Varying quality of rpg session podcasts

Roger over at Contains Moderate Peril posted about varying quality of You Tube videos, with a focus on instructional videos about games-related content. It’s certainly an issue I’ve come across myself, searching for a video to show how to do a boss strategy or puzzle only to be have to wade through minutes of unrelated or unedited gameplay to find the actual relevant content. The post’s wider points about quality control and presentation (or the lack thereof) could be easily applied to other media in the modern gaming age.

I posted last year about podcasts that I’m listening to, all of which represent pretty focused and nicely produced easy-listening while I’m commuting or doing other things. They also happen to all be discussion shows however, quite a different beast from the gameplay footage videos that Roger was discussing. A more apt comparison might be recorded or streamed (virtual) tabletop roleplay sessions.  I can think of several areas that might negatively influence my own choice opinions of a stream.

Technical production
Several overlapping factors can make a stream easier or harder to enjoy. Sound quality is a big one of course: whether the players and referee have good mics is a biggie, but equally too many background sounds (pets going crazy, traffic noise from an open window) and the best mic in the world won’t help. Super high production values aren’t always that important to me but if I can’t hear a player that’s a pretty big issue. Frequent disconnects or other technical issues can also be a bit of a bugbear on a stream, but if it’s a video, why haven’t these been edited out already? I’ve a lot of experience managing webconferences in work so I can sympathise that computers and the Internet can be unpredictable, but if you’re publishing recordings of sessions do at least edit out some of the bad stuff…

Pacing
Keeping the game going is a key role of any referee. If the game bogs down a lot due to poor rules knowledge that can be a problem. I get that not all GMs know the rules by heart, and that players likewise may be new to the game or the hobby. But if sessions drag while rules are checked or bad rulings need oft correcting it can be frustrating to listen to. Likewise I have cringed at some of the sessions I have listened to in terms of referees saying nothing as players argue over the simplest decisions, or where the group is obviously lost at what to do next and the referee fails to quickly reorient them – it’s not great for the wider audience in my opinion.

Audience and standards
Gaming in private with friends is one thing. Playing for an audience, presumably because you want something like Twitch syndication, advertising revenues or just “internet fame” is something else in my book. Personally, players swearing every few words does not encourage me to keep listening, I’m no prude but excessive swearing is a turn-off. Using insulting/demeaning language repeatedly, whether “in character” will lead to me abandoning that series: I don’t want to listen to it.

The players and referee really need to be mindful of the public nature of the podcast/stream. Again it’s a matter of personal tastes but players who shout really loudy or burp loudly for effect are going to turn me off the stream – it’s crass and annoying.

It’s a team game
These games are by their nature a cooperative team game. If the referee allows a single player to come to dominate the podcast/stream too often through force of personality that can really bring down my enjoyment of the podcast. All the player characters should be given a roughly equal share of the limelight. Players talking over other players or telling them what their character should do regularly comes across badly as well.

These are just some of the factors that will encourage or discourage me from continuing to listen irrespective of the actual gaming content itself. As a GM myself I enjoy listening to how other groups approach the same adventures that I run, and how other GMs run their games in general. It’s a pretty wonderful time to be a roleplay gamer given the wealth of videos, streams and podcasts covering the hobby. Sifting through the good and bad (from my perspective) can be a bit of a time investment, but it is well worth it.

My tabletop session playlists
Separate from my prior post as linked above, I sporadically listen to recordings of (virtual) tabletop gameplay. Two series that I’m currently enjoying are:

Last year I also really enjoyed listening to:

These groups manage to produce well-paced, inclusive and entertaining games to watch. Production values are generally high for all of them, sure some episodes might have some glitches, but care is taken to make it easy to listen to. I feel the various GMs have a good grasp on the rule system used, the pacing is good,  the groups gel well and play fair together. All in all they are just more fun to listen to than others that I’ve tried and quickly skipped over.

