Justice Playthrough #164: The Colors of Magic

I think I’m just not a storytelling-RPG kinda guy.

Page 59, Game 1: The Colors of Magic by Jon Lemich

As always, the disclaimer, because on the off chance the person reading this is not my wife, there’s almost no way they’re reading these entries in chronological order: I don’t actually play most of the tabletop entries in this list because I have neither the time nor the ambition. I could claim “Covid!”, but that’d be a big damn lie. For tabletop role-playing games like this, I read the ruleset until I start getting bored, skim until the end, and then write-up a review based on how much I’d be interested in playing it.

Is it fair? Probably not. But it seems more fair than just skipping them entirely.

Does Colors of Magic make me interested in playing it? Not really. Even though everything about it stacks the deck in its own favor. It’s aiming to capture the feel of high-end non-kiddy fantasy cartoons, to which I can only say, hells yes! Steven Universe! Last Airbender! The Dragon Prince! I’m all over that shit!

And the primary mechanic involves eating candy! Like, providing actual physical candy at the table and eating it! I have the dietary preferences of a twelve-year-old child! I have candy on my desk right now! I’m going to eat some candy!

Oh, bananas. Truly you are the best Runts.

You play with precisely four players — I don’t know why the game is so adamant about this, but it sure the fuck is. (It’s not the primary reason I’m not feeling it, but the author seems to have a VERY specific vision of how this game should be played, and the rules have a tendency to come off surprisingly heavy-handed and arbitrary.) Under the guidance of the “gamerunner,” exactly three people shall create protagonists, in the form of wizards who all know each other and are more or less friends. You define your beliefs, your spells, and the important people in your life with a character creation process that’s very loosey-goosey about HOW you define this stuff but oddly very specific about just WHAT you’re defining. Once everybody has their characters, off you go!

There are no dice or game stats or anything. The GM takes a moment to think up a general plotline (possibly using a literal Mad Libs worksheet provided by the game which uses all the information you just defined, which I actually kind of love), and away you go.

When the game starts, the GM will lay out some multi-colored candy. There need to be pieces of five colors; the six Big Boys, minus blue. In other words, Skittles. (Or, if you’re going for color-blind accessibility, Runts.) When conflict arises, as it inevitably shall, you resolve it by eating a Skittle. The color of the Skittle determines how successful you are; purple means it was a catastrophic failure clusterfuck, green means it was a total success, everything else is somewhere in between.

Note that you do not choose your Skittle out of a bag — you just choose the color. (I mean, technically, you don’t even have to eat it, to which I say fuck you you sucrose-shaming bastard.) The game is quite adamant about this: every time a conflict arises, you choose whether or not you succeed or fail, and to what degree.

Obviously, this requires you to be in a completely different headspace than, say, D&D or Apocalypse World. The goal is very explicitly not to succeed; success is as easy as pounding green-apple Skittles until you’re sick of them. (Hell, the game actually advises you to just fake it if you run out of a given color; there’s not supposed to be a resource management aspect of any kind present.) The goal here is to tell an interesting story.

Which I’m on board with, as far as it goes. But what has me giving this particular game the side-eye is how you and your friends have COMPLETE control over how the story unfolds. There are even non-candy mechanisms for undoing things if the story winds up going in a direction somebody doesn’t care for.

At that point, is it even still a game?

The games that hook me, the games that really pull me along, are the games that make me want to see what happens next. In this game, that’s going to be whatever we all AGREE happens next. That doesn’t feel like a game to me, that’s just a group storytelling exercise, one where everybody involved has veto power.

Everything about this game feels safe. Meticulously safe. Exhaustively, emphatically safe. I appreciate that modern RPG designers are trying to make their games more inclusive by empowering players to nerf or avoid topics they find personally upsetting, but Colors of Magic takes it a step further and cultivates an environment where you only subject yourself to even the mildest of upsets by explicit consent.

And I’m not interested in that. I don’t want absolute control over my environment. I want to be pushed. I want to subject myself to the unexpected. I want a game that’s capable of disappointing me, of taking my careful plans and pissing all over them.

I want to be able to fail.

What’s going to happen next in this game? Whatever me and the (EXACTLY) three other players at the table say happens next.

Unless the other three players are just dynamite storytellers, I find it hard to imagine I’m going to get terribly invested.

