The radicalness of Kindness

Due to some changes in my life and the general problem of being creative is that sometimes you’re not, I’ve had to take a step back from this. Now that things are falling into order, that should be less of a problem.

 

Over the past few months I’ve read the Hunger Games trilogy, and watched the movies. At the same time, season two of Marvel’s Daredevil has sat in my Netflix queue, unfinished. There’s a lot of difference between these two: medium, setting, writing style, the list goes on. What isn’t so different is that the world is a horrible place, but how the protagonists ultimately respond to that horror is markedly different. Katniss Everdeen and Matt Murdock have been hit by the world, over and over and over again, becoming hardened in the process. But what ultimately makes them different, what speaks volumes of difference between these two pieces of media, is how kind they are. It’s this kindness, and the radicalness of it, that makes Hunger Games a compelling book and the lack thereof that makes Daredevil dull. Let’s not waste anytime and jump into what I mean.

Spoilers for both franchises. Trigger warning: Torture, starvation, death

First, let’s consider each character’s situation. Katniss lives in District 12, where starvation is a constant threat, the Capitol carries out the execution of two people she knows every year, on TV, with the Hunger Games and she’s had to care for family for the past four years. Matt Murdock lost his vision to magical chemicals, his father to the Irish mob, has become a lawyer helping the weak and carries out vigilante justice as the man in the mask/Daredevil. Both characters have varying degrees of support networks and are forced into extraordinary situations where violence is required. Their situations are hard and they’ve been calloused by the world.

Katniss doesn’t see herself as a kind person, or even a particularly good person. She’s a survivor, pragmatic with her own sense of fairness. And the thing is, she’s not. While the books may be told in first person and Katniss has a somewhat lopsided view of herself, no one decent ever wins the Games. The world is horrid and oppressive and everything about it calls out for you to be callous in order to survive, but characters defy that, displaying acts of kindness. Peeta giving Katniss the bread when she’s on the brink of death, the alliance between Katniss and Rue,Katniss comforting Rue as she dies and giving her something approaching a proper burial, her refusal to kill Peeta at the end of the games. It only continues in the sequels: their generosity towards Rue and Thresh’s family, defying orders in Districts 8 and 2, and finally her forgiveness and refusal to kill Peeta in the Capitol. Kindness is radical, and it works. These actions matter not because they are kind in and of themselves, they are in defiance of the world as it is.

Compare this to Matt Murdock, who has a lot fewer existential problems and a better support network. He is, by and large, in control of his environment and actions, the action and counteraction of his world is much more of his volition than it is for Katniss. He cleans up the streets of New York, fighting Wilson Fisk and eternal clans of shadowy cabals of ninjas, and he takes refuge in the fact that he doesn’t kill people. Torture people? No problem. Graphic displays of violence, sometimes for little more than the kick of it? Sure. Killing is what makes him different than the Punisher, who is a bad man. But accepting killing as a moral limit while still engaging in other shadowy behavior just makes you Christian Bale Batman. It’s not terribly convincing and it’s a hard line to swallow in a show as graphic as Daredevil*. Harder still when the show abandons the Matt Murdock plot, as he turns himself into an isolated soldier to fight a vague cabal of eternal ninjas set on world domination. It revels in its darkness, not interested in the light.

This all matters because the real world is harsh and cruel. Seeing that so blandly reflected in the stories we tell isn’t interesting, or meaningful. Kindness, actual radical kindness, with consequences; not the sort of silencing message that the privileged use to hush the oppressed is important. The stories we tell ourselves reflect back on us and shape the next stories that we tell ourselves. The stories we tell ourselves shape how we interact with the world as it is and make of us think of the world that could be. Till next time.
*contrast this to something like Leverage where Elliot’s nonlethal take down of guards and the like is still dangerous. It’s easier to accept the show’s line when you see nothing worse than cuts and bruises.

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The Emergent Politics of Assassin’s Creed

Assassin’s Creed first came out in November of 2007 and has spawned a franchise with 7, soon to be 8, games in the main franchise, a dozen side games, and a number of other tie-in media. It is a massive franchise that is to many a moribund, lumbering part of the videogame landscape. Its overarching plot concerns two groups: Assassins and Templars, who have been fighting in the shadows for all of human history and working with various Great Men for their own ends. In addition to that, there’s an Ancient Alien conspiracy involved as well. In short, it’s a delightful setting that hits a lot of my buttons in the right way. Given how many installments this franchise has, looking at it as a whole and the emergent trends within it becomes interesting, so let’s get into it.

