Poor Impulse Control

When we last looked in on our heroes, they were on one side of a door through which they could hear the muted sounds of conversation. Let’s pick up where we left off, shall we?

We shall because that’s the point of this post. 

The hunter was concerned that the door might squeak when opened, but it was well made enough that it swung open without a sound. On the other side was a large cavern, half filled with water, half filled with stolen treasure, and half filled with a dragon. The other half was filled with the dragon rider who was apparently trying to hide behind a transparent rock on the off chance that someone opened the non-squeaky door on the other side of the room. 

True to her maiden name, Tinda “Jenkins” Spellsinger barreled past the ranger and barbarian and burst into the room, finger-guns blazing. Unfortunately her aim was off and her double Eldrich Blasts only scored the cavern ceiling. Smelling the shit on the fan, the barbarian rushed in and closed the gap between the party and the dragon rider who was really positive that he had been hidden from view, guys! despite the fact that he was so obviously not. Never one to be left behind, the warlock stepped into the cavern and took up a safe but observable position right in the cone of poison breath that the dragon unleashed after patiently awaiting his turn. The warlock was instantly gasping for breath and, finding none, expired like a two-month-old carton of milk, while the bard developed a really nasty case of asthma which guaranteed that she’d not be running any marathons any time soon. 

Using his Shit Is Gettin’ Real senses, the ranger asked the monk to hold his beer as he stepped into the cavern. The faint strains of Wild West gunslinger showdown music could be heard from elsewhere in the cavern, despite the fact that the party had killed or freed everyone else in the complex. Maybe it was someone’s alarm clock. Regardless, the timing couldn’t have been better: the ranger unleashed a punishing barrage of physical and magical whupass upon the wounded dragon, felling the beast in a world record breaking six seconds. As the smoke wafted from his bow, the ranger tugged down the brim of the Stetson he mysteriously acquired and leaned up against the wall, arms crossed, while the rest of the party reverted to clean-up.

Seeing his dragon companion fall so quickly, the rider whipped out his own dual Eldrich Blasts at the barbarian, hitting him squarely, before attempting to disengage by diving into the nearby pool. The monk, not wanting to the low-scoring member of the party this round, energized himself and bolted across the cavern to chase the escaping cultist into the murky water. Unsurprisingly, the barbarian decided that swimming was fun, and also jumped in, although being one of the least perceptive members of the crew, he got lost easily as the monk kept close on the heels of the dragon rider. Through a secret tunnel they swam, eventually emerging into the cavern where the initial encounter had taken place. It was there that the monk cornered a severely wounded cultist when the barbarian finally found his way out of the pool. Still under the effects of Rage, the barbarian wasted no time (or words, or, you know, thought) in smashing the cultist’s head into the ground…and when I say “smashing” I mean literally smashing, like with a maul, and, like, with flying brains and stuff. 

After an awkward moment standing around the corpse with the January Jack-O-Lantern head for a while, the party opted to take what little they could carry from the dragon’s treasure hoard, adding it to their Chest of Undisclosed Treasure From A Previous Session, and eight bottles of some Seriously Kick Ass Booze that they had found previously, and made their way out of the Misty Forest and back to Waterdeep. 

 

Their arrival at the city was fortuitous, as it seemed that the cult situation had escalated in their absence. The city was on lockdown, and the normal citizen hustle was reduced by several magnitudes of bustle. The party was quickly ushered up to the council chambers where they relayed the news of their encounter with the dragon and its rider to Delaan and Algarthas. At the mention of the rider’s name, however, Algarthas grew pale and quickly left the room. Delaan informed the party that the rider they had encountered — Neronvain — was Algarthas’s half-brother, and the estranged son of the council’s King Melandrach. 

Lady Silverhand was quick to bring the party up to speed on what had transpired. The draakhorn had been sounding almost continuously for the past few days, and streams of chromatic dragons could be seen heading to the Well of Dragons from every corner of the region. To make matters worse, scouts from all over report that cult forces had broken off their raids and were returning to the Well with haste. The council has no choice but to consider the cult’s plans to be entering their final phase, which meant that the council was out of time: they had to begin deploying their forces to meet the threat of the Dragon Cult. 

