Eleventh Hour, an Only War play test.

I want to start by saying that I really wish I could afford to buy into the Only War beta and play test, but at twenty bucks – or whatever the Sterling equivalent may be – it’s a bit outside my current price range of free. My reasons for wanting to join in on this are two fold; firstly I really like the setting, being a huge fan of the novels and other stuff that’s been put out there by Games Workshop, the Black Library, and Fantasy Flight; secondly, I’ve spent a couple of years now playing around with the idea of running a military style campaign involving a bunch of guys spear pointing an invasion onto foreign soil (think Generation Kill to a certain degree), and the system seems to lend itself to that very well.

So, couldn’t afford the full Beta, next best thing was to give the adventure a shot, and hope that there’s no massive changes between Only War and Dark Heresy, which I was lucky enough to already own.

The adventure was very much what I would expect when the basic premise of the game is ‘guardsmen fight things’, but there was a nice extra level of suspense added. With a ticking clock in the background that counts down to an orbital bombardment, the choices the players make have an obvious set of consequences.This is especially true as the story starts with the surviving characters part of a ten man squad with the rest of them out for the count, bleeding to death, missing limbs, or blind. Do the players try to bring them along and save their lives, or leave them behind to save their own? All of this will have an effect on how quickly they reach safety.

In character this was dealt with very well by the junior member of the Commissariat who was played by a wonderful chap named Ant (a bonus character available from the FF website. I did ask a specific player to take this role on as they knew the world and system better than myself, and were confident enough to play the Commissar well). They provided one of the lame guardsmen with a pistol, two clips, and a prayer to the Emperor, and anyone else was either left behind or swiftly dispatched, with all honour they were due, as heroes of the Imperium. This kept the group moving well and set the tone for when they met another higher ranking Commissar.

There was a great example from play that came about when I was NPCing said Commissar; when worried about a boat capsizing, an NPC guard swiftly removed his helmet to bail the water out, trying to save his fellow guards. He was swiftly shot in the temple for removing his head gear in a combat situation without permission from a superior officer. And still, no one thought of killing either of them

If I have any complaints about the printed adventure, it would be the expected frequency of the combats. I like a bit of a fight, and playing front line troops, my players expected to get into a scrap or two, but I ended up ignoring every instance of the game recommending that I throw in a fight if things slow down. I never thought it was necessary, and a good GM would b able to keep the pressure on without piling the Orks on every ten minutes.

As to the system, I really did like it. Most of the stuff is geared towards combat, but if you were expecting different, you should steer clear of a game called Only War. One of my players was an old hand at Dark Heresy, running and playing, and another knew their way around the combat system enough to make it easier on me when it came to running the combat It did also showed me a few things that could be a wee bit broken, and one or two ideas that could be great little house rule fixes. Firstly, grenades are fricking deadly! I know, big surprise. But really, when my experienced player was grabbing up any and all he could find, I should have seen something coming. Later on in the game, he barely even touched his shotgun, instead looting even Ork corpses for Stick-bombs, and it soon became clear why. At close range for firearms, he had a pretty good shot of getting the grenade somewhere near the bad guys, and with the blast radius, he was usually killing off at least one with each attack, and occasionally getting a good grouping that took out three at a time.

There could also have done with some clarification on targeting using full auto fire. In the end it was just deemed sensible to have either a spray across a line; no one target being hit more than once, or concentrated fire; all shots on target hit the same guy. Another house rule everyone should consider is the stacking of aim bonuses (big thanks to Ant for this one). If you’re a little ratling fella with a sniper rifle, and really want to make your shots count, why not spend an extra full turn action aiming, to add a massive plus forty to your hit chance? Worked well for us, so i suggest you give it a shot.

I don’t think I really need to talk about production values much here; it’s a Fantasy Flight release – they were going to make it pretty and navigable, and they did. My final thoughts have to be that if you’re planning on getting the main game when it’s released, either make sure all your players are gung-ho types, or delve a bit deeper into the world you’re going to be playing in to find some plot lines that can get the guards out of the firing line on occasion. But, you are playing a game called Only War…

What I’m doing now, and in the future

This is just a little mid week update to let people know what I’m up to at the moment, and what fun stuff they can expect from me in the future. Also an announcement that you can now find me not only at the RPGBA, but also the UKGMN. Any british readers/bloggers out there, get on over and see what they do.

