Shadowrun 5E “Road Rage” Session 1 Report

Our second adventure picks up with plot threads and characters from the previous run, as our runners are given a dangerous highway escort mission. First they have to secure the shipment, and run into a hostage situation.

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

Read the Recap for “Not With a Whimper”

For our second Shadowrun adventure I knew I wanted to follow up on events and plot threads left dangling from the first mission, “Not With a Whimper.” The players had gained a valuable Fixer and contact into the criminal underworld in Jeremiah Redd, and this adventure kicked off with the more traditional meet and mission brief.

I’d written a Prologue to include the mission briefing and info dumping for the task at hand, as well an opportunity for the players to do any shopping or general preparedness before starting the adventure proper. This is actually new territory for us as the first adventure I simply threw everyone together and literally had a bomb explode in their faces to kick things off.

The mission picked up the pieces of “Not With a Whimper’s” finale. With Jay-T out of commission, his auto shop and garage was easy pickings for any gangers and low-lifes that wandered in. Redd wanted to box up all the various hardware and electronics and sell the lot for as much as he could get. He found a buyer, Ricardo Martin, an assistant in Buying and Acquisition for Ares Macrotechnology. Redd needed the players to help escort the armored truck full of crates to the docks near downtown Seattle, and make sure the sale went through smoothly.

The players accepted and we spent some time doing some shopping. We also went over some important features we didn’t touch on in the previous adventure such as fake SINs and how to buy and sell loot.

Sr street

For many aspects of Shadowrun I modify the rules to suit our needs better. For selling loot I use an extended Negotiation test to determine how much time it takes to find an appropriate buyer (threshold of 10, can roll once per hour for items up to $10k). Buyers will purchase goods at 50% purchase cost, plus 10% for every hit rolled on an unopposed Negotiation test.

Shadowrun isn’t a loot driven game compared to most other RPGs, and I definitely don’t encourage looting of every body they take down (it doesn’t really make sense thematically or realistically; these guys aren’t hauling around backpacks full of guns). Still there will be appropriate times when a runner wants to take a fancy gun or device that I’ve planted, and there should always be an opportunity to sell it.

For buying loot I adhere closer to the rule book, which is to roll a Negotiation test versus the item’s availability. Players can add 25% to the cost of the item to give themselves +1 dice, up to 12 dice at 400% purchase cost. I was pleased to see the runners already working together to use the team member with the highest Negotiation/Social skills as their primary shopper.

The whole prologue took a solid hour, and I probably talked way too much but the players asked all the right questions and had a pretty solid idea what they needed to do. When they were done with shopping I advanced to our first real scene, and they received a rude awakening far earlier than they were planning on – Jay-T’s was under attack!

After the players car pooled and then stopped for coffee (heh, alright but that’s gonna cost ya!) they arrived back at Jay-Ts. I mentioned in my previous adventure’s recaps that reusing scenes in Roll20 is a huge time-saver as I spend quite a bit of time building them. Being able to reuse the finale of the previous adventure with a completely different situation and hostile scenario as the first exciting incident here helped speed my preparation up considerably.

Shadowrun Road Rage Lapis LuzilThe players found a hostage situation with a twist – both sides had a hostage! During the prologue I had introduced two NPCs that would be accompanying the players on the journey, one of them, elf adept and swordswoman Lapis Luzil was outside with a captive while the other, former ganger and wheelman Crank, was inside being held hostage by the group that had attacked. Redd’s night crew lay dead and Lapis and her captive were outside the building taking cover in the truck. The players had to assess the situation from her and the captive, then infiltrate the building and attempt to talk down or defeat the enemies inside.

In our previous adventure the players rarely had a chance to plan ahead, and when they did (the finale) they all kind of just did their own thing. That was technically appropriate to them having just been thrown in with each other by random chance, but they also expressed a desire to work together in the future to coordinate their tactics. I was pleased to see them do exactly that in this situation.

After gathering what information they could, they used a combination of their shaman’s clairvoyance spell and their decker’s video camera hacks to see as much of the inside as possible. The front door had been blocked by a large shelf, and the tension cords for the garage door had been severed (the upstairs window was also an option). The players’ defacto leader, elf adept and social guru Falkirk, gave orders like a seasoned commander to everyone, taking up defensive positions, and used their beefy troll shaman Ursev to lift the garage door.

