DM Diary: Short-cuts and fast play

So it happened, we played another game of DnD.

***Spoliers if you have yet to play The Mines of Phandelver***

Its been a slow affair. Everyone in the game has things going on and stuff happening but with dedication we might finally finish The Mines of Phandelver. In order to achieve that goal I talked about streamlining the game in my last entry. And thats exactly what I did. The problem with the campaign from our point of view lied in its open world aspect. Unfortunately planning out all eventualities is something my brain cannot handle. In this game I streamlined the process in order to allow me to focus on one thing and keep the game moving at a fast pace.

Our merry band of adventurers where off this time to see a Druid named Reidoth in an old ruined town by the name of Thunder Tree.

Before this i gave the Group an option to heal up and re-stock on supplies. Instead of making them act it out i just had them pay a 5 gold upkeep cost. This is another way to try and keep the game progressing faster.

Thunder Tree has allot of small houses and shops to explore; all of which have been abandoned. The map for Thunder Tree is also very much non-directional, meaning that the players can do whatever they wish and miss out bits completely. This raises the issue of giving the players to many options and not a focused objective.

I redesigned the village to be more linear. Took out half the options and made the whole thing one quest. This allows me to preempt the parties action easier and allow me to spend more time planing out things they will likely do. Before it was a case of covering everything just incase they do something; and I ain’t got time for that.

On entering the village the group meet Reidoth. He asks what the adventures are looking for and they reply by asking if he knows the location of Cragmaw Castle. He replies yes; and is willing to hand over the information if the group can accomplish one task for him. kill the dragon occupying the tower on top of the hill.

Yep we are fighting a dragon in a tower, pretty original.

Before this the party investigates the abandoned buildings in the village. They kill a few spider and collect some loot. In order to reduce the time spent discussing the loot and who gets what i introduced a new system where they can sell the loot to the DM instantly at a marked down cost and split the money evenly.

This idea of a “quick-sell” allows the adventures to avoid long conversations about selling items or keeping track of the stuff they need to sell. All they need to do is keep track of the money. For more weighty goods; like diamonds, emeralds, trinkets etc the group can choose to keep them and barter with a tradesman in town. But for things like silver rings and old swords they can sell instantly.

The adventurers then entered the tower to fight the dragon. This was probably the group first real fight were they could actually loose. It started off with an acrobatics check to see if they could avoid the dragons fire. For some this worked, others it did not work so well.

We have slowly moved away from the grid system and now describe and act out what we wish to do with everyone coming to an agreement of the state of the fight as we go through it. This is fine but i still feel the state of the fighting in the game is a bit stale. Choosing to move ‘x’ and then do action ‘y’. In the future im going to make my enemies do unpredictable things and move more. At the same time give the player freedom to do more in their turn. They have the option to use a major and a miner action, which i think could be utilised better.

I also want more enemies with lower health; and larger enemies to have more turns per fight. This way more stuff can happen and it adds another level of difficulty to the game.

So next game I will be introducing more enemies, who do more. But also give the players more freedom.



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Pokemon Go – A Casual Player’s Reaction

If you haven’t heard of this small mobile game that has taken over the world by now I’m pretty sure you’re either living in a cave, or you cut yourself off from all popular culture deliberately as you find yourself above such plebeian pleasures – either of which would make it very unlikely for you to be reading this very blog (although with the second one I still find it hard to believe you wouldn’t have even *heard* of it), so let’s forgo the basic description and get right down to it.

Pokemon Go is a phenomenal success – never in their wildest dreams did Nintendo predict it becoming as popular as it has done. Children run around with their parents, adults who grew up with the original Red and Blue run around with mixed feelings of excitement and nostalgia, hardcore gamers mingling with us casuals and even those who don’t generally play anything more complicated than Candy Crush – all running to parks and public venues to battle gyms/collect items and catch Pokemon.

I think one of the things I have loved about this game is that you see people playing it *everywhere*. Last night the future-husband and I were in the car driving to where we believed a Bulbasaur spawn nest was located, and not only did we see kids running around looking for it, we saw people our own age (and older) in their cars with passengers bathed in the electronic glow of multiple phones. I then went on Facebook and my friend had posted that she had spent her date night with her husband on the hunt for elusive ‘mons. It’s EVERYWHERE.

People have posted time and again how important this game has been in helping people connect, and although I could happily join in I realise I would just be repeating things better said elsewhere, so I will try to limit the gushing. What I will say is something that the FH (see I’m abbreviating it now) said to me when we started playing this together:

“I love that I’m part of something mainstream again.”

