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My personal blog for covering video games, films, comics, and other media.

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Count_Zero

I recently took a look at the Dragon Age RPG from Green Ronin, along with the more generic Fantasy AGE RPG, and I want to give a few thoughts on those.

First off, I really like the task resolution mechanic. Two d6, with modifiers determined by relevant skills and attributes, with an additional separately colored d6, the stunt die, which you roll to put some english on the result by generating Stunt points – which can be spent to do, well, stunts, which affect the results. The books give some tables with possible results, but the GM and player can work to put together their own stunts.

However, things fall apart with the variety of characters you can create in the game. Specifically, the game effectively has only 3 classes – Fighter, Rogue, or Mage, and each class has a very petite powerset, and in turn a petite degree of character customization options. They’re enough that with a 4-5 character campaign you shouldn’t have two characters built the same way, but things get trickier with 6 characters, and if you have a second campaign, then things will definitely become an issue.

This is especially an issue with spellcasters. In Dungeons & Dragons, while spellcasters can become defacto gods at later levels, even at early to mid levels there is the fun of finding various possible spells and finding new uses and combinations for them. Fantasy AGE doesn’t provide that same option.

I feel like Fantasy AGE, mechanically, would have worked better as an Effects-based system, like Green Ronin’s own Mutants & Masterminds, while using the existing resolution mechanic. It would have provided a wider range of customization for characters in the game, and avoided potential monotony when it comes to character types – and would have set up a good framework for people who want to adapt the AGE rules (in advance of any later iterations of the rules) for other types of settings.

The other remaining issue I had – scarcity of monsters in the rules, is alleviated by the Fantasy AGE Bestiary, which came out last year and which is nominated for an Ennie.

Ultimately, the current iteration of the Fantasy AGE rules are not my cup of tea. However, I really like the resolution mechanic, and I hope a later iteration of the rules allow for building characters that would let me, as a player and GM, do something neat with them.

Should you decide to check them out anyway, you can pick up the Dragon Age RPG and Fantasy AGE core book at Amazon.com. They’ve also gotten PDF releases available at DriveThruRPG.


Filed under: Role Playing Games Tagged: Dragon Age Series, Fantasy AGE, Role Playing Games, RPGs, Tabletop RPGs 8723 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

Keep on the Borderlands is a lot of people’s first experience with a pre-written D&D adventure. While it isn’t the first published D&D adventure, or even the first 1st Level D&D Adventure, it’s one of the first ones with a drawn out map and wilderness environment combined, and many people’s first D&D adventure – including mine. Since the first time I’ve played the adventure, I’ve played many more RPGs in a multitude of systems, and had an opportunity to GM a couple times. So, I’m revisiting the adventure.

As far as adventure plots go, the plot for The Keep on the Borderlands is pretty straightforward – the player characters have come to the titular keep in order to seek their fortunes, and are basically directed to the nearby Caves of Chaos in order to take out the monsters within.

The Caves of Chaos interestingly structured, as far as dungeons go. The caves are a series of monster lairs, built into caves around a U-shaped cliff-face. Each lair is relatively self-contained, and the lairs – on their own – make sense from a dungeon agricultural standpoint. Each lair has an entrance way, with decorations and warnings to intruders, social area with a selection of warriors, living quarters with any children and female monsters, and the chamber of the chieftain. This has the semi-unfortunate side effect of making the Caves of Chaos come across like Monster Condominiums.

The adventure advises the DM to encourage their players to pit the various factions against each other, stating that the Goblins and Orcs don’t get along, with the Kobolds trying to stay under the radar and the Bugbears picking over the spoils of the conflicts. Considering the low survivability of low level D&D characters, this makes sense, but it only serves to call attention to the artificiality of the larger dungeon structure.

I spent some time thinking about this, and I put together a few thoughts of how to slightly re-structure the adventure, from a narrative standpoint, to make the setup work from a dungeon ecology standpoint, without requiring a more dramatic re-write.

The lynchpin of all of this is the Cult of Evil Chaos within the dungeon. I would recommend putting this in whatever setting you use, on the border between a more evil aligned country and a good aligned one.

A group of priests of a Chaotic Evil God seek to take this fort, but they cannot bring the forces together for a direct assault (nor the follow-up that would come with starting a larger war), so they have a cunning plan – to starve the fortress out by ambushing the merchant caravans. Their larger goal depends on where you’re putting this. Maybe it’s to expand the reach of an Evil Empire. Maybe it’s to use the keep as a larger base for their cult. If you’re planning on feeding this into the Temple of Elemental Evil, this could be a lead in to that – to introduce the Cult of Elemental Evil.

