Shadowrun 5E “The Bodyguards” Session 2 Report

Everything that can go wrong will go wrong when our shadowrunners work security at a rock concert in our funniest session yet.

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

Read “The Bodyguards” Session 1 Report

For our third Shadowrun adventure I really wanted to try something different. Our previous mission was very combat heavy as I shuffled my runners from scene to scene as they made their journey to downtown Seattle. This time I created a single, gigantic scene in Roll20 where multiple events transpire – and only a few involve actual combat.

In our previous session the runners had purchased eqiupment and scoped out the location of the warehouse-turned-concert hall The Dragon’s Maw. They’d been hired as temporary security guards to beef up the staff for an indie rock label and their star performing artist – Lana Grace. One night only, and anything can happen.

As a GM I like to overplan as much I can so I’m at least somewhat prepared for any unexpected things my players do. I also shepherd them somewhat, and even within a single scene I had events happening all around them to replicate the feel of being part of a security team. Since the players all split up to handle different tasks and areas, I also switched around to make sure I didn’t focus on any one player or situation for too long, and made sure everyone got to do something.

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Before the opening band even took the stage I had a salvo of events lined up to take place. Most of them were just little side story kernels with a few notes. I was stepping a bit out of my comfort zone by having to ad-lib much of the specific dialogue and events, but it ended up being a hell of a lot of fun – I don’t think we’ve laughed so much and so hard in an adventure yet, and I was complimented on my voice acting (having a young child you read to every day helps immensely with this).

The folks backstage had to screen backstage passers to get into see Lana, a fun an direct way to screen people and use skills like Perception to find weapons and Judge Intentions to see how they were acting. I planted some questionable folks, some earnest ones, and even a creepy vampire – whom was totally allowed inside and subsequently had to be fought and put down! The dance floor area involved people trying to sneak backstage (which lead to a funny confrontation between the unstable decker of the group), and a drug peddler that was high on his own supply. The players guarding the entrance had to deal with a ticket scalper.

Most of these events were heavy on the role-playing and light on skill checks, and only the vampire ended up having any actual combat. It was a fun chance to let loose with some play acting and everyone ended up having a really fun time with it. Once the warm-up band took the stage I had a few more events transpire – like a streaker trying to run onto the stage.

All these mini-events ended up taking up all our time for the session, and we ended before our star actually hit the stage. I was nervous going into this session how well this system of seemingly random events would pan out, and if I ‘d be able to handle multiple things happening at once with the party split up. It ended up working out really well, and I’m pleased to see everyone having fun on a much more role-playing heavy session. Tune in next time to see if any more shenanigans arise when the star takes the stage!

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

Shadowrun 5E “Road Rage” Session 5 Report

The runners finally make it to the exchange at the docks where they contend with a magical onslaught of thunderstorms and mind control that threatens to tear it all down.

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

Read “Road Rage” Session 1 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 2 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 3 Report
Read “Road Rage” Session 4 Report

I was super excited going into our fifth and final session of this adventure. The last twenty or so minutes from last week’s session gave us a lot of delicious inter-team drama and deliberation – the kind I can’t plan or produce but can only hope evolves naturally (and enjoyably) during the adventure.

Last night’s session picked up just as a tense plan was coming together. Our runners needed to get inside the docks to complete their exchange of the goods they’d worked so hard to escort and protect. I was expecting some fun social tests to crop up; instead Ursev the troll shaman cast his ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ Control Thoughts spell (a malicious but effective form of temporary mind control) and basically forced the guard to wave them through.

Most of them clamored into the truck but Saran the decker and Mauta the weapons specialist both opted to leap across the chain link fence and sneak around the shipping containers. Mauta stuck to the high ground while Saran sneaked around the side. This was our first real use of a giant map and set piece in Roll20, and I was pleased that my players were impressed, and somewhat apprehensive with it. There was a funny bit where Saran wasn’t sure how to sneak around a simple dock worker taking a cigarette break. He was seriously thinking of killing the poor guy just because he was in his way, which the other players immediately balked at.

Things seemed to go pretty smoothly at the actual exchange. Mauta and Saran took up defensive overwatch positions while Falkirk, Ursev, and their NPC buddies Lapis and Crank showed up with the truck and the goods.

I made the buyer, Ares mid-level manager Ricardo Martin, an affable and outgoing guy. Falkirk made the surprisingly but brilliant call to use Edge on the Negotiation roll to try and squeeze more money out of the deal, pushing his total hits to 6 (and net hits over Ricardo’s roll to 3). From my notes that equaled another $6,000 nuyen in reward money per player, on top of the original $2,000 they were getting. Working for mega crops does have its advantages!

