Sunday, April 13, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Was worried that this movie would throw itself aground by making seriously overt political statements and screwing up what was best about the first Captain America movie.

In the end, it turned out better than I expected and all in all I liked the movie more than not.

The characters were well done and in general true to themselves, the action scenes were great, and I was surprised that they didn't go with the Black Widow romance instead setting up a possible future connection with Sharon.

On the political side of things, I think they managed to walk a nice tightrope that allows viewers on the Left to blame Bush/Military thinking as the 'big picture Bad Idea" while the Right can point to Obama's Kill List and expanded Drone use (the makers of the film openly claimed the latter as their inspiration for what it's worth).  If one insists on being political at all, at least that's ideal method for a big tent pole summer movie.

However on both sides of that question they backed away from making it a strong link by making the US President and other government members and SHIELD agents the first targets of the Insight Weapons.  In short, they made it so big and so disconnected from loyal US citizens that they blow their underlying 'message'. So yes, better than expected although I think less than what the makers thought they were doing.

Other than that it's just a general and obvious warning that one can go too far on the Security-Freedom scale. In that line some of it (the scenes between Cap and Fury for the most part) come off a lame half-arguments
that doesn't let anyone really address the issues. More walking the tight rope while pretending otherwise.

Still for my part, I could have done without any of it as none of it added to my enjoyment of the movie. On the bright side it was a passing moment easily ignored.

But there was a much more major part of the plot I didn't like...

Modern comics loving giving readers neat characters and awesome toys, and then destroying them. And now the movies have followed in that path first with the Iron Man armors and in this movie with SHIELD. I like SHIELD, it's cool and fun- more so than the CIA (where Sharon ended up) or the FBI (who I assume are the guys arresting the Hydra senator). Now it's gone (at least for while, there's still a TV show named after it assuming it doesn't get canceled).

I also didn't care for the fact that they basically tossed all the heroes of the past under the failure bus (Peggy Carter and Howard Stark where the founders of SHIELD, and thus the ones who allowed it be corrupted from the beginning). There should be room for "Heroes of another Story" without them being torn down revealed to be fools or road kill. In fact this applies to the whole background of the movie, in which every evil and threat of the post-war period is due to the manipulation of a single comic book villain group instead of the evil that mankind does as a matter of course.

As to the grittier and darker take this movie represents, I do think there's room for stale beer in a comic book movie, as long as its contained. But in this case it was too far reaching, and cast the entire world in terms of failure. This was the Dark Age of comics with a Golden/Silver Age character guest starring.

And perhaps that's why I ended up liking the movie more than not, because I've come to view the world as entering its own Dark Age and would like an icon of what was great about the past to still exist. Still, wouldn't it be nice to have more than one of those?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Deadly Games- Now without Death

One of the common conflicts one sees in online RPG forums is that between posters who say that the PCs risk death in their games, and those who want to play their characters without worrying about losing them to random and often meaningless events. The former call the latter wimps and pound their chests about how hardcore they are.

Previously I personally didn't care much about either side, not because I didn't have a opinion- but because I play both ways depending upon the campaign's genre. I took them at their word and passed them by.

However I've noticed something about "Our Campaign is so Deadly" types that arose out of our Only War experience a bit back. On of the players in the online campaign made the statement "this game is so deadly...", but no one had died. How could he say that? Then a thread over on therpgsite referenced my posts about those campaigns and the same subject came up there and so I put the question to the 'deadly game' proponents there.

And guess what? None of these players of these so called 'deadly games' actually could give an example of a significant PC being killed.

The key word there is *significant*, as I did get examples of characters that hadn't been played long dying, 1st level guys in a D&D dungeon crawl, newly created 5th level D&D characters intended to introduce new players to the game, or a PC in a CoC that wasn't meant to last more than a few sessions anyway. Those were the examples I got. But of characters dying after years of play with real history behind them? None except for those I provided myself.

In short, these 'deadly' campaigns would kill the hamsters (i.e. short lived PCs that don't really have much player investment) but long lived ones were in practical terms as safe as the wimpiest 'PCs don't die unless they want to' campaign.

And to add an even weirder outcome, most of the people who started the thread making the claims of deadly campaigns- ran from the thread and repeated their clearly untrue claims in other threads. They were completely unwilling to face the fact that their threats of 'deadly campaign' had been proven empty by their own history. I must wonder if they are lying to themselves as much as they are lying to others.

So in the future dear reader, if you see one of those types- asked when was last time he had one of his long played PCs die. Or anyone else in the campaign. Odds are good that you're get a blank look, or find out that they don't do long-run campaigns at all.

Monday, December 23, 2013

New Blood, and Onward to the Next Campaign

Finished up our Only War campaign, and it's rather nice to be done with it. It was fun to stomp everything that comes along, but the joy of doing that quickly passes when its too easy. My son's online Only War campaign continues, there the Guard (having gotten a hold of the better weapons like auto-cannons and Meltas) can handily curb-stomp Chaos Space Marines due to how forgiving the game system is.

We have a new player which is always fun. The whole concept behind RPGs greatly intrigued her when she heard about it, so much so that she attempted to drive into whatever game she could last week including going to one of the local D&D gatherings (multiple groups in a local hobby store) because all those books for it looked... well wonderful.  She came away saying that if that had been her first experience, it would have been her last.

