- December 4th, 2013
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Moving my blog over to http://magisterscorner.wordpress.com/
Come on over!
Moving my blog over to http://magisterscorner.wordpress.com/
Come on over!
Most GMs and most players aren’t sure what to do past a certain point in a game. There’s a threshold past which players are powerful enough to destroy small villages (or city blocks, depending) and the GM has trouble coming up with credible threats. Or reasons to press on. This is high level play, and most people just don’t know what the heck to do with it.
There’s a good reason. WARNING: NERD TALK AHEAD. Most game designers are focused upon the lower 3/4 of the game since that is where the majority of the action will take place, and most games will likely end before hitting the upper ends. A few games even have built in features to keep players down below this line.
As with many RPGs, I’m going to look at the three I’m most familiar with and enjoy most: Dungeons and Dragons (represented by Pathfinder), the Storyteller system, and GURPS. And then I’ll look at Exalted…because this is my blog, dammit.
Dungeons and Dragons is designed on some simple ideas. First, combat characters get roughly one bonus to hit to one level. Simple enough. Wizards, by contrast, get a die of damage and a lot of utility besides. This is called in most parlance “Linear warriors/Quadratic Wizards.” Broken down, it makes a lot of sense. The party sorcerer will likely be consistently out-damaging the fighter, and over a wider area besides. This is supposed to be balanced by lower physical stats, but…well, that is often times left to the type of wizard. Most people try to avoid that when possible, and use items, spells, and a lot of tricks to circumvent that problem. At higher levels, wizards become decidedly dangerous with access to spells like Gate (instant planar travel and a lot of mean tricks besides), Shapechange (because I really want to be a dragon one round and a giant the next) and everyone’s favorite, Wish. Some of these reality warping spells have been talked on, balanced, re-balanced, re-re-balanced, and then finally taken out back and shot. The issue at that level becomes less ‘how do I create a challenge?’ and more ‘how do I make something that will survive?” This is, by the way, a single party member. Clerics have access to a seriously dangerous array of spells and don’t suffer physical drawbacks the way wizards do, rogues are hitting with at least half a dozen dice a hit, and the fighter is probably able to take several blows from a giant relatively unfazed. Monsters at this level are dangerous, but it’s also the point where a lot of people are starting to overcome the limitations that used to be there. Damage reduction is usually gone, wizards are able to shrug right past spell resistance, and any damage taken can usually be fixed right up by the party healer. It’s a tricky scenario and usually requires the GM to make his own set of NPCs to counter the PCs. Not an easy (or especially quick) task.
D&D, I think, is a good example of what happens when the designers are a bit unsure of higher end play and seem to be focused far more on the lower, but still leave options open. World of Darkness takes a different route. All gameplay for supernaturals takes place on two levels. The first is when you take the ‘powerstat’ of each character type and have it at or below 5. The powerstat is the game’s supernatural potency statistic. For vampires it’s the age and potency of their blood, for mages it’s their magic power, and for werewolves it’s their connection to the spirit side of themselves. These stats run 1-10, but after 5, problems crop up. Most characters start to acquire additional weaknesses. Vampires start to only be able to feed from other vampires, werewolves need to spend time in the spirit world, and mages can cause some seriously bad problems when they mess up. There is also a hard line for crossing into these. Age, wisdom, and additional quest…each requires the character to undergo more than just experience point expenditure. Further, details on the upper end of the games tend to be fuzzy at best. Oddly, it was Changeling: the Lost that went into the most details, and even these were mostly expansions on the powers. Overall, the upper end of the game acts as a sort of gigantic plot device. It is there if the GM and players want it, but it is also mysterious and requires some more design. Part of the issue is the way the system works. Basically, at this stage, you are dealing with dice pools that will be far and above what anyone below them can achieve. On average, two dice are one success, and the upper halves are capable of getting those two extra dice for every powerstat point they are above 5, and so they are capable of hitting levels others cannot. It effectively divides the game between ‘normal’ play and ‘high level’ play.