The game is shooting for mid-teens cartoons, but it’s so emphatic about bubble-wrapping its players that it reads as way, way younger than that to me. This seems more appropriate for full-on kiddie fare, where the important thing is to keep the little fuckers placated and not screaming at Mom for a half hour at a time. Keep things shiny, but don’t do anything that might upset them.

For the cartoons its emulating, the game needs the capacity to be unpredictable, to surprise, to upset. Reveal to me that my sainted mother was actually the villain all along. Wreck my carefully planned eclipse assault, defeat my allies and scatter them to the winds. Get me invested in the story, and then when it blows the fuck up, force me to roll with it.

If I want absolute control, I’ll just write. If I’m playing a game, I want something else.

If somebody I trust were to tell me “Dude, you are SO wrong, this game is fucking AWESOME!”, then sure, I’d be willing to give it a try. If nothing else, I’ll get some Skittles out of the deal. But this just doesn’t look appealing to me at all.

Will this next game tease me with a title that’s one letter off of a Terry Pratchett novel and then give me absolutely nothing resembling Discworld?

Page 51, Game 13: stop by daichifob

“stop time to solve puzzles”

Honestly, “Stop” could totally be a Pratchett novel, but it isn’t. And I’ve found some puzzle games here that I’ve really enjoyed. Could be a keeper.

Justice Playthrough IOU: Learn Japanese To Survive: Kanji Combat OST

I said I’d come back to it.

Page 51, Game 1: Learn Japanese To Survive: Kanji Combat OST by Slaleky

Definitely sounds like a JRPG soundtrack to me. I don’t play a ton of JRPGs, so I can’t say much more than that. Is it a GOOD example of such things? A notably derivative example? Is it just Final Fantasy 32: The Chocobo Riots but with the serial numbers defaced? No idea.

I will say that this is almost certainly just the game’s music resources dumped into playable form. These tracks are all meant to be on loops, presumably playing indefinitely as you get up to whatever educational shenanigans the game has in store for you next. As far as I can tell, there’s no effort whatsoever to try and smooth-out the beginnings and endings so they sound more like actual discrete songs. The beginnings all sound all right, but the songs don’t “end” so much as “stop.” Seriously, every time a track ends, it sounds like somebody fast-forwarded to the next one halfway through.

Aside from that, it seems like a perfectly cromulent video game soundtrack. Though I have to imagine that if you’re going for a Final Fantasy-esque groove, you’d probably just toss on an actual Final Fantasy soundtrack. Those exist, too.

Onward.

Justice Playthrough #163: Space Mayhem

A good zoomie shootie explodie pew pew space game that wants to be great. Doesn’t quite make it. But is still pretty damn good.

Page 20, Game 30: Space Mayhem by Chronic Vagrant

You have a spaceship. Your spaceship has a pew pew shootie laser. You know what to do.

GO SHOOT SOME ROCKS MOTHERFUCKA

Of course, you don’t just zoom around smashing rocks for long. Other ships start showing up. At first, they’re no big deal, just a bunch of pokey little dudes that will try to ram you. But there are more. Then more. Then more.

All right you off-brand Sinistar bitches, lets do this

To help aid your battle, power-ups will regularly drift by for you to go pick up. These are divided into two categories: lasers, and things that wish they were as awesome as lasers. Seriously, having a laser is like strapping a light sabre to the nose of your ship. It’s fucking awesome.

I spin my ship and you DIE

This game is fun. It’s easy to get hung up on little things it does poorly or on opportunities it missed, because there are honestly a lot of those — and because I’m me, I’m about to go into those in more detail. But this is also one of those games where getting screenshots past the first few seconds was difficult because I didn’t want to stop what I was doing and compromise the run to get the damn screenshot. This definitely goes into the “Glad I Found It” bucket.

But it could have definitely been more.

The game defines a very tight battlespace; you have the dimensions of your screen and not a pixel further. Slam into the edge of the screen, loose health as though you’d been shot. This was a bad decision; this game is all about getting into an adrenalized murderous flow, about capturing the Thrill. Having to pull back from a killshot because you don’t want to run afoul of the borders impairs that flow. Why not make the screen wrap, like Asteroids? If you must have barriers, why not make them bouncy, like Omega Race?

The power-ups could benefit from some balancing and differentiation. The laser is, indeed, awesome, and I got a little battle boner every time I saw one floating across my screen. There’s also a flamethrower which works more or less the same way — you spray a short-range field of concentrated destruction, for which you’ll want to spin your ship and clip as many things as you can manage. Except, while the laser just blows shit up, the flamethrower only bestows a single hit, and if that’s not enough, catches the ship on fire so that it may take a bit of damage over time. It looks baller, but in terms of gameplay, the flamethrower is just the laser, but shittier.

