GW2: There May Be No Spoon, But One Sure Will Try Collecting Them All Anyway

Going down the rabbit hole here...

I wonder if the disconnect comes from semantics, or merely wishful thinking.

When your average player hears the word “feature,” they think of content. They want their new dungeon, their new zone, their new shiny reward that usually comes in the form of better stats or better looks. They want what’s labeled on the box as “features” – new class, new race, new skills!

They don’t give much thought on just how much this new stuff might imbalance or invalidate the old  stuff. They don’t care, the designers better have figured it all out beforehand, because players will be players and will optimize towards the most efficient path, and WoW has already shown that the way ahead is to just say ‘fuck the old stuff’ and pile on the new shiny on the next rung of the ladder to keep climbing forward. New players? I guess we better just fast-forward them past all the old bad stuff so they can catch up. Instant level 90, here we come.

Urgh.

Me, I play GW2 precisely because it isn’t WoW.

When I hear the words “feature patch,” and I’m probably in a minority of players to do so, I think of it in the way the Anet devs are using it – to reference things that aren’t content. Systems. Tweaks and improvements and little balance nudges.

Things that probably take a heck of a lot of coding work and behind-the-scenes stuff to make it more invisibly smooth-flowing on the front end.

The irony of it is, if the work is done well, no one will notice when the UI just got that much less clunky or when new players move on from level to level without a hitch and without quitting in disgust. (It’s only when it bugs or creates some kind of stopping or frustration point, that the bulk of the bitching starts.)

And there’s actually some good stuff coming down the line this 9th of September, despite the never-satisfied cries of increasingly bored players looking for new content (not new systems, per se) and new stuff to do, and despite the meat of it being spread so thinly across three weeks in some sort of weird marketing attempt to keep interest/hype going for the length of time it’ll take to deploy the patch.

The Collection Achievements system is one of those things.

You see, there’s this perennial complaint from players that such-and-such piece of content isn’t ‘rewarding’ enough. That there’s no reason or motivation to do this slightly more difficult thing over another, the devs better give us some external reward to get us to do it…or else.

Never mind the deplorable fact that many players won’t do anything without an external carrot.

(I dunno, I sometimes do content just because it’s there. I give up 2-3 hours of my time to PUG a TA Aetherpath when I get the sudden whim to, because I think it’ll be interesting and somewhat entertaining and internally rewarding to gently coax a group of players who don’t really know what they’re in for, but are desperate to get it done for their Dungeon Master achievement, through it.

The last few days, while on my platinum ore harvesting rounds, I’ve been throwing myself at the Champion Risen Spider near Flamefrog Waypoint in Sparkfly Fen, trying to figure out how to solo it – and mostly repeatedly dying. It’s turned into an almost Liadri-like compulsion by now. Eventually 2-3 other players turn up and we kill it, but dammit, I’ll get it one day. My best efforts have only reduced it to half hp so far.

It’s really infuriating because it immobilizes so much, and has an annoying egg spit attack that spawns additional spider mobs if not dodged/blocked/gotten out of the way of. That spawning can get runaway uncontrollable very quickly, so my best guess is that it -must- be -always- dodged/avoided/prevented from spawning. This is much much easier said than done, because you can’t dodge when immobilized, and I still end up confusing its egg spit attack animation with its other attacks, all of which involve twitching and lifting of its abdomen.

Reward? None but eventually satisfaction, I suppose. And a screenshot of me over its dead body… ONE DAY. SOME DAY.)

Thing is, what kinds of rewards can be given?

There’s a limit to vertically progressing rewards, since GW2 is not that kind of game. And if it tried, I’d be the first one to quit in disgust. I don’t want to be “forced” or “motivated” aka “pushed” into doing a particular dungeon simply because it gives +5 more Power stat on its gear than any other dungeons so far… and then the next new dungeon will have +10 Power to chase. *FAUGH* *spits*

Shiny new skins may have a certain temptation, but there’s always going to be a manpower limit on how many the artists can crank out at any one time, without eliciting howls of distress over lack of hair, lack of tails and oh god, that clipping. And what if the player doesn’t like the skin on offer? Then it’s back to the forums and more whining on how this and that skin is ugly as sin and not “rewarding” enough to make him suffer through that new dungeon or piece of content, I guess.

Increasing the amount of gold reward is just going to end up a tail-chasing fly-swatting game of players gravitating to the ‘best’ gold-giving dungeon for the time spent, and all the other dungeons ignored…until the next patch which increases gold rewards of some other dungeon. Not to mention, making inflation worse with every ‘fix.’

