Cool Kickstarter Projects : Askrias Cube

While browsing through the current gaming-related Kickstarter projects, I came across the Askrias Cube. This is a customizable 6-sided die, that can be used either for rolling random effects or for keeping track of status effects, counters, etc in a game like Magic: The Gathering.

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The cube itself is made of two pieces of plastic that snap together, and each face holds an insertable plastic tile. Each tile can be customized with a sticker to represent whatever you wish. The basic pledge comes with two cubes, twenty plastic face inserts, and forty face stickers, available in several different themes.

The project is based in New Zealand, and the $12 NZ pledge works out to about $8 US. Add-ons are available for extra sets, cubes, frames, and sticker sets.

Cool Kickstarter Projects – Underworld Ascendant

There was a time, back in the day, when I couldn’t get enough Ultima. Sadly, Ultima IX fairly well put a dent in the magic of the series. I did, though, play all of the original Ultima games when they were released, including a pair of very early forays into the realm of 3D games called Ultima Underwold : The Stygian Abyss, and Ultima Underworld II : Labyrinth of Worlds.

For the time, the technology in the Underworld games was pretty amazing, considering we didn’t have 3D accelerators yet, and everything was done in software. The first two games are available from GoG as a bundle, though modern players may find aspects of the game’s interface and engine frustrating. As cool as they were back then, the list of game engine features in Ultima Underworld are the kind of things that developers don’t even have to think about these days because they are built into all of the graphics cards already.

The original Ultima Underworld

The original Ultima Underworld

Fast forward 22 years, and many members of the original team that produced Ultima Underworld (first as Blue Sky Studios, and later Looking Glass – Yes, the same Looking Glass that did the first two Thief games and the System Shock series) have launched a Kickstarter campaign to revive the franchise as Underworld Ascendant.

As you can imagine, the technology has improved pretty drastically since 1992, and OtherSide Entertainment is putting together what looks to be a fitting return to the Stygian Abyss.

A screen grab from the Kickstarter video of an early prototype of Underworld Ascendant

A screen grab from the Kickstarter video of an early prototype of Underworld Ascendant

The Kickstarter campaign lists several interesting technologies that could make for a great game if the team manages to pull them off. For one thing, they are implementing what they call an Improvisation Engine, which moves away from developer-scripted storytelling and builds a custom story around the player and the choices and actions they take in the game.

Stretch goals include an “Underworld Builder Toolkit”, and the addition of Co-Op multiplayer.

The revival of old RPG franchises on Kickstarter is becoming something of a trend, with Shadowrun, Wasteland, Torment, and now Ultima Underworld (and soon the Bard’s Tale!) all getting the Kickstarter treatment. In my opinion, this is a great thing. These were the games I grew up with, and returning to these worlds has been, and I hope will continue to be, great fun.

Head on over to the Kickstarter page and back the project! As of this writing there are still a couple hundred $20 slots left that get you the game when it is released (estimated to be November of 2016).

Cool Kickstarter Projects – d6xd6 CORE RPG

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I was browsing through the Kickstarter games section last night and stumbled across an interesting little project by Lester Smith. If you aren’t familiar with Mr. Smith, he was the co-author of the Planes of Chaos boxed set for TSR’s Planescape setting, and the editor of Gary Gygax’s Dangerous Journeys RPG (and the supporting magazine) – Gygax’s creation after leaving TSR. Mr. Smith has also been involved in TravellerSovereign StoneDeadlands, and a number of other RPG-related projects.

Currently, he is the president of Popcorn Press, producing eBooks and card games. His latest project is a new lite-on-rules RPG called d6xd6 CORE, which is currently in the middle of its Kickstarter campaign.

The character sheet for the CORE RPG fits on a single business card (and in fact, backers of the project at the $9 level and above are receiving a sample as one of the completed stretch goals, and more can be printed on business card paper or ordered as Kickstarter addons). The game adopts a single stat : Focus. The more diversified a character’s skills are, the lower his Focus. The lower a character’s Focus, the harder it is for him to be particularly good at any single thing.

