WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew gets impressed with The Bard’s Tale Trilogy remastered collection on Steam while D. Bethel watches Venom and, even though he enjoyed it, wonders why it’s hitting such a strong chord with viewers.
DOCTOR BOO!: With Spookytober drawing to a close, Andrew and D. couldn’t not talk about Doctor Who, so they dove into the archive to talk about what they argue may be one of the series’ scariest episodes yet, series 4’s “Midnight.”
AN OPEN WORLD: With Bethesda’s surprise announcement of the still ephemeral Fallout 76, video game-focused documentarians, NoClip, announced that they will be doing a series covering the development of this new game. They started, however, with a comprehensive look at the history of Bethesda studios. After watching the documentary (embedded below), both D. and Andrew realized how far the studio has come, how big it has gotten, and how much of an impact this quirky company has made on gaming as a whole.
Shortcast 49 – The Sweet Beats: Where Andrew and D. Bethel talk about Fallout 4, also the RELATED EPISODES of this episode contain a comprehensive list of the other times Fallout 4 was discussed on the show.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew dives into “the German Stranger Things” as he watches the first three episodes of the Netflix series, Dark, while D. Bethel gets lost in an RPG-tinged clicker game called Almost a Hero by Bee Square Games.
WEEK IN GEEK: D. Bethel squabbles over the storylines left underdeveloped in Netflix’s western limited series, Godless, while Andrew dabbles in the interesting RPG system found in Evil Hat Productions’ Fate Core.
WEEK IN GEEK: D. Bethel looks at DC Comics’ retrospective of Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Studios, Wildstorm: A Celebration of 25 Years, and is completely underwhelmed by their effort while Andrew ponders the considerate world-building of Bethesda games as he dives back into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition.
And, for those that are dying to know the reference, here is the cover to Elder Scrolls: Arena (all apologies):
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew dives into Paizo’s newest RPG, Starfinder (starts at 2:34), while D. Bethel checks out the premier episode of Disney XD’s reboot of DuckTales (19:46).
REAL MONSTERS: (30:45) Dan and Andrew just hang back and have a conversation rather than a guided discourse about Nazis in popular culture. They go all over the place, but hover around the topic of how (and why) they’re used in fiction.
D. Bethel dives into his history with the Mass Effect series and why he found a lot to enjoy in Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Imposter Syndrome is a natural psychological consequence caused by breaking free from personal norms. Trying something new can be scary. For those already beset with anxiety issues, the Imposter Syndrome converts us to flagellants, knowing simultaneously that these thoughts are bogus while also knowing they motivate us to push through the arbitrary and unconscious barriers we set for ourselves.
In graduate school, I had a bad case of Imposter Syndrome––one of many manifestations of my anxiety. The anxiety caused me to eat and drink a lot; it tickled my health in various ways; I lost a lot of sleep. I often woke up at one or two or three in the morning, spinning my impending failure through all possible scenarios or, if it was a good day, trying to harvest and codify all the ideas bouncing off each other like balls in a bingo spinner.
Eventually, I trained myself to just get out of bed. Go do something. Distract yourself. In the case of distraction, I learned that video games did that best.
Most of these nights happened after Nicole and I moved into our second Sacramento townhouse, away from the social thrum of midtown, which left us with mostly quiet nights; so, what sleep I could get would be uninterrupted and pleasant. On the anxiety nights, however, I crept downstairs, headphones already on and listening to podcasts––some video game commentary, some comedy interviews, some political debate, some history––and I’d fire up my Xbox 360 for hours of distraction, getting a good chunk of game in before the world even woke up. When I look back at these nights, the games that I see most in my memories are the Mass Effect series, specifically the two sequels.
Scanning planets captured perfectly the strange, silent calm of what we understand of outer space. Unlike humans…there’s nothing fragile about the cosmos. It simply is, existing slowly toward some end that is neither frightening nor threatening.
Since I was playing with the sound off (so as to consume quality audio entertainment), I rarely worked through story missions during these insomnious sessions. Instead, I searched for the mundane in the games’ side missions: fetch quests, collection runs, delivery missions. The most calming task I could do, and what I did most often, was planet scanning.
WEEK IN GEEK: In honor of the 53rd anniversary of the show, Andrew watched the 1970s Doctor Who serial, “Day of the Daleks,” and follows that up with the new timey-wimey show, Timeless. Dan gets nostalgic to re-read X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson and finds, to his estimation, that it holds up rather well.
WAR KIND OF CHANGES: Andrew picks up Fallout 4 on PS4 and talks about what he’s seeing with Dan, who still hasn’t beaten it.
THE CRAFT OF CRAFTING: Building off of Fallout 4‘s systems, Dan and Andrew talk about the rise of crafting mechanics in video games, from Minecraft to Diablo II to Skyrim.
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For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“It’s All Over But the Crying” by The Ink Spots
-“Building the Deathcoaster” by Joseph LoDuca (from Army of Darkness)
I recently mentioned that I had been watching Geek & Sundry’s Titansgrave: The Ashes of Valkana. Besides being a very well produced “watch people play RPGs” show, it’s also a very good illustration of the Fantasy AGE role-playing game system. What I find really impressive about that the Fantasy AGE RPG did not exist until Titansgrave. As I mentioned in the podcast, the game was based heavily on the Dragon AGE RPG published by Green Ronin Publishing, which was (of course) based on the very popular video game by Bioware. I did not spend a lot of time talking about what Fantasy AGE brings to the table during the podcast. Instead, I thought I would take a moment and do that here.
