March Madness!!! #4, Shadowrun Returns

That didn’t take long. According to a walkthrough, I came back into it halfway through. Median time on How Long to Beat is 12 hours, but it took me less than 10. This is one of those games that came from Kickstarter that I thought sounded like a good idea, but not enough to put my own cash behind it. It turned out very successful, and the game is pretty good, but it’s (clearly) a bit short. However, from what I understand, Dragonfall is much longer and a deeper game. For the purpose of this competition, I’m glad I rolled Shadowrun Returns before Dragonfall, though.

With a 16 roll, the next game is Strike Suit Zero. To even the odds a bit, instead of continuing where I left off on it, I’ll be restarting the game in the Director’s Cut release. I’m only a little concerned about this one because my major complaint in the original release was that there were no checkpoints during missions, so dying near the end of one could mean replaying 30 minutes of the game.

March Madness!!! #3, Mark of the Ninja

When Mark of the Ninja came out, it got a lot of positive attention. Klei was well-known for the Shank games, but Mark of the Ninja was supposed to be head and shoulders above it. I bought it and played the first level, and promptly put it in the backlog for something else. That was a mistake. It’s an incredible stealthy 2D platform/action game. It easily does some of the best representation of senses that I’ve ever seen. Line of sight, smell radius, and loudness of sounds are all perfectly implemented. There’s a fantastic mission 2/3rds in where you’re sent to assassinate someone. As you get closer to killing them, the music is building in parts, and it really feels like you’re the cold hand of death closing on their throat. It nails that feeling of striking from the shadows and disappearing into the night.

For my next game, I rolled a 3, which lands me on Shadowrun Returns. I’ve put some time into it already, but I think I’ve still got the bulk of the game to finish.

March Madness!!! #2, Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag

I knew it would take me some time to get through AC4, and it did. There were times when I wanted to stop playing, not because the game is difficult, but because it got real tedious in the middle. I’ve learned that when I’m playing an Assassin’s Creed game, I absolutely have to reign in the desire to do everything, and just play the game. Collect things until that gets boring, then do something else. The first quarter was fun, the last quarter was fun, and everything in between was tough to get through. Some of my favorite parts of the Assassin’s Creed series are all the weird lore stuff that they hide in the corners of the game, and AC4 did a great job of keeping all that stuff hidden away until the game was almost over. I got bits and pieces of it from all over, but they can’t be assembled until you get to the end, which is kind of brilliant. I almost want to play another Assassin’s Creed.

For my next game, I rolled a 9, which means I’m picking up Mark of the Ninja. I’ve read a lot of good things about Mark of the Ninja. Being a stealth game, I have a compulsion to play it absolute stealthy, as in no alarms. But I know I’m awful at stealth games, so I will have to settle for messy and close enough.

March Madness!!! #1, Thief (2014)

I don’t hate Thief. Let’s get that right out of the way. But it’s such a weird game for being a seemingly straight forward AAA title.

I feel like Thief would’ve been a better game if Dishonored didn’t exist. Not just that Dishonored is better by comparison (because it is), but it feels like Thief and Dishonored had a lot of parallel construction. Once Dishonored was released, well before Thief, it’s like the developers just gave up.

The levels are pretty linear, particularly when I got to the end of the game. At first I spent a lot of time searching around and trying to get all of the loot from each level, but halfway through I realized that I didn’t need all of the cash. Thief gives as much as you put into it. If you want to crawl around in the dark and pick every pocket and memorize guard paths, there’s plenty of it to do. I didn’t find it all that compelling though. When I stopped creeping around, the game didn’t put up much resistance preventing me from making a beeline to objective markers.

It does do a lot of neat stuff like animating Garrett’s hands as he picks up loot and pops open safes. I like those little touches. It’s also a dreary and bleak, but well-detailed world. There are a lot of notes and journals to collect, but the fiction isn’t particularly interesting. It has two boss fights, which don’t necessarily require turning them into pincushions but they still stand out as strangely out of place. Again, a weird experience.

The die roll landed on 1, so my next game is Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. Out of all the games on my list, Black Flag might take the longest to finish. There’s a lot to do in it. I left off on it with a fair amount of progress, but I feel like I’ve still got a lot of game left in it.

March Madness!!!

I just ‘finished’ Destiny. It’s not really finished, because I don’t have The Dark Below, House of Wolves is still on the horizon, and I haven’t even hit max level, but I’ve completed all of the story missions. I’ve had a lot of fun but I’ll be looking for something different soon enough.

