Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Session 3 Report

All hell breaks loose when the runners meet-up with an important contact at the zoo.

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shadowrun

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Working off an official published adventure has been an interesting experience. It’s incredibly handy in a lot of ways, with lots of pre-made stat blocks for all the NPCs, hefty amounts of colorful descriptions, and even suggestions for how to tweak the challenge level of various encounters. Even then I can’t help but modify and change things to suit my needs. I can’t get into spoiler-y stuff just yet, but the recap episode should be especially fascinating.

In last night’s session the players had a clear objective in front of them – meet FBI Agent Seth Dietrich at the zoo. He offered to buy back his commlink for a cool 100,000 nuyen. While the pay was certainly nice, my players were much more interested in getting some answers to this confusing mystery.

Having a clear focus of where to go and what to do greatly motivates my players into tackling the objective in some fun ways. In this case they wanted to scope out the zoo location the day before the meet, and check to see if they’d be able to smuggle weapons in. I may have made them a tad paranoid – not only is the world of Shadowrun generally violent, but this adventure has been especially action-packed as the players have been attacked left and right.

In fact on their way to the zoo they noticed a car following them, and opted to pull over and ready their weapons. It proved to be a solid move as they made short work of the crazy cyborg Night Hunters that poured out of the car to attack them. A combination of Ursev’s ball lightning centered on the car and a barrage of bullets put most of the them down. I did the rest by rolling a 0 on a leaping charge attack from a very wounded attacker. I had him sail past his target and splatter on the sidewalk. Hey, as long as it’s fun I don’t mind failing miserably with my NPCs, and I’ll always play it up.

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At the zoo it was fun describing the various para-animals that inhabited the enclosures. Falkirk did a great job scouting out the areas and finding a hiding spot for their weapons that they tossed over the wall.

They next day they waltzed in through the entrance. Well, all but Saran the decker who really wanted to hack into the extensive security in order to bring his gun inside. He had failed at this task the previous day, also for no reason other than wanting to walk in with all his gear. His team mates balked at this and finally talked him down, where he went back to the car. I don’t think the decker role suits the player very well, but that’s also on me as someone who’s still not totally on board with how decking (or rigging) work in the obtuse Shadowrun rules.

Inside, the other three retrieved their weapons and met Dietrich in the reptile tunnel, next to the basilisk exhibit. Unfortunately while Dietrich’s body was there, his mind was not. It was currently occupied by someone named Jake Armitage (whom you may recognize from the old 16-bit Shadowrun game or the recent Shadowrun Returns).

Armitage was just as confused as the players as to his situation, alluding to the title of the adventure as well as the confusion surrounding the missing commlink. Like any good mystery it led to more questions than answers – especially when an unseen sniper tore a hole through Armitage/Dietrich’s throat at the height of their confusion.

shadowrun basilisk exhibit

All hell broke loose in the zoo – what you thought this was going to be easy? A pair of highly skilled assassins opened fire on both sides of the players as the basilisks burst through the glass. Falkirk and Ursev were sitting ducks, but Mauta actually got the jump on one of the assassins by being nonchalant at one end of the tunnel.

There were only two assassins but they were both more powerful than any of the PCs (skill and armor wise, at least). The players were also slightly under-equipped since they couldn’t smuggle in Ursev’s battle axe or Mauta’s sniper rifle. Thankfully for them the assassins didn’t want to stick around with UCAS Military Police converging on the location. They left the runners after a single round (though not before doing some significant damage) to deal with the basilisks.

My players have proven heroic in the past so I played up the screaming and crying of the crowd during the chaos, and had one basilisk attack a group of huddled school children in a corner. My players responded immediately with charging melee attacks and Mauta’s deadly shots, making fairly short work of the overgrown lizards – though not without a briefly enjoyable scare as one of them partially petrified Falkirk.

Saran was able to watch the video feeds and then shut down one of the assassins’ cyberware and weapons, further hastening their retreat. Unfortunately he really didn’t have anything to do for the round or two where only the basilisks remained – a bad design on my part. It speaks to our ineptitude at thinking of things a decker/hacker can do, most of which isn’t written in the adventure.

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The players were able to blend in with the chaotic, surging crowd leaving the zoo, and escaped with relative ease. Mauta managed to grab the pouch of credsticks and a 2nd commlink that Dietrich had on him – something I specifically mentioned to the players during the conversation and hoped they’d remembered about. Maybe they’ll find some answers in this commlink.