The really interesting thing about the project is that the CORE RPG rules are meant to be easily incorporated into pretty much any setting, and Mr. Smith has worked with a number of authors of popular fiction novels and series to incorporate their settings into the CORE RPG book that will result from the Kickstarter campaign.

As of this  writing, eight settings have been “unlocked” via stretch goals, including the Watershed setting by Douglas Niles (really good books if you  haven’t read them, by the way!) The funding is approaching the unlock point for four more settings, these all being Sci-Fi themed (though all pretty varied under that heading).

Beyond that,  an additional 12 settings are lined up as stretch goals at higher levels, including a 4-setting Horror pack, an urban fantasy pack, and a “laugh pack” consisting of four humorous settings. Additional “secret” packs are also in the works beyond the currently defined stretch goals.

I’m in for the print version 🙂 Hop on over to the Kickstarter campaign and help unlock the additional settings so I can have ’em!

Divinity: Original Sin

One of the coolest things about the Kickstarter trend is that is has given us a resurgence of the “old-school” cRPG. Pillers of Eternity, Wasteland 2, Shadowrun, Torment: Tides of Numenera – just a few years ago, games like these had all but disappeared. It seems like every new (non-indie) game was a derivative of a first-person shooter (not that there aren’t some really good games in this style).

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Divinity: Original Sin is a new party-based cRPG that was funded with Kickstarter, and saw it’s official release on Monday (June 30th, 2014). I had missed the Kickstarter campaign, so the official release was my first chance to get into and play the game.

So far, I’m pleased to say, that while the game is not without issues, I am very much enjoying it.

Old-School Difficulty

Anyone used to the toned-down, hold-your-hand style that many modern RPGs have adopted will be in for a shock playing Original Sin. If you played the original Wasteland, you might remember that the game was completely open. You could wander anywhere you wanted to right after leaving the Ranger Center. Even if that meant walking your level 1 characters into a group of enemies that could grind the entire party to dust without noticing you were there.

Original Sin adopts the same kind of freedom. When attempting to leave the city during the beginning of the game, the guards might suggest that you appear to be unfit to survive in the wilds, but they won’t actually stop you.

While you can use the environment to your advantage (more on that in a moment), your enemies will do the same, inflicting all manner of painful debilitating effects on your party. All of this, though, is a good thing. You can tone down the combat difficulty (slightly) by going into easy mode – which is still no cake walk – but making strategic use of your abilities is a must if you wish to survive for long.

An Environment that Matters

Setting things on fire with a fireball - and a poison cloud triggered by killing a zombie.

Setting things on fire with a fireball – and a poison cloud triggered by killing a zombie.

Lots of objects in the game  world can be manipulated. Barrels and boxes can be moved to clear paths and block off noxious vents. Paintings can be stolen  off the walls of houses, and items in the world will react to damage by shattering, burning, exploding, and what have you.

This is a nice change from the totally static world-as-backdrop we see in many games these days, but Original Sin goes a step beyond these interactions. Surfaces in the game can be covered with various effects – fire, water, ice, poison, etc. These surfaces will not only convey effects for characters (player and non-player) standing in them, but will also react realistically with other elements.

For example, a rain storm can put out fires and make areas (and creatures) wet. You have options for following that up. Use a cold-based spell on a wet monster and you have a chance to freeze them, denying them actions until they thaw out. Or, you could shoot a fireball into the puddle, creating a scalding cloud of steam. You might also fire a lightning bolt into it, zapping everyone standing in the water.

Using the environment to your advantage is critical to surviving combat – and it cal also be fun to pick up an enemy with your teleportation spell and drop them into a lava pool – unless they are healed by fire.

Character Freedom

Much like the Elder Scrolls games, the classes that exist in Original Sin are just templates of pre-selected skills. You can use them as a starting point, or throw them out completely and make your own choices for the character(s) you create (if you are playing in single player mode, you create two heroes).

