I Back-flip Into Holes

I’ve always envied you Emily.  You have maintained a focus on yourself and your goals your entire life.  You’ve been falling down holes for years.  And luckily its usually the same hole!

My hobbies shift with the times.  I get really into various things for like a year or two and then I move to something else.  Well recently I sold off the majority of my Magic cards.  I also traded in a huge portion of my Batman comics because I just couldn’t keep up.  Last year I was in an in between phase when I decided to run a Rogue Trader RPG campaign.

Its probably my only solid hobby right now.  I am reading for entertainment less, I’m not getting through my video game backlog, and I have essentially stopped watching shows.  I fancy myself an ‘immersive GM,’ so I spend my time writing what I hope are interesting settings, quests, and enemies.

I bring all of this up not to brag but to emphasize how much time I spend on this.  I’m always thinking about it, planning for it, and writing down ideas and quest lines.  Most evenings after work I probably sit down and write at least a little bit.  I agonize over it, but I really love it.  It’s fun and satisfying!

But Emily, I back-flip down holes.  I throw myself into whatever my current hobby is hard.

So I decided I’m going to run a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition campaign for my work.  Some of my coworkers will get to be players in their very first campaign.  I’m going to have to write a campaign that’s not only exciting, but introduces these people to the campaign setting.  On top of all of that, the quest line needs to slowly teach them how to play the game.

One campaign was sucking up a huge portion of my time.  Now I’ve agreed to two!  I’m going the distance.

Did I mention I’ve never officially run a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition campaign before?  So I need to learn how to GM it like a boss.

But fuck it, ya know?  I’m enjoying writing.  So much so that I am considering writing an official book.  So to keep my writing muscle flexing and getting swole, you and I are starting a brand new blog in which we will write a story back and forth, 500-ish words at a time!  Starting next Friday?!

BUT FUCK IT, YA KNOW?  I’m going to start my own writing project on my own goddamn blog.  I have been playing with the idea of writing a motherfucking prequel story to the Killian Rage from my goddamn Rogue Trader campaign.  It would be my first semi-serious online novella series.  Just to see how it goes, fuck it.

You may occasionally trip and fall into a hole Emily.  And its refreshing to see someone so dedicated to their self and their hobbies.  But I’ve never been known to trip.  My hobbies go too fast and hard for me to nurture them appropriately over the course of years.  So if I’m going to full enjoy a hobby, the only way I know how is to overload the machine and shove the whole damn thing into a hole.

And then I’m falling; surrounded by the elements of my work.  Running two campaigns, and potentially three blogs at one time?  Sometimes you see the the ground rushing up to meet you and all you can do is point and scream:

“ROLL INITIATIVE!”

Flee to the Koronus Expanse

Rogue Trader is an RPG system set in the 40k Universe.  The primary setting is the Koronus Expanse; a vast region of space beyond the Halo Stars.  It sits behind two great Warp storms: the Screaming Vortex and the Void Dancer’s Roil.  The gap between the two is known at the Maw.  What makes the Koronus Expanse the primary place setting is that until recently it had been lost.

Faster than light travel involves entering an alternate dimension known as the Immaterium, more commonly known as the Warp.  A realm made of emotion made manifest and an infinite number of daemons.

The route through the Maw into the Koronus Expanse was re-discovered within the last two or so hundred years.  It’s an entire segmentum of the galaxy with hundreds of millions of planets for the taking.  The players play as a party of explorers under the helm of a person known as a Rogue Trader.  A Rogue Trader has been granted the right to represent and claim planets and territories in the name of the God-Emperor of  humanity.

So go explore and have fun!

So naturally I did not start my group in the Koronus Expanse.  I started them in the Calixis Sector.  I have seven players and five of them have never played Rogue Trader, it’s a brand new d10 system they need to learn, and the classes do not translate straight across to fantasy (i.e.  there is no designated ‘tank’ or ‘healer).

I wanted to start my party in the Calixis Sector because its a much easier place to introduce the world.  It’s a part of the galaxy under the influence of the Imperium of Man.  I never liked the “you all meet serendipitously” method of starting a campaign- so I like to start them in a “you’ve all been hired for X” plan.

