Tuesday, August 31, 2010

D&D Recap: Sessions 1 - 3

So our D&D exploits have gotten rather popular and fans have really taken to the story and the players. Hell, someone actually made a TVTropes page for us (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SpoonysCampaign) and as a Troper myself, that’s awesome. Now sadly with Spoony going to PAX this weekend there will be no D&D, and obviously there was no session this past weekend as Spoony was busy getting his newest review out before he had to leave. This means two weeks without D&D, and two weeks without a recap, so allow me to fill in the time with a look back at our campaign before we started streaming: Sessions 1, 2, & 3.

Let me start off this by saying our original group was Garrett (Skitch), Darstine (Sean), Viktor (Nik), Andraste (Paw), Jonn (LordKaT), and Sayid (me). Yes, Jonn and Sayid. Who were these two? Well Jonn was a human Barbarian and Sayid a Tiefling Warlock (Infernal for those who cared) and well… they didn’t last long. You’ll find out why shortly.

So our game began with our characters outside of the Kingdom of Sarmanath for one reason or another only to be in awe of the hundreds of refugees stationed around the city walls. Why they were there was a mystery, but one that was answered fairly quickly as our group was ushered in to see King Donovan. The King saw our team as brave adventurers and he wanted us to travel south from Sarmanath to find out the cause of whatever magic was forcing the people to his city. I recall vividly having someone barter with the King to give us extra gold for the sole purpose of buying supplies, and then nobody buying anything. Anyway, our group entered a tavern in town so we could acquaint ourselves with one another, and this was where our first big D&D joke started. Upon entering we were asked to roll Perception checks and we did. To my knowledge no one botched, and we all noticed that the restaurant was empty (I think Spoony said the DC was about 5). We asked what would have happened should we had missed, and he said we would have come in an immediately said “Oooh! Onion rings!” Thus the joke began that whenever our characters botched a roll it was because onion ring-related reasons. Onion rings can be rather banging.

Without any further delay our group set off to the south to stop this great magic and all become big goddamn heroes! Except it got late, and we were tired, and my feet hurt. So we put our brave quest on hold to go take a rest in a nearby abandoned farmhouse, but this moment was a rather terrifying one as well you know… abandoned farmhouse… middle of nowhere… evil magic in the air… things didn’t look good basically. You know people always cite Antwion the Halfling betraying the group to be the source of our paranoia, but I’ll have you know we were quite paranoid far before we were getting robbed by furry midgets thank you very much. So, we spent a good fifteen to twenty minutes investigating the home for any sign of foul lurking evil. You know monsters in the cupboards, boogiemen in the closet—that sort of thing. To our surprise we survived the night without being eaten alive, and we were awoken to a flavored description from Spoony.

I believe it went along the lines of an “orange light beaming through the windows” or something to that degree, and Jonn for some reason assumed that meant we were all being burned alive. When he asked Spoony if “are we on fire” Spoony responded with an instantaneous “no”. I’m not sure if Spoony had ever expected to hear something so stupid in his life, but this wouldn’t be the most baffling amount of stupidity he’d encounter in this campaign by far.

So we left the home uneasy, but rested. Not long after we came upon a caravan which had been torn apart and burned severely. Ever the curious explorers we had Darstine sneak ahead to see what the deal was. She was by the caravan when Jonn stormed up to her and assumed she had destroyed the cart. He immediately screamed “DARSTINE, WHAT DID YOU DO!?” and (surprise) a collection of fire beetles rose from the wreckage to attack. Not much was memorable about this battle besides the fact that Jonn and Darstine were nearly killed for well… you know… being idiots. I do recall Jonn laying a critical hit on one of the beetles with his battleaxe and Spoony’s resulting description pretty much amounting to the beetle exploding from the impact. Pretty badass if I do say so myself.

After the battle we continued on our way and I should note that the further south we traveled the more these farmlands began to fade away and turn into badlands until finally the ground itself turned to sand and we came upon a huge dip in the ground where it looked like a meteor collided with the dirt. In something out of Super Mario Brothers our verdant Forest Land totally just climate changed into Desert Land in a couple of miles. Just beneath the cliff we were standing on we could see a group of men with scorpion features forcing a group of slaves to cut down the few remaining trees in the area, and being the awesome heroes we are, we swooped in to help! Not much to say about this battle either other than we won, and if I recall the scorpion men tossed enormous tree trunks as javelins and I think Jonn took about four of them to the chest before the end of the battle. We took a rest here, and this is where Session 1 ended. Session 2 started the next morning where we now traveled towards an enormous pyramid that sat at the heart of this crater.

For abridging purposes I’ll skip over the uninteresting battles and just start again after we infiltrated (see: smashed into) the pyramid and we found our way into a side chamber. The room was covered in weapons and appeared to be a shrine of some sort (well we assumed that cause we sorta killed a priest who had just come out of that exact room) and a room adjacent to the weapon room looked to have quite a bit of history in it. It also had a series of monsters that all instantly came to life the moment we stepped in the room, and they possessed several powers used to unequip our weapons. Garrett lost his sword and become frustrated that he had no weapon to attack with… while standing in front of a room lined with weapons. The imagery alone is hilarious, but it was another one of those moments where Spoony had to wonder how stupid this group was. And yet still, not the stupidest thing this party has done. No, no that comes now when our group tried to head upwards in the pyramid and came upon a magic portal separating our party from a room filled with treasure. An obvious trap to be sure, but we debated about what to do. Should we jump through anyway? Should we investigate the rest of the pyramid? Should we try to disable the trap. To be honest we bickered about this for around ten minutes before Jonn just said “FUCK IT” and jumped through. He vanished and because in character and out of character I was friends with Jason I jumped in as well. The rest of the group (led by Andraste’s suggestion) said “eff it” and left us to die. No seriously, they left us to die. I know they didn’t want to die either, but seriously they left us to die and I’ll never forget it… Poor Sayid he had such an interesting backstory.

Well anyway, the remaining players went and found some ancient statue, a magic necklace (Viktor wears it still), and some history about the pyramid. A mural revealed (or at least implied) that the pyramid was actually a temple from way back during the Blood War which was a vicious war between the gods that resulted in many deities falling out of power or leaving existence entirely (this is major part of our campaign). The goddess of this temple apparently used some magic that launched her portal forward in time so she could rise to power after the war had ended, and the pyramid had chosen here and now to appear. So yeah, we’re dealing with a goddess. Fun, right?

Back to Jonn he appeared from his cross dimensional trip in a dark room reeking of death and the sounds of swinging chains swinging against the walls. Jonn decided he would investigate his surroundings by lighting a sunrod, and that set off the swarm of ghouls that instantly devoured him. Now this wasn’t a trap—this was an encounter. The problem is that Jonn (and later Sayid) is a Striker and not built to take out multiple targets at once. There were around six or seven minion ghouls, and two stronger ghouls and without anyway to do burst or area attacks we were done for. Jonn died and I appeared after the ghouls were feasting on his body. Spoony was actually being nice and giving me a chance to escape, but I figured I was done for, so I decided to go out epicly. I gave my best war shout and intimidated them! Only to find out ghouls really don’t care and they nom-ed Sayid dead. So yep, Jonn and Sayid were eaten by ghouls and that’s when Session 2 ended with Session 3 being the introduction of our new characters and Angry Joe. You guys know these characters (Juliet, Grae, and the original Lord Vane), and there’s not much to say about Session 3. The only things I recall was LordKaT not being able to play so I NPCed Grae, and he stunk. Never hit anything except the back of Darstine’s head and Andraste’s butt. Oh, and Joe could never decide on a name for Vane. In fact the name Vane wasn’t even his idea. He originally started as Jonah, but then I suggested Vane as Vane was the name of an infamous pirate. So Joe probably looked up Viking names and renamed his character Youst Kempfer, but no one could take the name seriously so he renamed himself Matrix, and then finally Lord Youst Matrix Vane Kempfer. He settled on Lord Vane.

Oh, and that all happened during the game. Midway through battle he’d change his name over and over. Pretty funny, at least to us. Again, there was almost nothing else to mention during this session. I got a nifty crown I still wear and we avenged Sayid and Jonn by killing the ghouls, but beyond that nothing happened. We returned in Session 4 which is where my recaps and the recordings already pick up. So that was our start guys. I’m really glad people dig this session so much. It’s awesome people are actually debating our characters with one another and creating tropes for our characters and exploits. It’s really far out to see you guys take such an interest in our game and it makes it all the more fulfilling for us. Thanks again guys, and I’ll return to my normal recaps when we (hopefully) return to playing next weekend! Until next time, Namaste!

