What can I say… it’s Friday!

Another week, another blog entry. I already posted on the weekend about Hero-Con that Mhari and I attended last weekend… here it is a week later and I still have fond memories. Though I -have- had better conventions. It was a good time, and I got to spend some time with fellow players. Still haven’t met up with Flash Flood in game… but he’s east coast, so not sure it will happen.

This past week has been one of morning back pain. I get up in the morning and for the first hour or so my back is a mess, going ‘gotcha!’ at me with almost every movement. But it fades after about an hour. I’ll explain this when I see Dr James this weekend.

Mhari’s having issues with her medication. Last week’s dose took almost all the way to Monday before she stopped feeling ‘icky’ and it made Hero-Con less than the full fun it could have otherwise been for her. Then Tuesday rolled around and she had to take more… the good thing is that she was starting to recover from the ‘ickies’ already last night… unlike last week where she never did. I hope it’s a sign that her system is adjusting. I hate seeing her in so much discomfort. Makes me worry.

City of Heroes: It’s Zombie Apocalypse this week and next! This is a part of the Halloween Event this year. Along with ‘Trick or Treating’ for badges, costumes and costume pieces to turn in for a 5th Hero/Villain costume slot, there is a new Invasion-style event where the skies turn red, the invasion sirens go off, and zombies start to rise out of the ground wherever heroes/villains are. These invasions, unlike the Rikti ones, happen in ANY zone other than cooperative zones and PvP zones… almost everywhere player characters are in the game. They swarm and attack and it’s a fun event, bound to challenge the graphics capability of any system playing the game, though I still get good frame rates with my Nvidia 7950.

The Zombie Apocalypse/Halloween Event only lasts until November 2nd, so our groups are focusing on activities related to it rather than our normal missions. We’ll go back to those after the event is over.

Perfect World International: Other than trying to get in on the referral system for this game, I haven’t spent a lot of time on the game. I’ve been side tracked by something I am doing that is covered by a Non-Disclosure Agreement, so I can’t talk about.

Item covered by NDA: This is what I am spending my side time this week. And likely will for another few while the closed beta continues. I will mention that Mhari also now is a part of this NDA-covered activity. So at least I can talk about it with her and one other friend that is also in it.

Books of the week:
Foundation by Mercedes Lackey

I finished this book just before Hero-Con and it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. I love Mercedes’ Valdamar books and was really, really excited when I saw this on the shelf in the bookstore. It had been SO long since the last book, which was Crossroads a collection of short stories back in 2005. And the last full Valdamar novel was Exile’s Valor back in 2003! So I was almost totally caught by pleasant surprise to see this.

Foundation is the story of Mags, a young boy of 13 who, at the beginning of the book, is a child laborer in a jewel mine. He is poorer than dirt poor, and his ‘owner’ is keeping these children that are orphans and other disadvantaged kids that do all the labor for him and his own children. Naturally, as is normal for the first book of a Valdamar story, Mags is soon chosen by a Companion and is taken to Haven to become a Herald.

Of course, this being a good Mercedes Lackey book, things are not quite a uneventful rags to riches story. There’s the fact that the time this book is set in is about 2 generations after the time of the Last Herald-Mage series, and 500 some years before the ‘present’ of Valdamar that is in the majority of the Valdamar stories. During this time, it is a time of change for Valdamar. Some great NEED is coming, and thus the number of Chosen that are meeting up with their Companions is greatly on the rise and the ‘old’ way of mentoring new Chosen with a established Herald as they go about their duties in the field will no longer serve to train all these new Trainees. So a new college is being built… and the Healers and the Bards wanted their OWN new colleges as well. So it is a time of transition, with some folks wanting things to remain done in the OLD ways, and others embracing the needed new ways. And these are the times that Mags is added to the mix.

I won’t tell you of Mags’ experiences, as that’s really what this book is about, showing you his character, getting you to know him and his Companion. It also gets you in tune with the times it is written in and gets you well settled in the world before starting to really kick off the story. And leave you screaming for the next book in the series, of course.

About the only thing that I found a little comforting as well as disturbing is that Mercedes Lackey pulls what seems to be a formula for her in the first book of a series that she is doing on her own (as opposed to with a collaborative pairing with another author, which she continues to do a LOT of)… that is that it starts with a young person in a really bad situation of some sort, and they the either come into their power, get selected for a special role, or otherwise have their life change all the way around. And this book follows that formula to a T. However, as always, she does it with a master writer’s style and grace. Her flow of words just feels so comfortable and welcoming to the reader. And it was a JOY to return to Valdamar after so long. And I look forward to the other books in this series. They always go by fast, but they are thoroughly enjoyable in the process.

I highly recommend this book. It will take a honored place on my bookshelf, and I expect to re-read it again some day in the future, just like I have with all the other Valdamar and Bards books. In fact, reading this one has made me want to go back and read things in published order once more, starting with Arrows of the Queen.