At that point I had everyone roll Initiative, though of course on the Falkirk’s turn he used a Free Action to try and talk and diffuse the situation. It gets a bit awkward here as I kind of want him to get his say, but on the other hand still follow combat rules in terms of what actions everyone can perform on their Initiative Pass. Ultimately he exchanged some words with the mage, and she with another gang member but this group wouldn’t be talked down so easily.

I anticipated this to be a fairly tricky fight, but with the players incredibly prepared to rain hell on the garage it was actually very one-sided in their favor. Only one of the gangers was actually in there at the time (the mage). The leader could quickly step out of the office room and help, but their augmented muscle was quite far away in another room, and had to spend three full passes sprinting just to get to the garage. By the time he did, the other two were dead.

Road Rage Scene 1 Jay-T's gang fight

Damn my runners’ sniper street samurai! In an eerie similarity to our last adventure’s boss fight, Mauta managed a one hit kill with her high-powered sniper rifle on the mage on her initiative pass. She always seems to go last but her turn is always devastating. Killing the mage resulted in both Crank being freed from her Control Actions spell, and dissipating the fairly powerful Air Elemental that had just materialized into the garage. I didn’t get a chance to use him at all. D’oh!

The gang leader was quickly ganged up on by everyone else. Ironically our elf adept Falkirk used a Leadership roll to tell Lapis not to kill him after she had just sliced a good chunk out with her sword, and she begrudgingly agreed, only to have Falkirk then deal the killing blow with a huge roll on his taser. The way stun damage works in Shadowrun is once it’s full, the damage becomes physical. Since the leader had been about 50% damaged on both Physical and Stun monitors from previous attacks one 5 hit blast with me rolling 0 hits on defense took him down completely into negatives. He was on the ground with blood and smoke pouring out and wasn’t long for this world.

By the time the augmented muscle joined the fight he was hopelessly outnumbered, and after absorbing a shot from the decker, our elf leader easily talked him down into surrendering. Though his friends were dead or dying, the players had left Lapis’ young captive alive (and handcuffed to the truck), so he did have some incentive to surrender.

Even as shockingly one-sided as the fight ended up being, combat still takes a while and we went way later than our usual allotted time. It’s always awkward to end a session in the middle of combat, and I’d be lying if I said that the lateness of the session didn’t factor into the last foe’s willingness to surrender! Next week the players will undoubtedly have some questions for why this group was here, as well as what possible ties they could have to Crank, whom they seemed to know. Also of course, the actual road odyssey part of the journey will actually begin!

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

New Video – Pillars of Eternity Dragon Fight – Cail The Silent

My 2nd attempt at battling Cail The Silent, my first major dragon fight in Pillars of Eternity.

I don’t get the chance to really live stream or record very many gameplay videos or Let’s Plays these days. I did manage to sneak in a quick little video showing off my first major dragon fight in Pillars Of Eternity, a massive, old-school tactical RPG Kickstarted by Obsidian Entertainment in 2012 and released in March.

I’m really loving the hell out of Pillars of Eternity. For fans of the Golden Age of tactical computer role-playing games (late 90s, early 00s) and games like Baldur’s Gate, it’s absolutely a dream come true. Divinity: Original Sin, another phenomenal tactical RPG (and also crowdfunded) was my Game of the Year last year, and Pillars of Eternity is a strong contender for this year.

In this video I battle the fire dragon Cail The Silent. This is actually my second attempt at battling the beast, the first time I came extremely close but ultimately lost. My team consisted of my PC (melee chanter), Edér, Pallegina, Durance, Aloth, and Sagani, all level 8.

 

 

Shadowrun 5E “Not With a Whimper” Epilogue & Recap

Our first mission was designed to bring our street-level runners together and throw them into an exciting plot involving gang warfare.