Friday, August 27, 2010

D&D Lessons: How to Play the Defender

Alright, it’s time to finish off my D&D roles guide with a look at my favorite role: the Defender. Why is it my favorite role? Well, allow me to return back to the earlier football comparison I made with the Striker. While the Striker is the Wide Receiver/Runningback who everyone buys jerseys for and the Leader is the Quarterback that everyone knows is the face of the team, and the Defenders are the linemen who are often times neglected by even fans of their own team.. It’s a thankless job, but a necessary one. Without a good line a quarterback can’t get the ball off, and a runningback can’t break out into the field. That’s the Defender in a nutshell. Remove the football analogy and the job still remains the same: take a beating so your team doesn’t have to.

A Defender might be a very difficult job for people to understand as people hear “Defender” and think “Tank”. It’s not that cut and dry, and truth be told a Defender will be played differently depending on your DM, but I’ll get to that in a bit. The thing that makes each Defender unique is that they all have a mark. Now a mark is something plenty of classes (and monsters) can do, and on the surface it’s a simple -2 penalty to attack anyone else but the person who marked you until the mark ends. However each Defender has their own unique way to mark, and their own unique way of punishing a mark so that it’s actually threatening to disobey. See, that’s the key to a Defender: being threatening. A monster has to actively fear what you can do for a mark to be effective causing perhaps the most unique class feature in the game. This is a power you never want to activate. Yes that’s right you have super cool punishing powers designed to lay big damage down on the enemy, and you don’t ever want them to be used. The reason being that if they violate your mark that normally means they’re going after one of your teammates, and it’s your job to prevent that as much as possible.

A Defender is a tough role to play especially considering your DM. On one hand a DM may honor your mark in almost all situations meaning building a good Defender is easy, however some DMs will play monsters with a tad bit more intelligence. See a monster will realize when it’s futile to continue attacking someone who isn’t reacting to it, and will usually try to find someone else to beat on—afterall there’s little point in fighting a battle you almost statistically can’t win. This means that you can’t just build a Defender with super high defenses and HP who sits there and takes punishment. Realistically you want monsters to hit you. This sounds crazy, but trust me, you do. Every moment a monster hits you is a round they’re not hitting your allies. It might not be fun to be the guy getting wailed on, but that’s what a Defender is. They’re the tough sons of bitches that can actually survive said beatings.

I suppose I should mention the elephant in the room and talk about how you’re going to die… a lot. Well, actually you’re not going to die, but you probably will drop to 0 HP and pass out every so often. This isn’t as bad as it sounds as you’ll often have a Leader ready to save you, but to be honest some Defenders actually take falling in combat as a sign of honor. It’s like a battlescar—proof you were there, did your job, and lived to tell about it. Now your goal isn’t to die in every encounter of course, but the thing to note is that it’s going to happen. Some of you pansy, squimish types might grimace at this thought, but look at it like this. You know that fiery ball of hellfire that crit you and took you from bloodied to – 5? Yeah, think about what would have had happened had that attack hit your squishy wizard or your fragile thief. Such a strike would turn them into mushed paste oon the ground. That’s what you prevent everytime you get hit. That’s –why- you want to get hit! Again, I know it seems like a weird style of gameplay to sit tight and take attacks, but truly that’s the job of a Defender. If fighting like a man isn’t what you want to do, then roll up a Striker. This isn’t the role for the weak of heart.

So what tools does a Defender have that makes them effective? Well each Defender has a particular way of marking, and a method of playing that either makes them sticky (or in the case of the Swordmage; not sticky), or makes it so enemies are drawn to them. Let’s look at the Warden. The Warden is considered by many to be the best class at surviving with their high HP and ability to roll saving rolls at the beginning and end of their turn. Their method of marking is an automatic mark on anyone adjacent to them, so they’re not too tough to play, however their punishment is less than impressive. However Wardens are incredibly hard to get away from with their powers that pull enemies in and their famous Level 1 Daily “Form of Winter’s Herald” which makes them nearly impossible to escape from. On the inverse look at the Paladin. They have almost no way of keeping enemies next to them. No pulling powers, no abilities to attack enemies who try to get away, etc. However, no class is better at marking tons of enemies at once. Heck, a Level 1 Encounter power has the ability to mark all enemies within three squares of them for a turn. That’s only one of many powers a Paladin has to dominate the battlefield by forcing enemies to stay with him, or betray his mark.

Since Defender is the smallest role (in terms of available classes) I’ll actually try to explain the other roles more so you guys understand how the classes work. Fighter’s are the Striker Defender. They deal big damage, and they are the best Defender. I know it’s tough to say any class is “best” at their job, but truth be told a Fighter will normally be more effective than a Paladin or Warden. This isn’t to say don’t look at other classes, but simply put Fighters are monsters. A Fighter’s mark is the only mark that will be betrayed that you actually be happy about as they get to lay down the hurt whenever the enemy so much as shits their pants wrong. Save for ending their turn doing nothing or attacking the Fighter, there’s almost nothing an enemy can do to escape the Fighter without the Fighter attacking, and some Fighter Builds can even stop the enemy’s movement should they hit. Damn.

Swordmages are different depending on which aspect you take: Assault, Shielding, or Ensnaring. Each plays very differently from one another, so this choice will define how you play the role. Assault and Ensnaring are the closest, yet polar opposites. Both activate when an opponent attacks one of your allies, but Assault teleports you to the enemy while Ensnaring teleports the opponent to you. Both are good, though Ensaring keeps you sticky while Assault is best when your DM often betrays marks. Shielding however is right up there with Fighter as best Defender as her power is very simple. Mark enemy, and run away. Yeah, run away. See a Swordmage is at her best when the enemy has to chase her down every time the enemy attacks someone not marked by a Shielding Swordmage the damage they take is reduced by the Swordmage’s Constitution. This is the best example of mark and forget, and again, you want to leave your mark alone. Even if it does attack the opponent its damage won’t be very significant, and more than likely the monster will take some time tracking you down. A great Defender.

Last is the Battlemind which is the newest Defender, and thus the most underpowered. Many Battlemind problems are fixed including the Battlemind’s Blurred Step which is a class feature that allows the Battlemind to follow along with any marked foe that has shifted away from him. More than that they have the dreaded Mind Spike which causes an enemy to take damage equal to that it inflicts while it is adjacent to a Battlemind that has marked it. One aspect even has a nifty special power that lets it move before initiative which is pretty awesome.

Playing a Defender requires a mindset like many roles. You shouldn’t think “I have a lot of health and my AC is high”. You need to think “How can I keep that monster from attacking my allies”. You’re a self-sacrificing character, and yeah, people might not remember your exploits, but take solace in the fact that if your allies are around afterwards then you did your job.

The Defender role includes the Fighter, Paladin, Warden, Swordmage, and Battlemind classes. When Heroes of Shadow comes out in March of next year, it is rumored that the Hexblade class will also be a Defender. That wraps it up for my look at the roles, but I’m not done here. My next plan is to start looking at each class individually to help people see the positive and negatives to the classes. Also I’m always around to help with any other questions you guys might have, so never hesitate to ask! Until next time when I return with my look at the Paladin class, Namaste!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

D&D Log: Session 12

Well guys, it’s a day late, but I’m here to give you guys your regular D&D recap! I apologize for the lateness, but the epic level of this session took a lot out of me. No, it did. I wasn’t able to get to sleep that night until about 2:30, though part of that may be credited to the heat. Regardless, I woke up yesterday feeling all kinds of terrible, so I slept the day away to recover; hence the lateness. However there shall be no more delays! The D&D recap begins… now!

So picking up from last week’s session we licked our wounds following our battle with the mushroom people and traveling south once again to Ihestas (specifically Morwaytha’s shack). Though days passed in game, we traveled the distance quickly and came upon the shack under siege by a Gnoll Hunter and two festering Witherlings. What proceeded was complete and utter domination, and for likely the first time in this game, we were the ones doing the dominating! The first round of combat Garret was hit with two attacks that, had I remembered he was to have +4 to all defenses for a round due to Nature Sense, may not have counted anyway. Regardless, after that attack the enemy never got another hit on us, and I think in three rounds we wiped out the monsters without expending any Daily powers. We managed to save Morwaytha before she could be attacked, and then delicately pressed the issue that we needed her to help us translated the cursed tomb of an ancient demi-god. Yep.

She was hesitant at first (surprise surprise) suggesting that we destroy the Word of Morgana, however we explained the situation with Darstine. We were then treated to a very interesting tidbit of news. The book is Morgana’s phylactery. All that stuff about Darstine’s mind being erased? Well her mind wasn’t so much being erased as it was being slowly taken over by Morgana until she would eventually become the demi-god herself. Fan-freaking-tastic. So we now find ourselves on a very limited clock as each day a page of the book disappearing further putting Darstine’s mind on a timer. We don’t know when her mind will be lost, but we do know that it will happen if we can’t break her curse.

