Tale of Dice Games

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It is bizarre to me how I went into Pax South thinking it would be largely about the Nintendo Switch for me… and it wound up becoming almost entirely about Tabletop gaming.  More so it was the tale of dice games… and my experiences trying three different ones.  There was King of Tokyo that I had never actually played, and while I found it enjoyable it wasn’t exactly the sort of game I was going to rush right out into the store and purchase.  Then there was Dragon Dice…  which sounded familiar at the time as a game that TSR once published… and it turns out that in fact it is the same game just self published by the creator now.  The problem is that I looked in the general direction of the booth and got sucked in by an extremely motivated salesperson in the form of what I can only guess was the thirteen year old daughter of the creator.  I sat down to play… and got Ashgar roped into doing the same.  So we played and tried our best to wriggle out of the booth as soon and as politely as possible.  It was bad…  and not just in a general sense of not fun… but bad in a sense of whoever attacked first essentially put the other player on the ropes for the rest of the game and since attack and defense is out of the same dice roll…  it made it extremely hard to ever recover.  As a result we avoided anything else that was dice related like the plague… that is until while waiting in the hour and a half long Dauntless line I ended up getting into a random conversation with the folks I was standing shoulder to shoulder with as is the way of PAX.  We started talking about our favorite games of the show so far, and one of these other folks mentioned Dice Throne.  So before the night was up we wound up making our way over to the Dice Throne booth in the PAX Rising area, where unfortunately no one was giving demos at that moment.  However they mentioned that in the tabletop area there was a completely different set up where folks had been playing nonstop.  Little did I know that essentially this would be the last thing I played during my time at PAX and would eat up my last few hours.

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c3tib3xumaajc_wI am of course swiping images left and right from the Dice Throne twitter and Kickstarter for the purpose of this post.  The game itself is a weird mix of dice battling, action RPG and Magic the Gathering starter deck duels.  Each player chooses a character to play from the current list of Barbarian, Moon Elf, Pyromancer and Shadow Thief…  with Paladin and Monk playable at the show but ultimately stretch goals in the kickstarter.  Each character comes with a unique play mat, card deck, five dice, and a sheet that describes their status effects that they can give to opponents and explains the chance of rolling a given symbol on the dice.  What made the game addictive to me was the aspect that as you move through the session you can play cards on top of your playmat and upgrade your base abilities.  Sometimes this is just a matter of making the abilities more efficient, or having a lower number of dice needed to trigger the effect.  In the case of the game where I played the Shadow Thief… some of the cards actually served as two completely different abilities that you could then choose from.  I personally only have experience with the Barbarian and Shadow Thief, but I think Ashgar and Paragon wound up playing Shadow Thief vs Paladin… in which I heard that the Paladin is completely brutal.

Regardless of the specific configuration the game is ultimately a game about duels… which admittedly is the part that makes me the most excited.  I love tabletop games… but I don’t exactly have a wide circle of people that I can play them with locally.  I mean I could branch out and just show up at a game shop and look for people to play… but that isn’t really my way.  I am way too introverted to ever make that work.  So instead I have limited opportunities usually one friend at a time to play things.  Dice Throne is absolutely perfect for this situation because it creates a completely meaningful experience with only two players.  In theory this game also works with any multiple of two, in that players can set up 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3 scenarios and some of the cards would play perfectly into that situation.  The reason Magic the Gathering comes into play as a reference for this game is that it is set up in a number of phases:  Upkeep, Income and Draw, Main Phase 1, Offensive Roll Phase, Defensive Roll Phase, Main Phase 2, Discard Phase.

Players start out with 50 Health, 1 combat point or CP and 4 cards from their deck with the ultimate goal of reducing the other player down to 0 Health to win the match.  Each round the players gain 1 CP during the income phase and draw one card, with the CP being spent to play the various cards they have in their hand.  Each character plays a little different in that the Shadow Thief seemed to be all about hitting the 15 CP cap as soon as possible and then striking from the shadows with critical attacks that scale based on the current CP number. The Barbarian seemed to be about healing back lost health and avoiding taking damage by simply overhealing the incoming attack…  all the while smashing with big attacks that can easily become unblockable.  Barbarian absolutely was “my thing” but it also sounds like the super defensive Paladin might have been a good fit for me as well.  Each round of attacks you roll your 5 dice and then take the symbols and numbers and try and make something with them.  You are given two rounds of re-rolls as you attempt to hone in on the exact thing you need.  There are also cards that shift your abilities so that you can make certain dice wild, or with “samsies” swap any dice to match any other dice.  These however take the luck of the draw and the CP to play them when needed.

What I found most interesting is that essentially you are having to look at the symbols and the numbers to see what the best course of action is.  All of the characters have something interesting that happens when you roll a small straight (4 numbers in sequence), and something interesting that happens when you roll a large straight (5 numbers in sequence).  Then again there are other things that are super powerful that can play off of the other attacks.  For example 2 swords and 2 “pow” symbols on the Barbarian gives you an attack that deals less damage… but becomes undefendable which when upgraded serves as an amazing way to finish off your opponent.  The Shadow Thief allowed you to shift in and out of the shadows… allowing you to be essentially untargetable until you exit on the next round.  Attacking from the shadows allowed you to roll an extra dice as you exited to deal a little bonus damage.  Every hero has an ultimate attack that is essentially triggered by rolling five 6s, but in truth I found these pretty freaking hard to make work unless I had a wild card or two available in my hand.  There is a lot more nuance that I feel like I cannot adequately cover after literally having only played two games.  Suffice to say there is a lot of meat on these bones, and I am sure more than enough to start to develop even a bit of a meta game among players.  I was not well suited for the Shadow Thief because the whole poke from the shadows thing is not really my deal.  That said I know players that would absolutely excel at that game play style since essentially the Barbarian and the Shadow Thief are playing two completely different games.  From what I understand each of the characters plays this way essentially with the Moon Elf focusing on dealing damage while defending for example.