Now, the monsters the priests have gathered do not get along well, and consequently even if the Priests did want to attempt a more overt action against the fort, at present they do not have the strength of will or charisma to hold such a force together for a major battle. Thus, minor infighting has ensued among the major factions and should the PCs choose to take advantage of this, they can make their job easier by playing the factions off against each other to bring about open conflict. This also gives the PCs a possible route to do this – by posing as the priests.

There are a few issues with the nuts and bolts of the adventure as well. The Minotaur’s lair exists under the influence of a spell which doesn’t particularly operate under any of the other rules of D&D, with only the party’s designated mapmaker being able to make a save, and saving only on a 19-20. I’d change this to using a more standard Save vs. Spell (or a Wisdom save if you’re using retro clones modeled after D&D 3e or 5th edition)

The booze in the Gnoll’s treasure room should require a save vs. poison or a CON save before someone is intoxicated – Dwarves are immune to this poison.

Before becoming possessive of the vessels in the Shrine of Chaos, characters should make a Save vs. Spell/Wisdom save. Paladins and characters under the influence of a Protection from Evil spell are immune to this effect. The vessels – in addition to being bloodstained – will show a slight magical aura if examined under a Detect Magic spell, but not a big enough one to say that the item is itself actually magic.

For the medusa, the text says that the medusa was captured by the undead minions of the cultists. To provide more of a hint to the characters what the medusa is, if the PCs eavesdrop on the cultists before killing them, have a couple of them complain about the medusa and argue about what to do about it (including the logistics of sacrificing a medusa), without actually saying that it’s a medusa. It rewards players who are more willing to be cautious by not only giving them warning about an existing fight (the cultists) but also warning them about an upcoming one (the medusa).

Aside from those tweaks, the adventure is very well crafted, and serves as a great introduction to players to the concepts of cautious dungeon delving, along with giving a rough introduction to dungeon ecology for new Dungeon Masters.


Filed under: Role Playing Games Tagged: Dungeons & Dragons, Role Playing Games 8661 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

This time we’re covering issue #52 of Nintendo Power for September of 1993!

Please support my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/countzeroor
Member of The Console Xplosion Network: http://www.theconsolexplosion.com/
Watch my Live-Streams on http://twitch.tv/countzeroor/

Music:
“Seven Songs for Seventh Saga: II. Water”
Arrangement, Performance: AeroZ
From: ~Inn~, ~Town D~
In: 7th Saga
Composition: Norihiko Yamanuki
URL: https://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03097

Games Reviewed:

  • Final Fight II – Capcom
  • Super Mario All-Stars – Nintendo
  • 7th Saga – Enix
  • Rock & Roll Racing – Interplay
  • Boxing: Legends of the Ring – Electro Brain
  • Super Baseball 2020 – SNK
  • NFL Football (SNES) – Konami
  • Super Off-Road: The Baja – Tradewest
  • GP-1 – Atlus
  • F-1 Pole Position – Ubisoft
  • Final Fantasy Legend III – Squaresoft
  • Felix the Cat (GB) Hudson
  • Pinball Dreams – 21st Century Entertainment
  • Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade – Ubisoft

Filed under: Video games, Where I Read Tagged: Game Boy, NES, Nintendo Power Retrospectives, Retro Gaming, SNES, Video games 8644 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

Final Fantasy III had never gotten an official US release prior to the release of the DS remake of the game. The Famicom version had received an unofficial fan-translation, but there was no way to play it legally, until the DS release of the game. Even the somewhat controversial sophomore outing of the series had gotten by that point two updated remakes, for the Playstation as part of the Final Fantasy Origins collection, and for the GBA as part of Dawn of Souls.

Final Fantasy III for the Famicom (as opposed to VI – which was released as III in North America) was the title that introduced the Job system as we know it (with the ability to change jobs almost on the fly), to the Final Fantasy series. The original Final Fantasy had a class system, with the characters upgrading to a more advanced class halfway through the game. However, in the original game, once you chose your class, you were fixed on that path for the whole game. With III, after you unlock a batch of classes, you can change your classes to any available class after that point. This is great, as it gives you an opportunity to change your builds based on what equipment you have at your disposal, what opponents you’re going up against, and what abilities do you need for the dungeons you face.

