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2/29/2016

Role-playing Rants: why overthinking is a bad thing

Didn't had one of these in a while, so I've figured that I'd write one. Today I want to share with you my opinion on overthinking players and Gamemasters.

In RPG's, just like in real life, people tend to overthink a lot of things. Even when there's a clear, straight path to the finish line, some folks will still opt to take the longer, winding road. Why's that? Why choose the more difficult way?


"Because it's more interesting you Twit, it'll hurt more! (R.I.P. Alan Rickman)"

I honestly have no friggin' clue, but I do know one thing: overthinking things can be disastrous. In my long and prosperous career as a Gamemaster, I've encountered many people who were too cunning for their own good, and eventually ran into self-made obstacles or even death traps. Because that's what happens when you try to be too smart for your own good - you end up screwed, literally, by yourself.

I can think of a couple of examples. One time, in a game of Hunter: The Reckoning, one of my players managed to escape from an ambush, hauling a backpack full of guns and, more importantly, C4 plastic explosives. It was late and he lived in the middle of the city, in a communal block. I thought that maybe he'll bring all this stuff to his flat, in order to place it somewhere safe the following day. To my never ending surprise he decided to stick the backpack in a sewage drain, right next to the busy roundabout and several bus stops. So of course, I did the only reasonable thing - I've rolled the dice and lo and behold, someone DID spot him, placing a suspicious, bulging backpack in a small drain, reported it to the police and he got arrested, along with all of his fellows.

Now, they did actually managed to weasel themselves out of that situation, but the main thing still stands - if my PC wouldn't had that brain fart, the whole situation could've been avoided. He later confessed that he did not knew exactly what to do next, but in the end it's the action itself that matters. It dosen't matter what your motivations, intentions or plans were - if you'll put them into motion, then you have to accept the consequences, both positive and negative.

I also made that error a couple of times. Again, I'll bring up the cWoD Hunter, as an example. Back in 2014 I was running a chronice in which my players were fighting against Magadon, the pharmaceutical branch of Pentex, a global super-corporation that is full of evil... literally. My PC's were battered, both physically and mentally, as the endless stream of goons, monsters and fiends was pouring into their city. This, coupled with them being actual police officers with private lives (and for some: addicitons) was taking a heavy toll on all of them. To this day this was probably my most successful game, as I loved the thick, tense atmosphere, the modern twists on classic RPG tropes, the notable NPC's and, most notably, my players' mature and well-developed characters.

And then I've decided to introduce a new NPC and it all went to hell.

Some ideas should remain just that: ideas

I'll be first to admit that I like to introduce many NPC's in my games. Some just for a couple of scenes, others for whole campaigns. I was never an opponent of the GMPC (Gamemaster's Player Character) concept, as long as it is done right and with thought. I've created many memorable non-player heroes, who've been liked by my group, but there were also obvious misses. This guy was definetly a miss.

He was a goverment agent from other country, who knew about the "other side" and wanted to help the PC's. However first he had to stage a little diversion at their workplace (don't ask) which went tits up and resulted in him being captured by them. It was at this point that I had two chocies: one was for his embassy to bail him out and went with the plan of socialising with the PC's later. The other was letting them "work" on him for a bit, after which the embassy would eventually freed him. I went with the second option, by essentially telling them that their commanding officer ordered the poor guy's torture, in order to find out, exactky how much he knows about their agency.

They've tortured the shit out of this guy, with the entire session being spent on crushing his balls, hitting him with a stool, beating him in the face over and over again and so on. At one point my players went to a different room to ponder, whether to brake his bones or not. At that point I was both horrified and pissed of. Horrified, because I could not belive that my players were able to do such a thing and pissed, because they were doing this to an NPC which I really liked and wanted to be a genuine help to them. At that point I knew that this situation would be unsalvageable and sure enough, it ended with the tortured guy being pulled off by his peers, the players' superior getting the boot from the job, as the whole "diversion" was a security test basically. It turned out that they've tortured an innocnet man. When this revelation came to light, one of my PC's decided to put the barrel of his service pistol under his chin and... well, you probably can imagine what happened next.

Congratulations! You've guessed right!

In the end the atmosphere went to shit. I couldn't help myself, and alienated the NPC even further, after he told the remaining players a few harsh words about their dead comrade, which ended with them resenting the dude, for whom they were supposed to feel guilty. After that two of my players left the group and we've dropped Hunter for a couple of months, a shame really, since, like I've written before, the game was going really well and people seemed to like it a lot. Now this is the perfect example of an overthinking situation, gone badly. If I would not let them torture this guy, then the whole thing could've been sorted out differently. Same with him not tauting my PC's over the death of their friend. As a GM I was angry at my players for their callousness, but the truth is that the blame was mine alone. A Gamemaster is the driving force of the game, and his decissions shape the world in which said game takes place. If I would not have chosen my pride and a wrongful sense of "injustice" over reason, the game would've probably went on, at least for a few more months.