We geeks do love and embrace our identity, but sometimes I think we forget how fun it is to be able to engage with something we enjoy with literally anyone. The FH has managed to go out and started to recognise familiar faces on Poke-Hunts, and then start up conversations about what they have caught and if anything good is nearby. I don’t think he realises it, but the quote I shared (probably paraphrased by my terribly memory) is something he has started to regularly say when we talk about the game, or when we’re out together hunting (HA! Never thought there would be an innocent and environmentally way to talk about hunting did you?!), so I know how much he’s enjoying that feeling.

pokemon go loading screen

I will say this though – the game isn’t perfect. Because they didn’t predict the kind of global reaction this game has received, the servers are nowhere near stable and glitch all the goddamn time. And don’t even get me started on my issue with the sensitivity of throwing a bloody pokeball (my depth perception with this isn’t the best either, so I piss through pokeballs which irritates me no end). My last bugbear is the tracking, which is broken to all hell. In fact it is so bad I’m pretty sure that’s why Pokevision has become so popular (although I don’t really believe that, people will do anything to get a legendary).

But I forgive all of these. If the game kicks you out, you just wait and try to get back in when you can. Pokevision is a good alternative to tracking whilst its still broken, and has resorted in some pretty spectacular sights (the FH went out to catch a Snorlax at a school nearby, he arrived at the same time as a bunch of cars, and then proceeded to watch a stream of people break into school grounds and run across to catch this one guy. I would like to point out at this time he did not join in, instead he came back to tell me about it)

The positives definitely outweigh the bugs that come with Nintendo quickly learning how to wrestle this epic beast they have created. They have persuaded people to run around outside, and socialise in groups they wouldn’t otherwise. All whilst playing the most hated of gaming platforms – the free-to-play mobile phone game. I tip my hat to them all.

It also means I can fulfill my dream to become the Joey Rattata of Psyducks. Top percentage of Psyducks here I come!


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Enjoying a Rock Band Revival

So a couple of weeks ago my fiancé finally handed in his dissertation, finishing his 2 year masters. To celebrate this amazing achievement, I very sneakily arranged and held a surprise party for him at our house.

On a whim I decided to get a friend to help me set up our old Rock Band stuff in the livingroom, and thought we would get an old fashioned drunken play through like we all did back when we were in our late teens/early 20s. The game hasn’t been touched since we moved into our house 3 years ago, and so I thought it would be a good throw-back. In fact, it went so well, I woke up the next morning to find out that the future husband had ordered Rock Band 3, and now we own Rock Band 3, 2 mikes, a keytar is being delivered as we speak, and now he’s saving money to purchase an Xbox One ready to buy Rock Band 4 which is released next month.

So naturally, I thought I’d blog about it.

Rock Band and Guitar Hero (*INSERT VERSION HERE*) were the go-to social games in our friendship group back when we all hung out years ago a while back. We all had instruments we preferred (I tended to end up singing unless it was screamo. I love karaoke, so there wasn’t much forcing if I’m honest). In fact, the guys back then were in a band together, so band practice with real instruments ended and playing with toy ones would be how we’d all relax. Over the years, we started to have more sing star parties, or board game days, and we started to lose interest in setting up all of the accessories in order to play through a few songs.

So why have we jumped back on the plastic guitar train so readily? I’m not *entirely* sure, but a good guess would be it’s a combination of fond memories, and testing to see how good we still are. I’ve been spending a lot of my evenings with the other half going through the campaign / career stuff for RB3, and unlocking all the stuff and seeing our “band” (either Death Egg or the Low Keys (say it fast enough and it sounds like our cat’s name Loki…yeah that one was my pick) depending on which one of us signs in first) progress is strangely satisfying. I haven’t tried the harmony vocal option on RB3 yet but I fully intend to next time we get a group ‘session’ going. And of course we’ll probably end up fighting over which one of us gets to try out the keytar first.

I was surprised that we had to pay £6 to transfer over all of the songs we bought/had with RB2, and even more annoyed when some of them didn’t transfer properly. We’ve had issues where some of the RB2 songs cause the game to crash when selected, and when we Googled it we saw that it was a fairly common occurrence which was a little disappointing. You’d think they’d have gotten it together by now with transferring songs. Graphics-wise its still looking roughly the same, with the same cartoony/chunky figures. I do like the look of all the games, and I don’t think it looks particularly dated. We’ve got the same kind of eclectic mix of heavy metal, 80s pop and 90s punk rock which I also like (I’m a very eclectic person. I’ll happily listen to Metallica and Wednesday 13, yet I’ll also listen to 90s Britney Spears and songs by Alaska Thunderfuck (Drag Queen famous for appearing in Ru Paul’s drag race. Seriously, go listen to “Nails”, it’s my favourite song right now).

