Gaming

Weird Twist of Fate at the Game Store

Had to drop off the Honda Fit for service near Southpoint. When I was done, I took a detour up to the SciFi Genre game store in Durham, my favorite local place to pick up boardgames and the like. I wandered around for a bit, when I came to the “Discount Shelf Area”. There, for the marked down price of one single dollar, was my favorite Japanese tabletop RPG: Doublecross (2nd edtition), in perfect condition. Even the “Scene Player” card and survey form was intact. I asked the employee when I bought it what the deal was, but while he was aware of it (“I was waiting to see who would pick that up!”), he had no idea how it got there.

Now it’s mine. That’s fate kicking me in the pants, saying “Finish up Tenra, then run a Doublecross campaign for your friends.”

Random Wednesday Thoughts:

* Moved all my investing/Scottrade cash over to OptionsFirst (“options.scottrade.com”), and have begun experimenting with various option platforms. Currently have a few contracts of CREE, Jan 2011 expiry, a call with a strike of 30. Next, from now until then, I plan to lease it out by making covered calls against it. We’ll see how that does. It’s definitely interesting to make the same amount of money with only a fraction of the overhead of owning the stock in full.

* P90X: Day 3. Tightness kicking in. Totally wiped out after the *warmups* for Plyometrics, but it’s solid. And amazingly enough, it’s pretty fun too. I didn’t expect the fun part…

* PS3: Picked up Riddick: Dark Athena and God of War III. GoW is… well, not surprising at all. But the graphics are really, REALLY pretty, plus the reconceptualization of the Greek Gods is pretty cool.

* Currently reading “Gakuen Kakumei-den Mitsurugi” (“Mitsurugi: Tale of the School Revolution”). It’s probably my current favorite comedy manga (Saint Niisan in a close second place), I’m really enjoying the mini stories. If you read Japanese and dig surreal/human comedy (not so much slapstick, but watching twisted people make bad decisions over and over), I highly recommend this series. Plus, the art is gorgeous.

* So, aside from getting in shape, I’m also (stupidly enough) also getting better at making Parisian Macarons. I bought the “I Love Macarons” book from Amazon that I originally borrowed at the library, which started my descent into this party frenzy. I already have ideas of what to do for my next batch: Basically strong vanilla/vanilla-bean macaron shell, and buttercream in several flavors including Grand Mariner Orange, Vanilla, Matcha, and Ligonberry. While at the same time being careful not to eat too many, as I’m simultaneously dieting/exercising. This kinda feels like Greek Hell, but far more delicious.

Brief: Stockplay! Gaming! And Writing!

Praxis: Back in the saddle on writing: Did two pages of translation last night, it felt plain good.

Gaming/Japanese Translation: Shinobigami: Wow, whatta game. I’m only about 20% understanding how it works based on the replays and rules text (for me it’s got a high time vs return rate than other recent books, still it’s not that long so its just a matter of time). I like how fights end the first time anyone takes damage. I also like the

Gaming: Owl Hoot Trail: The simplicity of the classes (hearkening back to Red Box Hack) and system, plus the anachronism of the setting, kept things really interesting. I loved diving into character without keeping track of Angst points and Innuendo Scenes.

Gaming: PS3: Just Cause 2 and Resonance of Fate are on their way from Amazon now. Not a lot of time to dedicate to either right now (they’ll mostly keep me busy during summer downtimes). But after playing the JC2 demo about 20 times, I figured it’s prudent to get the real deal.

Fitness: Wow. So not in shape, and not even due to all that gaming stuff above: Mostly poor meal choices at work and being sick/lethargic. Spring is now kicking my butt, though, so I’ve been doing more. Just need to do more MORE.

Stocks/Options/Other: So a bit ago I talked briefly about the option types I was playing around with: Namely diagonal spreads (avg goal: 10% gain/month) and riskier vertical spreads (avg goal: 20% gain/month, with spikes up to 35%). I forgot to mention that I fell in with the new wonky-trade branch of Scottrade, “Options First” (options.scottrade.com). What’s cool about this site is that like some other sites, you can create an account, put no “real” money in it (or associate it with any real money accounts), and simply practice your trades with “play money” for some time to become familiar with the system. I started last month with $10,000 in “play money”, and now have $11,500. %15 in one month, pretty nice! (this was from a one year/two month diagonal against APOL, and a two-month vertical against CREE) These are slightly riskier than owning stock and putting options against it, or making put/call orders when real stock is on the line, which basically means “I need to check my account for about 1-2 minutes every day or two”.

