by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Gaming”

Lessons I Have Learned From Playing Lego Batman

Posted 21 October 2008 in by Catriona

Lego Star Wars taught me many valuable lessons about preventing an evil galactic empire from taking over the universe, by blowing things up and constructing useful objects out of Lego.

I’m still waiting to put these lessons into practice.

But Lego Batman has taught me equally valuable, though slightly different, lessons about alternately protecting Gotham’s streets and menacing them when you are, in both cases, made out of plastic bricks that fall apart under pressure.

1. Batman is terribly serious: he has a little frown on what you can see of his face under his mask and he leans forwards when he runs to make the running seem more serious. (It’s hilarious to have serious-running Batman and waddling Penguin on the one screen.)

This intense seriousness makes it much more fun to take Batman into the Botanic Gardens level and spend a happy five minutes kicking Lego flowers to pieces.

Nothing beats watching a superhero very seriously kicking flowers.

2. I just don’t understand Harley Quinn.

I see the name popping up often enough online to assume she’s a fairly popular character, but the whole notion freaks me out.

She falls in love with the Joker almost instantly? He keeps abusing her, almost killing her on more than one occasion? He decides at one point that “it would be better if she were disfigured”? She believes that the Joker constantly reinvents his personality but argues that his affection for her is the sole constant?

Man, that’s messed up.

However, she does have a giant hammer with which she smashes things. That does go some way towards ameliorating my concerns about playing the character.

(It’s still messed up, though.)

3. Apparently, in Gotham, when your companion rapidly changes their clothes (and, sometimes, their personality) the entire world becomes temporarily fuzzy, often causing you to fall off a building.

At least, that’s what happens to my console when the computer-controlled player changes from one character to another, and I assume it’s an accurate representation of how the laws of physics operate in Gotham City.

4. Part of the fun of being a superhero is having a sidekick. If watching the live-action version of The Tick taught me anything, it’s that sidekicks should be enjoyed, exploited, and ostracised.

(I’m fairly certain that was the lesson I was supposed to take away from that show.)

But the computer-controlled characters don’t understand this, and keep shifting into Catwoman, when I want to play as Catwoman. Surely they must see that two Catwomen just leads to confusion.

They do this regardless of which character I’m playing, but it only annoys me when I’m Catwoman.

5. I don’t know who Clayface is, but I would imagine that being some kind of soil-based being who dissolves in water would be inconvenient.

6. Lego Joker is, if anything, even creepier than actual Joker. I don’t know why. Perhaps because his expression never moves—and neither does his hair? Perhaps because he’s the only villain you don’t get to actively defeat? Perhaps because at one point in the game he runs over his own girlfriend with a roller-coaster car?

I think it might be the last one.

7. I know Batman is a vigilante and often performs morally suspect actions, but I still suspect that smacking henchmen around until they explode into their constituent parts is crossing some sort of line.

8. The game is called Lego Batman, true.

And Batman is one of the great heroes of the comic-book realm, true.

But if he continues to get in my way when I’m trying to execute a tricky jump, I’m going to continue to shoot him.

9. Gotham has confusing architecture. It’s even more confusing when you’re flying through the skyscrapers in the Batwing. That’s why I keep hitting buildings and water towers, then exploding.

It’s absolutely because of the confusing architecture.

Not at all because I’m a rubbish flyer and keep getting lost.

I'm the Goddamn (Lego) Batman! (And I'm Adorable)

Posted 19 October 2008 in by Catriona

Why, yes, I have been playing Lego Batman.

I was certainly intending to spend the day putting my house into something resembling order, but, in my own defense, that was before I fell down the back steps trying to get to the washing machine.

Now I have an ankle that more closely resembles a water balloon than a human appendage, and don’t really feel like cleaning the house.

(I’m also really not looking forward to trotting across the Great Court on this tomorrow morning, standing for an hour giving a lecture, and trotting back across the Great Court for the first of three tutorials. But, firstly, I don’t have a choice so there’s no point whinging and, secondly, it may have gone down by tomorrow.)

It did make a great excuse for lying around playing Lego Batman, though.

And it’s true—I am adorable. Well, Lego Batman is adorable. He has a stern expression and leans forward when he’s running for extra speed. And I’m sure everyone can imagine how adorable a Lego version of Batman running intensely is.

The game still has the same frustrations as the earlier Lego games had; as the Kotaku review points out, the developers don’t seem to have worked out the glitches in the engine—such as falling through scenery or becoming stuck behind something with no way of getting out or, in extreme cases, killing yourself and rematerialising elsewhere—and the camera angles still make it difficult to negotiate jumps.

I also have trouble—though I suspect this is simply my problem—with negotiating Batman’s glide suit; I don’t seem to be able to get enough height, and keep hitting walls. I was also driven frantic by a scene where I negotiated (at great expense—I think I died fifteen times, costing me True Villain status) a series of rolling lasers, only to find I’d gone through them with the wrong damn character and had to go back through twice (once to pick up the correct character, stuck on the far side of the lasers, and once to reach the correct side) in order to open the next door.

Stupid lasers.