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

Read the Session 1 Report
Read the Session 2 Report
Read the Session 3 Report

Since Shadowrun is composed of smaller individual runs or missions than your typical Dungeons & Dragons adventure or dungeon crawl, I’ve opted to include a recap session at the end of each mission. This session will serve three purposes: 1) Recap the entire mission, going over how the runners handled the situations and the paths and choices they made, 2) Allow for feedback from my players to better improve my GMing and mission-building skills, and have an official forum for out of character discussion of mechanics, character advancement, buying/selling loot, etc, and 3) Give me another week to write the next adventure!

“Not With a Whimper” was our very first full length Shadowrun adventure, and one that I wrote myself from scratch. It was designed to bring our street-level runners together, embroil them in an exciting plot involving gang warfare, and give them an important NPC ally that can act as a Fixer for future jobs.

It was composed of five scenes: Redd’s Bar, Redd’s Bar after the bomb, the inside of a DocWagon vehicle, return to Redd’s now-destroyed bar, and Jay-T’s Automotive. My players all created their characters separately, mostly unaware of whom each other were playing. They were all in the bar coincidentally looking for work when a bomb went off, destroying half the bar and spurring them into heroic actions of trying to save the people inside.

Shadowrun Now Without a Whimper Scene 4

One of the people they saved was an ork gang leader named Jeremiah Redd, the owner of the bar. He invited the players into the DocWagon ambulance that arrived to give them the job of investigating the bombing (and to offer some free healing after the blast). The players nicely followed suit, and I sprang the trap of the fake DocWagon medics that were attempting to subdue Redd. The players immediately felt protective of him and intervened, defeating the fake medics and nonviolently bringing the vehicle to a stop. [Read Session 1 Report]

Before they could even interrogate the one foe they’d left alive, I’d set up a random encounter with some Halloweeners in the bad neighborhood they happened to stop in. The players managed to negotiate their way out of a fight, trading the vehicle for their lives. Redd then finally offered them the official job of tracking down the culprit to the bombing.

The players returned to the bar (reusing meticulously crafted scenes in Roll20 – woo!) to investigate and look for clues, leading to a fun bit of role-playing and exploration. I set it up as a fairly easy trail to follow, leading to a car bomb in the alleyway. The players traced it to a Jay-T’s Automotive. They arrived to a car garage and auto parts shop in the dead of night. I built it with multiple entrances and security measures, and emphasized a stealthy approach. [Read Session 2 Report]

Shadowrun Not With a Whimper Scene 5

Memorably the players decided to go through the front door, disabling the keypad and alarm only to be spotted by the video camera just inside. The roto-drones activated and I was on fire with the dice, resulting in a tense but brief combat encounter as the players took some pretty big hits. The drones went down but dwarf rigger Jay-T was alerted to their presence and tried to make a run for it, leading to an interesting set up for my boss battle of the adventure.

Jay-T made it to his truck only to spectacularly critical glitch on his mounted grenade launcher, resulting in its complete destruction. Before he could even leave the garage the elf adept busted the passenger side window, and the street sam followed up with a deadly OHKO with her hunting rifle. The players wisely used healing and first aid to stabilize him, but he remained unconscious and thus unable to be interrogated.

Still, enough clues were discovered on his computer to put him as the guilty party behind the bombing. The further implications of why he did and any accomplices he might have had have only been teased and shrouded in mystery. One final twist revealed that Jay-T was actually a member of Redd’s gang, making his involvement all the more distressing. [Read Session 3 Report]

At the end of the adventure our new runners had earned the gratitude and respect of Jeremiah Redd as well as some Karma, Nuyen, and Jay-T’s truck. No doubt Redd will have some future work for the runners as they try to unravel this plot. We had a lot of fun with it and all the feedback was incredibly positive. Looking forward to unveiling their new mission next week!

Shadowrun 5E “Not With a Whimper” Session 3 Report

The thrilling conclusion to our first Shadowrun adventure ends with a showdown in the automotive garage.

Note that since my players will read these I have to avoid spoilers and background information while the current mission is still in session. Look for our epilogue episode and write-up for more in-depth analysis and feedback.

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

Read the Session 1 Report
Read the Session 2 Report

Last week we had to end our session at a tense moment. The players’ stealthy infiltration into Jay-T’s Automotive repair shop and garage had failed, and they’d managed to dispatch the two roto-drones that attacked them in response, though not without taking some damage.