 

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Posted in D&D, MMORPG, Starfinder, TTRPG

Patience with content you do not like

How much patience with content you don’t like in an MMORPG? I’ve a bit of a history of ignoring quests that I dislike. There’s a quest in Dungeons & Dragons Online that I only ever completed once because it was rather unheroic and went against the (RP self-imposed) religious beliefs of my Paladin main character. Likewise I’m more than happy to never do another ‘poop’ quest in any MMO ever again.

But what if the content here isn’t just the odd quest? Some zones are pretty dreary to play through, Lord of the Rings Online has issues with some zones that some players actively avoid. I’ve more a of a problem with Mordor personally but I can sympathise with the view that a zone can lessen your enjoyment of a particular game at least in the short-term. Having options to skip such content are great, but if your progress on any main story questline(s) is blocked by a specific quest or an entire zone (Mordor, looking at you) it’s not great.

Mordor, /shudder

This issue isn’t always about progress though. What about the overall story themes or arc of say an expansion? Battle for Azeroth, the latest World of Warcraft expansion, is so far faction-war focused content-wise. Although I haven’t been playing it continuously since last August, I was bored some time ago of the Alliance vs Horde main story. There are very tempting little hints here and there about darker threats and much deeper problems, but for now we’re stuck with “red vs blue”.

As a druid, I am *seriously* not on-board with this

Hopefully we’ll be able to move past the faction war somewhat in the next major patch, even the PVE content such as island expeditions with the bunny-hopping AI controlled enemy party or the incursion mechanics where my Night Elf boomkin has to endlessly slaughter Horde troops feels like PVP whether it plays like it or not. I just don’t find this theme of content at all exciting or interesting. I can almost feel my poor horde characters cringe every time Nathanos or Sylvanas talks to them – the current Horde leaders are that  objectionable to me.

Of course another MMORPG that I’m currently playing, Star Wars the Old Republic, is also returning to a faction-war focus in the most recent content. So far I haven’t found this irks me so much. Yes, it’s thematically PVPesque, perhaps I just find the stories in this game to be more palatable. Even if the Sith leaders (or the odd Republic leader) to be insufferable or plain nasty, at least my character gets to object to that in almost every cut-scene in some way. That I think helps to make quite a difference if I’m less than comfortable with the story arc itself.

Looping back to the question in the title of this post, I guess my preference of playing a variety of MMORPGs means I can always take a break if the story isn’t to my tastes. Content can block my characters’ progress in a game, but at least I can switch games to play something else more to better suit my tastes or current mood…

Posted in DDO, LotRO, MMORPG, SWTOR, World of Warcraft | 3 Comments

Appearance system pros and cons

I’m not strongly motivated by the appearance of my characters; I’d rather they avoid the pastel-shades pyjamas look of the early Burning Crusade era WoW, but so long as the clothes aren’t jarringly mixed styles I’m generally ok. Some MMORPGs make this easier than others, through a variety of methods that collectively I’ll just label appearance systems.

No transmog needed for a Boomkin…

Some games make these systems into actual gameplay features, others treat them as a rather meta-level feature that is just there to use. The latter type allows you to change your current gear’s appearance, usually by replacing an item’s appearance with that of another that was previously owned without affecting the current item’s stat bonuses or other gameplay benefits.

World of Warcraft, transmogrification

Generally I’m a fan of these simple and easy to use systems, since as I noted character appearance isn’t that big a deal to me. I acknowledge that to other players making outfits for your characters is a big part of gameplay, even a self-made type of content if you will. But it’s just not that motivating for me. I’ve never been interested in doing transmog runs of old raids in World of Warcraft (transmogrification is Blizzard’s term for WoW’s appearance system). The transmogrification system is deep and fairly easy to understand. It’s nice that you have a catalogue of collected appearances per item type/slot, and can even optionally see uncollected possible looks. However, I have two issues with WoW’s transmog system that make me very unlikely to use it. Firstly unless you have an eye-wateringly expensive mount, you can only transmog at NPCs in major cities – and you know that as soon as you pay some gold to create a new transmog outfit, the very next dungeon run will see something drop that ruins the look – travelling back to the transmog NPC every time you want to change looks isn’t fun gameplay in my view. It also goes against other streamlining that Blizzard has implemented in the past, when glyphs were first introduced you had to go to a special station in major cities to apply them (sound familiar?). Secondly there are a number of rather silly restrictions on transmog, not a being able to transmog to weapons you cannot wield, nor transmog to white or grey quality items (despite some of those having really unique or cool RP looks).

