight. The fact that he was physically smaller than Harvey Dent also made Batman seem less impressive. For a lawyer, Harvey is inexplicably built like a bodybuilder, making Bruce seem small in comparison.

The strength of the Telltale games is the ability to influence the story via the choices the player makes, but I found it less effective here than in previous games. In the Walking Dead, for example, I knew nothing about main character Lee Everett and was thus free to play him how I wanted, but I didn’t feel the same freedom in playing Batman, acting instead the way I felt Batman should act in light of my experience with him in the comics. I appreciated the opportunity to play as Bruce Wayne, given that other games by necessity focus on Batman, but I didn’t always like the way he was portrayed.

Telltale has a bad habit in the way the present story and dialogue options. If I am presented with a situation that could affect the outcome of the game, I like to have accurate, easy-to-understand choices. In both of the other Telltale games that I played and again in Batman, the options presented don’t always match up with what actually transpires.

For example, you may encounter a character who is about to take an action that you don’t approve of, but which is not anything that you would be too upset over. You might receive the options 1) Ignore him 2) “I don’t think you should do that” and 3) “Go ahead and do it. I don’t care.”

After taking a second or two to think it over (there is a timer that counts down quickly before forcing a decision), you decide that while the action in question isn’t a big deal, you’d prefer the other character to not do it, so you choose the innocent-sounding “I don’t think you should do that.”

As it turns out, upon making that choice, your character assumes an aggressive stance and says “If you try to do that, I’ll break your arms and legs and dump you in the river.” The other character then gives you a very-displeased look and a small notation appears in the corner of the screen saying He’ll Remember That…

Great. And this happens far too often.

I also found the voice acting to be rather weak, which is surprising given that there are a number of very talented actors behind the characters. I am not sure if the voices are weak due to poor direction, or because of the way the dialogue has to be responsive to choices, but it was distracting to me.

Other things that left me somewhat nonplussed were the sometimes-significant changes to established characters both in terms of their personality/ history (Thomas Wayne) and their appearance (Penguin). While I appreciate that each new iteration of Batman has it’s own interpretation of events and characters, the changes made for this game simply did not work for me.

And Bruce and Alfred should be addressing each other as Master Bruce” and “Alfred”, not “Bruce” and “Al.”

The Game We Deserve, or the Game We Need Right Now?

I’d actually say neither…

I won’t go so far as to say I didn’t enjoy the game at all, but I didn’t really like it overmuch either. I thought it was ok, overall, but the Arkham games set such a high standard that it’s difficult to look at other Batman games without comparing them unfavourably.

If you are a big fan of the Telltale games, or of Batman, or if you just really want to play a game focused on Bruce Wayne, then I suppose I can give the game a mild recommendation. However, if you are looking for a game with action, fun combat or an accurate portrayal of the comic mythology, then you may want to pass on this and dig out Arkham Asylum, City or Knight.

Of course, if you have played the game and think I am totally wrong, let me know. Tell me what you thought about the game. Would you play a sequel? Would you like to see other characters like Superman receive a similar treatment?

I’d love to hear from you.

Craig

From virtually no tech skills to my own site! Find out how you can do it too!

Remembering City of Heroes Amidst New Pain

City of Heroes, the MMO that ran from April 2004 until it was shutdown in Novermber 2012, was seriously one of my favourite games of all time. It was, in many ways, a perfect game for me and I have yet to find anything that is capable of filling the void that it left behind. Now, old scabs are being peeled away by the upcoming Master X Master beta, which has chosen to include one of CoH’s signature characters.

When I first started playing City of Heroes, I had virtually no experience with MMOs. I started playing and for the most part soloed everything, as I didn’t want to get involved with a team unless I absolutely had to. My ideal superhero at the time was one who could face all opponents alone, without the need of a team. Sure, I enjoyed team comics, like the X-Men, but I preferred solo heroes like Spider-Man or Superman.

Some time after the release of the game, I started working nights. My wife would be left at home with our elder son who was still a toddler, so she would sometimes go online to pass the time. One night, she discovered CoH and started playing. I was very surprised to discover her character one day as I sat down to play, and asked her about it. She was enjoying it about as much as I was and unlike me, she had started teaming with a small group on a regular basis. I was fortunate enough a short time later to switch from working nights back to days and we started playing together after I picked up a second computer. Having your wife or girlfriend join you in gaming (especially so enthusiastically) is pretty much every male geek’s fantasy. I was thrilled to play together.