The long and short of this is that as soon as I got back home on Sunday night I went out to the Kickstarter and backed the game.  I was completely and thoroughly sold.  As of this morning even though the page has not updated they have already hit the Paladin stretch goal so it will be included in the Champion version of the game.  Next up is an upgrade to Linen Cards at $35k, Vacuum formed tray at $40k, Thicker Box at $45k and finally the inclusion of the Monk Hero at $65k.  With 24 days to go they are already sitting at 200% of the original goal, and I have to think that Pax South is going to give them a lot of good exposure going forward.  There was a pair of guys who had literally spent about twelve hours over the weekend playing the game… and wound up serving as surrogate coaches when we had so many people wanting to play the game in the Tabletop area.  The rules are pretty simple and easy to pick up, and the game play while actually taking awhile to resolve itself… feels like it moves forward instead of stalling out.  I have to say for something in prototype form… the game felt really damned polished.  The cards and artwork all felt great… with the only complaint being sticker dice.  However the first stretch goal was to upgrade to engraved dice so that will in theory no longer be a thing.  I went with the $39 Champion edition which seems to be the point that the majority of backers are entering at, which in theory should give you access to all six characters and slightly nicer multi-tone dice.  The base game will include four characters: Shadow Thief, Barbarian, Moon Elf and Pyromancer which sits at $29… so I felt that extra $10 was more than warranted even for the shot at two more characters.  Dice Throne was definitely my tabletop game of the show… but in truth I think probably it was my game of the show as a whole.  I highly suggest if you have the opportunity to check this out at any conventions between now and the projected November release date that you grab hold of it with both hands.

Kickstarter Link

 

Post Pax

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trionpupLast night I finally got back to the real world after a detour into Paxville.  What I mean by that is that Thursday through Sunday I was hanging out in San Antonio for Pax South.  This marked the third year of attending for myself and the third year of the South branch of Pax as a whole.  The only problem with this whole situation is that in my haste to pack I forgot to grab my laptop.  This mean I was largely disconnected from the world during the entire show.  I had every intent of getting up Friday morning and knocking out a blog post… and while I could have commandeered my wife’s laptop…  I simply opted to roll with the whole disconnected thing.  Sure I had my phone but the first rule of Pax is that internet rarely works at all from the vicinity of the convention.  The first day we were coordinating over a slack channel, but that died during the evening… and from there we had to fall back on text messages that while slow eventually did arrive at their intended target.

I failed miserably at the whole meeting up with folks aspect this year…  that is if you were not already in the group of people that I had the ability to text message.  I know that MidahHiker was there, but it is sheer madness trying to find anyone in the crowd.  I also know WallSavvy from Tequila Mockingbird my Destiny Clan was around… but he spent most of his time hanging out at the Overwatch tournament which was this giant ball of humanity… that ended up so packed that they made folks give up their seating to cram more people into the giant mosh pit that was the audience.  I spent most of my time roaming around with Ashgar and Paragon… with occasional visits from Rae when she wasn’t off doing stuff with her brother or watching the Overwatch tourney herself.  I also managed to connect with the Cosplay duo of Maovis and Exale… who brought his wife and super chill baby to meet me while I was standing in the hour and a half long line for Dauntless.

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Speaking of lines…  lets talk about what I didn’t get to play.  The Nintendo Switch was the announcement that probably sold more tickets to Pax South than just about anything.  However quite literally… if you were standing in line to play Zelda Breath of the Wild…  then that was probably just about all you were going to do that day.  When I first got to the convention I managed to enter in a trajectory that took me past the Nintendo Booth and it was this swirling quagmire of humanity that I got stuck in for about fifteen minutes until I could chart a course through it.  Even on Friday the line reached out of the booth, around the corner and down two other booths lengths along a sheltered corner of the exhibition floor.  I mocked up an image from the convention floor layout to attempt to show the line…  it was double length next to the Nintendo Booth and then stretched along the entire length of the Nexon booth and was capped somewhere around the Rooster Teeth booth.  There was supposedly a shorter line for Mario Kart and ARMS but I did not even attempt it… because time slowed to a standstill anytime you were near the Nintendo area.  There were simply too many people for me to handle.

The show as a whole was significantly larger than the previous two years, with it moving into an entirely brand new area of the convention center.  The only negative there is that I could no longer get up above the floor and take cool aerial shots.  The weirdest part about this PAX experience is that the show as a whole consumes three floors of the convention center, with a fourth floor down at riverwalk level taken up usually by press appointment suites.  I never actually left the main floor, because there was more than enough there for me to do both Friday and Saturday.  I also spent a significant more time playing in the tabletop area this year than I had in past years.  The other new thing that happened this year is that I gave up on parking and took Lyft into the convention both days.  This made the whole experience so much more enjoyable because instead of getting up super early and trying to fight traffic in order to get one of the limited parking spots downtown… I chilled out in the hotel, ate a peaceful breakfast, and then hailed a rideshare.  There was never a point where I waited more than five minutes, and the ride in itself was no more than 10 minutes…. so within 15 minutes I could be on the show floor pretty reliably.  Three of the four trips were amazing… the final trip however the guy got lost a few times and wound up with a much bigger bill than I should have.  I talked to Lyft however and they almost instantly sent me a refund for part of the cost, which was pretty damned cool.  I am absolutely going this route in the future because it gives me the best of both worlds… easy access to the convention but a hotel with access to the various shopping areas for my wife to hang out in.