The immediate combat encounter had ended, though the feeling of adrenaline pumping action when you’ve been found out had dissipated in the week in between sessions. We have relatively shorter sessions for most tabletop roleplaying gatherings at about two and a half hours and the players needed some gentle nudging to get them back on track with the severity and immediacy of the situation (one of them was actually trying to go off and loot the store).

I found it rather humorous that although they’d been caught by the security camera and fought drones, the players continued to act cautiously and stealthily. While the decker was trying to loot the store (something I’d have to remind them to do when they were leaving) I had their target flee to his nearby car in the garage. The elf was looking through the door’s window at the time and caught him. He attempted to sneak out and engage him in conversation, which definitely seems like the standard modus operandi for our sneaky-social elf adept/face.

A successful dice roll got Jay-T to listen briefly, but he was definitely in fight or flight mode, and not yet interested in negotiating or talking. I really enjoyed the banter that my curt responses elicited from the players as they tried to surmise if he was the guilty party in the bombing, and/or if he’d just turned traitor or if he was blackmailed.

Jay-T, in his modified, weapon-mounted Toyota Gopher truck could be considered the boss battle of the adventure. I was worried I might have overwhelmed myself by including a getaway car and all kinds of unique rules for this final moment. I had given myself as much information and statistics as I could regarding the vehicle and its parts, and that definitely came in handy. The players reacted cleverly, knowing they didn’t want the vehicle to leave the garage.

Not With a Whimper Scene 5

Up until this point I’d been rolling fairly spectacularly. The previous drone fight saw the drones dodging attacks and laying on the hurt, and most of the players were forced to use Edge to take them down. Even simple tests like the elf sneaking with 9 dice and me rolling 4 dice on a perception test and beating him were happening more often than not. My luck finally ran out during this boss battle in a rather epic way: Our first ever critical glitch.

Jay-T’s truck was just starting up, and I used his first initiative pass to fire his rear mounted grenade launcher at the doorway, where most of the players were gathered. I needed to get 3 hits to hit the spot, otherwise scatter rules apply. I missed, and one of my players helpfully pointed out that I’d also glitched, rolling 1’s for half my rolls. Miss + Glitch = Critical Glitch! What should’ve been a horrifying attack instead ended with the mounted weapon sputtering, smoking, and crashing down off its mounts into the bed of the truck. Jay-T cursed inside.

With no drone support in the garage the players could all surround the truck and attempt to disable it before Jay-T could escape into the car yard. The troll shaman cast a ball lightning at the truck, though its armor absorbed half the damage. The street sam sprayed the truck and its hefty armor negated all the damage. The decker jacked into the matrix and began putting marks on the vehicle. The adept thought a bit outside the box, and smashed the window of the truck on an impressive 4 success roll versus the glass’ armor and structure rating, breaking the window on the passenger’s side.

This could’ve lead to all kinds of interesting possibilities, but it was the street sam’s turn next, and she decided to take advantage of the now clear path to take a shot at Jay-T himself. I admit that while the players were all deciding on increasingly dangerous and risky ways to capture him alive, I did mention that just attacking him and doing damage could put him down without killing him. Probably.

The street samurai picked up on this, shouldered her high-powered hunting rifle, and shot Jay-T right through the car window. I allowed him a defense test but with a negative modifier, as he was a sitting duck inside the not-yet moving vehicle. He took the full brunt of the attack, and with a 12DV and -4AP, it ended up doing 10 damage after resistance, putting him at 0 physical health. His head slammed against the steering wheel, horn blaring. The fight was over after a single combat turn.

We took a break and came back to the players investigating Jay-T’s office and computer while also using First Aid and Healing spells to stabilize him. I didn’t let them actually revive him (Shadowrun has pretty strict healing rules) but they could at least save his life for the time being, but unable to question him. I did have contingencies for a dead (or might as well be dead) or escaped Jay-T in his computer. The decker was able to hack into his emails and messaging and I teased some information on who he might’ve been involved with.  Without being able to talk to Jay-T directly, however their ultimate resolution would be limited.