Since I started this blog, I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s. A lot. Mainly to see what kind of stuff people like talking about, but also to differentiate myself a little as a unique blogger. Most of the stuff I read I get from a feed over at the RPGBA , which I signed up to myself. Below are a few choice selections that I keep going back to, just because they always have something on there that makes me want to stop and read the whole entry. In no way is it an exhaustive list, that would take far too long, but consider this a highlight reel.

http://www.realityrefracted.com/ A great read for anyone running or playing in a game, or maybe even designing one from the floor up. Writes in an easy to read style, but knows how to get under the skin of a topic very well indeed.

http://www.gnomestew.com/ A bunch of bloggers coming together for some kick ass GMing advice. Worth registering on the site to leave comments as the other writers are great for feedback and they have a bunch of other subscribers who come back with even more cool stuff.

http://stuffershack.com/ These guys get a special mention for being not only a damned fine blog, but for offering some very helpful tips to this new blogger. I tip my hat to them, and I assure everyone reading at home, it is a fancy hat indeed, as they deserve no less.

http://jackstoolbox.wordpress.com/ The eponymous Jack is a great blogger, and has weighed in repeatedly on the comments section of my own humble offerings. Even better, if what he wants to say is too big an idea to be fully appreciated at the foot of a blog, he will take the time to write it out in full for all of his readers. Something that I think I need to think about going forward if I want to have even a modicum of the success he’s had.

http://largepolyhedroncollider.wordpress.com/ More than one blogger over here, unless it’s one person writing under several names, but either way it’s worth a look. A great series recently about how to totally rethink combat in an RPG world that every budding games designer should check out.

http://vulpinoid.blogspot.co.uk/ This guy does a bit of everything, but never half-hearted. From world building, to player advice, form hot topics to games reviews, everything about the hobby seems to end on this blogger’s radar.

Now onto stuff that I’m actually creating.

Just put an entry into a best villains competition over at Stuffer Shack . Please take a look, and wax lyrical in the comments section if you like it. If I win – and it will be judged by the staff over at the website, so don’t feel the need to suck up if you don’t want to – I will reward the lovely people of the bloggosphere with some further writings on the campaign that spawned those bad boys.

I have been contacted to write a book review by a fellow blogger who can be found over here . This is an unpaid review, so when it pops up, don’t expect any bias. If I love it, you’ll know that it’s based on its own merit.

I’m also in the middle of an online interview with a couple of games designers who are getting ready to put the final draft of their game together. Hopefully in time to get it up on the UK Kickstarter that should be happening soon.

A friend of mine who runs an air-softing facility has been following this blog from the get go, and liked my writing enough to approach me to do some plot writing for air-softing adventures. I had always thought air-softing was more akin to paint-balling; shoot other people – try not to get shot, but he wants a bit more of a role playing experience for the people who rock up to his place, I’m actually looking forward to doing this one quite a lot.

Also actually playing some games, well running some. Just finished the free RPG day adventure of Only War, Fantasy Flight’s W40K Imperial Guard system, and I’ll write up some stuff from that for the blog. I would love to join the beta for it, but I simply can’t afford the twenty bucks – or Sterling equivalent – to get the pack. Hoping to get a small group together to run the first D&D next pack to write up at some point too. Come the end of September I will be starting a long ass Cyberpunk 2020 campaign, but set in the world of Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan. I won’t be doing regular write ups of that, it’s just not the kind of blogging I want to write, but expect a few bits from the highlight reel, and I will link to the ongoing player write ups that any my players do.

As for future blogging, I’m building up a nice buffer at the moment in case there’s no hot button subjects I want to jump on, so the first in series on how to be a bit of a lazy GM without cutting the quality of the games you’re running went live on Monday and hopefully more will follow; some discussion on why players may feel the need on occasion to run an evil character; the fun you can have if you approach board games as a roleplaying experience, and finally; why I’m actually called Shorty, and why it is that gamers seem to attract nick-names, and why that’s no bad thing. I hope you all find some reason in all that to keep reading this pokey little blog, and help it become a pokey massive blog.

The Witcher 2, as reviewed by a table top gamer.

This review is based on roughly ten hours of game play, and will therefore have very little in the way of spoilers, but I will spoil something right from the get go; this is not a glowing review. If you have played the game to its conclusion and feel that my opinions are less valid due to only playing the start of the game, I’m going to have to side with Charlie Brooker on this one. If a TV show (in his case Dollhouse) doesn’t grab you in the first three episode, it’s failed. Saying that you should stick with it because it gets better later is so much poo; why would a TV show punish us by making us watch three hours of tripe before getting to the gooey center of loveliness?