First, it’s important to give some more meaningful context to just what it is I’m talking. The first Assassin Creed, or AC for short, was set during the 3rd Crusade and had the Knights Templar, a Christian monastic order who have been the source of numerous conspiracies theories, locked into a secret war that is as old as humanity itself with the Assassins, a Muslim sect who gave us the word assassin. They’re fighting over artifacts from a Precursor civilization, known as the First Civ and this war has lasted long after the Crusade, up until the current day. The games following that have focused on different time periods as well as a continuation of the modern day plotline.

This is all pretty straightforward but raises the question of am I talking about emergent stuff? As I mentioned above, this franchise is huge, and has had multiple creative teams working on it. At best, this means poor communication creates a less cohesive whole; more realistically this means that different people have different interpretations and opinions of how things should work that get canonized. Also, these games aren’t very smart, or rather, they don’t set out to be. They’re part historical parkour part muderfest; these games are open about being theme parks.

Now, this raises the fair question of just what they have been fighting over for all human history?  In theory, the Assassins are dedicated to the enlightenment and liberation of all of humanity, the titular creed is “nothing is true, everything is permitted”. In short, they’re anarchists, revolutionaries. The Templars on the other hand, are convinced that they need to control humanity and through their guidance can lead humanity to better heights. In short, they’re technocrats, the Establishment.  Given this kind of setup, AC by definition is some flavor of punk.

This is especially true in the earlier installments. AC1’s targets are the ruling members of both sides of the Crusades who are by and large war profiteers. The modern day Templars have formed Abstergo, your typical cyberpunk megacorp. AC2 has the Italian Assassins be primarily drawn from the lower classes: sex workers, thieves and mercenaries. It is revealed that most of the 20th century, with the exception of the Lenin in the Russian Revolution, was orchestrated by the Templars; Thomas Edison and Henry Ford were Templars who thought that industrialization would be the perfect means of control.

While the setting is punk, the games are less so. AC1 is more focused on two hidden monastic orders fighting one another and are somewhat disjointed from the rest of the world. AC2 on the other hand, is a bit of a mess due to the main character of Ezio Auditore di Firenze. The first problem is that Ezio is the son of the wealthy merchant, he’s a part of the Establishmetn and while he gets along with thieves, sex workers and the like, he also gets along with the Medici. Second, Ezio isn’t really concerned with being an Assassin; he just wants to kill Templars because they murdered his family.  The games shy away from actually embracing these punk origins in favor of more generic conspiracies fighting one another.

This is inevitable given how the games approach history. If no small part of the appeal is supposed to be interacting with the Great Men of history, then that is going to predispose the narrative to embracing the Great Men theory. In turn, narrative necessity means that the Assassins need to ally with some of these Great Men. The ultimate result is that it moderates the Assassins from being anarchists into generic good guys who have a cool catchphrase. They become a part of the system and cannot destroy it.

This is coupled with the fact that anarchism or any sort of ideology that the Assassins should theoretically support hasn’t really done all that well historically and you don’t want every game to be a tragedy. Again, this idea is tied to the Great Men presentation of history; by focusing on these big shifts you ignore local shifts or shifts in societal norms.

This moderation of the Assassins isn’t enough though, in a lot of ways the first two games have been pushed to the sidelines as much as possible. It seems that the writers looked at AC, realized that there was a problem in moderating the Assassins, didn’t stop to think about their own assumptions that lead to happen and decided to take the series in a different direction. Instead of being revolutionaries, they’re morally ambiguous good guys who aren’t that different from the Templars. Considering that the Templars include Hitler, that’s an interesting claim to put forward.

By pushing for the two sides to not be that different, that’s exactly what happens. You have two conspiracies who are really good at wiping out branches of the other side and getting their team on top. It creates a false moral equivalence between the oppressed and the oppressors by just presenting them as the same thing. Of course, talking about how the two factions are just different shades of grey who could work together if only they stopped killing each other requires me to discuss AC’s metaplot and the First Civ. The short version is that there was the First Civ, who used humanity as slaves. They were also trying to stop the world from ending and between their efforts to stop that and humanity having enough First Civ DNA to use their tools to rise up against them. The end result is that the First Civ is wiped out and leave a bunch of their stuff around that humanity ends up using. A First Civ survivor has been able to use these tools to manipulate people and is probably the reason for why the Assassins and Templars have been fighting for all of history. So it turns out that the real answer is some sort of mythical moderate position that lacks any substance. It ultimately means that the Templars, an organization that is devoted to establishing and maintaining all of the world’s ills, is basically right, but maybe they should put a human face on it.

So how is surprising and why does it matter? It’s not surprising; we’re talking about one of the biggest AAA game franchises right now after all. Made by a major publisher and focus-group’d to seeming perfection. And it’s exactly because it’s such a big franchise and because of the subject matter that talking about this is relevant. History isn’t some objective and immutable record, it’s a collection of stories that tell us where we came from, but these are stories that are fought over constantly. This is why we have histiography, basically the study of history.  The presentation of history in pop culture, and this ultimately liberal moderate wistful thinking is nonsense.