Jeremiah ReddThey called up Redd and met at a safe spot to hand over Jay-T’s bloody body. Redd was concerned but satisfied that he was left alive, and the players had been nothing but straightforward and helpful to him throughout the adventure, earning his trust (Loyalty +1 as a contact) as well as their promised payment for investigating the bombing. I also doled out the karma rewards which I’d broken down into steps for completing various tasks, like aiding bombing victims and tracing the car bomb back to Jay-T’s Automotive.

Thus our very first Shadowrun mission concluded! “Not With a Whimper” was something I put together myself, wanting to involve street gangs and get the players involved with a reliable ally and fixer (quest giver) for future missions. I was very satisfied with how the players generally stuck to my script, and pleasantly surprised at some of the crazier tactics they used to handle the various situations.

Stay tuned next week for our full Epilogue and Recap breakdown episode where I recount the entire run as my players give their feedback, comments, and concerns. I will lift the veil somewhat in the hopes of improving the experience and learning what worked and what didn’t. After that we’ll move onto our next adventure!

Shadowrun 5E “Not With a Whimper” Session 2 Report

Our first Shadowrun 5E role-playing adventure continues with tense negotiations and a bombing investigation.

Note that since my players will read these I have to avoid spoilers and background information while the current mission is still in session. Look for our epilogue episode and write-up for more in-depth analysis and feedback.

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

Read the Session 1 Report

Our sophomore session for our very first Shadowrun adventure picked up during the briefest of down times. My players were attempting to question their new captive and get the DocWagon vehicle started when they were accosted by a roving band of Halloweeners. This was set up as a semi-randomized battle with three main outcomes – 1) the players fight off the gangers, 2) the players talk them down or negotiate or, 3) the players drive away.

Given the aggressive tendencies of my players I predicted we would go with outcome 1, but when the players decided to try and drive away (which would’ve been a very difficult Pilot Ground Craft test), I had the lead ganger grow impatient with his knocking, ripping the rear doors off the vehicle and having everyone roll for initiative (I rolled an astonishing 8 success for his test to open the doors).

The elf adept, who also acts as the group’s face with superior social skills, acted first thanks to his crazy high initiative score, and he immediately decided to bargain with the lead ganger. This actually segued us into outcome 2, and the elf quickly negotiated for their release. The Halloweeners wanted the fancy vehicle, so after a successful negotiation test, I allowed them to trade the vehicle for their lives. To my surprise the players accepted, gingerly stepping out of the vehicle and practically waving goodbye as they strode down the path with their NPC captive, avoiding an entire battle.

Shadowrun Now Without a Whimper Scene 3

Without their vehicle and stranded in a bad neighborhood my contingency plan kicked in, and I had an NPC we previously met in the bar roll up in an armored truck to help out her boss. Jeremiah Redd was still being protected by the runners through this grand mess and he finally got a chance to give the actual mission to this new rag-tag team: investigate the now destroyed bar and figure out who was behind the bombing.

The investigation allowed me to reuse the previous scene pf the half-destroyed bar, which was wonderfully helpful to cut down on building and crafting in Roll20. Also I spent a lot of time building that scene and was damn proud of it!

I layered in a bunch of clues that the players could’ve found throughout the bar and tried to leave this section much more open. They approached cautiously, which I had warned them about, though I had no intention of including any combat in this scene. Up till now the entire adventure had been a series of crazy events and I wanted to give them some down time and use investigation skills and inference rather than social and combat skills. They also got a fun chance to actually talk to each other and formally meet each other’s characters.

A combination of Perception, Demolitions, and Hacking skills lead to the rear alleyway, a barely functioning security camera, and a blown out car registered to a Jay-T’s Automotive. The players did the right thing in calling up Redd once they collected some evidence, though I had Sue-Z pick up the comm and had a fun bit of mysterious role-playing.

Shadowrun Now Without a Whimper Scene 4

At this point the players made it a bit farther than I expected them to this session, mainly as they had avoided a potentially lengthy combat sequence earlier! They made it to Jay-T’s, a set that had numerous entrances with an emphasis on a stealthy approach.

