Origins 2014 Wrapup

The 2015 iteration of the Origins Game Fair has concluded. So here’s my big rundown of the whole event, sans pictures because WordPress is unhappy today. But if you want ’em, they are HERE.

On Wednesday, I spun down to the con early after work to get the registration thing done and but tickets for events. Which was good strategy, because there was a snafu whereby they didn’t have me in their system — even though I was in their system. There had been some crosstalk about this over on G+, so I kind of saw it coming, and the onsite staff bent over backwards to make things work out. A bunch of my events were, predictably, sold out, but I managed to schedule stuff for that evening and the following day, with the intention of doing Games on Demand on Friday and spending the day in the Board Room on Saturday.

The first game was a fine little World War II game called Quartermaster General. This is a very high-level grand strategic game aimed at six players. We had three, which was only slightly awkward. But I enjoyed it and am contemplating picking it up at some point. This is not by any means a game for the hardcore grognard, but it was sufficently wargamey to be suited to my tastes. Had the opportunity arisen I’d happily have played it again.

The second game was supposed to have been Traveller: The New Era, but I misread the start time and missed it, alas. I’ve always felt that TNE is a bit under-appreciated, and would have liked to have fired it up again. So instead, I hit up the Board Room but didn’t find anything of interest that wasn’t already full.

Thursday was going to be the first big play day for me. In the morning I got to play HârnMaster, a game I like a lot but haven’t had the chance to play in several years. Together, shipwrecked Ivinians Kjartan and Bork used their wits to navigate an ancient cavern and rescue the local lord’s bastard boy — and save him from being killed by his conniving stepmother as well, making friends with an alcoholic Nolah along the way. Despite having only two players (plus the GM) it went very well, ending with a promise from the GM to continue the saga next year, which I’m totally up for.

Between games I again cruised the Board Room with no luck at actually gaming, although I did swing a trade for Avalon Hill’s Fortress Europa, yet another game I once owned but foolishly sold off years ago. Afterwards I headed over to the dealer’s hall to buy some dice and the latest issue of C3i, GMT’s house wargame magazine. I don’t normally buy them, but this one had the errata counters for The Dark Valley, which I own and would like to have accurate counters for. As a bonus, the mag came with a complete wargame: Unconditional Surrender: Case Blue, a mingame about the Case Blue and Operation Uranus campaigns in southern Russia in 1942-43. It’s a micro-version of Sal Vasta’s much larger Unconditional Surrender, which covers the whole of World War II in Europe. This will be a great way to feel out the system to see if I like it, and it’s also a good target for a future wargaming video, since it’s small and can be played to completion in a couple of hours.

In the evening I tried, for the first time, one of those events that I think about doing every year: the National Security Decision Making Game. This is very much a LARP, although there seems to be a general reluctance to call it that, in which you play as segments of some real-world historical faction. In our case we played various internal factions within the USSR at the height of the Cold War. It was a ton of fun, and I did end up as the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, kind of by accident. It was very worthwhile and I got the chance to talk a lot of Soviet history before and after the game with some folks very knowledgeable on the subject, which was almost worth the price of admission by itself.

I would absolutely play it again, with one caveat: the game I played was the “short form”, four-hour version of the game, and I was pretty wrung out by the end of it. I’m not sure I could take the full eight-hour game. I wore bad shoes that day, a bush move that I have no excuse for (this was my 19th Origins,) which may have contributed to my discomfort. Also the room was approximately the same temperature as an actual Siberian gulag. The game was enjoyable enough to get me through it, but I’m still leery of an eight-hour marathon.

On Friday I arrived at the convention relatively late; there were some real-life things that needed to get done that day. Nevertheless, I did arrive in time for the 2 PM slot of Games On Demand. I landed in a session of Ken Hite’s Night’s Black Agents, sort of a vampire thriller game powered by Robin Laws’ Gumshoe system. The seesion itself was very enjoyable but I have reservations about the themes of NBA in particular; I like vampire stuff but the corporate espionage thing leaves me a little cold… but I’d like to read it to be sure.