Why does my gun overheat if I shoot it too many times in a row? This is another design choice that goes against the go-out-there-and-fuck-shit-up vibe of the game. If any game should be rewarding me for getting in there and blazing away, it’s this one. There are a couple of power-ups that are basically “My regular gun but it doesn’t overheat,” and those are the least exciting to get, because … it’s just my regular gun, but without the overheating. Meh.

Why does everything — everything — damage me in precise 25-point chunks? If my health is 100, I can take four hits. Wouldn’t it make more sense for my health to be “4” instead?

Why isn’t there more differentiation among the ships? Some enemies will drop coins, which give you cash you can use to unlock other available ships. I unlocked two ships, and honestly, they were pretty much the same game experience as the starter ship. One of them went faster, but that’s honestly a mixed blessing in this game, particularly as I have to spend a lot of my time not splattering myself on the borders. I would have liked a different main weapon, maybe. Or something that gets more mileage out of my power-ups. Or … just something that made me feel like the game was DIFFERENT now that I had this shiny new toy to play with.

Like I said, it’s easy to get lost in the “Minor error” weeds. None of these missteps wreck the game, but cumulatively, they do keep it from being as exciting as it could be.

The best comp I’ve encountered in this trawl is Cycle 28, which I loved. That game had a sense of escalation, stakes, and freestyle pixelship badassery that I feel like Space Mayhem is gunning for but doesn’t quite achieve. It feels restricted. I want Space Mayhem to be let off its chain and run ripshit rampage through the neighborhood.

But even so. It’s fun. It looks great, it sounds good, it’s just plain fun to play. If you’re a fan of arcade-style spaceship shoot-em-ups, I can definitely recommend playing it. I’m really glad this one crossed my path.

Is this next game going to have me rushing towards clusters of enemies so I can blow-up my awesome “Roundhouse” bomb right in their stupid enemy faces?

Page 59, Game 1: The Colors of Magic by Jon Lemich

“The Colors of Magic is a light, collaborative, story-focused, fantasy tabletop RPG about a group of wizard friends.”

Sounds like it will have a minimum of face-blasting. Which is totally fine.

Oh, and hey, it’s the last one! Not, you know, the last one I’m gonna do. (I don’t think? I’m not slamming out as many of these as I used to.) Just the very last game in the bundle. Nifty. Let’s see if it’s as good as the first one was.

Justice Playthrough #162: falling is not the same thing as dying

Maaaan, capitalism really does ruin everything, doesn’t it.

Page 40, Game 10: falling is not the same thing as dying by Sisi

This is less of a game, more of a bit of minimally interactive fiction. There’s not much to it, but what’s here feels heartfelt. It’s an autobiographical piece about a Chinese-American lesbian girl ruminating on her identity and high school and how much high school sucks, all while not playing tennis.

As that, it’s quite good. It’s wildly unsuited for the anime soundtrack I have playing in the background — looks like the answer to THAT question was actually a big ol’ “NOPE!” — but it’s nevertheless a moving little look into someone else’s reality.

Given how slight yet deeply personal it is, I initially assumed this would be one of those games you can play right from the page I linked to.

The author is currently asking $5.00 for it.

Which is just so … weird, and actually mildly off-putting to me. Part of me thinks that’s pretty shitty of me; can you really put a price on personal expression? But the thing is, you absolutely goddamn well can put a price on personal expression. We do it all the time. And I know $5 doesn’t buy as much fiction as it used to, but it can definitely get me more than a few hundred words.

If the author were making this freely available, I’d absolutely recommend it as being worth a few minutes of your time.

But if I’d actually paid $5, I’d be feeling pretty punked.

Make of that what you will.

Will this next game make me indulge in the offensive practice of putting a price tag on art?

Page 20, Game 30: Space Mayhem by Chronic Vagrant

Yeah, now THAT sounds like the kinda of thing a basic bitch like me can really get behind.

Justice Playthrough #161: Learn Japanese To Survive: Kanji Combat OST

OOOOOOHHHH it’s a soundtrack.

Page 51, Game 1: Learn Japanese To Survive: Kanji Combat OST by Slaleky

I mean, it says so, right fucking there: “OST.” Original Sound Track. Reading comprehension is totally a thing you guys.