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Of course I wasn’t about to let things go down that easy. I unleashed my secret weapon – a two-step mage attack from an unseen enemy. The skies darkened and a massive rainstorm erupted on the shipyards. At the same time a large group of people where suddenly mind controlled, and told to ‘Kill The Others.’ Ricardo and his Knight Errant guards pulled weapons and began engaging the runners. Falkirk was the only player in the area that was also mind controlled, and he was forced to attack (though I let the player decide whom he would attack and with what weapon).

Finally I added a Water Spirit into the mix as the storm-summoning culprit. This was an interesting combat scenario as our players didn’t want to actually kill their opponents, but instead attempt to subdue them, knock them unconscious, or disrupt or dispel the spell. Poor Falkirk didn’t have enough Logic and Willpower to be able to resist the spell on his own, but Ursev used all of his turns and Edge points to dispel the enchantment on his friend.

Speaking of natural spell resistance, that’s definitely the one bit of book keeping I totally dropped the ball on. I remembered it for Lapis and Crank but almost not at all for the Ares people until right at the end. Granted they only had 2 dice to roll and needed 4 hits (taking a minimum 2 turns if they rolled fantastically) but still, oops! As a GM there’s often a lot going on, especially in combat, so it’s very helpful when players and/or twitch chat can point out the things I forget.

Road Rage Scene 5 docks

There were two major ways the players could get themselves out of this situation without having to murder or knock out their opponents: block the Line of Sight to the harbor (either physically blocking it or moving the affected people out of the way) or attacking the source of the magical attacks. Mauta had the best vision and position, and a Perception test revealed one of the boats in the harbor and a figure with a magical aura around them, transfixed on the docks using mounted telescope-type device.

Mauta’s first turn was to unsuccessfully shoot at the water spirit. For her second she fired at the boat. In this case I wasn’t even interested in normal attack/defense tests as the boat was protected by a mana barrier. The impact on the barrier was enough to disrupt the spellcaster, and the Mob Mind spell was shattered. I’d originally planned on having the water spirit fight to the death but the mood of the players was of relief and ready for the epilogue at this point (we were also right up against our usual stopping time) so instead I had the creature slink back into the water. The storm subsided, Ricardo was greatful no one was killed (save a single dock worker but pffttt) and everyone went their separate ways. Mission completed!

For their troubles (and their great Negotiation rolls) the players received a total of $10,000 nueyn for the mission, as well as 10 Karma points. They also got Ricardo and Lapis as Contacts they can call upon. Campaign-wise the plot certainly thickened with the attack during the finale with this obviously powerful and magically-gifted assailant. My goal with the overall campaign is to loosely stitch together a bunch of missions with an overarching villain and frequent appearances by familiar NPCs, both good and bad. Basically creating my own comic book style story arc.

I was satisfied with the end result, though hopefully it didn’t feel too rushed or anti-climatic. I was definitely hoping we’d finish the adventure this week and be able to do the full recap and epilogue episode next week, and frankly the adventure was already very combat-heavy without having me draw out this final battle. Look for that recap and feedback session next week as we cap off this second adventure of our Shadowrun campaign!

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

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – South Park: The Stick of Truth

A perfect combination of the show’s aesthetics and humor with a fun RPG system makes South Park: The Stick of Truth one of the best licensed games ever made.

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: Obsidian Entertainment (with South Park Digital Studios)

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: March 4, 2014

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I was slightly late to my South Park fandom. The first season aired back in the ancient era of 1997, and I’d written it off as a silly Beavis and Butthead style adult cartoon. While it was quite silly and full of shock value, I didn’t begin seeing its incredibly clever social commentary and political skewering until several years later. Around the time South Park was in its fifth or sixth season I caught up on all the episodes, and I’ve been a diehard fan ever since.

To say I was looking forward to South Park: The Stick of Truth is a big understatement. Developed by beloved RPG developer Obsidian, they were tasked with directly collaborating with Matt Stone and Trey Parker in creating an epic RPG with the look and feel of the show. Licensed games usually fare poorly in their translation to gaming, but all the previews looked fantastic, and The Stick of Truth made it onto my Most Anticipated Games lists….for 2012, 2013, and 2014!

