The Problem With MMO Roleplay

Most MMORPGs will have a dedicated roleplay server. The idea of using an MMO as a backdrop for roleplaying appeals to me, but it has a serious problem that I don’t know how to easily solve: Who plays the NPCs? Like, obviously the computer runs the NPCs in the sense of having them attack players and stuff, but it’s pretty hard to have a roleplay conversation if you can’t talk to NPCs. It’s never long before you can feel the constraints of not being able to talk to plot-vital characters are felt.

I think probably the most fruitful direction for this kind of thing would be to ignore completely the role that the main plot casts you in. Most MMOs treat every player as though they are the chosen one. Obviously, you need to junk that in favor of the chosen four or eight or however many people are in your RP group, but I think that obvious step isn’t going far enough. If you’re going to not actually interact with any NPCs pretty much ever, then you need to be someone who wouldn’t be expected to. Let’s take Lord of the Rings Online as an example, although it makes you less chosen than most MMOs on account of Frodo and Aragorn are already a thing. In LotRO, your character is allegedly instrumental in fighting off all kinds of major servants of the Enemy all across Middle-Earth. You meet with Aragorn, Galadriel, Elrond, and a dozen other major names. Not only that, those people rely on you to accomplish vital tasks so they can do all their canon world saving shenanigans. But there’s nobody around to play the part of Aragorn or Elrond in RP conversations when you’re sitting around Rivendell.

Instead of being the tenth most important person in all of Middle-Earth right after the Fellowship, imagine you roleplay as just, like, regular hunters out of Bree or dwarven guards from the Blue Mountains or what-have-you. A fellowship of basically ordinary people who don’t interact directly with Aragorn or Elrond. You fight in the battles of the free people not because you are their savior but because you’re one of them. An army of dwarves showed up, and your dwarf buddy is one of them, and the non-dwarves are with him, and at no stage do any of the big names from the Hobbit personally thank you for your valor or anything. This reduces the party from protagonists to extras, but it also means that you can talk about the game as it really is: Pulling you along events that you cannot really control, rather than pretending that you’re on a first-name basis with Eomer and should be able to include him in the conversation whenever it would be prudent to do so. And with the group no longer at the heart of the plot, it liberates everyone to instead care mainly about the interpersonal relationships within the group, and how those relationships grow or wither over time as a result of the things that happen to the fellowship.

The Immortal Cure: Love Letter 2: Love Harder

Admin note, a few hours after it was supposed to go live, I noticed I’d put the wrong time in for the last Immortal Cure post. I tried to switch it to the right time, and instead overshot so it was six hours early. Even if it’s worked, it still would’ve posted without notifying anyone, ’cause it was backdated. Probably should’ve just let it go up six hours later than normal, it’s not like anyone’s hitting refresh on my website waiting for the hour to tick over so they can get a new post.

Chapter 19

I haven’t been so eager to see the end of a book since Dungeon Born – at least things like Succubus were spectacularly bad and not just relentlessly mediocre – but unfortunately the Immortal Cure does have an actual plot where scenes build on what came before so I can’t just compress a fifth of the story into a two-line summary and exclude nothing important. For that matter, it’s worth noting here that the Immortal Cure is often aiming in the right direction, it’s just constantly crippled by a character-driven plot driven by characters with no charm or chemistry. If the secrets of alchemy are meant to be a plot-driven big twist, then that’s also a problem, because I don’t care about that, either. Like, really, what do I care about the umpteenth Brandon Sandersen rip-off magic system? Mistborn was published in 2006, we’re reaching the stage where complaining about Sandersen knock-offs is itself becoming old hat, actual Sandersen knock-offs set sail years ago. And the setting is functional but uninspired, good enough to serve as the foundation for other elements without detracting from them but not a selling point on its own. Much like the plot, it’s somewhat formulaic but competently executed enough not to get in the way of the book’s strengths, if only the book had any strengths.

Anyway, Charlotte ruminates on how she’s in love with a pirate and also on how this is the stupidest thing to be preoccupying her thoughts while she’s preparing to murder a tyrant, something that would be compelling if love and romance had not been at the forefront of her mind almost incessantly from chapter one.

Eventually, she joins Alister and Giovanni, and they start trying to puzzle out why Geoffrey went rogue. This is the part of the narrative that tries to make Charlotte look smart by making Alister and Giovanni into dipshits.

Charlotte turned to Alister. “I have thought about this a lot. I think Geoffrey saved you because he liked you, Alister. I believe that something more powerful than his conditioning leaked through, causing him to act according to his own desires. And that desire was to protect you. It’s soul, or Ether according to Flamel’s journal, wanted to protect you despite what it had been trained to do.”

