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Yay! Rodeo games announced recently that they are developing an iOS version of the classic board game Warhammer Quest. I played the original version during a session in which a local board game collector pulled out a whole bunch of his “classics”; it’s a quirky and fun little game, partly because it’s so hilariously perilous. I’m looking forward to seeing it again in an electronic version, and as always, I’m delighted to see more Warhammer products for iPad. Here’s IGN’s scoop with a bit more info. A detailed description of the original board game can be found here on Board Game Geek.

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I try to stick to discussing RPG stuff on this blog, but I do have an overwhelming love for the Zombies, Run app by Six to Start. I did a long-ish review of it here, and they’ve made some updates and refinements since then, including adding a whole set of new missions. They’ve even written a free iBook/PDF, The Runner’s Guide, that fills in many details of the game world and gives you recommendations for running songs from each of the developers. It strikes me that you could do a very serviceable RPG in their world, and the Runner’s Guide includes some really interesting thoughts about game world development and storytelling.

This weekend, the app is on sale for $1.99 instead of its usual $7.99. If you were interested in it but daunted by the price, now’s the time to grab it! (And if you’re not quite in shape enough to start the missions, I highly suggest Felt Tip’s polished 5K app, which eases you into running and uses your personal playlists to do it. Two years ago, I couldn’t run for more than about eight seconds, and since using that app, I’ve run two half marathons–it’s definitely doable!)

I play lots of Warhammer games, and GW-themed video games are no exception. I loved both Space Marine and Dawn of War, and (although I will lose all credibility for saying so,) I even rather liked the PvP in Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. (I actually really liked the environments on the Order side in Warhammer Online because they showed a fantastic progression from the inner cities which hadn’t yet been touched by the battles to the utterly destroyed places on the front lines, but that’s a subject for a different post.) Not surprisingly, I was looking forward to Bioware’s Wrath of Heroes. A bit.

I say ‘a bit’ because I wasn’t sure how they’d keep a complex and robust character progression without having an MMO to teach you how to play those skills. Let’s face it, though–Warhammer Online had weak PvE at best, and repetitive and frustrating PvE at worst. And I particularly like Warhammer Online’s PvP because it allowed so many different types of play; warfronts, castle raids, and landscape defense, all of which ideally require a high degree of teamwork and organization. Teams did well at PvP in Warhammer Online when someone willingly organized the group, planned its tactics, and called what should be done. If nobody could or would lead, you lost. How would Bioware implement these aspects of PvP into its new game, which would throw random teams in together in a PvP setting divorced from an outside world?

I was somewhat hopeful because Bioware acquired the franchise. They always put out competent, playable games, at the very least.

Until now.

Again, let me say that I really, really wanted to like WoH. I want a new Warhammer game badly, and I miss the PvP from Warhammer Online. But this thing sucks. A lot.

Now, I have to fully disclose my PvP-playing habits. I usually hate a PvP game the first fifteen or twenty times I play it. Although I truly enjoy PvP, I’m not automatically good at it; I get easily frustrated. I blame the interface. I pout. I claim that the reason I was second to last on the leaderboards is because the cat was underneath my desk or the fish was too swishy in his tank. But I also know myself. After a handful of games, I generally have an idea of which classes I should play, how the game itself works, and which strategies will work for which boards. But I’ve played this game my requisite twenty times, and despite my burning desire to love anything Warhammer-themed, I don’t like it any better than the first time I loaded it up.

I could go into the mechanical problems with this game at length. I could bitch about the fact that the playable character classes seem rather expensive, and although you can play a handful of “starter” classes, you can’t upgrade a character until you buy it, leaving you unable to find out how a class really plays when it’s not in its sucktastic first level. Still, it’s beta, so maybe some of these issues will get sorted out as testers give them feedback. But what’s saddest to me about this game is that Bioware has completely eradicated all of the Warhammeryness. There’s just…nothing here. The environments aren’t grim or gritty, the characters look even more ridiculously high-fantasy than they did in Warhammer Online because there are fifty of exactly the same character model out on the field, and there’s little to no lore referenced in the game itself via, say, splashscreen text or environmental cues. It’s just a second-rate attempt to cross an MMO PvP game with League of Legends that happens to have used the Warhammer IP because Mythic had already programmed the skins.

