Saturday, May 31, 2008

Scattered Pieces and Tangled Threads

Well, not much to report this month because I just haven't had time for much roleplaying work. I've been busy with the end of term and the big grading backlog thereof. And then there's a few computing projects I'm starting to work on. Next month I need to start work on my IN research, which has been on hold these past 5 months. (Ouch.)

Looking back through my timelog, it seems February and March were spent on Zludge/Drudge design (over 90 hours!), and April was blogging and short/indie games. Right now I'm trying to pick up the pieces and decide which project to return to first.

• D&D. This week I've been refreshing my Dragonwars characters, dusting off OpenRPG, and doing some long-term planning in prep for some summer gaming with B. It's amazing how characters seem to get stale when you haven't played them in a while.

Working on D&D gets me thinking about all my other lines too. We haven't gotten back to S.'s Omri line since my last post on it. Tellurian Tales has been languishing in Mor Dunehaim for over a year now.

• Drudge/Zludge. Working with D&D is faintly depressing these days knowing that 4E will be out next week. This has also taken some of the wind of my Drudge sails, since so many of the little 3.5 irritants will be fixed in 4E. But D&D will remain focused on miniatures and combat strategy, so I think there will still be a place for Drudge.

On the Drudge front, I've been trying to slog ahead with my Ailithorn: Demon Hunter line as an alpha test. But Drudge is still in many incomplete pieces, and so progress is slow. Also, I'm trying to overhaul Zludge to be a proper parent system, but it's a massive undertaking. I've been tinkering with it this week though.

• Lite gaming. A Fluffy (non-Scrabble) urban fantasy magic system is still on the backburner, as well as an interesting potential storyline to go with it. Part of the stumbling block there is that the basic gist of the story/world (uninitiated character gains strange powers, learns of magical parallel world, and must deal with the machinations thereof) is essentially the same as DRYH, albeit with a slightly different feel. S. enjoyed DRYH, so I've been wondering if I shouldn't just stick with that for a while longer instead. So I've got a few idle notes there too.

• Inspiration. For all that on my plate, I feel the urge for something new. Admittedly, I'm looking for more content than rules (since I already have my Zludge pet project). I stood around in the local gaming store for an hour or so yesterday, trying to find something worth dropping $40 on despite my dire poverty. Nothing quite fit the bill. I'm thinking about checking out Iron Kingdoms though. I flipped through a couple books--their Monsternomicon and Five Fingers: Port of Deceit--but their core books seem to be out of print. But I've long been attracted to trying a sort of steam-punk, late Renaissance/early Enlightenment/Age of Discovery, musketeers-style fantasy setting. I think I could fit this well in the civilized Midlands of Tellure, currently empty on my maps. So this got me thinking of my Interludes D&D line, which I'd be happy to switch over to Drudge. Pirates, swashbuckling, dirty city intrigue, and blackpowder pistols! Yeah!

So all these things are simmering along. Hopefully this month some of them will get pulled together into some rousing game session or solid rules documents. If so, you'll hear about it here first!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Battle for Wesnoth, or The Siren's Call of Semi-Passive Gaming

Not much to report lately. There have been no play sessions, and work on the ex-Scrabble magic system has been sporadic and slow (mostly on the bus). My term ends next Friday, so I'm trying to catch up on my huge grading backlog. Still, most of last week was devoured by Battle for Wesnoth.

I found this computer game while trouble-shooting an old Linux laptop of mine. I wanted to see if the laptop would lock-up during use, so I was just going to play a bit of Tetris. But I had previously uninstalled all the games, so I pulled up the package manager... and happened to notice this turn-based war strategy game with a fantasy theme instead. Wesnoth is free in both senses of the word (as in speech and as in beer), and it's also available for Windows. I know this because I installed it on my normal laptop after it had consumed one evening of my life.

Now fantasy war/strategy might make you think of Warcraft. (The old Warcraft, that is, not WoW.) But Wesnoth is turn-based, which is much more enjoyable for those of us a little slow on the mouse. In fact, it reminds me a lot of an old DOS favorite of mine: Warlords II Deluxe. But they've taken Warlords and added a lot of RPG features to it (and did a better job of it than Warlords III did).

First of all, each of your armies is a named individual that gains experience and levels. Play is structured into campaigns, and so your battle-harded veterans travel with you. And so it hurts a little more when you lose an archer that survived your past two battles and was only a couple kills away from his next level! Each warrior of the same class even starts out a little differently, since each is created with a different combination of traits--such as strong or quick or intelligent.

The various scenarios are strung together into a story-based campaign, much as a series of dungeon crawls can form an RPG campaign. I guess some of the campaigns even have branching storylines, though I haven't experienced that yet myself.

The strategy is pretty interesting too. Terrain affects movement, but it also makes a big difference on how well your armies can defend themselves, and so you always try to use it your advantage. Time passes, and the current time affects the game: daytime makes lawful armies stronger, and nighttime strengthens chaotic armies. And so sometimes you find yourself just trying to keep your head down until dawn comes! Also, each figure on the board has a zone-of-control that limits how opponents can move around it. This reminds me a lot of D&D's attacks of opportunity. I still haven't quite mastered using ZoCs to properly protect my wounded soldiers on the backline though.

Overall, a very nice mix of turn-based strategy and RPG elements.

It also got me thinking about the addictiveness of semi-passive entertainment. It reminds me of the entire college weekends I lost to Diablo. I'd break only for two meals a day, which, incidentally, was usually just long enough to let my mouse hand uncramp.

Passive entertainment rarely gives me that degree of flow. Occasionally I've read a whole paperback non-stop--but that's usually only about 6 hours. Or I might watch two or three movies in a row. But with an addictive computer game, I can go from waking until I collapse completely exhausted in the wee hours of the morning... and be willing to get back on again as soon as I wake up again. Of course, I have too many responsibilities these days to have the great chunks of time required for this lifestyle.

But another source of flow like that for me is RPG rule-hacking and world-building. Since that has recently been my drug of choice, the return to the computer game addiction made me realize an important difference: After a day of world-building, I feel exhausted and a little guilty for neglecting all my "real" and "important" obligations, but I have something to show for it--some artifact I've actively created. I wasn't just consuming content. Although the time just flew by while plugged into Wesnoth, I felt rather deflated and empty when I finally jacked out.

Anyway, with all the grading due, I've been afraid to open Wensoth again since last week. And with all the Zludge and RPG ideas that need to be written up, I'm hoping I don't open it for a while longer after that. But active creation is daunting... sometimes we just want to jack in to a little semi-passive entertainment, with just enough challenge to keep us flowing.