Afterwards I attempted to explain the state of game design and the hobby to her. Basically it comes down to the fact that today's players want to win, and win easily. If they can get loot while doing so- all the better. Both their games and their role-playing are centered on those goals, and that's the end of their needs and desires. Thus you have games like D&D and Only War. This makes up nearly the entire market now and I've given up any hope that it will change.

We've started our next campaign, which has the traditional (for us) title of X-babies, attempts to give it a real name always fail for some reason.

It's superheroes using 5th Edition Hero System, centering on a new class of Mutants at the re-imagined school for Gifted Youngsters (i.e. re-imagined because it's really quite different from the comics or movies- which we all loathe this days) . Intended to be a fun and care free campaign it's a great introduction to role-playing with a tactical focus during combat, with a huge amount of fun and silly role-playing (in and out of battles). This is a setting we often use for new players for just those reasons.

Our next game is tomorrow and I'm really looking forward to it.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Only War is amazingly safe

For the last few months we've been playing in my Son's Only War campaign, and he in turn has been playing in an online Only War campaign (that's been going on for a bit longer). The setting was marketed as deadly and dangerous, and the fluff in the rulebook repeated that claim. So I was expecting at least a few dead PCs and mountains of Comrade corpses littering the battlefields.

In actual play however it's been one of the safest and easiest games we've ever played. In both ours and the online game there's not been one PC death, and only one Comrade has died (when I was guest GMing in our campaign).

There are a number of reasons for this, both mechanical and psychological.

From the mechanical PoV:

  • The system has what is basically a D&D Style Hit Points (called wounds, typically 12 points or more). Until these are gone, your character if fully effective and 'safe'. This combined with the damage reduction provided by Toughness and Armor results in a very significant Buffer against common weapons. A well built and moderately equipment character can soak *a lot* of hits or even become all but immune to less than Heavy Weapons fire.
  • The Logistics System allows characters to quickly attain high end armor and weapons further increasing their ability to suck up incoming damage while increasing their outgoing damage to levels opposing NPCs can't handle.
  • The mechanics for teamwork and leadership are well done (i.e. they are suited to the genre and effective), however they amplify the above effects significantly. In any battle the PCs will defeat equally (and even better) skilled and equipped opponents due to the effect of these rules.
  • If you do get into trouble, Fate Points will generally get you out of it.

Now naturally the GM is capable of throwing powerful enough foes at the characters to overwhelm them. However it's impressive just how much is required, We've seen players deal with dozens of foes outnumbering them 3 to one. How about heavily armored, conversion field protected, plasma gun armed robots of death with 60+ stats? Walked over. Three Killer Cans? Blasted into bits. Bloodletter? Tank? Shot to pieces. And this with characters who have just now reach 5K+ experience (something easily done after but 10 game sessions with these rules) and for most of the above had far less. I think the online game saw five players or so defeat a Chaos Marine and another time a Greater Demon (which just shouldn't be possible according to the setting).

This leads to the Psychological influences I mentioned. The amount of force needed to provide a serious threat is just too much for a GM to feel justified in using. For one thing, such opponents should be rare. And for another it just plain seems wrong to have your Guardsmen whacking hordes of foes more suited setting wise as Space Marine opponents.

In the end we're likely going to need to break through those Psychological influences and ramp up the opponents to levels that don't match the setting we thought the game was built for- just to feel that we're at risk.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


I was a bit surprised to get a press release for Corporia, a new kickstarter offering. I don't think I'm known as a fan of modern game design, but then again I do like urban fantasy style cyberpunk and this certainly fits.

So I looked it over,and it sparks some thought.

I *might* like the core setting concept. Most Urban Fantasy is a kitchen sink approach where anything and everything goes, but this one's focus on the "Once and Future King" elements of Camelot promises something less aimless than that. More over, there's a "fight the cyberpunk culture" vibe that is all but missing in that genre and I think it would be a welcomed addition (and mirrors my own re-imagined Shadowrun campagin).

Why did I include that "might" above? Well the most familiar version of Camelot is one strongly influenced by Christianity be it the Grail Quest itself or the whole "One God coming to replace the old gods" theme. But there are older far more pagan versions. And for me much depends upon which take if any the author took in for his setting.

I would have a interest in a strong Christian version, especially given the fact that Christianity is dying in the modern world. There's an appeal to the concept of its champions returning in a near future dystopia brought about by its absence.

But I doubt this is the case. Nothing seems to point in that direction and modern sensibilities being what they are I'd bet on a completely secular Camelot, or a pagan one.

On the system side of things...

Well, it looks like a typical example of a modern non-D&D based game, i.e. a low resolution trait + skill stat vs. target number thing. Very simple and uninteresting mechanics that aren't much of a game in and of themselves (and thus why should I waste any time using them?). A quick glance indicates that it also has a strong stat bias, something I've never liked in game design. A lot might have been missing in the preview certainly, but what was included wasn't impressive.

The lack of a Death Spiral is a good thing however. So there are much worse options out there.

Meanwhile the layout looks to be par with some of the better games out these days, but the photo art didn't go over well for me. Real people are just too real for fantasy, urban or otherwise. It might appeal to cosplayers, and of course such taste is personal.

One exception to that was the shower scene with the caption "Corporia what will the flux do to you" that appears in a small frame in the preview. Likely because it's a very light focus shot. Really nice that one.

In short, if you're one for light systems and urban fantasy check it out. This might suit and provide a alternative "light in the darkness" campaign in a gaming industry that mostly sees in shades of black these days.