If World of Darkness is the vague and strange with the way it handles upper limits, GURPS is pre-defined. High level play is…well, unusual. Ultimately, it comes down to how many points you get and how much allowance your GM gives for advantage such as Altered Time Rate (take an extra turn), Enhanced Time Sense (always act before people without it and dodge LASERS) and Warp (teleportation). For reference, average, run of the mill humans are usually around 100-150 points. You earn around 2-3 points on average a session. Now, a demigod would be built on between 500-1000 points…and that’s a lot. However, back to the original example, even long running games are unlikely to see point totals exceeding 250 or so. This could boost skills, give some powerful abilities, and gives you roughly 100 points that the other guy doesn’t have on average. High level play in GURPS, then, is a matter of points, but also a divide between so-called cinematic and non-cinematic abilities, which offer a rather sharp divide in ability.
Before I hit Exalted, I hear some people say that ultimately a game should be able to support high level play. After all, video games continue to provide a challenge all the way until the end. Which, in part, is true…but ultimately I think there need to be an understanding. Let’s take one of my favorite games of all time, Chrono Trigger. I remember playing that game when I was 7 and when I was 20. See, I remember trying and failing constantly when I was 7 to finish the game, but I always came across one issue or another. Renting the game was probably the main one… Regardless, I eventually got a used copy for Christmas and started playing it. I remember the last boss was impossible from a save file I found on the rented copy, so I leveled myself until I hit level…oh, I want to say it was 85 or so. I figured there were 100 levels, so go at it. Thing is…the last boss was designed to be fought at around level 60. The last boss was difficult, but no more so than any other boss, really. Aside from my vastly different mind, I was entirely overpowered for that fight. Most games are designed to be dealt with by people who approach the game with a casual touch. Mass Effect is a good example. My first time playing, I pretty much blitzed through the main storyline and still managed to finish. Then I played through, hitting everything, and…well, the results were predictable: sayonara Saren…
The fact is, even the most well thought out game can’t really appeal to both the casual and aggressive player assuming otherwise static values. If enemies are adjusted to compensate for your increased ability, then yeah, you’re pretty much good. But if this is not true, the game needs to account for the players that just want to play for story. The ‘hardcore’ demographic, by contrast, will be overqualified for the task.
So why do I say this before Exalted? Well…keep reading. Exalted is a game designed so that players are already top of the food chain. You’re a superweapon created by the gods and infused with powers that would, theoretically, allow you to kill the beings that created the gods. The theory part is only because you, the player, might not have the power right away. Canonically, they have killed Primordials…which is insane. At the start of the game, a player could forge a kingdom with his bare hands (literally) and convince an entire populace to worship him as a god-king. Even the greatest mortal swordsman cannot hope to match an exalt armed with a tree branch.
And despite that, we end up with a point where the game just says, “you are too awesome for this.” After this, the game ceases to become about epic battles and more about finding the nearest superpowered being and punching it in the face. And…it’s probably the best example of how high level play can cause…issues. Statistically, an exalt who gets past powerstat 5 has one extra success, can add two extra dice (another success), or gain superpowered abilities the likes of which others can not. Even without superpowers, you’re just flat out better than others, and this makes things complex. See, there exists a sharp divide between those above and those below. Those above can boost their abilities higher than normal without benefits of magic and when they do use magic…well…
This is where there’s an issue. The divide is sharp and is far more harsh than most others. High levels in Exalted are an entire game unto themselves. Like overleveling in a video game, you’re basically overqualified and overgunned for the rest. Aside from something custom made to provide a challenge, you’re going to trounce standard encounters and enemies.
So end conclusion? High level play is a strange and wonderous place. It can be a lot of fun, or a lot of hair pulling. Personally, I enjoy getting there at the end of a long game, doing some awesome, world changing stuff, and then fading back to level one with my wooden sword and leather armor…or daiklave and bare chest. It’s the way of things, though this means different things for different games.
Demon quickstart went onto DriveThruRPG today. I decided, since I don’t have enough games to think on (sarcasm mode…), I’d give it a look.
This game is a spiritual successor to Demon: the Fallen. Fallen took the idea of literal angels of Judeo-Christian beliefs and turned them into characters. It was a fascinating, if slightly unnerving, idea. Demons were from various areas and factions, but served initially as cosmic custodians and architects…until some rebelled. As in the Bible, they drew arms against heaven and were imprisoned in Hell until…well, long story short, a wizard dropped a magic nuke into the underworld and cracked open the prison on accident. The result: these demons can find humans who’s souls have passed on (right after death, usually) and possess the body.