They also have several pending messages from some contacts and unknown parties, no doubt pertaining to this hot potato of a commlink they have in their possession that everyone wants to get their hands on. This was one of our more enjoyable sessions with lots of laughter, jokes, and fun heroic moments in combat. Tune in next week!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Unepic

An interesting 2D action-platformer-RPG with a few too many problems that keep it from indie greatness

I have finished another backlogged game via Rogue’s Adventures. You can read my latest Final Thoughts below and also on my gaming blog on Game Informer.

Developer: Francisco Téllez de Meneses

Publisher: Ninagamers Corp.

Release Date: October 2, 2011

rogues adventures final thoughts

Unepic has the unique quality of reminding me of a game I’ve never played. It feels like it utilizes a classic gameplay formula of meshing together elements of Metroid and Diablo in a 2D dungeon crawl, but I’d honestly never played a game quite like it. So while I lack any nostalgia for the gameplay, I found it inventive and interesting, despite some annoying difficulty spikes, immature, reference-filled writing, and a boring art style.

As you can quickly surmise from the banner image, our snarky hero is a modern day 20-something transported into a fantasy dungeon. He spends the entire first half of the game convinced that he’s taken some hallucinogenic drugs, and constantly spouts not-so-clever nerd-culture references at every opportunity. It grows tiresome a few hours in, and this is a 20 hour game.

rogues adventure

The one saving grace with the trite story (besides the surprisingly great finale and ending) is the shadowy creature that possesses the hero early on. Dubbed Zera, the shadow fails to possess our hero (who probably has a name but I don’t remember it at all) and winds up trapped within his body, becoming an unwilling companion to our adventures in the castle.

Zera provides a nice foil for our hero to play off of, as he’s constantly trying to get the hero killed so he’ll be freed. In one of the better nerd-references, their relationship is compared to X-Men‘s Xavier and Magento. Their respect for each other gradually builds over the course of the adventure, and by the end I grew to love Zera – murderous tendencies and all.

While the story isn’t exactly as captivating as even the relatively simplistic tales in Castlevania or Metroid (or even Diablo), the gameplay makes up for it. The dungeon is made up of individual rooms that take up a full screen. Each room is darkened and made up of multiple levels filled with ladders, platformes, and enemies. Lighting the torches along your way becomes critical, and a neat way to gauge your progress through each zone.

rogues adventure

The castle is divided up into over half a dozen areas, each with around a dozen screens, creating an impressively large dungeon. I actually found it just a bit too long as the overall gameplay and tactics grew repetitive toward the end – not to mention some rough patches where enemies grew wildly in strength and numbers. Damn the skeleton-filled catacombs!

Unepic leans heavily on the RPG aspects of the genre. Leveling up awards 5 skill points that can be pumped into various weapon and magic skills. The system isn’t very user-friendly, and it’s designed for those that want to min/max their characters by dumping everything into only a few skills to get the best abilities and wield the strongest weapons. Of course you won’t know which skills and weapons you’ll want, so it’s a stressful bit of planning ahead in the early levels. There is a side quest about halfway through that allows you to reset your points – a very helpful feature.

Each area has its own major quest that results in learning a new piece of magic. While some of the quests are fun and take you to different areas of the castle, it also leads to lots of backtracking. It also downplays the latter magic skills (Alteration, Protection) as presumably you’ve already put points into the early ones like Fire or Frost.

By the way, I went with a rogue/ranger type build, focusing on daggers, bows, and axes. A unique dagger I earned from a side quest carried me far, but eventually dropped them to focus on bows and axes. I found a late-game unique bow that absolutely decimated everything, and became my weapon of choice, along with some support from Fire and Healing spells.

rogues adventure

Backtracking is alleviated with an admittedly great fast travel system. Especially coming from Ori and the Blind Forest, which didn’t have one at all. Gates are scattered around the castle, usually 2 per zone, and teleport you to a central room filled with other gates.

In addition you can buy scrolls and spells that instantly take you to the merchants in each area. Quickly moving around the relatively large dungeon wasn’t an issue at all, though trying to remember which merchants sold what ability tomes was a bit annoying.