Writing the ‘Opening Mission’ was the most difficult thing I’ve written by far.  Mostly because I wanted to introduce almost all of the mechanics of the game to them.  Combat, Space combat, interaction challenges, exploration challenges, covert ops challenges, space travel, warp travel, investigation, purchasing personal things, outfitting the ship, entering and exiting port, etc…

So I wrote an escort mission.  My players began on the Hive World (industrial/labor planets) of Gunpoint and they commandeered a ship that was provided for them and they set off.  A lot more happens in between missions but the short hand goes like thus:

The players were assembled on the planet Gunpoint.  They were briefed: they had to go to a penal planet of Sheol XVII.  They needed to escape Gunpoint, however, because there were armed men hunting them.  They were promptly ambushed but managed to escape.  Once upon their ship they fled the planet.  The first mate aboard the ship was named Havoc, and he explained a little more of the situation.  They made their way to Sheol XVII.  Having duped a pair of ‘police’ ships, they got inside the planets perimeter.  They picked up a man named Killian Rage.  Havoc and Killian Rage go way back, having known each other for several decades.

Killian explained that Sarvus Trask, a prominent Rogue Trader, was hunting him.  Sarvus betrayed Killian; he used him as a scapegoat for a political deal and had him imprisoned as a sign of good faith.  So now Killian Rage is attempting to return to the Koronus Expanse and Sarvus is trying to stop him.

Once they escape Sheol XVII they go to the feral world Endrite to raid a facility belonging to Trask.  They successfully make it planetside, make their way on foot to the facility, and raid it for all of the supplies.  Unfortunately though, the supplies that were supposed to outfit their ship were merely cleaning chemicals.

They then went to Thical, a prominent hive world near the Maw.  They went to fence the stolen goods but they were met with a counter proposal from their agent: retrieve my stolen valuable thing and I’ll pay you well.  The players expertly infiltrated the facility and found the relic, but had to chase the men down to retrieve it.  They returned it to the agent who paid them and re-supplied their ship.

As they were about to leave Thical Sarvus Trask found them.  In the final days of the re-supply he encountered and captured Havoc in the city.  Amassing a fighting force, he appeared suddenly, murdered Havoc in front of them, and stormed the players ship on the dock.  It was a fight for their ship and their freedom.  It also turned out that their one time ally had been paid to turn on them and dealt a serious blow to the ship.  During the battle several players were critically wounded including Killian Rage who had his left arm completely chopped off.

They escaped after repulsing Sarvus Trask and fled to Port Wander, the final stop this side of the Maw.  On Wander they got their ship re-supplied, hired a new crew, and fixed their broken components.  Once ready, they plunged through the Maw into the Koronus Expanse.  Port Footfall is the stop on the far side of the Maw.  Once on port, Killian introduces them to his old flames father, Zulfikar Raheem, who pays them handsomely.

And then Killian leaves, unsure whether he’ll ever see the party again.

So a lot of this mission was a “connect the dots” sort of mission that allowed me to teach my players the various components of being alive and in the 40k universe.  A lot of this was just me being like, “Hey, this could be totally cool.”

But a small portion of the missions were me reconciling my last campaign that was a failure because I had never GM’ed before.  My first campaign as GM was fun but it got super duper turbo derailed because I didn’t understand how to tell the story.

Killian Rage was an NPC pirate lord in my first campaign.  For me, and I think for my players, he was one of the popular elements in the campaign.  So I began having him show up just to keep interest high and to give them a “Team Rocket” sort of half-antagonist.  He was eventually killed by the party.

Killian Rage represents me in the campaign they are currently playing in.  I gave him no voice, I made him very Mary Sue, and he didn’t talk much but he always knew or had just what the party needed (because I am the GM).  His plan to get them to the Koronus Expanse was a representation of my first campaign and how it goes terribly wrong.  Killian assumed it would be really easy since he knows everything he needs to but doesn’t consider that others will act in ways he can’t predict.  My players behaved in ways I didn’t predict.