Alister nodded slowly. “I guess that makes sense. But why? Why try to protect me? It’s not like I did anything different with it.”

“I am not sure about that,” Charlotte said, looking down at her cracker. “You see, you did something no other previous master had done.”

“What’s that?”

“You gave him a name.”

The book has explicitly called this out as unusual, not just in narrative but in dialogue, so Alister should be aware that this is weird. Genius inventor that he is, he should also be smart enough to realize that the weird thing he did is the prime candidate for being responsible for the golem’s weird behavior towards him. Also, anthropomorphizing non-living creatures is plenty common. People name their cars, their computers, any machine they interact with regularly. Not most people, but enough of them that golems getting named and subsequently going rogue should be a common enough occurrence for the redcoats to know about it. Plus, if it’s literally just giving some kind of unique identification, then anyone who regularly interacts with more than one golem will at the very least number them. Naming them would be more advisable, since it’s easier to keep track of Alice, Bob, and Charlie than it is to keep track of golem one, golem two, and golem three.

Giovanni impulsively tries to smash the super stone from the ruin open, but it’s basically impervious. Charlotte still suspects that touching the stone to Harthum might kill him, although it’s still not clear why she thinks that. During this chapter, she also comes across a more reasonable, though still speculative, theory: Maybe this stone will crumble if removed from its chamber just like all the others, but it just has a really big chamber. So, maybe we Journey to the Moon this shit by firing the stone out of a giant cannon until it leaves the planet?

Continue reading “The Immortal Cure: Love Letter 2: Love Harder”

The Immortal Cure: History Lesson

Chapter 16

Everyone is safe in the ruined city where Annie the living doll resides. And also they have passed the mysterious test of character they didn’t even know they were taking.

“Thank you, Prince Alister,” Annie said, giving him a curtsy.

She giggled which, to Alister, was very creepy. He rolled his eyes, obviously not caring for his new title.

“Charlotte,” Annie said, addressing the room. “Prince Alister. Mr. Giovanni.” She looked at each of them as she spoke. “I have decided that you are people who love and care for each other.”

“Um… thank you, Annie,” Charlotte said, confused. “My father,” she continued, “told me that I was to wait for people to come who love and care for each other and me. He said that they would not be afraid or angry with me but would be nice and kind. You have all become my friends and made me oh, so happy.”

See, turns out Annie knew where her father’s secret alchemy lab was all along, she was just waiting ’till she was certain that these strangers qualified by her father’s criteria. There’s nothing wrong with the basic premise of a father entrusting his golemized daughter with the secrets of his life’s work before he expires, and setting some guidelines that 1) a child could understand and 2) will hopefully keep the lab out of the wrong hands. And generally speaking, this moment where the heroes get something they could not have gotten had they not grown and changed along the journey is good. The problem is, who all has been growing and changing, exactly? Charlotte and Alister aren’t more caring and compassionate people than when they started, they’ve just warmed up to one another, specifically, through constant exposure.

On the other hand, we’re only 60% of the way through the book, and you’d expect the moment when the hero’s growth over the course of the journey gives them the strength to complete it to come more like 80% of the way through. So it’d hardly be unusual for this bit here to not actually be emblematic of any particular growth.

In the secret lab, Charlotte finds the lost diary of Annie’s father, who helped create the machines that annihilated all life in Labati. Turns out he helped Harthum and the one other immortal in the world to suck the life out of a nation in order to become gods.

Father

The journal refers to the two siblings immortaled by the process as “Hassams,” so presumably Harthum is a corruption of that.

Also, the secret to getting a philosopher’s stone (an alchemic power source created by siphoning the soul out of someone) that can leave its container without crumbling to dust is extracting a complete soul all at once. The book had a potential explanation why no one had ever tried this, but then ignores it completely to instead…mock itself for having a dumb reveal?

Up until now, Alchemists could store within a stone a set amount of energy drained from human and animals alike. Through this processs, that stone would become what we lovingly refer to as a philosophers stone. But no one had been able to produce a philosophers stone capable of powering indefinitely. That is, not until Dr. Hassam. I still remember the day he revealed his secret. I remember feeling underwhelmed at the revelation. Looking back on it, my insides twist at my apathetic manner.

The secret was surprisingly simple. Dr. Hassam had built a potent Ens Primum Machina powerful enough to sift an entire human soul into a stone, killing the person. He assured us that the ones used to make the stones were highly dangerous criminals, but that hardly concerned me. I marveled more over the simplicity of the method. If a fraction of a soul could power machines for a time, then what could the entirety of a soul do? How had none till now discovered this simple truth?