However I've overthought the whole thing and ended up with losing two players and had to drop my meticalously written chronicle. I was angry, but only at myself and my lack of insight. My players made their decisions but it was me, who've presented it to them.

The above two examples perfectly encapsulate the whole overthinking problem. If there's an easy, logical solution to a problem, it's not really worth it to search for a different one. Even if you like challenges, it's better to wait for a real one and not create one on a failed assumption that it'll be "more interesting". You'll only be hurting yourself, your teammates/players and the game overall. It's not worth to sacrifice good, common fun for one's need to needlessly complicate things.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86

2/14/2016

Xathrodox86 reviews: "Warhammer Quest" for Steam

Let's be honest, this blog has not been kind to Warhammer Fantasy lately. I've decided to change that, so it's time for me to review a game that is pretty much old school Warhammer to the core... with a few bumps along the way.

I've never played the original "Warhammer Quest", the boardgame from 1995. I do however posses a bunch of figurines from it, including the Amber Wizard, the Bright Wizard, Warlock (or maybe Necromance, who knows?) and a few more. They are really neat, despite their age and I plan to use most in my Empire army.

The game's artwork has also aged rather well, if you ask me

Anyway, "Warhammer Quest" was a big thing back in the day. It was a successor to "HeroQuest" and "Advanced HeroQuest" and took place in the Old World (R.I.P). Basically it was a very unforgiving dungeon crawl. Kinda what WFRP would be, if it remained more similar to Dunegons and Dragons, instead of Call of Cthulhu. So how much of that old Warhammer atmosphere remains in the "Warhammer Quest" video game?

"What's in the booox?"

The answer is: a lot. "Warhammer Quest" is a very solid title, albeit one that only the veterans of the old Warhammer Fantasy will fully appreciate. The atmosphere kicks in right from the title sequence with an excellent, eerie music that gets even more "hammery" in the main menu. Soundtrack from this game is great, even tough it consists only of few tracks. I know that any Gamemaster running a WFRP adventure would love to use it, as it perfectly fits into the dark melancholy of the Old World (R.I.P). That said the sound in general is done reasonably well, with slashes, strikes, grunts and even footsteps echoing across the endless dungeons, being believable and having the inended depth and impact on the listener.

"Warhammer Quest" was originally released on iOS and then ported to PC. This was done fine and without any major incidents, altough I've been told that early versions of the game were prone to many bugs and crashes. The version that I've been playing has been, fortunately, free of them. For an iOS port this game runs smooth and the graphics, altough simple, are pleasnt to look at and evoke the fell of classic Warhammer Fantasy. My only problem was with the town's background screen, as it is always the same one, no matter if you're in Altdorf or some Sigmar-forsaken hole in Stirland.

The dungeons, the essence of this game, are varied and posses plenty of details. From esoteric symbols, scribbled on the floor, to Warpstone-laced walls and tables filled with carefully arranged bones and skulls, the main element of "Warhammer Quest" is a feast to the eye.

A typical dungeon

Same with characters, as both the Heroes and monsters are detailed and memorable in their own, distinguished way. Norse Marauder has a tiny eight-pointed star on his pauldron, while almost every Orc looks differently from another. It's worth mentioning that we can see the different weapons and pieces of armour, which our heroes are using, as they change them during the course of the game and let me tell you, there are a lot of them. From magic swords to various kinds of ammunition and plenty of potions and scrolls, this game is really offering all players a plentiful opportunities to arm their band of misfits in many, different ways. There are even legendary weapons, like Sigmar's Hammer and the Slayer of Kings, altough some of them are DLC-exclusive only.

The main theme of Warhammer Quest is, of course, combat. It's bloody, unforgiving and surprisingly tactical for a game that has its roots on Apple devices. Combat and normal movement, are all turn based and allow players to perform many actions during each round. For example if a Hero swings his sword, he can no longer move, but can shoot, provided he has a ranged weapon at hand. Using special abilities and equipement items from your belt does not prevent heroes from moving or fighting, but can cost them their power/faith/resolve points, which are generally randomised each turn. It's worth remembering that, as your healers can have 12 magic points one turn and 0 points during another. It is also impossible to grab the items from backpack during combat, so heroes must rely on their pockets and belt pouches.