It feels like we’re binging on the game right now, so I’m not entirely sure how long the interest will last. The things we’ve bought recently have been pretty cheap (I think in total we’ve spent less than £30 so far on new accessories and games so we’re doing ok), so I won’t be too upset if we don’t make it to the end of next month before putting everything away. But what this has shown us is, regardless of how long we leave it, this game franchise always has us coming back for more. To quote Tenacious D:

You can’t kill the metal
Metal will live on


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The Effect of the Internet on Social Gaming

So with the introduction of “Youtube for Gamers”, I thought it might be interesting to look at how the internet has impacted the gaming world, and the effect it’s had on gaming socially.  I know, I know – it sounds like a student essay – but stay with me!

Early on in console gaming if you wanted to play with your friends (*snigger*) you had very few options. Arcade games were one option, with the first co-op game “Fire Truck” released in 1978 (DP Interviews Howard Delman 2010-11-08). Games at home though were another story; there were games with a “2-player” option, however these generally ended up being taken in turns.



Second Gen consoles included the multi-player functionality that we’re more familiar with, porting over arcade favourites to home consoles (Streets of Rage is one I fondly remember – I can still remember the car noise screeching up to give you the air-strike special move). As consoles got better, we began to see a greater variety of multiplayer options:

  • Racing games
  • Beat-em-up Fighting Games
  • Tactical Fighting Games
  • Co-op story

We also had the multi-player games that used accessories to add a twist to social gatherings. The Eye-Toy (which in my house just turned into a cheap webcam in the end), Guitar Hero, Sing Star, Dance Dance, even the GameCube got into this trend with Donkey Konga (providing you had enough bongos).

So what did this mean in terms of social gaming? Games were limited to the number of controller ports a console had. If you wanted more players, generally you ended up needing to hook up multiple consoles/computers in a LAN – resulting in wires everywhere and the hassle of lugging hardware to various locations. If you wanted to play with people you didn’t necessarily socialise with on a regular basis, you needed to attend special events set-up for that kind of thing, again with all the hardware you owned.


Online gaming in the console generation really became popular with the release of Xbox Live in 2002, allowing players to shareplay over the internet. The other console giants started to follow suit, with Playstation releasing PSN and the Nintendo Wii allowing limited online gaming. With these networks, players could now pay a subscription and chat to players wherever they were in the world. As the networks have developed, players have been able to rent games and download them directly to their consoles/PCs, game developers are able to release patches and expansions to released games. We’re able to spend money on small pointless add-ons to games to our hearts content.


The PC shouldn’t be left out here, as Steam has also added to this network. Steam sales and gamers being able to vote and share their reviews have helped indie developers reach out to the market, which would have been nearly impossible 10 years ago (just look at the Binding of Isaac). The introduction of “Humble Bundles”, in which the price of the bundle was determined by the purchaser further strengthened the Indie market, which the additional bonus of a proportion of the profits being donated to various charities.

I think at this point it is also prudent to mention the key player in the world of online and social gaming – the MMO, or “Mass Multiplayer Online” game. There have been many examples (FFXIV, FFXI, Runescape, EVE Online to name a few), but the Daddy of them all is obviously World of Warcraft. Released in 2004, WoW is the most subscribed MMORPG, with 5.6 million current subscribers (as of end of June 2015) and over 100 million accounts created in the game’s lifetime. We have a WoW player in our group of writers, and most people will know at least 1 player in their social circle. The 6th expansion, Legion, was announced at Gamescom this year and they are as popular as ever. These games are pretty much *the* definition of social gaming, since at any one point you will be playing with thousands of other players. I won’t go into too much depth about these games, since there are no end of articles focussing on this aspect. It also links to Second Life, however the creators do not class it as a game as there is no set objective to the universe.

If I’m honest, it was at this point that I thought online gaming and the integration of the internet into gaming as a whole had reached the pinnacle. The ability to play with as many players as possible? Check. The ability to rent and purchase games online without needing a pesky disc? Check. Players being able to influence pricing of games through reviews and bundles? Check.

Nope – totally wrong.

Social Media has added a whole new dynamic to “social gaming”. Gamers recording their game play to review it on shows broadcast on YouTube, we even have gamers live-streaming their games to whoever wishes to watch and enjoy their commentary (I’m not brave enough to do that just yet, I don’t think I’m witty enough or a good enough player to keep people entertained). In fact, Twitch took things to a completely different level with “Twitch Plays Pokemon” – viewers actually inputting commands in the comments to control the game itself. It created a huge following, with a complete mythology and culture behind it – adding a deeper level and new playing experience to a game a decade old.


You can link your game console to your Facebook profile, your twitter account – whichever social media you happen to be using. You want the world to know what you’re playing and how well it’s going? Well now that’s possible. Games like Bloodborne  encourage players to interact, and can influence a player’s decisions in the game by leaving clues, showing clips of previos player deaths. In the Little Big Planet franchise you can use the tools the developers used to build the game to build worlds of your very own, ones that can be shared with everyone to play on and vote. The community now has a greater influence on games, both from the developer’s and player’s point of view.

