Friday, October 19, 2012

Masterwork Adventures: The Making of a Campaign Session

I love playing D&D. Is is an amazing game. It has so many different facets, all of which are amazingly fun and engaging. You get the joy of building a character, realizing a character concept, helping to write a collaborative story, seeing your hard work pay off as your character advances in levels and becomes even more powerful, and getting to spend real quality time with friends. I love it. But the one thing I love more than playing D&D is actually running a game of D&D. Being a DM (Dungeon Master) comes with its own set of trials and tribulations, but the rewards are more than worth it. Running a game for my friends is some of the most fun I have. I absolutely love it.

For the next session I run, I am wanting to make a fairly detailed adventure. I have decided to document my process here on my blog. None of my players actually read my blog, so I should be safe in detailing this adventure here.

The first step in doing this is to come up with an idea. Seems obvious, I know, but this is a detailing of the process, and that's the first step of the process, so there you go. The idea I have is an old, decrepit mansion owned by an ancient vampire. I want it to be a little different, though. I want the mansion to be run and "maintained" by the ghosts of the vampire's victims. In Pathfinder, vampires can make servants out of their victims. However, I like the idea of this vampire's servants being the spiritual remnants of their former selves. The conceit for this is that the mansion is secluded and out of the way. Once upon a time, it used to visited frequently, either by travelers, or maybe the mansion is located in a ghost town that used to be quite lively. Either way, it rarely gets visitors now, and the vampire has not been able to renew its servant stock. They all died and decayed, leaving only their spirits behind to tend to their master/mistress. The vampire, itself, has gotten too weak from starvation to venture from its home to find food and more servants. However, it has found a way to retain most of its strength while in the vicinity of its mansion. I already know how it manages this, but, just in case any of my players *do* stumble across this (and they won't), I will keep it a secret for now.

What I am really going for, here, is a creepy, scary atmosphere. Not immediately threatening, but having the potential for some really bad stuff. So, I like the idea of a ghost town. The town itself would set the mood before anything supernatural was ever encountered. I think we'll do that.

So, we have ourselves a solid concept. Now what? Well, I'm going to start off doing some research into floor plans of different mansions. I am not the best floor plan designer, myself, so it would help me greatly to get an idea of what a proper mansion should look like. I suppose I could copy the design of the Spencer Mansion from Resident Evil, but no. I'd rather not. Also, despite the fact this campaign is set in medieval times, I'm going for more Victorian era feel. So, a Google Image search for "Victorian Era Mansion Floor Plan."

The Osborne House floor plans look like they have a lot of potential. It has a separate guest area, and a more secluded area for those that live there regularly. Perfect for what I have in mind. Let's see if I can make a map based off this floor plan.

The mapping program I use is called Dungeon Crafter 2. It is, unfortunately, an abandoned project that will never be finished, and is difficult to reliably get tiles sets for. However, it is the best mapper I have ever come across, and I have looked several times. I cannot find good door objects for the program, and all the ones I try to make myself look dirty and messed up for some reason, so I am forced to leave gaps where doors should be. Luckily, I use a different program for running the game, D20Pro, which has a built in mapper of its own. The mapper isn't as good, but I get to easily add doors to the maps I make in Dungeon Crafer 2.

The floor plan has a handy measuring tool, so I re-size the image until 10 ft. equals 1 in. (aprox.). Then I count the inches across and down. Neatly enough, it comes to about 28 in. both ways (maybe a little less on the up/down axis, but for simplicity's sake, we'll say 28 in.). In Pathfinder, a single square on the map traditionally represents a 5 ft. by 5 ft., or 25 sq. ft., area. In my mapper, I go 7 squares down, and seven across, then make a tile. This is my starting corner. I leave the space to have room to play around in, if I want to. Now, it's 28 in. in both directions, each inch representing 10 ft. However, we are dealing with 5x5 squares, so we need double that number, or 56, squares in each direction, across and down, to get the dimensions of our planned floor plan. I place two more tiles, one 55 squares to the right of my first tile, and on 55 squares down from my first tile. Including the first tile, that makes 56 in both directions. One more tile marks the last corner to complete the square area that I'll be mapping this mansion in. Now, I'm not going to follow the floor plan of the Osborne House exactly, but I'm going to take some of the basic design elements from it. I also want there to be at least two more levels, a second floor and a basement. The original Osborne House had at least one other floor, but I only got the plans for the one floor. However, it doesn't matter. Once I get the main floor mapped, the others will be based on it, not the original floor plan.

