Monthly Archives: November 2009

Enchantment? Enchantment!

This is my obligatory Dragon Age post.

Summary:  I like it a lot.  I’m playing it on “easy” mode, which I’m so glad even exists, because in RPGs, especially well-written ones like this one, I concentrate on story, not gameplay.  And while gameplay here is fun, and fascinating, and I love the ability to take a tactical “time out” and queue actions for my whole party, the story is what keeps me hooked.

And, big spoilers ahead!  Be aware!

Life in Ferelden just sucks.  Up to thirty years ago, the country was subjugated under the rule of neighboring Orlais.  Before that, there was a demonic Blight that only the world’s special demon-hunters were able to take on:  the Grey Wardens, mythical warriors able to call on allies in time of need.  Now, due to a really interesting origin story (there are six possible), a pretty difficult test, and a pretty hairy ritual, you’re one of these mythical warriors.  Your mission remains the same as it has always been for Grey Wardens:  you rid the world of the Blight, through whatever means you consider palatable.  And life just keeps getting suckier.

A few criticisms.  A friend rightly snarked the game as being sort of “deliberately edgy” in its marketing, and boy, that’s true.  I saw a few commercials and hardly thought they went with the same game.  Don’t get me wrong, DA has a lot of pyrrhic victories and impossible choices you nevertheless have to make.  But the game itself doesn’t scream violence! sex! violence! sex!  Those are huge parts of the game, but not to the obnoxiously “hurrr, look, we have nookie cutscenes” the advertising seems to imply.

The blood and gore:  yeah, there’s a ton of it.  I’ve read (and made) a lot of snark about how if a character so much as looks at a bad thing, they’re suddenly drenched head to toe in blood, and then, by the next cutscene, it’s gone.  I hear there are ways to tone down the gore (my current character, a human rogue, seems to decapitate people a LOT), but I haven’t investigated them.

Moving on to what’s fun:  okay, my boyfriend keeps saying that after this, he’s going to start buying me dating sims.  The opportunities for “romance” in the game are numerous, and my character (and her player) are having an absolute ball trying to curry favor with various members of the party.  Yes, even to the extent that I started the game over when I realized one of my impossible decisions had blocked the way for a future relationship with one of the party members.  Oh Alastair, you befuddled Grey Warden, you.  And, props to Bioware for including romantic options that aren’t heterosexual-only.

I almost never say this in games (except for my beloved Lord of the Rings Online, and well:  duhh.), but I absolutely love DA’s lore.  It’s rich, it turns my particular crank about how religion is handled in fantasy, and it’s remarkably consistent throughout the game.  Since I’m a roleplay nut, my character is – as her status and background would indicate – a dutiful, if not especially pious, worshipper, and she makes decisions and accepts consequences based on that trait.  And it really does make a difference.

Which brings me to my last rave about the game.  Choices have consequences.  I made one choice, early on, on the first character I tried.  It was the right decision given the situation, her fear, her resources.  But as I kept playing and playing, I the player was just so bound up in having made an awful decision that I had a hard time even playing anymore.  It totally haunted my character in-game, affected everyone’s feelings toward her, and had undeniable consequence.  I ended up dumping that char for the aforementioned reasons, but man.  I was in KNOTS about my choices.  The storytelling is really absorbing.

I haven’t tried the downloadable content yet.  Not sure I will on this character.  But I’m excited to see what the scenario builder-type tools are, and I can’t wait to start the game yet AGAIN as a different gender/class/origin mix.  Highly recommended, as long as you don’t mind looking like a vat of ketchup has been upended on your character for 90% of the game.

Hit me again!

I play a lot of 4th Edition D&D, and while I don’t haunt boards or rp sites at all, I do think about all the topics my very forum-happy DM of a boyfriend brings up.  Lately, he’s been doing a lot of 4E defense – saying yes, you can roleplay using that ruleset, yes, you can have involved stories, no, it’s not “just like an MMO” because someone might say “tank” instead of “defender” at the table once in a while.  I’m paraphrasing here, and maybe making some stuff up.

It took me a few sessions in one of my ongoing games to realize how I had to approach roleplay in 4E to make it worthwhile.  This is heavily informed by the aforementioned boyfriend’s brilliant “Roleplaying with Miniatures” article, especially this:  “Step four: make your character do whatever your character would do. Fuck tactics.”  Provocative, yes.  Something to discuss with your other players so you don’t end up with two people in Super ZOMG Tactics Mode and two others running around hitting evil statues on the nose because their characters are “fun.”  There’s a balance to be struck.

I started thinking about mechanical ways to make this part of the game itself, as opposed to a potential social contract that may not work in play.  What I came up with, for lack of a better term, is “chosen limitations.”  Detriments, challenges, etc.  Everyone in the party chooses something – some facet of tactical play – to be a limitation in combat.