As far as the hotel goes… these images do not do it justice.  I am used to having a bedroom of sorts with a sitting room attached, but largely in one big open floorplan.  Instead of that we had literally three separate rooms.  The living room was way deeper than the photo shows and had recliner, sofa with pull out bed, television, extra dressers, and a relatively comfy desk with a ton of plugins available from the top.  The “kitchen” area was a full wet bar with cabinets below, sink, and microwave with a fully enclosed roomy bathroom to the left side of it.  The bedroom had your normal fare but what I noticed is… my wife could be listening to the television in the livingroom area and I could be watching something completely different without any bleedover.  They served a huge breakfast each morning where I largely chose sausage, eggs, breakfast potatos with country gravy.  My wife however had a wider mix of things.  They also served dinner each night so one night they had Taco fixings, and another night they apparently had something pasta oriented but I was not around for that one.  All in all it was a great trip… and the icing on the cake is that we realized the massive Half Priced Books Dallas flagship store is less than a block off the route that we take home making it super easy to stop in and hit that during the trip.  Over the next few days I plan on talking about individual games I played so I reserved today mostly as a sort of overview post.

Odd Remembrances

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I am taking a break from packing and cleaning to knock out a blog post while eating dinner.  I will of course embargo this so that it seems like I actually released it in the morning.  However we all know what is happening… that I am making my way to Pax South.  I have a whole bunch of anxiety about going to the convention once again, but in the grand scheme of things I think this will be a really good year.  For the last couple years there has been the stress of having to make press appointments and attempt to be the surrogate of a publication at the convention.  This time around I represent no one but myself… and of course the blog and podcast.  I will also once again have my good friend Ashgar to roam around with, which should be awesome as well.  I’ve made a pact to just go do things… rather than spend the entire convention walking around in circles looking for something to do like we managed to do last year.  Tomorrow will of course be spent driving, and I am hoping I can remember to pack everything that needs to be packed.  I made myself a Trello board in a vague attempt to keep track of things… and I already failed to get away from work with something so I am off to a grand start.

This is going to be a bit of an odd post, but earlier on twitter I happened to read a tweet from Matticus, to which a friend replied that he was “THEE Matticus”.  Instantly the above clip went through my head, and it is something that I have found myself mimicking throughout the years.  The problem being…  no one has a damned clue what I am referencing.  This is the point where I realize that the movies that were seemingly important to me growing up include some oddities.  There is of course Star Wars and Indiana Jones… but also a lot of movies that have not really stood up to the test of time.  Why they are special to me… is for an equally odd reason.  I grew up without cable television, in fact the first time I had cable was in 1996 when I moved away from home and got an apartment at college.  While I lived on the outskirts of my town… the cable refused to run down my driveway because it would have taken them just outside of the city limits.  As a result I largely existed with over the air television…  often watching excessive amounts of UHF stations because they seemed to have far more interesting broadcasting than the major networks.  The other salvation however was the VHS tape…  of which I had plenty both legitimate and with crudely scrawled labels on their spines.

One of my dads work buddies took it upon himself to help my predicament and it became a regular thing for us to send home a package of blank tapes, and at some point in the future receive a bundle of some of the most random movies.  These all consisted of whatever happened to be currently playing on HBO during the block of time when he was recording something, and as such there are weird streaks of movies that all came out in the same one or two year period that stick out in my mind.  The first of these is of course Romancing the Stone… which while an action flick probably would not have even made it on my radar were it not for the fact that it was one of the few action films we had, prior to the local video store closing the liquidating all of their movies.  Of note this is the point where I picked up Alien, Aliens, and Predator.  The truth is while I remember the plot well…  the only line that sticks out of the whole movie is the “zee joan wilder?”, and even then largely because my cousin and I thought it was hilarious to quote it.

Another one of these movies that holds a special place in my heart is My Science Project, which is admittedly a pretty forgettable 80s science fiction film.  It is this weird mix of a bunch of themes at the time crudely cemented together with a bad time travel plot line.  In truth it was the time travel aspect that I liked the most, and even to this day I have an silly enjoyment of anything Fisher Stevens is in.  Once again… this is not even a movie I probably would have rented but the fact that it mysteriously showed up on one of these recorded tapes meant that I watched it way more often than I probably should have.  Rental movies were sort of a special occasion type thing, at least until I got into the middle school era.  The first video rental place we had in town had a sort of shopping club buy in aspect to it, and the rentals were like $5 a piece…  which was madness for 1984.  I think the membership cost something silly like $100… but we had one even though we didn’t use it that often.  I had a bad habit of renting the same movies over and over…  like Ultraforce… which I was simply enamored with because of the flying motorcycle scene.  The 80s really were a strange time.

 

Heavy Crowns

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I’ve admittedly been pretty sporadic in my gameplay of Final Fantasy XIV since just shortly after the launch of Heavensward.  For whatever reason the story this time never quite clicked in the same way that it did during A Realm Reborn.  Additionally Alex never felt nearly as interesting as Coil…  so it just felt like I was grasping at things to tie me to the game but struggling to find them.  More than all of these I think the two dungeons per cycle business hurt the most, because it turned something that I used to love…  Expert Roulette into a grind because there was always the dungeon you enjoyed…  and the dungeon you disliked in every patch cycle.  All of this said I have been poking my head in periodically and was at least aware of the mentor program.  The idea being that Square would create a way to identify players who know lots about the game…  which was an interesting theory.  In practice it largely just means you have a Tank, DPS and Healer at the level cap.  Also as I found out last night it apparently makes you feel like you need to run around barking orders and throwing shade on how bad you feel the rest of the party was doing.  Even though I was attuned for it… I never actually ran the second of the 25 player raids called the Weeping City of Mhach.  Collectively folks just call it the “Wiping City” and for good reason… because we died an awful lot but given that it was the first time myself or Grace had been in there… I thought we did largely okay.