Disappointingly, the runners immediately went for the front door and disabled the lock and alarm using a combination of Locksmith and Hacking. The elf adept stealthed his way inside with 2 hits on 9 dice, but I rolled a killer 3 hits on only 4 dice on the nearby video camera on the opposed Perception check. Feeling bad I gave the player a chance to do one action before the camera swiveled over and spotted him. He dove into the room behind a shelf but rolled only 1 success, and the camera spotted him, tripping the alarm and activating a pair of roto drones.

Combat in Shadowrun has a lot of annoying complexities. Tons of environmental and range modifiers come into play, as well as melee attacks, cyberdeck hacking, spells, etc. It’s overwhelming and we’re all definitely still learning, so any combat sequence takes us quite awhile. I’m sure we played things wrong (indeed some times realizing on the next round) but the Roll20 character sheets help kept the pace flowing for the most part.

The drones were all offense and no defense and that was definitely reflected in the brutal and fast combat sequence. One drone did some significant stun damage to both the elf and the troll while the other was dispatched in an Edge-boosted roll from the Street Samurai’s rifle. In a funny moment the elf had his revenge by killing the other done with his knife.

I was very thankful that I wrote down a bunch of notes as drone stats are slightly different than metahuman foes. I was able to use a character sheet for the roto-drones with all the appropriate programs and stats which helped immensely. Even then I was scrambling to figure out what their defense was versus the decker’s hacking attempts.

Although the runners were in the middle of a hostile environment, one that was now aware of their presence, we had to take a break there as we’d gone past our normal cut-off time of midnight. We had to look up a lot more rules in this session, particularly pertaining to combat modifiers and Matrix hacking. I need to get more familiar with how deckers operate and also which rules we actually want to use as I’m pretty sure we weren’t playing the decker correctly in terms of hacking into the Matrix and using the VR Initiative.

The adventure should wrap up next week, and depending on time we may just do the epilogue and recap portion as part of that session.

My Favorite Dragon Age Inquisition Companions

As much as I loved its insane amount of content, Dragon Age is still very much a BioWare RPG, and a large part of the experience lies in the well-written and interesting companions.

You can also read this post over on my Game Informer blog

Four Months and 75 hours later and I finally saw the credits roll on Dragon Age: Inquisition. I knew it was going to be a long one but releasing in November had the horrible side effect of trying to keep up with a sprawling RPG during the busy holiday season. Dear developers: Please release all 50 hour+ games in the Summer!

I’ve previously written on the problems of super long games but to be fair Dragon Age Inquisition is about as long as you want it to be. Felt like 70% of my time was spent just blissfully exploring the incredible amount of content that was offered, and I loved that I always had an overwhelming amount of areas to explore and quests to try. At some point I had to just force myself to get back on track with the main story (which I quickly outleveled) and ended up beating the game at level 20 with at least two areas barely explored (Hissing Wastes and Emerald Graves) and many more only half-finished.

As much as I loved the insane amount of content, Dragon Age is still very much a BioWare RPG, and a large part of the experience lies in the well-written and interesting companions. I thought I’d turn my thoughts on the game into a ranked list of all nine Dragon Age: Inquisition companions.

You can read more about my inquisitor and my predictions for the game here.

 

1) Cassandra

The very first companion you get is also the best, a concept that’s fairly common in RPGs. Your first friend and ally tends to be the most strongly written and the most directly tied into the main events of the story. As a former Seeker of Truth Cassandra embodies everything about a traditional Dungeons & Dragons-style Paladin, but her steadfast honesty and confident demeanor made me quickly fall in love with her. She’s also incredibly useful on the battlefield serving as your initial tank and becoming quite adept and handling mages and demons once she unlocks her templar abilities. Despite playing a warrior myself I almost never left Skyhold without her, and she was the first one I’d always go to check with in between outings. At the end of my game she became Divine, and I was proud and confident that she would lead the Chantry and the world into a prosperous era.

2) Varric

Oddly enough I rarely ended up using Varric in Dragon Age II. I enjoyed his personality but my Hawke was a Rogue and I loved using Isabella, so Varric rarely got to come with me. In Inquisition I played a warrior, and archery skills were just as powerful, if not more so than Dragon Age II. Certainly attacking from range afforded him a bit more survivability and I loved his artificer tree and those flashy grenades he threw. Personality wise Varric is the ultimate best bud – friendly, loyal and constantly cracking jokes even in the midst of terror and dread. He was my go-to Rogue for most of the adventure and I was always glad to have his good-natured insight and Bianca’s power.