Katie had a great idea. We both have backlogs of games we haven’t played or haven’t finished and want to play. We both keep playing the same games over and over. To fix this, we’re going to force ourselves to play backlog games. We’ve both made lists of 20 games we want to play. We’re going to roll a die to pick a game off of our list, and then we’re going to play those games to completion.

And we’re going to call this March Madness, because that’s an entirely original name that isn’t being used by anyone ever to mean anything other than two dorks clearing video games out of their backlogs.

I rolled a 7 and got Thief (2014). Katie rolled a 19 and got Contrast. MARCH MADNESS!!!

Saints Row: Gat Out of Hell

I think I’ve played about as much of this as I need to. Saints Row 3 is the last complete original Saints Row. Saints Row 4, though almost as large as SR3, was more or less a rehash of SR3 but with a Matrix twist. Gat Out of Hell is SR4 except on an new arrangement of a smaller landmass. It’s not Steelport, it’s an original map, but everything looks and feels like the previous two games. It feels like we’ve been deriving less interesting games from SR3 ever since THQ folded.

Gat Out of Hell is, at best, a standalone expansion pack. It directly continues from the end of SR4. You can only play as Johnny Gat or Kinzie Kensington. You can’t change their appearance. There’s no licensed music. There’s not much music at all. There are no story missions per se. Once you start the game, you’re given free reign to do any of the multitude of side missions available. They’re all plays on the same missions from previous Saints Rows. Once you complete enough of them, you get the one boss fight in the game, and then the story is more or less done. It takes less than 3 hours to get through.

Afterwards, I spent a couple more hours completing the rest of the side missions, which rewarded me with animated epilogues for the companion characters. They’re no more than 30 seconds of video each. If I were to keep playing, I could pursue the rest of grindy missions like getting 100 kills with a particular weapon or power, or chase collectibles, but the game is over. My clock reads over 7 hours but no more.

The most interesting part of the game is that it offers something like 5 or 6 different endings, a couple of which could clearly lead to a more interesting Saints Row sequel. Hopefully it’s a ways off, because this series desperately needs a shakeup. It feels like they’ve thoroughly exhausted what they started in Saints Row 3.

Orthog the Crafty

Orthog the CraftyOrthog the Crafty was a bodyguard of Pash King-Slayer, one of Sauron’s warchiefs. It’s a good idea to eliminate bodyguards before going after warchiefs, so I targeted Orthog. After gaining some intel on him, I learned his strengths and weaknesses. Vulnerable to combat finishers, meaning I can kill him fairly quick but I have to wear him down a bit first. Strong against monsters. Invulnerable to ranged and stealth. Note the name: Orthog the Crafty.

The mission to confront Orthog came as a Trial of Ordeals. Uruk fight other monsters in order to demonstrate their strength. The mission was to interrupt or exploit the trial to get to Orthog. In most cases, the monster gets a few shots in, but it’s not likely to survive. My vantage point had plenty of arrows, but I knew those were useless against Orthog. Knowing he was strong against monsters, I made the choice to move to attack almost as soon as the caragoar got out of the cage. At worst, I’d have to deal with the caragoar after I beat Orthog, right?

Wrong. Orthog the Crafty. As soon as I dropped into that arena, Orthog was ready for me. The caragoar was never going to scratch Orthog. It was already dead. The Trial was to lure me in and I walked right into it. Knowing this could be a 1 vs 50 battle, I moved quickly to get some shots in on Orthog. That’s when Krakhorn Broken-Shield stepped in.

Krakhorn Broken-ShieldKrakhorn is subordinate to Orthog. He’s big, he’s got a shield, and he’s vulnerable to stealth attacks. There’s not a lot of stealth to be found when you’re surround by Uruk, so he wandered into pretty much perfect conditions. However, Orthog was my target so I kept focusing on him. And once again, I’m surprised when another Uruk captain joins the fray.

Rukdug ThunderheadRukdug is also subordinate to Orthog. Orthog the Crafty. This was all a giant trap. Orthog can’t beat me, so he’s got two friends waiting for me to engage him. I walked right into it. Crafty. It’s in his name! I knew he was a monster killer, and I still decided to engage him in a Trial. I underestimated this Uruk captain.

Despite the odds, I kill Orthog. That was a foregone conclusion by the time Rukdug shows up. When I do, the other two captains try to escape. Rukdug doesn’t get away. I didn’t have any intel on him, but I learn quickly that he’s not invulnerable to steel. After dropping Rukdug, I start thinking about making my escape.