The game had been stuck in development hell for years after its proud announcement, partly due to the dissolution of then-publisher THQ and its acquisition by Ubisoft. Heavily licensed game plus long, tumultuous development typically results in disaster. I’m pleased to say that not only does South Park: The Stick of Truth defy expectations, but it’s easily one of the best licensed video games ever made.

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From the moment you jump into the character creator the art style and animations completely absorb you into the world of South Park. The show’s unique 2D cutout animation is in full glorious display, and for the first time you can actually walk around and explore the modest open world of the town. Exploring the town of South Park brought me endless joy (and made me pine for a Simpsons-Springfield equivalent game). Everything is right where you think it is, from the South Park Mall to each boys’ cookie-cutter houses in a row.

The initial hook of the story is related to Season 17’s “Black Friday” trilogy, which ended with direct teases to The Stick of Truth. Though South Park goes in some very funny and dark places with its social commentary and pop culture references, my personal favorite episodes are when the kids are play-acting extravagant events and adventures. They juxtapose their incredibly imaginative and increasingly creative adventures with the equally mundane and crazy backdrop of their lives and town.

The Stick of Truth runs with this theme perfectly as most of the kids in town are playing a Dungeons & Dragons style real-world fantasy game using costumes and household objects as weapons. Entire factions are drawn up, war parties are formed, and you as the new kid in town are thrown into the middle of it. In fact, much of the main story missions are heavily inspired from BioWare’s RPGs as you gather allies from other factions such as the goth kids, the kindergartners, and even the girls. Eventually you’re forced to choose a side between Cartman’s humans and Kyle’s elves, though an even darker event causes the boys to join forces in the end.

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Meanwhile you’re free to explore the entire town at you leisure, with only a few locations blocked off Metroidvania-style until you acquire new abilities. The town is a treasure-trove of recognizable locations and hidden goodies, with just the right amount of side quests to add some additional adventuring without overwhelming you with superfluous tasks. I did enjoy collecting friends on Facebook; not only is it fun to find and talk to people but acquiring friends unlocks passive perks.

Loot is everywhere. By halfway through the game I was equipping new weapons and armor sets just about every 15 or 20 minutes, and each one has slots for equipping patches and “strap-ons” to modify them further to suit your needs. It’s an embarrassment of riches and partly lead to the overpowered feeling I quickly gained for most combat encounters.

Combat is designed similarly to Super Mario RPG and the Paper Mario games. When you run into an enemy, be they ginger kids, hobos, mongorians, or nazi zombies, the game shifts to a turn-based JRPG-style battlefield where you take turns using melee, ranged, magic and special abilities. Your magical abilities, of course, are powerful fart attacks that you acquire throughout the game, and are also used to access new areas in the world.

Combat is supported by active button-prompts, letting you dodge attacks and do more damage with the right timing. Abilities utilize active button prompts in various ways, like spinning the joystick to wind up Butters’ hammer throw, or mashing all the buttons to get Cartman to scream various obscenities when he unleashes his electrical V-Chip powers a la South Park: The Movie.

The emphasis on speed and efficiency over tactical depth matches well with the overall gameplay. That’s not to say there weren’t some deep systems involved. Multiple debuffs and status effects were very important in affecting opponents, such as Grossed Out and Pissed Off, and elemental damage could be added to weapons to further take advantage of a foe’s weakness. Armor and shields also played into the combat; often I had to adjust my strategies and weapon mods depending on the area and enemies I was facing.

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Once I learned the various combat systems I breezed through most encounters without much trouble. At the end of combat both health and power points are fully restored, allowing you to unleash your powers as much as you see fit. Consumables are also incredibly prolific, and since using one doesn’t take up your turn you can quickly pop a health or buffing potion and still attack.

You’re allowed one supportive party member from a familiar roster of the main cast to join you, and not only can you switch them out on the fly, you can switch them out right in the middle of combat. While you can’t change out their equipment, each hero comes with their own abilities, and I found them all to be fairly useful in different situations. Battles go quickly but the animations are so much fun, and the enemy variety decent enough that they remained enjoyable throughout my 15 hour adventure.

The main story takes place over three days, with each day ending in a large event resembling a dungeon crawl. The first day ends with the classic South Park aliens abducting you, complete with lots of anal probing – resulting in a new anal probe satellite dish to teleport to new places. The story goes in all kinds of really fun, really messed up places – very much appropriate to the series. From infiltrating an abortion clinic and fending off an outbreak of nazi zombie fetuses, to fighting underpants gnomes right under your very noisy, very graphic sex-having parents, the game never shies away from the hilarious shock value that the show is infamous for.

