2013's Top 10 Moments in RPGs: The Good, the Bad, the Middling

Monday, January 6, 2014 at 6:00 am


6. Mummy Is Off-Kilter In Good Ways and Bad Ways

Can you tell I still have trouble taking mummies seriously?

My first mixed item is Mummy: The Arisen The Curse. Looking at this book I see excellent production values, well-written flavor, and a whole lot of effort and love, but on the other hand, I really don't seem to get it. I know people that have run this game over multiple sessions and made it fun. In fact, I imagine if I were to play this game I would understand what it is supposed to be. Just reading it does very little for me, though. You are mummies and a long time ago you were bonded to some Egyptian Judge, which is different from an Egyptian God. You have a cult that alternatively kisses your feet and bosses you around depending on how often you are sleepy and how good your memory is. You really like collecting magical relics. Fair enough, I guess. But as I have said before, it is not as strong of a concept as "you are a vampire" or "you are a werewolf." I was not able to figure out a method of game play from reading the book alone, which made it much less useful to me than a book I would read and be bursting with ideas afterward.

Also, and more irritatingly, Mummy chooses to make the game difficult to cross over with other lines. Basically, nearly all World of Darkness characters are built in the same way. You start as a basic human and then you add a monster template. That template has a "power stat" on a 1-10 scale that says how powerful you are. All else being equal, a power stat 3 werewolf and vampire are pretty similar. Mummy uses the same power stat, but throws a massive wrench in the works by saying mummies start as maximum power and then slowly lose it over time. There is still a limiter on the early characters, as they struggle with amnesia, which means a basic mummy is extremely powerful but can't remember anything. It's actually a neat system and replicates mummy lore pretty well, but I don't like crossovers being made more difficult, as this rule does. This is only the most egregious way this game bends the normal rules, which is cool in some ways but very irritating in others. I don't want the Onyx developers to treat what has come before as sacred, but I kind of do want them to treat things like the 1-10 power stat as sacred because otherwise everything is confusing. Hence, the mixed rating.

7. D&D Next Is Fun But Nothing Special

I played an enjoyable demo of D&D Fifth Edition (aka "D&D Next") at a gaming convention this year. The game ran fast and easy and just sort of cruised along. No one was really obviously better or worse than anyone else, and for a con game that was 90% fighting, there was a decent amount of variety and stuff to do. My issue was that the game felt like an over-correction. When D&D Fourth Edition came out, it was popular, but many people thought it was too complicated. When Pathfinder rolled around, it ended up attracting those people. D&D Next tries to one-up Pathfinder by not only returning to D&D Third Edition play style as Pathfinder does, but all the way back to the golden age of AD&D. Now this makes sense in some ways as AD&D Second Edition probably had as many successful book releases as both Third and Fourth put together, but I think the ship may have sailed. The original D&D Next I played had a mixture of skills from your class and from a background you chose, e.g. soldier or forester. The latest D&D Next treated backgrounds as a side note, saying you should work with the game master on making them useful.

The math also seemed a bit sketchy to me, which is to say most things in D&D (once called a 'd20 system') are resolved by rolling a 20 sided die and aiming to get a result above 10. This gives you a lot of possible outcomes. Say you are a Level 1 Fighter with +1 to hit. Well, you are getting anything from 2 to 21 as a result. Usually D&D style games overcome this by giving you a steady flow of bonuses tied to your level, so a level ten character might be +10 or +15. With a +15, you are rolling between 16 and 35, which means you always roll above 10 or 15, nearly always hit 20, etc. D&D Next, as I understand it, depends on letting you roll twice as you gain levels, so your bonus isn't any higher but you have more opportunities to randomly roll high. This seemed to be across the board, from attacks to skills to almost anything. It just seemed really loose and all over the place as a guaranteed 10 or 15 is very different from three chances to roll 10 or 15. That and the diminished importance of backgrounds turned me off some to this newest release.

8. Pathfinder Dice Arena Ditches the License

Well, that happened.