But those are fairly minor quibbles. As is Kotaku’s other main complaint: that the game is something of a cakewalk. It is—but I don’t mind. The blog may suggest I spend most of my spare time playing video games, but that doesn’t mean I’m any good at them. I was surprised by how readily I was getting through the levels here, but I don’t object.

Why would I? I’m Lego Batman!

I have batarangs, which I use to hit targets and open doors.

I can change between glide suits, which allow me to negotiate gaps greater than my jumping distance; demolition suits, which allow me to blow stuff up; and suits that allow me to walk through freezing gas. (If I’m playing as Robin, I have two suits: one that’s magnetised and allows me to walk vertically up metal walls and one that allows me to walk safely across toxic sludge.)

I have a Batmobile. A Batmobile made out of Lego. (The best kind of Batmobile.)

And once I’ve worked my way through a level as Batman, I can go through a secret door in the Batcave into Arkham Asylum (let’s just skip over what a ridiculous idea it would be to have a door running directly between Arkham Asylum and Batman’s secret headquarters) and play a slightly different version of the level as The Riddler. Or Two-Face. Or The Penguin, Catwoman, or The Joker.

I have neither the inclination nor the ability to actually set myself up as a Batman-style vigilante.

But then why would I need to? I imagine it would be a dangerous, uncomfortable, and frequently cold or damp kind of lifestyle.

At least this way when I cop The Riddler’s question mark-shaped stick to the head, I just rematerialise slightly further down the street.

Goodbye, Packrat

Posted 17 October 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy Packrat. In fact, I suspect that half this blog’s content derives from my becoming obsessed with some game and then writing endless posts on the subject.

But I think I may have just hit the point of no return in Packrat. And I suspect I’m not the only one.

Because the developers have just launched a new version of Packrat, which runs counter to the game we’ve been playing all year.

To play Packrat, you collect various cards in a themed set, combine some of them to make new cards, scour the sets of friends and the computer-controlled rats to find rare pop-up cards, and then vault all the cards in the set to complete it and obtain a themed “Feat of Wonder” card.

All well and good.

Then frustrations began to creep in. Originally, pop-ups were essentially stand-alone cards: you didn’t use them to make higher-value cards, just vaulted them on their own. So when you couldn’t find them, you couldn’t complete an entire set: frustrating, but, since it was only one card out of fifteen or twenty, not enough to bring the game to a grinding halt.

Then they started producing sets that were dependent on pop-ups: you couldn’t make the higher-value cards without them. When they started this, with the Quest for Montezuma collection, it was fair enough, because they warned us in advance that it was an unusually difficult set.

But then it became the norm: all the sets relied on pop-ups for completion.

And pop-ups aren’t distributed equally: half of the discussion forum posts were people complaining that they weren’t getting pop-ups, while other, smugger players were responding, “Really? I found fifteen of those cards in half an hour this morning. Have you tried navigating through the packs backwards?”

That was frustrating enough.

Then a set came in where the higher-value cards were not only dependent on pop-ups, but didn’t increase in value. Normally, if you combined three 1000-point cards, your resultant cards would be worth 5000 points or 7000 points—something greater than the sum of its parts, anyway. Not for this set: at one point, a 10,000-point card, a 7500-point card, and a 750-point card combined to make another 10,000-point card, which made you wonder what you were doing.

But the new version introduces a number of frustrating ideas.

Normally, you have fifteen spaces for cards in your pack. Once your pack is full, you’re stuck until you can swap something out and vault a set. This made creating some of the more card-intensive high-value cards extremely tricky.

Now we have ten spaces, which makes creating some of the card-intensive cards impossible, especially in Quest for Montezuma.

Pop-ups have been replaced with “bonus draw” cards, which doesn’t seem like a radical shift—except that pop-ups used to appear face-up. You knew exactly which card you were getting, and could choose not to pick it up if you didn’t need it or were approaching a full pack. But bonus draw cards appear face down; it’s pot luck which one you actually get when you select bonus draw.

But the most controversial addition is the tickets.

You used to buy cards from markets for credits, which popped up randomly as you moved through the game. That’s still possible.

But now we have three special markets, in which you need tickets. And tickets are bought for $10 U.S. per 100. This is the move that’s causing people to threaten to leave the game in droves.

The intention, allegedly, is to allow people to buy retired and rare cards. Pirate ships from the original High Seas Rivalry set, for example, have always been in great demand. Now you can buy them in the markets.

For 500 tickets.

That’s $50 U.S.

In the current climate (as people on the discussion boards keep saying), that’s a foolhardy move. But so far, no real harm: these are retired sets, not sets in current play. So you could simply ignore the ticket-only markets and move on.

But you can’t.

Because a fair number of cards for new sets are also only available in the ticket-only markets, including cards that were previously available for credits in the ordinary markets.

Take a look, for example, at the cards needed to complete the new Valley of the Kings set at the Packrat Wiki.

To complete the set, you need six Great Pyramids, both to vault on its own and to make three separate cards. But the Great Pyramid is only available to purchase via tickets: at 50 tickets each, this set is going to cost players $30 U. S.