I *really* should transmog that helmet…

Star Wars the Old Republic, custom gear and colour-harmony

Star Wars the Old Republic launched with an unusual system with the orange-quality custom gear that was/is mostly about its appearance as all the stats come from purchased or crafted modifications that you slot onto the gear. It’s kind of the opposite of the normal way of applying older gear’s appearance to whatever you are currently wearing. At some point while I was away from the game the custom armour system was sidelined/expanded on with the outfit system. I’ve not really investigated the system in more recent returns to SWTOR, though I do greatly appreciate the “match to chest” option to do a colour-sync across gear based on the pallet of the chest armour. That’s a super-simple and super-easy way of making most sets of gear look half-decent with one check box.

Lord of the Rings Online, simple and powerful
One of the better appearance systems that I actually use is in Lord of the Rings Online because of just how useful the wardrobe system is (having a special bank for appearance gear is rather nice) and how easy it is to maintain a look as you level up and gear up.

Everquest 2, appeance gear *and* mounts

A second notable mention is Everquest 2. It has an equally intiuitive appearance gear system, but uniquely (I think) you can have appearance mounts – so you can use a specific mount for its speed or stat bonuses, but use the radically different appearance of another mount because you happen to like its looks. Again, that’s something I do use when I’m playing in Norrath.

Which style of appearance system do you prefer? Are there any must-have features?

Posted in EQ2, LotRO, MMORPG, SWTOR, World of Warcraft | 9 Comments

Absalom acquaintances 1

This post is part of a series of posts detailing non-player characters and specific locales on Absalom Station, the heart of the Starfinder RPG setting. Any resemblance to real life entities are purely coincidental. Please feel free to use this content in your own campaign or discuss or expand on these ideas in the comments.

Dr Mar’s backroom clinic

This establishment is hidden in a quieter corner of the rough and tumble Downlow district of the Spike. Looking from the outside like a simple herbal remedy shop, the store front and its robot server is a front for Dr Mar’s real business – a small clinic where she provides specialist care to the downtrodden peoples of the district. Here among the poor and lost, she provides a much-needed service – affordable treatments for the seriously ill. An occasional mystic of Sarenrae might come down here doing missionary work, but they never stay long. The gangs and bootleggers can supply medicines for an extortionate ‘handling fee’, but then few among the honest citizens of Downlow can afford them.

Dr Sinetra Mar is an elebrian exile, well-known to the residents of Downlow, but who she is or when exactly she arrived on the station is something of a mystery. She never talks about herself or her origins. This backroom doctor provides specific treatments only; passing those with minor wounds or infections on to the traders who deal in ordinary medicines. She can halt the progress of diseases, poisons or other potentially life-threatening ailments where more conventional treatments are unavailable or unaffordable. Former patients are quick to attest to the effectiveness of the doctor’s unusual methods, the progress of the disease or malady is indeed stopped. Unlike the miraculous powers of the temple mystics in the Congregation district of the Ring, these treatments are no instant cure. Rather they halt the ailment long enough, hopefully, for the patient to begin a natural recovery.

Dr Mar utilises, in her own words, a rare elebrian ‘necrograft’ to put bacteria, toxins or even malfunctioning cells into stasis. She refers to them as curing crystals when discussing the treatment with a patient. These grafts look like a technomagical device, a crystal fused with a metal plate that is attached to the patient’s skin closest to the core of the ailment (e.g. over their lungs if poisonous gas was inhaled). A treatment involves divinations to identify the ailment, some measure of technobabble and mystic rituals culminating in the implantation of the jewelled graft onto the patients bare skin. The patient is then confined to bed rest for a day or more in order for the graft to “draw out the ailment”.