Narratively, the game expands some on the story from the original game, with more narrative cutscenes expanding the game’s story and building up the supporting cast, and giving a personality to the members of your party, who would normally be just a batch of blank slates. Graphically, the game eschews using high-resolution sprites, as were used in the Playstation re-releases of the 8-bit and 16-bit Final Fantasy titles, and the PSP remakes of Final Fantasy I and II. Instead, like with the DS release of Final Fantasy IV, the game uses polygonal sprites and gameplay environments.

However, from a gameplay standpoint, the shift from a console to a handheld isn’t quite optimized. While the game introduces some quality of life features for the a handheld version – like a single slot quicksave for use in case of a dying battery – there are innovations from other titles in the series where the game would benefit from their inclusion. Tents are completely absent (in spite of being present in the first two games, and almost every subsequent title). There are also no pre-boss or mid-dungeon save points, as was used in the 16-bit titles.

For most of the game, this isn’t particularly an issue, as I didn’t have any issues getting through most of the dungeons in about 30-to-45 minutes. And then there’s the last dungeon. The last dungeon is about 3 hours long, if you know where you’re going, and don’t get screwed on random encounters or get lost. It also has at about 6 boss fights, and several long cutscenes. Once you get through those and reach the final boss fight, if you die, you have to start that entire dungeon all over again to find out if you were under-leveled, your strategy for the final boss was off, or if the RNG gods just didn’t like you that day.

If you’re sitting down at a console, this isn’t as much of an issue, because you’ve basically blocked out a chunk of time to replay it, so this could basically be your next play session. If you’re on an emulator (or using an emulation based console like the Retron 5), you have save-states. However, handheld gaming generally gets broken into chunks – on the bus or train to and from work, in the waiting room at a doctor’s appointment, and so on. Having the final dungeon be that long, without any real way to break it into chunks causes some very real issues.

Other than that, the game plays very well, and I found it really fun to play. However, “Skip the last dungeon, find a Let’s Play on YouTube and watch that” is not something I feel like I should be saying about a game that gets a recommendation. In short, this game does not respect your time.

Also, the box art for the US version of the game is incredibly bland, compared to the European version, which looks beautiful.

Should you decide to get the game anyway, it’s available from Amazon.com


Filed under: Video games Tagged: Final Fantasy, Nintendo DS, Video games 8602 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

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Dallos is an anime that reminds me a lot of what got me into anime in the first place. I came into anime as a fan of science fiction and fantasy, and I came in through OVAs and films like AkiraDemon City Shinjuku, Ghost in the Shell, and Record of Lodoss War. So, when I found out that Dallos, an anime considered to be the first OVA (or one of the first alongside the Cream Lemon series), and which was directed by Mamoru Oshii (who also directed Ghost in the Shell and Angel’s Egg – which I’ve previously reviewed), had been licensed by Discotek Media, and later made available for streaming on Crunchyroll, I put it on my to-watch list.

As far as the premise of Dallos goes, it borrows a little bit from the concept of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, in particular the book’s first act. The anime is set on The Moon. As with Heinlein’s novel, the moon has been built as a colony to provide needed materials (ore and other raw materials) to Earth. However, in Heinlein’s book, the moon’s colonists were political dissidents and prisoners, while in the original colonists were workers who chose to work to build the lunar colony, with the agreement that they would settle there.

The protagonist of the series, Shun Nonomura, is a third generation inhabitant of the colony or “Lunarian”. While the first two generations have a distinct sense of loyalty to Earth – the first generations having gone to the Moon to work for the betterment of Earth, and the second generation having inherited their parents sense of obligation – the third generation Lunarians don’t have the same sense of obligation. They have never seen Earth – indeed, the colony is on the dark side of the moon, and the Lunarians are forbidden to travel to the moon’s near side so they could see the Earth. The main unified belief among the three generations is a reverence to “Dallos” a mysterious giant head, built with incredibly advanced technology, that was uncovered during the development of the colony.

The lack of personal experience of Earth or ability to travel to Earth, combined with the poor treatment of the colonists by the administration, has lead to a revolutionary movement in the settlement, and this leads to the focus of the story, as Shun and his childhood friend Rachel, are caught up in the separatist movement lead by Dog McCoy, which is contending with counterinsurgency efforts by the civil administrator, Alex Leiger.

The first half of the anime borrows a lot from films like Battle of Algiers, as it follows the efforts of the revolutionaries as things escalate further and further, and Shun is brought more and more involved, before the last two episodes in the series bring things into open revolt and almost into something resembling a real-robot anime.