But otherwise, I’m liking what I see here. Unless the market totally crashes and we star buying up shotgun shells and dog food, I figure that I can maintain a zero-tau against my mortgage, house utilities and food with a starting pool of $20k… just need to get to that level first.

Orie: Kicking ass and taking names at CCCC. She’s near the top of her class at one of the hardest veterinary tech programs in the country, and she doesn’t even speak English as her first language. CCCC is a kind of mixed bag: They want to be taken seriously, but they try too hard. A lot of the professors just plain suck at teaching, handing out “busywork” as assignments. Still, Orie’s mauling the program like a wild animal.

Interesting story: So, while she’s kicking ass, she’s putting a lot of extra effort in due to the language issue. When she was in the registrar’s office, she mentioned to the admissions advisor something like that, like “Sometimes it’s really hard though: I bet I’m the first international student you’ve ever had here in your vet tech program.” The registrar/admissions advisor said, “Oh, no, not at all! We’ve actually had three international students go through the program, yessiree! Two of them were from England, and one was from Australia…”

Orie couldn’t think of anything to say in reply.

Tuesday Thoughts

Exercise: Haven’t been to the gym but once in the last week.  Need to change that. When I go to the gym, I’m motivated to do more, make more gains, eat less bullshit, keep on the game. Got caught up in a cycle at work where I was tired, so I didn’t go to the gym, so I ate crap, and became tired, so I didn’t go to the gym… Going again tonight. Even a few minutes makes a huge difference.

BIG-XX this Fall: Looking forward to it. I didn’t go to my high school(s) reunions, college reunions, but damn I won’t miss my social group’s reunion. I hear the campus has changed a lot, will have to see that with my own head-orbs…

Spring is Here: I can tell because I have a sore throat and my nose won’t stop running.

Investing: The next game is getting an account at options.scottrade.com, and start applying what I’ve been learning about Diagonal and Vertical Spreads. Low-risk calls making 10-25% a month? (30% if I’m more aggressive, risky?) Yes, please. I turned $2500 into $10,000+ last year as a hobby/messing around, I wonder what I can do this year starting with that 10k… Only problem is that these take more research and control than regular options trades, so I have to be that much more careful.

Gaming: Been a slow month. Haven’t done actual role-playing games in a few weeks, as my main group has been between campaigns, playing Rock Band, boardgames and the like. Tomorrow we start up with Mouseguard, and will go from there…

Robot Unicorn Attack is far more fun that it should be at a glance. Very addictive. Also, Erasure. Woah.

The Wii Life, Monday thoughts

*Thanks to Mark C, been a busy beaver. Well, an unbusy beaver with things I should be working on, but busy with leisure:

** Fatal Frame 4: CLEARED. This game is not coming out into English because Nintendo is stupid: They are forcing TECMO to implement some sort of changes or bugfixes that TECMO doesn’t have the money to do, and thus everyone loses. And yet, while the game was overall pretty ok (gameplay) to great (story), it could be that Nintendo is protecting western audiences from the MOST ANNOYING BOSS BATTLE IN YEARS.

** Oboro Muramasa: The Demon Blade: Cleared 3 of 6 endings, watched the other three on Youtube. Incredible game. If you’re learning Japanese, this game is basically Level 10 of your learning cycle. It is endless awesome of middle-ages spoken royal grammar, with both keigo and low speech cranked up to “11″, and tooooons of references to classic Buddhist references: Various Boddhisotvas (Acala/Fudoh-Myou-oh? Shinra-Bansho/The Universe? Sweet). It’s 3 kin of Japanese culture in a 380 monme bag.

** Fragile/Goodbye Ruins of the Moon: I mentioned before that this is like a Feelgood Anime Fallout 3. Gotta revise that: It is better described as “Sorrow and Loneliness: The Roleplaying Game”. If you like unique experiences in console games, you GOTTA check this game out. Admittedly, there’s some boring bits with long empty hallways,  and the inventory system is a little shady at times in the length of menu switch times, etc.  But overall: Holy crap, got choked up a few times.