Using the same method as before, I block out the area used for the private area design. This will be where the vampire spends the majority of its time while the PCs are there, and also where its secrets are locked away. The PCs will be free, more or less, to roam the rest of the house.

This is the basic floor plan I will be working with. It will serve as the template for all of the floors I map for this adventure. The grey dome shape on the North side of the North-West corner is the second floor balcony, and will not be visible to the PCs on any other floor, assuming they even make it into the private area to see it. As you can see, the mansion looks drastically different, while still keeping some of the main design elements.

This is what the finished first floor actually looks like. I took some queues from the original floor plan, but changed it up a bit. I like my castles and mansions to have a lot of big, empty space. So I used a lot of big rooms and a 15 ft. wide hallway that snaked across the building. The hallway that leads to the private area is 20 ft. wide to denote its significance to the players. Though it is possible the PCs will never see the inside of the private area, I have still decorated it with private versions of the rooms in the guest area, minus bedrooms which will be upstairs. There is a staircase leading down in the kitchen (lower-leftmost room) that is supposed to lead to a cellar. I probably won't bother to map out that room as it has no significance at all. However, the downward staircases in the private area (the top-most ones) lead to a separate basement that will be mapped out, as it is the primary lair of the vampire.

This is taking longer than I expected, and while I knew this would be more than one part long, I did hope to at least finish mapping. Sadly, that is not the case. However, the next two floors won't be nearly as hard or as big, so we should be able to get through them fairly quickly next time. Then, it's time for the hardest part of all. NPC character creation. Woo!!!! See ya all next time!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Less Than Meets the Eye Pt. 2

When last we left off, I had played the first mission of Transformers: War For Cybertron. I wasn't too impressed with it, but I was still willing to give it a shot. Maybe it would get better.

Mission 2

This one has you flying through the annals of the planet Cybertron to activate an energon bridge back up to the space station from the first mission. Without a ship, we need another way to transport supplies up there. So, once again, I'm given the choice of three characters:

STARSCREAM
You also get to pick from Thundercracker and Skywarp. I don't include their pictures because they're basically the same as Starscream, except purple. No, that's not High Moon Studios being lazy. Thundercracker ans Skywarp have always been basically the same, except purple . . . well, blue. Still, the point remains. You get to choose between three identical jets. So what sets them apart? Well, one plays the Scientist role, which is basically called the medic in any other game, one gets the Scout role, which is pretty useless given the other choices, and then there's Starscream himself, who gets the Soldier role. If you're playing co-op, the healing abilities might be worth taking for one of the players, especially since I believe the healer can also drop sentries that let you see cloaked enemies, which is useful in this mission. However, in single player, you can't take advantage of having a healer in your squad if you play him, so I chose Starscream. As the Soldier, he gets more weaponry; in this case, the Cybertronian version of an automatic shotgun. Not quite as powerful as the two-shot shotgun you can pick up in-mission, but holds more than two rounds at a time. Starscream's primary weapon is a sniper rifle, so, between the two starting weapons, I didn't pick up many secondary weapons along the way, except for the occasional turret. Oh, and best thing about the fliers? In vehicle form, they get machine guns and missiles. Both with infinite ammunition.

I like flying. In the game adaptation of the first Michael Bay Transformers movie, Blackout and Starscream were probably my favorites to play as. Not only do I get to have fun as a Transformer, but I get to fly, too? Eff yes!!! So, I was in a much better mood going into this mission. Also, I figured out something about vehicle form. All vehicle forms have a hover mode that they default to. However, if you hold down L1 (or probably LB for you 360 players), it's like pushing on the gas, and your character starts controlling like an actual vehicle, instead of just your robot form with a different look. The ability to switch between these modes with the press or release of a button proved to be very useful, especially as I went up against other fliers. Being able to do a 180 on a dime, then blast off in the opposite direction allowed me to out-fly nearly anything the game could throw at me. Even enemy missiles.