I can’t really review this show without getting into the ending. The ending of the series feels like the end of an act break, as opposed to an actual satisfactory conclusion. There has been a narrative arc, with rising action to a climax, and then some denouement, with characters being in different places than they were at the start of the series. However, it doesn’t really have any resolution. The moon is still under the thumb of Earth (and things are about to get worse), and in spite of Dallos itself becoming a major part of the conflict which changes things dramatically in the series final part, not only do we not know what Dallos is, no-one is taking this as an incentive to make a more concerted effort to find out what Dallos is.

It feels like this show was pitched as a 12 episode OVA, and early in production they decided to make it a 4 episode series instead, and if it did really well, it would get another 4 episodes, but it never did quite well enough to get those final parts. Unfortunately, co-writer Hisayuki Toriumi passed away in 2009, so I don’t know if we’ll really get a resolution to this story.

If you’re planning on picking this up, Dallos is available from Amazon and RightStuf.


Filed under: Anime 8517 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

This time I’m doing a one-month belated-due-to-technical difficulties Vlog ( Vlog because I don’t want to get clobbered under ContentID) of my thoughts on the 5 things I was sold and unsold on from this last E3.

Please support my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/countzeroor
Member of The Console Xplosion Network: http://www.theconsolexplosion.com/
Watch my Live-Streams on http://twitch.tv/countzeroor/


Filed under: Video games Tagged: E3 2017, vlog 8588 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

It’s been a while since I did a review of a music documentary – the last one that comes immediately to mind is a documentary review on the career of Pink Floyd. Well, this year is the year that the Beatles concept album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band has it’s 50th anniversary, and the BBC did a documentary on the album, which also broadcast on PBS, which is where I saw it.

In broad strokes, the documentary goes briefly into where The Beatles career was before the album came out, before getting into the album itself, both in terms of the mechanics of how the album was put together, and the artistic influences of the album. In particular – this is the first album the Beatles put out after they stopped doing live performances. They had experimented with the process of building an album in the studio before (in Rubber Soul), and other performers and producers had been inspired by that (as with Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds). However, the thesis that the show puts forward is that Sgt. Pepper was meant to be an album that would basically justify to their fans the end of The Beatles touring – you’re going to get an album that could never be replicated live – and it’ll be worth it.

The documentary from there goes more or less track-by-track through the album, with only “Fixing a Hole” being omitted from discussion, and the title track and “Lovely Rita” getting the shortest discussion time. The documentary goes in depth on the influences (getting song concepts from newspaper articles and – in the case of “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite” a Victorian Circus poster) and the details of how the album was put together, especially considering the recording technology of the time.

Unlike most music documentaries, the presenter – Howard Goodall, is on camera for a large portion of the documentary, and as he has some musical talent himself, he uses that to illustrate particular points of the album – breaking down several musical parts into their relevant tracks, and how they overlap to get the final result. We don’t get any new interview footage with the surviving Beatles. Instead, their voices are present either through archival interview footage or through audio from the studio recording sessions.

Probably the most interesting part of the documentary is a discussion of the song “Within You, Without You”, where the documentary delves into Ravi Shankar’s earlier career, George Harrison’s time with Shankar, and how the track merges Western song structure with traditional Indian instrumentation, complete with studio audio of Harrison talking with the Indian musicians as the track was laid down.

The documentary makes for a really interesting portrait of the Beatles creative process, and how albums were put together in the late ’70s, making for a spectacular documentary – especially for those interested in music history, not only people who are interested in the Beatles.

The documentary has yet to receive a physical release. Until then, should it come up on reruns on your local PBS station (which you should totally support), or on the BBC (for any UK readers), you should definitely check it out.


Filed under: film, music Tagged: Documentary, music, pbs, The Beatles 8479 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

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When I reviewed the first Log Horizon book, I mentioned that were a few plot concepts that were set up in the next book in the series – a general malaise filling Akiba, along with the state of food in the world – and in turn a new discovery by Nyanta related to that. With the second installment of the series, the book dives further into that, and shifts genres somewhat.

In the previous book, we learned that while living in the world of a MMO – the titular game “Log Horizon” has it’s perks – you can’t die, you’re living in a land of fantasy adventure with phenomenal powers, there’s a lot of things that suck. For starters, the food – all of the food, tastes like ash. That’s not a misspelling of “ass” – food simply doesn’t taste like anything.