One problem at a time though since, you know, the whole “king slayers” thing. We asked Morwaytha to help us learn the language, and she agreed to teach Vane, Juliet, and I believe Viktor. Sadly Viktor and Vane blew their Wisdom checks so they were all “derp”. Juliet learned it fine though and shared the info with Vane so we knew, without a doubt how to undo the curse. Phew. It was time to leave Morwaytha for now, and we bid her farewell. Actually first we waited to see if she had ritual casting herbs. Okay then it was time to leave. Actually wait we wanted to know if she had a box. Okay then we left. Actually wait no then Grae asked for arrows. And then we came back to ask for rations. And then I think Darstine came back in to ask how long she had left or something. Jeez, talk about abuse of the whole “one more thing” trope. I’m surprised she didn’t shoo us out of her cabin. Heck, she probably wanted to considering how much she hated Vane.

So we left (for real this time), and now it was time to start my plan. I said before I had a way to get into Sarmanath, but it wasn’t 100% guaranteed. When Vane spoke to the Halflings last session (I didn’t mention this in the last recap as little came out of it) he asked how Queen Elena was doing, but they had no news. More specifically I wanted to know if she was seen in public appearances, and we never found that out. I curse myself for not sending Vane into Ihestas to find out as that information would have been crucial. Anyway, my plan was thus: Upon nearing Sarmanath I was going to send an animal messenger to Queen Elena from Garret that would instruct her that we had a way to save her father, and that we had proof of our allegiance. The proof would be Esgalion’s head, and we would show this proof to her by having one of her most trusted servants come to a meeting spot to see the head. From there we would ask that Vane be given a private audience with the Queen to find a way to let us in. The plan was working fine for awhile, and the rest of us set up camp after the messenger was off. Vane waited in the tavern for the “trusted servant” to arrive, and eventually a woman cloaked heavily in robes arrived. The Queen!

Vane took her to his room to continue the story, though I suppose at this point I should explain a joke I don’t think many got that night. Vane was operating under a fake story that he was a mercenary named Bomar. Bomar was a reference to joke running in LordKaT’s stream about a game of Madden 11 where Jason was playing the Giants. Eli Manning threw about four interceptions, so we jokingly had Jason bench him for third string QB Rhett Bomar… and Bomar played better. This started a joke that Bomar would carry the Giants to the Superbowl, and for some reason we made Bomar retarded. The idea being that after winning the Superbowl, Bomar’s interview would go along the lines of “BOMAR PLAY FOOTBALL GOOD! BOMAR WIN SUPERBOWL!” Funny to us, though honestly I don’t know why we’re so mean to the guy. He’s not a great player, but that’s why he’s the third string back up who might not even make the team. Hell, the guy’s only a 2nd year player, and he’s not an idiot so I’m not sure why we made him a caveman in our joke, but we did. This joke then carried over to D&D, and when we needed a fake name for Vane, Bomar fit the bill. BOMAR GOOD NAME! BOMAR MAKE GREAT DECEPTIVE FRONT!

Back to the story at hand, Vane realized quickly that he was speaking to the Queen, and that he needed to get her to us, however a few things were suspicious. Why did the Queen come herself when we asked for a trusted servant? Why was she so adamant about speaking to Garrett? More importantly, how did she even get out of the castle if Talbot was being such a douche? At this point I wish Juliet had gone instead of Vane. Not because I didn’t trust Joe, but unfortunately Vane was at the mercy of his own skills. Juliet’s passive insight was a 20, so even without a roll she’d know something was up, but Vane unfortunately rolled a 15 on his insight and detected nothing. He led the Queen towards our camp and she nervously asked “is that Garret? Is that where he is?” When Vane finally confirmed that he received a blade in the back as the Queen shifted into a horrid raven like monster. Yep, we were deceived, and we quickly found ourselves surrounded by a flock of those raven like monsters. Or is it a murder of ravens? I can never remember.

We had to engage the assassins in battle, and being that we never lit a fire, we fought in complete darkness. This battle didn’t go as easy for us, but still we benefitted from Spoony rolling like absolute dump last night. We fought off the assassins, however the leader of the group escaped to warn Talbot placing us in a very awkward position. More than that, we learned that Talbot was going to marry Elena in a few days. So we had to stop the wedding, and more so we had to hurry as now Talbot knew we were here and we planned on saving the King.

So our plan failed, and again I refer back to my earlier questions. I wanted to know two main things. How Queen Elena was after the death of her father, and if she made any public appearances. With the latter I’d know if she was still a public figure head, or if she was Queen in name only and, as I expected, Talbot had basically taken power. Had we known we could have come up with a new plan as Elena was compromised, but we weren’t as prepared as we thought. Shame too, because I liked the plan. Well, we now sat a good while outside of town with no idea how to get in, but a knowledge that we had to. We couldn’t just run away. At this point we had exposed our hands, and the only option left was to do it like prom night and go all the way!

At this point Darstine began to remember different curses inside the Word of Morgana that could help—specifically a spell of clairvoyance, and a dimension door that could transport us anywhere we had been before. So we made a new plan. Lord Vane needed to see the amber statue of King Donovan to cast the ritual, and a full minute of preparation before he could finish the spell. That meant one full minute, or 10 rounds, of uninterrupted casting. In addition Darstine would need to stay back so she could maintain the dimensional door as without it, we would be trapped and Vane couldn’t cast the spell. That left Viktor, Grae, Juliet, and Garret to enter the throne room and distract the guards for one minute. This was a tense battle planning session as the likelihood of surviving a full ten rounds against who knows how much reinforcements would be nearly impossible. There was a good chance some or all of us could die in the battle, or worse that we survive the ten rounds only to have Vane fail the incantation. Still, this is that badass moment where none of the matters and we all get to be big god damn heroes!

We all gave ourselves a pep talk and a few epic speeches before we did it. We charged in, swords, arrows, and spells readied. The battle field was about even odds at the start. Four of us versus two average guards, two elite guards, and one mage. Right off the bat Viktor almost killed the mage, and we thought maybe this battle wouldn’t be as hard as it appeared, but this was not the case. See, the two elite guards were complete and utter rape machines. Yes, rape machines. These guys hit hard, hit often, and hit you from far away. Even with Viktor and Garret’s high ACs we found ourselves in danger quite often. Garret’s healing spells went quickly, and we all found ourselves very, very bloodied. At one point I was running about three rounds at 4 HP. This was a very tense battle, and the person I felt worst for was Joe as he had to watch us get torn apart and know he couldn’t help. It’s crazy how much action was compacted into a single minute, but it was intense. There were some rolls I had to hold my breath during. The battle with Esgalion may have been more epic due to the whole punching off the pyramid thing, but this battle, at least for me, carried a lot more weight as every dice roll seemed like the roll to determine if we lived or died. Finally the moment came and Lord Vane completed his incantation and it came time for the final roll. The roll to determine if those ten rounds of hell were for naught.

… 25.

GAGOOSH! Vane cast the spell and light shot out of the amber prison freeing the king. We were quick to march upstairs, almost dragging the king with us as we had to stop Talbot. We arrived to find one of the Queen’s handmaiden’s stabbed (Juliet healed her), and then Father Emmitt in critical condition (I believe Juliet and Garret saved him too), only to find Talbot holding a blade to Elena’s neck with his back to the window. He was prepared to use her as a hostage and run away with his new bride, until Donovan showed up. Talbot was… stunned to say the least. He momentarily hesitated, and that allowed Lord Vane (or maybe Viktor) to toss him out the window. He clung to the edge, but Juliet turned into a beast and cleaved off his fingers causing the fiend to drop to his death. In retrospect probably should have kept him alive for questioning, but come on, how often to you get to throw assholes off a building? Come on, cinematic value alone says we had to do that.

We ended shortly thereafter. Next session we’ll begin the long process of explaining exactly has happened in the past five sessions to the King, and that’s sure to be interesting. Assuming we leave free men, our next goal is to find a way to save Darstine. Truth be told, I’m not 100% happy with how we won. While epic, what we did was take the easy way out and we tripled how much of a hit to Darstine’s mind that we initially planned when we started this adventure. I don’t know how else we could have managed such a feat, but the fact is we’re abusing this book and that’s going to bite us in the ass. But I suppose I should be optimistic as we’ve now finally defeated Talbot and saved King Donovan. For half of our group, we dinged at Level 4, so expect newer, stronger characters next level for Juliet, Viktor, and Garrett. In addition I believe we’ll be receiving a new party member next week in Iron Liz who will be joining us as a much needed Cleric. Sweet.

