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Awesome! I talked awhile back about how RPG scenario writers might put iBooks Author to good use, so I was excited to see the announcement on Twitter today that Games Workshop plans to release a line of iBooks supplements for its wargame. GW plans to release a handful of texts each month, and the company has obviously dumped some real money into making their initial offerings both useful and beautiful. The official video shows some of the etexts’ innovations. 3D images of their models that readers can rotate to view from all sides seem like a good way to get a sense of whether or not you really want a particular miniature, and videos and slideshows that explain how to paint models so that they look like the ones shown in particular scenarios will help those who want to learn good painting techniques. The video also goes out of its to point out that the search functions and the notation functions of iBooks will make using rules from these texts easy mid-game.

I’m really glad to see some gaming companies jumping onto iBooks and using the Author tools. I do wonder how much crossover there is between the GW crowd and the Apple crowd; they wouldn’t have struck me as quite the same people, for the most part, but I’m glad to see gaming companies make use of this technology. I’m going to wait until the Codex: Space Marines hits the virtual shelves, and then I’ll do a review of it. I can’t wait to see what it’s like! In the future, I hope that companies like GW expand their use of the functions of iBooks to some of their fiction offerings, and I’d love to see Fantasy Flight jump on the bandwagon and release some of their WFRP3e materials in this format, too.

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I have a soft spot for squigs. Squigs represent everything that is awesome about Warhammer, at least as far as I’m concerned: they’re nonsensically made out of fungus, they look silly, they hang out with other humorous monster-types, but they have huge, pointy teeth and can totally kick your ass. That’s why I was excited to see Warhammer Forge’s new Colossal Squig miniature while surfing the web…although I’m not sure you can rightly call that thing a ‘miniature.’

My internal monologue: “A gigantic squig miniature that I will never use in game?! SIGN ME UP! Ooh, plus, it’s big enough that my paint job might look fairly competent. Fifty-five pounds, though. Plus shipping. Steep. Hmm…well, I’d probably have to write an adventure around it.”

I haven’t ordered it yet, because I’m telling myself that I’ll wait until I at least have an adventure idea for it. Of course, what that really means is that I’ll wait until I’ve opened up a Pages document and typed “COLOSSAL SQUIG ADVENTURE” across the top.

I haven’t even gotten that far, though, because I’m getting ready to run a half marathon tomorrow–gotta go pack my special running socks and energy gels and such. Whenever I feel like slacking in my pace, I’m just going to imagine that squig right on my heels…or maybe I’ll imagine that I am that squig. He seems to have a good stride. Rawarr!

So, I’m relatively excited about Plaid Hat’s new Mice and Mystics game. It looks like more of a story-driven coop board game than a true RPG, but it might be just the ticket for gaming groups like ours, since we sometimes have months where we can’t commit a full Saturday to playing our RPG of choice. Plus, it’s got awesome mouse miniatures! What could possibly go wrong?

(Lots of things, actually. I know that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hope it will be AWESOME.)

In other news, I finally got around to looking at the Roll20 videos this week. Everyone on the planet has already talked this thing to death, but it really does look as awesome as its hype. I hope they can live up to what they promise in these videos. The only downside I can see is the GM’s limited ability to download his own artwork, since games like Warhammer or Mouse Guard might require vastly different maps and minis than more traditional fantasy games. Still, for a decent online RPG delivery system that incorporates streaming sounds and music with video chat and is system neutral, that’s a small quibble.

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.

So, that whole thing where I was going to update last weekend didn’t happen, largely because I had a massive headache on Sunday. Whether or not that was because of stress or because I sat in front of Mass Effect 3  multiplayer for five straight hours is up for grabs. I’m going to go with stress. Following that weekend, my workweek included four 15+ hour days in a row, but luckily, a broken water main in my city has rendered my place of work unusable, so I have today off! Huzzah!

Since I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had a lot of time to read RPG stuff, but there are two things that I might as well mention on this glorious, work-free Friday.

