Another generous game company #NeverwinterGame

I found out just now about a rather generous free offer from Neverwinter’s Perfect World, if you log into your character by April 2 you can get a “fast track pack”. This is an account level offer from the reward claims agent at the top of Protector’s Enclave.

Opening this caused an explosion of items into my bag space, cue moment of panic that I’ll be spending the rest of the afternoon trying to free up some handspace…

Thankfully a Bag of Holding is one of the gifted items, which really helped to boost my main’s free space.

There’s also a blue quality giant spider mount. A good mount to add to someone’s stable as it has three slots for insignias, but there’s no chance this arachnaphobe will be using that as a regular equipped mount.

Speaking of which there were also three purple quality insignias to choose and a load of consumables. A really generous and nicely timed gift from Perfect World! My thanks to the devs for this!

Posted in MMORPG, Neverwinter | 2 Comments

Digitial roleplay product alternatives

Today is one week since we should have flown off for a 11 day holiday in Canada. Since I’ve had to stay at home and have continued working, I am trying to invest more free time in rpg writing.

I’ve also indulged in some virtual spending since I’m not spending all the money on food, drink and entertainment while on holiday. Websites like Drivethrurpg offer a huge library of new and old digital roleplaying manuals, adventures and supplements.  I bought the latest couple of Shadow World/Rolemaster supplements as PDFs, mainly to support the developer in these difficult times. They’ll also be interesting reads and, I’m sure, a potential source of ideas I can steal for my live campaigns. My other purchase was a D&D module that I may run for family in the near future, though it’s one I fully intend to extensively re-write its plot. This was available as as a Fantasy Grounds module via the same website.

That brings me to the title of this post: digital roleplay products come in more than one form nowadays. I buy very, very few printed manuals for any roleplay these days. The new Eberron manual for 5E D&D, Rising from the Last War, is the last one that I bought and that was the first such purchase in years. But, I have two major digital alternatives: I can get them directly as PDFs, or I can buy them as Fantasy Grounds modules ready to run or reference in my campaigns.

A library of digital manuals in FG

Buying PDFs is the obvious analogy to having the manual in print form. Usually they are ‘indexed’ PDFs so you can search through them easily. I generally find it more efficient to run games with PDFs on my laptop because of the power of this search facility, flipping through the pages of a book may be cathartic, but it is hardly speedy.

Searching a PDF supplement

The second alternative is to buy what I need as a Fantasy Grounds module. That gives me access to the content within the virtual tabletop client, both in a browsable ‘reference manual’ form and by enabling any character, monster or setting options throughout the rest of the system. So the adventure’s content will appear in the Story section, any new monsters under the NPCs library, artwork will appear in Maps and Tokens and the encounters will be preconfigured under that menu option.

It’s possible to DIY newer classes or unique monsters within the system, but it’s far easier for me to have it already done and available at a click. The D&D Starter Set adventure, and the Starfinder adventures that I have run using a FG module have been so setup light in comparison to my own homebrew because of this. A noteworthy bonus of Starfinder and other Paizo Fantasy Grounds modules is that Paizo generously provides you with the PDF version* for any of their rpg products bought on this virtual tabletop platform – the best of both worlds!

A PDF version is more accessible – I can read it on my phone or on any computer and keep a copy in cloud storage for easy access from almost anywhere. The Fantasy Grounds version requires my computer (or another running it and my login details). It’s always good to have options, and having everything in one platforms makes my IT pro self somewhat uneasy, so for now I’m happy having a mix of the two.

*Requires you have an account with Paizo.com and Fantasy Grounds, and that you setup Paizo Account Synchronization

Posted in D&D, Fantasy Grounds, Starfinder, TTRPG | 1 Comment

Set sail for adventure #DDO

Fresh from the unlock of content for all players, our DDO trio static tackled the Sentinels of Stormreach chain over the weekend. This set of four related quests took our party across farflung locales in Eberron as we set sail for adventure. I particularly enjoyed this story arc as it ties into one of the Dragonmarked Houses – the titular sentinels of House Deneith.