This was very much how i felt about this game. A little background on it first I think. It’s based on the novels of Andrzej Sapkowski, as was the first PC only installment, and I have heard some very positive reviews of both books, and they have made it onto my pile of stuff to be read. Said pile is in fact an entire book case full of stuff, but it’s on there nonetheless.

In the game itself, you play the eponymous Witcher – named Geralt of Rivia – who is basically this big scary dude with scars, who has a couple of close combat weapons, some spells, some bombs, can cast runes and lay traps, throw knives at dudes, mixes potions to drink or rub on things and also exists in world where the NPCs have never seen a Hong-Kong action movie. because of this they don’t have the ‘run up and attack once at a time’ mentality most RPG gamers are used to (I’m looking at you Assassin’s Creed).  For this reason they all to decide to attack on mass, which is much more effective and a bit more scary. So far so awesome, and I have to say I loved all the cool stuff you could do in combat to tip the odds in your favour, especially because if you don’t do them, the odds are stacked so high against you, death is inevitable.

Plot wise, from what I saw, is nothing too inspiring when considered from outside the game, but when playing it, makes for some damned fine writing. Kings and bastards, with traitors all around, and only the Witcher – whom no one seems to like in the slightest – being one of the few guys trying to right the wrongs of the world. As I say, doesn’t seem like much, but the details are in there and once you get into it, the rewards are some killer writing hooks.

I can hear my readers scratching their heads in puzzlement right now, since this seems like a much more positive review than they were led to expect. ‘There must have been something that made him take the disc out and go back to playing Skyrim‘, I imagine you all saying, a quizzical look making you all appear even more attractive than you already are, if such a thing is possible. The best way for me to get across my dislike of this game is to imagine it as an old fashioned pen and paper RPG (‘old fashioned‘? the kind of gaming I still do on a weekly basis).

This game is run by a GM with a near legendary reputation for running games. The world he has woven for you is beautiful, every tree he describes is fixed in your senses as a sight to behold. His NPCs are better rounded than some of the actual player characters, each with their own personality and full of insightful things to talk about, just as you walk past them! When he runs combat, it’s a joy. A challenge every time, with so many options, but all of them used so intuitively, they seem like the most natural things in the world. Added to that a genuine feeling of consequences if the combat doesn’t go your way. It’s quick, but immersive, and even the NPCs act like they’re playing to the same system as you, not just going through predefined moves set out in a GM’s handbook. As mentioned above the plot is wonderful, such a simple idea made wonderful through subtle twists and turns of characterization and larger social ideas. Why then, did I not stick with it?

Because the GM is a dick. harsh, I know, but by giving an example re-imagined as an interaction between the player essaying the character of Geralt and his douch-tastic GM, as the trail of some bandits leads them to a sinister hideout;

GM: You’re told that they hangout at a graveyard to the east of the village.

Player: Cool, is there a graveyard on my map?

GM: No.

Player: Oh. Well I guess I just walk out the village heading east then.

GM: You have no compass.

Player: Oh, but I think I can figure out looking at the few landmark son the map, and just head out until I find out.

GM: Good thinking. You follow the path you think is the right one, and keep walking for half an hour, eventually ending up in a swamp.

(there was about twenty random encounters on the way to this point)

Player: OK, is there a swamp on my map?

GM: No.

Player: I guess I’ll head back and try a different path then, they did say the graveyard was only just outside the village.

GM: It takes about forty minutes to get back to the village. You get lost twice and twenty bandits attack you.

Player: For fuc… OK, can I just ask someone for directions?

GM: Of course you can, they tell you it’s to the east.

Now, imagine over two hours of this kind of thing, and I eventually give up and go online, finding dozens of people who had the same problem, but that you can actually see the gate of the graveyard from inside the village, but have no way of telling that it is actually a graveyard.

There were a dozen such problems like this I encountered playing through the second quest I found (something about  a troll), far too many to bore you with here, but all of them left me feeling like the game was run by the douchiest of GMs in the world. I know that games shouldn’t pander to players too much, but it should go without saying that the character will know things that the players doesn’t, and a half decent GM will take this into account when running a game.

So yes, I stopped playing. I have since shared this concept of GMing dickery with people who loved the game, and stuck with it through the opening tripe. Every one of them has not only agreed with me – they were also pen and paper gamers too, to be fair- but have given me other examples of this kind of dickishness running throughout the game.

If you disagree (and I bet there’s a lot of you who will), please post underneath that I’m wrong, and why – you may even change my mind, but you’re going to have to try hard). On the other hand, if you have had the same reaction to me, please share your crappy GMing stories, they’re great fun to hear.