Descent takes a different approach. You are still cosmic janitors: that didn’t change. What did change was the source. You’re working for what is referred to as the God-Machine, a sort of…well, for lack of a better term, metaphysical program. It creates angel as it needs to fill certain roles. Angels usually drift about, fixing problems or eliminating them. However, sometimes an angel goes rogue, and falls. These are the Demons, and they are knee deep in trouble.
In contrast to a lot of games, you don’t have an enemy faction. Rather, the entirety of the universe is your enemy. It’s a bit like being in a body as a foreign substance: eventually, the immune system is going to kick in. But in the meantime, you are a fallen angel with a lot of knowledge of how the universe works.
The powers remind me a lot of Mage: The Ascension. Your powers are the ability to alter the codes of reality. The subtler ones, called Embeds, allow you to make small, relatively unnoticeable changes, like changing out one’s clothes, or making a bullet wound look it ‘winged you’ as opposed to ‘perforated your chest cavity.’ Less subtle powers are called exploits, and allow for overtly supernatural effects, including summoning Biblical plagues and snatching any object needed at a moment’s notice. These powers are useful and I enjoy the idea of literally hacking reality: feels like the Matrix…the first one, not the sequels.
Another transition that carried over is that demons are not human, and can assume another form. Called the ‘apocryphal’ or secret form in Fallen, Descent it is instead the demon trying to impose it’s form on reality. Reality is apparently a jerk, because demonic forms look like H.R. Geiger was making sculptures out of scrap metal and random technology. They are creepy, horrific, and get some sweet bonuses…one of these things is not like the other…Wings of scrap metal, a shark-like maw of razor sharp metal teeth, and hands that can change into power tools are all options listed in the book.
The weakness of demons is what I would term ‘existential crisis.’ See, demons don’t exist physically and are far, far from human. Aside from acting like Data from Star Trek: TNG, a demon’s cover can get blown for a variety of reasons. Also, like the programming themes through the game, demons can experience ‘glitches’, or minor issues when they exploit the system.
Overall, quickstart shows a lot of promise and I’m looking forward to seeing the full book when it hits. When it does, you can expect a detailed review of the game as a whole.
High School DxDis a light novel written by Ichiei Ishibumi. It has two main things going for it: fanservice and crazy action scenes…and the first is by far the most heavily played up. It’s easily the most heavily sexualized series I follow…and keep in mind that I follow series like To-Love Ru. And yet, the novel was adapted into a manga and an animated piece, the latter of which is now going through its second season. I am going to be talking about the light novel, so this may contain some spoilers for those following the anime or manga.
And yes, I rather enjoy it. At least in novel form. I’m always a little worried someone will walk in during the anime and I’ll have to explain myself and then that will lead to talks and confessions at the priest and I hate going in for things I know aren’t really bad but I feel bad about anyway…what was I talking about?
Right. The reason I enjoy this is the same reason I like things like Pacific Rim: it’s a lot of fun. I’m not sure where the author gets his ideas, but the series somehow strikes a great balance between serious and silly, and can bounce between them at a moment’s notice. In some respects, this could be considered emotional abuse, but in others, it’s there to keep the audience on its toes.
So basic plot: Issei Hyodo has the worst first date imaginable. Oh, the whole thing went pretty well. Right up until the girl he was dating stabbed him in the stomach and left him to die. I will admit: getting dumped sucks. That would likely suck a whole lot more. Luckily, the idol of his school, Rias Gremory, is also a devil and brings him back as a devil himself. Along with the rest of the Occult Club, he goes off on several (mis-)adventures. These range from the silly (Issei learning a spell to destroy women’s clothing) to the serious (pick a member of the club aside from Issei: they have a dark and tragic backstory somewhere) but they all usually are solved with a combination of anime heroic willpower…or Issei being a lecher. Oddly, the latter tends to be his solution to serious problems as well. Regardless, Issei isn’t necessarily a horrid person, but…well, you can only expect so much from someone who’s declared goal is to become a harem king.
The characters are, at first, very typical of what someone who watches anime expects. There’s Issei, who comes off as a very typical shonen hero, his love interest Rias who comes off at first as distant but later becomes the jealous type, and the rest of the cast fills in. Akeno is the counterpoint to Rias: very forward and direct about her feelings, going so far as working to seduce Issei at times. Koneko acts as the emotionless girl, Asia is the girl who has an almost worshipful view of the protagonist, and Kiba is the opposite to Issei, popular and level headed. Later, they are joined by a colorful cast, each one adding a bit to the fun. I enjoy all of them, especially the manner in which they relate to Issei and one another.