Dungon & Dragons Player’s Handbook: 4th Edition by Wizards of the Coast

Yes, I’m reading a D&D rulebook. D&D was the first role-playing game I ever played, and I got my first set of the little books back in 1974 after going to a miniatures session in the back of one of my first Star Trek conventions. I played the game on and off until 1981 when I discovered Champions and changed over to superheroes out of a love of Comics.

This is the 4th edition of the game, officially and it has come a long, long, long ways from those little typo-ridden books I first learned the game from. In fact, it’s almost a fully different game from even the prior version, known as 3.5. This game feels like the writers have learned, not only from decades of player and Game Master experience, but also from the changes that have been going on in the market place and the role-play gaming world as well. What I am speaking of here is the move that has been happening in the market where Pen and Paper gaming is supposedly losing it’s customers over to Massive Multiplayer online games.

First, they have taken and re-focused the whole rule system over to the concept of ‘roles’, as in where one type of character heals and buffs, another controls the crowd, another does large amounts of damage, and the last holds the attention of the foe onto themselves and can handle that level of damage. Yes, the Healer/Defender, Controller, High Damage Per Second Blaster/Scrapper and the Tank. All of that is here.

You have the Fighter, is one of the Tank (or as it’s called in D&D4, Defender) classes. So is Paladin, which has some of the Fighter stuff along with some of the Clerical. Wizards, Rangers and Rogues fit into the Striker/High DPS role, Clerics are in the Healer/Buffer role they call Leader, and Warlocks are in the Controller role. It changes some of the ways the classes are traditionally looked at by D&D players, but it really doesn’t change them at the core.

Next they bring in a way of progressing through levels where every time you level you gain something of meaning, usually called powers. Be they new ways of using your weapons, new spells, new prayers, or whatever. Every time you level you gain something new, a significant reward. Yes, they had this before. But in the OLD days you got only more hit points, maybe better Armor Class, and stats. Wizards got spells of various sorts. As did Clerics. But it was never quite as well thought out as it is now. It reminds me a LOT of how MMOs interpreted and implemented the old D&D (and other) game systems for the computers. They made the reward system into something that made people push for that next level. And now it has come full circle into D&D as well.

But that’s not the only thing that’s gotten changed. They have slimed down most of the rules into some easy to follow concepts. Everything you do in the form of ‘skill checks’ and the like are done with a D20 to which you add modifiers from stats, magic items, powers, the level of your character (sometimes), etc, which is rolled either against someone else’s roll and pluses, or against a Difficulty Check number of one sort or another.

The rules for dealing with combat focuses strongly on a set of easy miniatures rules, just like the original game grew out of. Very simple ones, to be sure, but any one that looks can see where they come from. And they are well presented.

So, will it make a good game? Yes, I suspect it will, for those willing to spend the time and effort, and a bit of mental elbow grease called Imagination, you can really have a blast with it. Will it pull people out of their armchairs and out from behind their computer? Well.. I don’t think so. But if it does, it will be fairly easy for people who like World of Warcraft and other MMOs to find things to like and feel comfortable with here. There are no really hard concepts in the game. Most of the ‘hard math’ and ‘deep rules lawyer’ requirements have had their edges shaven off and made easier to swallow. So there won’t be any of those real nasty sharp learning curves that became a hallmark of the game in the 2nd and 3rd editions.

However, all that being said, there is one serious challenge to this game… the price tag. It’s steep. The Player’s Handbook, which is all that the player needs to play, has a list price of US$34.95. It’s a heavy book that feels worth the price. But in today’s economy… yikes. And if you want to become the person that RUNs the game, it’s another 2 books minimum, and THEY cost $34.95 each, too. But there is a 3-book set that one can get at Amazon and other places for around $70. So at the price of 2 of the books, you get three. And with other deals you can get it down lower… so if you really want to get into it, you can. Just beware, Wizards of the Coast LOVE to sell you expansions and add-ons and modules and all sorts of things, and this hobby can get really expensive when you add in all the dice, miniatures, and other tools. LOTS steeper than the $15 a month one gets used to paying for a MMO.

I find the Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook 4th Edition a fairly good read if you like game system rulebooks. I only fell asleep once or twice while reading it, but I WAS able to read it all. Unlike many other game rule books over the years… but it doesn’t hold up to the quality of the World of Darkness books in readability and creativity. But it shows a real knowledge of where Pen and Paper games just may have to go in order to stay alive in this age of the MMO. Let’s hope that the on-line portion of the game, where players are supposed to be able to hook up with others and play the games through an on-line gametable some time really lives up to the promises they made when 4th edition first came out. Then, just maybe, SMORPGs (Small Multi-player Online Role-Playiing Games) can come into existence in a wider world. (They already exist, it’s just they are not on most people’s radar. Maybe I will write about them in a future blod.)

And for those curious, I picked up the D&D PH because my regular pen and paper game group is going to give it a try as something different, for a change…

That’s if for me this week. I gotta go have a flu shot today… Have a GREAT weekend, folks! Just because I am in a bitchy mood doesn’t mean I don’t want folks to have a good time. *grin*