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Reading RuneQuest: Chapter 3 (Mechanics and Melee)

Hello world!

2017 Campaigns 1 of ?: The Golden Pyramid

Nights Black Agents campaigns are built using a diagram which represents the classic conspiratorial pyramid structure. It’s called a Conspyramid. The mastermind squats at the top, with minions at various levels beneath. PCs discover the fringes of the conspiracy, and work their way up as the campaign goes on.

The following diagram is a satire. Who would believe that Peter Thiel is secretly influencing 4chan, or that Steve Bannon controls Breitbart News?

Ingress in West Seattle

On Saturday, Susan and I spent the day in West Seattle doing an Ingress mission series.
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Reading RuneQuest: Chapter 2 (Character Creation)

RuneQuest character creation was pretty startling for me way back when. Tunnels & Trolls and Dungeons & Dragons were close relatives — sure, you swap out Luck for Wisdom but that’s not a huge change. RuneQuest retained the 3d6 rolls and had a reasonable seven stats, but what’s the bit where the ability to work magic (Power) is a primary stat? And where’s the conversation about classes? The previous chapter did not warn us that there weren’t any classes.

Oh, and adventurers are assumed to be human. There’s a note that elves, dwarves, and dragonewts will be discussed in the section on monsters, which doesn’t make them sound much like playable races.

We also meet Rurik, our sample character. He’s really interesting. It’s clear simply from the explanation of his stats that he’s going to be both engaging in combat and casting spells. I distinctly remember reading this the first time and going “Whoa.”

Next, there’s a section on abilities. Combat abilities first, of course. The system for calculating these is pretty straightforward; add percentage points up based on how high the controlling stats are and you’re done. In another little sign that magic is pivotal to the world, Power figures into almost every ability. There are nine abilities total. This system wouldn’t look weird if it came out for the first time today; maybe a little fiddly but not out of the norm.

We then divert back to characteristics for a moment, with rules on increasing them. There’s a cute little bit in the ongoing saga of Rurik: “Thus we see that if Rurik had the money, he could put 4000 L towards bringing his STR up to 16, and another 15,000 L towards building his DEX up to 21. Where would our hero get this money? That’s what the rest of this book is all about.” And I thought the point of the game was either a radio play or simulation of life! It does make a good segue into equipment rules… no, sorry, that’s just starting equipment. You get a list of things, and there’s no discussion of shopping.

A parenthetical: for the first time, an insert from Wyrm’s Footnotes appears. It’s charmingly old school to run into these little random Q&A sections from the pages of Chaosium’s house magazine. More indie games need house magazines, not even totally kidding.

The total chapter length is eight pages, and two of those are character sheets. Hm, there’s something new there. The abilities appear to have base percentages, and presumably you add the calculated modifications to those? But in the text on abilities, there’s no mention of a base. The boxed text detailing Rurik’s abilities doesn’t give us any clues and there’s no sample character sheet for him, so who can say?

Reading RuneQuest: Chapter 1 (Introduction)

I started gaming back in the early 80s. By “gaming” I mean “reading roleplaying books and wondering what it’d be like to actually play,” with a hefty side order of “running through Tunnels & Trolls solitaire adventures.” Tunnels & Trolls was my first RPG. I think RuneQuest was my third? Hard to remember exactly.

Chaosium just reprinted that 1980 edition after a successful Kickstarter. I backed it. I know that when I read RuneQuest the first time around, the weird world of Glorantha didn’t bewilder me at all. This is more than I can say for any subsequent edition, even the lovely hardcover Guide to Glorantha. I figured, hey, that relatively slim book made sense to me back in the 80s, so let’s check it out again.

Now I’m gonna read it and see what I think.

The introduction is five pages. Page 1 is the obligatory explanation of the nature of fantasy role-playing games, a description of how to use the rules, and so on. As I recall, this is the first use of the improvisational radio theater metaphor. Stafford kind of waffles between saying that you’re simulating life and that you’re telling a story; alas, nothing here will settle that age-old debate.

The second page launches us into the Gloranthaness of it all. The page and a half of history is not at all weird. Gods fight, empires rise and fall, dragons breathe fire. Nothing about the whole bit where heroes venture into the spirit world in order to rewrite the cosmology; it’s just another mythos. I am not surprised that my adolescent self found this digestible. It’s cool history, too.

I’m pretty sure I mentally skipped over the next bit, where Stafford explains that Glorantha is a Bronze Age culture. I remember being really surprised to find out that Glorantha was short on iron and steel later on in life. There’s a picture of an elf with a bow on that page, which is nicely grounding if you don’t know he’s actually a plant. I don’t know if this edition gets into the elven plant issue or not. Time will tell.

And then we get a map — I loved and love maps — and the world is a “slightly bulging, squarish lozenge.” This is another thing that surprised me later in life. I am beginning to suspect that one reason I wasn’t weirded out by Glorantha at the time was that I skipped all the confusing parts. There’s a little hint about visiting the worlds of the gods here, but it’s pretty subtle and you’d never know how important that kind of thing is. What’s heroquesting?

Finally, there’s a nice timeline for the Lunar Empire and Dragon Pass which is just full of hints of weirdness. I was definitely skimming this. “War between hill peoples of Dragon Pass and Ducks.” “God-King of the Holy Country disappears and the Masters of Luck and Death fail to bring forth a new incarnation.” Yeah, it’s all there if you just open your eyes and see.

Next time: character generation. How weird could that be?