And yet…there comes a lot of deconstruction with these archetypes. Kiba certainly appears cool and aloof, but we find out that he is, in fact, looking for revenge. Akeno has serious father issues, with her father being a fallen angel, which her master is at war with as well as her personal issues. Even Issei eventually has to come to terms with the fact that being stabbed by a girl you took on a date is a rather traumatic event. These little twists are really what make the series for me. It isn’t limited to the characters either. The series is willing to pull small narrative tricks and ploys, some of which are quite intense and/or fun.
Of course, a lot of the fun is just in the craziness of the series. Issei could give Goku a run for his money for most insanely over the top shonen hero. He is, after all, powered by a dragon sealed by God inside his left arm, trained by a minor prince of hell, and has the ability to turn his perverted aspects into power…yeah, he’s nuts, but he’s an endearing kind of nuts. Heck, it says something that, at the point the novels are at in the series, Rias, who is related to the King of Hell, is considered among the weaker members of the cast. All of them get power ups and personality developments, but they’re always slightly mind boggling. Combined with narrative exploration, we get a good story combined with over to top humor and a chance for highly dynamic fight scenes.
I have been watching the DxD New series. Still more fanservice than I care for, but I forgot the craziness of how well some of the series is put together. The music is decent, the animation is good, and the voice acting…well. The actors include Yuki Kaji (Attack on Titan, Magi, Accel World) as Issei, Yoko Hikasa (Infinite Stratos, K-On!, Working!) as Rias, Azumi Asakura (IDOLM@STER, Chūnibyō Demo Koi ga Shitai!) as Asia, Shizuka Ito (Jormungand, XXXholic, Negima) as Akeno, Ayana Taketatsu (Sword Art Online, K-On!, Oreimo) as Koneko, and Rikiya Koyama (Fate/Zero, Ninja Scroll, and so much more…) as Azazel. This is just a few members of the cast and it goes on. There is some new talent, which is awesome, and the cast works very well together. Overall, while perhaps hypersexualized, the anime is a decent adaptation. Sadly, by my best estimates, this season will end just as things start to get really good. Still, it leaves me with some hope that there will be another season.
Overall, Highschool DxD is a fun franchise. It aims to be over the top in everything that it does. The concept of ‘up to eleven’ comes to mind. Despite this, it doesn’t try this at all times, rather striking a balance between the casual sort of insanity that comes with such series as well as the emotion and dramatic characterization that makes me come back to it. It is very enjoyable, though if you are turned off by the excessive fanservice, maybe avoid it.
I was once asked by a female anime fan whether or not I would watch an anime that had as much fanservice for women as most shows did for men. At the time, I said I would. Now, I have a correction to make: I’ll watch it if it’s anywhere near as fun as Free! -Iwatobi Swim Club.
For those unfamiliar with the history, the anime started off as a light novel created by Kōji Ōji and was picked up by Kyoto animation which did a 30 second commercial…which promptly turned into a minor phenomenon.
And yeah, it is heavily fanservice laden, which honestly I find more amusing than anything. I mean, what’s there not to find amusing about a guy who will strip down to a speedo to swim in a fish tank? That would be the main character, Haru. He’s a stoic character, and very little seems to phase him, but he really enjoys being in the water…which becomes clear when he is late to school so that he can stay in the bathtub. And catches a cold because he couldn’t stay out of the pool.
This reminds me a bit of K-On! quite a bit, especially the characters. Haruka is the main character, and fills the main stoic character. He really has only one focus, which is swimming. In some ways, he’s an interesting guy. He’s at first living off of the idea that by the time he’s twenty, no one will remember him. Later, he’s focused on swimming and possibly on giving his old friend a fair match. The two main friends, Makoto and Nagisa, are also interesting. Makoto is the more responsible and balanced character, though he’s also a bit boring. Sorry, he just hasn’t done a great deal yet. He might be the responsible one due to being the oldest in the family. Nagisa is very outgoing and goofy. He seems to have a thing for guys with girly names and girls with boyish names. Rin is the last to join, and he’s…well, the intelligent idiot. He’s the person who thinks everything can be solved with logic and SCIENCE! and therefore is very rigid in his thinking. Rounding out the game is the single concentration of X chromosomes, Matsuoka Gou. Aside from being the canon fangirl (she really likes those arm muscles…), she also acts as the sole voice of reason. Lastly, there is my favorite character, Amakata Miho, the staff adviser of the club. She reminds me of myself, honestly. Teaching, loves quoting ancient proverbs, and has a mysterious past…well, two out of three isn’t bad. She mostly joins due to innocent blackmailing, but her smile that utterly cows the boys is just precious.