And that’s just for the Pyramids. Throw in King Tut’s Mask, and you have another $20 U. S. And they haven’t revealed how much the Sarcophagus and Head of Anubis might cost us.

That may not seem like a great deal of money, but I’m not convinced that this is the cleverest move on the part of the developers.

I’m sure the game costs them an enormous amount of money to develop and run. But they did launch it on Facebook. To take it from a free game to an expensive game on a site such as Facebook seems counter productive.

And it is expensive, comparatively. I’m currently wondering whether Lego Batman is within my budget, at around $70 Australian for the Nintendo DS version. And that’s a one-off payment for a game that I can play whenever I like. Packrat fees, on the other hand, look to be an ongoing issue.

Sure, the developers claim that you can continue to play the game without paying money for cards. But their claim is vague:

“Items on sale for Tickets can be obtained in other ways for free. You’ll likely have to exercise a little patience, cunning or ingenuity. Even if you’re unable to spend a dime on PackRat, you should still be able to complete collections and earn your Feats.”

Best as I can tell, this can only mean that you may, with luck, find cards that others have spent tickets on floating among the rats’ packs. Perhaps there are people public-spirited enough to spend $10, $15, or $50 on cards and then drop them into the rats’ packs for complete strangers to find, but it seems unlikely.

Perhaps it means that these cards will eventually shift from the ticket-only markets to the credit markets, but if that’s the case, there’s an ethical issue there that bothers me: such a model would take advantage of those desperate enough or impatient enough to pay, rather than making the game even for all players.

And they do have other options. Plenty of people on the forums have indicated a willingness to pay a flat monthly or annual fee. Pogo operates successfully on that model. And iTunes runs more than successfully on a system of micropayments, rather than the macropayments requested here. (And running it via micropayments would be better for the developers, since it reduces bank fees, apparently.)

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t be interested in micropayments, either. I will pay for games; I have a lovely set from Popcap Games, all of which I adore. But I’m not much interested in committing myself to a game that demands irregular payments of irregular amounts.

So I think this is it for me. I’ve enjoyed Packrat, but this new model is not for me.

And I suspect it won’t be for many other people, either.

Horrible Things I Have Seen And Done In Lego Star Wars

Posted 16 October 2008 in by Catriona

I frequently play Lego Star Wars as Darth Vader, because the Dark Side is way cooler. (It blows stuff up. When you use the ordinary Force—does it have a special name? I can’t recall—lights turn on, or plants glow a little and then dispense coins. But when you use the Dark Side, things blow up. Who doesn’t want to blow things up?)

However, I’m wondering if this is why I’m suddenly doing horrible things. And having horrible things done to me.

Of course, it could be that the game is a little mean spirited.

But I do love writing lists.

1. This is actually the event that inspired the post. I was working my way through the annoying arena scene in Attack of the Clones—you remember the one: they’d finally put Padme in sensible clothing, for the only time in all three films, and then a sabre-toothed tiger tore off the bottom half of her top. But naturally! The character is called “Padme (Clawed)” in the game, which always makes me giggle—when I came up against Jango Fett.

I’d almost beaten him, and he turned to run, but a battle droid grabbed him and threw him back into the battle.

I think that’s the coldest thing I’ve ever seen.

(Of course, it might have been a programming glitch. But where would the fun be in that?)

2. The event that annoyed me the most was this one, though. I’d had to shift from Vader to R2. Astromech droids can fly across bigger voids than the Jedi characters can jump. But they can only fly for short periods of time.

So I’d flown across, grabbed what I needed, and was flying back. I’d almost hit the edge when computer-controlled Vader, waiting on the brink, stepped across in front of me.

Deliberately.

I hit him and fell in the void. Fair enough: he’s computer controlled and not terribly bright.

Then he did it again.

Hmm. Of course, I’ve always been a little paranoid about the chances that the computer is conspiring against me and favouring its own characters. But, really, when computer-controlled characters behave like that, is paranoia really that . . . paranoid? (Wait, that doesn’t sound right at all.)

3. Even paranoia doesn’t justify my last action, though.

I put an Ewok down.

I didn’t really have a choice. Okay, I did. But he was really getting in my way and annoying me. So, I may have hit him with my light saber.

A little.

And in my own defense, he did rematerialise in a much less annoying position.

And I was playing as Vader. That would warp anyone’s moral code.

Lessons I Have Learned From Playing Lego Star Wars

Posted 7 October 2008 in by Catriona

1. Blowing up Star Destroyers is improbable, but fun.

2. Life in space comes complete with entirely irritating camera angles. This makes jumping in any environment or running along the edge of a platform on the Death Star fraught with danger.

3. There are many excellent reasons to spend all your money buying invulnerability (see point two). But the best reason is that when you’re playing as Bounty Hunter Leia, don’t quite get close enough to a lever to pull it down correctly, and instead drop a thermonuclear device, you don’t die.

Of course, that begs the question of who thought it would be unproblematic to have the actions “pull lever” and “drop thermonuclear device” controlled by the same button.