Every adventurer's best friend

Creatures usually attack in number and it is not uncommon for computer to spawn even a large horde of top-level fiends, such as Rat Ogres or Orc Warbosses (yes, WARBOSSES) at the beggining of each combat, or sometimes as reinforcements. Yeah, I should mention that this game does not like slackers. The longer the player wander around dungeons, seraching rooms, the bigger the chance for them to get attacked by monsters or have one of random encounters, which are usually nasty, resulting in Heroes getting Nurgle's Rot, getting their ribs crushed or being digested (partially) by some acidic ooze. This can even happen in cities, as an army of pickpockets and racketeers will descend upont the players to relieve them of their hard earned cash. This is the game's way of saying: "hurry the hell up, will you?". This builds a kind of tension that works surprisingly well, especially when playing the storyline missions which are clever and written by someone, who obviously knew what Warhammer Fantasy is and how it should be presented. I liked the Reikland quests the most, as they've centered around a Skaven conspiracy and sometimes felt like playing a video game version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, one of my favorite RPG's of all time.

As you can see, so far I've written mostly positive things about "Warhammer Quest". Unfortunately this game has a few issues that can dissuade players from completing it fully. Firstly, this game is really repetitive. It's a dungeon crawler through and through and don't excpect anything else. I've tried to avoid the sidequests as much as possible, so as not the get bored, but even then, when you've seen one dungeon, you've seen them all... even if they are varied and nicely modelled. Then there's the very annoying tendency of computer to completely ignore characters skill levels and have them being pathetically ineffective in combat from time to time. When my level 7 (very high) Witch Hunter constantly missed all his attacks, trying to hit a lowly Clanrat, or my Shadow Warrior missed all three shots from his magical bow, as he was doing his damnedest to hit that Goblin Shaman, something was very, fucking wrong. I'm not talking about isolated incidents as well. Many heroes, even when they're high level, can't fight or shoot for shit. This is doubly frustrating when the enemies constantly hit you with their attacks. So you want to tell me that a Shadow Warrior from Nagarythe is less accurate than a goddamn Arrer Boy? Bullshit.

Clearly a master marksman right there

There were also minor things, like quest descriptions, which were repeating themselves a bit too often, sometimes in funny ways. Once I was looking for a magical chalice, bu the text at the beginning of the dungeon told me that the chalice was actually... a blade. Main quests did not had that problem however, but it would still be nice for the makers of "Warhammer Quest" to type a few more phrases for their dungeons.

Now let's go to the reason why this game recieved a lot of hate when it was first released. I'm, of course, talking about DLC's. There are a lot of them and to be honest, playing without them is pointless. Not only do they provide most of the characters and items, they are also the source of two additional enemy factions, namely the Undead and Skaven. Without the DLC's your Heroes will duke it out only with Greenskins and critters (spiders, rats and bats). It's a shame that there are no Chaos enemies, like Beastmen (who are mentioned sometimes during loading times) or even good, old Chaos Warriors. Given the ammount of chaotic symbols in every dungeon, that's just strange and not in a good way.

Of course, the dependence on DLC's, means that soon the cost of all necessary expansions will be higher than the core game itself, and this really, really sucks. Still, nowadays this is getting more and more normal and even mandatory, as we can clearly see on the example of such titles as Payday 2, Battlefield or Call of Duty. However I can understand it in the case of big titles, like the aformentioned three, but not when it comes to a game ported from a fucking iPad. My advice for potential "Warhammer Quest" players, is to wait for some kind of sale, during which you'll be able to grab the game and all additional content for a relatively small sum of money, just like I did. Without all the DLC's, playing this game is a waste of time, but buying them all for a full price is also not a wise decision. Just wait for a sale, grab it and then play it to your heart's content.

Most of these guys are not in the core game

So did I liked this game in general? Yeah, I did. Despite its repetitivity and DLC bullshit, "Warhammer Quest" is a great forage into the Old World (R.I.P), definetly worth it for any fan of the, now dead, classic fantasy setting. Rodeo Games, the team behind this title, clearly knew Warhammer Fantasy well enough, to make a game that feels just right and evokes the fantastic and dark atmosphere of that setting. Try it out and you won't be dissapointed.

Pros:

-Climate and atmosphere of the source material.
-Fantastic soundtrack.
-Nicely done graphics as well as dungeon and character details.
-Fights are both visceral and demanding.

Cons:

-Occasional ineptitude on the side of player's Heroes.
-DLC's are a must, if the game is to be fully enjoyed.
-Only four enemy factions, two of which are available exclusively through paid expansions.
-Random dungeon descriptions are few and repetitive.

So there you have it, my first ever video game review. There will be more to come, especially since I'm kinda in a mood lately for reviewing stuff. Who knows, maybe I'll even look back to the glory days of "Shadow of the Horned Rat" and "Dark Omen"?

Oh and I know that this post was supposed to be about the "End Times", but... well, I just couldn't do it. I'm getting closer tough, so keep your fingers crossed.

Until next time!

Xathrodox86