That’s all I got for this week, next week is a surprise for both you and me. Till next time.

 

 

Gamergate is a terrorist movement

I was originally going to write a more academic post this week, but there were two problems with that. First, I’m not exactly thrilled with how the first draft came out and the past two weeks have been uniquely terrible. While I touched on this briefly last month, it’s important to not only touch on it again, but to be far more forceful.

For those of you not in the know, let’s start at the beginning. Gamergate started with a developer named Zoe Quinn and a game called Depression Quest. Her ex-boyfriend accused her of sleeping with games journalists, one of whom gave Depression Quest favorable press. Except this favorable press doesn’t actually exist and Zoe Quinn’s personal life is no one’s goddamn business. The point being, this got claimed by the scum of the internet as a rallying cry for integrity in games journalism.

This is utterly nonsensical for two reasons. The first problem is in regards to the entire concept of integrity in games journalism. Integrity is a rare commodity because publishers can withhold access if they don’t get favorable press. It’s why negative reviews are so rare for example. Secondly, objective reporting doesn’t exist, reading something by an author means that you’re reading something written by a human who has preferences and biases, which is even more true in an opinion piece like a review. The other issue is that this crusade for integrity is really about harassing women and ‘sjw’ aka social justice warriors aka a derogatory name used to describe those concerned with social justice.

Now at first this was just your usual eruption of internet hostility that tends to blow over, except this started back in August. Since then it’s escalated with such events as Adam Baldwin joining in on the harassment, to Breitbart.com taking up the cause, to outlets like the Washington Post reporting on it. Oh and we have developers being forced to flee their homes because they’ve received death threats and Anita Sarkeesian speaking at a university prompts threats of a mass shooting.

Yeah, let that last part sink in for a moment. Gamergate is a terrorist movement concerned with preservation of toxicity and keeping games as an unsafe place. There is no other honest interpretation of it. As such, the only ethical thing to do is to denounce them. Silence is complicity in their actions.

Next week, I talk about something I actually want to talk about and not denouncing bigots for a while.

Solforge draftcap no. 4

A new set came out today and that means a new draft environment, especially since most of the cards from Alpha have been rotated out. Here is the first draft I’ve done of the new set.

Before discussing the picks here are my general thoughts going into it: Nekrium is the best faction, it lost the baggage that Alpha gave it while having new power. Alloyin was the worst since most of its power was tied to Alpha cards. Uterra is still solid and hasn’t really changed much. With that in mind, let’s dive in.

Pack 1:

Aether Root and Crypt Conjurer are not where you want to be since they rely on spells to properly function. Runbark Guardian is essentially a Fangwood Ravager with upside. Onxyium Alloyomancer and Oratek Warhammer are Allied cards, which I dislike taking first  and involve Alloyin at that, so really not where i want to be. Fleshreaver seems pretty sweet on its own and puts me into Nekrium, so easy pick here.

01

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 2:

On one hand, I really wanted to just force Nekrium/Uterra. On the other hand, I hate forcing with sub optimal cards, which is what i think of Lysian Hydra and Seal of Deepwood. In addition to that i have two powerful Tempys spells here and Tempys isn’t terrible. I take the Frostshatter Strike cause it impacts multiple lanes and can put me over the top to win a game.

02

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 3: This is an interesting pack, aside from the Ghastly Renewal all of these cards have merit. Dr. Frankenbaum is not very good on his own, but I already have 1 Abombination and it’s only the third pack, I can take my changes and tr to make that deck work. Xithian Rotfiend is just a really powerful underdrop. Ebonskull Warlord is also an underdrop, but one that assumes the game will go long for maximum value. I do not take the good doktor cause i’m a coward who doesn’t want to live the dream. I take Rotfiend cause I figure it’s better than the Warlord.

03

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 4:

This pack on the other hand is far less exciting. Gloomspire Wurm isn’t remotely a good card so that leaves Blight Witch and Spirit Weaver. I take the Spirit Reaver mainly cause I didn’t think very highly of Blight Witch or Consistent. In hindsight this was almost definitely a mistake borne out of me not realizing how this works in play. While it still needs pump to really shine, it does a fair amount on its own.

04

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 5:

I don’t think Seal of Kadras is all that good since it does so little until level 3. Ebonskull Warlord as mentioned before is a quasi underdrop and not a spell, so he’s the pick by default.