4. Ewoks run like girls.

I know, as a good feminist, I shouldn’t use phrases such as “run like a girl.” But it’s true: the female characters (which is to say, Leia) and the Ewoks have the same odd, splay-legged run, as though their knees flick out ninety degrees when they move.

I’m uncertain as to the significance of this, but I’m sure it can’t be good.

5. Girls are a bit rubbish.

Oh, sure, Leia has thermonuclear devices and can open bounty-hunter specific doors. That’s helpful. And if you play as Lando Calrissian and let Leia get too close to him, she’ll slap him in the face, which is frankly hilarious (if a little inconvenient when it happens in the middle of a battle).

But she’s not a great shot. And if you leave her standing around, she’ll put a hand on one hip, throw the other hip out, and stand there posing while stormtroopers try to kill you.

Of course, there aren’t any female Jedi characters, either, but I can’t blame the game for that—George Lucas doesn’t believe in female Jedis, either. (Oh, wait: there was that one in Revenge of the Sith, wasn’t there? The one who got cut down from behind without even having a chance to draw her lightsaber? Yep: I remember her.)

6. Nobody respects Darth Vader.

You’d think he’d be a force (ha! I crack myself up) to be feared throughout the galaxy. And at points, to get through stormtrooper-specific doors and to move objects that are only susceptible to the Dark Side, you have to play as Vader.

And the stormtroopers shoot at him.

The temptation to shout, “I am Darth Vader, your lord and master! Stop shooting me, you daft gits!” is overwhelming.

I think their helmets must affect their hearing, though, because they don’t stop.

7. Allies are more trouble than they’re worth. Really. They get in your way while you’re trying to kill stormtroopers (or when you’re jumping, and then you fall in a pit of lava and die, and there’s crankiness all round).

And then you catch them on the backswing with your lightsaber, and they die.

And, really, they deserve it for getting in the way. If they only stood behind me, it wouldn’t be a problem.

But . . .

Some of them make horrendous noises when they die. The Ewoks and R2D2 are particularly plaintive.

And who want to be the person who slices R2D2 into spare parts?

(Special Additional Lesson I Have Learned While Blogging About The Lessons I Have Learned Playing Lego Star Wars: when you microwave a cup of coffee, it doesn’t just make the coffee hot. It makes the cup hot, too. I feel this is a serious design flaw. Or, just possibly, my failure to realise this is a serious design flaw in me.)

8. Most spaceships have low ceilings, which makes it impossible to do the patented Jedi double jump then forward roll in mid-air.

This in turn negates any value in being a Jedi Knight, at all.

(Nick was showing me his barbarian character in Diablo yesterday, and pointing out how awesome the character was, since he can jump enormously high. “I can do that,” I said. “Plus, I have a lightsaber.”)

9. General Grievous really is a dreadful character. (A four-armed robot with four lightsabers? Gee, George Lucas, why not just give everybody lightsabers?)

Similarly, his level in Lego Star Wars is rubbish.

Possibly, I’m only saying that because it’s my least-successful level, even though it’s only one giant landing platform with some vague rocky landscaping around it. (And yet I can’t work all the way through it. It’s a blow to the ego, that’s for sure.)

But I prefer to blame it on Grievous. He’s no Jar Jar Binks, but still . . .

10. Few things on earth are quite as much fun as watching a Lego version of Darth Vader push boxes across checked surfaces. He really puts his little Lego back into it.

I make Vader do all the required box pushing.

He has to expiate his crimes somehow.

My Paladin Is Just as Immoral as My Elf, Alas

Posted 26 September 2008 in by Catriona

Have I posted too many pieces on Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures?

Actually, that was a rhetorical question.

I started an adventure this morning, thinking that keeping it running in the background would help me focus during my marking—the game requires little active involvement.

Of course, I then promptly forgot about it and have only just come back to it, to find this adventure:

Paks had never screamed as loud as he did when the floor dropped out from under him, dropping him directly into the middle of a large room full of orcs. The orcs had been squabbling and gambling, although Paks’s entrance seemed to get their attention.

Paks made a Charisma check with a difficulty of 13 . . . and rolled 18

Thinking quickly, Paks managed to convey (through a series of rapid fire gestures) that he was not, in fact, dinner, and was instead sent to be married to one of the local orc girls. The orcs thought this was a little strange, but Paks was charismatic enough that they went along with it. After the makeshift ceremony, Paks saw his chance and quickly escaped — with the wedding gifts.

Paks received 84 XP and 36 gold.

Paks, let’s just run this by you again. You’re a paladin. A holy warrior, dedicated to the service of your god. Also, you are carrying a Vorpal Greatsword, which adds +10 to your attack rolls.

But, just because you happened to fall through the floor and land in the middle of a group of orcs, what do you do?

You lie through your teeth.

You exploit your personal charm to support that out-and-out lie.

You actually go through with marrying a poor orc girl who never did anything to you.

And then you leg it with the wedding presents.

That’s fairly problematic, don’t you think?

(Also, orcs? 36 pieces of gold? As a wedding present? I can get more than that flogging my armour on the open market!)