Okay well, that’s all there was to the session (I say two pages later…), and a session next week is a maybe. Spoony has PAX coming up, so we may not play for the next few weeks. Again though, if you were going to choose any session to have a break on, this would be the session.

Well that’s all for this week everyone. Until next time: BOMAR KILL BADGUY! BOMAR WIN D&D! NAMASTE!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bleach Chapter 416 Rave

Early this week I mentioned how the most recent chapter of Bleach was good, and to my amazement I was pretty much alone in that thought. After the trashing I’ve been giving Bleach for the past few weeks I figure people just assumed I’d be harsh on the newest chapter, however I must state that I’m not going to lie when I find a chapter honestly decent. The newest chapter of Bleach is good! It’s not great, and the quality of it pales in comparison to even average chapters of other, better manga, but still it was not a bad chapter. Why? Because this is the first time in a while that I hated Aizen… for the right reasons.

For months now Aizen has become the malignant tumor of Bleach; irremovable and doomed to kill the story. I hated what he did because he was a terrible villain. His actions weren’t evil, just over powered. I felt nothing regarding him smashing the cast into pieces just to prove his strength, and Bleach’s inability to truly sell someone as dying makes caring about their supposed demise impossible. I don’t believe the Soul Society will be killed, and thus I don’t care much when it appears they’ve been killed. Aizen failed, for months, to make me hate him for his actions and not just his existence. I hate that he’s an overpowered asshole who buries the cast to boost his already maxed ego. However this week, for one chapter, I hated him for his actions and not who he is.

Killing Gin (or presumably killing him) was the first action Aizen has done since striking down Tousen that legitimately pissed me off at him. I wanted him to get beat then, and I want him to be beaten now. Gin wasn’t the best character, and it’s tough feeling too bad for the same dude that tortured Rukia before her execution, but you do get the feeling that Gin was trying to accomplish something noble. His good-bye to Matsumoto was sweet, and I must note that Kubo actually has very intriguing side characters. The relationships between characters like Matsumoto and Gin or Komamura and Tousen are far more interesting and well developed than characters like Kenpachi or Ichigio.

Aizen did made it savage right off the bat by ripping Gin’s arm clean off, and moments like this strike me. Granted arm removal in Bleach has become somewhat of a trope, but this instant reminded me of the rather vicious scene where Matsumoto lost half of her chest from the attack of the chimera. The resolution to that was bullshit, and I imagine I’ll be displeased with the end result to all of this too, but as of now I remain optimistic and honest when I say that Aizen ripping of Gin’s arm and then cutting him down was pretty intense and intriguing. Follow that up with Ichigo appearing, and for once I’m excited about Bleach. Ichigo appearing means less of the bullshit burying, and we will, fingers crossed, finally see the asshole dead once and for all.

Look, I don’t think Bleach will get good. I think Ichigo v Aizen will be long, boring, and overall very unfulfilling. That doesn’t mean I won’t say I enjoyed this chapter. It was a nice change of pace to actually feel sorry for the guy getting cut down by Aizen instead of just saying “OH COME ON! AGAIN!?” Gin being more than a wild killer has been hinted at for ages, so I’m glad the payoff was something I could get emotionally attached to. Drink it in fans, and get your hate ready. Rollo T liked Bleach this week.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

D&D Lessons: How to Play the Leader

With 4E D&D the “roles” are essentially reimagining of classic MMORPG classes. The Defender is the Tank, the Striker is the DPS, and the Leader is the Healer. At least that’s how it appears. Afterall when each class under the role has a feature that allow them to heal their allies, it’s hard not to group them under a single banner, but in truth the Leader is far more than a “healbot”. Healing is a big aspect of them, yes, but they also buff your allies, reposition the battlefield, and enable your allies to make extra attacks at no expense. These guys are the inverse of the Controller. Where the Controllers job was to make sure the enemies lose, it’s the Leaders job to make sure your allies win.

The Leader class is pretty diverse while still remaining fairly grounded in a particular mold, which helps make them perhaps the most unique role in D&D 4E. Were most classes are separated by mechanics and how powers work, a Leader is defined by what particular aspect of a Leader they’re most skilled at. For example, Clerics are by and large the best healing Leaders while Warlords are the best at allowing allies extra attacks. Runepriests are great at buffs, Bards at repositioning, so on and so forth. Point is that a Leader can become perhaps the most customizable part of the party. Say you have a group together and you have a Seeker, a Sorcerer, and a Fighter. With that set up you’d likely want to build an Eagle Shaman or a Bow Warlord who are skilled at granting Ranged Basic Attacks (something your Seeker and Sorcerer will love you for). Alternatively let’s say your party is a Rogue, a Shielding Swordmage, and an Invoker. You’d probably want to play a Bard so you could help reposition your Rogue for combat advantage while helping to move your allies out of the range of the Invoker’s area burst effects. Point is that the composition of your party has the largest impact of which leader will be most effective in your group, so for the player who likes to make his character the perfect fit for the party, Leader is often the way to go.

It’s been noted that a team can survive without each role being filled. A team can live without a Striker, but it just needs good defense as fights will go on longer. A team can survive without a Defender, but they’ll need to cautious about their weaker characters being targeted. However there’s no real substitute for the Leader, and the role might very well be the most essential part to any party. I’d dare say a group without a Leader has little to no chance at lasting without a TPK. So why all the Leader praise? Simply put: Leaders will save your ass. This isn’t opinion; this is fact. There will be a moment when your caster will get surrounded, and it’ll be your Leader who slides him out of danger. There will be a moment when your Defender will take one too many blows and drop to single digits, and it will be your Leader who heals her back to almost full health in just a single turn. Leaders, simply put, keep you alive. They won’t be the ones laying the killing blow on the archdemon, but that’s not their job. Their job is to keep you doing your job.

So how does one play a Leader? It’s not as tough as you’d imagine as long as you keep one thing in mind when picking powers: will this help out my team? As a Warlord you have to think: “Will this power enable my allies more?” It’s easy to look at a power, see it does 4d[W] and marry the power, but that’s not who you are. Instead grab the power that’s only 2d[W] but instead gives allies defensive bonuses for the rest of the encounter, or free healing when they attack a particular monster. When building a Leader you must remain selfless and realize that your job is to make sure everyone performs better. The damage you do is fine so instead focus on the stuff that only you can do. It might require you to sacrifice some really awesome powers, and even take powers that transfer your actions to others, but remember that the job of a Leader is to keep his team playing at their top efficiency. You are the team’s MVP. Losing you is like losing their future. In that respect remember that everyone is going to do their best to make sure you can do your job the best. Controllers will keep enemies locked down and Defenders will keep them occupied. Concern yourself with how best to help your team, and you’ll work out.

Playing a Leader requires a state of mind where the battle is never out of grasp. If you think of your character like a healer, you’ll never get in the right mindset, and that’s essential for playing the role. Don’t think of yourself as some wimpy guy handing out medicine—think of yourself as a general who’s leading the battle. The very essence of the battlefield is shaped by your abilities. For Bards it’s your deceptive magics that throws enemies around. For the Shaman it’s the spirits of the wild whispering orders that change the future of the battle. And my personal favorite, the Warlord who literally commands his soldiers to move and keep fighting just by sheer authority. The Leader isn’t the medic in an army, they’re the General. They see a battle and only see victory. Keep your mind focused on the battle at hand, and no challenge will stop your elite force. Keep your unit alive and fighting at full strength and there’s not a force on this planet able to stop your team.

The Leader role includes the Cleric, Warlord, Bard, Shaman, Ardent, Runepriest, and Artificer. Next time I’ll close off my look on how to play the roles with a look at my favorite role: The Defender. Until next time. Namaste!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Weekly Manga Update: August 17th, 2010

Hey everyone, sorry I’ve been quiet regarding manga for a bit. My plan since the first recap was to do the next episode in video. Well the first time I recorded it was the day my internet died, so the chapters were dated by the time I got back online. I then tried recording regarding this week’s manga, but when I did my recording I realized ten minutes in that my camera ran out of power, and since then I just haven’t sat down to refilm it. Instead I’ll make this upcoming week the first time I’ll try the review in my new video format (it’s just a vlog nothing special). However I still want to get out my thoughts regarding the last week in manga, so why not do it again, but in written form?

Something else I decided was not to talk about each individual manga, but more so the interesting ones. The really bad ones, the really good ones, or the ones simply worth noting as discussing each manga could take awhile. So this week I wanted to talk about Bakuman, SWOT, Beelzebub, Naruto, and Bleach. Let’s get into it.