Further, the fact that the game is no longer really a game has put a crimp on things as well, with various bad actors causing problems throughout Akiba – though nowhere as bad as they were in the North in the last book. So, Shiroe, Nyanta, Akatsuki, and Naotsugu have to work together with several of the other guilds to put together a plan to save Akiba – a plan that (without getting into spoilers) based on the fact Nyanta has discovered how to make food taste like food, and which requires a lot of money, and will require the unity of the majority of Akiba’s guilds.

The narrative is great, with author Mamare Touno, who also wrote Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, doing a great job of building up the economics of this world. After the last volume was a conventional adventure story, this gets into more of his traditional fare of a (for lack of a better term) a fantasy economic thriller.

This arc generally played out the same way that it did in the anime, though the anime tells the story in a much more compressed fashion than the book does. Also, some of the character traits in the book are much more exaggerated in the anime. For example, Naotsugu makes less risque jokes, Henrietta’s obsession with Akatsuki is less creepy, and so on.

As with any good light novel, it also tells a mostly self-contained story, with a few hooks set up for future works: we learn that the People of the Land – the NPCs – are now self-aware and sentient, Shiroe has started his own guild (the titular Log Horizon), and we learn a little information about the group that Shiroe and Naotsugu were part of – the “Debauchery Tea Party”. And there are still some lingering mysteries that the series can get into: How did the players get caught in this world, why were they brought here, and how can they get back.

Log Horizon Book 2 is available from Amazon.com & RightStuf.


Filed under: Books Tagged: Books, fantasy, light novels, Log Horizon 8438 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

This time we travel into the ancient past of the Star Wars universe with Tales of the Jedi.

Opening Credits: Star Wars Theme from Super Star Wars on the SNES.
Closing Credits: Chiptune Cantina Band from Chiptune Inc.
Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope footage property of Lucasfilm Ltd., a division of the Walt Disney Corporation. Used under Fair Use.

Please support my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/countzeroor
Member of The Console Xplosion Network: http://www.theconsolexplosion.com/
Watch my Live-Streams on http://twitch.tv/countzeroor/


Filed under: comics, Star Wars Tagged: comics, Dark Horse Comics, Star Wars, Star Wars Expanded Universe 8435 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

Count_Zero

Probably one of the first sourcebooks put out for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was Deities and Demigods, a book with a collection of beings that would provide something for your Cleric to be, well, a cleric of. However, it doesn’t really hold up very well, particularly compared to later deity books for later editions of AD&D and D&D.

The problem with the book lies with the fact that the book is very much at odds with itself. The first chapter or so of the book talks about the nature of deities, how they can be used in game, and admonitions about using the book as a de-facto monster manual to sic your players on. And then, unfortunately, the rest of the book’s descriptions of gods are written up in the same format as the Monster Manual and Fiend Folio, with the deities written up using the same stat blocks, and descriptions focused entirely on physical appearance and their battle tactics.

This is a shame, because later editions of AD&D and D&D would get much more in depth of what effects deities have on player characters, in terms of their agendas, and in terms of what it means to worship them. We don’t get information on in what ways gods prefer to be worshiped (and how frequently). If my cleric of Tyr prays to his deity before every battle, will that actually get his favor (which will help my party in battle), or will that annoy the crap out of him – or is praying before every battle the default state and I will be penalized if I don’t seek his favor?

By comparison, later editions of D&D put a lot less focus on the idea of the Heavens (and Hells) as the ultimate epic level dungeons, and instead put more focus on the hows and whys of worship – why would you be a cleric of this god, and how do you show reverence to this being? In particular how do you properly worship this deity in a manner that fits with the adventurer’s lifestyle?

This is especially the case with the introduction of spell spheres in AD&D 2nd edition – a little bit of added crunch that tags spells with keywords that in turn are attached to various deities. Clerics who worship a particular deity get (depending on the edition and GM) a spell list related to those spheres that you are either limited to or which provided additional spells you can choose from.

The 1st Edition version of Deities and Demigods, on the other hand, leaves players with significantly more grunt work to do… so much more grunt work that you’re almost better off not picking up a copy of the book and instead just researching the pantheon you want to incorporate in the game.

If you want to pick up the book, the revised edition (which excises the Cthulhu and Melnibonean mythoi) is available from DriveThruRPG and the Dungeons Masters’ Guild.


Filed under: Role Playing Games Tagged: AD&D, book review, Dungeons & Dragons, Role Playing Games 8403 b.gif?host=countzeroor.wordpress.com&blo

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