So enter a Hall of Monuments variant.

A structured system of multiple lateral options for -personal- progression, all of which will count towards accruing some points total at the end, and presumably offer direction and signposting for grabbing lower-hanging fruit before working one’s way up to harder and longer to obtain stuff.

That’s the potential I’m seeing in this new Collection Achievements system.

Players will have an external ‘reason’ to do X new content over Y old content because it will have its own ‘reward track’ where doing X related stuff will yield X-based rewards. And when content Z pops up, Z will have its own reward track too. It’ll be like trying to go for the Dungeon Master achievement, you’ve got to visit every dungeon if you want it.

(If you don’t care about it, then proceed on your merry way, of course. Like how life in GW2 has always been. All these systems are just for the Achievers who need things spelled out for them, or they quit. There’s just -so- many Achievers, though, so it’s worth creating systems for them.)

On a personal level, the collector and pack rat in me is super-thrilled.

These things have always been in GW2, but never really celebrated or made very clear.

I’ve never finished collecting all the cultural armor available… mostly because I can’t figure out which pieces I have left, and it would be a pain to have to log every single character and check what they’re wearing. (The only good news is I don’t throw away anything… Oh hey, I guess I could also use the wardrobe function now that I think about it. But that would still be a little annoying to sift through.)

I just visited a slew of Heart vendors in Fireheart Rise the other day and picked up the light, medium and heavy armor cosmetic sets that were being sold there. I never got around to it for a long time because I never needed it. Until I decided that my sylvari necro could use one piece of that look (via the Wardrobe) and so may as well since one is going there, pick up all the other sets and complete those too.

If there was some ArenaNet Points and a final shiny reward at the end for doing that, that would certainly be a little more of a motivating push in the butt to go do that kind of thing. It’s really easy low hanging fruit at that. I was sitting on 5 million karma and just never got around to using any of it on karma armor.

It’s quite a kick in the butt for the economy too, as I suspect this is going to add some new value for previously ignored shiny skins that more people will be motivated to collect.

And of course, *sinister chuckle* there’s nothing like creating account-bound stuff (like binding skins for personal use in the wardrobe) to reduce supply or “dedicated” miniatures to take these things out of circulation and sink them, so there’s always going to be demand, rather than a round-robin exchange of swap-the-same-minis so that everybody gets AP.

I can see some people thinking they’d cheated the system being a little upset by that.

To which, I can only indulge in a little Dark Side collector laugh. Seriously, did you think that you could spend hundreds of gold buying minis, get that little AP ‘ding’ and then sell them all away again to recoup most of your gold… would be valued as equivalent to someone who spent those same hundreds of gold to KEEP every last collectible shiny?

mini1

mini2

mini3

True collectors hoard shit and take them out of circulation.

It’s going to be slightly painful when it comes time to take them all out of these collections and account-bind them. That’s a LOT of gold I’m going to be throwing away. (Or spending on myself, rather.)

I’m half-considering just leaving them in the collections tab to sit for a while, but I have a feeling all it’ll take is seeing the new achievements and AP and titles for me to cave.

And it’ll be nice to be able to swap between a whole bunch of them without having to juggle stuff in my inventory. That’s at least 2-4 bag slots freed for all my characters.

To reiterate, coming down the line for the feature patch:

  • WvW – new month-long Fall Tournament with weekly match-up rewards and supposedly more unique worlds matched up with each other (I’ll believe it when I see it, BG and JQ and TC have been seeing each other since the last league), Siege Golem mastery, new Siege Disabler trick.
  • Commander tags – will now be account-bound, cost 300 gold, and have 4 shiny colors to choose from.
  • PvP – some new world tournament thing with shiny rewards for pro-PvPers, standard enemy models for Team Arenas, new PvP armor cosmetic reward (one presumably super-shiny variant for the top-tier, and one less shiny variant for the hoi polloi to earn via PvP reward track)
  • Balance changes – Elementalists weep as FGS and Tornado-Meteor combo get nerfed, mesmer scepter gets torment added, necromancer dagger gets a two-target cleave, warrior adrenaline gets played around with, and a whole bunch of less used and less popular skills and traits from all classes get some kind of adjusted boosts to try and make ’em more attractive (guess we’ll see how the new meta shakes out)
  • Guilds – will now be global, and all those leftover influence and upgrades and other things abandoned on server transfer will now come back home to roost. Guild mission experiences on the megaserver system -may- be further improved, by letting the first guildie joining a map to do a (presumably-active) guild mission reserve spots on the map for other guildies zoning in, so that half the guild isn’t spread out across several maps. May. Caveats for guilds of a very large size, which will probably still get smeared across various map instances and have to taxi in on each other. To be improved further (TM).
  • Megaserver – still getting plenty of tweaks to increase good experiences over bad ones, will attempt to sort EU players by language a little better, language chat filter back to being disabled by default so that EU players aren’t mysteriously plagued by a horde of seemingly deaf individuals in maps that keep requiring communication and coordination, fingers are crossed as to how much toxicity and harassment will result versus community-forming and a reminder to frickin’ use the report function on the worse of the toxic xenophobic lot so that the mapchat can improve.