Bakuman 96 – Originally this chapter panned out to be rather boring as it was one of the chapters talking about rankings and votes. This chapter would have been a very decisive “meh” were it not for a double paged spread towards the end. One thing I love about Bakuman is reading a lot of the suggestions they make regarding manga, and seeing how it comes off in the actual story. For example a recent chapter had the characters discussing “tones” in a manga and how using a lighter tone helps out the story, and I think a lot of people really thought that was silly. However look back to early Bakuman, and you can see the series had a lot of darker tones to it, and it really had a distinctive Deathnote feel. Now Bakuman has its own style and it’s due in part to the tones. I love that stuff, and the two page spread utilized another tool they were talking about with dynamic paneling.

The two page spread was great in both story and art. Storywise it was Hattori admitting that he believes Mashiro and Takagi are finally surpassing him and have the talent to beat Eiji, and art wise the way the pages were structured justified this epic moment using two pages. Seriously, the art is amazing, and you just need to remember what they said just a few chapters ago about using panels to create something dynamic. The two-page spread was, in all likelihood, one of my favorite spreads ever. Loved it. Good chapter.

SWOT 6 – When I first read SWOT I read its One-Shot thinking it was the first chapter, and I thought the story sucked. The One-Shot was not very good and it felt like a quick in and out story for Jump. Reading the real first chapter and the five following chapters, I have to say that SWOT still seems stereotypical, but it’s a lot more interesting. Manabizaki is a really fun character who thankfully breaks the snobby elitist savant student stereotype that plagues manga nowadays. While he is smart and does look down on others, he’s far from calm, cool, or collected and in fact he’s probably more erratic than most of the people he looks down on. Most characters of his type would sit back and just say “jeez it’s tough being so much smarter than everybody else”. This guy hurls desks across the room when he can’t find a pencil. I love it.

Plus his fighting style and dream changed from the one shot to the syndicated story. In the one shot he wants to work for NASA and he knows how to fight using that cliché method they always have smart people use where they can predict how an opponent will move because they’re so effing smart. They changed that in the series in that he wants to build a UFO instead, and he learned to fight so that he can combat aliens. It’s silly, but it should be silly! I like the wacky stupid answer way more than the generic yawn-fest one. Still, the manga has faults. It’s predictable to the extreme. While this isn’t bad, it keeps some parts from being as enjoyable as the author intended. The moment I saw the long haired, sword wielding delinquent who only wants to fight “strong opponents” I knew he’d end up an ally of the group. Also the main female lead, Haruno (I believe) has been relatively boring. She hasn’t done much of anything despite the fact she’s supposed to be one of the strongest students in the school. There’s a reason why she doesn’t fight, but having her do something would be nice as so far she hasn’t left nearly the same impression the rest of the cast has.

I can’t recommend this title yet as I still am not sold on the product. Still, it has potential, and I’m content to give the series 20 or so chapters to see how it goes. Perhaps I’ll do a follow up on the series then and let you know if you should check it out… barring it’s still running.

Beelzebub 72 – More people need to read this manga. Please, if you read this manga please say if you do in the comments because it feels like way too many people are forsaking this title. It’s great. I’m trying to get Y Ruler of Time to read it so he can do a review on it like Toriko and Bakuman (which I helped convince him to read thank you very much). It’s a great series full of fun characters, interesting action, and side splitting humor. READ IT!

Anyway, this week initially got me quaking in my boots as it felt like Kundiea admitting her feelings was a big sign the manga was ending. Thankfully a cliffhanger at the end of the chapter ensures that’s not the case, so in the end it was just a really good chapter. I love Kundiea as a character, and she might even be my favorite female character in manga right now. I really like what the author is doing with her, and yet again the chapter has a moment that made me bust out laughing. I’ll simply say it again. If you don’t read Beelzebub, you need to give it a try. Trust me that it becomes an absolutely hysterical manga.

Naruto 505 – For the past few years Naruto has been the red headed stepchild of Jump. Everyone hated it, and for good reason: it sucked. Recently the series hasn’t been bad. They’ve removed Sasuke from the equation, and gave us fan-favorite Killer Bee. Then with a flashback we got some more emotional Naruto which is always better than plot progression Naruto. This was all well and good, but this week actually was a pretty good chapter. Might Gai shows up, so Kishimoto continues to pile on the fan-favorites. I tell you, if Shino and Shikamaru somehow show up next week, fans will die.

Anyway it was a strong chapter where the humor actually worked and the characters did interesting stuff. I’m glad Kisame’s stupid hiding tactic got exposed, and his chances of surviving are almost impossible. Not a fan of the new power up though. In fact it kinda bothers me that Naruto gets yet another new form right after getting Sage Mode. Seriously, how many costume powerups will this guy go through, when they all look lame? Still, as far as Naruto goes this was a great chapter. Hope this trend continues! (I know it won’t)

Bleach 415 – Fuck Bleach. Can I go home?

Fine, I’ll elaborate on why Bleach is the worst manga running right now, and Aizen is a heavy contender for worst villain of all time. I seriously can’t stand this guy. For months now this man has made a living off killing the cast in Bleach (in wrestling terms. We all know no one dies in Bleach). He has killed the majority of the Soul Society. He killed the Vizards. He’s buried Ichigo, Isshin, Urahara, and Yoroichi. He’s killed his own Arrancar, made it clear he was better than them all, and even killed Tousen. Then he hits Kakura Town, and we have to see that his very presence brings humans quivering to their knees and likely causes them to evacuate their bowels just form being in his god awful overpowered bullshit presence. GOD DAMNIT I HATE AIZEN!

Okay, so surprise surprise, Gin unleashes a super attack, and Aizen lives! Not only does he live, but he comes back as a freaking butterfly man. I don’t know why but he does. Oh, and if I complained about Naruto changing costumes, I can’t let this ass go free. In the past two months this ass has gone through three separate wardrobe changes. He was a cocoon, then he was Fabio, and now he’s a butterfly. These costume changes are so unnecessary and exist solely to be art porn for Kubo whose sole fetish in life is just to try stupidly elaborate costumes. So back to the point, Aizen wasn’t killed, and instead strikes down Gin adding yet another person to his burial list. I’m desperately trying to think if there’s anyone left in the cast that Aizen hasn’t buried yet that he still could, and all I can come up with is the Huece Mundo crew (as if seeing Aizen one shot Zaraki is something we all want to see). Either way, I’m fucking tired of this. I am beyond fucking tired of Kubo doing this constant fucking plot twist. Someone unleashes their ultimate attack, but Aizen is fine. Time after time he’s been fine. I GET IT. AIZEN IS FUCKING OMNIPOTENT. STOP REHASHING THIS SAME POINT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD TITE KUBO!!!!

Aizen has killed Bleach and everything good about it. I’ve stopped caring because while I know Ichigo will leave his super special awesome training and kill Aizen somehow, it won’t be satisfying. I say that because the guy has beaten everybody. Imagine if in boxing a World Champion destroyed every opponent he fought. No, he doesn’t just beat them, he annihilates them. He finishes fights without a single blow, and every fight ends with a knock out in the first round. Let’s just say you knew ahead of time that a boxer he fought early in his career was going to learn one new punch, and would beat him. How would that be satifiying? How could someone learn one move strong enough to beat a guy who has defeated everyone else without taking a punch? Simply put: it won’t. There won’t be any logical satisfaction to this battle. I know that Aizen will lose, but it won’t make sense. No one can logically beat Aizen as he’s essentially God. This stupid fucking story built this guy to be unstoppable, and now he is, but for the sake of the story he has to be stopped. When Ichigo wins we’ll all feel a sigh of relief that the greatest problem in Bleach is now dead, but we’ll all feel empty inside because it’s a hollow victory only given to us because the hero needs to beat the villain.

I’m beyond tired of Bleach’s terrible plot line. I’m tired of the stupid Bankai abilities. I’m tired of the unnecessary addition of so many characters. But most of all I’m tired of Aizen. Please. Somebody. Anybody. Kill this man.

Monday, August 16, 2010

D&D Log: Session 11

Alright everyone, we once again return to D&D after a two week break in our gaming, however today’s adventure wasn’t as noteworthy as others. Not because we didn’t play long, but rather because nothing particularly major happened, and a heavy dose of the campaign was taken up by a single combat encounter (a weakness of 4E). Well, no point in waiting, let’s get into it.