05

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 6: Wallbreaker Yeti is fine with some varying upside. Razortooth Stalker is powerful, just more reasonable after the nerf. Seal of Tarsus strikes me as one of the better seals but not what I want here. Duskspire Zombie is not what this deck wants to do. Cloudreaver Titan does a lot of work but I don’t think it’s better than Razortooth Stalker, the former can more easily trade and if left unchecked will take over a game, Titan just gets in there but doesn’t have as much impact. i take the Stalker

06

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 7: Gloomfiend is fine, Seal of Tarsus is also fine. Ruthless Wanderer doesn’t seem that good. Herald of Destruction doesn’t have a terrible body and can just wreck some decks, or at least limit their cards by a nonzero amount. Nyrali Ooze is fine if unexciting. I take Herald cause it seems like a powerful silver bullet.

07

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 8; Crag Walker is a perfectly fine French vanilla creature. Uranti Warstoker isn’t happening. Catacomb Spider seems like none of it’s numbers are high enough. Sorrow Harvester would stand out more if i had taken the Frankenbaum but is otherwise unexciting. Crag Walker goes into the deck.

08

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 9:Tremorcharge can be good but doesn’t really key off of a lot of cards i have at the moment and i want to hold off on spells. Dysian Broodmother seems basically useless if you aren’t allied Uterra; Scourgeflame Sorcerer isn’t exactly a card or effect I find myself wanting. Crag Walker still seems fine and is my pick.

09

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 10: Tarsian Pact hasn’t really impressed me, coming off as not enough bang for my buck. Glacial Crush can just randomly swing games in my favor and is a fine “sideboard” card to have.

10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 11: My cowardice from earlier comes back to haunt me with a second doktor. The problem is that having passed on the first one I’m a lot more inclined to pass on this one. Grave Geist is solid. Firemane Steed and Kadras Colossus are underwhelming for different reasons but both end up not doing much. I don’t want a second Glaciah Crush so Grave Gesit is the clear pick.

11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 12: Master of Elements is a Fangwood Ravager with upside and not terribly exciting. Cinder Colossus is not where this deck wants to be. Xithian Crusher is somewhat analogous to Stonefist Giant and is good enough for me.

12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 13: Byzerak Frostmaiden can muck up the board and be fairly annoying. Legion Titan strikes me as too swing to pay off, especially since it seems like attack is higher in general. Blightskull Phantasm is fine without the ability and the ability is fairly strong. I’ve never played with the Frostmaiden so I take it. In hindsight the Phantasm would’ve been better.

13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 14;

Corpulent Shambler is the best card here by a long shot and is the easy pick here.

14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 15: Contagion Lord is super interesting as a card. It has a playable body on its own and being a quasi Soul harvest is fairly useful. It does have a cost in adding two cards to your deck, but those guys aren’t bad. Not only does it seem to be super sweet, it’s better than the Wurm and the easy pick here.

15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 16:

The pick for me is between Fleshreaver and Grave Geist. I opt for Grave Geist cause it’s a known quantity. In hindsight I stand by that pick.

16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 17: Nyrali Symbiote is fine, especially if you can have it eat something. Primordial is unexciting at best. Spiritfrost Shaman is trading a point of attack at level 3 for an ability at all levels to just dome my opponent. i’l take that trade.

17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 18:

Flamerift Instigator is a powerful card, it’s going to trade for a lot with it’s body but if it can unleash any huge defenders than you’re in business. Zephyr mage is clunky at best. Graveborn Glutton is still a premier common and the pick here.

18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 19: Windcaller Shaman does the most out of these cards, eas pick.

19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 20: Spiritleash, while powerful doesn’t really have any combos with my deck thus far. Seal of Tarsus is an unknown and seems fine on it’s own.

20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 21: i have no idea how good Xithian Direhound is even though it seems like it’s fairly decent, especially in an aggressive deck ike this. I do know that Conflagrate is a good spell and I can stand to take a few of them.

21

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 22: Ashuarian Brawler is a solid underdrop as is Nyrali Ambusher. Darkfrost Reaper is unexciting. Runespark Primordial strikes me as a worse Lightning Wurm, who was not that great. I take the Brawler since I feel like I’m more aggressive and want to capitalize on that as much as possible.

22

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 23: Everflame Mystic is fine. Talin Stampede doesn’t seem like it’ll pump a lot of my dudes. Tremorcharge only needs to work with one though and is a big swing.

23

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 24: Ice Torrent doesn’t do anything so time to find out if Xithian Direhound is any good.

24

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 25; And here I’ll take the Instigator easily

25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 26:

Uranti Icemage does combo with Glacial Crush, but not much else. Spiritcleave is a conditional removal spell but i don’t feel ike the condition is that hard to jump through, especially since a lot of my creatures have low health. Cinderbound Barbarian is basically the new Magma Hound. I take the cleave cause I want an answer to bombs. i don’t know if this pick is objectively wrong but based on the games I played it was.