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The funniest part of the night was the Forgall fight… which involves becoming zombie but not going full zombie and avoiding some things while absolutely standing in others.  In short it is the traditional insane dungeon fight that simply requires constant execution… and has mechanics that will straight wipe entire parties.  It is a rarity that there are fights where you need to use the healer level three limit break…  but during the course of this fight we used it at least twice…  and there might have been a third time I didn’t realize.  We were at a point where we had no tank and maybe three people total still up, and a bunch of us assumed we were wiping it out and running back.  We were wrong… as the “Mentor” continued barking orders and telling people to rez this person or that person… during a contorted fight that felt like it took 20 minutes to finally beat.  The truth is I had no clue what I was doing, but I finally got finished off by an actual fight mechanic as one of the attacks takes you to 1 hit point…  and requires chain healing to keep the tank from instantly dying afterwards.  We had maybe a single healer up at the time and I fell down hard… but just in time for another tank to get rezzed and pick it up.  I feel like this was the sort of fight where we needed to play Yakety Sax …  but slowed down to the point where it almost sounds like a funeral dirge.

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The fight that I got the most enjoyment from however had to be Ozma… an encounter that I had heard about for awhile now.  Largely I had heard about it being the group killer, in that it required a lot of moving parts that rarely got coordinated properly among the alliances.  Thankfully I was on voice chat with my Free Company and they were able to give me enough of a heads up about what I should be doing.  It also helps that early into the fight we lose the entire B alliance, giving me a run seeing the mechanics the first time and then allowing me to take that experience into the second smoother attempt.  All in all we nailed it pretty well on the second go, and for the most part by the end of the encounter I learned everything that I needed to do to appropriately tank the fight.  The reason we were running Wiping City however was to get me some gear…  and unfortunately not a single tanky piece dropped.  However I do feel confident enough to probably solo queue tank for the place and start soaking up more gear that way.  The risk of playing FFXIV irregularly is that the game moves on without you… and I hit yet another wall with the latest patch.  I was sitting at 220 from my last attempt to catch up… and this time around the first dungeon requires 230.  There are of course a lot of more grindy ways to catch me up… but we were trying to take as many short cuts as possible.

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Before disappearing and flaking out last time I had managed to put in some progress on the 235 weapon from Palace of the Dead and as I talked about yesterday our little run pushed me pretty far… but not quite over the tipping point.  So last night once finishing the Wiping City, we broke up into a smaller group and did some Palace of the Dead and over the course of a few runs managed to get me to 39 weapon 32 armor.  During all of the stuff I managed to accumulate enough Lore tombstones to upgrade my earrings to 230, and at some point during the evening Tam hooked me up with a set of 250 legs to replace my then lowest slot.  I had enough cash accumulated to manage picking up the 250 ring as well since my next lowest slot was that.  All together those four pieces of gear pushed me up to exactly 230 item level, and thus makes me viable for a lot more content including the dungeon that is blocking my quest progress.  Unfortunately however I have had this patch cycle spoiled for me, because before I remembered to turn off player titles…  I actually happened to be running Deep Dungeon with someone that was showing their new title off.  Now I am not sure exactly how it is going to go down… but I know something is going to go down.  Ultimately that is not necessarily going to ruin the impact, just a bit of a bummer to have it spoiled in a way that really should not have even been a thing.  While I wouldn’t necessarily count myself as “caught up”, I am at least in a much better place than I was.  I need to do a lot more palace of the dead so that I can pick up the next weapon…  but that one requires 60 weapon/armor which is still a very very long ways away.  My only revision of that content would be to make the end of sequence mini-boss drop one of whatever your lowest rank happens to be armor or weapon.  Also of note… you can see that thanks to the new weapon I did some glamouring and am once more the Bunny Samurai.

Derpest Dungeon

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Last night did not exactly go as intended, but it was a pretty great night nonetheless.  Originally I had hopes of getting a Mythic+ group together so that I could use my +5 Maw of Souls keystone.  That said I didn’t really exert a whole lot of effort in finding it either, and when I finally got settled in for the night after a bunch of idling there were only a handful of us on.  Instead I opted to work on my time walking dungeons in the hopes that I might get more of that tasty tasty Essence of Aman’Thul from the weekly quest.  When we got a group together it consisted of Rylacus and his son Tinoke who both still needed 2 dungeons… myself who needed 4 and then Bled and Phy just because they are awesome and love me enough to do a bunch of time walking dungeons.  In truth I had completely pug tanked one of the dungeons so I could have suffered through it if I had to, but I enjoy tanking for my friends way more than I enjoy tanking for strangers.  In any case we got to chit chat back and forth on Discord while doing the dungeons and that made the four go much faster.  I had hoped by the time we finished there might be more people around, so we could pull together that Mythic+ but alas that was not the case.  In truth I am guessing it was a good thing since a crisis arose while we were doing the Time Walking heroics.

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I hate printers, probably more than any piece of equipment ever.  They never seem to work as intended and always require an inordinate amount of fiddling.  One of the things you have to know is that many nights my wife can print as much as an entire ream of paper for her class.  When I am upstairs I am also at least in part the warden of the printer, and get yelled up at to fix issues when they arrise.  Now earlier in the evening she was printing perfectly fine… and then all of the sudden things stopped spooling entirely.  I tried my best to correctly diagnose the problem, but none of the rampant googling actually provided anything that was useful.  Of note… we have a massive workgroup printer that weighs about 200 lbs and is precariously connected to a machine that acts as a print server via parallel to usb cable.  It works 99% of the time but is just brittle enough to make me constantly uncertain of what might be causing the problem.  We tried a sequence of rebooting the laptop and rebooting the “server” to no luck.  She was able to hit file shares on the “server” without issue, but any time she tried to access the printer it said that it did not exist.  However I could print to that printer from any other computer on the network so the connection was still there and active.  Finally in my destination I started fiddling with home group settings, and changed her share settings because I was literally trying everything I could reasonably think of.  Instantly it was like something refreshed her machines permissions and she could suddenly see the printer and life was once again good.  Once again… let me express my undying hatred for printers.