So we started our adventure where we left off. Our group was bloodied, beaten, broken—but victorious. However our victory wasn’t a solid one. While it was true that we now had the Word of Morgana, we didn’t know how to use it, or what would happen. We decided to wait to open the tome until we had escaped the Black Swamp, so we returned to the room where we fought the shades, and were faced with two alternate exits. One from a locked door, and the other being a set of portcullises blocking a staircase. Half of our group, the Strong Group (Viktor, Darstine, and there to split the team evenly Garrett) stayed to try to force open the portcullis while Vane, Juliet, and Grae investigated the alternate path. The path twisted around before coming to a stop at a cliff above a room full of stalagmites and the croaking of frogs. As our nature person I was quick to ask “are these happy frogs or ‘I’m going to fucking eat you’ frogs” and rolled a high enough Nature check to find out they were likely the latter. Grae decided to test how far the cliff went down by lowering a rope to see when it would hit the bottom, but botched whatever roll he was making and the rope was ripped from his hands by something below. Well, that was all I needed to say “fuck it” and we headed back.

Back with our Strong Team, I’m once again amused at how Viktor can do the most epic things when it comes time for combat, and yet somehow every single time we need someone to muscle something open he comes through with an absolutely pathetic roll. “Hey Viktor, care to cleave the head off this dragon?” “Sure thing fellas!” *Chop* “Hey Viktor, can you open this pickle jar?” *Struggles* “Might I try breaking it with axe instead?” Point is, Viktor blows at strength checks, and today was no different. The conditions changed about four times, and each time Viktor still whiffed it. Again, guy just killed an elven lord by cleaving his head clean off, but a simply display of strength and he botches. AGAIN.

So once again a single doorway blocks our party’s progress more than any army could, but together we are strong! With all our might we heaved and pulled and managed to lift the portcullis! Two feet. And the second one was still unmoved. Fuck. Vane was tired of this, and decided instead that he would test out his new Ring of Ram. Juliet wisely moved out of the way as Vane tapped into the device’s unchecked power. A massive ram’s head filled the sky as Joe, the party around him, and the portcullises, were bashed by the fierce power of the ram. The gates were mashed against the ceiling and the party blasted upwards by Vane’s new ring. Snazzy, but dangerous. Anyway, so after the group peeled themselves off the ceiling, we moved forward only to find a stone wall blocking our path; an apparent dead end, though I was quick to remind the party that while they did that in LOST, they wouldn’t do that here. Yes, another LOST reference, but the people watching better man up and accept that I’m going to make every LOST reference I can. Every donkey wheel, every smoke monster, and every stick of dynamite is a chance for me to make a new reference! Wah~haha!

Anyway we found a secret door that led us back to the courtyard, and from there we headed back towards the hills north of the Black Swamp. Here we decided to open the Word of Morgana, but a quick Arcana check by Vane revealed that the book laid a curse on whoever tried to open the book without being the owner (i.e. Morgana). However we remembered that Darstine actually opened the book back during our battle with the Lich, and that now she was likely cursed. Fun times! We managed to gather the nerve to open the book and have Garrett read it, with his first interest being the curse on the book’s cover. Basically the curse reads that whoever opens the book without being the owner is now tied to the book both mentally and physically. Every piece of damage that happens to the book happens to the user, and if anything should be removed from the book it will have an adverse effect on the user. We caught just a glimpse of this when Garrett held the book and Darstine felt ill. It appears this book will be tied closely to our Rogue from hence on. An interesting development.

Garrett investigated further, and found amidst the poetry and stories a section on curses with the same spell that held King Donovan. With a bit of reading we found out the curse could be reversed by simply changing the words in the incantation, however Vane realized in particular that if we messed up that incantation that the results would be disastrous for the caster and the group in large. In addition we know that the way the spell works is that by using it we will essentially use the spell like a scroll. This means one chance to get it right, and even then the spell disappears which will likely harm Darstine. Sucks, but furthermore we don’t know which word to change. Vane has an idea, but he’s not sure as he doesn’t know the old elvish language the book is written in. We want confirmation, and the only person we can think who might be willing to help us is Morwaytha, the cleric of Melora that Juliet encountered outside of Ihestas. She was an elf, and she also warned us about the High Elves, so her allegiance to the Witch Queen is not in question. In addition we helped enact justice on those that killed her fellow Rangers of the Silver Leaf, so she might be willing to help, or at the very least, would be willing to show us who might, so our goal is to now head south past Vundel (a stronghold city ruled by an insane Duke) and over the plains until we can reach the forest of Ihestas.

However right after passing Vundel we ran into an encounter where spiders leapt from the trees to attack us, followed up shortly by a group of Mycinoids. I think that was the name, but I can’t be sure, so I’m calling them mushroom people. Anyway, for sentient mushroom these fuckers hit hard. In the first round of combat Juliet was buffeted for 33 damage. Viktor was crit I believe three separate times in the encounter, and Lord Vane found himself surrounded for most of the battle. And yet who went down? Freaking Garrett. You know I barely remember him being hit, but this now marks the third time he gone down in battle. If Spoony were keeping up with his “if you go under 0 HP then bad shit happens to you” rule he had after we fought the Scorpion Queen, then Garrett would have a nice collection of war wounds at this point. We won the battle, but being honest, it was not an easy battle. Once again our group finds themselves battered and ravaged with themselves still not all that closer to saving the King. Still, with luck Morwaytha is on our side and will assist us in understanding the ritual. Getting into Sarmanath? I’ve got a plan for that. Figuring out how to reverse engineer a powerful demi-god’s curse into a cure spell that only has one shot to succeed and that with a failure would likely kill all of the parties involves? Yeah, we’ll need a little help.

If you read, leave some comments below. What do you guys think we should do?

Friday, August 13, 2010

D&D Lessons: How to Play the Striker

D&D 4E doesn’t have as stiff of a learning curve as past editions. With the exception of Controllers and maybe a few Leaders (i.e. Warlord), it’s not hard to pick up a class and use it well. Of course with min/maxing there’s always the idea of playing a class wrong, or not to its fullest potential. There’s an entire group of people out there who will condemn you for creating a Strength based Paladin who doesn’t have the Mighty Challenge feat, or creating a Warden that doesn’t use a weapon with reach. However there’s one role that you just can’t muck up. It’s the simplest role in the game so straightforward that you could put a monkey in the job and feel assured that you’re in good hands. This is the Striker role, and the only way to botch this job is to literally pass your turn every time it comes up. Why’s this role so easy? It’s because your job is very simple: Kill things dead.

Now every class in D&D has been min maxed to death and people out there have found ways to do 20 damage a turn At-Will, without the expense of encounter or daily powers at level 1. You don’t have to do that, and honestly I’d recommend against it. The fact is that everything you need to succeed is built right into the class. If you’re new to D&D and skeptical on how to play the game, I’d recommend a Striker.

From the above you might assume the Striker is the “dumb” role for players not of the mental conditioning to play one of the big boy roles, but it’s not. It’s just that the Striker is very basic in its job, so a new player doesn’t have to worry about building or playing the class wrong. With a Defender you have to worry about making yourself too strong, or making sure your mark is a threat, and Controllers are a headache all in their own, but a Striker is a simpler breed of character only concerned with dealing massive damage, and doing it as frequently as possible.

So, how do you play a Striker? Well, as I said, everything is built right into the class. Each Striker class has a particular way of dealing higher amounts of damage than other classes built right into Class Features like the Ranger’s Hunter’s Quarry, or the Assassin’s Shrouds. These are just parts of the class that only require you to be aware of them to be effective. The main problem people run into with this role is they think simple, or easy. Sort of like when you play Wolfenstein 3D and the mode above Normal was “Can I Play Too, Daddy?” It’s not a role for idiots, and it’s not “the easy way out”. The Striker has a very important role and if they fail to do it then it makes life a lot harder for the Leaders and Defenders in your party. No, the thing that makes Strikers appealing to new players is that it is very hard to screw up said job.

In addition it should be noted that Striker’s have the most noticeable effect on combat. You might not notice the Defender who absorbed the golem’s most powerful attacks for five rounds, but you will always remember the Sorcerer who threw a bolt of lightning that hit for 47 damage. If it were football, these would be the Wide Receivers and Runningbacks. They make it on the highlight reel, and they make the big bucks, but without the other players to support them, those plays never happen. Never forget the Quarterback/Leader who gave you the support necessary to make a play. Don’t ignore the Defenders/Linemen who held the line long enough for you to pull off your moment of glory. And as hard as it is, always remember the Coaches/Controllers who neutralized your biggest threats before they ever happened. Point is, it’s easy to see your Striker as the most important part of the party, but the truth is that your just one part of the game.