In any event, when I spun down to the dealer’s room between events, I did my earnest shopping of the con. I picked up Crown of Roses, a block game and GMT’s answer to the classic Avalon Hill Kingmaker and Caesar’s War, a minigame from Decision Games that I’ve heard positive buzz about, and something else that’ll make a nice video at some point.

On the RPG front, I picked up the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, which I’ve had my eye on for a bit. To my surprise the massive hardcover was substantially cheaper than I expected, so it didn’t take much convincing. And I picked up Torchbearer and its accessories; it’s a dngeon crawling game based on Mouse Guard, which is in turn derived from Burning Wheel, a game I like a lot and consider a major inspiration.

Afterwards I hiked back up to the Hyatt for the 8 PM Games on Demand slot, where I got into… Dungeon Crawl Classics! It was great to see the game in action so quickly, and I had a great time; of our fourteen zero-level characters, about two-thirds of them died due to a single fire trap. It was glorious, and surprisingly, nobody else died for the rest of the session. DCC is a game I may do a separate post on once I’ve had the chance to digest the rules a little better; offhand it does some really nice things to baseline D&D, but I do retain some leeriness over the funky d14s and such.

Saturday was my #2 big gaming day, and started bright and early despite me oversleeping a bit. I started out again in Games on Demand, playing Microscope, an interactive Worldbuilding game that was a riot to play. The setting we came up with was a weird Meso-Polynesian society where the young spoke a different language than the old and ended up dying out, before the whole place was conquered by an Alexander-like foreigner who came in and settled the nearly depopulated islands.

After that: dealer’s room again, to pick up Trail of Cthulhu and the Dresden Files RPG, along with a couple more odds and ends. Both are fantastic reads, and my experience playing Night’s Black Agents earlier in the con sold me on the Gumshoe system, while Dresden was yet another piece in my Fate collection.

That night, again at Games on Demand, I got into a playtest of Wrath of the Autarch, run by its designer Phil Lewis. This is a Fate-powered kingdom building game, something that is incredibly up my alley, and it works wonderfully, although It does depart considerably from Fate Core. It was a joy to play, and probably my game of the whole con.

And that was Origins 2015. There was Sunday stuff happening, but I typically elect to go Wednesday and save Sunday for a day of cooldown before returning to the real life grind. And thus it was. Now, on Monday, I’m still tired.

Notes for Next Year

  1. I think this is my last go-round with the Board Room. It’s a great way to go for folks who want to play general-interest boardgames all con, but I have access to all I could ever want to play of those kinds of games (through CABS) and the kinds of things I’d want to get into at Origins tend to just not happen there. So barring something set up specifically in advance, I think that I’m just going to stick with roleplaying events from now on.
  2. On that subject, every year I tell myself that I should run games next year, but this year it feels a litte different. If there’s something I would specifically like to see, I should probably just run it myself, whether that’s some particular wargame or the kind of under-represented RPG that I like to get into at cons. Games on Demand can be a good vehicle for this, depending on the game — and even old school stuff like Classic Traveller and Dungeon Crawl Classics saw play there this year.
  3. My immediate thoughts on what to run would be old (but not OSR) stuff like Classic Traveller or Rolemaster. Or maybe have something of my own design ready to go by then, but we’ll see. It’s not like there aren’t several things in the pipeline.
  4. In a similar vein, I think that most of my RPG play will happen in the context of Games on Demand, which I felt was a huge, huge success this year. As this effort has grown the people running it have done a bangup job of keeping things organized, and even the last folks in the incredibly long lines tended to get into something cool.
  5. Wear good walking shoes every day. Dumbass. Also, maybe invest in some kind of wheely thing to carry stuff around. That damned messenger bag gets heavy after carrying it around for several hours.
  6. Socialize more. Gaming-wise I think my Origins was wildly successful despite considerable idle time. But I didn’t get to hobnob nearly as much as I’d like, or hang out with some of the people I wanted to hang out with. This is my own social anxiety aggravated by the logistics of having to drive in every day, so I had a reason to bolt promptly before midnight when my parking expired. Next year I’d like things to work out so I can stay later at least on Friday and Saturday.
  7. More and better forward planning. I was particularly bad about it this year, not even looking over the events listing until the day before the show. I’d also like to plan meal times better; I did make it to Bareburger, but otherwise made do at the Hyatt food court, which, aside from Subway, is about the same price as eating at North Market and not nearly as good. The issue is that RPG stuff happens in the Hyatt, which is at one end of the whole convention, and the High Street places like Barley’s and North Market are just past
  8. Since the amount of cosplay at Origins grows every year, I’m thinking of checking out the costume contest next year. I myself am very unlikely to cosplay (I have enough hobbies, thanks) but it might be fun to check out.
  9. Sunday will probably remain a stay-home day unless I take the following Monday off, which is probably not happening. I like to have a day to cool off after all the hustling of four days of con, so even if I have the extra day I’m more likely to blow it on Wednesday, where there is now plenty of quality gaming to get involved in.