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In addition to the many, many references around every corner, dialogue session, and cutscenes the game even adds its own funny jokes, like an incredibly funny on-going gag about Taco Bell as the cover-up to the UFO crash and presenting Canada as a hilariously pixelated 8-bit overworld style map.

It all ends in a fantastic final assault on Clyde’s fortress of doom (a giant tower in his backyard). Throughout several big story missions in the game you’re pitted within the backdrop of an ongoing battle, and I loved how various environmental traps and abilities could be used to affect foes before ever engaging them in combat, sometimes taking whole groups out completely. Seeing the the various kids so passionately involved in their role-playing is pure fun, and the absurdity and seriousness of it all is a fantastic combination that is quintessential South Park. Fans of the show and RPGs rejoice, for we have been blessed with an amazing adaptation.

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Pros

  • Art Style and animations are perfect recreations of the South Park style
  • Just as shocking and hilarious as the TV show
  • Surprisingly deep combat system that never wears out its welcome
  • Tons of loot and customization options
  • Exploring the town is sheer joy for fans
  • Perfectly paced, with just the right combination of linear story missions and open world exploration and side quests

Cons

  • Other than a few boss battles, combat is pretty easy
  • Summons and Fart Magic are almost entirely unnecessary
  • At 15hrs it’s a bit short for a standard RPG, and a few plot threads or events feel a bit rushed or edited (only one crab person in the whole game)

Final Say: A perfect combination of the show’s aesthetics and humor with a fun RPG system makes South Park: The Stick of Truth one of the best licensed games ever made.

Shadowrun 5E “Road Rage” Session 2 Report

Our second session of “Road Rage” concludes the initial hostage encounter from last week and moves onto the highway as our players defend their cargo from a troll biker gang.

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

Read “Road Rage” Session 1 Report

We picked up right at the conclusion of our very long first session last week as the encounter with the gang at Jay-T’s had just ended. Two of them lay dead (well one was technically stabilized), with the third surrendering, and the fourth still handcuffed to the truck outside. My players were curious as to why this gang was here, what they were doing, and who they were working for. Unfortunately for them the two people most willing to talk to them lay dead or unconscious, so even with successful social tests they weren’t given much information.

My players spent quite a bit of time talking with their captives (and new NPC allies), asking questions, and deciding what to do with them. This whole first scene ended up lasting much longer than I anticipated but provided a lot of neat opportunities for combat, planning, and social skills. They asked one of their NPC allies what they should do next, and through her I suggested they call their Fixer and give him an update on the situation. They agreed to Jeremiah Redd’s suggestion to leave them tied up to be picked up later and get on with the mission.

Sadly right when we were about to go live with this week’s session, our decker player got called in to help deliver a baby. The curse of being a doctor! For the first time we had to roll with an MIA player. We had his character get a sudden call and have to leave, and I’ll leave it up to him on what that situation was. We’ll also need to write him into the next session, which could prove interesting considering the team ran into a biker gang during their highway escort mission!

i-5 route mapI left it entirely up to the players in how they wanted to situate themselves for the road trip. They had to travel North on I-5 for a little over 10 miles to downtown Seattle – yay for Google Maps! The armored truck would be driven by NPC Crank, whom they had just saved in the hostage situation and was a returning NPC from the first adventure that they had essentially captured and turned over to Redd. Crank had joined up with the Redd Scars and it was a fun opportunity to reward the players for their mercy and leniency by having him join them here – and in fact is probably a big reason that the players actively tried to recruit their new captured foes into Redd’s gang as well!

The armored truck could technically fit all of them, but they decided to utilize the modified pick-up truck they’d taken from the end of the last adventure as a secondary vehicle to help defend the truck should the need arise. Mauta the ex-special forces street samurai offered to drive while Falkirk the elf adept/Face rode with her. Our troll shaman opted to hide in the back of the armored truck amongst the crates, thinking he needed to avoid the port authority guards, while using clairvoyance on top of the truck to keep an eye out.

I gave the players a couple minutes to simply socialize with each other and offer a bit of downtime for the first leg of the journey. It ended up as a chance for Mauta to reveal that she had some connection to the buyer, though she remained mysterious and wouldn’t go into specific details. I definitely like the idea of incorporating my players’ backstories and pre-established contacts into the adventure whenever I can. It was a fun chance for role-playing and I try to give my players moments of levity in between the craziness.