My Elf's Adventuring Days Are Over

Posted 17 September 2008 in by Catriona

When your character reaches level eleven in Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures they face mandatory retirement. (Irritatingly, I didn’t even find out whether she’d succeeded in her last adventure.)

So Saeana’s adventuring days are over. Never again will she inappropriately seduce people in the middle of a fight scene, join a short line of adventurers waiting to enter a castle, or find herself inexplicably in the middle of a Robert Frost poem.

Of course, I have another adventurer, now: Paks, a Half-Elf Paladin. Paks is named after the only other paladin who came to mind: Paksennarion, from Elizabeth Moon’s The Deed of Paksennarion, who I really enjoyed as a character. Of course, Paks is a woman, but I figured that Paks really was a non-gendered name.

And the awesome thing about Paks is that I’m allowed to save one item of Saeana’s inventory to carry over to my new hero: I chose my Vorpal Greatsword. (I don’t know whether I should favour the Vorpal Greatsword because of “Jabberwocky” or because of the Homelands story arc in Fables. Maybe both.)

How could you turn down a Vorpal Greatsword? Saeana never used it, because it is a two-handed weapon, and I was addicted to the combination of my Phasing Short Sword and my Thundering Mace. But I couldn’t bring myself to sell it—and now my Paladin can wield it.

It also gives me a chance to be scornful, when he picks up the rewards suitable to a level one adventurer: “Battleaxe, huh? +1 to Attack? Ha!”

Paks seems to be settling in quite nicely, so far. Of course, he’s only midway through his third encounter, but he’s succeeded in everything he tried to date.

But I’m wondering if he’s going to behave the same way as Saeana did. I know paladins aren’t celibate figures like monks, but they are holy warriors.

I don’t think they should seduce halflings in hot-tubs.

I don’t think they should fight the palace guard in order to defend the succubus that they fancy.

I really don’t think they should seduce and then stab tiefling warlocks, no matter how desperate they are to prevent the coming apocalypse.

I don’t know that Paks is as susceptible as Saeana—but I’ll be keeping an eye on him. Sooner or later, I’m bound to come up with at least one adventurer who knows how to keep their mind on the job.

An Inside Joke for the D&D Crowd

Posted 5 September 2008 in by Catriona

I’m not normally a big fan of in-jokes on blogs, but I couldn’t resist this one:

Saeana entered a square room. Each stone tile in the floor was carved with an ancient symbol, and the walls were covered in murals depicting the rise of a great king. In the center of the room, on an ornate pedestal, sat a golden idol.

Saeana made an Intelligence check with a difficulty of 20 . . . and rolled 13

Saeana wove a deliberate path on the stone tiles to reach the pedestal. She grabbed the idol and raised it above her head in triumph. A grinding sound made her look down at the pedestal to see it slowly rising, no longer held down by the weight of the idol. A much louder grinding sound made Saeana look up again in time to see a giant boulder rolling into the room — and straight for her! Saeana was able to run, jump, and dive to safety, but not without accumulating some minor injuries along the way. Too bad the idol had been damaged in the commotion.

Saeana took 19 damage.

Apparently, the fault lies with me, not poor dead Gurdis.

Okay, Now I Love My Elf

Posted 5 September 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve been a little worried about my Elf, as my previous posts have shown. In fact, the most recent adventure threw up this encounter:

Saeana quickly realized the depths of Nyx’s insanity and decided to embrace his madness. Saeana fell on her knee, proclaimed her utter devotion to Nyx, and extolled his power, his handsomeness, and his brilliance. Nyx was delighted to find a soulmate in his quest for fiendish tyranny, and proclaimed Saeana his consort. Nyx’s moment of paradisal bliss was tragically cut short as Saeana plunged a dagger in his heart. Nyx looked at Saeana with surprise and sadness. “My love?” burbled from his lips before he died. Saeana destroyed the dimensional portal apparatus and ascended from the castle dungeon.

Knowing my Elf as I do, I’m naturally a little worried about exactly when during the proceedings she stabbed the insane Tiefling wizard.

But then I came across this encounter:

Saeana noticed a typical prince calling for help from the top of a very tall tower. Seeing no other route to the top, she started climbing up the cobblestone exterior. It was pretty easy going at first, but all that climbing got tiring after a while . . .

Saeana made a Constitution check with a difficulty of 19 . . . and rolled 12

Saeana was about halfway up, when the prince started shouting down additional demands that Saeana bring up food, water, hair products, and so forth. Saeana climbed back down ostensibly to get these supplies but, weighing the risk versus reward, just took off instead.

Sure, I actually failed the Constitution roll. I do that a lot: my equipment is all focused on Strength and Dexterity.

And I would probably be rewarded for reaching the top of the tower. (If I know my Elf, I would be rewarded afterwards.)

(Apparently, if you succeed in this adventure, you find that the prince has disturbingly small hands and feet, and have to throw him over your shoulder before climbing down. It’s a very odd game.)

But I’m still proud of my Elf for just sodding off. If reading Fables has taught me anything, it’s to never trust Prince Charming.

And, after all, my upbringing, if not my Elf’s, is best summed up by a conversation that I’ve never forgotten:

MY SISTER: Are you worried at all that Catriona and I aren’t married with children?
MY MOTHER: Well, I raised you girls to be feminists.
MY FATHER: What? Behind my back!