Choose it right at the beginning.  Make it an explicit part of character creation.  Have a pretty strong vision of what these limitations might be.  You don’t want it to be like a Secret Santa exchange at the office, where everyone spends $5 and That One Guy spends $30.  In the same vein, you don’t want lots of little limitations and then the guy who says “I wear an eyepatch on my left eye, so if a bad guy hits me from the left, I’m automatically dazed!”  Too big.

I’ve only used this in practice once, and I don’t even know if it was noticeable to the other players.  It’s a 4E game in a rich, fascinating setting (a shout out to Metrocalypse here), and our characters are folks who were in Oxford, England in 1605 who woke up to a radically changed world.  My character is a fairly young woman who went from her father’s care to her husband’s.  She’s all of 19, the world is a wreck, and now she’s fighting giant ants and explaining religion to bullywugs.  Neat rp!  But how to reflect that in combat to keep my interest going?  I decided:  she will cling to the strong men in her company, as she’s always clung to father and husband.  Cecily will never be further than two squares away from one of the male characters.  Ever.  If pushed to a square further away, her first action will be to return to that range.

It’s just a tiny little consideration that I can set alongside all the other tactical decisions I make in play, but this one ties into who she is as character, not who she is as class.  And how about a halfling who can’t swim?  A half-elf who was a captive as a youth, and who will automatically react violently if shoved into small spaces?  A character who has fallen in love with another character, and will always see to that character’s health before anything else?  Make it a tactical challenge, decided upon with the DM.  Choose to share it with the other players, or keep it a cool secret to figure out in play.

Really, this is what I love about 4E.  I don’t see it as limiting; I see it as an incredibly easy and expansive framework.  And making your character’s life harder is fun!

Smoke alarm, my one nemesis.

Autumn makes me want to cook.  It’s my favorite season, even though it now coincides with the most awful event of my life, and those things combined are making me want to spend hours and hours cooking up comfort food for the masses.  And I do mean for the masses.  My happiest cooking experience of the last few months was making ropa vieja for a gaming group, and the minute more gamers come to the house, I’m cooking for them TOO.

And, since I haven’t posted here for a month, I get to talk about all the food at once.

1. Ropa vieja in a crockpot.  It’s not hard.

It’s flank steak, and peppers, and tomatoes and aromatics, a few spices, some vinegar, and a whole lot of time.  I let it cook on high for about six hours.  I’d post a definitive recipe, but I cooked it like I usually cook new things:  look up about five different recipes, check the pantry, check the fridge, figure out a few adjustments when we invariably don’t have something, and make.  Here’s one recipe, and another, and another.  I used sherry vinegar instead of red wine vinegar/Worchestershire, and a ton of red peppers because I loathe green ones.

Were I to make it again, I’d serve it over rice, but we put it in tortillas for the gaming group, and they ate a LOT.  Success!

2. Roasted vegetable soup.  Also not hard.

I had a ton of root vegetables sitting around:  acorn squash, delicata squash, sweet potatoes, carrots.  Plus some red peppers.  And I find most mashed starchy things way too heavy and bleh, and I love the roasted vegetables served in the Whole Foods salad bar (nom nom nom), so I channeled my inner Barefoot Contessa and roasted up the whole pile.  Two realllly laden pans of chopped up vegetables, some oil, some salt, some pepper.  Really high heat, 20 minutes.  Two trips to the smoke alarm to take out the battery.

I took the whole mass of roasted stuff out, pureed it in the blender with a bunch of good boxed chicken stock, and shoved it in a bowl in the fridge for two days while we instead went out for crabcakes.  Then!  I heated it up with more stock, a crapton of garlic, some thyme.  Simple, really, and by far the best soup I’ve ever made.

When I served it, I topped it with diced Canadian turkey bacon and a bit of fresh spinach sauteed with onion and garlic.  Seriously.  This was good food.  Rave reviews.

3.  Chorizo bread pudding.  Eh.

Bryant had this at work.  He liked it!  He found this blog post and thought we should give it a whirl.  I love it when we cook together, so yay, fun!

Issue #1:  dried chorizo (as the recipe calls for) is not the same as chorizo in the casing that you split open.  The chorizo in the casing is, as Bryant put it, “wow, that’s PRIMAL.”  I left the room.  He cooked the sausage.  I returned eventually.

Issue #2:  We have a REALLY sensitive smoke alarm.

Issue #3:  He forgot the eggs.

Issue #4:  I forgot the tomatoes.

So we pulled the thing out of the oven about 2 seconds after we’d shoved it in, added eggs and tomatoes to the casserole dish, stirred like crazy, shrugged, shoved it back in the oven, and waited.

It came out…rich.  Very rich.  Too rich for me, really.  I could do this again – with chopped up slices of dried sausage, perhaps – for a breakfast side dish.  As an entree?  No.  The consistency was good, the spices were dead-on, and even the PRIMAL chorizo was delicious.  But the overall thing was just too heavy for me to handle.  Then again, Bryant loved it and ate it not only that night, but for breakfast for the next two days.  So:  semi-success!