Yuck, yuck, yuck. Go buy some other crappy franchise for your weird computer gaming science fair project. I’m sure there’s some generic fantasy setting sitting around gathering dust on a shelf at WotC that you could screw up instead.

I’m glad to see that at least one other person agrees that the WTFiness of this game is very, very high. If you check out comments on most game sites, you’ll see that many players can’t quite understand the intended play style, either, so I guess I’m not alone.

Just a few more pictures from my trip to Japan. I’ll update with some more RPG stuff before the weekend is over, but I know some of you have campaigns set in the East, so perhaps these pictures will be of use to you! If you redistribute them in some form, credit would be nice…but to tell the truth, it probably goes more to my Nikon J1 than to me. That little red camera seems to manage well in spite of the fact that it has me as an owner!

I’ve been away for a couple of weeks, touring around Japan for work, which explains my lack of blogging. It’s difficult to keep up with the happenings in the RPG world when you rush about for 11 straight hours and then collapse in an exhausted pile at the end of every day. Not that I’m complaining, mind you–it was a fun trip, and I got to see lots of temples and shrines, statues of warriors and demons, and strange winding alleyways, all of which are good fodder for campaign writing.

I’ll be updating the blog regularly again starting this weekend; in the meantime, I may share some of my photos over the next few days that don’t contain any modern details. Feel free to use them in your campaigns if they suit you!

My husband and I often end up at the mall. We live in the sort of area where most people think they’re too good for mall shopping, but we both have a raging technology habit to support, so continual trips to Best Buy are simply unavoidable.

I assume everyone does this, but I just want to check: you continually search for NPCs at the mall, right?

There are two kinds of NPCs at the mall. The first simply adds local color. If you asked these NPCs about the town, they’d ply you with a bunch of junk lore and maybe throw in a couple of tidbits relevant to the overarching plot, but it’d be next to impossible to tell the two apart. These NPCs are mostly dressed normally–in fact, hyper-normally for your area–but always have that single ornament that signifies their character type. Look: check out that man standing next to the Brookstone in the perfectly boring collared shirt, the brown leather jacket, and the nondescript jeans, who just happens to have a deflated inflatable plastic fish sticking out of his pocket. If you roll particularly well, perhaps he’ll give you that fish and you can use it in a future encounter.

The second kind of NPC at the mall is the plot hook. She’s outrageous. You literally can’t miss her. In fact, the Great GM in the Sky generally gets so desperate to make you take the hook that he makes it awkward not to interact with the plot hook. Behold! There’s a forty-something woman in a Hello Kitty sweatshirt and a tiara carrying a large Target bag entirely stuffed with leopard print slippers. Which part of that mess will begin your adventure? The tiara? Is it magic? The shoes? Are there twenty five missing children who need those slippers to turn them back into humans after the evil wizard made them orangutans? Is the woman being forced to wear the Hello Kitty sweatshirt as a punishment for something she did long ago? When you investigate her crime, will it turn out not to be that bad after all?

My husband and I spend an inordinate amount of time in public playing “spot the NPC.” Often we supply the lore that we think “local color” NPCs would give. If we locate our plot hook, we spend another chunk of time writing the adventure around him.

Naturally, I assume that this is what everyone sane does at the mall. That fact may not reflect well on my own sanity, now that I think about it.

My gaming group is switching gears tomorrow, moving from WFRPe3 to Mouse Guard. It’s a bit of a hard transition for me, although that’s part of why I’m looking forward to it; I think I’ll really learn about good GMing from this game. The hardest part may be adjusting my expectations about preparation. When I prepared for WFRP, I had tons of stuff to anchor me: notes, maps, cardstock buildings, miniatures, colored dice, cards, tracking tokens, and huge official scenarios written in large full-color books. It was the players’ responsibility to respond to the rich world presented to them (and presented to me by those who have been Warhammer fans for years before I came on the scene.) While the players could leave the path, a whole vast universe of Warhammer Stuff Out There tended to give a GM a fairly good idea of what you could give them to see. Ultimately, they were given a very highly developed world and they responded to it. They could create possibilities within it, but ultimately, they were responding to existing material.