FFG announced its new Warhammer-themed RPG, Only War, focused on the Imperial Guardsman in the 41st Millennium. It doesn’t look like my thing, so much, since I primarily like the religious and fantasy elements of 40K, and this seems to be focused more on helmets, chains of command, and jungles, if the artwork and descriptions are any indicators. I’m not super interested in the romance and adventure of the military, so I doubt I’ll run this. Can’t say if I’ll pick it up, either, honestly, but we’ll see what the reviews say. (We all know, though, that if they put out a CE, I’ll be tempted.)

I’m not sure I follow FFG’s business model. Why are they churning out so many parallel rules systems dealing with slightly different iterations of the 40K universe (Rogue Trader, Black Crusade, Dark Heresy, and Death Watch)? Why would you not dedicate yourself to building a stronger fanbase for one or two of these products by introducing materials for conventions, instituting scenario competitions, or creating product for Free RPG day, then bolstering the line with many different scenarios? Why not put all of the additional types of play in supplements? I know I sound like one of the grumbling oldtimers here, but seriously…this seems a little flawed. I don’t really need a whole new set of ways to roll dice in the grim futuristic world. I need a set of things to do with the dice I already know how to roll.

Of course, I’m sure that FFG has a market analyst who tells them that creating different systems is the most lucrative way to milk GW’s IP, and who am I to argue with a professional? I mean, after all, having the professional assistance of the suits at Hasbro definitely helped WotC and the D&D line. Oh, wait…

The real problem with my going to the FFG website to worry about their marketing strategy, though, is that I find out problematic information like the fact that there’s a CE of Deathwatch that I missed. An awesome CE with chains on it. I need a CE of Deathwatch like I need another hole in my head, but let’s face it: it has chains on it. Who can resist chains?! Plus, my Black Crusade CE looks rather lonely on the mantelpiece.

For all my griping about output, though, I have to say that Warhammer’s fan base continues to amaze me with its high-quality and thoughtful submissions for play. I’ll talk a bit about some fan-based offerings in my next post, but for now, I’m going to get to a place that has running water.

I generally stick to covering RPG games and accessories, but I’m going to make a tiny exception this once to cover something that doesn’t really fit into any other category. Still, it’s kind of an RPG, so I figure I can get away with covering it. (I also figure I can get away with covering it because I’m not going to fire myself as a writer, especially since I work for no pay.)

I want to talk for a second about the awesome Zombies, Run! app for the iPhone. As you’ve probably guessed, I buy a lot of apps. About 70% of them are versions of other apps, and another 25% are copies of something that existed before the iPhone. This falls into that last 5%–something truly unique; an RPG for runners, where you “level up” by completing mileage.

As you run, this app tells you the story of a world beset by zombies; people in a “safe city” radio instructions and information to you about the world and its inhabitants. When they’re not speaking, the app returns you to your playlist, neatly set into the story world as a radio station playing the few motley tracks still left over after everything collapsed. During the radio running sections, you pick up items that flash up on your screen or that you can check out at the end of your run. When you’ve finished your run (or your “mission,” for each run sends you out to do something for the city,) you can give the items you’ve found to the various institutions in the city to strengthen them against the zombie hordes.

If you’re feeling particularly good about your running prowess, you have the option of adding a speed training element with zombie rushes. The game will then make you speed up when you get close to a swarm of the undead in the story. if you’re in traffic or just don’t want to do the speed training, though, you can turn that option off and run at a steady pace.

The game tracks pace and distance via GPS, or it can use an accelerometer if you’re on a treadmill. The treadmill seemed fairly accurate; the GPS was a bit generous compared to my Nike GPS. The company that’s created the app promises eventual support for RunKeeper for those of us who obsessively track runs. (Personally, I’d like to see Nike+ support, but I know how stingy Nike is about its platform, so I’m not going to hold my breath.)

One of the neatest things about this app is that it tries to remain polite at all times; if you’re playing your own music as you run, it attempts to wait until a track is done before breaking in with more story. If a track is particularly long, it does pause it to speak, but for your average-length song, the app tries hard to let you finish before it kicks back into the narrative. Further, unlike apps like Nike+, the voices don’t play over the music; the program stops the music altogether so that you can concentrate on what’s going on.

The writers have created a compelling story (at least from the bits I’ve heard,) and the voice acting seems quite solid, so it’s easy to be immersed in the world they’ve created. Most importantly, while you do feel a firm sense of urgency about the world that pushes you to go on, there’s no “jump out and scare you” element to the presentation that might cause you to trip or smash into a tree. (Okay, maybe YOU wouldn’t smash into a tree, but I might.)