She had one more task for the party: infiltrate the Well of Dragons and do whatever they could to disrupt the plans of the cult in any way possible to weaken their offensive and stop their ritual. The party had proven themselves capable time after time, having won over the various personalities that made up the Council of Waterdeep. They didn’t agree on much very often, but the council had come to the unanimous agreement that the Adventure Co. Brand Adventure Company was the Sword Coast’s best and only hope at stopping this threat (because of course they are…it’s their story). 

There was one loose end: informing Melandrach of the death of his wayward son Neronvain. The warlock, bard, and ranger tactfully explained the situation to an incredulous Elven king, offered their condolences, and watched as the trembling elder was lead from the room by his surviving son. 

+   +   +

It’s been a few weeks since we have been able to convene, due to holidays and various Mishaps of Real Life. Thankfully we weren’t in a really complex story because apparently I need to work on my note-taking skills. 

This was a notable session for a few reasons:

First, the fucking hunter one-shotted a dragon. A seriously wounded dragon, but still a core threat to the people of the Sword Coast. What surprised me was the fact that the ranger had apparently been holding out on this Skill Chain of Badassery. Obviously not something to use against rank and file minions, but the “firepower” had traditionally been concentrated in the hands of the multi-strike monk and the berserker barbarian, so who knew we had devastating artillery in the group?

Second, the dogged persistence of the monk in chasing down Neronvain. I see the reasoning behind it — this guy might have a dragon mask, so there’s no way they were going to let him get away — but there was always a chance. Neronvain ducked into a concealed tunnel while under water, but the monk was able to keep his eyes on him. Liberal use of Ki points to initiate Dash, coupled with several Attacks of Opportunity and a blistering string of critical rolls decimated the cultist as he tried to run. I admit that my hope was that Neronvain would escape because having him alive and bringing this news to Melandrach would have severely different consequences than what we’re dealing with now. Of course, Neronvain’s death, I think, was a surprise to everyone since it was handled as an in-character situation involving a raging barbarian who could only see killing his enemies as the way to end the encounter, regardless of how incapacitated his enemies were. 

Third, the score sheet. I’m not going to say much else about it right now, but I had thought the council affinity tracking would vary far more than it is. I am interested in completing this module mainly so I can write the whole post-mortem about it. 

Battle Royale

The party had just gotten through teaching some forest spiders the meaning of NOPE when they happened upon an idyllic waterfall suspiciously out of place on the edge of the spider’s domain. The raven, their guide to wherever the dragon and its rider were supposedly camped out. landed on an old tree by the edge of the waterfall’s pool. This was apparently the end of the road. 

The pool itself was less that idyllic; there was a green cast to it, and a rolling green haze clung to the surface. As the party investigated, a green dragon exploded out from behind the waterfall and unleashed its poisonous breath, catching a few of the party members in its Cone of Death(tm) before wheeling around and plunging through the waterfall again. 

Following the dragon, the party found themselves in a cavern system that opened into a rather large amphitheater. The dragon was here, clinging to the ceiling and awaiting the party’s entrance. As the group descended into the cavern, other enemies joined the battle: cultists from the north, elves from the south, and ettins from the west. 

The dragon managed to score another hit with its breath weapon while the party tried to thin the heard while also wounding the dragon. The warlock polymorphed into a Tyrannosaurus rex (yes, seriously) and managed to bite a cultist in half. The ettins and the cultists were dealt with, and when sufficiently wounded, the dragon gathered up a cultist who appeared to be the dragon rider and the two plunged into a deep green pool that occupied the back-end of the cavern. With no sense of carrying on the fight, the elves laid down their weapons and surrendered. 

Turns out the elves were collected from various villages as insurance that none of their surviving kin would warn others of their cult’s presence. The party extracted whatever information they could from the elves about the rest of the cavern and allowed them to leave. 

A quick search of most of the caves revealed that the place was now deserted, with it’s occupants either dead, fled, or escaped. A hasty investigation of a finely appointed room earned the ranger an acid trap in the face, while the barbarian managed to dodge a point dart trap by smashing the lock of a chest in the room. 