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Apparently Tam had been trying to get a hold of me while deep in printer diagnosis hell.  Over the weekend I made a vague attempt to catch up on the Final Fantasy XIV content, but hit a both literal and figurative wall…  in the form of the Baelsar’s Wall instance.  I was not about to pug tank it… and it turns out apparently I couldn’t anyways because my item level is too low.  I am currently sitting at 220 but apparently need 230 to get there.  When I finally got patched up and logged in, Ash was needing to go to bed which left us with Tam and Kodra and seeing as I had not actually run any of the second half of the derpest dungeon, we opted to form a group for that.  I have to say… while I have struggled in the past to get in and have fun…  the deepest dungeon really hit the spot.  The deepest dungeon serves the purpose of being quite possibly the easiest way to get weapon upgrades, with a mini game system that I have talked about in the past that involves collecting “gear” and leveling both your weapon and armor to 30.  When you have collected 30 you can turn that in for a very solid 235 weapon which would be a sizable upgrade for me.  Now when I entered last night I was sitting at the point where I stopped playing last time… which was somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 weapon and 14 armor.  By the end of the night if I remember correctly I was sitting at 30 weapon and 28 armor… so pretty close to being able to collect my first weapon.  It seems like the 51-100 floors move your item levels considerably faster… either that or we simply got lucky.  To be honest, I had more fun in FFXIV last night than I have in a long time…  and the above screenshot is there to simply serve as a reminder to just how insane Cactuar is as a server.

[Edit] – I can’t re-title the post without breaking every link that I syndicated this morning.  That said I am finding out that “Derp” has some problematic roots and is a word that makes a lot of folks uncomfortable.  It’s not really a word that is of any importance to me so going to attempt to jettison it from my vocabulary.

Restless Weekend

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This weekend was a bit of an odd one, because at least for me it centered around recording our “Games of the Year” show on AggroChat.  This is generally speaking a huge ordeal given that our show is made up of six very different minded people.  Back during the days when we had four regular hosts it was less of a proceeding but now that we essentially have six people each picking three games a piece… that means we wind up talking about 18 games, which as it turns out divides neatly into two 9 image panels.  The above image is the first of these and serves as the backdrop for our normal show card of sorts, however with the text over it you can’t necessarily make out all of the images involved so I decided to post it here.  You can as always find the show on AggroChat or my method of choice for sheer simplicity of listening…  YouTube.  The reason why this largely dominated my weekend is because we ultimately recorded two podcasts that were both two hours long before I set down to edit them.  Post edits they both clock in around an hour and twenty minutes, which really is shocking given that I did not actually time anything out in an attempt to make them work as relative set pieces.  I guess however if you set out to record nine games per show… the end result comes out fairly evenly.  I did make an attempt to shuffle the deck in such a way as to put the games I thought we would most likely talk the longest about divided evenly among the shows.

So we recorded from 8 pm CST until just after midnight, and then I got up around 7:30 Sunday morning and edited until 12:30…  and as a result every other element of the weekend felt like it was shoved to one side or the other.  Of course all of this madness has a purpose since the double episode is timed perfectly to cover the absence of myself and Ashgar as we go to Pax South.  Now in theory Grace, Kodra, Tam and Thalen could record without me… but that would mean I had the forethought to have the mess that is our show in a state that I could easily hand over the reigns to an understudy.  I have not planned ahead that far, and while I do have a series of Audacity and Photoshop projects to speed up the process…  I am not sure if I could even properly explain what exactly I do each week.  It is my hope however that I managed to not only publish yesterday, but also schedule everything else to publish next Sunday while I am driving home from San Antonio.  Staging a publish to happen without me is always a fraught thing for me… because so rarely does it actually work as intended.  Even if it does… I am literally stressed beyond reason until I see the tweets show up in my timeline from the publish process actually doing its thing appropriately.  In the grand scheme of things however…  it is not the most important thing in the world… but it is important to me.

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As far as gaming went this weekend that was equally scattered.  I patched up Final Fantasy XIV and made it far enough to hit the first instance gate, before ultimately walking away.  Similarly I patched up Wildstar, created a Chua Warrior and played to around level seven before once again walking away like a bored child.  As far as gaming that managed to last for more than an hour…  we had World of Warcraft where I finally hit 35 points on my Protection Artifact and started pushing up Fury instead.  I have gotten back in the habit of logging in each day to do my Emissary quest because now there is also a potential legendary upgrade waiting at the end of the grind.  I started doing my Time Walking dungeons… but only managed to make it through the first one tanking it before once again wandering away.  The game that seemed to stick the hardest was Elder Scrolls Online where I completed a good chunk of Malabal Tor, a zone where I am already completely enthralled by the storyline…  even though it involves largely nothing but elves and their internal politics.  I’ve decided that the Bosmer are what it takes to make me really enjoy Elves.  I am really enjoying the whole lore regarding the Green Lady and the Silvenar, and I guess in truth that was an aspect of the lore that I had either forgotten or ignored in playing other Elder Scrolls games.  I even managed to have a few emotional gut punches last night, when I lost characters that I actually really liked during one quest chain.  In truth all I want to do right now is hide in my blanket cocoon on the couch and play more ESO, but that said I do want to at some point get a Mythic+ in for the week since I have a +5 Maw of Souls key.

The String is Life

This morning I am admittedly struggling to both stay awake and come up with anything to talk about.  I have one cat sleeping on the right side, and the other wanting me to play with her instead of write.  Personally I would rather join the right cat and return to slumber time.  I had one of those mornings where I woke up thirty minutes or so from the time my alarm was set to go off.  The problem being that it wasn’t one of those “wake up refreshed” moments, but instead a “please god let me roll over and go back to sleep” moments.  The cat on the left side however wants to play with her new toy.  I have talked about Kenzie and her playing fetch with rubber bands in the past…  but the game has changed.  Last week we had what was supposed to be a sizable ice storm, and in preparation for it I picked up a pair of snow/rain boots for my wife that look mostly like actual proper boots instead of the clunky things we grew up with.  They came bound together with a length of the white stretchy elastic cord…  and Kenzie has adopted this as her new purpose for being.  Much like the rubber band she wants us to throw if for her… which actually works so much better than the rubber band did because firstly it is easier to see, and secondly it has more weight to it and is easier to toss across the room.  She also looks absolutely adorable with this big loop of elastic hanging out of her mouth as she bounds back happily to return it to us.  We’ve tried taking pictures of this but she just moves too fast for the focus to hone in on her.