If you’re prepping for a zombies campaign or for a marathon, this might just do the trick to get you in the mood. It’s an odd little creation, but I hope it will get copied by other companies. Personally, I’d love to see GW or FFG put out a Space Marine version. Nothing’s more inspirational than imagining that Nurgle is on your heels, really.

Well, my Black Crusade Collector’s Edition showed up today in the mail. I was tempted to take pictures of it during my lunch hour, but I decided to hold off until the end of the day. That was a good call, since I got some irritating news at the end of the day, but this awesome little trinket turned my bad mood around.

Typical unboxing pics:

The case is a lightweight yet substantive resin. It’s not at all flimsy or poorly made, but it doesn’t make the book hard to lift, either. Quite nicely done.

The detailing on the case is awesome! Just check out this chipper little worm crawling his way out of the filth on the cover:

The book itself is heavy, bound in a sturdy red leatherette with gilt edges and a big ribbon bookmark.

The interior of the book includes FFG’s trademark full-color and wonderful art direction. Here’s the inside cover:

I’m actually pleased that the Writ of Execution is firmly attached to the inside of the book. Now I don’t have to figure out what to do with it. Was I supposed to frame it? Give it to my mom to hang at her house? Put it on the wall at work? I’ll just leave it in the book, then.

All in all, it’s a delightful purchase. (Am I allowed to call something about the forces of Chaos “delightful”?) As I said before, I’m not sure we’ll play this system with the RAW, but I am interested in the fluff included in the book. They’ve done a great job with the detail on the slipcase, and the book itself is a step above FFG’s already high production value. This probably won’t go down in history as my most useful RPG purchase, but it looks pretty cool on our mantlepiece.

Between my illness and the work-related demands of this time of year, I find myself stuck with a gigantic stack of paper to review this weekend. In great detail. So I’m a bit too swamped to blog much at the moment.

Nevertheless, I have two quick things:

1) The FFG store tells me that my Black Crusade Collector’s Edition shipped yesterday! Hooray! I’ll post pics as soon as I get it. (I have plans for that fluff; I certainly do. I have almost no plans for the ruleset itself, which I plan on dumping ASAP.)

2) I assume most of you are aware of the sheer awesomeness of Radio Rivendell, but just in case you aren’t, there it is. I tend to listen to it while I’m working–it’s going to get a lot of listen from me this weekend, in fact. But I also tend to keep a paper and pen handy so I can jot down musical titles that I think will be useful for my games. Among other songs, the station plays quite a bit of soundtrack music from TV shows, movies, and video games, so it’s a good way to get your hands on tracks that might work for you without having to sift through a list of iTunes previews which might not give the flavor of the whole track. The station also hosts some surprising music that’s off the beaten path, so you’ll hear all sorts of interesting pieces you won’t find on iTunes/Amazon or at your local store, but you can often order those albums directly from their creators. I tend to listen on my iPad with Tunemark because the app allows you to save a list of the music you want to remember, although I’m sure many other apps do the same. Listening to Rivendell gives me the chance to stop and prep for my game while doing respectable, rent-paying work! Score!

At any rate, I hope to see you midweek when my BCCE arrives. Until then, have a good weekend! I’ll be trying to shove aside thoughts of my Skaven game so that I can get some “real” work done. (And incidentally, if you have other thoughts about how to sneak in RPG prep during work time, I’d love to hear them.)

Still working on the Skaven game; I’m playing around with writing it in iBooks Author, just to see how that goes. It’s amazing how using a particular piece of software for the creative process can really change your approach. Generally, when I’m designing my own adventure, I start with a core idea or mechanic–usually some story element that cracks me up. (One of my early Warhammer adventures centered on an illegal pig fighting ring, for instance, and was designed to give the characters a chance to get a pet attack pig.) From there, I think about how the players might interact with the whatever-it-is, and then I build a story to get them there, give them a reason to get involved, and then give them an open-ended resolution that can lead into something else. This tended to involve (at the early stages) pencil and paper and random notes; at the middle stage, a trip to my computer to use Campaign Cartographer to make some maps; and at the end, several trips to Photoshop to make adjustments to player handouts or aids like the pet pig sheet. With the exception of the player handouts and maps, everything I made was designed for my eyes only, and things that didn’t interest me much just never made it into the adventure notes or into my head.