My wife introduced me to the core of what would become Our Group, playing together on a nightly basis for a number of years. We started as four (the Fab Four, as we came to be known). There was me, my wife, a guy from Toronto (Polar Star) and a woman from Chicago, I believe (Lady Ember). In short order we were joined by another player from Alabama (Switch). This group stayed pretty regular, but several others joined us, coming and going– sometimes repeatedly– over the years. My wife’s work and a return to school eventually took her away from the game, but I played up until the final day, when the servers were shut down.

I don’t think I have ever invested myself in any game as much as I did with City of Heroes. I spent countless hours (and dollars) playing. I made dozens of characters, almost always with a fairly extensive backstory. Most of them were even tied together in some way. The game rekindled my love of writing. I wrote short posts about my characters on a regular basis, which eventually culminated in at least two novellas featuring the heroes that I and my teammates had created. I have hundreds and hundreds of pages of fiction involving these characters.

The people I played with were an amazing bunch. I totally loved getting together with them each night to save Paragon City, over an over again. I miss them horribly. The rest of the community was also pretty amazing. I have never seen a game with so many honestly helpful and kind players. Perhaps the act of playing superheroes brought out the best in people, or maybe the game simply attracted that type of person from the beginning. I am not sure. All I know is that there were a tremendous number of warm, genuinely kind people playing that game. Fortunately, that community has largely continued in various Facebook groups. Most excitingly, perhaps, is that Paragon City has somewhat returned in the form of what some call a “virtual chat room,” allowing former players to create a character and log in to several of the city’s zones, where they can interact and chat, but no longer fight crime.

The intense love for and loyalty to CoH has led various groups to start work on different successor projects that aim to recapture the feel of the original. At this moment there are at least four:  Valiance Online, Heroes and Villains, City of Titans, and now Ship of Heroes.  I expect to try them all, though I am not certain that any of them will manage to capture the magic of the game I loved. This was a game that could be (and was!) played by little kids, their older siblings, parents and grandparents. My son had just started playing when the game was shut down. He was 9 at the time. I knew players in their teens, 20’s, 30’s… The oldest player I met was, I believe 68. There was also a large female demographic in the game.

I never understood why City of Heroes was shut down. Simply put, there was no reason to close the game. It still had plenty of subscribers considering how old it was, and they were fiercely loyal. The game was even managing to attract some new players and was making a profit. The Marvel Cinematic Universe was already well under construction, kicking off a renewed interest in all things related to comic books and superheroes. The game could have easily parlayed that into greater success and, many thought, a sequel. Unfortunately, CoH was shut down with very little advance notice and virtually no explanation, leading to sadness, frustration and outright anger on the part of fans that continues to this day.

Just how much anger still lingers is evident with the announcement of NCSoft’s Master X Master (what kind of name is that?) including City of Heroes’s Statesman as a playable character. His bio on their info page indicates that this is a continuation of the storyline that was developing in CoH… the storyline that we didn’t get to participate in.

I have seen several dozen shares on Facebook about Statesman’s “return” and several hundred vitriolic comments from former players, many of which I won’t repeat here due to language… The general consensus, however, is that NCSoft is spitting in the faces of former fans.

Personally, I had a brief hope that given the continued love for CoH exhibited by fans and the continued success of various superhero franchises in other media, that perhaps NCSoft was testing to see if fans were truly willing to part with their money to have their beloved Paragon City back again. Most others that I have spoken to, however, consider it to be a move made to lock up the IP for several more years, ensuring that fans will never gain access to it. Many are calling for all former fans to sign up for MXM beta access in order to fill up the server with countless Statesmen all chanting “bring back CoH.” I love that idea, but I know it will accomplish nothing.

I have sadly come to accept that I will never walk the streets (or fly the skies) of Paragon City again, ouside of my own imaginings or continued stories.

I’m hoping to play one of the successor projects soon. I know it will likely pale beside memories of City Of Heroes, but at least it will be something. I doubt that I will see the majority of my old gaming group again, but I’m hoping that I will see a couple of them and maybe find some new friends.

Nothing will replace City of Heroes. I won’t ever forget all the fun that it gave me. I also won’t forget what NCSoft took away for no reason.

Will you be playing any of the successor games? Which ones? If you plan on playing more than one, which one interests you the most, and why? What is your favourite Paragon City memory?

I’d love to hear from you.

Craig

From virtually no tech skills to my own site! Find out how you can do the same!