A secret door behind a tapestry lead to a small prayer room where the party discovered a journal written in elvish. Beyond that, another door was found in the opposite wall, behind which could be heard a low rumbling and a low volume conversation in elvish. 

+   +   +

Pardon the basic rundown; this was a two session event that happened over three weeks, so the original engagement is kind of fuzzy. 

Galin the elf offered his raven to the party to lead them to the lair of the green dragon and its rider that he had been meeting with. Along the way the party was granted a blessing from a druid in the woods, which the warlock refused. This blessing made the members immune to the dragon’s frightful presence but also covered up their presence from the dragons spies in the wood. Because the warlock did not accept the blessing, the party was exposed to prying eyes, and the dragon was lying in wait just behind the waterfall curtain. 

The module wanted a lot of death to be thrown at the party, but I cut it down for two reasons: first, I didn’t think that so many enemies would result in any kind of fair fight, and second, I didn’t want to have to deal with (no kidding), something like 20-25 NPCs on the combat tracker. As it stood, this event took two sessions, and we’d probably still be in the middle of it had we kept the compliment that the module suggested. 

Some interesting elements from last night’s session, though:

  1. The warlock turning into a T.rex turned out to be a fun party trick, especially when he chomped a cultist in half. 
  2. The bard was advocating that the party get out of the cavern throughout the encounter, and was hanging back for most of the event. At one point she handed her crossbow to the monk, but to return it, he tossed it across the cavern to her. I asked her to roll a DEX saving through, and wouldn’t you know it…she rolled a 1, immediately after we joked “wouldn’t it be hilarious if she fumbled the catch?” As a result, the crossbox fell short of the catch, bounced, and discharged a bolt that hit the ranger. This was the second time the bard had hit the ranger with a projectile.
  3. The barbarian, in full-on rage mode, was scaring the elven prisoners. The warlock, still in T. rex mode, slapped him with his tail and flung him into a wall but then quickly opted to drop the dino-mode and return to his normal tiefling self. Not content to let this slide, the barbarian attempted to tackle the warlock but missed, ending up face-first in the brackish pool of water. 

Posting Mortem – Adopting Imzy

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A few weeks ago, we created That Gaming Forum community on a new social network called Imzy. I thought I’d written about this earlier, but I checked and…I guess not. 

Imzy is a “nicer” social network. It’s got more stringent rules in place than “those other guys who shall remain Reddit nameless” in order to ensure that people who want to have intelligent conversations don’t have to dodge shitballs from shitballs who just want to make people angry or push agendas. Like other sites, you can subscribe to different communities, so if you find a community you like, jump in. If you find a community that infuriates you, just move along. It really is that simple. 

We had a Twitterburst conversation that left a group of us feeling that, once again, Twitter is not the place to go for group discussion. A bunch of us tried working through Pages on Facebook (to keep our gaming stuff and personal stuff divided), but that ended up being too much work, maintaining a double-life that way. Sadly, Google Plus ended up being a bust; Google doesn’t seem to know what to do with it, doesn’t promote it much, and keeps rearranging the furniture in an attempt to capture some fung shui that will make people think better of it. We’ve got a few Discord servers, but not everyone likes Discord, and although there’s a bunch of “by gamers, for gamers” networks out there like Player.me and Anook, they didn’t even register (although I prefer Anook out of the two examples, I can’t access it from work, which is why it didn’t register when thinking about a new home for our discussions).

So we ended up on Imzy because I’d heard about it a while back, signed up for it, and then promptly forgot about it until I remembered about it when we decided that our current schemes weren’t working out. 

How is this working for us? Pretty well, I guess. We started out with a few members — people involved in the initial Twitterburst — and I thought that was great. People were actually willing to give this a shot, which made me happy. Imzy is a good platform, but is under active development and feedback is welcome, so it’s not the most robust or logical platform in its current state, though it is most certainly usable. In a short amount of time, we gained a lot of members — we got notified at 100, and 500 members. As of the writing of this post, our community That Gaming Forum is at 757 members?!

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That’s a nice number! But how many people are using our community on Imzy?