Sarvus Trask kills his blood brother Havoc in front of him and Killian becomes ‘disarmed.’  He literally lost his left arm when Sarvus Trask cut it off, a nod to my loss of control from the first campaign, and his brother  Havoc was killed in front of him, a nod to Killian dying in the first campaign.  And when Killian lost Havoc he was lost without him- a feeling I felt when Killian was killed in the first campaign.

So the ‘Opening Mission’ ends with Killian introducing the party to Zulfikar Raheem.  Zulfikar agrees to pay the party when he learns that Killian lost Havoc.  Zulfikar had a daughter once, but she fell in love with Killian and left with him to go on adventures.  She never returned, and Zulfikar blames Killian for her absence.

So when Killian returns asking for a favor (that he knows he has no right to ask) Zulfikar only grants that favor when he learns that Killian is experiencing the same grief that he is.  He pays them, but as a mockery to Killian.  As Killian is leaving the facility, unsure of his future in the Koronus Expanse, he dons Havoc’s blood stained cloak and leaves.

The mockery and departure of Killian, and generous payment to the players, is a reminder to myself that this campaign is happening because of the mistakes I made in the first one. I learned from my experience and here we are now.  My first one was a confused mess but it makes me a better GM for my players now.

My players are here, they’ve earned their wings, and now I don’t need to escort them anymore.  

I feel like this campaign is already way better than the first.  For instance, people actually liked Killian as an NPC.  I even had an instance of a player conversing with him in character.  That last session where they make it to Footfall and Killian leaves- I have been told was a really good session by a few and in one instance a players favorite they’ve ever been in.

That makes me smile to think about.  I think I have a lot of room to grow as a GM in this campaign and I look forward to it.  So yeah, I feel better about this campaign.  Especially now where we get to the point where its really easy to lose control.  But I’m ready.

And don’t worry.

Killian will be back.  Eventually.

-DTM

 

Xenoblade Chronicles: A Review

I really enjoyed your post about your ferrets.  It was shway Ze Frank.  I’d write some about my lizard but he doesn’t do much in the long term.  His would be weird like:

Dear Diary,

Today I noticed a perspective mate in my domain.  I went to mate with her but as luck would have it, it was simply my own reflection on the glass.  Now I must sit here bearing the embarrassment of my swollen, black beard.  I will flex it at the passing humans as a show of dominance, though inside I am deeply alone.  I will hold a court of crickets tonight to assuage my lizard dong.

This past weekend I finally fucking beat Xenoblade Chronicles with an ending playtime of 108 hours.  And it felt so good.  I will note that its a different game than Xenoblade Chronicles X.  Which is yet on the horizon.  I played the version on the New 3DS.  I was itching for a good RPG to get invested in and Xenoblade Chronicles beat out the other games I was trying out.

Xenoblade Chronicles starts you out in a small “Homs” city located on a celestial being known as the Bionis.  The city is modestly thriving in the wake of a grand war with the metal beings from Mechonis.  Things go south when the Mechonis strike again and force a young man by the name of Shulk to wield a legendary weapon known as the Monodo.  Seeking retribution against their assailants, Shulk and his friend Reyn leave to find the Mechonis and destroy them once and for all.  The story is grand in scope and takes you to many unique places; though its cliched in a few ways.  There were plenty of moments that caught me off guard and kept me wanting to play.  The characters motivations and development are awesome, all make sense, and you really begin to understand who they are through the game.

The games story feels really well written, but its clearly from a japanese writer.  It felt a lot like a Kingdom Hearts story was placed in a Phantasy Star realm.  It was a very cool, fresh setting.  The game world is fucking huge!  The people live on the Bionis’ body, which is literally a tremendous creature that all biological life spawned.  You can look into the sky and see pieces of it depending on where you are.  The areas feel unique and expansive and there is plenty of reward for exploring.  There is a day and night system and the weather can randomly change!  These also effect what types of creatures are free roaming the world as well so it all feels really interesting and new.