Why? We don’t know what the incident is, the game doesn’t talk about it at all and is likely not to. But at some point most of humanity dies, billions and billions of people. And the thing is, they all knew it was coming and had time to prepare themselves. So you encounter these artifacts, toys and books and items and stuff, and when you pick them up you hear the story of their owners: Abstract pictures appear while the narrator tells a small story:

- A wedding ring. A father in law talks to his daughter in law, welcoming her into their family. Later, you find another item where it’s the father in law railing about the sorrow that his son and new daughter will never have a chance.

- A dog collar. The dog narrates, licking his master’s face as he cries.

- A school class picture, and a kid laments that he loves those school days, and is afraid of dying alone.

It’s a very similar overall theme to Fallout 3, but man the emotional punch this game packs is both brutal and exhilarating, far more than Fallout. It’s hard to reconcile that with the fact that the game looks and feels so anime sickly-sweet.

Anyway, I count it as a *must-play*. If you’re into light console RPGs. And gut-punching sorrow.

Japanese Fantasy RPGs, A Brief History of Disappointment

So I’m aiming to at one point run a medium-length Dungeons and Dragons 3/3.5e game set in a fantasical asian-themed setting using the excellent E6 hack (max character level = 6) by Ryan S. To that end, I picked up the Rokugan sourcebook for about $2 at some sale or other, and recently finally acquired the Oriental Adventures handbook for 3e as well.

I earlier ran a modified Legend of the Five Rings game, removing some aspects of the setting I didn’t like, and adding others in (namely religion, and names that don’t sound dumb). It worked ok, but since it was based on L5R’s d10-pool system, combat had no real tactical crunch: It all comes down to “roll some dice, look for “10s”; if you don’t have at least one 10, you fail (as all the PCs were “from the Crab clan”, they have these outrageous armor bonuses and the like).

So I thought about using D&D 4e: Soon in the PHB3 there will be Samurai and “Oriental” (yeah, I said it because I mean it) classes and rules hacks (“Ki!”) and the like. However, my experiences with 4e have been mixed between “better than OK” to “man, combat is *awesome*, but anything that isn’t combat feels contrived and silly”. I’m still gonna get Dark Sun when it’s released, and it’s idea of Kit-style “bolt-on/template classes” is exactly what I think a “Samurai” or “Ninja” needs to be. But honestly, core 4e supports orientalized-Japan pretty well: Tough warriors, samurai, mountain bushi are Fighters. Glamorous or skilled swordsmen are Rangers (with 2-weapon style, but simply have them fight with one katana simply making 2 attacks with it). Ninjas are Rogues. Taoist Sorcerers (Onmyoji) can be Wizards, Sorcerers or Warlocks depending on how you describe your character. And so on.

Anyway, since I’ve had a lot of luck running and playing 3e with the E6 hack, I figured I’d take a stab at buying the 3e Oriental Adventures/Rokugan material, and hacking it into something that I think could be some awesome Japanese-themed fantasy.

So I was reading through it last night, and man while I still think the core conceits of the Rokugan/L5R setting are pretty cool, there’s still a lot of just plain can’t-get-around-it *stinky* in there. I can’t work with this stuff. A lot of OA is recycled crap from 1st edition that didn’t work then.

Anyway, It started my mind chugging along, though. A hack. Oh yes, a hack. Possibly D&D 3.5e with some modifications, ruleswise. But more importantly, a setting hack: Something that feels a bit historic, a lot fantastic, builds off of core Japan/Chinese myth but evolves it as well.

The main inspirations for this direction were the anime 12 Kingdoms (classical Chinese monsters, basically giant normal animals, made scary; plus, all that culture); the Wii video game I’m playing now called Oboro Muramasa, which incidentally is awesome; and elements that rang true from my last L5R campaign. There’s definitely some Tenra Bansho Zero influence in there (it’s hard to distinguish anymore which parts of my inspiration were lifted from TBZ and which ones weren’t), but I was thinking something that was more fantastical, less extreme…

This is a project which I’ll engage in after TBZ is done from my end, but I’ve come up with a foundation and guidelines:

* Genuine setting material, complete with unique lands and people.

* No “non-human” characters, or at least very few (“spirit folk” would be about it).

* Rules for combat: 3e/4e/burning wheel-style tactics, not L5R style “stand toe to toe, roll a bunch of dice and get high numbers until the other guy falls over”

* Rules for social stuff: Unknown.