Oh, character designs…are really good. And very detailed in musculature. As Gou will tell you… Anyway, the characters are designed well, as expected from Kyoto animation. And you get to see them quite often, especially as Haruka seems to strip down whenever he sees a body of water large enough to immerse himself in. There was also a section where the guys are trying on swimsuits…and it’s fanservicy as heck. But it was also a good showing of the artists’ skills. The animation is very good, and the swimming is just brilliantly animated in its dynamics.
If you are familiar with the term “Ho Yay,” this series has it in spades. To quote SFDebris, “On a scale of one to ten, this scores a gay-point-gay.” The homoerotic subtext is…well, is more ‘text’ if you catch my meaning. Comments of calling others ‘beautiful’ and blushing demands that another boy ‘take responsibility’ doesn’t help. I will not lie: this combined with the excessive fanservice is half of the appeal…because it’s hilarious! I don’t know if females find excessive fanservice aimed at males similarly amusing, but I find it fun.
The anime has some of the fanbase set against it, but I really enjoy it. I’m hoping we get to see a bit more discussion and a bit less fanservice, though. There really is some fun symbolism, Haru’s connection with the water, and a mended friendship to explore. We’re only a few episodes in, but I’ve got confidence that we’ll see some good plot development. Check it out if you’ve got the chance.
So I’m thinking of doing a MS Gundam Unicorn review in the future. Here’s a rough of the intro for it.
So Girls & Panzer (or Girls und Panzer) is an anime that…well, was about high school girls driving tanks. See, in this strange setting, tank driving is an international girls sport because it encourages qualities for a quality domestic housewife (it makes sense in…no, actually it doesn’t even make sense in context) and is a major guy magnet (this, on the other hand, I can see). The main draw to this is the tanks. I mean, geeze. They have real tanks, lovingly rendered and detailed. Some of them even share statistics with their real world counterparts. A good example the Maus which, in addition to being a great graphic novel, is also the world’s largest superheavy tank and also makes an appearance as an absolute engine of destruction in the anime.
Plot is…well, let’s face it: I didn’t watch this for the plot. Something about winning a tournament. The characters, by contrast, are fun. Having taught in middle and high school, I can see the archetypes: the shy one, the proper one, the outgoing one, the reclusive one and the geek. They have some interesting struggles, and a couple even have serious conflicts with family and friends. Most of it, though, is just good fun. Nothing wrong with that and after the stuff I’ve been watching (Attack on Titan, Garden of Words) it is a welcome reprieve. The characters are highly amusing, my favorite set being the student council. There are a few serious points, and they do help with keeping the plot going, but overall, the series could be considered a nice, lighthearted romp through a strange little world.
The design is a lot of fun, though the CG on the tanks can contrast a bit with the more traditional cast and scenery. The tanks do look awesome, though. There are a few scenes that show that the crew had some fun as well, including a few really fun tricks and shots that make my day. Overall, fun and enjoyable anime.
Tying in to that…
Is World of Tanks. This MMO is about…well, driving tanks…with other tanks…to destroy another team of tanks…Plot? Who needs a plot?
My friend got me hooked on this and…yeah, it’s addicting. The basic idea is driving tanks, tank destroyers, and self-propelled guns (artillery) around and shooting other tracked vehicles. It’s a lot of fun, and leads to some crazy stories. The time setting is World War II (so nothing like modern main battle tanks) and several countries are represented, including the USA, USSR, Britain, Germany, France, and China. Each country has a certain approach, and a lot of the tanks have real-world statistics. And…the Germans do get the Maus, which is just hilarious, really.
Everyone starts small and works their way up. There are ten tiers that roughly coincide with power scale and all types of vehicles fill certain roles. Light tanks work as scouts, mediums work as the workhorses, heavies are the slow but powerful combatants, tank destroyers are glass cannons, and artillery…is artillery. Further, each tank has a certain playstyle, ranging from long range snipers to close quarters brawlers.
I find the game to be a lot of fun, and I recommend giving it a shot.