So, no learning for me. Just some anime inspired music.

Rather a lot of it, actually. Three whole disks’ worth. Dayam. That’s a hell of a lot of music that sounds like the Final Fantasy games I never quite got around to playing.

Right, this one’s gonna be an IOU. I wanna play a thing tonight and not just listen to music. Though what the hell, depending on what gets rolled-up next, maybe I can do them concurrently.

All right, is this next one gonna be suitable for a soundtrack that makes me think of androgynous teenagers swinging overcompensation swords the size of a phone booth?

Page 40, Game 10: falling is not the same thing as dying by Sisi

“cute high school game about jv girls tennis”

I don’t KNOW that this is an anime game, but the answer might just be a big damn “Yes.”

Justice Playthrough #160: Chimpology

Quite possibly the purist piss-take I’ve yet encountered in the trawl. I can’t quite decide if I admire it or despise it.

I think I’m settling on … like, 20% admire, 80% despise. This game is ass, but there’s something about the shamelessness of its ass-ness that kinda forces me to respect it a bit. It’s like a no-budget video game version of Adam Sandler when he’s in 100% “I’m just suckering the studio into paying for a vacation for me and some buddies” mode. It’s so brazenly apathetic to both my time and to the very concept of “effort” that it makes me want to slow-clap while telling it to lick my taint.

Page 43, Game 6: Chimpology by themorfeus

You are one of the many, many chimpanzees powering the Internet in the 90’s. You will manually send out the zeros and ones that create the pictures people were sending willy-nilly to each other back in the day. Type pixels, get bananas!

Press either “0” (the “z” key) or “1” (better known as “m”) when the game tells you to. As you do, the picture you’re transmitting will reveal itself. Fuck up once, and your multiplier meter crashes. Fuck up again before your multiplier meter has turned over, and it’s a parity error, game over.

That’s it. That’s the game.

There’s a lot of stuff you COULD do with this game. For instance, instead of randomly cycling through a small set of pictures, you could instead use them to tell a story of some sort. You could start introducing more mechanics to screw with the player and keep them on their toes. You could use the silly, tedious gameplay as a starting point for a slow descent into madness a la Frog Fractions.

But, naw. Type ones and zeros, get bananas.

There’s two-player mode. There’s multiplayer. There’s a trailer on YouTube. THIS GAME IS AVAILABLE ON STEAM, where it’s getting good reviews and may be purchased for $1.99.

I’m honestly in awe at the truly extravagant lack of fucks on display here.

To finish off the absurdity, the download for this game — which, I remind you, is satirizing the Internet’s low-speed early days — is ONE HUNDRED AND TEN MEGABYTES. For the zip file, I mean. It expands into a svelte 209 MB. Most of this is taken up by what appears to be a complete copy of version 1.8 of the Java Runtime Environment.

Almost a third of a gig of my hard drive is now devoted to this fucking game.

Wow.

Chimpology?

*clap*

*clap*

*clap*

Lick my taint.

Will this next game make me break this streak of reviewing stuff like a colossal douchebag?

Page 51, Game 1: Learn Japanese To Survive: Kanji Combat OST by Slaleky

“The Kanji Combat Official OST!”

Oh thank fucking god. There’s only so assholish I can be to a game that’s actually trying to teach me a thing.

Justice Playthrough #159: CARBAGE

Fuck. Multi-player with no AI.

Page 19, Game 20: CARBAGE by HelloThereGames

This game looks great. It’s a goofy and cartoony game of driving cars — competitively! I looks like it could be a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the dev punted completely on the AI, so I can’t even piddle around with an easily defeated opponent just so I can get some sense of what the gameplay is like.

Early in the trawl I was forgiving of stuff like that, but I’ve grown steadily less sympathetic as time goes on. Bottom line, I’ve seen too many “multi-player only” games that actually had perfectly serviceable AIs. If you’re adamant that the best version of the game you’re creating involves multiple human players and that no AI could possibly capture the intricacies of having another living person playing your game … first off, you’re wrong, you’re just being lazy. But, fuck it, time is finite, and I have to assume it’s not easy to create an AI that provides a challenge without kicking the living shit out of your players. Lazy is defensible.

What I’m less willing to defend is having absolutely NOTHING for a single-player. Not even an arena where I can tool around and get some sort of feel for the game and see if this is something I’d even WANT to rope my friends into? That’s just shitty.