/em hitches a lift

The Bargain of Blood quest, set in a pirate market, was a really interesting setting for a MMO quest. Dungeons & Dragons Online really piles on the atmosphere and character with its set piece dungeons.

A market, complete with magical announcers

The layered marketplace offered plenty of opportunities to indulge my passion for climbing and exploring all the corners of a map. With ramps, ladders, side sections and opponents who attacked us from all sides, and all levels.

“I’ll shoot from up here….”

After clearing out the pirate marketplace. We moved on to deal with a clutch of necromancers that had taken over the Black Loch area of Three-barrel Cove. This time the threat was upgraded from pirates to dark spellcasters who had displaced the pirates normally living there.

I hope that thing on the wall doesn’t have 8 legs!

This was another fun and rather complicated dungeon, consisting of a complex series of caves on several levels. Since it was our first experience of the whole chain, that meant a lot of exploring and working out of the sequence in which to do the quest steps.

Who can resist a pirate ship in a cave? Ever since the Goonies this has been an absolute classic scenario. The traps and locks proved a bit more of a challenge in this dungeon, but we got through all the challenges intact.

Loooooooot!

Next up was the Storm the Beaches quest, which saw us sneaking into a brooding fortress to take on the more elite forces of the Blood Tide pirates. This seemed to offer, via the initial dialogues with NPCs, several approaches of how to get inside; I may have clicked a bit precipitously here and forced us to take the one route. We did debate whether we could try several routes at once, but with only three of us in the party that seemed like a bad idea. In the end we jumped off the ship and went up the back/mountain approach anyway so perhaps the dialogue is more of an instruction than an exclusive choice?

Climbing, yay!

The scale of the fortress was impressive. The objective to destroy ballistas finally gave my artificer a target for his ranged Wrack Construct ability – it deals significant damage to siege weapons it seems. It’s the first target I’ve managed to use it on, as we haven’t fought that many warforged and other constructs since I unlocked it.

That ballista is mine!

The interior of the fortress was a maze of tunnels akin to an Egyptian pyramid, though the living quarters added some colour amid the intense fighting as we pushed downwards. I particularly liked the painting on the wall of the Black Loch as a callback to the last quest.

Déja vu, literally

The final part to this chain, saw us invited to House Deneith’s Stormreach headquarters – only to find it under assault from our Black Tide adversaries! We proceeded to fight our way upwards to clear out the invaders.

Flying the flag for Deneith

The final section of this quest held a breathtaking vista as we reached the open-air top floor of the tower – behold the crimson Airship of the Blood Tide!

What an airship!

Our only disappointment of the chain was the lack of animation when we destroyed the airship – the screen flashed white and it was simply gone. I imagine the rather mature game engine couldn’t animate the ship crashing down, but it was an opportunity missed to turn up the wow factor to 11.

All in all, we really enjoyed this quest arc. Four different locales with very different atmospheres and visuals. I’d gladly run it again as no doubt we missed some of the secrets and optional objectives.

Posted in DDO, MMORPG | 1 Comment

Sentimental character actions

Some days, when I have other gaming plans, I log into Everquest 2 for a really short session just to check on Overseer missions, check my broker sales, the usual character ‘admin’ type stuff. But I rarely if ever forget to cast summon Food & Water. It’s not like he needs mana or health regen sat in New Halas’ mind, but it feels wrong to play even a few minutes on him without giving him some sustenance. He can conjure it in endless supply so it’s not wasting money to do so.

Rubbish food but its free, right?

On a similar vein, I feel bad if I play my main in Neverwinter without invoking to the gods at least once on every other character of appropriate level. It’s a couple of minutes to switch between them, but at least they’ve gotten something out of my gameplay session.