3) Vivienne

Most RPG companions tend to be various forms of the rogueish archetype, but Vivienne is almost a polar opposite. She’s calm, elegant, and not afraid to flaunt her stature and power. She could be perceived as power-hungry but ultimately she wants what’s best for the world, which typically happens to align with her own desires. I loved the way she talked, layering in ‘darling’ and ‘my dear’ in a deliciously disarming fashion, and her high cheekbones and flawless skin added to her regal look. I could also gush about her usefulness on the battlefield – as an ice mage she’s useful in just about every situation, and her knight enchanter specialization is easily the best in the game, turning her into an off-tank or secondary DPS if you want to run up and whack things with spectral swords. The mages in the Dragon Age world have always had the best abilities and Vivienne gets the best of those.

4) Dorian


Dorian’s story is so analogous to many real people’s it’s almost painful. Running away from his life and responsibilities in his not-quite-evil empire of Tevinter because his father threatened to change his sexuality via blood magic instantly endeared him to me, and he was the first companion I befriended. Dorian was funny, cultured, sassy and a powerful fire mage. Fire can both burn and fear people, making Dorian almost unfair to use against humanoids, and his necromancer skill tree gave him the always fun ability of Walking Bomb. I give Vivienne the slight edge but I ended up trading off between the two for the majority of my adventuring.

5) Cole

Cole is definitely the most interesting and different of the companions. As a spirit inhabiting a dead mage he’s similar in concept to what BioWare did with Anders and Justice in Dragon Age II but the execution is far more fascinating here. Battling the red templars means I got a full blown mission that introduced him and his creepy and poetic way of talking, and his skills as a shadowy assassin fills his personality quite well. I also quite enjoyed his character mission when you find the templar responsible for his death. Unfortunately in creating the guard system for warriors BioWare really left rogues behind – especially those that eschew archery to get up and hurt people. Cole had lots of fun abilities but required a high level of micro management. Still, I used him when I could (he’s especially fun in the story mission where you enter the fade).

6) Iron Bull

Bull! Gotta love the big fun-loving brute character, which BioWare seems to love as well. I never used Vega in Mass Effect 3, a dumb meat-head that got in the way of the much more interesting aliens, but Iron Bull is all kinds of awesome. Every team needs an Iron Bull – heavy cursing, heavy drinking but incredibly loyal, fun and powerful. Unfortunately as a 2handed warrior myself I rarely had room in my party for Iron Bull. When he eventually gains enough skill points to max out his ravager tree he becomes a huge DPS asset with more survivability thanks to the guard system. He was my go-to for dragon fights and I loved talking to him in Skyhold, I just rarely used him in the field. His rapport with his own company of badasses was really fun, too.

7) Blackwall

Blackwall went through an odd rollercoaster for me. Initially I hated him; he was the stoic, boring warrior and skills-wise he was almost exactly like Cassandra, whom I loved. Thus Blackwall was almost never used until he got his champion specialization. Of course then I chose champion for my 2handed warrior and I’d rather take Cassandra for her personality and differing abilities. His character mission was fascinating, however, and my female warrior was trying to romance him as he was surprisingly sweet and reverent toward the Inquisitor. By the end his story fell flat for me, however. I freed him from prison fairly late in the game and barely had any special conversations or scenes with him afterward. Annoyingly it wouldn’t let me continue my romance with him despite doing all his quests. Blackwall is the perfect example of an interesting concept but a poor execution.

8) Solas

The above seven companions I generally enjoyed, but now we get to the ones that just fell flat for me. As a mage that specializes in the fade Solas is very useful on the battlefield, so my main beef with him is simply that I loved the other two mages much more. Solas is aloof, haughty and dare I say a bit boring. It’s irksome that he apparently is way more tied into the main plot than I realized (the end scene caught me completely off guard) as I rarely ever talked to him and never did his character quest. Sorry Solas but haughty elf that looks like The Mummy just isn’t going to do it for me.