Instead, I’m left with controlling one car sincerely with my X-Box controller and using the keyboard to move the other one just enough to get some notion of what this game is like.

Doing this with Carbage does not leave me filled with optimism.

The first sign of trouble comes from the character selection.

That bear with the hay in his mouth and the derpy expression might be a bit problematic, actually

The four doofy goofballs you can get to play are on a turntable in the center. Drive you generic monster truck up on it into one of them, and that’s who you are.

Did you drive into the wrong one? Did you want to be Mohawk Guy and not Fuckwit Bear With A Pick-Up Truck? Suck it up and play your classist stereotype, pal.

Did you need to drive your truck around a bit while figuring out the controls, and are thus hitting the turntable from a sub-optimal angle? Ooh. That was stupid. Are you sure you can drive well enough to play this game?

Then, the game begins.

Where are the graphics?

That’s what it looks like. For real, the character selection screen is WAY more visually interesting than the gameplay, which looks like placeholder graphics. Wait is that what’s happening? Am I shitting on an alpha release?

Looking, and … nope. Not seeing anything on the game’s page stating that this is just an early release version. This is apparently just what it is.

Anyway. When you drive, those blocks will vanish. You want to be the last car to fall through a hole in the arena and perish in the uncaring void. Which means that if you don’t get your ass driving rightdafuckNOW, you will lose. I couldn’t fiddle around with this much, because the other stationary car would just promptly die on me.

That sounds like an infuriating experience, particularly if the other players involved are already comfortable with this game’s mechanics. Maybe you should just dink around in single player a bit until you get used to OH WAIT.

I acknowledge that it’s inherently unfair for me to slag a multi-player game without having actually played it. But I can ask the question: Is there anything about this game that makes me WISH I had another controller so my wife and I could give it a try together?

The answer here is a simple and clear “Nope.”

Will this next game likewise send me on a high horse about how classist stereotypes are gross and that punching down at poor people is still punching down?

Page 43, Game 6: Chimpology by themorfeus

“Internet was slow, because monkeys.”

I’m just gonna assume these are gonna be wacky silly trouble-causing monkeys and refrain from deploying my liberal outrage unless I’m quite certain I need it.

Justice Playthrough #158: Space Mining Clicker

It’s Repetitive Stress Injury: The Game!

These are apparently A Thing, according to my wife. They are definitely not My Thing. And even if they are Your Thing, I’d honestly be surprised if you’d dig this game.

Page 57, Game 14: Space Mining Clicker by Cold Coffee Studio

So. You have a mine. In proper video game tradition, your mine is a total piece of shit, but that’s okay, it’s going to get better.

It is a hole, and a place to put the things you take out of the hole

How will it get better? By your hard work, of course!

Normally, in a video game, the “hard work” is hypothetical, and will be done by your non-existent minions scampering around the screen with their little pixel tools. You tell them to dig a mine, and the little fuckers will dig a mine while you tend to other stuff.

Not here. Here, you will be doing the hard work. You and your clicker finger. Your poor, overworked clicker finger. Your success is limited only by your willingness to click. So, click. Click. Click.

Click!

Click!

CLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICK!!!!!!!!

Seriously. This is the game. Clicking. Clicking is the game.

Click the mine, get ore out of the mine. A ship will drop by periodically to convert your ore into money. You can spend your money on the mine. By far the smartest thing you can do is–

Not play the game. Sorry. That zinger showed up in the middle of that sentence, and it was simply too true to ignore.

But if you drop into a headspace that’s a combination of unwarranted optimism that something interesting might happen soon and spite-fueled hate-fucking, your best move is to upgrade your mine such that you get MORE ore when you click.

Naturally, the price of shit increases exponentially, so that no matter how much more material you extract, it’s still just as hard to make actual progress. Also as you’d expect, there’s an entire infrastructure of shit you’ll also need to upgrade in order to keep your treadmill churning.

One of them is “supplies,” which is apparently a euphemism for “potatoes.” The more buildings you have, the more supplies you’ll consume every second. You get those supplies by — you guessed it — clicking your potato field. However, unlike your ore, while your potato production increases exponentially, your potato usage increases linearly. Thus, when the best version of your potato farm is churning, you just have to keep an eye on your stockpile of supplies and, when it starts dipping low, spend a few seconds frantically clicking to correct it.

In this game, you may win at potatoes.