It’s OK, My Lawn is Your Lawn

My perspective: veteran Ingress player, no previous experience with Pokemon Go, a fair bit of mobile gaming work experience.

I’m not gonna do the whole “wow, look at the wild news story!” thing. Hot take: geo-located gaming generates interesting behavior patterns. I do have one item I can’t resist sharing, though. Pokemon GO chauffeur services are here. (But don’t buy egg hatching services, since you’re not allowed to let someone else use your account even if they’re carrying your phone.)

I am happy to see lots of Pokemon Go players. More money for Niantic increases the chances that Ingress will have a long lifespan. Some Pokemon Go players will try Ingress, most won’t like it, it’s all cool. A lot of Ingress players will quit to play Pokemon Go. I worry a bit about viable Ingress populations but time will tell.

Some things I do think are interesting:

Pokemon Go hit #1 grossing game in the US App Store on the first day. It was not featured by Apple in any way. As far as I can tell, Niantic and Nintendo did no user acquisition — no Facebook ads, no mobile adds, nothing driving players to the game. #1 without any of that is unprecedented. Flappy Bird had to build to #1 downloaded. Clash Royale was featured and had a robust in-house user acquisition network.

A good geo-located game has strong virality because human interactions are the core driver of any viral loop. It’s also sticky for the same reasons. The problem has always been getting critical mass. Apparently Nintendo’s IP is pretty good for that.

Second, it’s worth comparing Pokemon Go to Ingress. In Ingress, you can’t do anything meaningful till you hit level 5 or 6. If you’re playing by yourself that’s a long grind. In a busy area, you may be unable to capture portals, which is the core of the game. The new user experience sucks.

In Pokemon Go, the new user experience is still pretty bad — no good tutorial, easy to get lost. But it’s also easy to muddle your way up a few levels and you feel like you’re making meaningful progress immediately. You can always capture Pokemons.

The next interesting question for me is the elder game. Is it dense enough to sustain continued stickiness and monetization?

Another Thursday Night

San Francisco Fielding This is what I did with my evening. To be precise, I had a small part in creating the conditions that made this possible. We did not execute perfectly for various and sundry reasons, but that’s what the human ability to learn and improve is for.

For non-Ingress players: the primary means of scoring points in the game is creating fields. Bigger fields are more points. Fields are always triangles. You create fields by generating links between portals. You make a link between two portals by going to the source portal and using up a key to the destination portal.

Thus, you could make a big triangle like that by creating a link between a portal in Oakland and a portal in Marin Highlands; then between the same portal in Oakland and a portal in Half Moon Bay; and then between the Half Moon Bay and Marin portals. Boom, lots of green.

Oh, yeah. The tricky part is that links can’t cross. So if there was already a link between, say, Candlestick Park and Alameda, you couldn’t create the link between Oakland and Half Moon Bay. This makes life tricky.

The coordination aspect of this is really the fun part, particularly since the other team will try and stop you from scoring via various methods if they notice. It’s like a much lower pressure version of moving your servers between data centers: plenty of planning, lots of moving parts, and a good team of people.

Badging

Platinum SpecOps I think I’m the first Ingress player in the Bay Area to hit platinum specops, which means I’ve done 200 missions. (Missions are player-generated mini-quests that can be as easy as interacting with 4 portals or as hard as figuring out a set of passphrases over multiple miles.) This was not super-hard to do, but it did require a lot of persistence and some planning.

My 200th mission was Climb Mount Davidson by Agent hiryu; it was a nice walk up to the top of Mount Davidson, which was not terribly strenuous but which rewarded me with a great view nonetheless. My longest one — probably Hike Mt. Wanda, in Contra Costa County, which was a couple of miles of hiking up a nifty trail.

Plat SpecOps Badges I completed eight missions at Walt Disney World a month before Niantic opened up mission creation to almost anyone. If I had taken that trip two months later, I’d have been able to do 100+ missions in that week with minimal effort. No regrets! I did 17 Disneyland missions on our last trip there. I have 16 missions from business trips to LA, and four airport missions (one of which overlaps with the LA mission count). I did more annoying “hack every portal on this downtown San Francisco street” missions than I want to think about.

I completed 45 missions in Contra Costa County in one weekend, thanks in large part to a very busy mission creator in Martinez. I completed 26 of those missions on Saturday, a personal record that’ll stick until my next Walt Disney World trip. I then knocked off another six missions in San Francisco on Sunday, thanks in complete part to my own obsessiveness.

I completed a set of missions whose badges spell out “RESIST” and I completed a set of missions whose badges spell out “SMURF TEARS.” I was careful to do neither of them in order, because I think that kind of thing is a bit silly. My badges spell out “SISTER” and “MTRESAURSF,” instead. I didn’t take the time to figure out something clever to do with sad smurfs at the time, but if you need a good anagram, I’d recommend “FASTER RUMS” or “TSAR’S FEMUR.”

I don’t know that I’m going to hit onyx specops — 500 missions — any time soon. However, I’m not going to stop doing missions just because I got this badge, so we’ll see.

I will chatter on about any aspect of missions on demand, regardless of faction.

Point Bonita Lighthouse

Susan and I spent the afternoon hanging out at Point Bonita Lighthouse on the off chance that someone of the blue persuasion would drop by and try to do something interesting, in which case we had plans to dissuade them. As it turned out, we did get one visitor, but since our teammates had already done something larger and more interesting, there was no chance of tumult even if she’d had plans.

So we took a lot of pictures instead.

Golden Gate Bridge

Point Bonita Lifehouse

Coast North of San Francisco

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