According to the cool dashboard that leaders have access to, we’re getting an average of about 60 “activities” each day…which I assume is a measurement of how many people are looking at our group, whether it’s directly or alongside other groups that they belong to. 

Imzy doesn’t have an in-depth metrics view yet, but scrolling back through our posts, it seems that we’re getting a respectable few posts each day. Weekends may tend to be slower as people go about other business, as we see in general blogging circles. Of those posts, there are about five people who make up the overwhelming bulk of participants of new material (I’m not surprised by who they are since they seem to be the ones who have been willing to adopt these new crazy schemes we come up with). We get a few additional people who comment, but not too many over and above those core five folks. 

Obviously for a community of 757 people, having about 10 or fewer people actively participating is kind of sad…On paper. But I don’t feel any kind of sadness about it. We’re getting a rough average of 60 views per day, with a few posts per day made by a handful of people…fact: there are more people apparently viewing this community on a regular basis than there are viewing this very blog on a regular basis!

From a personal perspective, that’s good stuff! But this isn’t about me, of course; it’s about getting people together who like to talk about similar stuff — video games and general geekery — without being hobbled by character restrictions, worrying about mixing business (family stuff) with pleasure (gaming and such), or about having our platform pulled out from under usagain. Naturally, we’d like to see this community grow. While the numbers are certainly mind-blowing, what we really look forward to is people willing to post new content, start new discussions, and to draw new members in by (respectfully) talking about things of community interest. We started this community so we could talk in ways that blog comments or existing social media structures never really and fully allowed us to do, and we’d love to see more folks giving our community a shot. 

On Atlas Reactor

I played a stupid amount of Atlas Reactor this weekend. For a game that I once dismissed as a gimmicky esports wannabe, I think I can safely say that it’s my current go-to game. 

Atlas Reactor is a “synchronous” multiplayer arena-based 5v5 PvP game. In today’s atmosphere of fast-paced competitive action games like Overwatch or League of LegendsAtlas Reactor is more of a philosophical treatise punctuated by a spastic burst of flailing around, followed by some intense reflection. 

See, you have a roster of “freelancers” to choose from. Selections follow the standard “free to try” model which rotates every cycle, are available for individual purchase, or can be purchased in bulk. Each freelancer has four standard abilities, one ultimate ability, and three one-shot-per-match abilities. There’s also modifiers that can be unlocked and applied to each primary ability for customization. 

firepower-zukiGameplay is broken into four phases of activity: Prep, Dash, Blast, and Move. Prep phase handles certain buffs, as well as laying down traps if you have them. Dash handles certain abilities that allow for quick, short movement or teleportation. Blast is the main action phase and handles most attacking. Move is…movement. You can choose one main ability that triggers during prep or blast or dash phase; you don’t get one prep, one dash, and one blast choice so you’re forced to pick what you think is best for the round. There are some free actions for certain freelancers which can be added to one of those rounds, and there are three one-use-per-match free abilities that can be used which include self-buffs and healing. 

You have 15 seconds to make your decision, which is where the strategy comes into play. You have to choose a course of action based not on what you see, but what you anticipate. For example, throwing down a trap during the Prep phase (which happens first) will assume certain circumstances before those circumstances play out (i.e. anticipating that someone will move through the trapped area). In another example, choosing an ability that triggers during the Blast phase — like a melee or ranged attack — would end up hitting dead space if the target picked an ability that triggered during the Dash phase and moved them to another place on the map. You have to be quick, assess the situation, make assumptions, and make a choice before the round timer runs out, or else you forfeit your actions that round. Once everyone has locked in their choices, the action plays out according to some kind of internal initiative (which can be augmented by certain abilities), so not only do you have to consider phase, but you also have to consider the possibility that a target might die or take an action that will negate your action before your choice is triggered.

When I first looked at Atlas Reactor, I was overwhelmed by the GOGOGO of decision making. My spirit animal is the noble sloth, which means I rarely do anything quickly, so 15 seconds to get my actions locked in invoked panic. I put it on the “not for me” shelf until recently when a bunch of people in my timelines started talking about it. Most of us aren’t of the competitive stripe, but Atlas Reactor has an ace up its sleeve for people like us: progression versus bots. 