So while typing this post I am periodically having to throw the string down the hall outside of my office.  She returns it and eventually pesters me to the point that I have to throw it again.  All the while Allie looks so blissful sleeping on a blanket I keep folded neatly on my desk to make her a bed.  In truth I have two blankets on my desk and there are many nights where I will have a cat on either one snoozing while I play games.  The positive thing about the bit of elastic is that while she is obsessed with it, she is not actually bothering Allie our older cat.  The funny part about this whole thing is occasionally she doesn’t return to us at all… but instead will put it somewhere nearby but not quite within reach which I can only assume means she is tired of running for the moment.  Last night for example there was a period of time where she decided to lay on the string.  One side effect of this whole thing is that we have to get the string away from her before bedtime, because she will keep walking back and forth on top of us with the string hoping we will toss it for her.  As a result I have started the practice of sticking the string in my pocket before bedtime and then after we have showered and gotten dressed in the morning giving it back to her.  She surely knows what is happening but so far has not made too much of a fuss about it.

Luna on the other hand is a completely different proposition.  I still have to keep her separated from the other two cats, because she still charges after them whenever she sees them.  Breaking up the cats has lead to lots of wounds on our part, and even needing to take my wife to the ER for IV Antibiotics.  I have a set of four nasty bite marks on my lower calf that are only now starting to look normal.  I have another set on my hand that will likely always be visible scars.  Essentially we just need not to introduce them again, and we sorted out pretty early on that we would end up needing to find Luna a new home.  However that does not mean I am not spending a lot of time with her, because it has become a nightly ritual of closing off my office and bringing her in while I play Destiny.  What I don’t get though… is she sleeps on the exact same blankets that the other cats do… and seems not to even notice the fact that they HAVE to smell like the kitties she is constantly chasing after.  On a positive note however we maybe have a new home for Luna, but it is going to be one of those things that takes a little time.  Ultimately we wanted to find some place that she would feel happy and safe and be the only kitty.  Also I really wanted to find her a home where I could still find out details about her and see how she is doing.  When we ultimately have to give her up… it is going to break my heart because we have bonded.  However her living in my wife’s office and hanging out with me in mine for a few hours each evening… is not exactly a sustainable solution and is not fair to either of us.  She needs a place where she can chill out and snooze in whatever sunny patch she happens to favor that day… rather than being cooped up in a office.  Admittedly said office has a big ole sliding glass door and lots of blankets and chairs to sleep on…  but still not the optimal solution.  I am hoping talking about the potential home doesn’t jinx it.

The other big event happening in my life is that I am starting to stress massively about Pax South which happens next week.  I will be travelling on Thursday and then will be there Friday and Saturday, and driving back home on Sunday.  I talked about this on twitter with another user going through the same thing… but sometimes anxiety is like this brick wall that hits you from seemingly out of nowhere.  I know I will have fun, because I always do… and this year is going to be great given that I don’t have to feel like I am representing anyone other than myself.  The first two years I scheduled interviews and was in theory there to cover certain aspects of the con for another website.  The problem being that sort of focused what exactly I was looking for…  primarily trying to find anything MMO related.  Instead with me just representing myself and our podcast… I feel far more open to talk to anyone and everyone, which I know is something I could have done in the past but I guess it just feels different.  The problem there however is I have to now muster the emotional currency to get out and push myself out of my comfort zone, and actually pass out business cards and such.  I have a massive dose of imposter syndrome when it comes to all of this… because when I hear people talking about “content creators” and “influencers”, it never really feels like they are talking about me.  Content Creator has sort of become synonymous with Youtuber or Streamer…  and it always feels like no one is actually that interested in us Bloggers or Podcasters.  I mean sure I stream and upload videos occasionally… but my primary focus will always be this blog and the things that hang loosely off of it.  So instead I am mustering the strength to totally pretend like I am legit and try my best to push through and talk to all the people.

Nighthold and Senpai

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Last night I managed to pull myself out of my recent funk and actually get more than a modicum of excitement about the prospects of raid night once again.  On Tuesday The Nighthold opened and since we are a Wednesday night raid we hoped that any weirdities would be resolved by then and we could simply get in and start working on clearing new and interesting things.  Thankfully that was the case and we moved forward with only the most spartan scribbled notes to go from as we pushed our way through the boss fights.  We are not exactly a super serious raid, but that said it is nice to keep moving and doing things that are at least progression for our purposes.  Before the launch of Nighthold we managed to clear both Emerald Nightmare and Trial of Valor on Normal, and push all of the way through Heroic Emerald Nightmare and even got it on farm status.  We have a bit of an odd structure in that we raid a single night each week, and then have a second night on Friday that is completely optional.  So up until this week we had been doing Heroic Emerald Nightmare on Wednesdays and attempting to clear Normal Emerald Nightmare and Trial of Valor all within a pretty compressed Friday night.  For the most part it has worked out pretty well for us, because Friday gives us a night to start bringing folks who are maybe not geared enough for the more serious content.