Finally, My Elf Gets Her Comeuppance

Posted 31 August 2008 in by Catriona

So, I’ve made the point a couple of times that my Elf Ranger will sleep with anyone whom she comes across in the course of her adventures.

I’ve been playing the “Tower of Darkness” adventure in the background while live-blogging “Forest of the Dead” and I’ve just succeeded in this encounter:

Saeana found an empty guest bedroom in the expansive castle. Exhausted from her travels, she decided to rest for a moment on the bed. She was awoken by a kiss from a handsome stranger.

Saeana made a Wisdom check with a difficulty of 18 . . . and rolled 24

Saeana smiled and rose from the bed to introduce herself, but her romantic encounter was cut short as castle guards burst into the room. They moved to take the man. It hissed, dropped its guise, and spread its wings. A succubus! For a moment, Saeana felt compelled to protect the impostor, but she quickly shook that off and helped the guards subdue it. The captain of the guard rewarded Saeana for her help in the matter.

Now do you see why I’ve been complaining about your behaviour, Saeana?

If you continue to sleep with every handsome stranger that you come across in your adventures, some of them might turn out to be soul-sucking succubi.

I suppose that this time she bothered to at least try to introduce herself first.

Okay, My Elf Actually Is A Tart

Posted 30 August 2008 in by Catriona

Tonight, Nick suggested we play less Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures and spend more time together.

I reluctantly agreed.

(The reluctance, I might add, had nothing to do with spending time with Nick and everything to do with wanting to level my Elf Ranger up to level 8.)

But first we compromised: I was allowed to finish my current adventure, Hidden Shrine of Nahautl.

And that’s when I came across this, my final encounter:

At the end of a sloped hallway was a poorly lit chamber. A few small windows let light in through partially occluded glass. Half the floor was a pool of water, the light playing across the rippling surface. A young man bathing in the pool noticed Saeana as she entered the room.

Okay, I thought to myself, I have a Thundering Mace and a Phasing Short Sword. One half-naked bloke in a pool isn’t going to be much of a challenge.

And, he wasn’t:

The man beckoned Saeana into the pool and, as he did so, it became quite apparent what might take place there between them. It was equally apparent that this man was using his charms to get the better of Saeana but she was going to turn the tables on this suave seducer.

Saeana made a Charisma check with a difficulty of 17 . . . and rolled 28

A battle of charms ensued, with winks, flirting, careful placement of hands, and whispered words. Saeana easily bested the charmer in this contest and came out of the situation with more treasure and better memories than she had gone in with.

Saeana obtained a suit of Plate Armor +2!

Seriously.

I want to make several points about this encounter.

1. I thought I was a serious adventurer. I didn’t realise that that meant getting my kit off at every given opportunity.

2. Saeana, you climbed into a pool with a complete stranger and only then did it become apparent “what might take place between you”?

You daft cow.

3. “Careful placement of hands”? As in, you’re afraid you might slip on the soap? If my Elf is going to sleep with everyone she comes across, at least make it sexy, WOTC.

4. “Better memories than she had gone in with”? Well, I thought the instance in which I seduced a halfing lad for a suit of armour was at least ambiguous. This one really doesn’t seem ambiguous at all.

5. There really is nothing that my Elf won’t do for armour, is there? And, once again, the treasure she’s obtained by sleeping with some random man encountered in the pursuit of adventure is a suit of armour that she can’t even wear.

Saeana, I must insist that if you’re going to sleep with people for treasure—instead of obtaining it in the old-fashioned way of bludgeoning your enemies—you at least ensure that it’s treasure you can use.

I refuse to seduce anyone else for the sake of sixty-three gold coins.

What Robert Frost Might Have Written Had He Played Dungeons and Dragons

Posted 29 August 2008 in by Catriona

Yes, I’m talking about Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures again.

But, seriously, this is hilarious:

Two elves were fighting in a yellow wood. Long Saeana stood, trying to determine which one of them was the bad guy.

Saeana tried to peer as far down into one’s soul as she could, then fairly chose the other whose expression was less worn. More telling, perhaps were the symbolic trinkets each wore. The first’s marked him as an agent of evil, while the second’s marked him as a follower of good. After helping defeat the evildoer, she and the good warrior lay in the leaves, sighing and telling tales of deeds they’d done, and roads they’d traveled.

(There was a wisdom roll in the middle, there, but I think you can tell how that went. I worry about my Elf, when she chooses who to kill on the strength of how “worn” their faces are, and only then thinks, “Also, that necklace made from the skulls of children? That might be a clue.”)

Are the people behind Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures enormous fans of Robert Frost? He is a dearly beloved poet, after all.

Or do they simply have too much time on their hands?

As for me, I don’t have too much time on my hands, but—well, you have to do something during your cigarette breaks, don’t you? (Something apart from smoking, that is.) And it’s been a while since I posted a dreadful poem on the blog.