Advancement works the same way. Put your points wherever you feel they will be most useful. My current party consists of a wizard and a rogue-turned-ranger. I’ve picked up two companions – another wizard (more healing focused) and a warrior. I hadn’t planned on creating a ranger at all, but when I ran across a mighty fine bow I dropped a point into Bows and never looked back at one-handed weapons again.

Just a Bit Goofy

A sentient wishing well. That wants you to rescue his kidnapped brother...

A sentient wishing well. That wants you to rescue his kidnapped brother…

Larian has certainly not forgotten that we are playing a game here, and they have sprinkled some bits-o’-weird throughout the game. There is a quest in the middle of the starting city which as you chasing after a lost cat collar so that the cat that lives at the inn can impress the mayor’s cat – did I mention there is a skill called Pet Pal that lets you talk to animals?

Little bits of odd are scattered throughout the game, and can often make for an unexpected laugh when they show up. No more spoilers here, though – they are more funny when they show up out of the blue.

Editor Included

Bundled with the game, Larian has included “The Divinity Engine”, a powerful editor that allows users to create their own games with the D:OS engine. I’ve only barely looked around in the editor, but it appears to be jam-packed with features, so it is likely we will begin seeing fan-created campaigns down the road. Having this functionality built into the game also leaves open the door to future official campaigns as well.

A Few Issues

Divinity:Original Sin is a great game, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things I would love to see changed. For starters, a pause button in single-player would be nice – or at least an option to have all of your characters STOP MOVING when one of them shouts  out that they see a trap.

The in-combat controls are generally good, but I would like the option to not automatically end my turn just because I ran out of action points. The way the game is set up, you can press the space bar to end your turn and save any remaining action points for the next round. This is great, because some of the more powerful spells require more AP than you generate in a single round to cast.

Unfortunately, it is too easy to not realize you have used your last action point and hit space bar during the delay when the game automatically ends your turn and switches to the next character, causing them to end their turn. Not game breaking (just have to pay more attention) but an annoyance that could be fixed with a simple toggle option.

There are a few minor camera issues as well, though it doesn’t come up too often. In some outdoor areas the tree canopy doesn’t fade out properly so you end up looking down at a thick tangle of weeds unless you zoom way in, which makes getting an overview of the battlefield difficult at times. Again, though, this doesn’t happen all that often.

None of these are game-breaking, and in fact are annoyances at most. Overall, the game has been very enjoyable.

Wasteland – Twenty Six Years Later

At the front of the original Wasteland manual was a short note from the programmer, describing tradeoffs that were made during the development to enable certain features to be present. The note ends with the following text:

Wasteland_CoverartThere’s a lot for you to see and do throughout the game, but you don’t have to follow any single path for success. There’s plenty of room to goof off in this game. So don’t sweat it if you don’t know what something is used for — you might not even need it to win. But don’t make too many judgement errors too many times, or victory will slip farther and farther away. We can’t make it too easy to win, after all.

 

After you finish Wasteland the first time (for which we congratulate you), you can go back and check out all theplaces you didn’t get to fully explore the first time through. Play it again; try things a different way. It’s not over when it’s over.

 

I doubt that, at the time, the writer could have possibly envisioned the way that final sentence – “It’s not over when it’s over” – would manifest itself. Or that it would be twenty six years before it did.

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Cool Kickstarter Projects – Rollable D4s

One thing you can never have as a tabletop RPG player is too many dice. Ok, so my wife might disagree with that statement, but I stand by it! Every few years, someone comes up with a way to make a new type of dice (remember the d30’s and the 100-sided dice?)

A Kickstarter user by the name of Leo Atreides from the UK has a project that is about halfway through the funding period to produce “rollable” four-sided dice. I’m not certain I actually need a differently shaped d4, but they do look sleek.

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He lists free international delivery, and for £10 (that about $17 US Dollars) you can pick up 8 dice (four of your choosing and four of theirs) plus any stretch goal items that wind up getting funded. Assuming you end up with a few extra dice from the bonuses, that should work out to less than $2/die, about twice what dice sets go for on Amazon, but they don’t have these on Amazon… 🙂

You can visit the Kickstarter campaign to learn more or back the project.

 

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