26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 27; Oratek Battlebrand is not what you want if you’re not A/T. Spirit Torrent doesn’t do anything. Organ Harvester is another way to answer bombs and is my pick.

27

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 28:

Cinder Mystic is unexciting and i don’t want the game to go long enough where it’s upside is relevant. It’s either between Ebonskull Warlord or Conflagrate. I opt for the latter cause i feel like i get more flexibility out of it.

28

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 29: I take Burnout cause I want to see how it plays and don’t have a high opinion of blight witch. In hindsight I should’ve taken the Blight Witch to keep the spell count down.

29

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pack 30:

Instigator is a fine aggressive card and probably shouldn’t be here.

30

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The draft did not go so well. Ended up 2-2. Part of it was a function of some poor picks that resulted in a deck that had individually had some powerful cards in it but a lack of overarching synergy that gave it a real kick. A lot of this was based upon trying to work through how the new mechanics play out. I’m sure there were some misplays as well. It’s an interesting format and the new mechanics are definitely upending the way we play the game. Should be fun.

 

Feel free to comment, next week I have a hunch I’ll be talking about Star Wars but that’s not set in stone. Until next time.

 

Some Perspective on The Elder Scrolls

I’ve been “replaying”* Morrowind lately and it’s different than Bethesda’s later titles. Some ways good, some not as good. Treating as the start of their “modern”** era is fitting so let’s take a look at what made Morrowind what is and how these features have been treated in future games.

The setting: Morrowind would not be so beloved if it did not have the setting it does. Vvardenfall is a truly unique place with its own mundane yet fantastical creatures. The architecture is its own and is diverse: the Dunmer-Empire fusion of Hlaalu, the more traitional Redoran buildings designed to withstand the ash storms, the plant like wizard towers of the Telvanni. Daedric ruins, Ancestral tombs, Dwemer Ruins, Egg Mines, Dunmer fortresses. There is a lot of different stuff to see and interact with.

How does it stack up?: This is one of the reasons why Morrowind is so beloved and it hasn’t really been usurped. Oblivion had the cities be the same, Ayleid Ruins, dungeons and Oblivion gates in generic fantasyland. Fallout 3 was diverse yet samey; although I think is more a function of the graphical settings I had. Skyrim is very pretty and is fantasyScandanavia and has differing climes as well as dungeon set ups.

Story: Yes, the main plot is basically taking Frank Herbert’s Dune and tweaking it. But that ignores the backstory, which is different, as well as the execution. All in all it’s very well done. Tribunal’s main quest is dumb and immersion breaking*** but Bloodmoon rebounds.

How does it stack up?: Oblivion and Fallout 3 are both dumb but not Tribunal level dumb. I’ve never played the Oblivion DLC but I’ve heard good things about it. Skyrim’s Civil War is just really unpolished and according to modders theree was a lot more they wanted to do with it.  I haven’t actually finished Alduin’s plot due to limitations of having access to Skyrim but so far it’s been fun. But the backstory is really, really engrossing. It cleans away most of the contiunity lockout that was building up and is compelling in its own right. The problem is that I want more of it, and it’s not forthcoming at any point in the near future.

Factions: 3 Great Houses, 3 Guilds, 2 Religions, 3 Clans, the Legion, the Morag Tong, and the EEC in Bloodmoon is just a list of the joinable ones. The Blades, Skaal and Ashlanders use the faction system to convey something during the Main Quest. There’s also House Dres, House Indoril, the Cammona Tong, the Dark Brotherhood, and the Twin Lamps that still impact the game but aren’t joinable.

How does it stack up?: Winner by a clear mile, Oblivion had 5, Fallout has none and Skyrim has 4. Nor does that get into how annoying Skyrim is with its factions and tying them to Daedra. The plots of the factions are all engaging, with the exception of half of Oblivion’s Dark Brotherhood, and they drop the attribute/skill requirements. Which on one hand is good, but on the other hand does remove a layer of you’re moving up in the ranks.

Magic: Is fairly diverse, plenty of spell effects. the problem is that a good chunk of Illusion and Mysticism are basically useless.

How does it stack up?: I can’t tell you anything about Oblivion outside of spellmaking was locked to the Mage’s Guild, which was dumb and immersion breaking if you wanted to not join them. Skyrim really fails here, between Destruction not scaling with weapon damage and the effects being reduced to the bone, it’s underwhelming. Most of the interesting non-mundane effects are locked off in Shouts. They all have their problems, I think TES Six has a good foundation if they take the Shouts and make them magic. Levitate I think I’m mixed on. On one hand, design can make more organic worlds and use the spell’s existence to be more diverse. On the other hand, Levitate is just as often used by me as a get of this damn ditch then any legit exploring. The former is good, the latter is not good.

