Mass Effect – 10 years on and some early thoughts.

By Tuesday, February 14, 2017 0 No tags Permalink 0

A decade after it came out, I finally decided to try Mass Effect. (Playing on an Xbox 360).

I’ve been talking with people of late about text and subtext and the kind of base assumptions stories make. In our charged political environment, there is a push by many people for entertainment to be “nor political”. There is, in many ways, no such thing. Those base assumptions are always around. The question is which ones are you accepting and which are you rejecting or subverting. But if you aren’t preaching at people, then it tends to be less irritating.

So having gone just to the point where I am about to get my own ship, I have a few thoughts.

1) It is almost absurdly pro-military.

You are a special military person. The military alliance is unabashedly the hero side. The military secret police is only a risk if they go rogue, and the implication is they should have powers above the law. (There is some push back from the police force, but not much.) The assumption is the military is above the civilian population, should be given free reign, and are generally default heroes.

2) It really does feel like they needed a replacement Star Wars. Spectres feel like Jedi with the serial numbers filed off.

The Spectres operate alone or in pairs. They council sends them places to handle operations the council can’t do openly. They are super soldiers, and also have awesome biotic (telekinetic) and tech control powers. Everyone is kind of impressed with them and they are mysterious, initiating people they choose who fit their criteria. They do track pretty well to the Jedi.

3) I really like a morality bar where both sides can go up.

I hear they get rid of it later, but I do like a system where you gain points in Paragon and Renegade separately, and actions don’t just move on one base scale up and down. I’m not sure right now if you can lose points in a given side or not, or if it just always additive. But I do like the sense of a more mixed system, allowing you to react in different ways at different times. I’d love games that have more of this sort of mixed morality system.

4) I’m not fond of bonuses for being more extreme. It would be nice for options favoring the even handed as well.

This is why I want a more mixed system. Bioware games seem to want to encourage role playing and consistent character by given you mechanical bonuses for being at the extreme edge of whatever morality you are at. (They do this with the relationship bars in Dragon Age as well, but it seems a bit less intrusive when it is tracking intensity of feeling.) It encourages being either a cartoonish Dudley Do Right or a vicious, rude jerk. Being a normal person who gets mad at some people and is more forgiving to others actually makes you less effective. I hate that.

5) I’m tired of “sex workers in space” as a trope.

There is a strip joint. You can even sit in a chair and watch a dance. I don’t think they would do that now, or if they did it wouldn’t only be sexy female aliens dancing. There is also the “Consort” who all species respect for her amazing companionship which isn’t just physical. It just feels tired as a trope. It can still be used well, but it needs a break, I think.

6) Kaiden is no Alistair.

I’m playing a female Shepard, and so far the obvious romance option (I presume Ashley is an option for a male Shepard) is not too interesting. They seem to have gotten better with this later.

7) Putting an annoying finicky mini-game in for lockpicking just makes things frustrating.

They give you a lockpicking skill, but then it makes you play a DDR-style minigame that is incredibly finicky. If you fail, you have to waste some of the magic omnigel to open it. It kind of cripples playing a support character because you don’t seem to really get the kind of benefit you should to open doors and storage. It just feels like extra padding in the game aspect, like additional level grinding or filler.

Heroic: The Role Playing Game

The big announcement out by Zenith Comics is that we’re putting out the HEROIC! The Role Playing Game .

The game is part of the Old School Revival (OSR), which for those of you who don’t do tabletop RPGs, is throwing back to very early versions of the hobby, games such as the original D&D, and in this case, Villains & Vigilantes as well. That means classes and hit points and AC, but we’ve done some interesting things with those, and mined inspiration from V&V for powers.

Zenith Comics’ Fearless Leader, Andrew Collas, explains the design thinking in his announcement video here. He’s assembled quite the team of people from the tabletop hobby to help out, so this should be an interesting ride. We’re in playtesting now, hammering out enough to get a solid basic edition in your hands quickly. We will do a kickstarter in the end, but it will just be to pay our artists.

For those of you who have heard me talking about it, this is not my personal system I’ve been toying with of late. That is born from a different tradition than OSR. I have every intention of getting back to that, but this has some serious people behind it, as well as a built in universe, and it will be fun to put something out and also get some RPG input from a very different perspective as I go back to my own personal design.

The HEROIC! The RPG tag is going to follow development and design thoughts as my first project for 2016, as I try to do more interesting stuff and make sure it gets recorded here.  Look for regular updates.

Saying Yes (But…)

By Monday, January 19, 2015 0 , , Permalink 0

I had a chance to run an RPG of my own design Saturday.

I’ve always loved tabletop roleplaying, I’m a D&D kid from way back before it split into Advanced and Basic (and I like what I’ve seen of 5th Edition, although I haven’t had the chance to play yet.).  Since then, I’ve drifted in and out of the hobby over time, as many adults do. It’s still a fine way to tell collaborative stories, though, which is always a great chance to see

Over time, I realized that my play style prefers something light and fast, with limited mechanics. I found Robin Laws’ HeroQuest in the early 2000s, and really liked it, as it introduced me to the idea of freeform abilities, conflict resolution vs task resolution, not giving combat precedence by way of the dynamics, and working from a position of letting your players lead rather than positioning yourself as the enemy. In the back of my head, as I read the clever rule systems of so many indie games, was the idea to hack together one of my own.

And finally I have.

While HeroQuest and FATE were major influences, the big shift in emphasis came from to Nathan Russel’s FU: The Freeform/Universal RPG system, which frames results in terms of yes and no, with possible results for “And” or “But”. Thus rather than simply tracking success, or even quality of success, it encourages narrative motion by adding these conditionals.

I threw just about everything else from FU out. I don’t like its die system, I want characters described differently, I don’t like how it handles hits and damage. So I’ve been banging around, pulling elements from other games I like to encourage play in the style I want, and I tried a rough draft out with my sister and three friends.

It worked really, really well.

They were in the mood for some space opera, so I ran a one-shot based in the ‘Verse of Firefly/Serenity, which works out nice and easy for a one shot of  “find a job, get it done, get paid”.  I assigned them some pre-gen characters, and let them have at it. It was a blast.

There quite a bit of work to be done.

  • I tweaked the dice system to allow for degree of success as well as the But/And dynamic. It mostly works, but there are a few too many fiddly bits and we never really used the degree of success/effect on the modifiers (But or And) themselves. I still like the idea in theory, but it may just be overkill.
  • Exactly how many traits/abilities to put on the sheets. I riffed off of HeroQuest’s “use the character description itself” idea, but it might do to focus it a bit more.
  • Clarifying how conflicts end needs some work.

Overall, however, I’m very happy with it. It plays fast and loose, and rolls with players’ tendencies to come up with wild tactics and ideas very well. It encourages the GM to just let their players be awesome whenever they can, and let the dice only come out to make the story more interesting by adding twists (“Say yes or roll”, as the concept was so elegantly put in the excellent Dogs in the Vineyard) . It is abundantly clear that it needs a group who wants to run games in this style, and who trust the GM and each other. The mechanics aren’t there to settle disputes with lots of strict rules judgments, nor do they produce the kind of all-encompassing dynamic of something like the excellent Apocalypse World.

The next step will be to take the adventure my sister and I wrote to come out with her novel Tin Star last year, and re-tool it to run with this instead of True20. It will give me a chance to hammer out some more of the rough edges, and we can re-relase the adventure for the release of the sequel, Stone in the Sky.

But I do think I have a workable system, and an excuse to try and rustle up some of my old gamer friends and tell some stories.