Why are you mining ore? To fund your side! Yes, that’s right, there’s a war brewing, and you have to decide which side you’re on!

What the hell, it’s an attempt at context

This mostly takes the form of defining your frenetic-click-related goals. Also, there are some in-game difference. I think the united colonies have better robot workers? Robots will harvest resources independent of your clicking. Their efficiency increases linearly as you develop your mine, so they quickly become completely pointless. Lazy fucks. They don’t work nearly as hard as me.

Also, the game will cycle through a small set of background events. Some are good, like a gold vein giving you more ore per click, or an ore shortage, preventing you from clicking at all! (Go tend to your potatoes. Take a break. Appreciate the gift the game has given you by not letting you play it.)

I feel like a game like this needs to give you a sense of progression; something interesting needs to happen to reward you for your time and willingness to risk carpal tunnel for a shitty indie game. Stuff happens, sort of, but calling it “interesting” is a step too far. Mostly, you just get to build your facility — which is just a matter of upgrading the next thing in line. There’s no decisions to be made, there are no subtleties of placing the Thing next to the Other Thing that will make me more productive, I just need to get the cash for the next level, then … do the next level. Maybe I have to upgrade my command center and/or power grid, but that’s really it.

Achievement never felt so hollow

What finally gave me an incurable case of FuckThisItis was when I managed to “complete” the “good” event giving me the “opportunity” to get something cool by clicking my mine 720 times. Not get 720 ore; no, that shit was trivial now. Click the fucking mine 720 fucking times in the 180 seconds the game allotted to me.

I did it. I needed help from the radar stations that expand the duration of the “good” events and speed-up the “bad” ones, but I did it.

What did it get me?

 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Didn’t catch it. Did it give me something? I’m sure it gave me something.

One day later, my arm is still sore. Though I’m pretty sure that was from stupidly playing Hades deep into the night. That game is fucking awesome, even if that one boss fight is PLENTY FUCKING TOUGH ALREADY without a SECOND STAGE TO THAT FIGHT WHAT THE FUCK GAME WHY ARE YOU DENYING ME THIS VICTORY.

Hades, however, is awesome, and I’ll totally play it some more.

Space Mining Clicker, despite looking and feeling like a perfectly credible professional game, is an aggressive waste of time and is by orders of magnitude the most pointless and repetitive thing I’ve yet encountered in this trawl. Even if time-wasting clickers are in fact your jam (no judgment), I am, despite having basically no familiarity or other experience with the genre, absolutely confident you can find a better game than this.

Will the next game inspire me to ask “Jesus, what the fuck are you doing with your life?” while I play it?

Page 19, Game 20: CARBAGE by HelloThereGames

“Couch Party Game, Multiple Modes”

Ah, it’s going to remind me that I cannot have parties on my couch or anywhere else because the fucking world is ending. So that’s a big ol’ “Yes.” Probably not the game’s fault, though.

Justice Playthrough #157: Saviors of Hogtown

Right. I’m playing this.

Page 14, Game 1: Saviors of Hogtown by Dissonance

It’s trite to sit here and muse “Gosh, tabletop RPGs sure have evolved a lot in my lifetime.” I mean, it’s not wrong, but it doesn’t even come close to the whole truth.

Dungeons and Dragons was published in 1974, two years after I was born. This pastime literally did not exist when I was born. By the time I was old enough to play it, to find people to play it with me, the evolution was well underway. There was already a sense of a guaranteed minimum competence developing, a floor beneath which even the shittiest of dice rolls could not sink a character. A safety net was clearly starting to take shape. To define your character’s all-important attributes, don’t just roll 3d6 in order; roll 4d6, and take the best three dice. Yeah, you can swap ’em around, why not. Naw, don’t bother rolling for hit points at first level, just go ahead and take the maximum on the die for that. And did you drop down to zero HP? Yeah, treating that as a death sentence IS pretty harsh, isn’t it. Know what? You’re just unconscious. You’re outta this fight, but as long as one of your buddies survives, you’ll most likely fight another day.

Thirty-some years later, D&D is very much a game of wish fulfillment, of the fantasy of power. Unless you deliberately work to sabotage yourself to Make A Point (and quite likely annoy the shit out of the rest of the table), you are guaranteed to be a bad-ass, it’s just a matter of determining the details of your bad-assery.