Crusader Kings II: The Charlemagne Campaign

Having more or less gotten the hang of Hearts of Iron III over a series of games in 2014, this month I returned to Crusader Kings II. Like all of the Paradox grand strategy games, it’s challenging to get into, with a complicated interface, brain-melting depth and vast scope both geographical and temporal. They demand patience and diligence and a willingness to roll with misfortune and play the long game. These are not so much my strong points.

I began the current game playing as Karl Karling, King of East Francia, in 769. This is the current earliest available start date, and Karl is, of course, the man known to history as Charlemagne and the subject of the titular expansion.

Big Chuck has it very easy in the early game. His brother Karloman, King of Middle Francia, will almost certainly die young, leaving that kingdom to Karl as well. I don’t know if this is scripted or not, but it’s happened in every game I’ve seen unless the player is playing Karloman himself. The two titles together are most of what one needs to found an empire, but to declare the Holy Roman Empire in particular you also need Papal approval and the throne of Lombardy, neither of which I managed to grab before Charlemagne’s well-ahead-of-schedule death in 795. But the Empire of Francia was founded, providing a top-tier title that cannot, in theory, be split by gavelkind succession.


His only legitimate son and heir, Otto (the bastard Pepin the Hunchback never having been legitimized,) found that theory translates very imperfectly into practice, as he was forced to put down a series of rebellions that threatened to break the newborn Empire into its constituent Kingdoms. At the same time the powerful Moors of Iberia declared a Holy War even as heathen Northmen began raiding the coasts of Francia in large numbers. Killed in battle against the Saracens at age 54, Otto lived only a year longer than his father, and left the Imperial crown to a six year old heir.

Thankfully young Charles II’s regency was capable enough to win the last wave of wars, and Charles eventually grew into a marginally competent leader. An able strategist but personally craven in battle, he set about on a series of wars to conquer the lands that had been lost in the wake of his grandfather’s death. But the great challenge, of keeping Charlemagne’s empire together after his death, has been met so far.

Now, in 839, Charles the Just is only 38 and looks forward to many years of rule — but his dynasty does not have a reputation for longevity, and he has been stricken by illness several times. He has reconquered much of what was lost but Bavaria, Pomerania and Denmark yet elude his grasp, and on his borders both Islam and nascent Sweden are in ascendance. Of partial Lombard heritage himself, he eyes their Kingdom in Italy jealously, but a major war at the wrong time could be disastrous.

So yeah, good times. I hope to finish this game this week, but at the current pace, with over 600 years before mandatory endgame, this doesn’t appear likely. I could, arbitrarily declare the game over at any point, but I’m unlikely to do that while Francia holds together. The next game, I’m thinking, with either be with the pagan Norse or the Byzantines, with whom I will attempt to re-establish the full glory of the Roman Empire. Or maybe I’ll play, for the first time, as a vassal count somewhere, maybe Lombardy. The cool thing is that all of these are just the tip of the Crusader Kings II iceberg; even after that there’s Republics to play, and Muslims, and Indian Rajas and Mongols and Zoroastrians…

What’s Playing… and What’s Up Next!