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As far as the fights that we saw… I have to say they were really fun.  We are very much a raid that learns on its feet, or at least needs multiple attempts to sort out the fight.  However generally speaking once we have a fight sorted as such, we then can pretty much repeat it every single week regardless of the exact raid composition.  Skorpyron was absolutely a case of me trying to sort out how exactly to do the tether mechanic effectively and I think we managed to get it down on our third or fourth attempt…  going pretty much from chain rezzing tanks to clear within the space of a single attempt.  Chronomatic Anomaly was its own special hell, but we sorted out how to deal with the tank swaps and the add phases… and the fact that the boss could be moved if only slightly towards the add when it first spawns making the “dunk” go much more smoothly.  Sidenote… the dunk absolutely reminds me of a handful of fights in Destiny where you have to pick up an orb and then slam it down somewhere else… so  I got a bit nostalgic there.  We then moved on to Trilliax… the fight where we get to eat cake… and play with roombas.  To be truthful as the tank I am not entirely certain what is going on other than the fact that it sounded like madness, because Art and I spent our entire time worrying about tank swaps and trying to kite the boss around the room…  or prepping for the next kite phase.  I know it somehow involved eating cake and not eating cake and not allowing the roombas to have any cake.  Whatever the case after a couple of attempts we had one of those slow wipes to the finish line that ended up with a boss kill.

Throughout the night I had been tweeting out each time we downed a boss because I knew there were a few people who could not make it last night, and also a good chunk of our guild as a whole is on twitter.  Over the years I have sorta adopted people and smuggled them into my guild, and now you have the end result that tends to be an amalgamation of awesome.  We were working on clearing the insane amount of trash on the way to Spellblade Aluriel when I got a Battle.net message from a friend of mine that lives on the other side of the faction fence.  He excitedly told me that I apparently got a congratz message from the official World of Warcraft account, and when I alt tabbed over to check myself…  sure enough there was the above message as well as a handful of favorites to go with it.  Senpai apparently noticed us, and smiled upon our progress.  I won’t lie…  it gave me and still does give me a bit of an afterglow of warm fuzzies.  We continued on and put in a little work on Spellblade Aluriel, and managed to at least push into phase 2 before needing to call it for the night.  Like I said we are a bit of an odd case when it comes to raiding because we raid 8 to 10:30 EST, and try really hard not to push too far over that line.  So in that 2 1/2 hours minus a break in the middle when our first flask wears out we managed to clear 3 bosses and at least reach a point of understanding with the fourth.  As is always the case I am certain we will speed up in week too, because it honestly felt like last night we spent more time talking out strategies than actually fighting things.  All in all though it was a pretty great night of raiding in a really pretty instance with some seemingly fun encounters.

Welfare Epics

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This mornings topic is going to veer off in an odd direction, but stay with me.  Yesterday I saw the above tweet and I have to say the term “Welfare Epics” is one that bothers me.  Not that I mind the above tweet mind you, but the fact that it is apparently still a thing bothers me.  For some background I remember when I first heard the term was during Burning Crusade.  When the Arena system was introduced it also opened up a new gearing path, in that so long as you played a minimum amount of matches each week you got some points based on your current arena rating.  As a result raiders like myself saw this as a quick and easy way to augment our gear, or at least mitigate the bad luck in getting drops.  I remember that by the time we started Gruuls Lair, several of our more pvp centric players already had most of a set of gear… or at least two or three pieces and it prompted the rest of us on the deeply carebear spectrum of the world to quickly form teams and start getting our weekly allotment of points.  Instead of using it to gear my raid main, I instead saw it as a great way to deck out my Paladin for whom I was attempting to go healer mode.  Our team scheduled our arenas like a raid… and met in Nagrand once weekly to play three or four games hoping we could win most of them and wind up with a decent arena rating for that week.  So every other week we would get some piece of gear, or it might take a little longer if we were going after a weapon… but all the same we were constantly inching forward.

To the best of my knowledge the term “Welfare Epics” comes from Blizzard itself, reportedly from a developer…  but the only reference to this I could find is a now long dead WoW Insider post that has been mirrored on Engadget.  There is no source cited but references the same urban legend that I recollect, however given that I have never attended Blizzcon and the stream didn’t exist at that point… I have no evidence other than speculation. (EDIT:  Special thanks to Nyn for providing the evidence that apparently it was none other than Jeff Kaplan who said it I think joking… but nonetheless thrust the term into our vocabulary) The term however has been applied to any system that a certain fragment of the player base does not deem “worthy” of the rewards that are handed out.  When Karazhan and Zulaman were release… they also got called this term as did all of the gear that you could purchase with Justice Points.  In Wrath of the Lich King, the end bosses of the various heroic dungeons had a chance of dropping a much rarer epic quality item… and these were called Welfare Epics.  It simply became a way of one segment of the population diminishing the achievements of another segment of the population.  MMOs in general have always had rampant gate keeping, with various ways to tell other players that they are not tall enough to ride the ride, and this term just became another tool in that arsenal.

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Where it frustrates me the most however is that it generates this sense that MMOs are a zero sum game.  It creates the fallacy that if I am getting ahead, you are falling behind.  The fact that a level 110 can walk into a world quest and get a level 865 item, does not diminish the sense of accomplishment at every piece of gear I got in a heroic raid, or through beating the timer on a mythic plus.  Ultimately at the end of the day what we are actually battling is not other players, but instead the eldest of enemies…  the random number generator.  The problem is that there is a lot of bitterness that pools up when your luck never plays out.  I have friends who still have not seen a decent legendary this expansion, whereas I got my third last night… and for extra salt they dropped at level 940.  I got this legendary from an emissary chest, so I am sure that folks are going to refer to it as a “welfare legendary” but I really don’t care.  I simply see it as a useful item that will make me perform better for my raid when we start doing Nighthold tonight.  Instead of getting salty, I get happy when I see orange text appear in guild chat and congratulate folks with an open heart and friendly smile instead of a bucket of bile.  My friends getting awesome stuff is almost as good as me getting it… and in many cases better.  As is always the case in these games I tend to shoot up in item level pretty quickly, so when I started to see my friends catching up… it meant that I could then do interesting things with them.  them getting gear was helping to fuel my fun, which is largely derived by doing the stuff that requires a well geared party.

