Games People Play
In which a variety of gaming related stuff is discussed, and the "publish" button is struck before any particular theme emerges.
I’m getting a lot of mileage out of the Heliomar game at the moment. Player engagement - which I mostly measure in out-of-game-session game interaction - is high, and there’s stuff to do with the game pretty much every day. I love this; it’s one of the things that keeps me engaged with a game and setting myself.
Throwing Irregular Shapes is a newsletter about games, mostly D&D, and gaming culture, if you wanted to be fancy about it. It’s written by Drew Shiel, who has other more serious newsletters as well; this one is pure hobby. You probably know people who would like it.
The group arrived in the city of Green Bastion a few weeks ago, and in the last session, went on a short mission on behalf of the Monastery of the Four Elements that stands just outside it, and then one for the archmage who brought them to the city. In between, we established where characters are going to live in the city (it became clear very quickly that they were going to stay there for at least the winter), we put together NPC contacts for some of them, I ran up maps in Photoshop of their houses, and I distributed rumours and hearsay to each player based on where their character was, and what they were doing.
I don’t have difficulty creating settings, and it’s taken me a long time to understand that this isn’t all that usual. I can go from an idea - mine, or a seed from someone else - and have a campaign setting ready to go in a few evenings. I’ve never tried to create one on the fly entirely, but I’m sure I could do it. At some level, I almost need to roll out a new setting every so often, just to take the pressure off my brain, or at the very least keep on producing details in an existing one.
The new experience in this campaign, though, is playing with a large group in a role-playing-heavy game. My old 4E game, which had a fair of overlap in terms of players with this, and was killed off by the pandemic (it might rise again), had more players, but didn’t have anything like the RP level; 4E’s tactical-skirmish-boardgame nature just never lent itself to that.
So there’s already stuff coming up that I’ve never seen in person before. Philosophical difference between members of the party - not infighting, but actual discussion. One character is completely opposed to grave-robbing, for instance, in a setting where most of the economy consists of digging up stuff that belongs to dead people and selling it. Another player, one I haven’t played with much before, has a character who is relentlessly practical, and cuts through the discussion-mode that some other players/characters are prone to by doing the thing, whatever the thing happens to be. I’m looking forward to far more of this kind of thing particularly as I suspect that some of the characters will sympathise more than others with some of the factions I’m planning to introduce as we go.
There’s also the sheer firepower of a party that size. An encounter that D&D Beyond’s Encounter Builder reckoned was “deadly” didn’t really slow them down all that much - sure, another encounter right after it, which they managed to avoid, might have been a bit challenging, but they were in pretty decent condition, maybe halfway through the total pool of spell slots, ki points, sorcery points, etc. One character was knocked unconscious, and put back on their feet a round later. It wasn’t down purely to the action economy, either; there were 8 player characters in the fight, and six moderately burly opponents. I suspect that the maths of the Encounter Builder doesn’t quite work when you get to 8 players, the more so when there are one-and-a-half healers in the party; a grave cleric and a spores druid. They’re slightly amped up on magic items right now, but not so much as to make a massive difference in combat, since many of the things they have are utility devices of one kind or another. And the presence or absence of certain characters (due to players being there or not there) also changes the maths - a fight with four undead with the grave cleric present is very different to one where she’s not around. So there’s some interesting calculation and encounter-building to be had as well.
Speaking of maths, I’ve seen a lot of people talking about a game called Idle Champions of the Realms. Epic Games had an offer whereby you could install the game and get some particular value of normally-paid-for stuff for free, so I tried it. Idle games are a bit weird anyway, I find; the idea is that you set a few parameters, in this case what heroes are in your party, and then leave the game running in the background. You come back every once in a while and tinker with the party makeup or formation, level them up (although there are options to partially automate that) and apply new gear to them. It looks like a side-scrolling arcade game, and nominally has a story - except that you can miss vast chunks of the story because your party runs through it in the background. You mostly see gold accumulating and damage per second increasing along with the levels, and those two figures rapidly run into silly numbers - octillions, and other number-names I had to look up. It has some things in common with web games like Flight Rising or, at another end of the scale, Fallen London, in that there are only a limited number of things you can do in any one interaction, and then you have to step back from it for a few hours.
But… I have to admit I don’t get the game. Flight Rising is about breeding dragons; the choices all feed back into getting exactly the right colours and characteristics and so forth, and there’s plenty of other gameplay or world-y stuff around that. Fallen London has more story that you can easily explore in a year’s playing, and the limited actions mean you can’t plough through it in hours; it has a built-in slowing-down mechanism, which means the things you can do are more meaningful. Idle Champions just… didn’t do anything for me. Yet it remains popular, and people spend money on it - most on ways to make the numbers go up faster. It’s the first time I’ve bounced so thoroughly off a game; usually I can go “ok, I see what it does, even if it’s not for me”. I played Farmville for a few months and quite enjoyed it, like. In this case, I just don’t see what anyone gets out of it.
However, there’s another game I’m playing which has far less gameplay and far more fascination: RADCrawl Worlds (link is to Twitter; the actual game is on Discord). In terms of actual things to do in the game, there are between four or six clicks in a day. In terms of formal output, there are about 14-20 lines of text to read in a day. In terms of how far you want to get into the game - well, some of my fellow players have recently, as far as I can see, stayed up all night arguing about in-game religion. There are five (usually four, but there was stuff) heroes. They are attached to a new settlement, more or less, which takes care of the mundane things like food and work. The community - the players, that is - make the decisions about what the heroes should do, choosing from about 8 possible tasks at any given time. And you lend your support (“cheer for”) one hero at a time. The rest of the gameplay - and the setting - are slowly emerging from that.
It’s fantasy, or maybe post-apocalyptic fantasy. It’s a bit like Blaseball, if you know that. Gods have recently appeared, or at least powerful spirits. Observances, at least. One of them is The Stars, another is a frog. We think. You can choose to Observe one of the gods, or none. If you do, you get access to a special channel. I have chosen - like Miryar, the hero I cheer for - to Observe the Stars. I don’t know what the frog people get up to. There are currently maybe 50 players, many of whom are not frequently active. I recommend it highly.
In “stuff I read”, I’ve long been a fan of Monte Cook’s game writing. Some of the work he did in the 3rd Edition era of D&D was quite notably better than anything else in that crowded environment, particularly the Eldritch Might books, which filled in numerous gaps in the magic system that I don’t really think anyone else was even aware of. He’s done some excellent stuff since, but I’ve not engaged with it a lot - much of it was off in the realms of science fantasy, and my tastes don’t often run that way. However, he has a new newsletter, and in one issue of it, he sets out “3 Motivations” that players have - not player types, as beloved of many game magazines and blogs and forums, but reasons they do the things they do. It’s remarkably insightful, and I think it’s going to be very useful to me.
Alright. That’s enough disjointed rambling for one issue. I’d promise to be more coherent and single-themed in the future, but we all know that’s going to be a roll of the dice on the day or days I’m writing. Have good games!