9) Sera

I could easily describe Sera as the Borderlands character. She’s zany, irreverent, chaotic and rude. Now, I like Borderlands and the characters in that universe, but she just didn’t fit in my Inquisition at all. I appreciate that there’s a prankster style character but I enjoyed Cole’s enigmatic gags and scenes much more than Sera’s annoying hatred of everything noble or privileged. I role-played my Inquisitor as a fairly serious warrior and leader, and Sera rubbed her in all the wrong ways. I nearly parted ways with her after a particularly heated argument. Don’t get me wrong, I love that her kind of character was included, and it would be boring if the particular kind of character I role-played got along swimmingly with everyone. Power wise she was worse than Varric in every way, and I much preferred Varric’s specialization.

 

All of the pictures here I captured myself from my game, save Cole whom I forgot to take a picture of. How appropriate!

And there it is! Another BioWare game completed. I loved my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition but due to the length don’t see myself replaying it anytime soon. I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with the game and companions in the comments below.

You can also read this post over on my Game Informer blog

Introducing Our New Weekly Shadowrun Tabletop Role-Playing Adventures!

Last year my friends and I gathered together with the power of Skype, Roll20, Google Sheets and .PDFs to fulfill a longstanding desire to play tabletop role-playing adventures over the internet.

We’re all in our 30s and my closest friend lives 200 miles away, with the farthest living several states over. We see each other about once a year during a glorious New Year’s Eve get together where we mostly play board games.

Shadowrun 5eDespite our love of everything nerdy and game-y we missed out on playing traditional pen and paper role-playing games growing up. I was the only one with any experience with Dungeons and Dragons (2nd edition) and even I’d only played a handful of sessions.

We started up an official weekly, live streamed role-playing group playing Pathfinder last year, and it was an absolute blast. Unfortunately over the course of a few months we only got through one complete dungeon crawl and were halfway through a second adventure before our GM dropped out due to personal reasons.

Fast-forward several months and we’re back ready to tackle the awesome virtual role-playing utility that is Roll20 and go on more adventures, with two major changes. First, I’ll be the Gamemaster! Our old GM is still MIA and I’ve always fancied myself the creative story-teller type. Also as a stay at home dad and part time writer I generally have the most time among my friends to devote to this venture.

The second big difference is we’ll be playing Shadowrun Fifth Edition. Even while we were in the midst of playing Pathfinder (which is basically just DnD) I talked about how If I tried my hand at being GM, I’d definitely do Shadowrun.

Shadowrun anniversary cover

Though it has existed since the 80s I’d only tangentially heard of Shadowrun growing up. I had seen the box art of the old Genesis and SNES games but never played them. I thought the cyberpunk motif was cool but at the time was balls-deep into the fantasy worlds of Dragonlance, Discworld and the Forgotten Realms.

It wasn’t until Harebrained Schemes ran their successful Kickstarter project to create a new tactical Shadowrun game that I began to take interest. While I didn’t back it at the time, I bought and played it right when it came out in the Summer of 2013 – sneaking it onto my backlog gaming schedule.

I loved that game, but even more I loved that universe and the concept of urban fantasy + cyberpunk. Dystopian mega-corporations ruling the world, whole sections of cities run by gangs, easy access to drugs and weapons – it was all very much 80s sci-fi and I adored it.

We read through the Quick Start Rules and got together to choose from the pre-generated characters and learn about the game. I crafted the one-module beginner adventure (Food Fight) in Roll20 and we had our first session last week. I didn’t live stream it as it was still very much a learning experience for everyone involved and didn’t want the added distraction. But I did record and upload it to my YouTube channel in case anyone wants to go back and see Where It All Began.

Next everyone will be creating their own characters and we’ll spend our next session going over character creation for the first time. Since one of our runners will be taking a lengthy vacation at the end of March, we won’t be officially starting our weekly live streams until April.

The plan is to live stream every Sunday evening starting at about 9:30pm Central and running for 2-3 hours on my twitch channel. I also plan on uploading each session to YouTube (broken up into easier size chunks if I have time) as well as recapping them here on my blog.

I really look forward to this fun new way to hang out with friends and family every week, and I’d like to keep it up for as long as we have fun with it. See you in the shadows, chummer.