Essentially in my experience if you are of the opinion that only the hardest of hardcore should have interesting stuff…  then you are wrong.  That is a recipe for a dying game, and a game that has a massive population surge and purge cycle.  Please note that I absolutely raided Naxxramas in vanilla, which put me in the hardest of hardcores at the time…  and the fact that the content was so grossly inaccessible was a travesty.  During Burning Crusade I was a raid leader that suffered through the rampant poaching of players that occurred as folks checked out and slots needed to be filled.  When Tier 6 required you to do a string of attunements that involved clearing both Tier 4 and Tier 5, finding a replacement for someone who simply needed to stop raiding because real life got a little too real was pure hell.  You had two options…  either grow your own raiders, or steal them from another raid.  The growing option was painful because there are a fixed number of nights in the week, and trying to get folks who are knee deep in Tier 6 interested in running the content they long cleared and abandoned was pure hell.  That didn’t even take into account the real problem that was you needing them to be geared enough to actually do the content.  As a still sometimes leader, I would far rather have a system that allows players to get to reasonable item levels on their own, and stand as viable replacements that can make their way into the raid proper…  rather than having to orchestrate a plan to direct the entire guild to help catch a single player up.

The fact that others are getting nice things does not diminish the fact that you cleared mythic and got a whole slew of shiny baubles to show for it.  If you need a souvenir to prove that you were somewhere and did something “before it was cool”, then you might need to adjust your own motivations.  Sure to some extent or another, we all do content to get the shiny loot… that often lets us then go on and do more content.  However the experience of doing the content really should be the reward.  When I look back on my raiding career I don’t see a string of loot drops… but instead I see a string of events that involved the people that I was raiding with.  I think of moments like our first Sindragosa kill… where Thalen got the killing blow seconds before being frozen himself and we had to run back to see what had dropped.  I think of hanging out in front of the Throne of  Thunder with everyone using their shiny new Sky Golems like some sort of mechanized infantry.  I remember the excitement this season when we managed to finish up Heroic Emerald Nightmare and clear Trials of Valor in the same week…  not because of the achievements themselves but because I love the people I raid with.  If you don’t have warm memories like that, then I question why exactly are you raiding?  Raiding is about the people and the places and the things you did…  not pencil sharpener that you walked away with because you needed to find something to spend your tickets on.  The fact that someone else got something and it took less time than it took for you to get it…  should not tarnish the memories of the things you did along the way to get that same item.

Honor the Green

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Last night I managed to wrap up Greenshade and move on to the next zone Malabal Tor.  The funny thing about “leveling” through content in the post 50 game is that you lose all focus of how far you have actually come.  When I started playing again recently I was sitting about Champion rank 115, but at this very moment after doing the introductory quest line in Malabal Tor I am sitting at 141.  Both numbers seem like utter nonsense in the grand scheme of things, other than the fact that I am constantly getting incrementally more useful.  That said the mobs around me are getting incrementally more crafty at all times as well, but I am uncertain where the theoretical “max level” at least for gear advancement sits.  As of right now the highest level thing I have seen on any of the guild vendors is 160, which doesn’t really tell me if that is the actual max, or just the maximum that is reasonable to craft.  I have done a shockingly minimal amount of research so far during this return to Elder Scrolls Online, because in truth…  I had a path laid out before me already and that is to simply keep questing.  It might be madness but I really would like to finish up Aldmeri Dominion and then quest my way through all of Ebonheart before starting any of the DLC content.  Considering that the DLC lets you start it at literally any moment… I am guessing this is pure madness and not something most players do.

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Back to the whole having no basis on how far I have actually come in progress…  I was absolutely thinking that Malabal Tor was going to be the last zone in the AD content, and apparently I was completely wrong.  After this zone I still have Reaper’s March which is fine by me because I am actually enjoying myself in this content way more than I ever thought I would.  It is not exactly a surprise to anyone who has read my blog for very long… but I am not a huge fan of elves.  My friend Tam has this theory that every player is inherently either a Dwarf of an Elf and the two paths rarely cross.  I am absolutely a Dwarf and I tend to love all of the normal aesthetically wonderful things about Dwarfdom.  That said the Elder Scrolls setting as a whole does some weird things with what is and is not an Elf…  since technically both Dwarves and Orcs are elves in this setting.  Essentially in Elder Scrolls you have the races of “men”, the races of the “mer”, and then the beastmen which probably have a similar name or at least should.  Now in Skyrim… I go out of my way to kill Thalmor on sight… even if it is ultimately going to cause me issues.  In The Elder Scrolls Online I find out that the Thalmor are largely a militant group of “Elven Supremacists” that most people don’t like… and often times actively hate.  This subtle difference makes it significantly easier for me to actually like the elves while playing through the elf dominated content.

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That said… I have also found a certain Kinship with the Khajiit… which was to be expected, but also the Bosmer which I was not entirely prepared for.  I mean I have always liked the concept of the Green Pact and the existence of cannibal elves.  However while actually questing through the Bosmer centric story content, it has been interesting to struggle with the same weird thin line that they do…  of choosing what is common sense and what is honoring “The Green”.  It is a testament to just how damned good the storytelling is in this game to get a notorious elf killer like myself…  to convert to if not love…  but at least a begrudging respect for the folks that don’t belong to the Thalmor.  Of note… if given the chance I would still absolutely run around cheerfully slaughtering Thalmor.  I am extremely happy though that the game has given me ample opportunity to at least embarrass a few of them for showing them to be the unsteady zealots that they really are.  The only thing that I would have liked to have seen the game do… is throw in additional options for acknowledging the fact that you are an outlander while questing through the other two factions content.  The highlight of yesterday however was dealing with Hermaeus Mora, one of my favorite of the Daedra…  but also one of the more deadly.  He presented me with a deal that I could not refuse…  that I really wanted to refuse but felt the ramification of not taking it would be far worse.  While at some point I know turtle mode will finish… I have a feeling that I will still remain engaged to the storytelling of this game for the near future and this is about to be my “off night” game of choice.