The obvious limiter here seems to be that an ens primum machina isn’t usually powerful enough to suck an entire soul out at once. Making a sufficiently powerful people juicer was the breakthrough necessary to get this working. But apparently that’s not the limitation, and instead people just hadn’t bothered to make a sufficiently powerful people juicer to check what happens when you juice all of someone at once? ‘Cause Dr. Flamel here thinks it’s weird that no one’s ever figured this out before. And it is indeed weird. Almost every society has people it’s willing to sacrifice for the sake of power, and fairly often has people it’s willing to sacrifice just for the Hell of it.

Continue reading “The Immortal Cure: History Lesson”

Jon Enge’s YouTube Channel Seems Pretty Okay

Most of the time, by the time I’ve seen a YouTube channel, its audience has already grown orders of magnitude larger than mine. Mostly this is because even the most generous estimates of the size of my audience put me at under 100 readers, so most YouTube channels worth watching are already considerably more popular than me, and the exceptions are almost by definition things I’m much less likely to know about.

Today, though, I got a live one. Jon Enge’s YouTube GM advice videos are good. I particularly like his video on the value of money. His mannerisms are kind of cringey, but much like Shadiversity and his awful, awful voice, the content is worth muscling through it.

The Immortal Cure: Desert Snakes

Chapter 12

This chapter opens up with the protagonists getting over all that petty bickering they were engaged in last chapter. They apologize and then Alister launches into more of his backstory. Characters are still sleepwalking through the beats of a tired old arc, but on the bright side at least this came in chapter 12 and not in, like, chapter 23 or whatever the chapter right before last is. In fact, since this is book one of a duology, this petty bickering could’ve dragged itself out past the end of the book. Turns out Alister’s father designed his ship, and the Abaric pirate king stole it and some others and killed his father and then pressganged him into the crew. Alister was way more interesting when his background was just having the personal enmity of a single ship full of pirates, rather than having been personally wronged by the leader of some globe-spanning pirate confederation.

Also, Alister’s fault in all this is supposed to be that he’s more interested in getting his bounty cleared than in Charlotte as a person, but Charlotte still has no right to Alister’s affection, so what the Hell? The book phrases it as Alister “treating [Charlotte] like a piece of cargo,” but it’s not like he shoved her in the hold and told her to stay there and keep quiet until they arrived at their destination. The actual “fault” here is apparently keeping a professional relationship instead of obeying the plot and falling in love with the female lead.

Also, they visit some sandy ruined village and get attacked by a giant monster.

Chapter 13

In which the giant monster attack continues. Our monster here is a giant serpentine monster with no eyes or nose, just a giant maw and a bunch of human arms out front that feel around. It’s basically a dune worm that hunts by feeling vibrations on the sand, but unfortunately it doesn’t care how rhythmic your vibrations are so you can’t escape it by grooving to the colors. You can escape it by standing on a rock, though, because it can’t swim through solid stone and dislikes emerging from the sand intensely enough that it won’t pop out and eat something sitting on top of it, plus I don’t know if it can feel vibrations through rock the way it can through sand. Charlotte ends up separated from the group and attacked by a slightly different snake-y worm-y sort of golem, before being saved by some doll golem that can talk. It’s all…okay? There’s nothing wrong with the chapter itself, it’s just suffering from how much I don’t care about these characters or their journey.

Chapter 14

The chapters aren’t getting shorter. I just have less and less to say about them. Quality is actually climbing a bit overall, as we get more weird and interesting ideas and fewer references to Charlotte’s tits, but we’re 55% of the way in. It’s pretty late in the game to try and win my attention just by mostly shedding some early flaws.

The doll golem is named Annie and leads Charlotte to her home in a ruined city. Annie used to be a human but then got golem’d. Also, Alister and Giovanni are stuck on a rock because the one snake chimera is constantly circling it waiting for them to step off so it can murder them. And that’s basically it.