The Elf Not Slaughtered

Two elves battled in a yellow wood,
And, sorry I could not battle both
And win the battle, long I stood
And checked my Wisdom roll (not so good),
Lurking awhile in the undergrowth.

Then killed the nearer, a fitter goal,
As having perhaps the better claim,
Assuming that darkness was in his soul.
(Though, since I failed my Wisdom roll,
The two seemed really about the same.)

The other and I together lay
In leaves my mace had made gory
We would perhaps fight another day!
For, knowing how way leads on to way,
Odds are I must replay this story.

I shall be telling this with a sigh,
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two elves battled in a wood, and I—
I slaughtered the evil one, aye,
But it didn’t make a difference.

Odd Things That Have Happened in Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures

Posted 28 August 2008 in by Catriona

1. I’ve just been hit in the chest with a golden cannonball. This is, in fact, why I started this post.

Who uses a golden cannonball? Isn’t that insanely expensive and also rather impractical? Or I am just cranky because I took six points of damage despite, and I think the word is warranted, absolutely pwning my Armour Class Check?

2. Slightly before that, I was hit on the head by a falling scythe after failing a Wisdom roll. Still, the man who dropped the scythe on me was more annoyed about the whole situation than I was:

Disapointed, Plurbius faded from view, mumbling “‘Oh, don’t worry Plurbius, we’ll have thirty scythes . . . and they’ll spin and shred . . . .’ Last time I use gnome contractors.”

So there is that.

3. I’m deliberately not re-mentioning the time I apparently seduced a Halfling. (Plus, aren’t they tiny? Like hobbit sized? It’s all very odd.)

4. I don’t think it’s good for my Ranger’s reputation to have to hide in a soot-filled chimney because she can’t overcome a few skeletons.

5. I once tried to climb a tree to rescue a family pet: none of the actual family could manage the climb. But then goblin raiders appeared, and I fell out of the tree on top of them. Not on purpose, of course. But, honestly: Elf and Ranger. You’d think I’d be slightly more sure-footed than that.

Of course, this was immediately after the encounter in which I slipped and fell while walking through the forest, poisoning myself with toadstool spores in the process.

What kind of Elf falls over in a forest? (Ooh, Zen.)

Maybe I just have a very clumsy Elf.

6. That’s not even including the time I waited in ambush for an orc lord, behind his throne, and fell asleep on the floor while waiting for his bodyguards to leave. That was just embarrassing.

7. There was also the time I tried to grab a vine to swing across a pit and completely missed. The more I look at these misadventures, the more I think that my Elf is a bit rubbish, actually.

It’s one thing to have sharp enough eyes to spot the pit and another to fall straight into it anyway.

Later in the same adventure, I was lured into a trap by the promise of treasure and fell straight through an illusory floor. Into a pit, obviously.

8. Of course, the stage was set for all of this during my first adventure, when I was not only shot in the leg by an Elf after failing my Charisma roll but was also bitten by an alligator.

More accurately, I experienced “an unpleasant sensation of being bitten in the thigh.” Is that opposed to the slightly less common pleasant sensation of being bitten in the thigh?

Actually, don’t answer that.

9. I once ended up as a king’s food-taster, despite the fact that the whole point of the adventure was to drag the self-proclaimed king back to the town in chains. Of course, the disadvantage of becoming a food-taster and then failing your Constitution roll is that you end up being poisoned.

They never did explain how the king found me, why he didn’t demand to know why a heavily armed complete stranger was strolling around his fort immediately after he’d announced his secession, or why I accepted the position of food taster in the first place.

10. By now, it’s probably no surprise that the time I decided to fix a dumbwaiter (Why? Why would I decide to do that in the middle of an attempt to track down an Undead Paladin?) I, in fact, slipped and fell down the shaft on top of it.

11. I also worry about my character’s morality. For example, the Undead Paladin adventure above ended with me escorting him back to town, where a priest freed his tormented soul and I nicked his armour.

(I couldn’t wear Bonegrim Armour, of course, but we’re all familiar now with the depths to which my character will sink for the sake of armour.)

But this aspect bothers Nick more than it bothers me. Whenever we’re both playing at the same time, I can hear him muttering things like “a Paladin would never try to rob a sleeping giant!”

I’m thoroughly enjoying the game, which has completely ousted Packrat from my affections (although, gods of Packrat, if you could see fit to send me a Great Wall of China pop-up card, I might stop sulking).

In fact, when my father-in-law came around for dinner tonight, I greeted him by shouting from another room, “I’ll be there in thirty-nine seconds! I just need to finish this encounter!” Rude? Possibly. But he’s known me for eight years by this stage.

(Then when I did finish the encounter, Nick was strangely annoyed at the outcome.
ME: I killed the metal dog.
NICK: I don’t think that’s anything to boast about.
ME: It wasn’t K9!)

But there’s a fine line between thoroughly enjoying a game and being slightly miffed when your easily distracted, accident-prone Elf Ranger cops a golden cannonball in the breastplate.