Also, when megaserver maps drop below a certain number and need to be emptied out and closed, leftovers will be asked to volunteer to move maps back to more crowded ones and get a little bonus buff for doing so. What this will imply for organized groups trying to move to and fill new Teq and Wurm maps with people that actually care to listen to instructions and cooperate remains to seen.

  • Dungeons – will now have no instance owner. As long as someone stays in the instance, it stays open, so gone are the days of getting booted out when the opener leaves. What this might end up enabling remains to be seen: there are a few unscrupulous toxic people frequenting dungeons who might get extra-kick happy and may get some jollies out of kicking PUGs and inviting guildmates (though why they wouldn’t just run with the guildies, I dunno) or selling the path after using PUGs to do their dirty work (which I suspect is far more likely, and will no doubt keep Anet’s GMs occupied for some time.) Three-person kick is apparently in the works, but will not be in time for the feature patch.
  • Performance tweaks – More improvements to back-end stuff that will -hopefully- improve performance and frame rates at crowded events like world bosses and WvW.
  • Crafting – Crafting UI will allow for opening and viewing recipes to subcomponents at the same time as the main recipe. New cosmetic crafting backpack skins as a little mini-reward as you go up in crafting tiers. New recipes for leveling items (aka twink items) that will go up to an exotic-equivalent for low levels.
  • Profession loot – will make it more likely to get drops that are usable for one’s class. Makes it more exciting and logical for low levels to get drops that they can actually use, may sneakily tweak supply and demand of materials based on the population of classes actually being played on a regular basis.
  • Fresh Start – New player experience will be given more clear direction and guidance as to where to go. Experienced players can ignore this and turn it off, and wander Tyria as before. Leveling up will be made more shiny and WHEEEEEE, YOU LEVELED to make it feel more rewarding per level. Various existing GW2 systems will be drip-feed introduced to newbies using this guiding/unlock system, such as downed state at level 5, “hey, WvW exists, come try it out” at lvl 18, “you can PvP too, it’s not just all hearts” at lvl 22, etc. (Experienced folks who don’t need this will still be able to access WvW and PvP at lvl 2 on alts by jumping into a portal or using a hotkey, once unlocked on one character, all future characters will have the button unlocked.) More shiny item rewards for leveling up. Personal story will come in chunks using this system as well, so they can be played through at one go, instead of getting spaced out by really weird level gaps. Stats may come in chunks to also make it feel like one is getting stronger – everything will end up the same by level 80.
  • Collections – Miniatures and finishers will now end up in the account wardrobe. Both minis and finishers will be previewable in the wardrobe, minis will also be previewable via TP and chat links. Wardrobe has had some UI tweaks to make searching through it easier. Minis can be turned into an account unlock, available to all your characters to equip, simultaneously if desired, and will follow you from zone to zone with no more work needed to display them. Doing so essentially “dedicates” the mini, making it no longer sellable/tradeable as the mini item will vanish and exist as an “account skin” instead.

An entire Item Collections systems will be introduced via Achievements to reward the whole compulsion to collect everything under the sun. Shiny weapons or armor skins, food consumed, loot bags opened, spoons, you name it, it goes in it. There will be rewards attached to collecting various um, collections – equipment, functional unlocks, recipes, AP, stuff like that. Naturally, if you collect it, you can’t sell it and profit from it. More sinks, more demand, more money-making or money-sinking opportunities, gems-to-gold and gold-to-gems, more motivation to do one or the other, TP tax and economy churnchurnchurn, here we come!

The last announcement, due tomorrow, is titled Trading 2.0.

If it doesn’t contain Trading Post improvements, like *cough* certain filters that have been missing since the beginning of time, I’ll be very very surprised.

All in all, I think this feature patch definitely offers some very promising foundations for proceeding forward on. It’s good to have some rock solid bases to build that ‘new content’ on, after all.

Reaper Bones II Kickstarter Returns!