Always time for a quick prayer

When playing my World of Warcraft characters I feel like they should have a food buff running at all times, not because they need one particularly but because it’s remiss of me not to have all the available buffs going. That’d be a waste in some players minds perhaps, buffs should be saved for the right situations, but to me it’s also about my characters and their little familiar rituals.

Spot the food buff!

Such habits are game and situation specific, I do not generally worry about food buffs in WoW Classic because our guild isn’t that big on cooking and so we do not have them to spare. In WoW Retail one of my main’s has been a cook for years, and in Battle for Azeroth I invested time in this skill to a point where I have more than enough stacks of 20 food to pass around all my characters.

Do you have any sentimental actions or habits with your MMO characters?

Posted in EQ2, MMORPG, Neverwinter, World of Warcraft | 2 Comments

A generous game company offer

Given the current context, it gladdens my heart to read that Standing Stone Games has announced they are making all content freely accessible for Dungeons & Dragons Online and Lord of the Rings Online available to all players through 30 April. That’s a really nice gesture of generosity in these troubled times. It’s a boon for the many players who suddenly find themselves isolated or with unexpected gaming time, time where they might prefer to go out but cannot. MMORPGs do offer the chance for social contact while we game. I’ve always stayed in touch with friends through the games in this genre, but at the moment I feel it’s even more important.

I have a lifetime sub for LOTRO so it doesn’t affect that game particularly, but for Dungeons & Dragons Online it unlocks a vast amount of potential content for our levelling trio. This could really help us to work towards reaching Ravenloft on our static characters.

There are always other distractions for me as a gamer and blogger, but I wanted to make a quick post to state the value of this move by SSG to me and two friends, the chance to experience some new and exciting adventures together. Thank you SSG!

Posted in DDO, LotRO, MMORPG | 3 Comments

Gaming in troubling times

I should have been writing an ‘AFK’ post today. I had planned to return to Canada for another holiday and reccy of the potential future move there. But Corona virus has put a sudden and absolute stop to a lot of international travel. So I find myself at home, blogging as normal and looking for gaming solace from this crisis.

Staying in touch with friends and family when normal socialising is suddenly off limits is going to be a challenge, and for me at least, MMORPGs and virtual tabletop gaming will have a role to play in staying in touch. My husband and I are almost on self-isolation already, my work has switched to remote working like so many companies.

We’ve been playing a lot of Neverwinter of late, powering through Undermountain (Module 16) and then Uprising (Mod 17). It’s been a blast, but we’re reaching that point where we’ve only gear grinds ahead of us – our characters lack the gearscore to start the latest Avernus-themed content. So we’re running Master Expeditions and the Uprising equivalents, and tidying up some loose ends story-wise elsewhere.

Tidying up older campaigns

For some absolute escapism, and influenced by recent films that we’ve watched, we decided to pop back into DC Universe Online. We’ve played the game a few times over the years, and with my subscription to Everquest 2, I get subscriber benefits in DCUO as well. I often forget that, I should probably log in more often! Whizzing around as a superhero in costume slaying bad guys left and right is really rather fun.

Otherwise I’m contemplating a return, at least briefly, to a game I haven’t played for a while. I’m in a lull with Everquest 2, but I need something to play while husband raids in World of Warcraft (Retail). I may take another look at Archeage or Black Desert Online for some trade-oriented gaming. If I can’t explore a new city in real life, I can at least be exploring some new virtual lands in my spare time…

Posted in Archeage, BDO, DCUO, EQ2, MMORPG, Neverwinter | 3 Comments

My virtual tabletop gaming tips

I’m starting to see discussions online about replacing, short-term at least, round the table roleplaying (rpg) sessions with virtual ones. It’s a sad reality that “social distancing” is becoming a necessity in many countries, and that will inevitably impact the rpg gaming hobby as well. Personally, I’ve gamed more through virtual tabletops than in-person for years now, because the friends and family that I play Dungeons & Dragons, Starfinder or other rpgs with live in different towns from me. As an aside I’ve also accumulated a lot of experience in teleconferencing tech, having worked for years now in IT for international organisations. There’s a clear overlap here, so I’m sharing a few thoughts in this post that are relevant to virtual tabletop gaming.