As things have evolved over the last few weeks I’ve been making adjustments to my plans for the blog and the channel. I have been reliably posting a new video every day in my Dragon Age: Origins playthrough; additional series will follow the same posting schedule. Meaning that each series will get a new video each day on the YouTube channel.

But I’m not going to try to do a blog post for every vid. That would be doable for a single series, but I plan to have two or three running at any given time, and that makes it impractical. And, to be honest, the <Dragon Age games in particular are involved enough that to do them justice I feel like I’d basically need to write them up as novels, and that’s not going to happen. So I’m going to do a weekly recap post for each series instead, with videos embedded. The first of these should appear around the weekend.

The Dragon Age game is going splendidly, as long as you don’t mind me watching me bungle my way through its sprawling storyline. There are 26 episodes up already and plenty more on the way. After fiddling with each of its two sequels, however, I’ve decided to hold off on them for now in favor of playing them in order. So Origins will be followed by its expansion Awakening, then by Dragon Age II and finishing up with Inquisition, with decisions imported along the way. In order to get this moving I may speed up the pace of posting, but I don’t think it’s going to take me anything like the reported 80 hours to play through the first game. I have no doubt that one could put that amount of time into a single playthrough, especially with the DLC, but while I’m doing side quests I’m not trying to be exhaustive about it. If anything I may dither longest in the roomier Inquisition.

Early next week you will also see a new series. It was my thought to do a Mass Effect 1-3 megaplay along the same lines, but I figure that a single months-long multi-game replay is all I’d like to be doing at any given time, and at this point I am fully committed to Dragon Age. So I’ve chosen (by request!) a much more digestible title: Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us. This will be the first of their game that I’ve played, so it should be illuminating.

Once the giant Dragon Age project is complete, Mass Effect is back on the table, but my current thinking is that I’m more likely to do something standalone, like Deus Ex: Human Revolution or the first Assassin’s Creed. The Wolf Among Us should only take maybe two weeks to finish; after that you are likely to see something from Paradox: Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV or Hearts of Iron III.

Remember to subscribe to the YouTube channel to keep abreast on all this stuff.

Ardwulf Plays: Dragon Age Origins Episode 3 – Ostagar

An unplanned but thankfully temporary internet outage has delayed Episode 3 of our Dragon Age: Origins playthrough, but here it is! In this episode I continue the first part of the storyline, having escaped from the stifling clutches of the Circle.

Now in the ancient fastness of Ostagar, I find a merchant to sell off my unwanted loot and accept a task from the Kennel Master, who is trying to aid an ailing Mabari hound. After that I meet up with Alastair, the Grey Wardens’ previous new recruit and a former Templar, who maybe isn’t quite as funny as he thinks he is.

Meeting up with our leader Duncan and two other recruits, Daveth and Ser Jory, we are tasked with venturing into the nearby Korcari Wilds to find three vials of Darkspawn blood needed for the upcoming Grey Warden ritual, as well as some ancient documents lost long ago by the Order.

Graphically, I think that Dragon Age: Origins, released in 2009, hasn’t aged all that well in five years. This may be the result of being designed primarily with the limitations of consoles in mind… in fact, I first played it on the PS3, but saw immediately that I would enjoy it more on the PC. There is a nice parity between the gameplay graphics and the in-engine cutscenes (of which there are a lot,) but most of the characters walk with a stiff gait and look kind of plasticky. Not a big deal, and it’s by no means an ugly game, but it’s not up to current standards for this kind of thing, and in fact I think Bioware’s own Mass Effect, released two years earlier, holds up considerably better.

Where DA:O does shine spectacularly, though, is in the wonderful Inon Zur soundtrack (available on Spotify!) which is cinematic, thematically unified, complex, alternatingly somber, moody and exciting and just all together really well done. I would say that it’s one of my favorite video game soundtracks.

Stay tuned for episode 4, due on Monday!

Ardwulf Plays: Dragon Age: Origins Part 1 – The Harrowing

Dragon Age: Inquisition looks, and by all accounts is, pretty damned cool. However, between the holidays, graduation and needed plumbing work I can’t afford to buy it just now. It’s on my Christmas list.