The graft actually simply gives the patient’s immune system a chance to fight back – the patient is usually confined to bed rest in the clinic’s small cell-like in-patient ward area under the doctor’s close attention. While the device is in place successful saving throws relating to disease or poison progression do count towards recovery, whereas failed saving throws are ignored. If the patient is not making sufficient progress a repeat of the treatment is possible to give an extra day or two’s worth of recovery time (and the saving throws this provides). The grafts are actually simple cosmetic jewels, obtained from a small low-end fashion shop on the same level, mounted onto a simple sterilised metal plate and stitched onto the skin.

As to why the doctor is providing these services and why she chooses to mask their true nature is unknown. She will treat any and all residents of the district, her empathic abilities warn her of any who would do her or her patient’s harm. She has a strict policy of not interacting with or treating other elebrians, however.

Curing crystal
Dr X does not charge market rates for these cures, she simply takes what patients can afford to give (she would charge an adventurer a much stiffer 100 credits or more for treatment). The ‘necrograft’ as she refers to it is in fact no such thing, but rather a necromantic treatment making use of the cosmetic jewel as a focus item. She in fact casts a variant delay ailment magic on her patient through this focus.

Delay ailment (Mystic 1)
School conjuration (healing)
Casting Time 1 standard action
Range touch
Targets one creature or object
Duration 1 day
Saving Throw Will negates (harmless); Spell Resistance yes (harmless)
This spell pauses the progression of any one disease or poison afflicting the creature touched, or the next individual who holds the item upon which the spell is initially cast (the spell’s maximum one day duration begins counting down when cast, not when the item is held). During this time the afflicted individiual can make saving throws as normal to move up steps on the track for the disease or poison in question, but any failed saves do not cause the affliction to become worse. Existing conditions suffered before the spell takes effect are not removed, and if the individual does not pass enough saves to recover the disease or poison will return to normal rules at the relevant step of the track at the time the spell ends. Multiple castings of the spell, if timed carefully, can continue to keep a poison or disease in check until an individual makes enough saves to recover fully (see Starfinder Core rulebook p414 onwards).

This post references content from the Starfinder Core Rulebook, as well as the adventure Incident at Absalom Station. Please see these sources for more detail.

Posted in Starfinder, TTRPG

Coop-questing update consistency

I’ve play quite a lot of my MMORPG sessions cooperatively, either questing as a duo or a trio. It’s the way I’ve experienced all of my long history with World of Warcraft, and significant chunks of my playtime in Star Wars the Old Republic and Elder Scrolls Online to name only the MMOs I have played recently. What I’ve noticed in all such games is that the coop experience is rarely, if ever, a consistent one. I guess such questing content is mostly aimed at and balanced for the solo player, so testing it for small group play is likely not a priority. This is evidenced by the many bugs that I’ve encountered in various games. A quest might not update for all the members of the group, or a needed item might not drop for everyone either.

Shared objectives are generally my preference

A more subtle but widespread issue is simply the lack of consistency in how updates are handled within the same game. This isn’t so much about bugs, but varied approaches to how quests work for grouped players and how easily that can lead to confusion or missed updates while questing together. The lack of consistency can not only confuse, it can also sour the grouped questing experience since you might sometimes find grouping makes the overall questing activity easier, while other times it makes it significantly more laborious.

How many giblets does a Condor have?

MMOs newer and older seem to suffer from this same issue. In World of Warcraft’s latest expansion the questing experience is generally mostly bug-free (bar some early phasing issues), but consistency of quest updates is not so great. Why for instance should we all have to click an in-world object that triggers an obvious animation? Sometimes this type of interaction counts for all players, sometimes it is individual. Conversely it makes a kind of sense that picking up objects or dropped items (e.g. enemy weapons) might be an individual requirement as our character is handing those items in at the end of the quest.

I feel that actions like freeing a caged NPC should always count for the party in any MMO

We’ve had a similar experience of inconsistencies while levelling on our Imperial trio, old issues still do occur even now. This MMO does a sterling job (in the original content) to providing coop gameplay during the cut scenes, but in the open world there are the usual inconsistencies or bugs with objective updates.