Fast Travel: An interweaving series of guild guides, silt striders and boats cover most of the province. Otherwise you have Mark and Recall for one location. You’re more often tahn not forced to explore the wilderness to get to places and often stumble upon things.

How does it stack up?: The biggest problem with Oblivion’s system was that you could fast travel to all the cities by default. There was so little incentive to go exploring out beyond the next quest. Fallout and Skyrim were better in that you have to discover the place first and Skyrim has more emergence in that fast travel still exists for other people. Mark and Recall would be good for specific points and its original use of one location would be fine.****

Character Progression: On the surface it’s rather straightforward, raise skills that matter to your character. Level up, raise your stats. The problem is that the system is counter intuitive and leads to sub optimal characters at higher levels if played normally.***** In terms of gear, you can find the common stuff with no problem, the rare stuff with varying degrees of difficulty and the high tier stuff is only in the wilderness or on important NPCs.

How does it stack up?: Oblivion is terrible, Fallout 3 is fine. The gear doesn’t really stand out that much, especially if you have DLC and do Operation Anchorage soonish. Skyrim is functional but your character lacks some measure of identity in this set up. Skyrim still wins though. Crafting being the great equalizer does give some justification to customizing appearance at hte cost of you needing to be heavily invested in smithing and enchanting.

Overall: Morrowind had the more engrossing sandbox to play in, Skyrim has far more refined gameplay. However the gamplay comes at the cost of not really defining the character and making them interchangeable.  Hopefully TES 6 will have the same world building as Morrowind but with far more mechanical polish.

*Given the factions and self imposed restrictions I have on this playthrough, it is a different game in some regards but given how much I’ve played it, it’s replaying.

**I’ve never felt a great need to toy around with DOS to get the earlier games to work and considering how their popularity really took off with Morrowind I think this is fair. This also means that I’m including Fallout 3 cause it can be fairly described as Oblivion with guns.

***The sheer nonsense of it really reinforces the sort of ambiguous everyman your character essentially is and the difficulty of roleplaying.

****There’s a reason why multiple Mark/Recall is one of the must have mods.

*****GCD mod fixes this nicely.

Solforge Musings

So Solforge has been out for a while, I have a better idea of how cards play out better, and some other thoughts. So let’s get into it.

Cards

Storm Bringer is actually pretty good.

Level locked removal is miserable. Botanimate isn’t that great unless you’re spell heavy.

Wildwood Sower is really powerful.

Doomwing Dire Drake is pretty rough against something that isn’t Tempys based.

Updates

Shapers will be changed to only trigger off of their own faction. This is a good thing to deal with how oppressive N/T Shapers as a deck is. However buffing Flamespeaker Savant despite knowing how powerful 4 damage at lvl 2 and 7 damage at lvl 3 seems like a dubious move. There are some changes that people have found by playing around with the game’s code but as far as i know that’s the only one confirmed.

Speaking of updates: tournament play will hit this month hopefully. Drafting should be fun, constructed is another issue though. Part of the reason that N/T Shapers is such an oppressive deck is because it’s fairly easy to build.  This is a result of most people are playing Sealed, they only have access to the cards they opened, no trading is possible. Until trading is possible, Constructed just means you can either built the best deck because you have all the cards or you can cobble something together that’s creative. At the very least, drafting will give players more cards.

Conclusion

I wish there was more to say, but there isn’t really. Update is taking longer than expected to come out and as of right now things are kinda stagnant. Until next time.

Solforge Core Set Review: Uterra

Final faction, let’s not waste anytime. Other factions can be found here and here.

Arboris, Grove Dragon

There’s enough life gain to keep him active and his level 1 and 2 aren’t unplayable without it. His level 3 is just straight up good.

Botanimate

Uterra removal. You’re not going to do any better.

Bramblewood Guardian

he’s good, he’s vanilla. You can do better.

Cavaderous Thicket

I’m rather underwhelmed by the poison creatures since I”d rather try to outpace the guys I’m playing htis to deal with and it’s just dead against armor.

 

Cavern Hydra

Like this guy. Decent stats, really good regen rate and if you pump him then he’s even harder to deal with.

 

Chrogias

His level 3 will still just end games. There are more ways to actually deal with him now though.

Cultivate

Clearly a build around card, good way to get value of out phytobomb

Deepbranch Ancient

There are two times when this guy will be relevant: you’re so far ahead that it doesn’t matter. Or, you have it filled with glass cannons and can use some beef. I think I prefer lifeblood dryad in this kind of role but it’s still decent.