However, I never let a little thing like that stop me. Plus, I never did finish (or even get very far in) Dragon Age: Origins. So, as part of the relaunch of Ardwulf’s Lair I’m starting with a playthrough of that. I have the ultimate edition, so I have Awakening to get through as well. All together that’s quite a lot of content. So onward with Episode 1!

Expect to see the next part in a few days.

Ardwulf Plays: EverQuest II

My current front-burner project (in my copious free time ha ha) is a Let’s Play run at EverQuest II. I’d been waiting for ages for character slots to go on sale, and they finally did (all September.) So I bought several and finally got to start a new character.

The new character is a Wood Elf Fury, starting in the Greater Faydark zone. The plan is to get that zone finished and then move on to the next zone, but with a different character. I have the first two episodes up, embedded below. After various rendering and uploading difficulties. Enjoy!

UPDATE: Fixed the embed on the second vid. Byproduct of a failed upload.

Capping Guild Wars 2

300px-Normal_gw2logoI’m a great tryer of MMORPGs. I tend to move between games frequently, often sticking around only for a week or two, only to come back in three months of two years or whatever. It’s easy to do especially in these days when freee to play ios the rule rather than the exception, and I can play for even just a day or two before moving on or becoming tied up with real-life things.

On top of that, I tend to play with alts a lot, usually quickly filling all of the available character slots, and sometimes more if you can buy them separately. In EQ2, for example, I have crafting alts in every tradeskill, plus a couple of extra characters in classes that I just wanted to play. For the last three years or so, EQ2 has been my primary game during summer and winter breaks, and I’ve been making a conscious effort to level my main there.

Even in EQ2, though — a game I have put hundreds of hours into — I don’t have a character at the level cap in either adventuring or crafting. The only game to date that I’ve capped a character is WoW, in which I managed a sustained run of about 8 months in the WotLK era. Even there, I only capped my main, although I came close with a couple of other characters before the cap shifted further out of reach.

Yesterday I hit the level cap in Guild Wars 2, which took (as a guess) maybe 110 hours. There’s still a lot left undone there, of course — offhand, my gear is shit and I still have about 45% of the world left to explore, to say nothing of the running series of events that GW2 has been rolling out pretty regularly since its launch. I have also done little — very little — PvP despite this being one of the game’s strong points. I may have another try at that in the limited time I have left (just one week) before school starts again.

Over on the forums, the running narrative among the nitwit set seems to be that GW2 is a big faceplant. Personally, I don’t see how that’s the case unless the metric of success is causing the downfall of World of Warcraft — which frankly no game except World of Warcraft is going to do (although it is managing it.) Sales were strong (over 3 million copies sold as of this past January,) and there’s still plenty of people in game; every North American server is at at least High population even at obscene hours.

Granted, it’s not a flawless game and we know sales have started to flatten, but at this point it’s fair to say that it’s aging fairly gracefully. Its trinity-less combat model hasn’t turned out as well as we all hoped; I think it works fine for play in the open world but in dungeons and against bosses it’s both screwy and dull. Too, the “living” world works well enough for the most part, but it’s not as organic as it sounded before launch, and frankly after 80 levels of it everything seems pretty stagy. Although I have been nominally leveling by exploring, and GW2’s open objectives are indeed a novel alternative to strictly linear quests, I haven’t felt like I was really discovering anything new for at least 40 levels.

It is also in some respects a frustrating game… although not nearly as frustrating as its predecessor, in which I tried (I really did) to finish all three campaigns, multiple times, only to eventually get stuck. It’s odd how similar the two games are, and yet how different, with GW being a true departure from the MMORPGs of its day and GW2 bringing the series much closer to the mainstream, but both sharing similar support models and art direction.

GW2 is getting good support but I wonder how wise ArenaNet was in opting for the current scheme of live support and regular updates instead of a dedicated (and marketable) expansion. I can see playing quite a bit more of it myself, but I’ll get shunted away into schoolwork in a matter of days… and I think we can already see some dwindling of interest that would be rekindled by an expansion.