Firstly some definitions for clarity, when I write virtual tabletop here I mean broadly any software used to replace the face-to-face experience of traditional rpg gaming. Recently we’ve used Fantasy Grounds a lot for our gaming needs – I’ve no experience of Roll20, but that’s another major competitor platform. Such software offers a shared visual space for the referee to share maps, keep digital character sheets, encounter information and tools for automating and sharing the results of dice rolls or other actions. In the past we’ve also used Fantasy Grounds in a much more basic fashion: using the software for maps and moving counters on them to represent encounters, but everything else being done with paper character sheets and real dice.  Going back further my early virtual gaming experiences were limited to a Skype call or text chat while roleplaying, everything else was verbal description and paper based.

The key point here is that technology can bring people together for roleplaying, but it also has an “overhead” – it places extra burdens on the referee and the players that are non-issues for face-to-face gaming. Does everyone have a capable computer with reliable Internet? Does everyone have a headset with a microphone? What about a webcam? Below I address some specifics that I think every group should discuss before playing or cover in their “session zero” before they even start character creation. I’ve watched a lot of streamed games where early sessions are dogged by technical issues outside of the actual game they are playing; things that could mostly have been avoided if some prep work was done by all.

1. Test and familiarise with software

I learned quickly that any web based teleconference is only going to be successful if *all* participants have tested their connection and are familiar with the basics of the software. However easy to use Webex, Skype, Google Hangouts may claim to be, someone will inevitably have a problem connecting or using the software if they’ve not personally tried it at least once. I used to take time before an important teleconf to offer to run 1-2-1 test calls with anyone who needed to speak or  present on such a call.

I’d do the same if I were to run games for strangers via a virtual tabletop (VTT). As DM I would expect to more or less dictate the platform used, a bit heavy-handed perhaps, but I’m the one setting up and running the game, so I need to be very familiar with the platform. The flipside of that is that I’d make sure to ask and offer some quick help familiarising new players with this software. As mentioned, I’ve never run Roll20, so I’d not want to run a game using it before I’d played in someone else’s game. Referees *must* know their software well, I find it painful to watch a streamed game where the poor DM is struggling with the software. But, players do not get a completely free pass either: if they can’t do basic things like roll a skill check or use the private messaging system, then they should have learned that before gaming. Youtube has guides for eveything these days, I’d recommend researching the basics at least.

2. Prepare to avoid audio issues

I’ve run so many web conferences where I’ve had to discretely mute someone because their lack awareness of background noises was beind disruptive; dogs barking, traffic noises through an open window, their computer mic picking up the loud keyboard sounds of them typing notes, it can all be problematic. It can be annoying for other players trying to concentrate on what’s being said if such background noises are frequent or loud. Ideally, everyone should use a headset with a microphone – the in-built mic on a laptop is rarely very good and will often pick up background noises. The cheap set that comes with most mobile phones for hands-free calls would usually be better than using the in-built mic on your computer. If two people use such an open in-built mic then the call may suffer from feedback noise – these can quickly stop a session dead.

Sound is one of the biggest issues technically; always test that your setup works before each session. Even if they worked last week, you might have accidentally changed something in-between or a system update could have changed default settings. Skype and other web conferencing software usually has a sound self-test option. There’s nothing like sound or connectivity problems to waste time at the start of a gaming session or make playing more pain than pleasure.

3. Having social rules for the game

There’s a social dimension to this style of gaming as well. During larger web conferences at work, I would normally ask all participants to use “push to talk” or to toggle mute on when not talking. This is vital if you have temporary (or regular) sound issues, such as the feedback or loud background sounds mentioned above. The low-tech solution is to mute people’s mics if headsets with mics aren’t available. People should learn how to find these options or settings as part of the test and familiarisation step.