So, when it came time to do the third mission - which allowed me to pick from Megatron, Soundwave, and some tiny, two-wheeled Scout thing - I picked Megatron again, to see if what I had learned could apply to him. Again, I found it usually useless to bother to transform, unless I was out of ammo for my other two weapons, but I wasn't as upset about that as I was last time. The same principle does apply to Megatron's hover tank form, bit it's just not as useful to be in. Except in the train track segment. Racing through the subway as fast as I could was fun. Still, I think next time I'm on the ground, I'm going for a Scout class.

I think this will be it for my War For Cybertron posts. I may do another when I beat it, but I don't think I'm going to do a mission by mission play. It wasn't as bad as I first thought. The robot controls still feel off, but the vehicle forms make me happy again. And the story, dialog, visuals, and sounds are incredible and spot on. This is Transformers. I will be getting the second one.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Less Than Meets the Eye

Wow, it has been awhile . . . again. I'm getting good at this hiatus thing. >.< <sigh>

So, it's been about two months since my last post, and a lot has happened since then. I've been real busy, too. So many things to talk about for my first post in two months. What shall it be about? Shall it be about returning to my old job? Not the craptastic one where I built industrial band saws. I tried to make that a good thing. I tried to change my attitude to enjoy it instead of hate it. It just wasn't me. No, I returned to the job before it. Games, music, movies, and collectables galore! I am so happy! . . . Erm, back on topic. How about my new girlfriend? The one I got introduced to on MY FIRST DAY BACK at the old job, which was also the day immediately after my last post (hence why I've been busy ;P). Or maybe this post should be about how LawGambit and I have officially switched from StarCraft II over to League of Legends. So . . . what's it gonna be?

Transformers: War For Cybertron.

I am a huge Transformers fanboy. I grew up on the G1 cartoon series and Beast Wars, and I have always loved the toys. I have wanted to play War For Cybertron since it came out. Now that the sequel, Fall of Cybertron, is out, I wanted to play it even more. Can't play the sequel before playing the original! I got some store credit at work for good performance yesterday, and was able to pick up a brand new copy of War For Cybertron for about $8. I was ecstatic. I got home, waited through the update and install, and prepared for awesomeness. Only to be disappointed.

So, here's the deal. I've only played the first mission, and have only played one character. I will be doing another of these after I have played a little more, but this will be my first impressions of the game.

The game takes place during the war on Cybertron, before the Tranformers ever come to Earth, and is ten missions long; five for each faction. The first five follow the Decepticons, and the second five follow the Autobots. For those of you who don't know, and I doubt there are many of you after the Michael Bay movies, the Decepticons are the bad guys and the Autobots are the good guys. Even though the "good guy" campaign doesn't start until six missions into the game, you can skip the first five if you want to launch right into the Autobot campaign. Me? I love the Autobots, but I also love the Decepticons, and I like experiencing a story from the first. So, mission #1 it was.

The first mission has you infiltrating a space station run by Sky Commander Starscream. This is before Starscream joins the Decepticons, and is just carrying out his duties as Sky Commander. Also, "infiltrating" tends to suggest subtlety. In this case, it means ramming a starship into the side of the station.

Anyway, you get to choose one of three characters to play as for the first mission:

BRAWL
A hover tank with double barrels on the turret. Very tempting. He only gets the Cybertronian equivalent of an assault rifle in his robot form, but he would likely have more armor than some of his smaller counterparts. A strong candidate to be sure.

BARRICADE
If you saw the Michael Bay movies, you may remember Barricade as the police car that chased Shai LaBeouf into the junkyard where Bumblebee had to save him. Useless humans. Anyway, Barricade plays a Scout role in War For Cybertron. I don't know that he has any weapons in vehicle form, but he does get the same assault rifle as Brawl while in robot form. In theory, he's less armored, but faster than Brawl (I say in theory because I haven't played him, so I don't know). As much as I like firepower, I also like speed. In fact, I often like speed more. Tempting.