Craziness, of course, will happen. This ain’t no peaceful cyberpunk world. A few minutes into the journey a half dozen members of the troll biker gang The Spikes roared up onto the on-ramp in an attempt to hi-jack the truck. I may have been a bit overeager to jump into a chase combat scenario on only our second ever Shadowrun adventure. As it is I do what I usually do and simplified much of the rules to suit our needs and keep everything fun and flowing.

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Drivers had to perform a driving test during their first initial pass (or autopilot takes over) but could use that test to perform a chase action such as ramming or cutting-off. The biker gang closed in on the vehicles and the players definitely felt their deckers’ absence, both another available gun and someone that could potentially stop a vehicle electronically.

Falkirk was able to take the closest biker down after two shots with his taser. He was getting crazy high, 5 hit rolls all night! Ironically filling up the stun monitor track via a taser will still probably lead to an opponent’s death when they’re rocketing down a highway on a motorcycle! Mauta and Crank both drove the vehicles and attempted to cut-off nearby bikers. Mauta came close, causing an opponent to swerve and get out of the way but he was able to avoid a crash. Ursev spent a dramatic, John Woo-type moment throwing open the doors of the truck and blasting a ball lightning at two bikers…for all of 2 hits, which both of them were able to dodge. Hey at least it “looked” cool!

We had to call it a night after the first combat turn was up. Combat in any RPG lasts awhile as you keep track of lots of things going on, but I’m glad we at least made it to the end of the turn so we can start with fresh new Initiative rolls for next week. We’re definitely going a lot slower in this adventure than I expected, even with the extra long session we did last week. Most likely Saran the decker will come roaring up at the beginning of this next round, and well see just where this encounter takes our heroes.

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

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.

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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.

 

 

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut

Shadowrun Dragonfall is the definitive Shadowrun cRPG experience with a meaty campaign and lots of crucial improvements.

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: Harebrained Schemes

Publisher: Harebrained Holdings

Release Date: September 18, 2014 (Director’s Cut), February 27, 2014 (Original Expansion)

My first real brush with the Shadowrun universe occurred with 2013’s crowdfunded release of Shadowrun: Returns. I was mostly unfamiliar with the 80s cyberpunk-meets-urban-fantasy world having only briefly tried out either the old SNES or Genesis games. I grew increasingly interested in that world and gameplay during its Kickstarter campaign (which I didn’t back at the time) and ended up purchasing and playing Shadowrun Returns right when it released in the Summer of 2013. I also cheated a bit and added it onto my then-schedule of backlogged games for Rogue’s Adventures (you can read my Final Thoughts on the game here).

Unfortunately I only had time to play the main campaign. Even at release they were new user-made adventures and runs being developed but I’ve yet to dive into any of them. Harebrained Schemes released an official expansion, Dragonfall in early 2014 that fixed a lot of Returns’ issues and added an all new, lengthier, and more satisfying campaign. It was free to those that already owned Shadowrun Returns (being part of their Kickstarter fulfillment). Later that year they released the Director’s Cut version as a stand-alone game that further added new content as well as iterating on the interface and other improvements.

Shadowrun: Dragonfall – Director’s Cut is the definitive Shadowrun experience. Aside from the actual tabletop role-playing version, Dragonfall presents the best form of playing through the wonderfully diverse and exciting world of Shadowrun.

Dragonfall utilizes the same Unity isometric engine found in many of the most popular modern cRPGs, including Wasteland 2 and the recently released Pillars of Eternity, but it’s also the most limiting and weakest implementation of those games. While a slight step up from Returns, Dragonfall continues to present mostly static maps (everyone stands around waiting for you to talk to them) and only a very specific amount of scripted objects that can be interacted with. Most of the puzzles are limited to finding passwords for a computer, with nearly every scenario and situation involving heavy amounts of combat.

Thankfully the combat is where Shadowrun Dragonfall really shines. Like its predecessor it operates on a turn-based action point system, though its scope is also limited compared to its contemporaries (Wasteland 2, Divinity: Original Sin). With 2-3 points per character the action is more akin to XCOM where you can choose to move, take cover and fire off your weapon. Since it’s Shadowrun you get a ton of fun stuff to do, like flinging spells (both offensive and supportive), activating cybergear buffs and abilities, channeling Adept powers, summoning spirits, controlling drones, and hacking into the matrix. With a ton of varied abilities and an impressively clever AI that takes cover, moves to flank your team, and fires grenades when you bunch up, the combat remained fresh and fun throughout the lengthy 35hr+ campaign.