Unlike most other PvP-centric games, Atlas Reactor‘s vs bots mode is a fully realized option for progression. You can join up with friends (and get an XP boost!), strangers (and get an XP boost by deploying “GG” tokens), or AI team members to take on AI bots on the other side. You can tweak the difficulty of the enemy from one to four (maybe five?) stars, with more stars ramping up the difficulty. Then you pick your freelancer and go to town. You can even complete daily activities and “season” goals in vs bots mode once you reach certain account levels. 

This is a godsend for people like me for a few reasons. First, I’m not competitive. I don’t appreciate people who pin their egos on a video game screaming at me to “git gud” by their standards. I play to enjoy myself, which vs bots mode allows me to do. Second, it allows me to do something I don’t normally do: obsess over the performance of my character. Normally I’m only concerned with “bigger numbers replacing smaller numbers” in games, but this time I need to know what my freelancer can do and when the best time is to do it. Because there are only a few seconds to make a decision — which might include an action, a free action, and a movement, all in a very specific order which has bearing on other decisions, both mine and those of my enemies and team members — I can’t spend time hovering over the abilities in the match to read and decide. Thankfully, having only a handful of abilities means that I don’t have to memorize tables of stats and results, and vs bots mode allows me to take a new freelancer for a spin, relatively consequence-free. It also allows me to work on “git gud”, although against AI and not against superior players which doesn’t always translate 1:1, but that’s OK. Being able to earn XP is the best perk, though, since there are daily missions to unlock, and season tasks. Over the weekend I made it to level 5, unlocked both daily missions and season missions, and even accidentally joined a public vs bots group which was actually a pleasant experience. 

Atlas Reactor is free to play with rotating freelancers each cycle. If you’re interested in trying it out, you can sign up and download the game through Trion’s Glyph front-end. 

 

Rollercoaster of Love — Planet Coaster

As much as I like MMOs, and RPGs, I really love sim games. There’s no pressure to perform, they allow for creative expression (most of the time), and there’s a real sense of satisfaction that pure progression-based games can’t possibly offer. On the downside, it’s easy to be willing to get lost in a sim, meaning that anything less than 30 minutes spent in the game is going to hardly be worthwhile. 

I was pleased to see Planet Coaster arrive on the scene. I’d never played a Rollercoaster Tycoon game to a point where I’d say I was a fan, but A) building stuff, and B) it’s made by Frontier, creators of Elite Dangerous, so now that their catalog is book-ended in such a bizarre manner, I can sleep easy. 

As with Tycoon games, you have to build and maintain a theme park. That means you get to build rollercoasters, but also bathrooms. I bought the Thrillseeker Edition which included beta access (although the game launches this week) and tried a few modes this weekend. There’s a campaign mode which has you taking over established parks and trying to hit milestones, and there’s also a sandbox mode where you’re given unlimited money and a wide open, empty space to build a park. 

Naturally, I gravitated towards the latter, because who wants a second-hand park?

BEHOLD! My…eh…entrance!

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There’re no rides, but we’ll still charge you admission!

And that’s really as far as I got before I realized that I have no idea how to build a theme park. I’m not a theme park kind of guy. I don’t like rollercoasters, and I rarely ride any rides in general. However, the cool thing is that my entrance is a fully customized building made from walls and windows and roof tiles and decorations. There are a few pre-made buildings included for things like refreshment stands, rides, and even full-blown coasters, but there’s really nothing like the feeling of constructing your own, sitting back, and saying “meh, it’s just OK”, especially when you look through the Steam Workshop at some of the things other people are building. But take heart! You can totally download those things and make your park as awesome on the screen as it is in your head. 

At $44.99 (for the Thrillseeker edition with beta access) or $40.95 for the base edition (which will increase to the $44.99 price when it launches), you can’t really go wrong. The amount of options inherent in being able to build vast swaths of your own park — buildings, terrain sculpting and landscaping, and of course the rollercoasters — makes it a pure steal at that price point, so if you like sim games and want to move beyond neighborhoods, then Planet Coaster is a no-brainer.