As I’m running over the roofs of building in the Uruk stronghold, I spot Krakhorn. He’s not very fast. I’m much sneakier now. I get ahead of him a bit and lure him to a ledge. Krakhorn is vulnerable to stealth attacks. Krakhorn dies

The streak ends.

Terrible in-car foot selfie (felfie?)
Terrible in-car foot selfie (felfie?)

I broke my foot. This is my first official broken bone. I’ve been in plenty of accidents, trips, falls, drops, etc. Never broken a bone until last night. The prognosis is a non-displaced fracture in my fifth metatarsal. The fix is three weeks with a boot and crutches, a visit with a podiatrist, and probably another three weeks of taking it easy.

There are many terrible things to say about this. Of all the shit I’ve done to myself in all the years of my life, my first broken bone comes from tripping on an upraised bit of sidewalk during a low speed, short distance run. It’s embarrassing, truly. And then I had to walk home 3/4ths of a mile because I didn’t tell Katie where I was going and I didn’t have my phone. Adrenaline continues to amaze me as the walk home wasn’t particularly painful. It was when I woke up this morning that I couldn’t put any weight on it.

Another embarrassing fact: it happened on my first run of a training program leading up to my first marathon. Not only am I out of commission for six weeks, I’ll be six weeks behind on training. I’ve already paid for this marathon, and you probably know I won’t give up on it regardless, but it sucks.

Unused D&D Ideas: Monster Mash

These are some of my favorite ideas. I will run one of these someday.

Monster Mash

What motivates intelligent monsters? Do they simply lie in wait in dungeons and tombs so that some brave adventurers can come along and kill them? Of course not. They do things. They have goals or instincts. This adventure is about what monsters do.

Each of the PCs is a monster. I’m thinking classical monsters, so a vampire, a werewolf, a ghost, and flesh golem (Frankenstein). It will probably take some level magic to make them all relatively equal. They’re all some alignment of evil, but they’re drawn together (bound by magic, maybe?) to reach a distant castle for a macguffin.

Along the way they’ll have to pass as people, terrorize a village, and (of course) fight heroes. This is the kind of adventure that would probably play well in Ravenloft. Really, the monster PCs won’t be that much different from regular PCs in a Inner Sea or Forgotten Realms campaign, and that point should probably be driven home.

Monster Mash 2

I’m a funny person, so this is a play on words. Everyone is a barbarian with a giant hammer, and the whole adventure is smashing tons of low level monsters to death. Just mountains of skeletons, zombies, goblins, orcs, giant spiders, anything you can throw at them in large numbers. Really stretch the limits of CR increasing with numbers. Make it a point to describe the heaps of dead monsters. Make them really question where in the hell did all these monsters come from. Keep a kill count, give a prize to whoever smashes the most! Give them lots of locked treasure chests to smash with hammers, and make one of them a mimic, so, for the first time ever, the players surprise the mimic.

So while Monster Mash was about playing monsters, Monster Mash 2 is about mashing monsters. Ha ha.

Super Monster Mash

Okay, we know what player sized monsters do. But what to big monsters do? In Super Monster Mash, each of the players is a Huge monster. So uhh what do they do? Eat smaller things. Trash a town. Fight. I didn’t have many plans for this one, except that it should end with some kind of kaiju battle.

And that’s that! Those are my unused D&D ideas. I hope they inspired someone, and I hope someday I can do something with them myself.

Unused D&D Ideas: The Hive

This is a dumb idea.

Party composition and level is irrelevant. The party is called to a small village to investigate a string of burglaries and disappearances. Upon investigation, the items being stolen are sweet things. Sugar. Candies. Syrups. And the disappearances are all male villagers. People in the houses near those affected report hearing a buzzing sound in the night.

The party finds a trail. It’s not hard to find. It’s footsteps. The footsteps lead to a cave. Entering the cave, the party hears a buzzing sound. As they get deeper into the cave, the buzzing grows louder. The party comes across a river. It’s a river of sticky, sugary substance. They soon encounter the source of the buzzing.

It’s bees! Giant fucking bees! Except it’s not actual giant bees, but men in bee costumes. They all buzz. None of them talk. After a few fights, they come across the “worker” bees. They are also entranced men. They just buzz and make bee costumes. Or ‘honey’. You can feel free to determine how ‘honey’ is made.

To break the trance, the party has to fight the queen bee. The queen bee can be whatever you want. It might be a dude who managed to charm all of these other dudes into being bees. Maybe he’s high on drugs.

This is a dumb fucking idea, but you can run it as a comedy thing or as a serious/horror type thing. I just thought it was hilarious in Castle Crashers when I came across the dudes in bee costumes. Who put them in bee costumes?