Limited animations and pixelated graphics are more than fine for a one-person indie project, but I was disappointed at the very limited palette selection throughout most of the castle. The individual room designs are nice, but so much of the castle is brown and gray that it grows repetitive after a dozen hours. Enemy types are also repeated to a high degree, with skeletons, snakes, and goblins making up a bulk of the foes I killed.

rogues adventure

Bosses fare a little better, taking a cue from the large, area-defining bosses of other metroidvanias. Oddly enough despite my haphazard skill management and character planning, I found most of the bosses quite easy. Zera helpfully warned me about each one, and most were slow with easily dodged attacks.

With better writing and a tighter, more varied focus Unepic could’ve been something really special. It’s still an impressive collection of genre parts all working together to produce a fun experience. By the final few areas I was definitely ready for it to be over, though I did very much enjoy the twist ending and interesting gameplay mode they introduce for the final battle. An interesting indie RPG experience that rewards persistence, exploration, and careful character planning.

rogues adventure

 

Pros

  • Solid 2D action-platformer gameplay with lots of loot and side quests
  • Rooms are well-designed and fun to explore and lighting mechanic works well
  • Fast travel system works incredibly well, minimizing backtracking woes and death penalties
  • Neat twist ending that introduces a last minute gameplay switch

 

Cons

  • Immature writing filled with references that are more miss than hit
  • Each area has the same basic structure, which quickly grows repetitive
  • Not enough enemy or art variety for the 20 hour length
  • Bosses are mostly slow and easy, while certain areas are annoyingly difficult

 

Final Say: An interesting 2D action-platformer-RPG with a few too many problems that keep it from indie greatness.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Ms. Marvel (2006), Vol. 5-6

Vol. 5-6 represent Carol’s best work as she fights off the skrulls in the Secret Invasion, then explores her past with the Air Force.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Ms Marvel vol 6Writer: Brian Reed

Artist: Adriana Melo, Paulo Siqueira

Issues: Ms. Marvel (2006) #25-34, Ms. Marvel Annual, Ms. Marvel Storyteller

 

Ms. Marvel (that’s the Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel 2006-10 comic) has skirted along my reading schedule by often remaining just good enough to keep me reading regularly. The light but enjoyable tone from writer Brian Reed and decent art has kept me invested even when the series dips a little too far into typical silly comic plots and drama.

She definitely finds her groove in her fifth and sixth volumes, as we dive into her one-woman army approach to the Secret Invasion, followed by a surprisingly fun, intrigue-laden turn as we explore Carol Danvers as an Air Force Espionage Agent before she became a superhero.  Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Ms. Marvel (2006), Vol. 5-6”

Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Session 2 Report

The runners reach a safe house to investigate the mysterious commlink, and survive a surprise attack.

shadowrun

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

I spent a lot of work this last week preparing for last night’s session. It payed off, as my players made it much farther than I anticipated, though not so far that I ran out of material.

The session opened at the semi-cliffhanger from last week. The PCs were just exiting the motel room where they found a mysterious commlink among a group of bodies, only to run into some old foes. Sam’s gang wasn’t about to start talking, remembering how the PCs had killed one of their own in an earlier altercation. The players could’ve sneaked out, but Falkirk opted to say howdy, and we rolled for initiative!

Crazy enough, Sam’s group of street thugs are not particularly strong, but I was rolling the best I’d ever rolled in my game master career. I was getting 4 and 5 hits on like 6 or 7 dice (in Shadowrun a hit is rolling a 5 or 6 on a d6, so a 33% chance). Suddenly this easy-looking fight turned painful as everyone was taking some damage.

It didn’t help the PCs that they were stuck between wanting to flee and wanting to fight. They had an easy escape route that their foes couldn’t follow, but they hesitated for a few rounds as everyone took shots at each other. Finally they ducked outside (after killing another gang member) and escaped with the commlink and their lives.

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The runners licked their wounds at a safehouse I gave them courtesy of Jeremiah Redd. I’d anticipated that we’d need another grid-map so I had a back-up generic apartment I could throw in in case the runners just wanted to get somewhere.

It worked out well and the PCs were given some down time to heal and analyze the commlink. For the first time in our shadowrunning career the PCs were given a fairly obtuse puzzle involving the commlink, and had to use investigations and their contacts to gain as much information as they could. I thought I helped as much as I could, offering up more information than what the published adventure suggested, and fudging a few thresholds to help speed things along.

Like the stealth mansion moments in the last mission, the investigation didn’t go over as well as I’d hoped. Most of the players felt dissatisfied at the confusing revelations they received involving the Ork Undeground, Governor Brackhaven, Operation Daybreak, and the commlink’s owner, FBI Agent Seth Dietrich.