Now pulling off the Striker role effectively is easy as noted above. There are a few things to keep in mind however. First, Strikers are for the most part squishy archers or spell casters who don’t have any right standing in the front line alongside your beefier heroes. Heck, even the bulky Barbarian is seen in media wearing little more than a loincloth, so he doesn’t automatically deserve a place fighting alongside the guys decked out in Scale and Platemail. AC is not your forte, and HP even less so. It’s not uncommon to see a Striker start with 20 – 25 HP at 1st level, and if your AC is a 16 then you shouldn’t be the one risking your ass in the front lines. Learn to sit back and so what you do from afar. Let the Defenders take point and take the abuse. All you need to concern yourself with is dropping enemies fast, and that’s the best way you can help them. In addition staying out of combat is helpful since you stand less of a chance of taking a harpoon in the face and requiring a heal from your Leader’s limited supplies. Playing a Striker also means knowing what the biggest threats on the battlefield are. Most Strikers should avoid wasting time on Minions as much as possible (that’s the Controller’s job), and they should really focus on the deadliest enemy. One strategy is to look for the squishiest thing and pummel it into paste, then worry about the big things later, but most enemies are built to avoid that. Just do what you can to rip through the enemy’s ranks as quickly as possible, and try to set up potential combos with your allies. For example, don’t drop your Daily at the start of the fight. Wait until your Controller can stun or force the foe to grant combat advantage, or wait for your Leader to drop a big buff. Try to synergize easily with what your party can provide. You’re basic, but that doesn’t make you one-note.

D&D is a complex game, but at the same time, one that you can be more than content in if you keep it simple. Leave optimizing for those who want it, and just play something you think will be fun. Your best bet? Play a Striker.

The Striker class includes the Ranger, the Rouge, the Warlock, the Barbarian, the Sorcerer, the Monk, the Avenger, and the Assassin. With that many options first time players should really feel free to double or triple up on this role as many Strikers dabble in another role anyway. Next time I’ll talk about Leaders and how they’re much more than “healbots” as many might believe.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Castlevania: Harmony of Despair Review

You know I don’t often play X-Box Live Arcade games, though I really should start doing it again. I played Deathspank recently, and although I never beat it, I did enjoy playing it to a moderate degree, and to this day I still play Magic the Gathering like it’s going out of style. Recently however I’ve started playing Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, and man am I having a blast! I have no idea why I don’t like the Castlevania series more than I do because playing this game reminded me of the fun I had playing Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, and Order of Ecclasia. Okay, maybe not Order of Ecclasia (no freaking castle!? What a rip off!), but adding Harmony of Despair to the list is a pretty good resume of A-grade titles for the series.

For those unaware, Harmony of Despair, i.e. Castlevania HD (Get it? It’s an initialism pun!) is the new X-Box Live Arcade title that allows for a team of up to six players take control of five heroes from the more recent 2D Castlevania games (Soma, Alucard, Jonathan, Charlotte, and Shanoa) and let them go co-op through six massive maps. It’s a fun game when you get together a party of your friends and have them start ripping through the legions of badguys and the legitimately challenging series of bosses the game throws at you. The levels, enemies, and bosses are all hodgepodges from the more recent Castlevania titles (mostly the GBA and DS titles), but the game features enough variety that one play through isn’t enough. Five playthroughs isn’t enough. Hell, I’ve put enough time into this game to make most Bethesda RPGs jealous and I’m still not done playing. Why? It’s the Co-Op.

Anyone watching LordKaT’s stream (which you can view at LordKaT.com/live of course!) knows how much we’ve been playing the game. In fact, I’m stunned people are still watching the stream considering how much we’ve been playing. I guess it’s really entertaining for people to watch us farm. Yes, farm. Like all good Castlevania games they provide a great challenge up until you reach a point where you put enough work into the game to completely break everything. Let Soma or Alucard get a Valmanway, or let Charlotte max out her Heal spell and spam and Astral Ring/Skull Ring combo and watch the game crumble apart. Still, this is part—if not most of the fun. See, we spent hours fighting Brauner in Chapter 4 on Hard. Seriously, a good six hours had to be devoted to beating that guy just once. We struggled to defeat his paint spells and unblockable Curse/Poison spells before finally we grinded our way to having two Somas using RPGs and then we rocket launched his frilly ass into oblivion. Yeah, we could have spent hours perfecting our jumps and tactics, but part of the fun of Castlevania is picking up some sword with ridiculous stats that tears through your enemy like they were made of tissue paper and hollow ambitions. Fair? Well that’s to be debated. Fun? No argument, at least in the beginning. Eventually defeating the game’s six bosses can become tedious especially once they cease being a challenge, but at that point you can realize you have four more character to play through the game as, and this is the game’s other major strength.

The collection of Castlevania characters might have been a novelty had the cast not all played so radically different. The closest would be Soma and Alucard who use mostly the same weapons and armor, but level up differently. Soma has a wide variety of souls he can collect from just about every enemy in the game, and Alucard has four scrolls he can collect from different enemies that he powers up through successive collection that makes his moveset acute, but very powerful. Then you have Jonathan who becomes stronger as his subweapons are used more, Charlotte who becomes godlike as you absorb spells, and Shanoa who has a limited list of spells to absorb, but an amazing cap to her spells should you use them frequently. Each character is different and poses a different challenge, so once you get bored of one character, you can switch to another (which more characters to be included with DLC). That’s quite a lot of gameplay out of a game that costs $15.

Still, the game has flaws. Coding is buggy, and it’s not uncommon for people to get kicked from your group randomly. Maybe server issues caused it, but we’ve had it a lot so far. Also, the game requires you to grin, and for Charlotte grinding in a group of characters who aren’t also Charlotte is almost impossible. The amount of time it takes to fully level up a character can takes days, and honestly isn’t all that fun after a few hours, but it’s worth it in the end to run up and solo Dracula without needing to spend a potion. Would I recommend the game? Absolutely. Anyone who enjoyed the DS/GBA Castlevania titles will enjoy playing this game, though I can’t recommend it for those out there who don’t play online. Whether with friends or strangers, you need to have a party to enjoy this game, but trust me, you will. I can tell you now I’m close to fully leveling up Charlotte, and following that I look forward to giving Jonathan or Shanoa a try. Plus with the rumor of DLC to come very soon including two new characters and a new level, the shelf life of this game looks to extend dramatically.

My biggest regret about this game? It makes me want to play the DS Castlevania games again… and I sold all of mine. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

D&D Lessons: How to Play the Controller

In my goal to help teach people how to play 4E D&D I wanted to get more in depth with the roles as those are probably the biggest gameplay change from prior editions. Focusing on making sure a party can accomplish each job is tough, more so if you can’t understand what the class’ job is. However it’s not as hard as you think, and in my mind each role has a one sentence description of what their job is that should make playing them easier to do. I want to start this first lesson off with perhaps the most difficult role to understand: The Controller.

The Controller is by far the hardest role to completely understand, and easily the most difficult to play effectively. I’ll be honest when I say I know I don’t play a Controller perfectly. Fact is, it’s a tough role to play, and many groups can survive just fine without one, yet at the same time having a good Controller could completely change the way a battle is fought. As I said, each role has a clear goal that defines their job, and the Controller’s is thus: Make sure your opponents can’t win.

On the surface that feels vague and confusing, but think of it like Final Fantasy for a moment. Strikers are the Black Mages of the game; squishy and vulnerable but absolute offensive monsters. Leaders are your White Mage mixed with a little Red Mage. They heal, buff, and in general play a versatile role suited to keeping the party moving. Your Defender is the Warrior; good damage, and the guy in the front line absorbing most of the damage. Controllers are then the Green Mages, casting debuffs and inflicting horrible status effects that impair and restrict the enemy at every turn. If you think of the Controller in that respect it’s a bit easier to understand your role, but let’s make it even simpler.

If the DM decides to have monsters do something. It’s your job to say “No”.

Controllers are the DM headache, and that’s intentional. The job of a Controller is just that: to control. Things like forced movement or slowing, those are things almost all classes can do, but the way a Controller does it is different. Let’s look shifting. Plenty classes have a way to shift the opponent. Most have them as Encounter or Class Features, but there are a few that aren’t Controllers that can do it At-Will. That means on your turn you can slide the opponent. Helpful right? Unlike the Defender’s Mark or the Striker’s extra damage the forced movement isn’t something restrictive to Controllers. However they can do it in a way completely unique. For example, the Druid has an At-Will power called Savage Rend that slides the enemy once on a hit. This power works as a Melee Basic Attack, meaning that it can be used for Opportunity Attacks. This means that if your Druid is engaged with the enemy, and they try to run away, you can pull them right back with a hit. That’s an example of controlling. It’s basically saying “no” when the DM attempts something.