Web conferences of any kind require a different set of social conventions from a round-the-table session. If the players talk over the DM, or each other in person it’s not necessarily such an issue. On a web conference, with less than perfect audio and the potential for latency causing delays between speaking and others hearing your words, this issue can really disrupt a game. DMs should be mindful that everyone needs to be given a turn to speak, it’s harder to keep all players equally engaged if they can’t get a word in edgeways – there are no visual clues to follow on an audio-only chat. For example: you might need to introduce a stricter “only you and DM talk on your initative turn” style rule if this is a problem.

Chat openly about this with your players in the session zero, or offline before you start. If you’re playing with a mixed group internationally then some cultural sensitivity might be needed – in my experience it is more acceptable to talk over others in some cultures versus others. In audio conferences that rarely works due to all the audio issues mentioned above; as DM try to be diplomatic, there’s no need to offend people in resolving any differences.

4. Keeping the group engaged

This is the hardest social convention to manage as a DM. It’s an issue for face-to-face games as well, but I have found VTT gaming to often be a bit slower. If the pace of play is interrupted because of technical problems or lack of preparation, then the group may loose focus quicker. One thing I’m guilty of in this regard is forgetting to prep resources in the VTT, it can really slow a game down if you have to prepare anything during the session. Unless you buy a module pre-prepared for your software, you have to import and setup maps for encounters, create the encounter within the VTT software, even create NPCs or monster stat blocks. None of that is feasible during a game I find, if its not prepared in advance I fall back on non-automated alternatives to avoid the game stalling.

Much is made nowadays of the social contract around gaming – players and referee all have to understand and agree to the type of game being played and that it should be fun for all. That applies to engagement I would argue. In a virtual game, where the referee can’t necessarily see the players and what they have in front of them, it can be much harder to gauge engagement levels. Even if you have webcams switched on, if a player is looking at Facebook or a webpage or chat client, you won’t necessarily know. It’s not realistic to expect 100% engagement from everyone all the time, but I personally wouldn’t be happy if a player was obviously not paying attention repeatedly. It is not an easy problem to solve, or solely an issue for virtual gaming, but I imagine referees are more likely to face this when gaming virtually. Planning in breaks is one way to combat this, possibly taking more shorter breaks than you’d allow when gaming in-person.

5. Offline admin

If you are using virtual tabletop software like Fantasy Grounds, you can take advantage of the system’s automation of rules to speed up some aspects of the game. Handle character development ‘admin’ such as leveling outside of scheduled sessions. In the past I have organised to load up Fantasy Grounds and leave my campaign loaded for a player to connect and level up their character on a non-game evening. I can be doing something else in the meantime, but if they have any questions they can message me to get a quick answer. That saved so much time that would otherwise have been lost during the next session. You could also use a group chat on your preferred messenger client to allow players to discuss the game and their characters plans and goals in-between sessions. Its a low-tech solution to keep excitement for the game up and to allow the players to coordinate when doing this kind of offline admin (e.g. when levelling if they want to avoid duplicating skills).

6. Shared notes document

We normally use a Google Drive document as a shared notes file for each campaign. One player volunteers to be the ‘scribe’ to keep notes on what’s happening in game, and importantly to record anything to remember for next time before the end of each session. As DM, I find this invaluable as a record of what the players have done from their perspective. It helps clarify my own notes on what the players characters know or do not know. It also avoids me making assumptions about what they have understood or not from a given gaming session’s events. With this file in place, I also usually ask players to help each other remember things by default – it pushes this file to be kept up to date and with enough detail to be useful and saves me a ton of work in answering all the questions of what player characters should remember.

So that is my list of tech-related tips for virtual tabletop gaming. I hope they are of help to you in your games!

Posted in D&D, Fantasy Grounds, Starfinder, TTRPG | 2 Comments