Tabletop Adventure-Building: Campaigning in the Here and Now

-By Mike

Tabletop RPGs have been my hobby for a long time, and I’ve also always had a certain appreciation for level design, and exploring the topic of creating dungeons, encounters, and challenges in games like D&D or Shadowrun is one of the ways I try to connect with that. Thing is, for my homebrew games I mostly just “wing it,” pulling out the dungeon, the traps, and the encounters in it off the top of my head. Years of practice makes me pretty good at it, such that I’d trust my instincts for building an encounter over the Challenge Rating system in D&D or Pathfinder, but it can be a frustrating and stressful way to run a game, and there’s a lot of things that well-prepared materials bring to the table that can make things feel a lot more engaging. Frankly the best games I’ve ever run tend to be the ones where I supplement my DMing instincts with pre-made adventures, where all my brain power goes to just making the encounters fun or interesting while the module supplies environments, maps, characters, and guidelines that keep me from having to fumble too much.

It seems like it should be easy enough to sit down, walk one’s self through an adventure, and record it for that purpose. Yet, for all the time I’ve spent attempting to write a pre-made adventure myself, I’ve yet to get one to the point where I feel happy with it. Through these blog entries I hope to de-mystify that process for myself as well as anybody else who might be struggling with that concept.

We’ll be starting this off with a little exploration of the concept of planning a tabletop adventure — when it is and isn’t constructive, and why.

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Kingdom Hearts 3D Review: A Dream of Something Better

-By Adam

The Kingdom Hearts series is a strange beast. It started as a fanciful fling between Squaresoft and Disney, a pair of very unlikely bedfellows brought together by the fact that they shared an elevator. Over the past dozen years, developer Square Enix has evolved the series into a truly vast thing: increasingly complex, adored by its fans, and alienating to newcomers. The concept was originally very appealing to me, as I tend to enjoy unlikely combinations like this. I found the juxtaposition of cartoon whimsy and melodramatic fantasy to be irresistible, and I’ve played (or at least tried to play) almost all of the games in the series since the beginning. Sadly, as the stories of each successive game built on top of the rest and the universe grew more complex, I began to notice the quirkiness fading away with each iteration, only to be replaced by half-baked game mechanics and a heaping helping of hollow plot twists. I grew tired of watching such a fun concept go to waste.

The latest game, a 3DS spin-off called Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance (D.D.D., three “D”, geddit?) was released a couple years ago, and frankly, as a disillusioned former fan, I couldn’t have cared less. I had all but sworn off the series after the previous iteration delivered some of the worst writing I’ve ever seen in a video game (truly a remarkable achievement). However, some friends of mine had seen fit to praise the latest entry, so being the optimist/masochist that I am, I decided to let Sora and friends break my heart just one more time. Perhaps, as Square Enix prepares to unleash the next main entry, Kingdom Hearts III, they would be able to return to their whimsical roots. What I found was, to my shock and bewilderment, equal parts Delightful, Defective, and Depressing (GEDDIT?).

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The half-man, the legend himself: Dante.

Diary of a Hermit: Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening

-By Adam

Welcome to Diary of a Hermit, a new column about games I should have played already, but haven’t!  Today I’m going to talk about Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening.

HERMIT-FRIENDLY version!  For people who don’t like spoilers or reading:

Devil May Cry 3 is a hardcore, fast-paced, 3D beat-em-up action game about a white-haired guy named Dante who beats the shit out of monsters because it’s cool.  Featuring over-the-top action and challenging, tightly-designed gameplay, this game is a must-play for game designers interested in the brawler genre.  Just… trust me on this one.  That said, this game comes from the old-school philosophy of “harder is always better”, and is downright infuriatingly difficult at times.  If you are easily discouraged, you may miss out on some of the best that the game has to offer.  It’s a shame that Devil May Cry 3 can be too hardcore for its own good, but overall it’s worth it.

The following is for NON-HERMITS!  This article may contain SPOILERS!

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Diary of a Hermit: Introduction

-By Adam

Quick question: What’s your favorite game ever?

I ask this question to a lot of people, and most of the time, their answer is a classic game that EVERYONE has played… except me.  Now, I’ve played a lot of games (and I mean a lot of games), and yet I keep running into legendary titles that I just haven’t gotten around to playing.  For instance, there’s this fascinating Nintendo game you may have heard of, called “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”.

Whoa, take it easy, I actually have played that one.  As a matter of fact, I finished it just a few months ago.  What’s that you say?  It came out 14 years ago? And people have been calling it (arguably) the best game ever made?  And it’s already been re-released several times over?  Okay, fine, you have a point.

So, while I’m pretending that you’re here talking to me, let’s make a deal: I’ll come out from under my cozy rock, dig up some classic game fossils, and tell you what it’s like to play your favorite old games for the first time, as a (reclusive) member of modern, civilized society.  Okay, so it’s not really a deal, I’m just telling you what I’m going to do.

Welcome to Diary of a Hermit, my new column about games I should have played already, but haven’t!  In our next episode, I will join Dante the White on a high-octane quest to avenge his pizza in Devil May Cry 3!  See you next time, folks!