Interestingly, instead of wanting to quickly offload the commlink or sell it to the highest bidder, the runners wanted to find out more information about the commlink’s evidence. There was one avenue they didn’t go down that might’ve helped give them some more information, and I probably should’ve found a way to just give it to them to help ease the frustration. As much as I like doling out tantalizing clues and mysteries, above all the experience should be fun and enjoyable, never frustrating.

At the end of their investigation I threw them a bone slightly earlier than the adventure suggested, moving them directly into Scene 4. Agent Dietrich himself called the commlink and set up a meet between he and the PCs at the Fort Lewis Zoo, with a promise of 100,000 nuyen. The PCs wanted to go scope out the zoo immediately, so I unleashed the scripted (but variable) attack on their safehouse.

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This time the tables were turned. The Knight Errant forces that attacked were low in number (only four) but each was very strong, and supposedly a match for the PCs. Ha! Mauta took one turn to completely destroy the mage, while the rest all got in hits on Black Knights, while my rolls struggled to connect at all.

Seeing as how they were cops and not mindless thugs, I had them retreat after taking heavy wounds and losses. The PCs wanted to pursue but I shut that down immediately with suppressing fire as they retreated. The PCs were left with yet more questions about what they’ve gotten into, but it was time for our session to come to a close.

Hopefully utilizing this oddly dense yet simplistic published mission as our finale won’t backfire terribly, but I’m somewhat worried based on the dialogue between the players during the investigation. They’re basically overthinking and worrying about everything, which is not at all how I thought their normally gruff and violent reactions would go. We’ll see what the future holds; hopefully it stays fun. It also might be a lot shorter than I was thinking given how far they made it this week.

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

 

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Thor (2007), Vol 2

Thor’s second volume delves a bit too deep into backstories, but the art is still fantastic.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

Thor vol 2Writer: J. Michael Straczynski

Artist: Marko Djurdjevic, Olivier Coipel

Issues: Thor (2007) #7-12, 600

 

My favorite aspect of Thor’s comeback from “Ragnarok” in 2007 (besides the fantastic art) was the hilarious juxtaposition that occurred when Thor remakes all of Asgard on Earth – floating a few feet above the ground in Oklahoma. Finding and restoring all his Asgardian allies (within mortal bodies) was a fun plot hook, as was dealing with the political repercussions of suddenly having a floating city in the middle of America. Sadly this second volume moves away from all that to instead focus on heavy backstory and non-Thor Asgardians like Odin, Balder, and Loki. The art and writing are still incredible, but I found myself a bit bored with Loki’s tiresome manipulations and Thor’s self-doubting.  Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Thor (2007), Vol 2”

Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Session 1 Report

We tackle our first officially published Shadowrun adventure for our campaign finale.

shadowrun

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central.

Note: For some reason OBS only recorded audio and no video. Argh.

Our final Shadowrun mission begins! For the first time in my Game Master Shadowrun career, I’m using a pre-written adventure. Published by Catalyst Game Studios, the creators of Shadowrun Fifth Edition, “Splintered State” is a story about a mysterious commlink that gets the runners into a lot of trouble. It’s designed as a springboard for new runners, but I’m using it as a finale for our street-level campaign with a bit of tweaking and modifying. Continue reading “Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Session 1 Report”

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Men: Original Sin

Wolverine enlists Professor X’s help with his son Daken in this surprisingly enjoyable crossover between X-Men Legacy and Wolverine Origins.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

x-men original sinWriters: Daniel Way (Wolverine Origins), Mike Carey (X-Men Legacy)

Artists: Mike Deodato (Wolverine Origins), Scott Eaton (X-Men Legacy)

Issues: X-Men: Original Sin One-Shot, Wolverine Origins #28-30, X-Men Legacy #217-218

 

The plight of self-pitying, guilt-stricken Charles Xavier continues as the focus of X-Men Legacy in 2008. This time we get a surprisingly effective crossover with Wolverine Origins.

Both Logan and Charles are men with checkered pasts that they’d sooner forget – even with Logan finally regaining his memories after House of M. This story, which begins with its own One-Shot issue before intertwining both series, centers around Wolverine’s son, Daken, and his quest to fix his son’s damaged psyche with Xavier’s help.  Continue reading “Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Men: Original Sin”