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.

Making Characters in Pillars of Eternity

Steam says I’ve already logged about three hours in the game, and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I’ve barely made it out of the character creator.

Pillars of Eternity released yesterday after two and a half years of development. I was a Kickstarter backer from back in 2012 and have very much been looking forward to this spiritual successor to the wonderful isometric ‘Infinity Engine’ games of the late 90s and early 2000s (Read my Final Thoughts on Baldur’s Gate II).

Steam says I’ve already logged about three hours in the game, and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that I’ve barely made it out of the character creator. It’s so much fun making characters! Six races with 2-4 subraces each, 11 classes, half a dozen cultural backgrounds and dozens of portraits. I fell into the trap of finding an excellent file containing more excellent fantasy portraits, so now my options number in the hundreds!

I’ve purposefully kept myself mostly in the dark about the game, so I’ve also been looking up some basic information about class structure. I’m familiar with standard Dungeons and Dragons classes and archetypes, but Pillars of Eternity offers some new twists and concepts. Chanters are like song-twisting bards from Everquest (my favorite bard implementation ever), Ciphers manipulate souls in an intriguing psychic warrior way and Druids can shapeshift into monstrous were-beasts and still cast spells.

I still haven’t narrowed down whom I’ll be playing first, but thankfully Obsidian included the ability to hire your own party members (in addition to the story-based companions) so more than likely I’ll see them all at some point in a single playthrough.

Here’s Isabella, a Savannah Human Rogue hailing from the Deadfire Archipelago. She’s a sassy, hedonistic pirate and obviously based on the character from Dragon Age II. I’ve heard there’s no rogue companion in Pillars of Eternity so I could definitely see myself hiring her if I don’t pick her.

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Aumaua are the large, orc/viking/nordic folk that are all about the sea. They look kinda like the Na’vi from Avatar, and I love the exotic combination of blue skin and dreadlocks. I couldn’t find a decent male picture but the standard female Aumauan portrait is fantastic. Nuala is proud and serious, but in combat she becomes enters a terrifying rage-filled frenzy.

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The godlike race are like the aasamir and tieflings from D&D, only these are more tied to elementals instead of good/evil (like the gensai from later editions). They are a mixed bag in the character creator – the actual figure looks amazing with super unique head ornamentations, but the character portraits are horribly sparse. You can fudge a little bit and use a human portrait for an elf, but you really can’t replicate the crazy glowing blue hair and horns of the moon-gods or the insanely creepy eyeless masks of the death-gods.

Anyway, this female nature-godlike’s portrait is easily the best, and it fits a druid perfectly. Godlikes can actually be any race so I went with Orlan for a short and spunky look. She’s a nature-loving hippie that occasionally morphs into a giant were-stag for some hands-on action.

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In general the female portraits look much better than the males. Maybe it’s just because most of the men look like boring old fighters. I did find one fun concept – a pale elf chanter from the frozen ‘White that Wends.’ Definitely going with a death/undead theme as many of the cool chanter songs involve summoning skeletons and exploding corpses. Maybe he’s into death metal?

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As you can tell I’m more interested in character concepts and ideas rather than specifically min/maxing my stats. I plan on playing on Normal which should give me some breathing room in that regard, letting me play the character/race combo I want to rather than the one I need to. What kind of character will you play?

 

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.

 

Gaming Backlog Final Thoughts – Cthulhu Saves the World

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.

cth1

 

 

Developer: Zeboyd Games

Publisher: Zeboyd Games

Release Date: July 13, 2011 (PC), December 30, 2010 (XBLA)

My Cthulhu knowledge is rather limited. I’ve never read a Lovecraft novel nor played any of the other games. I do play and enjoy the Elder Sign board game, which is a streamlined, dice-based version of Arkham Horror, and contains all the elder gods as well as thematically dark, poetic writing and artwork.

No prior knowledge is necessary to enjoy Cthulhu Saves the World, a lovingly styled retro-RPG created to emulate the style of old console RPGs. Zeboyd Games has carved out a fun niche combining humorous, self-aware writing with 16-bit styles. I’ve previously played their later games, Penny Arcade’s On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness 3 and 4 and based on the fun I had with them, backed Cosmic Star Heroine on Kickstarter. CSH is now one of my Most Anticipated Games of the Year, and I wanted to dive a bit into their back catalog with Cthulhu Saves the World.