That’s not a bad thing. The real world is random, cruel, all to often deeply disempowering. So long as it’s in moderation, it’s nice to be able to retreat to a world that, while dangerous and potentially deadly, is on some fundamental level fair. A world where the Call To Adventure is guaranteed, where you’ll hopefully succeed but even if you don’t you cannot claim you didn’t have a fair chance.

But progress usually has a price tag. Something was lost — and it was already well on its way out long before I was even capable of appreciating it.

There’s an arbitrary harshness to True Old School D&D that makes victory, even small victories, something special. Good characters, strong characters, were a cause for celebration, because excellence was rare and never guaranteed. You were probably just gonna be, you know, average. Quite possible worse. At most, you went in with a loose idea of character concepts you’d like to try out; the dice would tell you what doors were actually there for you to open. When the dice broke your way, it was something special, because you knew the could have just as easily fucked you and saddled you with a character who honestly wasn’t that good at much of anything. Again.

The modern way is better.

But the Old Way has its charms.

Best game I ever ran in high school was a module called Treasure Hunt. It was a throwback, before I was even old enough to understand just what the hell a “throwback” was, let alone conceive of D&D having changed enough for such a thing to be possible. All the characters were Level 0. Even by the standards of the era, they were incompetent. They’d been captured as slaves, but their galley wrecked aground during a storm. Now, they had to escape an island where orcs and goblins warred with each other, equipped with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

It was frightening. It was epic. I still remember a cataclysmic fight in a ruined temple where a single undead monster nearly killed the entire party (ghouls suck). The last man standing, played by my friend Forrest, finally clubbed the thing down what a chunk of splintered wood he’d salvaged off the ship. And as his buddies slowly came out from under the paralysis that had almost killed the lot of them, he sank to his knees and pledged himself to the service of the goddess whose temple they were now within. For surely, it was by Her divine grace that they had survived. His life was now Hers.

It was the most resounding journey to Level 1 Cleric I’ve ever seen at a table. What was that character’s Wisdom score? Dude, who the fuck cares?! No backstory I’ve ever contrived could possibly compete with an escaped slave on his knees in the wreckage of a one-time place of worship swearing devotion to the goddess he thought had saved him and his new friends from certain death.

And no, I was not a proxy for that goddess. It was a one-shot, so I was absolutely going to kill any or all of those fuckers if the dice said to. It was earned. Top to bottom, that moment was earned.

When they commandeered a sea-worthy boat and made their escape together, it was as glorious a victory as the slaying of a rampaging dragon, as mighty as thwarting any terrible lich-king seeking to unleash his army of the dead upon the world.

We have lost the glory of small victories. We have lost the games where there’s absolutely positively nothing special or remarkable about us, and we rise to the occasion and become big damn heroes anyway. We have lost the sense that we have emerged triumphant not because we were fated to, not because the gods had granted us power, but because we fucking well stepped up and earned it.

Welcome to Hogtown.

Also, you might be pigs.

Saviors of Hogtown is a Level 0 adventure for Dungeon World. (If you’re not familiar with the ruleset, it’s a blend of old-school Dungeons & Dragons with modern indie golden child Apocalypse World. AW is an excellent ruleset; it’s a darling for a reason.) In it, the PCs will take the role of hapless fantasyland shmucks who are way over their heads. You’ll roll 3d6 in order for your stats and percentile dice for an occupation. Whoever among you, by consensus, got fucked hardest by the dice gets the coveted “Least Likely to Survive” token, and away you go.

The game mentions that you can, if you want, roll-up two or three characters apiece to play concurrently and see which among them survive. That’s … fine, I suppose.

You’re probably gonna die. Embrace it. Run towards the danger.

Aside from causing me to wax nostalgic about the Lethal Old Days, the module is extremely well-written and charmingly illustrated. (That’s no small thing; the artwork I’ve seen in most of these small-press TTRPGs has been … not good.)

I want to play this game. If it weren’t for the ongoing plague apocalypse, I would right now be organizing a session of this game. Once it’s safe to get a bunch of people in my house — at least 4-6, because for real, motherfuckers are gonna die here — this is absolutely hitting my table.

Enthusiastically recommended. I know I just spent way more words talking about what this game reminded me of than what it actually is itself, but it’s reminding me of some great lost shit here.

Is this next game going to make me see if I can find an old 80’s game module somewhere cheap online?

Page 57, Game 14: Space Mining Clicker by Cold Coffee Studio

“Welcome Director, manage your mining facility and survive to the geopolitical storm opposing the galactic factions.”