Continue reading “The Immortal Cure: Desert Snakes”

Assassin’s Creed Unity Still Has Bugs

I don’t really know what I’m doing with Sundays now that I’m shelving the whole podcast theater thing for taking too long to edit for the quality of the content it produced, so here’s something random while I figure out what to stick there: After the Notre Dame fire, Ubisoft gave Assassin’s Creed Unity away for free. I’d already bought the game on sale ages ago, but I decided to play it in order to take advantage of the fresh crop of players for multiplayer content. Unity is no longer the horrific bugfest that it was at release (and they also removed all the connections to their freemium mobile game, with all the quests and chests formerly locked behind progress in that game now auto-unlocked), but it does have noticeably more bugs than other Assassin’s Creed games (which I always wait at least a year before playing, partly so that prices can come down, partly to give Ubisoft time to fix all the bugs). The parkour system in particular is janky as Hell, with Arno doing things like perching on the top of stairs as though it were a ledge and refusing to move while he’s shot to death by enemies or getting locked into his limb-flailing falling animation while attached to a wall, rendering him completely unable to move. It doesn’t help that the revised parkour system has made it the hardest to control Assassin’s Creed game yet made, which is a real shame since they finally stopped putting a gazillion snipers on the rooftops so you can actually parkour your way across the city without being attacked.

Y’know back in 2008 blog posts of this length were perfectly typical? If I could reload my life from an earlier save I would take advantage of so many fleeting internet fads that I’d naively assumed would last forever.

The Immortal Cure: Chase After Chase

Chapter 10

My review so far has been a litany of small complaints, and that’s never a good sign. It could be worse. Small complaints, at least, are not large complaints. There’s no Zuula moment here where there’s a scene so horribly, self-righteously self-indulgent and counter-productive that it becomes a massive black mark on the entire book. It’s theoretically possible that the book will suddenly start to take off and I’ll be quite positive on it overall when we come to the end. But as I’ve said many times before, even though the book can recover, it’s not very likely that it will recover, because if CJ Olsen can write a great second half of a book, why can he not also write a great first half of a book? Why would he wait this long to start trying? Probably he is trying, and this is just the best he’s got.

Not to say the book has been devoid of interesting ideas. There’s some reasonably interesting setting work going on in the background, with the golems and chimeras and airships. But while that is reasonably interesting, it’s not the kind of Morrowind-style wild and imaginative world that makes me happy just to walk through it regardless of how bland the characters I’m following are. This world is a decent foundation with just the most boring house in the world built on top of it. The story needs its characters to be propelling it, and they’re not. There’s no chemistry in the budding romance that’s meant to be at the heart of this story, nor to the friendship with Tatiana that Charlotte left behind – that friendship being her driving motivation to assassinate Harthum rather than just walking away. And that lack of chemistry means that I don’t much care whether or not Charlotte succeeds in her quest, nor am I happy to have any excuse to watch her and Alister go on a wacky steampunk adventure together.

What I’m getting at, here, is that part of the reason this review has been delayed is because of how much I’m not especially excited to get back into it.

So anyway, Alister’s new pet golem crashed through the wall of the pirate tavern where they’ve just recruited Giovanni to the party. Everyone escapes, but Alister does so by firing a little grappling hook from his techno-gauntlet to latch onto the fleeing golem, and ends up getting dragged along the ground long enough to end up badly shredded. He’s unconscious by the time they reach the ship, so Giovanni flies while Charlotte plays nurse. She leaves him in his cot to go and grab a canteen, and that’s when the ship is attacked, presumably by pirates. Charlotte is below-decks and can’t tell. The book really tries to sell me on the romance here, though.

Another whistle echoed down the corridor. Charlotte tucked her head between her knees as The Ephrait shook from an explosion, this one on the opposite side. The Ephrait pitched and the canteen rolled to the wall with a metallic ping. Charlotte squeezed into a tight ball. Her knuckles were white as she held tight to the ship. She suddenly recognized where she sat. It was the same pipes she had clung to her first time boarding The Ephrait.

Alister had sat there, she looked to her right. He promised I would be safe.

She looked up at the canteen.

…I must help him.

The little scene where Alister convinced her not to be so afraid of heights isn’t doing nearly the work this book wants it to, and worse, it doesn’t even particularly have to. Humans have a natural instinct to protect their in-group, and Charlotte and Alister are very definitely in this together. She doesn’t need a special reason to help her allies survive, she just needs to not be a sociopath. Hell, even a sociopath would want to keep what few allies they have in good condition in Charlotte’s situation, provided they were smart enough to think that far ahead (which, granted, many of them are not).

Anyway, there’s another escape scene that doesn’t really bear commenting on because we just did this. Maybe some of the things it establishes are going to come up later, but we just escaped from Callan, escaped from Prawle, and are now escaping from the airspace around Prawle. Every other scene in this book is an escape scene, and every effort at character interaction during or in between has been interminable.