MEGATRON
The leader of the Decepticons. Megatron is one of the few Transformers that people have trouble settling on a form for. He's been a fighter jet, he's been a caravan truck, and in the old G1 cartoon, he was even a hand-held pistol. (Don't ask how a 12 foot robot transforms into a pistol. It was the Eighties.) While no single form can truly be decided on for Megatron, the most common is some form of tank. That is what the people at High Moon Studios went for with their version of Megatron, a hover tank with a massive, forward cannon. What's better, in robot form he gets to use that cannon as his primary weapon instead of the assault rifle equivalent the others are stuck with.

What's that, High Moon Studios? The first mission, and you're going to let me play as Big Man Megs himself? Hellz yes!!!!

So, we crash into the station and have to vacate the area before our ship's core goes critical and takes an even bigger chunk of the station out with it. Literally starting off with a bang. Okay, I'm totally down with that.

Let me take this opportunity to touch on what the game got right. The game looks amazing. The way the station reconfigures around you as you go through, and the SFX that play as it does, are exactly what one would expect from a Cybertronian space station. The look and feel of the station, even when it's not moving, are spot on. This is the Transformers Universe, and you are in it. Beautiful.

Now, what it gets wrong is apparent from the first. The controls don't feel right. It feels like you are piloting a mecha, where one stick controls your torso, which is locked into combat-ready position, and the other stick controls your feet, which move completely independently of your torso. This may sound like an odd complaint, seeing as how you are controlling a giant robot. However, Cybertronians aren't just giant robots. They are alive, and as close to biological lifeforms as a machine can get while still being 100% synthetic. As such, they don't move like machines. They move like we do. It should feel like it.

Also, while in tank form, the controls felt exactly the same as in robot form. I was a completely different machine, practically, but still moved like I did in my other form. It felt wrong. It also made it feel like there was no real point in being a tank unless I ran out of ammo for my other two weapons, as, for some odd reason, the cannon in tank form uses different ammunition than the same cannon in robot form. That bit isn't complaining, though. Even though it was odd, it was nice to have a third store of ammo. Still, one of the best things about playing a Transformers game is that you play a character that changes into dramatically different forms. When the only difference in forms is that you can't jump as high, something is wrong. When games based on the Michael Bay movies do a better job of giving you the experience of being a Transformer than this game does, something is *very* wrong.

We continue through the station, defeating the stations defenses, as well as Starscream's lackeys. You only start out with your primary weapon, and whatever weapon your vehicle form may have, but you get to pick up secondary weapons along the way, including the assault rifle equivalent, in case you played as Megatron and felt you really missed out on it. I didn't feel that way, but I picked it up anyway so I could properly feel sorry for Brawl and Barricade, who followed me through the station armed with it alone. Other secondary weapons I picked up on my way through the station included a grenade launcher, which had grenades that stuck to enemies and allowed you to remote-detonate them, a shotgun, which only held two rounds at a time but made up for it by not having the atrocious reload times most shotguns in games do, a rocket launcher, which locked on to Transformers while they were in aircraft form (very useful against some of Starscream's fliers), and a vulcan cannon, which was a turret with infinite ammunition until I took it off its tripod and installed it on my arm.

There were a few interesting points, but nothing all that great. Mostly it was just get from point A to point B, killing things as you go. There was one point where a giant hole was in the station where there shouldn't have been one, and you had to jump across debris to get to the next section. At the end of that section, after you finally make it to where you're going, the floor you're on starts breaking up and drifting off into space, and you have to keep from drifting off with it. That's about as exciting as it gets, and if you follow your buddies, they seem to know it's going to happen before it does and avoid the sections that break off completely. After that, it's just more corridors and shooting stuff like it was before. Not horrible, really. I mean, it's fun to shoot stuff. However, the mission was really too long for the lack of anything worth doing. It really could have been about half as long and been a better level for it.

Well, that's my first impression of Transformers: War For Cybertron. Not bad, but not nearly as good, at least so far, as I was led to believe. Worth the $8 I shelled out for it. I hope it gets better, though. We'll find out next time!