I would say the internet has added a new dialogue to the gaming community, and we have all seen the creativity that has resulted from it. We now have YouTube channels, blogs, in-game comments, live streaming of games, MMOs; players are interacting on so many different platforms, that the distinction between consoles, or between console and PC for that matter, is becoming obsolete. Old games are being introduced to new gamers in completely new ways, and this connects old and new gamers on a level playing field.

I am genuinely interested to see what comes next.


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Co-op Playing with a Casual Gamer

There are many examples of Co-op games, from the gaming giants of Mario and Luigi, to the small indie classics like Castle Crashers and Child of Light. Local co-op has been a part of gaming since the second generation consoles, and with the introduction of the internet we can play with friends who live thousands of miles away. In fact, co-op gaming is such an ingrained part of the gaming scene, we even have shows dedicated to it


I am the most casual of casual gamers – I play board games over video, I dip into the odd bit of online gaming (Final Fantasy 14, Bard and proud!), and it takes me forever to complete any game. I am going to marry (still novel :D) a full-time gamer. He is never without some sort of controller or hand-held nearby (he was once told off by a friend of ours for pulling his phone out and playing a level of Sonic during a social gathering. I swear it’s an automatic reflex now). Gaming is how he relaxes, and over the years naturally we have bought and played games together.

Clearly there’s going to be an unbalanced level of talent whenever we play – if we play at a level that will provide him a nice challenge it will be nigh on impossible for me, yet on the flip side if it’s easy enough for me to play it might be boring for him. Plus if there is ANY chance AT ALL of being able to kill your co-op partner in some way, he will find it…which is very frustrating.

There are games that have tackled the gaming skill-gap between co-op players. Games that have one person be the main player whilst the second player helps perform certain tasks or assists in battle (Child of Light being a brilliant example) are perfect in those kind of situations, or if you want to play a game with a young child. The main player can set the skill level to a challenging level, without worrying that the second player won’t be able to do anything, and at the same time the second player can contribute to the game, whilst at the same time (if they are anything like me), they can enjoy watching the story in the game progress.



But what if you want to play a co-op game that’s a bit more equally weighted? If that is the case, I have decided to speak on behalf of all casual gamers and provide a handy list of rules for all their more experienced co-op partners to take into consideration. Consider this list a guide for a conflict-free fun gaming experience.

  • If you’re playing a shoot-up game, give us a chance to get our bearings. Sure we might shoot around the target at first, but give us a few chances – we’ll start hitting things eventually!
  • If there’s a melee option and a sniper option – let us go for melee. In games like Halo, I often found myself leaning towards using the Grav Hammer whenever possible. It’s much easier to wade in with brute-force and not have to worry about aiming. I have played sniper in some games and found it satisfying (I did quite well in the small amount of Borderlands I played through), but I think you need to have a very patient co-op player who won’t run in and kill everything before you have a chance to take a shot.
  • If we’re playing a side-scroller where going off-screen results in loss of life – DO NOT RUN OFF. Sure you’ve played hundreds of hours on the old school platformers, and can quite comfortably speed off and make all the jumps, but we need to take a moment and scout our surroundings first! Unfortunately by the time we’re ready to make the jump, you’ve run on ahead and we’re floating around in a bubble waiting to be freed at your convenience. Once or twice is acceptable, but more than that is infuriating
  • Level with plenty of jumping across chasms? Jump ahead or let us go first – but for the love of god don’t jump at the same time. Mario 3D World is a complete bastard for this. So many times one of us would end up jumping on top of the other sending them to their death. Admittedly it can be funny a couple of times, but more than that and it can grate.
  • If you can shoot your partner and kill them, even if it doesn’t waste a life, it is so very annoying to do it on purpose. Games like Lego-anything where you can smash up your Lego partner, or mini-challenges in Borderlands where you can kill each other in a small battle area – occasionally it can be funny. Do it more than that and you greatly increase the chances of me throwing my controller at you mid rage-quit.
  • We will use up so many lives, but it’ll be worth it in the end. In games that have lives to burn (such as Mario), you’ll find that most of the lives will be spent by us attempting to cross one chasm, or running into the boss accidentally. But I swear that our hilarious attempts more than make up for  it.

List aside, I love co-op gaming. It’s so much fun playing through something together, and when you complete a game its a good achievement. Thankfully I have a group of incredibly patient friends that tolerate my terrible aim, god-awful platforming skills, and general talent at dying at critical points (I’d give Tails a run for his money). I also have a fiance who clearly loves me enough to lie and tell me I’m not that bad 😛

As long as you have players like these, you won’t need any list to enjoy a game.

One final hint to casual gamers though: if you’re playing Left 4 Dead and your friend tells you to go help the person crying – IT’S A TRAP AND YOUR FRIEND IS THE SPAWN OF SATAN

Did I miss anything in my list? Let me know in the comments below!

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