Continue reading “The Immortal Cure: Chase After Chase”

Kickstarter: Finale

When this goes live, the Kickstarter for Heroes of Ramshorn will be a mere four hours from completion. As of the writing, it’s sitting at about $2,500. Funded, and with the Pathfinder stretch goal reached, so that’s a lot of extra work for probably very little profit. I had originally hoped that putting the Pathfinder goal low would allow me to hit it sometime in the doldrums of the midpoint of my project, and thus bring in a new surge. Unfortunately, this Kickstarter proved significantly less successful than the last, so that didn’t happen.

If I can’t raise at least $3,000, preferably from at least 150 backers, then this campaign represents a significant contraction of my audience. Although I do have an outline for a third installment, I’m uncertain whether I will bother actually writing it. We’ll see how I feel after I’ve finished the Pathfinder conversion of Heroes. Certainly in this scenario making Ashes of Ramshorn will be purely to tie things off for the people who really liked Strangers and Heroes, who, regardless of whether or not there were enough of them to make this viable, did all they could reasonably be expected to in order to make these adventures a success.

If I raise between $3,000 and $5,000 from between 150-250 backers, then that represents somewhere between a minor contraction to a minor expansion of my audience. Regardless of exactly where the number lies, it’s definitely worth making a third adventure to see whether or not things are petering out, stagnating, or growing steadily.

When I first started the Kickstarter, I told myself that if I raised over $5,000 from over 250 backers, I could call that an unqualified success. It would mean that I had retained most of my existing audience and seen significant growth. I estimate that I need to make about $7,000 per Kickstarter in order to pay for expenses and, combined with the income my professional GMing makes, be able to become a fulltime creative professional. If I could get over $5,000 on this Kickstarter, that would mean my audience is still growing and strongly suggest that hitting $7,000 reliably might soon be viable.

At this point, it seems very likely that this is not the case. It is still possible, though very unlikely, that I’ll get enough Pathfinder backers at the very last minute to make this Kickstarter comparable to my last one, at which point I have to wonder if I’ve hit my ceiling or if I just need to commit more time to growing my audience and backlog.

The long term strategy runs face-first into a second issue, however: 5e won’t last forever (indeed, its expiration date is most likely sometime between 2020 and 2022), and once people move on to 6e, or if 6e sucks they move on to Routelocator or whatever, my adventure library needs to be updated to the new edition or else it becomes near-worthless. People do occasionally buy third party adventures for deprecated editions, but it definitely won’t be enough for me to draw continuous income from my backlog through those means. If writing adventures is going to make up a significant portion of my creative income, it needs to be bringing in enough money to do that based on new releases. Right now, it looks like it’s probably barely covering expenses.

On the other hand: Books. Books – particularly ebooks, which is definitely what I’d be doing – tend to make between $3-$4 per sale rather than $14-$17. On the other hand, not only do books almost never go through edition changes, books have considerably lower initial costs. I need only a single cover illustration, much lighter formatting work, and require at most one map, often none at all, and certainly require no tokens. The bigger my audience gets, the more the higher price point but higher initial costs of an adventure makes sense, but real life has terrible game balance and the audience for books is actually considerably wider, even considering the niche genres I’d be writing in.

So, writing books is probably the way to go here, even though it can’t draw anything except seed money from my professional GMing success.

Cyberpunk Deck

Back in the first year of this blog, when I was absolutely committed to doing the blog-a-day thing once a day for an entire year, I churned out a lot of junk. Ultimately I think it was worth it. The junk fell into the archives and ultimately hurt no one, while the good articles that got squeezed out in between form a foundation of interesting posts I can show people. Back in the day, if I knew I wasn’t going to be able to post the article I planned, I’d slap something together in 30 minutes. Now, I’m already two days past when I planned my ongoing Immortal Cure posts would be out, but it occurs to me that I could probably slam out a pair of cheap better-than-nothing articles to have something to replace them (in the sense that given a choice between reading the article and staring at a wall for the same amount of time, most people would read the article). I’m told that back in, like, 2008 or something, these 300-800 word blog posts is what blogging was all about, and my 2,000-word articles would face incessant demands for tl;dr.

So here’s number one of those, and maybe I’ll figure out number two sometime, I dunno. I got this cyberpunk deck of cards from a Kickstarter I backed, though. They’re good cards and I like them. There’s a lot of good art, but my favorite might be the one that’s just labeled “your card,” so you can literally deal out cards until “your card” comes up.

Brief Intermission

I am announcing a brief intermission after it is already over instead of when it began. The reason why I’ve missed a few days of review articles is mainly because I was working on an outline for a novel and also deciding that I really don’t want to bother with this whole board game let’s play podcast thing. I liked the first one, but the overall quality trend has been downward, especially for something that takes so much time and effort to assemble, and I don’t think I’ll be saving it. Regardless, reviews will resume on Saturday.