I suspect that it’s at least partially down to overworked teams that have to churn out large amounts of quest-content under time-pressure. But wouldn’t consistent design standards help teams to keep track how a given quest should operate whether completed solo or as a group. Maybe it’d be boring if all quests objectives of a certain type behaved the same way? Personally I think it’d be nice to have some consistency for those who like to play coop.

Posted in ESO, MMORPG, SWTOR, World of Warcraft | 2 Comments

Contrasting sessions in SWTOR

I’ve been playing two different sides of Star Wars the Old Republic this last week. Firstly I’m completing the Ossus dailies and weekly (the one for an ilevel 252 item) every week, although I haven’t done the bonus mission for 5 dailies that many times. It’s easier for me to just have a binge session and do the 10 dailies, the weekly mission for 10 and the bonus daily for 5 all at the same time. I suppose I could min-max effort-reward more and do the weekly split over two sessions on different days to get the ‘5 dailies’ mission done twice.

Shintar has a detailed analysis of the Ossus dailies and the rewards that is helpful in explaining what it all means, though I’m not that motivated by gearing so I’m unlikely to invest that much more time in the daily area at present. It’s nice to note that I haven’t done the daily area so much that there aren’t things still to discover.

Instead I’ve been spending my other SWTOR gaming sessions on levelling my oldest character, a Sage, through the Revan story-arc. I did the early steps on this on my Commando at some point, but barely scratched the surface. When I returned to the game after the first major break it was to leap into the first Knights expansion with an insta-dinged Jedi Shadow, so there’s an entire expansion worth of content that I never played. I’m busy playing the story for the sake of seeing that for the first time, which is something I always enjoy immensly in this MMORPG.

In more mature MMOs there is simply so much content to do that spending time playing any character can be fun, I’ve always been a fan of alt-characters for this reason. If I get bored with end-game activities, like the daily area on Ossus, there’s plenty of other things I could be doing. Although I’m not that motivated by lists of ‘tasks’, this is my hobby not my work, I could off the top of my head list quite a lot of things that I fancy doing in game currently:

  • Level my Sage to cap to play as healer in group content (probably skipping Knights of the Fallen Empire/Eternal Throne entirely)
  • Bring a Empire character through KOTFE/KOTET for  very different perspective on that story (either my Agent or Bounty Hunter are my closest to this)
  • Finish remaining class stories – Jedi Guardian, Sith Warrior, Sith Inquisitor

That already is a lot of potential gaming sessions. Not that I’ll necessarily do them all this time around or this year, but I certainly have no lack of fun stuff to do in game!

I rather love Jedi Consular dps abilities

 

Posted in MMORPG, SWTOR | 2 Comments

Season of the Dragon #TESOnline

So although I have a current focus on Star Wars the Old Republic, I do still want to keep abreast of other developments in the MMORPG genre. I changed my mobile phone last week for the first time in many years, and as an unintended consequence I went almost a full week without looking at my blog feed on Feedly. It happened to be a very busy week work-wise and study-wise so I was so preoccupied that I only realised yesterday that I hadn’t read anything other than Twitter for 8 days.

Naturally in that time a big announcement landed surrounding another MMO on my planned roster for this year, Elder Scrolls Online. Coming on 4th June this year is the chapter (i.e. expansion) Season of the Dragon. Massively have an article with the details up. It will focus on Elsweyr and the Khajiit, but will also bring dragons back into the world (a new type of Dark Anchor-style encounter perhaps?).

It will also introduce the Necromancer class into the game. I lack the ‘bandwidth’ to really want to create yet another character in the game and it isn’t a class that I find that attractive so it’s not a big draw for me, personally. I have a tanky Templar that’s mostly been sat in Elden Root for a long time, one that I’d like to return to playing at some point. So I can see this expansion and its thematic focus (on Khajiit) as a good excuse to be returning to Elder Scrolls Online later in the year to push my Dragonknight to the level cap in finishing Murkmire content, and then start prepping my Altmer Templar for a journey to Elsweyr. It might even offer an opportunity to resurrect the ESO levelling trio that this character belongs to as that’d mean his Khajiit Sorceror companion could join the journey to his homeland.

Posted in ESO, MMORPG | 3 Comments