* Rules for CULTURE. This was a point of inspiration last night. GUMSHOE/Trail of Cthulhu style culture skills (instead of investigation skills); including things like Calligraphy, tea ceremony, painting, haiku/composition, music/instrument, yuujyou/makura-jutsu/”pillow arts”, buddhist/sutra lore, shinto lore, cooking, war history, craftsmanship, and so on. Every adventure would involve one or more of the above, and when the appropriate culture element came up, the person with that skill on their sheet (every member of the group would have at least one of these in a small amount) would step forward and strut their stuff, getting the clue, talking to the lord (“Oh, your tea ceremony style is unconventional! Please, show me again how you do that…”), and so on. While seeming to require its own system, this hack can easily be grafted into classic 3e/4e.

* Monsters: Monsters are cool and fun to hunt and defeat. Unfortunately, every attempt at western RPGs bringing in Japanese-themed monsters has failed IMO. Either they use stuff that doesn’t make sense (Rakshasa), or they use stuff straight out of the Japanese lore-book: Which might have been scary 300 years ago, but by our modern standards sounds lame or dumb (“a woman with a LONG NECK, OH SHIT!!!” “a WALL SEGMENT that is REALLY REALLY WET!!!” “An umbrella, but it’s one one eye and one leg and it hops around!!!” “A wooden wheel, on fire, with a mouth on it OMG!”). Every game I’ve seen, from D&D to Sengoku to L5R has basically taken these monsters, kept them as-is, and stapled hit points on them. I thought for a time that there was nothing to be done about this, but Awesome Video Games proved that wrong:

- Ookami re-invents classical monsters in a really stylized, cool form.

- Oboro Muramasa does the same, and on top of that it also creates a new type of monster that both pulls from classical mythology but layers modern sensibilities on top of it. THIS was the true visual inspiration that told me “This can be done: It is possible to create new monsters for a Japanese-themed fantasy game, keep them rooted in the classical mythology, but reinvent them so that they are scary and cool and not just archaic and lame-sounding.” For example:

Anyway, just some thoughts that were rolling around in my head. I’ll be digging deeper once TBZ is done. Likely this will turn into an open setting project compatible with any game, with stats for a few.

-Andy

Checking out the Wii…

So, Mark C  lent me his Wii for a bit, with a big pile o games to check out. Here’s some quick impressions of some games I’ve been playing with:

Fragile: Imagine this: Someone wants to make a Japanese version of Fallout 3 into a heartwarming anime-like experience. As weird as that sounds, that’s exactly what Fragile feels like. It’s creepy as hell, Tokyo is in shattered ruins, but you help ghosts find the afterlife in a heartwarming way (but the lead up to them screams “they died horribly, in terrible sadness and pain”). It’s very weird, and extremely cool thus far.

Zero (aka Fatal Frame) 4: OK, I’m hooked. Unfortunately, they couldn’t design a Wii interface for crap: It uses nothing at all “Wii-like”: The Motion Controller only registers “up and down”. So when you look around or use your camera, you have to use the nunchuk to steer left and right, and the motion controller to do up and down. They really should have just included a PS2 controller, because that’s all it is just split up over the Wii. Story so far is good, and sufficiently creepy.

Silent Hill – Shattered Memories: I like what they’re trying to do, but the run-away scenes involve too much waggling. I’ll probably pick it up on sale on the PS2 (where, to throw a dude off your back, you have to “press one button”).

Oboro Muramasa: Hot damn. HOT DAMN. Why didn’t they make this a cross-platform game? It doesn’t even use the Wii motion stuff at all… I totally would have paid $50 for this on the PS3. Bastards.

Imabikisou: Interesting use of the “audio novel” (basically a long-form choose-your-own-adventure kind of text game, with pictures and some fragments of animation): Lots of text, head kinda hurts. Makes me want to play 428 even more (will probably import for the PS3).

Camp Nerdly. Got your planner and pencil? Good.

Not an official call to arms or anything, just a joyous celebration that we got the first weekend we requested. Kudos to Mark Causey for pulling it off.

Prince William Forest Park, outside of DC (where it is each year).

May 21-23, 2010.

Much more discussion will happen on it later on message boards, the Camp Nerdly site, etc. For now, just know that we’ve got some solid dates!