MG is much more ephemeral. Sure, you start with David Petersen’s fairly fleshed-out world, but you don’t begin a campaign with a ridiculously intricate narrative–you begin with a few key obstacles. The MGRPG rule book suggests that you start with a couple of overt hazards and keep a couple in reserve; the sample missions at the end of the guide are simple outlines. It’s not just up to the players to respond to the world–it’s up to the players to help create the world as they adventure. The GM’s main job is to push them to explore inherent tensions within their characters in whatever ways they find meaningful. The rules allow and encourage the scenario and the world to shape themselves in whatever ways best suit the characters’ self-exploration. That tends to leave a prep-crazy GM Iike me feeling a bit adrift. I can’t create an intricate townscape out of minis and card stock if I play truly within the spirit of the rules, because I should leave a certain amount of that townscape building up to the players, and I should focus more on them and their own goals than on the town, anyway.

I’ve played a few MG games with its original playtesters, talented GMs who knew the rules well and managed the games elegantly, so I have the general idea of what to do, and I know it works beautifully when it works. Not too long ago, I ran a breif test game with a couple of players not in our regular group just to see if I knew how the rules worked. What struck me most was that while other RPGs I have played were very much about having the players listen to the GM and the scenario, MG was very much about listening to the players. I had to sit and wait a lot while they worked out what to do. I had to rest (impatiently, warily) in the knowledge that they’d create some interesting twist to the story rather than rely on me to make it. That was incredibly difficult, since most of the games I’ve played have been scenario/adventure-centric, so a GM looks to herself or a scenario author to have created intricate twists and turns to which the players respond. Here, though, I found myself having to wait and trust–them, that they’d come up with satisfying plot twists of their own, and me, that I could honor them by coming up with a response that sent their imaginative work in a meaningful new direction. I couldn’t have control of the storyline ahead of time because I really couldn’t have any preconceived notions about what they were going to do. I also just had to let go of the idea that I was the central entertainer; in MG, it’s very much up to the players to entertain one another.

I’m both excited and apprehensive about playing tomorrow. My current gaming group are the smartest gamers with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing, and all of them are good at creating and developing narrative. When GMing WFRP, I always felt the need to honor that by presenting a thoroughly-prepared, multi-dimensional interpretation of the Wahammer world. Now, though, I’ll have to wing it, see where they take it, and hope we can all fly as a team.

So if you hear a “thud” sound tomorrow night, that’s us. As mice.

Worry not, though–I’m still indulging in my inner “stuff hoarder” by taking an iPad full of images that will evoke the setting. It’s sort of like stuff. It’s like a little mouse-sized security blanket.

Okay. I’m up for this challenge. Let’s do this. After all, I’m good enough. I’m strong enough. And gosh darn it, mice like me…although the mice we once bought as pets died within a day of my bringing them home, come to think of it.

Hmm….

Today I’m going to do a post about visual depictions of women in the RPG hobby. If you just want to go to my usual ramblings about my rampant consumerism, skip to the next post.

Although I often find myself advocating for the rights of other women at work and in my hobbies, I don’t often consciously think of myself as a feminist. Perhaps that’s because I don’t have much in common with women when they tend to be doing the things that women do when they get together. I don’t like to shop for clothes, go to the spa, or receive chocolates/flowers/ diamonds. Even the most fleeting thought of becoming a mommy makes me nauseous. Engaging with ‘adorable’ small children bores me to tears. I don’t find the majority of television, films, or books targeted towards women interesting. Not surprisingly, I find the vast majority of blogs about the female experience profoundly alienating, because while most feminists argue that we shouldn’t stereotype women, many feminist bloggers use those same stereotypes to engage with a of “sisterhood” of readers whose preferences exclude me.