What separates Controllers from the other role isn’t in a class feature like the other roles, but rather their Encounter and Daily powers having game changing effects. Their Dailies, in particular, are known for being devastating. Yes, all Dailies are intended to change a battle, but not on the scale of a Controller’s. Returning to the Druid (which I will often since well, Juliet…) there’s a Level 1 Daily known as Faerie Fire. Shitty name yes, but powerful. If you’ve been following our D&D exploits since they first started, you saw this power in effect. I hit it on the Spider Queen, and for the duration of the encounter she suffered from granting combat advantage to everybody. That meant every attack gave an automatic +2 bonus to hit, and our Rouge got her Sneak Attack damage. Had that attack not hit, our party might not have survived.

Of course you can say that about a lot of factors in a battle. The idea isn’t: a Controller will save the battle. Rather, it’s that a Controller’s actions will change the battle. Let’s look at a Seeker Encounter power known as Feyjump Shot. The power reads that you fire two attacks on two enemies. If only one attack hits you teleport the enemy a few squares. Decent, but if you hit with both, you are given the option of switching the two targets. So imagine it, your Fighter and Barbarian are locked up against a Brute while an Artillery Monster tears you apart from afar. If this attack connects, BAMF, your brute is now out of combat and will likely have to spend a turn just to get back into it and that precious squishy artillery unit is now sandwiched between a greataxe and a bastard sword. That’s the effect a Controller has on a battle.

But a Controller is really a thankless position due to its difficulty. The fact is, your best powers are one shot abilities most of the time, and if you miss with those, you’re hosed. A Controller’s gameplan is useless if they miss. Citing my own experience, if you were there for the session where we battled the Dretch I used Call Forth the Spirit Pack and Faerie Fire in one round. Four attacks and I hit with just one. Had I hit with them all, both enemies would have been knocked prone and would be slowed and grant combat advantage until they saved at which point they would take 3d6+4 damage in addition to the damage from CFtSP. That would have changed the battle. But I missed. Hard. And for the rest of the encounter I sat back hurling Storm Spikes and pretending to be useful. Yeah, it’s not easy to play this role. Sure it’s fun to be the bane of the DM and turn his encounter on its head by blasting through his minions on the first turn or ruining his tactics by screwing with his enemies, but the fact is that a Controller is tough to play.

If you’re new to D&D, don’t play a controller. If you’re playing with a group of new players and one of you wants to play a Controller so you fill out all the roles, have that player roll up another Striker, because I promise you, you’ll have more fun that way. A Controller can be a fun, exciting, deep, strategic class to play… when you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, it can be utter hell. They aren’t very durable, they don’t do much damage, they rarely get to be the spotlight of an encounter, and they can be so confusing that you’ll wonder why people would bother playing them in the first place. Fact is that you need to know a lot to play a Controller. You need to know a lot about game mechanics and what abilities are too situational. You need to know a lot about status effects and how to best utilize them. You need to know a bit about optimization as there aren’t features set in place to make a poorly built Controller effective like there are for the other roles. If you’re looking for a fun, rewarding challenge that places emphasis on strategy and not just “smack with stick then roll damage”, play a Controller. If not, play something else because your party will be better off for it.

For those curious the Controller classes are the Wizard, the Invoker, the Druid, the Psion, and the Seeker. In addition, there is a D&D Essentials supplement coming out in March of next year featuring the “Shadow” power source, and it is expected that the Necromancer class will also be a Controller. For those curious what the “Essentials” are, I’ll get into that at a different time, but you can read about it and the ensuing nerd rage all around the D&D 4E forums. Next lesson will be for the Strikers, so that all new players in D&D know exactly what to go for.

If you guys have any comments or questions, leave them below and I’d love to read and respond to them.

Monday, August 2, 2010

D&D Log: That One-Off Session

Alright, so this is normally the time of the week where we’d go over our wacky and epic D&D exploits, but this week Spoony didn’t have the time to get everything prepared for D&D, so we didn’t have our session. Instead, some of us tried another one off session with LordKaT DMing. Skith, Nik, and myself were the players respectively playing the characters of Brandis (Swordmage), Rodriguez (Bard), and Pace (Seeker). Normally I wouldn’t write up a recap for a one off session, but the end of our session needs to be remembered, so let’s get into it.

So our game started off simple enough; we’re adventurers hired to go take out some cultists. We’re to head to the west to a town called Oakmoore, and from there head east, and without another moment we were off. We traveled most of the day, and set up camp at night setting up a watch order. Brandis started off the night, and botched a Perception roll. We found ourselves surrounded, but unfortunately for the cultists Brandis is a decapitating maniac who beheaded I believe cut off about six heads during the night. We eliminated the assassin cultists, but we killed them rather quickly as their backup hadn’t even arrived on the scene before the last guy died. The backup fled immediately, but Pace led the charge after them. We spotted them rendezvousing with another group of cultists in the clearing, but we had the jump on them. Fwip Fwip Fwip. Five cultists down in the surprise round. I really love playing the Seeker. This battle went fine, and we came out smelling like roses. We picked up spoils and headed back to our camp to rest for the coming morning.

We woke up and it didn’t take long before we reached Oakmoore, and here LordKaT asked what we wanted to do. We went west. Look to the above paragraph and you’ll instantly realize we done fucked up. Skitch believed we were to go west, and thus we went west. We traveled west for a while when we encountered an elven woman who pointed a bow at us and warned us humans to leave. Alright, now here’s where I need to start defending myself. Pace is an elf, and because we traveled the wrong direction, I was initially under the impression most creatures would be hostile. However when we met this elvish woman, she had an arrow pointed at us, and demanded we humans leave. I was an elf, and I figured I could talk us out of this situation. I told her, and I quote (paraphrasing) “[easy there, Sister]”. SHE SHOT ME IN THE FACE! Seriously, I didn’t try my weapon, speak aggressively, or do anything beyond address her as a fellow elf, and the bitch shot me in the face! So we all got ready for battle.

Perhaps we should have left, or maybe talked to her, but the moment she fired on us at the start of dialogue, I didn’t feel like talking very much. At least not while she was armed, but I’ll get to that later. Anyway, we start fighting when three of her scouting friends came to help and we got in a battle that didn’t go in our favor like prior matches. We got clobbered, and yet we slowly tore them apart. In the end Brandis was knocked unconscious, but we managed to kill the scouts and leave the archer unconscious. Following that I tied her up, and because neither Pace or Rodriquez had the strength to drag Brandis, I gagged her as well so she wouldn’t wake up and start screaming for help. I wanted to interrogate her, and in my words Jack Baurer her. Also, after Pace tied her up, I punched her in the face. Not the most chivalrous action, but that chick shot me in the face! I demanded satisfaction! Basically I wanted to find out why we were being attacked, and if it had any relation to the cultists. After all the cultists could have had a deal with the elves for all my knowledge, but as we rested to let Brandis wake up, another elf arrived to relieve our prisoner of her duty. When Brandis woke up I handed him the archer who was still out, and pointed my arrow at our new foe. I warned him to drop his weapon. He didn’t.

Just like Lord Vane, I fucking attacked because no, I didn’t trust these guys. However I got the feeling we would be in for a dangerous battle if we waited, so after Pace hit him with Grappling Spirits which slows the target, I was left with another action. What did I do? I punched the elven archer again, and then fucking hoofed it. No lie, I sucker punched her, then booked it. Yeah, I’ll admit, that one punch was really douche, but I just really wanted to punch her again. It was for “funsies”, but I was still ticked. Anyway, I ran, and Brandis & Rodriguez followed. We arrived in town and learned that Oakmoore has a peace treaty with the elves, and we may have fucked that up. Oopsie. Following this we got into an argument over whose fault it was, and what an evil douchebag Pace was. Now I believe we’re all at fault for what happened. If either myself or Nik had paid more attention to directions, we might have avoided this mistake. If any of us had tried talking to the elves, we could have dissolved the situation. We didn’t, but I do take offense to Pace being the most evil asshole ever. Besides punching the archer the second time (the really funny time), Brandis and Rodriguez didn’t do anything I didn’t. They attacked the elves just as quickly as I did, and neither seemed opposed to leaving the archer alive and tying her up afterwards. We all wanted to know what was going on, it just happened that we kind fucked everything up by doing it. Jason wants us to continue this session again at some point, so perhaps this one shot won’t be a one shot after all. Who knows?

Basically this session will be remembered for how much of a clusterfuck it became at the end. We started off looking for cultists, and then we killed a few cultists, and then we wound up breaking a peace treaty between the humans and the elves and I punched a tied up woman twice in the face. But she was asking for it because SHE SHOT ME IN THE FACE!!!

For those curious about the Spoony D&D session, I’m not sure about this Sunday. At best we’ll be playing without Nikolas who will be on vacation, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire session isn’t canceled until he can return. Maybe not, but I will warn everyone not to get their hopes up. Also I plan to have a manga update on this site later this night in a different format than the last. Stay tuned!