Hmm. Don’t think I ever played a game where I was trying to run a business in the midst of an impending war. I’m intrigued.

Justice Playthrough #156: Daily Chthonicle

Less of a “game,” more of an “elaborate idea for a game.” This is not good, but this one feels like somebody’s baby.

Page 13, Game 12: Daily Chthonicle by charon@ss

You’re running a newspaper, the eponymous Daily Chthonicle, investigating all the goings on in City! The terrible, horrible City. Apparently, horrid Lovecraftian shit is just another Tuesday around here. Monsters, occult murders, mysterious walls of fire, locked doors….

OH NO GIRL THAT DOOR FUCKED YOU UP!!!!

The Big Map will present all the stories you may investigate. Click the story, then click the reporter you want to assign to it! Which reporter? I … don’t think it matters? Some of them have some personal gear, I guess. And some of them apparently know some magic or something. I don’t know. Just pick somebody.

Reporters hard at work! Who are those people in the middle? Or on the bottom right? I’m … honestly not sure.

Your reporters hit the field, and they’ll eventually hit decision points. Obstacles! Leads! What do they do?

For obstacles, I found that it was best to just hit auto-equip and hope for the best. In addition to dangers like walls and locked doors, you can encounter gangsters! Or giant tentacle monsters! Or — the most dangerous and impenetrable — a mentally ill informant!

Also, there are like ghosts and shit, which seems like they’d be a big deal to a pack of reporters, but nah. This place is basically hell on earth.

The dog is ALWAYS useful. ALWAYS bring the dog, yo.

Your reporters can get injured, or get unsettled by what they see, or … sometimes, much worse.

I’m pretty sure workman’s comp in this town actually covers zombification, so you’re fine, bro

As your reporters progress, they put together the stories, which I’m pretty sure are procedurally generated. If they make enough progress, the stories come together, and you’ll publish them.

Dude came back from the BALKANS?! PRINT THAT SHIT!!!

The problem with Daily Chthonicle is that there’s a lot of COMPLEXITY here — imposing amounts of it actually — but very goddamned little GAME, at least not that I saw. I was just getting spammed with information left and right, and it wasn’t engaging me at all. Was I expected to take notes on the (what I suspect were) procedurally generated names and situations and try to find some common threads? My people were investigating, like, five different stories at a time, and they very quickly blurred together.

Except for the one with the zombie mastodon. I don’t recall what context that enormous decomposing fucker appeared in or why, I just know that at one point, there was a zombie fucking mastodon. I just know it was an obstacle preventing my reporters from making progress in the story, even though I feel like “HOLY FUCKING SHIT THERE’S A GIANT ZOMBIE MASTODON YOU GUYS!!!” is a pretty solid headliner all by itself.

Not that I seemed to have much choice. Was I supposed to be picking WHICH stories I ran? I just kinda clicked where the game seemed to want me to click, which caused stories to run and money to appear. Yay?

Eventually, all the stories were investigated to completion and the tutorial was over.

Feel like those spiders warranted more than two lines

Yeah, this feeling of being overwhelmed and spammed with information came from the tutorial.

There was a laboratory (like any good newspaper has) and my people could learn magic. What did any of that stuff do? How was I supposed to apply it to the game? I have no idea, and the tutorial never clued me in.

I feel like this is all very interesting and compelling to somebody, I’m just absolutely certain that person isn’t me. I admire the ambition behind this game, at least, but the presentation is a mess. There’s just SO MUCH going on here, yet none of it ever engaged me. This is a Lovecraft-inspired game, yet not once did I feel any kind of dread, or even a sense of tension.

The stories my people investigated always felt like wire frameworks to me, like the vague outlines with nothing to fill them in. The guy did a thing in a place, that’s probably bad, and hey there’s a ghost or a wall or something and your reporter will have to find their way around it. What will they use to do it? Eh, just do auto-equip, that’ll be for the best.

Make sure you bring the dog, though. Seriously, that dog helps with everything.

If you find the idea behind the game irresistible, I suppose there’s no harm in giving it a look; it didn’t actively offend me. But I just can’t recommend it.

With this next game provide me with a Swiss Army Dog who is helpful in all situations?

Page 14, Game 1: Saviors of Hogtown by Dissonance

“A Dungeon World adventure supplement for 3-6 players.”

Hogtown, Dogtown, whatever farm animal of war Lana, shut up!