Not too long ago when someone on my Twitter feed pointed to a post on Wundergeek’s blog, Go Make Me a Sandwich, I was surprised to find myself entirely engaged by her arguments. The post in question was about Shelly Mazzanoble, whose writing I generally find abhorrent because she glorifies a type of anti-intellectual, attention-seeking gamer that I wouldn’t want in my game regardless of his/her gender. After I finished Wundergeek’s spot-on critique of Mazzanoble, I sat for a few hours reading Wundergeek’s previous entries. She catalogs and critiques the implicit sexism in the video game and board game industries with wit and nuance. She’s dedicated much of her blog to making us see what’s right in front of our eyes. We see so many distorted and sexualized images of the female body in our hobby that they start to look normal after awhile, even to a woman like me who not only knows that her own body doesn’t look like those images, but who also does quite a bit of media studies scholarship during her daily life. When I started reading Wundergeek’s blog, I didn’t think I was as bothered by most of the sexist imagery she was seeing as she was…and that rather bothered me.

Back in my teens and early twenties when I used to play D&D because it was the only thing widely available, I used to joke about wanting to see “a few female miniatures with their clothes on.” Generally speaking, miniature companies have accommodated me a bit more each year; it’s easier and easier to find women who aren’t in fur bikinis on the rack at my FLGS with each passing season, although boobs do still tend to be these tiny figures’ main feature. Overall, though, I wouldn’t have said that the body images of the women in RPGs mattered to me that much. Then I started thinking about the four games I find the most engaging.

Warhammer 3e, Fantasy Flight Games

As most of you know, I’ve GMed Warhammer FRP 3e for the past year or so, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time contributing to its fan communities in various ways. I’ve found the people there engaging, friendly, scholarly, and not willing to take much BS (all traits I appreciate.) You won’t find many vocal women in the WFRP fan community because it’s not a community that prizes sharing one’s personal history; they may be there, but I’m not sure I’d know it. On the company side, WFRP does have a female art director, Zoe Robinson.  Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that iconographically, WFRP is one of the best mainstream RPGs on the market for varied and non-sexualized images of women. A good chunk of the career cards (the depictions of WFRP’s equivalent of “classes”) include pictures of women, and the women are surprisingly fully clad, dressed in clothing that makes sense for their particular lot in life. Best of all, they’ve been posed in ways that represent their personalities and attitudes, not in ways calculated to show off their T&A. Check out some of these depictions from the Core Set:

Even the images that do show more skin seem to do so for the sake of emphasizing grace and athleticism rather than overt sexuality; this woman’s legs, arms, and midriff seem on display to show her agility rather than to highlight her boobs:

Fortune’s Fool, Pantheon Press

Classical paintings or modifications of classical paintings grace many of the pages of Fortune’s Fool, but the company does produce some of its own art. Take a look at this image, in which the woman’s clothing and body language underscore her regal authority:

Although this rulebook makes a distinction between the stats for men and women, both genders get a different kind of bonus, and the fact that the designers saw fit to talk about those differences seems welcoming rather than punitive.

Burning Wheel, Luke Crane

I adore the BW system because it manages to be simultaneously more gamist and narrativist than most other games I play. (That alone may suggest the flawed nature of those distinctions, but I generally find them helpful when talking about the kind of games I like, which tend towards the narrativist.) BW’s open system allows the GM to create his own world, so perhaps the rulebook is automatically less likely to put women in one box or the other–it leaves that task up to the GM. Still, BW’s graphics go out of their way to feature sensibly clad, non-sexualized women whose clothing and gestures that emphasize their personalities and jobs, like this one:

Mouse Guard, Archaia Entertainment

Okay, so you may laugh at me about this one, but I have to mention it.  David Petersen, the creator of the Mouse Guard comic, has made sure to include lots of positive female role mice, including Gwendolyn, who runs the Guard wisely and garners the respect of mice from throughout the land, so the RPG begins with an advantage because of its inclusive setting. In the early pages of the rulebook for the RPG, Crane points out that he’s going to use the masculine pronoun for continuity throughout the text, but makes sure to remark that there “are just as many girl players as boy players of Mouse Guard,” and discusses his reasons for choosing the male pronoun, partly because “the main character of the series, Lieam, is a boy mouse” (Crane 14). The author both considers his pronouns carefully and walks his reader through his reasoning for choosing the pronoun; most RPG books are seldom so overtly welcoming to female players!

