Friday, September 25, 2009

The Sweet Spot

In the light of the culmination of my publishing plans (I have the proofs of Beat to Quarters and will most likely make my orders this weekend), a surge in work hours putting a crunch upon my spare-time, the continuation of our excellent D&D game and the growing urge to GM something to someone, I have been thinking a lot about how best to use my time when gaming.

I've been pondering why I am enjoying D&D so much? I've come to the conclusion that it is a combination of two things. The first is that the longevity of our group has made for a very comfortable gaming environment. We understand each other and that makes playing games in a way we like very easy indeed. The second is that the game sits in a sweet spot between my self-confessed love of gritty, 'gamist', tweakable systems and nicely cuddly narrative bolt-ons that we have added. The way the game has been modded, with stunt points, legacy items, round-robin adventure seeding and all manner of other little touches really appeals to me.

I've also been pondering why I have almost no yearning to write any other games? Certainly there is a degree of mental fatigue from a three year project that has encompassed about 80% of all my reading in that time. Some of it almost certainly is about the way that the online community that inspired me to create a game has turned into a nasty, judgemental, entitled cesspit of incestuous bollocks with its head so far rammed up its own arse I simply cannot bring myself to read it never mind participate. However, a lot of it has to do with the plethora of rather cool looking games that are available now. I just don't see the need.

Take, for example, Diaspora? Its an SF version of the Fate 3.0 engine (which powers Spirit of the Century and the upcoming Dresden Files rpg) and works on the basis of a small cluster of star systems. It sounds perfect. Why would I write a space game when there is this potential gem waiting to be played.

I've even been pondering what sort of games I want to run. Its been a bit of a joke with my group that I have bipolar gaming tendencies. I like to play crunchy games but as soon as I take the GMs chair I jettison rules like ballast from a runaway balloon. It goes beyond that. I have a sort of personal rule that I like to play games as they are meant. Now clearly thats not 'rules as written' (members of my gaming group reading this can stop sniggering now) but rather that I like to play them in the manner they were meant to be played. So, for example, if I'm playing Buffy, I play Buffy. If I'm playing Hot War, then I play Hot War. I don't have time to be modding games and making rules tweaks and such. Indeed, I barely have time to consider setting! I need something that I can play, as it is bought.

However, and this may well seem contradictory, I also take inspiration from Andrew's tweaking of 4e D&D and the way we have consciously bolted-on the bits of game 'best practice' that we really enjoy. Taking that concept, I could take just about any system and include our package of prefered gaming practices and *boom* its done. That wouldn't be modding - its more moulding.

Of course, the true balancing factor in all of this is time. Something I have none of at the moment. Which sucks.

Anyway, pondering - I'm doing a lot of it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dead as a DDO?

I am a sucker for free.

Dungeons and Dragons Online, the (dare I say it) 'failed' MMO based on the worlds most popular roleplaying game has now been released on free-to-play. Most things I have read have agreed that this is a pretty bold move but definitely one thats worth a look. So I did!

I downloaded the high end graphics version which my PC can handle with some momentary stuttering occassionally. Graphics are on a par with WAR but work nicely enough. They share the same sort of engine as LOTRO including the minute icons (although that might be a product of my 1680x1050 screen!). Movement is WASD and combat is point and click with movement being important as well. The system is pretty hardwired D&D3e with a spell pool system, so naturally I created a dwarf cleric. One nice touch was that the game flagged up which classes were good for soloing and which were not.

The opening is reminiscent of AoC - you are shipwrecked and meet with some strangers and go on a mission. However, this is where the game changes substantially from the standard MMO make-up. There are tricks and traps that have to be negotiated - the game handholds you through the first ones (which are like 'find a key') but later you have to do logic puzzles, a number of 'pipedream' style ones including one in 3-d which took this bear-of-small-head a while and dodge actual traps!

The downside of the game as I saw it was a lack of real levelling content that obviously springs out to you during the start of the game. The quest-givers don't show easily on the map so you have to hunt them down. You can repeat quests to grind some XP which isn't as bad as it sounds. The 'Protect the Crystal' quest, for example, is a 3 minute 15 mob gauntlet that I completed in solo and normal modes but couldn't do in hard. Shucks! Oh yes, the instanced quests are graded in difficulty. Nice touch. And another nice touch is that as you progress through the dungeons, the dislocated voice of the 'Dungeon Master' describes what is happening in a nice voiceover.

"You enter a dank sewer, stinking of fetid refuse. You hear the scittering sound of animals ahead of you and an unearthly low moaning from deeper in the sewer."

And then I ventured out of the village and I was in the wonderful world of Guild Wars again. Personal wilderness instance, loads of dungeoned content which was great fun and lots of exploration achievement-style targets to keep you looking. I'm stuck at a camp with a gnarly trader at the moment.

Its no WoW-killer - I'm not seeing the same depth of involvement there and I am sure that there will be a point where not spending £££ on 'Turbine Points' to get the special items and skill-ups will be killer, but as a FREE game, its pretty awesome.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Calorific Deficit Continues...

Well, three weeks into this lifestyle change malarky, the weight loss is from 167kg to 159kg. Thats my first, very small, 5% target reached.

I have to say, this has been far easier than I expected. Its a three-pronged attack.

1. Eat less
2. Do exercise
3. Eat better

Eating less has been a revelation. The amount I would get through on an average day prior to this change was staggering, in retrospect. For example - four slices of cheese and onion of toast with a pint of milk for breakfast, four scrambled eggs with cheese and more toast for lunch, a fully fledged hot meal in the evening, with almost no vegetables. Add to that a 2l bottle of pop, crisps, chocolate and other nibbles throughout the day, plus 'cleaning up' plates from the rest of the house. One or two takeaways a week as well. It was a phenomenal amount of food.

Now, yesterday, I had two slice of wholegrain toast, a ham salad half panini (with about 80% salad), a banana and some spicy cous cous rammed with yet more vegetables and a little chicken. And I wasn't hungry.

That reflects the 'eat better' part as well. Gone are the fried foods, the takeaways, the sweets, the nibbles, the 'cheese with everything' dressing to meals, the extra little meals between meals (where by little, I mean substantial), the tubs of ice cream - you get the idea? They have been replaced by smaller portions, much more veg (OK, I'll be honest - any veg would have been mathematically more than no veg at all, but this is like half a plate of veg!), low GI carbs and MUCH less cheese.

The final bit - the exercise - has been the easiest of all. God bless my local NHS clinic-gym-thingy where I can turn up whenever I want and do my little routine. 15 minutes on the bike, 15 minutes on the treadmill and 10 minutes on the rowing machine. Its easy, convenient and hits exactly the point between 'exercise' and 'painful knee'. In fact, I've been a lot more supple and flexible since I started which has been fantastic!

I have both a dietician and exercise review in three weeks time. I'm quite looking forward to it - considering I was 'surrendering' to the doctor, the peace has had some remarkable dividends!