This is definitely a developer that has iterated and built upon each of their releases; each game has gotten progressively better with more features, options, content and animations. Unfortunately this makes the older Cthulhu slightly worse than the Penny Arcade games in just about every way.

Cthulhu uses a pixelated overland map to walk around. You start off controlling the former elder god as he washes ashore on a beach, having all his cosmic powers drained. The disembodied narrator gently informs our hero that he must save the world and prove himself a true hero in order to be admitted back to Mount Olympus (Err sorry, that’s Disney’s Hercules).

The story and plot are mostly unimportant as Cthulhu follows a familiar path of dungeon – town, dungeon – town, picking up a colorful cast of allies along the way. Towns offer some funny dialogue and a place to rest and buy better equipment, but otherwise they’re devoid of any personality, quests or content.

The real meat of the game comes in the dungeons and the combat. Combat resembles the old NES Final Fantasy games as your party of up to four takes on brightly pixelated foes. There’s very little animation during combat and you don’t even get to see your own party on the screen, so it mostly relies on the dialogue box to move things along.

Like all their titles, Zeboyd wasn’t content to simply recreate the old JRPG systems of combat and really innovated and streamlined many aspects, such as enemies getting stronger with each subsequent round, fully healing at the end of each fight and full details on exact damage numbers for the power of your abilities and the health of your enemies. Combat’s designed to be extremely quick and extremely deadly, which plays well into the limitations of the engine – though on Normal mode in the latter stages of the game I could blaze through most fights in two to three turns, making them more of a minor annoyance than a challenge.

I found the very first dungeon to be the most challenging as I was still learning the new and interesting concepts behind the combat. HP fully heals between battles but MP does not, so you still need to regulate your powers and balance defeating your foes as efficiently as possible while still holding back if you can. A little MP regenerates depending on how quickly you win the encounter, and thankfully there are save points sprinkled at the end of dungeons (and sometimes in the middle) that fully restore your MP. Oh and you can also save anywhere (YAY!) and teleport to any previous towns at any time (woo!). Options like these prove that Zeboyd is both lovingly nostalgic about retro JRPGs while still willing to add modern conveniences that makes a return to this style much more fun than frustrating.

The majority of the game is spent crawling in dungeons. Dungeons have a nicely diverse range from haunted forests to volcanoes and even a spaceship. The level designs are mostly just giant mazes, but thankfully you rarely reach a dead end as most paths lead to either treasure chests or the exit.

Still, some of the later dungeons are just way too big – an issue they freely admit on the nifty developer commentaries sprinkled throughout. I also enjoyed the fact that each area has a limited number of random battles – once you hit it (anywhere from 20 to 50) you can explore at your leisure without running into monsters. You can still select Fight on the menu, but I never once felt the need to grind.

Enemy types are varied but for the most part didn’t seem all that different when it came to actual attacks. Your party on the other hand is nicely diverse, including a meaty talking sword, a gothy necromancer, a crazy old man healer and even a fire dragon at the end that lets you fly around the world map like an airship. Picking the right combination to maximize your abilities is a fun tool to play with throughout the adventure.

Cutscenes help flesh out the action and the writing stays fun and funny throughout, but all the action takes place in stock pictures overlayed on a black screen. Cthulhu Saves the World wears its indie budget proudly on its sleeve and while charming, I can’t wait to see what they can do with a bigger budget and several more years worth of gameplay design under their belts.

Pros

  • Funny writing that made me laugh out loud several times
  • Tons of skills and options in combat, including Tech, Magic and Unite attacks
  • Lots of varied areas and dungeon types
  • Perfect length

Cons

  • Combat is mostly crunching numbers
  • Reverse difficulty curve; difficult in the beginning, fairly easy at the end
  • Side content is limited to a few optional dungeons

Final Say: A cleverly written, lovingly retro-styled JRPG starring everyone’s favorite elder god.