The mice in the images in this game have no clothes on and yet manage to be less sexualized than the partly clad women in most RPGs! Okay, yes, that’s a little silly, but first, check out the heroic pose of Sadie, one of the Guard Mice included in the Sample Mission section of the text:

She stands in a heroic and commanding pose, ready for action with her sling and double-dagger belt. Only her pink cloak gives her away as a girl at all.

You may argue that the whole point is silly–how could you sexualize mice in the first place? Well, there are certainly anthropomorphized animals in games that go out of their way to emphasize the sexual parts of the female form; think about the ridiculous boobs and narrow waist of a WoW Tauren, for instance. Yet you don’t even have to morph the body to make the depiction problematic. Take a look at this image of Minnie Mouse:

Here, Minnie poses in a traditional pinup girl pose, exposing her leg and rounding her rump for the viewer, while wearing a bow and high heels to mark her femininity. Absurd as it is, this is a sexualized image of a freaking female mouse–a mouse that you may have around your home as a role model for your children. Parents of children, please go gather up all the Disney junk you have lying around, put it in a box, use it as fire starters this winter, and replace it with Mouse Guard comics. Petersen’s guardmice are much better role models.

To sum up, I think that for all the frustration that women might feel about the hobby, there are a handful of dedicated, thoughtful writers and publishers who actively seek to include women in their games. Every time a game makes a series of inclusive gestures, it takes a step towards normalizing those gestures within the hobby. Perhaps one day, we’ll play in a hobby where we find it odd if there aren’t as many images of women as men on the pages of our rulebooks. Better yet, we might play in a hobby one day where men and women both laugh openly at a publisher who chooses to include an overwhelming number of improbably sexualized images of women. Until then, though, what we can do is support those publishers who choose to depict a range of powerful and interesting female characters and buy miniatures whose boobs, midriffs, and legs won’t freeze off during the winter from overexposure.

Would you look at this?

Image from FFG's website. Click to see their page!

 

Yeah. It’s awesome, isn’t it?

Here’s the problem: I had no intention of picking up Black Crusade. I have no intention of playing it. I feel as though you should only play a flip-side game like BC if you’ve already played a game based on the standard universe, and my crew’s game of Rogue Trader is slated into our gaming schedule (if we continue to run into scheduling issues like the ones we’re having now) for sometime in late 2018. That would put a game of BC in the works roughly around 2021.

Obviously I don’t need a collector’s edition of a game I won’t be playing for ten years. By then, there will be three new editions of this game, Games Workshop will have given the Warhammer IP to some random man they met on the street in Suffolk, and FFG may have been bought by some obscure company that is currently known only for making paperclips. (Although I hope those last two don’t happen.) My point is that anything can happen in ten years, and because of that, I don’t need this item.

On the other hand, look at that detailing! Who can resist a book with a huge 3D chaos symbol?

On the same other hand, you get a Writ of Execution with your name on it if you order the CE! I don’t know what you do with a Writ of Execution. Hang it on your wall and redecorate the room around it? Put it in a glass case in your office? Keep it in your car and present it to cops when you get pulled over for speeding? I don’t know what I’d do with it, but the advertising makes it seem very important that I have my own Writ of Execution. Fantasy official documents  might come in handy someday.

It worries me that I’m so squarely within FFG’s target demographic that they can reach into my brain and so easily persuade me to buy something I don’t really want or need. I comfort myself by believing that they’re just some kind of agent of Slaanesh–because let’s face it, I’m lusting to touch the cover of that book. I can’t actually be expected to fight a Chaos God on my own, now can I?

Image courtesy of spacemarine.com.