The combat system was functional if clunky, but in a good way.  Its a real time combat system and plays an awful lot like Final Fantasy 12 with some MMO elements.  You control your character and you can run around and they’ll auto attack, but you have a tray full of secondary abilities and attacks that all have a cool down after you use them.  It was a little daunting at first but it became really second nature pretty quick.  You engage enemies in very fluid way in the game.  They are just running around and you can see their level before engaging.  Its one of my favorite things about Xenoblade Chronicles: there isn’t a single place they won’t let you go (barring a few story driven areas).  If you aren’t supposed to be there all you’ll really know is that suddenly the goddamn ants are like LVL 900 and really fucking pissed that you walked across their field of view.

Even though the main character is Shulk, you can at any point switch out your party members- including the one you control when you run around the world.  As your party grows you have to adapt to the enemies and its really nice to be able to be like “Man Shulk sux0rs right meow time to play as a different character!”  The characters all play really differently and are well balanced.  It gives you the freedom to switch out skills and party members to really dial in a new strategy based on your enemies.

There is quite a bit of infrastructure elements that get really confusing really fast and I found myself learning about things I could do with my characters way too late in the game to really abuse it.

Your characters can have affinity with one another and affinity with cities in the game.  You get this by playing with them in your party and the higher their affinity the more things you can do.  Cool battle buffs, more trading in cities, and eventually you can start finding Heart-to-Heart moments where you can play out little conversations between characters.  They are charming and really flesh the characters out.  That’s not the part that was hard- I accidentally missed the part where they tell you can have characters give gifts to one another which fucking helps.  I missed the bit where you talk to this unmarked kid to work on upgrading certain elements in a city.  Certain elements of the game I mostly didn’t use, even though I knew how.

The game has a lot of polish to it.  The menus can be confusing, but the game tries to make up for it by helping you organize it.  It’ll let you know when an item might be useful in the future, it’ll prevent you from buying skill upgrades you’ve already upgraded.  The fast travel system is fucking dope.  Since you can go anywhere anyway they let you fast travel at a moments notice to any previous landmark that allows it.  You could be at the gates of the final dungeon and be like, “Whoops I need some muthafuckin’ steel yams” and just teleport back to the first city.  They allow you to change the time of day at a moments notice as well which is handy for side quests and finding certain people.  You can save at any time which is a fucking delight.

My 108 hour play time probably wasn’t typical.  The main story quests give you a cool little arrow on the screen that points you in the right direction, which is pretty handy but it does take a lot of the mystique of exploring out of certain areas.  I did a shitload of the side quests (of which there are hundreds) and many of them are tedious.  They are easy- you know the standard “I need 6 Vorpal Farts” and “Go kill 7 Lizard Boners” but the problem is that many of the missions require you to go back to the specific person who asked you to do it.  Those bastards move around during the day, which is cool because the world feels fleshed out and scheduled, but there isn’t a way to quickly locate them.  Much of my time would be going back to town and running around for an hour finding them all.  And that’s assuming that the stuff you were doing is easy.  Later on the missions get really esoteric.  It may sound easy to kill 7 Lizard Boners (mirrors do nicely) but did you know that Lizard Boners only spawn in the swamp, in a certain area, at night, and it has to be foggy, and only one spawns?

My advice to you if you decide to play this: just FAQ the side quests.  I’m sure you could do most of them without help, but you’ll save so much time just looking up item and person locations.  There wasn’t a single side quest that was relevant to the main story line so you shouldn’t FAQ a spoiler on accident.  Also- if you are in a city, and there is an NPC with a name instead of “Colony 9 Citizen,” talk to them, it boosts your affinity with that town which you need to abuse.

I absolutely recommend Xenoblade Chronicles to anyone looking for a pretty straightforward RPG.  I wouldn’t say it breaks any new ground but at the very least it has a huge world to explore and a very good story.  You can get it on the New 3DS which is stupid handy since you can just close it to pause it at any time and pick back up whenever you have a moment.  I’m excited that games of this size could potentially be normal for handhelds.

Final thoughts: Loved the world, enjoyed the story, use a FAQ for side quests, talk to everyone, Riki is best character.

8.5/10

-DTM