I Think My Elf Ranger is a Bit of a Tart; or, The Gender Politics of RPGs

Posted 27 August 2008 in by Catriona

I was happily running Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures in the background this morning while I was slogging through some donkey work, when I stumbled across the following encounter—or should I say “encounter” (nudge, nudge)—in the City Under the Streets adventure:

Saeana’s eyes widened as she entered a room to find a handsome halfling lad sitting dejectedly at a wooden desk. “I’m so bored,” he moaned.

Saeana made a Charisma check with a difficulty of 13 . . . and rolled 16

Saeana worked her magic (so to speak) on the halfling and a good time was had by all. As thanks for their new friendship, the halfling gave Saeana a gift.

Saeana received 88 XP.

Saeana obtained a suit of Eladrin Chain!

That’s . . . not right, surely? I mean, I may be reading this incorrectly, but it does look as though my character—in the middle of an adventure in which I’m supposed to be tracing the mysterious killer of city guards—stopped for a little dalliance with someone who, frankly, sounds underage and then accepted a costly gift (that she couldn’t even use, since she’s a Ranger).

I’m trying hard not to read this as a broader indictment of gender politics in role-playing games—and, frankly, it hasn’t stopped me playing the game.

But I’m fairly certain that the male characters aren’t offered the chance to “work their magic (so to speak) on the halfling.”

Of course, Nick hasn’t done this adventure, yet; if his male character has this encounter, I’ll eat my words.

But, as it stands, it’s reminding me of C. J. Cherryh’s shift to writing about giant cats on the grounds that at least her illustrator couldn’t put those on the cover in gold bikinis.

Hands Down, The Strangest Game on Facebook

Posted 26 August 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve rattled on at length about my Packrat obsession, I’ve written a dreadful poem about playing Pirates—I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m fond of the games applications on Facebook.

But they’re all paling into insignificance now that I’ve found the Facebook application for Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures.

I’m slightly fixated on Dungeons and Dragons at the moment anyway, since it’s the first time in a decade that I’ve done any real table-top RPGing—I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it.

But Dungeons and Dragons: Tiny Adventures is both curiously passive and oddly addictive.

It’s curiously passive because you don’t actually do much yourself: most of it’s taken care of for you by the gaming engine.

So you select your character class—Elf Ranger, of course—and then the game invests your choice of name with a pleasing sense of weighty importance, by insisting that once you’ve selected it, you cannot change it. The character’s name, it seems, is inviolate.

Then you pick an adventures from a short list . . . and that’s the last active thing you do for a while.

I’m currently halfway through “Curse of the Wolf Moon,” trying to “travel through Felltooth Wood to find the legendary Mirror Lake of Felltooth Mountain. There blessed wolfsbane grows in the spray of the Singing Falls”; it’s the only way to save the villagers!

But once you’ve selected an adventure, a ticker appears in the top left-hand corner, saying “Next event in 9:00 [or 7:53, or 3:57, or any of a random assortment of minutes and seconds].”

And you wait.

The time ticks down.

And then you can click a refresh button, and see whether you’ve defeated the monster or been knocked around a bit.

It’s the strangest thing.

In fact, you don’t even know what you’re going to be facing until you’ve hit that refresh button, by which time, paradoxically, you’ve already faced it. The computer takes care of everything, including your dice roll. You could roll a natural 20 or a critical fail, and not even know it until the dust has settled.

Frankly, I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with it, since I have to keep finding things to do, to amuse myself while the ticker ticks down.

And yet I am oddly obsessed.

Partly, it’s that I’m doing unusually well in this current adventure. I’ve done this one before, but the server crashed over the weekend, and when I picked the application again today, I’d dropped back to level 1.

But I’m having more luck this time. Last time the sad-looking shepherd came up to me and told me he’d lost his magic sheep, I failed my Wisdom roll, looked him square in the eyes, told him there were no such things as magic sheep, and sodded off.

This time, I didn’t fail my Wisdom roll—and succeeded in not only finding the sheep but also looting a forgotten shrine.

I’ve also killed a dire toad, set fire to a zombie, and freed a caravan of people from the thrall of a sorcerer.

And picked up some nifty loot in the process.

I have also been stabbed by a goblin, but it was only a flesh wound—and that’s the price you pay for derring-do. (Which is why I prefer to do my derring from behind a computer screen.)

But I think the primary reason Nick and I are obsessed with this is the anticipation.

When you’re playing with dice and paper, you’re master of your own destiny—to an extent. If you roll a critical fail, you rolled it.

But with this version, the control over the dice is taken out of your hands. You wait your seven, eight, nine minutes and then, and only then, do you see which foe you’ve been facing, which treasure you’ve been grabbing, and how much damage you’ve taken.

It’s almost contrary to the spirit of the original game, and yet we’re fascinated.

All evening, the conversation has been running along these lines:

“Honey, come and make a cup of coffee.”
“In twenty-two seconds!”

“I just killed a zombie! I set fire to him with a branch out of the fire!”
“Cool!”

“Damn! I died on the last encounter.”
“Which one? Wolf Moon? Oh, that’s basic, that is.”

It’s odd: the pleasure and pride that one can take in achievements that are not only represented entirely by pixels but also occur entirely outside your control.

Seriously, it’s the strangest game on Facebook.

But awesome.

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