Notes from an early Warhammer adventure with the player aid for the pet pig.

My sketch of the area and its Campaign Cartographer version.

This time around, though, I’m working directly in iBooks Author. The tool itself is designed to market an idea attractively, so I’m reminded of my audience, both fellow GMs and participating PCs, at every turn. The constant reminder that I have an audience forces me to clarify everything much more carefully. For instance, how much do I really know–and how much do I need to know–about the setting in which this Skaven adventure will take place? Once I’ve figured out the core of my adventure, I tend to get a little bored with the details, so I have a tendency to think “well, it’s just something roughly like X, and I’ll figure it out on the fly if the PCs ask about it.” In this adventure, for instance, I found myself deeply uninterested in why the Skaven would want to meddle in the town’s business; I just want to get onward to the Skaven causing a bunch of mayhem! The rats’ motivation is actually a key question, though, and I know my PCs will end up asking it in some form. Once I’d decided to dedicate a section of the iBook to the Skavens’ mission, I forced myself to define the background behind their meddling, rather than just tell myself I’d BS it when it came up.

I’m also having to think more carefully about other alternatives as I write out the adventure. In Mouse Guard, a “mission” is made up of a mix of four kinds of hazards (weather, wilderness, animals, and mice.) The game recommends that the GM choose two of these to start the mission, then hold the others in reserve for plot twists. If I were making my own pen-and-paper notes, I’d probably just jot down the main two and figure (again) that I’d BS the others when the time came. Yet the act of making neat charts of the hazards in my iBook made me want to be completist, so all four hazards went on the page. I know I’ll only focus on two to start, but I now have the others defined for reference.

Some background on the setting and a map.

The glossary feature of iBooks Author.

The glossary feature in iBooks has also made me particularly careful. I’m making each NPC his own glossary entry, which means it’s easy for me to go back and forth and make sure I’m getting all of the pieces connected solidly. (It’s also making sure I use the same name for the same NPC if I write two different parts of the adventure at different times. I’ve been known to switch them around a bit. Heh.)

It’s hard to say whether or not the change in preparation will make my game better or worse, especially for a Mouse Guard session. MG relies on the GM being open and able to bend; on the other hand, my PCs like fleshed-out stories and deep development of the world’s background. I hope that the additional background information won’t make it harder for me to bend the story in the directions they want to go. On the other hand, I do think that knowing more about the story I mean to tell may end up helping me make those plot twists seem more in tune with the rest of the story and seem more realistic. Because, let’s face it, there’s nothing more important than realism when you’re dealing with talking rats with warpstone guns.

I’m really not sure how this hasn’t been done to death yet, but I’ve decided that it’s high time for me to do it–the hilarity factor of juxtaposing such differing worldviews is just way too high for me to give it a miss:

It’s going to be the second in my “Monsterz” series of one-off games in which my Warhammer players RP as various monster races. (The unclever name of the ‘series’ just comes from the title of the folder on my Mac where I’m keeping all of the files. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I added that jaunty z, because now it just seems rather stupid.) I did the monster PC thing back with the Orcs, and the players had a good time, although I had some difficulty balancing out my interest in fleshing out their premade PCs (which I did) with developing the adventure (which I didn’t nearly enough.) I plan to remedy that this go around.

So far, it’s been a blast coming up with skills and wises for Skaven. Frankly, I think the original game needs “Warpstone-wise,” don’t you?

Most of all, though, because I’m me, I’ve had a great time photoshopping (or Pixelmating) the existing Mouse Guard character sheets and writing character histories. Of course, I don’t have any Skaven minis lying around, which necessitates the most dangerous thing of all in our house…painting minis. God help us all.

With the way work has been going, we can expect this little iteration to be finished sometime around November 2043. Or in a couple of weeks, if I stay this interested.

In the meantime, just remember:

It’s not what you fight for, it’s how many of those other mangy curs you can claw to bits on your way down!

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