Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Pathfinder Experiment, Part One

Okay, I'll give credit where it is due.  My son pressured me into running Pathfinder for him, and the rest of my gaming group went along.  As it turned out, we had a great time.

The story was really straightforward: the PC's are trapped within a large building when a huge earthquake strikes the city.  The thrown-together survivors of the quake agree to accompany a small NPC girl back to her father, a wealthy alchemist in the city by moving through the city's sewer system and avoiding the chaos above. Along the way they battle a few denizens of the sewers and meet a small and very smelly group of cultists.  The father points them towards the home of a powerful wizard who might be able to ascertain the source of the (unnatural) earthquakes, and the PC's rescue said wizard from a demon the earthquake accidentally unleashed in his tower.

A few thoughts about the game:

  • I don't know if it was just changing the game system or what, but the group approached encounters very differently than we were in 4E.  Often the question was raised, "can we roleplay out of this one?"  And since the answer was yes a few times, they did.
  • They also exercised more creativity.  For example rather than just seeing what daily/encounter/at-will could be used, players would often try to interact with their environment looking for advantages.
  • With a witch, druid, and ranger on the team, all with animal companions, the group looked a little bit like an episode of Pokemon.
  • Challenge ratings for encounters seem really inconsistent.  The group could plow through one CR5 encounter and then struggle terribly with another.
  • Cavaliers seem really over-powered.  Charging from horseback, the PC cavalier could dole out 40 points of damage, which is pretty good for a guy who isn't a spell jockey.
We got a good way through the mini-adventure, and in fact we should easily finish the entire thing next time.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

First Thoughts: Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

I picked this game up yesterday, having read a lot about it at various blogs that I follow.  I'll be putting up a decent review of it after I fully digest it, but in the meantime I thought I'd as you, gentle readers, a couple of questions.

First, how important is PC balance to you?  Some games have a pretty strong mechanic towards PC balance, usually enforced by a crunch-heavy system.  Others, like Rifts for example, have uber-powerful characters fighting side-by-side with guys who are barely more than everyday humans.  Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (which I'll call MHP for short) eschews PC balance to reflect the disparate power levels of its source material.  Hawkeye and Iron Man on the Avengers, or Colossus and Shadowcat on the X-Men.

Frankly, and I may be in the minority about this, but I think it matters a lot.  There's a scene in the inital run of Justice League Europe where Captain Atom flies up to this big evil cloud and just incinerates the entire thing.  As he returns to his group, Metamorpho says, "what are we, your cheerleading squad?"

I think that if you have a game where there are some PC's who are able to do much, much more than the others, than the ones who can't are going to eventually ditch their under-performing PC's for ones that aren't.  And in a no-point-build game like MHP, all you have to do to accomplish that is convince that your new PC Cosmic Lass is just as good a concept as your previous character, Bolo Lass.  And frankly I'm not sure the counter-argument that "mature" players are going to willingly play de-powered characters holds that much water in a game where you are smacking villains most of the time.

Which brings me to my next question?  How should good roleplaying get rewarded?  MHP incentives playing PC's "true to type" by giving them bonus dice when they do.  So if Spider-Man makes wise-cracks while battling a villain, he gets more dice to roll which means he does better.  This is a break from the old model, which tends to reward good roleplaying after the session as an XP bonus of some kind.  MHP still has those XP awards, but they tend to be plot- or task-motivated, e.g. you get a bonus if you quit a team, or help a teammate recover from being emotionally traumatized.  You're still true to type, mind you.

Finally, how important is it to you that you know what your supers PC can do, and how well s/he can do it? What do Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Ms. Marvel, and Sentry all have in common?  They all have the same stat: d10 Superhuman Strength.  For whatever it is worth, the Thing has it at d12.  Now I'm pretty sure that there is some disparity between the ability to lift heavy objects between those four individuals, but there's no game mechanic to suggest that.  Marvel's ersatz Superman is going to hit you as hard as radioactive spider guy.  I have this suspicion that in gameplay this may actually mean that my aforementioned concerns about balance are misplaced and that everyone is essentially the same level (a d8 or d10).  I've heard reviewers excuse this by saying, "well, how often are you going to have to raise the question of who would win in a arm wrestling match?"

My own personal inclination is to think that there is something inherent to the genre that has players asking how strong, how fast, or how smart is my PC?

Or President Lincoln, for that matter

Okay, that's enough for now.  More ruminating on MHP later.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Why I'm about done with DC Comics

I finally got over to my local comic book shop to empty out my pull box.  I'm a sucker for team books, and right now have The Avengers, Justice League, Teen Titans, and Batman and Robin being held for me.  I had dropped Amazing Spider-Man after the whole "Spider Island" story.  DC has recently done the whole "relaunch the entire universe" thing (aka "the 52"), and I've been hoping that it would bring something interesting to the table.
Justice League #7
Nope.  I'm pretty much done with the Justice League, but my son is trying to get me to continue with Teen Titans.  After six issues to introduce all the characters, Justice League #7 has shifted into the post-modern crypto-fascist drek of the '90s.  The US Government is antsy about the League having a new satellite, people want the League to take over the government, and the members of the League continue to be snarky, unlikable characters with no chemistry.

Look, DC Comics.  The Justice League is not the Authority.  Even the Authority got pretty tired after a while because you end up alienating a young fan-base and a sentimental old fanbase with all this deconstruction garbage.

In addition the pacing seems really off, a problem that the Teen Titans seems to have as well.  Some of that is the simple issue of art: there's too few frames to tell a story, and there's such a weird sense of both trying to introduce new characters while at the same time referencing old ones that there's no time to set things up well.  The Teen Titans are really worse than JL, because they seem to be bringing in a new villain every month while at the same time trying to establish the group.

Marvel Comics seems to be willing to spend six months having Norman Osborn pick apart the Avengers, which means the pacing is a bit better, but they have the problem that they can't seem to tell a team story without having it go cosmic-level: the Avengers have, in the last few arcs, dealt with the Infinity Gems, an Odin-level villain, a Hydra-AIM-HAMMER coalition, and are now gearing up for the Phoenix once more.  It's a wonder that they even bother having Spider-Woman and Hawkeye on the team anymore.

So, I need a good team book with low- to mid-level heroes fighting villains with solid characterization.  I'm open to suggestions at this point.

Over at Strange Vistas