Although I play many video games, I seldom blog about them here; there’s less overlap between the RPG and the video game crowd than there used to be. Still, a really well-produced video game RPG can really get you thinking about things like how to make a linear story seem less linear, how to reward players for making interesting decisions, or how to build seemingly deep characters with just a few details.

Today, though, I’d like to give a shout out to a game I wouldn’t have thought would be terribly useful from a GM standpoint: THQ’s Space Marine. I haven’t played much of it, but what I have played has left me impressed. The game isn’t an RPG; it’s primarily a festival hack-and-slash, albeit a delightful one with WAAAGHing Orks and exploding machinery. Yet the game’s visual detail has inspired me to rethink how setting can even become a major NPC of sorts, delivering a wealth of information with which your PCs can interact.

For a war-torn world, this game’s setting is astoundingly beautiful. Pulled from Games Workshop’s terrain miniatures, the empty buildings’ war-torn interiors suggest how their former inhabitants used to live, and paint a surprisingly nuanced version of 40K’s ‘grim’ setting. Details like the tiny metal bunk rooms stuck on either side of a long hallway, with only a single large turbine fan per room as a sad sort of ‘window’ to the outside world, drive home the Spartan living conditions and the emotional sacrifices of the average Guardsman stationed on planet Graia. Although many of these rooms are devoid of decoration or personal effects, their absence makes the few items that you do find all the more evocative.

I was struck at one point by the detailing on the huge shells for a giant bombardment gun; decorated by an intricate version 40K’s usual brass skull motif on all sides, the shells seemed a bit…overdone…for something you would send hurtling into the sky to explode. Yet details like this invite us to think about what a sacred position war holds to this society; of course they would decorate their shells, for honoring the war machines is itself an act of profound religious devotion. There’s something both sad and noble about it at the same time.

And finally, automated messages eerily blare over the vox casters long after all the workers in the Manufactorum have died or run away, reminding former inhabitants to “increase their productivity” as a mark of love for the Machine God, or, in a later scene, to “sign up for corpse removal duty.” Without lengthy cutscenes, Space Marine manages vividly to evoke what these citizens’ lives were like both before and after the Ork invasion that ravaged their planet.

While I have no complaints about the storyline or the NPC development–the cutscenes are beautiful and the storyline has me curious about what’s to come–I am by far most impressed by the tiny visual details in the scenery. For GMs, there’s a lot to learn here about how to use tiny details to help your players learn more about the culture than you could realistically include in interactive plot events. You probably learned about the importance of setting in seventh grade English class, but we absorb the effects of setting on such a subconscious level that we can forget to pay attention to its nuances in our own games. Most good GMs know the importance of major details of setting, so they add flavor NPCs or items that invite PC interaction, but It can be hard to give tiny evocative details without bogging down your players. Prewritten scenarios tend to complicate the situation; either they contain so much detail that you have to cull the excess, or they contain so little that you need to create it on your own.

Stuff in its largest sense can be your ally here. You’re forced to think about why these buildings are placed as they are if you must choose which models to make/use and must manipulate them physically on a play mat. You’re forced to think about what else might be found, say, on a farm; you’ve got the house and the barn, but where are the animals? In what kind of condition are they since their owners disappeared several days ago? How might your players interact with them?

Yet even without stuff, a short list of setting details that might come up in several situations can help you make your point about a particular place and time. Are the PCs traveling to a new town? Make a list before you start to play of small details that will evoke the town’s level of wealth and distinctive customs: gold-edged street signs, strange tiny wooden dolls outside most front doors from “a recent festival,” swept market streets even at the height of trading, or small but hearty gardens next to most houses. Are the PCs visiting a forest? If so, stop to consider how much traffic the forest gets, then make a list of details that suggest the marks tradespeople have left on the environment–or details that startle the players into realizing how utterly alone they are. Such details help players think up their own ways to interact with the world around them and encourage them to treat each new area of the game differently instead of as “just another town.” In fact, the players might surprise you by wanting to take the game in an entirely new direction–and ultimately, if we are trying to evoke the feel of infinite possibilities in a wide world, there’s no better mark of our success.

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