A few weeks back I started getting emails from Paizo, publishers of Pathfinder, trying to get me excited about a new "dice arena" game. I found this not at all interesting. It was a game with dice and funny tokens. It had nothing whatsoever to do with RPGs, even if it did say Paizo and Pathfinder all over it. I was a bit irritated, to be honest, as it seemed Paizo was just renting out their name and mailing list to random companies. It was just a little blip, since I am quite capable of rolling my eyes and deleting an email and moving on.

I was still surprised to see that they revoked their Kickstarter, however. I had not seen this happen before but they refunded the money and walked away. Their explanation was that they still believed in their product but they had decided that the Pathfinder license was just confusing and irritating people. From my sample size of one, I heartily agree. It may seem a fine line, since I was happy to have Pathfinder miniatures, but the thing is that you actually use miniatures while playing, unlike the little dice... thingies that came with the Pathfinder Arena game.

Do not get me wrong, I am not celebrating the failure of this product, as the owners plan to do a new Kickstarter with an emphasis on how their game is fun instead of the Pathfinder name. I am just glad that what seemed to be a questionable combination is ended and the Dice Arena folks will now make their own way. Presumably they will save a decent amount in licensing fees to boot, and whatever hardcore fans they have will hopefully find the new Kickstarter and I will never have to hear about it again.

Now we address the bad stuff.

9. No Dice With Artisan Dice

This is how I feel about Artisan Dice.

I kind of hate to call these guys out because I know once I have the product I helped fund in my hand most of my sad feelings will melt away. That said, their Kickstarter did fund back in April and it seems like nothing has been shipped yet, despite the fact that they seem to have already made many, many dice. I have to be fair and say this isn't what people may be thinking, where the company has vanished or gone silent. No, these guys are in communication on both Kickstarter and Facebook. Every delay has been explained, and we have felt the pain they are feeling at basically all points.

The only problem is that I have read all of the updates and I still don't really have any idea when we will actually get anything in the mail. The updates are long and full of technical detail about how some machine or another was missing some widget. But they don't really tell me "hey, don't worry, you'll get your dice in April at the latest, and please forgive the delay". Things are getting to a point, I think, where they know they will enrage everyone by going dark, but they are too afraid to commit to a date as they have already missed dates they set before so they don't really want to say anything too solid. After all of this time, I have to put this one in the net loss column, as I and several friends were very excited about this earlier in the year but now we are all facing disappointment. So basically Artisan Dice is the Star Trek: Into Darkness of RPG Kickstarters.

10. No Need For a Pathfinder MMORPG

Wizards of the Coast
Remember seeing this ad? It's actually a pretty good argument for tabletop.

Putting aside the fact that Blizzard already beat everyone to the punch with a class-based fantasy MMO in the form of World of Warcraft, it just doesn't seem like MMOs in general are as popular as they once were. I confess some interest in the Elder Scrolls MMO due out next year, but that makes it even less likely that I would be dusting off a Pathfinder MMO to play as there are two alternatives already, a third if I let my friends talk me into trying Everquest. I am not so addicted to Pathfinder that I need an online version to play between in-person games and if I wanted to play an MMO I think I would choose one that has a track record of making good video games.

The bottom line is we have already seen this before. CCP, owners of Eve Online, which is already a successful MMO, purchased White Wolf games to create World of Darkness MMOs. I think that would be a clear competitor to the existing offerings as Vampire has already successfully been used to create massive live-action clubs throughout the country. There was even a well-liked Vampire P.C. game a few years back. However, in actuality, it has basically been a disaster and almost ended the company if not for Onyx Path and their big ideas. So if that was a failure despite all they had going for them, what is the likelihood of a Pathfinder MMO going anywhere? Call me a grouch, but my prediction is failure. I wish this idea could go the route of Pathfinder Dice Arena. I can't blame Paizo for wanting to grab up those sweet, sweet licensing dollars, but still... MMO? This isn't the 1990s anymore.

Previously by David N. Scott

Five Games Masters and Players You See at Every RPG Con

Eight Reasons You Should Care About the World of Darkness Reboots

Ten Things We Learned Attending L.A. By Night: The Grey Ghost Masquerade

10 Things Learned Shopping for a PS4 on Black Friday (At Midnight)

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