Deepbranch Prowler

Hit them hard and hit them fast. Or try to stabilize a bit later on. This guy really drops in value the mroe you level him.

Deepbranch Bear Rider

Such a cool card, such bad stats.

Druid’s Chant

Lifegain is bad mmkay

Echowisp

This is powerful, this is also fair. If you have it, play it.

Enrage

This is the metric by which I judge all pump spells. I does what it does very well and levels very nicely.

Ether Hounds

Good way to fill up your board

Fangwood Ravager

By Uterran Standards this is not that good

Feral Instinct

I like this as a 1 of in some decks cause it gives Breakthrough, which the Uterran surge does not.

Ferocious Roar

What do you when you have a board of scary creatures? Make them even scarier. It’s good

Frostwild Tracker

His stats are bad, but level 2 and 3 mean you get 2 creatures for playing him so it balances out.

Gemhide Basher

He usually trades off with problem creatures, which is exactly what you want and is something that Uterra has a hard time dealing with

Ghostscale Cobra

Still not a big fan of poison

Glowstride Stag

Best Uterran common in my opinion. Incidental life gain is awesome and his body isn’t that bad.

Grove Huntress

Gives some pump, gives a body, decent deal

Grove Matriarch

You’re not exactly happy to play this but it does serve as a good engine card for sacrifice/death, swarm and Cultivate decks.

Heart Tree

All of your creatures are now harder to kill. They’re also relying on something that’s relatively easy to kill. I would have a better opinon on this if I had any.

Hunting Pack

There is a 50/50 chance that is an inverse Ether Hounds. It’s less likely for this to be better and you should do better.

Leafkin Progenitor

This guy is awesome during PL1. Once you activate him he’s hard to deal with and then it’s not long before you get board advantage.  The only downside is that the later the game goes on the more likely they are to be able to deal with him easily.

Lifeblood Dryad

Decent on its own, pumps a full board and the pump is one of the bigger growths int eh game compared to level scaling.

Lifeshaper Savant

It’s a Shaper.

Lightbringer Cleric

It’s on par with Glowstride Stag.

Mossbeard Patriarch

It’s like Heart Tree but harder to kill and more limited in its ability.

Natural Selection

This is really hard to get to work. It might work in a deck that’s really dedicated to fill up the board.

Oxidon Spitter

Alloyin hate, you probably want one since it’s stats aren’t bad on their own either.

Phytobomb

this is better than you’d think at first glance since there are a lot of ways to take advantage of it, ranging from ltos fo death for a GGD, to triggering every lane full stuff to Cultivate, to Dryad triggers.

Primal Surge

It’s a non-Alloyn Surge.

Restless Wanderers

3 of or bust.

Rootforged Avatar

Strictly better Prowler in mono-Uterra.

Runegrove Guardian

I’m not a big fan of when you level triggered stuff. At least the Tempys card is unique, this isn’t.

Shardplate Delver

He starts off smallish and then gets big if they don’t’ deal with him.  Good card.

Shardplate Mutant

Are 3 random cards out of your hand worth something that is at least a 2 for 1 and usually better/ Probably?

Soothing Radiance

This was better when it healed you as well and even then I didn’t really like it.

Spring Dryad

Building a deck around abusing this is viable to a certain casual/unheroic extent.

Swampmoss Lurker

It’s better than Fangwood Ravager

Talisin, Bard of Abundance

I like this guy in Alloyin/Uterra builds where you can hopefully skip his earlier levels and just get to the part where you overwhelm your opponent.

Toxic Spores

I liked this better when it was free and I like it more than the poison creatures since it can bypass armor and doesn’t feed grimgaunts.

Uterra Packmaster

He doesn’t buff as much and he doesn’t have as much health so he’s fair, but again still very good.

Wildwood Sower

Same deal as the other creatures that trigger off of spells. He’s probably one of hte better ones cause so much stuff cares about the tokens he makes.

Overall: Uterra has a lot of stuff going on, moreso than any other faction. I don’t think it’s the most powerful but it is the most meanigfully divers.

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Fiasco

What is it: Fiasco is a GMless cooperative roleplaying game by Bully Pulpit Games that handles 3-5 players. The players create a situation based off scenarios that can be found in the book or online for free. They define the relationships between their characters, speical locations and objects as well as the driving force of the session in the form of needs. It takes about 2-3 hours to play and be described as a Coen Brothers Movie turned into a game.

Great what does that mean: You start by choosing a scenario, for example the book comes with a Western one, a suburban one, a rural town among others. You then roll dice(4 times the number of players, with half being one color and half being another) and use these results to pick details from the tables provided. Once you’re done with this you use this information to create your characters and firmly define the situation. The game consists of people setting up and acting out scenes with an intermission and tilt in the middle and an epilogue at the end. The goal is to just have fun.