Although there have always been other rule sets distinct from Dungeons & Dragons, including those of Palladium Books and Steve Jackson’s GURPS, it is safe to say that various versions of D&D have always dominated the market. This began to change in 2001, and the proliferation of RPG systems has become sort of a defining aspect of this era of tabletop role-playing. The creation of the “Open Game License” created the widely accepted notion that it was okay for third parties to develop content for existing RPG systems. Some companies even started flirting with the idea of developing their own derivative rule systems for gaming. The alledged “fall of D&D” with the release of D&D Fourth Edition and the resulting “Edition Wars” opened the door even farther. Suddenly, companies like Paizo, Goodman Games, and Green Ronin were able to penetrate the market and find their own space.
The Stunts of Fantasy AGE
After watching the entire season of Titansgrave, what I took away from the Fantasy AGE system was that it brought something new and different to the table. What I really liked was the stunt system. Using similar mechanics as the Dragon AGE RPG, it inserts opportunities for the spectacular into every die roll. D&D players are familiar with the idea of “critical successes,” in which the player rolls a 20 on the 20-sided die which results in a novel effect. Fantasy AGE kind of captures that feeling with “stunts,” in which any time doubles are rolled (out of three dice), the player gets “stunt points” to spend on cool things. When you consider that nearly 45% of all rolls of three six sided dice contain at least two matching dice, this means that the prospect of using stunt points can happen with some regularity. Suddenly, it starts to feel like your player characters can do awesome stuff like you see on the cover of every RPG rulebook. That’s a neat feeling that nearly every combat-heavy tabletop RPG has tried to address for years.
The Characters of Fantasy AGE
How the players build their characters is always a fundamental part of any tabletop role-playing game. In part due to its basis on the originalDragon Age: Origins, Fantasy AGE take a slightly different approach to characters and classes than your typical tabletop RPG. Although it is a class-based system, it draws that spectrum down to only three: Warrior, Rogue, and Mage. However, these basic classes get differentiated by abilities, specializations, and other options. For those who watched Titansgrave, it’s worth mentioning that Aankia and Kiliel were both rogues, but that isn’t immediately apparent to the viewer. As somebody who has sat at a table of Dungeons & Dragons and felt like the two fighters at the table were only distinguishable on the basis of the players, it’s nice to see a system that tries to create mechanical distinctions between different characters.
One thing I’ve seen when poking around Fantasy AGE-themed webpages is the ease with which players are adding their own content to the character system. New types of magic, new specializations, and other character options add further depth to the game. I’ve even see one online game master adapt the original Dragon Age RPG system into a Star Wars game. It appears that the relatively straightforward specialization system allows people to throw together a new variant that further expands the depth of field.
The Flexibility of Fantasy AGE
One of my greatest weaknesses as a tabletop RPG player is that I am never content with existing settings as provided. More often than not, I decide that the setting is too restrictive or somehow doesn’t meet my interests. Generally, this means I’ve always been attracted to “generic” role-playing game systems. Of course, as I get older, I learn to disregard things that I don’t like, but I still retain a soft spot for games designed to give you serious freedom of setting. And Fantasy AGE does that.
If it’s not clear, the Fantasy AGE presented in the rulebook is a generic fantasy setting. Sword and sorcery stuff, mostly. Titansgrave, on the other hand, is different. It’s that weird “sci-fi meets fantasy” Thundarr the Barbarian thing. Beyond that, the Fantasy AGE rulebook provides guidance on black powder weapons, providing the mechanical underpinnings of an Age of Sail game. At the end of the day, the game provides some basic rules for interaction, battle, and other gameplay and then lets the player’s imagination do the driving.
Bringing Something New to the Genre
I haven’t played Fantasy AGE yet, so everything I’m saying should probably be taken with a grain of salt. But, having played a lot of different tabletop RPG systems, I really like that this one brought something new to the table. It comes across as very free-form, allowing players to do what they want to do, while still providing something with a little bit of weight. Character options are wide and flexible while still giving players interesting development choices to make. Stunts give players a way to do cool and interesting things besides just “roll to hit.” I’m excited to try throwing the game into my normal rotation of tabletop RPG systems.
D. Bethel jokes that I’m evangelical about Wild Arms 3. It’s not an unfair conclusion to draw. Like we discussed in the podcast, the Wild Arms series is sort of weird. The original was pretty much a fantasy-esque RPG with a little bit of a western look and feel. One of the characters had firearms as a “special power” and another guy looked like he was wearing a duster. It was alright and laid down some of the peculiar tropes that would come later, but I wouldn’t really call it groundbreaking or definitive. My love is for the third entry in the series: Wild Arms 3.
Wild Arms 3 is a peculiarity in the vast history of Japanese RPGs because it feels like the design team was trying to do something different than practically every other JRPG that had come before. I always joke that the page for the game on the website TV Tropes.org sums up a lot of the weirdness:
Wild ARMs 3 gives one the impression that its creators were told to make a JRPG, but had never played a JRPG before. Far from making it a bad game, this means that they approached the genre from a new direction and did a lot to shake up old cliches[.]
Perhaps, given the history of the console role-playing game since the release of Wild Arms 3, what we were witnessing was the JRPG market starting to adapt to the changing player base. Like Dan said, most developers and players have acknowledged that the JRPGs of today have departed heavily from their roots, for better or worse.