Epic Mickey

My in-laws were nice enough to give me Epic Mickey for Christmas this year. I heard good things about it from @ThadeousC and @MichaelRobles, so I decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did. Unlike other video games that I try once and put away, I go back to this game again and again.

Sweeping story arc, short tasks

One thing I enjoy about the game is that while it has a longer story arc and a number of long term quests, most of it is focused on short objectives. Find and turn the two gears, climb to the top of the clock tower, deal with two threats. In my busy life, it's hard to find more than a half-hour to an hour to play, so the short quests make me feel like I accomplished something. Then at the end of a chapter, I complete some of the longer term quests and feel even more satisfied.

Meaningful choices

We talk about this a lot in D&D land, but in the flurry of campaign design, it often gets lost or, at least for me, I try to let my players get everything they want. In Epic Mickey, you have to make choices that affect not only you, but the entire game world. In one scenario, I had to choose between a life and treasure. When it comes to "bad guys," I can try to knock them out and maybe push them into some terrain that will kill them or I can try to hit them with enough paint that they will like me. The latter tends to be much more dangerous for me, but I gain some protection if I can turn them. Recently, I had one of the random characters tell me that word on the street is that I'm a softie and that's not good in the Wasteland.

The tension between creation and destruction

When you play, you have two main tools at your disposal, paint and thinner. Paint repairs. Part of the bridge is missing? No problem, just paint in the missing part. But what may be done, may be undone with thinner. I have the most problems with this part of the game. I'm a creator and a builder and I often forget that wiping away can be as useful as building up. When I get frustrated with the game, it's usually because I forgot to give thinner a try.

That's where I'm at now. I really like the game. I think it's the perfect amount of challenge and I'm enjoying the story. Some of the interludes are great too. For instance, they have some great Steamboat Willie mini scenes in there.

The Importance of Storytelling

Deconstructing Powers

One of the things I do love about the Esssentials martial builds, especially the rogue and the fighter, is that the new powers are mostly deconstructed versions of previous ones. What I mean by that is that the heart of most rogue powers was their ability to do damage. How accurate the attack was or how much damage it did was really a function of what additives the particular "power" gave the character. The more awesome stuff a power did, it became less accurate, less damaging or harder to do by limiting it to encounters or dailies. To support this, I offer that in my quick comparisons, "Sly Flourish" matches pretty well with the thief's basic attack.

However, we still need to give the thief something interesting to do. The designers of this class build decided that the thief needed to be the master of mobility. By removing the move actions from powers and making them at-will move tricks, we no longer need to worry about those penalties when doing our attack since we are sacrificing our move action. Thus the thief could still do his damage and have some fun movement options without unbalancing the game. The final item was to provide a class feature that made their melee basic key off of dexterity instead of strength, something that probably should have been in the original version too.

A nice by-product of the simplified power structure is that only so many different powers can be produced. By combining moves, attacks and other benefits within one action type, we introduce infinite variation, each combination needing its own "power." By pulling them out, we allow the players to build their own combinations without cluttering up the character builder with 1000s of powers.

The issue I have with this change is that the build is a bit too simple. When I read through the list, they all seem a bit fiddly to me. They don't have enough differentiation to make me really interested in choosing between them. In addition, I really miss having that cool cinematic moment in the game where I worked for a few turns to set up a situation I wanted. Perhaps I used my rogue's forced movement powers to move the bad guy towards the edge of the cliff so I could have that cool 300 moment where I kicked him off. Or I just really wanted the opportunity to pull out 6d6 at once. Regardless of the setup, some of the excitement is just gone for me. One easy solution would be to add more trick options. Perhaps we could add a trick that uses a minor or move to allow the character to push their target on a hit.

Now it isn't all bad. Maybe seeing their players get bored or feel too restricted with the pre-made options for their characters will open DMs up to the wonder of page 42 (from the original DMG). That's the page with the damage by level charts and information on how to adjudicate rules on the fly. As a DM, when your player wants to do something not covered by the normal rules, that's the first place you should look for guidance on how to adjudicate their requests. For instance, if one of your players wants his character to swing from a chandelier into the bad guy, you can find damage expressions here.

Another option that I have floating around in my head is an expansion of the power points system. I really don't like how they get used in PHB3. Each power has some additional options that can be purchased through power points. The problem is that you might like parts of two different powers but neither one completely. Imagine if instead, you could build your own powers on the fly. Adding an additional two shifts or pushing a character one space costs one point. Adding another melee basic attack costs two points. I'm not sure of the details but I think it would satisfy what I find missing from the build and even make me like power points.

Well that's how I feel anyway. I know a number of you really love the thief and fighter and I'm so glad to hear that. At the end of the day, I just want us all to have fun. And if you are interested, here is the auto-build thief from character builder. Yeah, some issues with the build exist and I notified Wizards of the Coast customer service about them.

Contest: The Winding Story

Thanks to everyone who entered the "Failure is an Option" Contest. We chose QuackTape as the winner with his great story of his character being run over by a motorcycle and having the tread marks to prove it.

Critical failures are one way to alter the story. However, the randomness of the events can cause anxiety and one failure often doesn't radically change the story line. What if you and your friends came together and decide on the turn you want the story to take? That's the thought behind Paizo's Plot Twist Cards. I haven't had a chance to incorporate this into my game yet, but I really want to.