The single biggest improvement Dragonfall made was in your team structure and dynamic. Shadowrun Returns mostly told a personal story about your customized runner. A few story-based NPCs would occasionally join you, but mostly you hired from a pool of pre-generated runners for a fee. While it was fun to try out different combinations and set-ups, it never really felt like a team.

Dragonfall fixes all that and brings back the concept of an actual shadowrun team from the tabletop game. They’re featured heavily in the promotional artwork, consisting of Eiger the troll ex-military, no nonsense weapons specialist, Dietrich the ex-punk rocker tatooed shaman, Glory the heavily cyber-modified medic with a mysterious and dark past, and later Blitz the hot shot decker/rigger.

After the exciting opening mission, which begins with the classic run gone wrong, you’re given the leadership position of this ragtag crew that I quickly grew to love. Harebrained definitely takes a page out of other great RPG writers Bioware and Obsidian. Your crew has their own little base of operations and you’re free to walk around and talk to them learning more about their backgrounds and their hopes and fears a la every modern Bioware title.

You’re still free to hire additional runners to change the make-up of your team, but your own crew is free to take with you and they’re nicely balanced that I almost never felt the need to hire other random crew members. They also have their own skill trees where you can choose to improve from two different paths after every major mission, giving you further control and lending even more satisfying familiarity with your team.

Harebrained really does an amazing job with your team, and eventually they open up some interesting side missions that just involve them and your character. Blitz needs to score a big hit to pay off a big debt while Glory dives headfirst into her hellishly abusive past to hunt down the cult that twisted her. These character missions are some of the best in the game, focusing on particularly amazing story-telling and sequences.

Dragonfall commits the Baldur’s Gate II feaux pas of throwing up a large speed bump right when the main story is getting interesting. At an early avenue you’re forced to make money in order to continue on with the main story of a possibly resurrecting dragon. This middle section of going on missions to make money takes up the majority of game time, and while fun and very Shadowrun-appropriate, I still felt a major disconnect with the main story for much of the game.

Most runs have fun elements and quirks that make them memorable, from a powerful cyber-zombie that temporarily joins your team to investigating an abandoned research facility. Towards the end I was definitely antsy to get on with the main story, which teased the return of Firewing, a great dragon that was shot down years ago but who’s clues were mysteriously leading to her return.

The climactic final mission was all kinds of amazing, consisting of several huge areas, new tilesets and enemies and one of my favorite parts of any RPG – the chance to talk down the main villain using an extended dialogue session. It was incredibly satisfying and fun, and is much better integrated than Shadowrun Returns’ off the rails bug spirit finale.

Dragonfall doesn’t fix all of the underlying limitations that were present in Returns. It’s still incredibly annoying that you can’t manage your allies’ inventory (picking up items either goes to your inventory or your stash) and I mentioned before about the almost complete lack of puzzles and interactive objects (especially compared to the likes of other cRPGs). Dragonfall does make improvements where it can – now there are options to use your decker or your muscle in situations where your character lacks the needed skill but you brought someone that covers it. The interface is much improved and lets you see both your currently equipped weapons and your spells, items, cybergear etc with lots of nice keyboard shortcuts. Oh and you can also save anywhere now – a huge problem with the original game.

If you’re only going to play one Shadowrun turn-based RPG, definitely play the Director’s Cut of Shadowrun: Dragonfall. The meaty campaign is wonderful and the varied runs and core party members create a satisfying experience that echoes the tabletop adventure. The Shadowrun games are the perfect example of great indie games that I wish could be given more funding and time to create a truly stellar experience.

Based on my time with Dragonfall I quickly backed Harebrained Schemes’ second Kickstarter, Shadowrun: Hong Kong, which just wrapped up a few weeks ago. I’m thrilled that we keep getting these amazing little tactical RPGs, and the Shadowrun universe has become one of my absolute favorites in fiction.

 

Pros

  • Excellent and well balanced turn-based tactical combat
  • New core party members are a vast improvement over randomly hired runners
  • Fun and varied missions
  • Exciting and satisfying beginning and ending
  • Wonderfully thematic music and art style – Shadowrun world is fantastic
  • Top notch evocative writing, both dialogue and descriptive

 

Cons

  • Main Quest takes a backseat through the entire middle half of the game
  • Non-combat mechanics are still very limited
  • Still can’t adjust your party’s inventory mid-mission

 

Final Say: Shadowrun Dragonfall is the definitive Shadowrun cRPG experience with a meaty campaign and lots of crucial improvements.