Scaling: The number of players listed is accurate, 3 is good, 4 seems to be the best in my experience while 5 makes it hard to include everyone. this doesn’t work at 2 players and I can’t imagine going above 5 is fun.

Rules: The rules are rather lite, although I’m still not convinced that my group is doing it right. On the other hand; given the nature of the game the rules really just facilitate  a framework to play in. It’s a lot more important to have a group that makes this fun by not following the golden rule of not being a dick.

Book Quality: It’s a serviceable softwork with solid production values and a pdf version. Last time I checked they were offering the pdf and physical copies a bundle; which is really nice and something I wish was more common.

What’s good: It encourages you to do crazy roleplaying session and requires little prep(you need dice and index cards). It plays in a reasonable amount of time and there’s a lot of support in terms of scenarios that you can use outside of the book.

What’s not so good: The rules are light but are a bit tricky to fully grasp. The wrong group can make this a very unfun experience.

Overall: 4/5, Fiasco does a lot of things right with solid production values. It can be really fun but like with many games, the group you play this with makes or break it.

Fiasco at RPGgeek

Fiasco at Amazon
 

MTG Pauper Deck Idea: R/G Humans

Pauper is a primarily MTGO based format where you can only use commons, specifically cards printed as common on MTGO. Which means no Hymn to Tourach for example. It’s also the only Constructed format I play since it allows me to use most of the cards I draft and most things are rather cheap and it’s possible to trade with bots for some good cards with draft junk.

Avacyn Restored gave us some good red humans, specifically Riot Ringleader but to a lesser extent Kruin Striker and Thatcher’s Revolt. The block as a whole also gave us some good green cards like Young Wolf and Hunger of the Howlpack. My idea was to use the cards I already had to see if I could build a R/G deck that took advantage of Riot Ringleader being one of the few lords in Pauper and beat my way to victory. The result so far? It works to a certain extent but it’s clear that there’s more work that needs to be done. This was mostly built with the cards I already had and some trades I could manage with bots.

The Deck:

Land

9x Mountain

10x Forest

3x Terramorphic Expanse

I keep tweaking this but I still tend to either get flooded or screwed on mana. This being the first deck I’m building from scratch instead of compiling together from primers I’m not really sure how to make a good mana base.

1 drops

2x Geistflame

2x Hunger of the Howlpack

1x Ranger’s Guile

2x Abundant Growth

4x Skarrgan Pit Skull

2x Somberwald Vigilante

4x Young Wolf

The Geistflames are for triggering bloodthrist, spot removal, and a bit of reach by going for the dome. The Hunger of the Howlpacks are meant to take advantage of the tokens being created from Thatcher’s Revolt get sacrificed and trigger morbid. The Ranger’s Guile is a counter against creature removal, I should probably increase it, but I’m not sure what to cut. The Abundant Growths help with color fixing and cantrip. Skarrgan Pit Skulls are solid value creatures. The Somberwald Vigilantes are literally the only cmc 1 human printed in green or red and I had two of them. The young wolves are also solid and help with my curve.

2 drops

1x Gruul Signet

4x Kruin Striker

2x Timberland Guide

The signet is fixing, anymore than 1 is awkward I’ve already found. Kruin Striker gets big from its ability and counters and ideally pushes through for the win. Timberland Guide in theory is meant to pump my other creatures but isn’t working so well in practice, I’m not sure what to replace him for.

3 drops 

4x Thatcher’s Revolt

3x Brimstone Volley

2x Borderland Ranger

1x Fervent Cathar

4x Riot Ringleader

Thatcher’s Revolt and Riot Ringleader were part of what inspired me to make the deck and are kinda of the core idea. Brimstone volley is because I don’t have Chain Lightning  or Lightning Bolt. Sometimes I’m able to cast it with Morbid active and it’s worth it; but it’s not the most efficient spell I could be using; just the most efficient I have. Borderland Ranger is to help with mana. Fervent Cathar stopping a creature from blocking is a good way to push through enough damage to win.

What works: In general I’m relying upon quality creatures and some synergies to maintain pressure and beat down on the opponent.

What doesn’t work: The manabase, I’m not convinced that I have the numbers right and the Gruul bounceland would almost definitely help. There are better cards that I could be using as mentioned above, and I need to do something about my curve, too often I find myself with a bunch of three drops and unable to meaningfully impact the board.

What I need: Better burn, bouncelands,  improve my mana curve, sideboard(I don’t need this right now since I can just play single games instead of matches)

Overall I think there’s a decent deck here that can be built if I get the right pieces, and while I know what some of the pieces are, there are some others that I don’t since Pauper is an eternal format and I started playing last October.

Thoughts? Recommendations?