So how about you? Have you done something like this in your games? How did it go?If you follow @wexogo on twitter and leave your story in the comments below or post it to twitter using the #rpgtwist hashtag, you will be entered in our contest. The kind folks at We Xogo will give away a prize. We will pick our favorite entry and send the author one of Paizo's Plot Twist decks. The contest ends at 12:01 am, Saturday, December 18th. Winners will be chosen by me and the folks at We Xogo and can be disqualified for any reason at our sole discretion. You must live in the US to be eligible for the prize.

Contest: Swing and A Miss

When I started playing D&D, failures scared the hell out of me. I come from a computer RPG background where failure, particularly in combat, meant death. Since D&D doesn't have such things, it's understandable that I thought failure was never an option. Every missed attack, every 1 I rolled felt like it was a direct reflection on my ability to create a character. "Sorry guys" was a common refrain.

As I gained more confidence and learned that not every DM was adversarial, many of these feelings went away. That is until I played a game with some strangers at my local gaming store. That DM pulled out a critical miss deck. I saw it and my stomach started churning. He could tell that a few of us were a little nervous and he offered the let us look at the cards. After we had a chance to look through them, he asked us how we felt. My big concern had to do with weapon breakage. We were starting off at level 2 which meant my swordmage had a nice magic sword that I really didn't want to lose. He responded by removing those cards from the deck and we started play.

While I was still nervous about it, the game sold me on tricks like this. Fortunately, the only ones to roll a 1 were the monsters, but it was fun to think of what my character might do in response to some of the miss cards. For instance, one card stated that the creature loses her grip on the weapon and it goes flying some number of squares. I just painted a scene in my mind of fighting with a large ogre and trying to get past it to grab my weapon while it swung at me. At the end of this game, I was willing to give anything a try, including failing.

So how about you? What is your favorite failure story? The kind folks at We Xogo will give away a prize. If you follow @wexogo on twitter and leave your story in the comments below or post it to twitter using the #rolling1s hashtag, you will be entered in our "Failure is an Option" contest. We will pick our favorite entry and send the author one of Paizo's Critical Fumble decks. The contest ends at 12:01 am, Monday, December 13th. Winners will be chosen by me and the folks at We Xogo and can be disqualified for any reason at our sole discretion. You must live in the US to be eligible for the prize.

As an added bonus, from now through Sunday, December 12, you can use the code "darkmagic" to get 10% off anything in the store.

DDXP DM Challenge: One if by Land (Part 1)

The DM Challenge at DDXP is to create an adventure in Gamma World. I’m a bit intimidated by it because Gamma World is really new to me and I’m not sure I have quite the reservoir of stories to pull from that most of the other DMs will. However, I don’t back down from a challenge so I’m going for it anyway. Besides I didn’t know anything about the Underdark and had never run a game in public when I started the PAX East DM Challenge and I did ok there.

Since this is a convention game with time limits, I need to railroad the players a bit more than I would in my home game. In some ways, it’s important that I do so. They don’t know me well enough to recognize my cues and slowing down game play so people can explore their character for half an hour is likely to upset others at the table. I can’t give them spotlight time next game to make up for it. I also can’t guarantee how comfortable the people at my table will be with improvising, especially at 8 am in the morning, so it’s better if I plan more and ignore it rather than not plan and scramble during the game.

This means I need to come up with a few adventure ideas and tie them together in a way that is likely to make sense to the players. Before I started planning, I had a request from Randall (@deadorcs) to include giant chickens, so that needs to be there. Next up is thinking about some iconic bits of Boston. The first thing that comes to mind is the Revolutionary War, specifically Paul Revere. It might be cool to have players spread the word of a coming invasion. They could even ride giant chickens. The first part of my game’s title came into focus, “One if by Land.”

But who would invade? My first thought was the Beatles, mainly because I wanted the players to sing some songs at the table. Yet I wasn’t satisfied with that idea. I don’t really think of the Beatles when I think about Boston. After thinking a bit more and specifically after thinking about the Santa robot from Futurama, I hit on an idea. The Yankees, or more specifically Yankees robots. Bostonians hate the Yankees making them the perfect invaders for my story. Thus, the second part of my title “The Yankee(bot)s are coming.”

Great, but where are the characters when the invasion starts? I think the best answer for that is the Boston Common. I’m not quite sure where in the Common they should start, but I think it would be interesting it became the area for “livestock” again. When they run into the small force of Yankeebots, they can grab some of the chickens to ride so they can warn others.

Where should they go after the Common? Why Fenway Park of course. Maybe the bots are just itching for a baseball game or they will offer to withdraw if someone beats them. Whatever the reason, they need to make their way there and interact with the ballpark. Maybe the Green Monster is a real monster and can be controlled by sitting in Ted William’s seat. As for traveling there, I’ll probably give them the choice of two routes, one through the shorter but more dangerous “Big Dig” and the other through the labyrinthine streets of Boston.

I think this is a good start. I'll fiddle the names a bit as I go along too, keeping them recognizable while allowing time to play a game of telephone with them. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be hammering this into an actual adventure. I can’t wait to see where it goes and I hope the players enjoy it.

Send feedback using the contact form or through twitter, @sarahdarkmagic.

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