For the few of my readers who may actually be interested in my mania for collecting figurines that may eventually, someday, be painted… you may like to know that Reaper Miniatures has launched their second Bones Kickstarter.

As usual, these are plastic resin minis, going for some mindblowing prices.

I can attest to the detail being not terrible (based on the first Kickstarter received) but have not yet gotten around to applying paint on any of them yet.

Some reports say that Vallejo paints cannot be directly applied to them, whereas Reaper Master Series Paints work perfectly fine.

I’d love to verify this, but have been facing the equivalent of clearing out a storage basement’s worth of stuff to get to my Vallejo paints (which could very well be dried out by now, but who knows, maybe living in a humid climate may have some side benefits) and massively procrastinating as a result.

At any rate, my old habit was to use paint-on gesso primer for my minis, which are mostly display-only, so I’m not really worried about that.

Unfortunately, this time around, Reaper has learned that international shipping rates are exorbitant and cutthroat and that they cannot afford to absorb the cost for everyone.

So yeah, if you’re living outside the good ol’ US of A, you may have to factor that into your decision.

Speaking for myself, I may end up using a local mail forwarding service that offers a US address (taking advantage of the free US shipping) and cheaper shipping rates back to the little red dot.

We’ll see just how much USPS wants to charge when their pledge manager comes up. *twitch*

Be aware, this is a Kickstarter, so it -is- a down payment for a fairly far future.

I would also factor in another half a year to the stated delivery date, just to be a little cynically realistic about unforeseen delays and just how many packages can be properly packed and labeled and sent out in a day.

I frankly doubt that I’ll be able to paint up even a quarter of my current collection by that time, so I’m really not worried about how long they take to get to me, as long as they arrive eventually.

But but but… dragons. So many cool plastic dragons!

They must be mine!

‘Nuff said.

Reaper Bones Kickstarter: They’re Here!

Almost one year later to the date, these beauties are finally home in my grubby greasy hands.

That makes my Kickstarter record 2 for 2. Defence Grid delivered on their expansion, and so did Reaper.

loot

I got the email a week ago saying Reaper’d finally shipped out my package.

As I was one of those international nutcases who got nearly one of everything extra, I was fully expecting the late ship date. I much rather they pack my stuff well and not miss out a thing, rather than face a longer process of back-and-forth emailing and shipping to get replacements.

USPS performed admirably and got the box here in one piece in a rather timely fashion.

(I’ve had the odd Amazon shipment go awry and take a month or two to arrive. Credit to them, they do send replacements quickly and generally, 95% of the shipments make it in 7-10 days or less. A wandering package gone walkabout is rare.)

My first priority was to take inventory.

This was a little tricky as I’d bought a LOT of dragons. I couldn’t remember offhand which one was Red Dragon versus There Be Dragons, fer instance.

It ended up a rather high-tech low-tech crossover with iPad in one hand as picture reference and receipt in the other, sorting one pile of white from another.

The first thing I was rather taken aback by was the heft. For plastic minis, they have a very nice solid feel to them. (Note, these are the larger “extras” minis I was sorting, so I presume there was quite a lot of resin/plastic that went into making them.)

I couldn’t resist cracking some bags open and test fitting parts. Again, to my surprise, about two thirds of the parts fit together very well and even stayed in place without any kind of adhesive whatsoever. The rest (like some heads) were a little light to lock in place securely, so I used some Blu-Tac as temporary sticky putty for the test fit.

I don’t really forsee a problem supergluing them in place later, but there’s always “green stuff” epoxy putty if it doesn’t work. Most of the joins fit together decently well, though if you’re picky, some puttying to smooth things over would be necessary. I was only not too pleased with one sculpt, which I will describe later.

The detail level was also very satisfactory for me, factoring in the material they are made out of. Fine lines like that on the dragon wing membranes have actually been picked up. Examining an elf showed that even the eyeball sockets were there. The caveat is that the details do seem a bit shallower than that on metal minis, so I suspect thin layers of paint will be in order here to not accidentally remove that detail.

For the following photos, please bear in mind that I just grabbed a camera in my excitement and mostly snapped on automatic before I ran out of charge. I couldn’t for the life of me remember how to get a proper macro mode going, so stuff will be blurry and lack detail. I’ll work it out later when I get to painting.

hydra

The Hydra, Frost Wyrm and Forces of Nature sculpts were very good. Everything fit together with barely any need to resort to Blu-Tac (except the earth elemental’s head.) Everything stands upright, they have a good heft to them, and one probably won’t even need to base these guys unless one wants to.

heretherebedragons

There Be Dragons are also a nice pair of “small” dragons (compared to all the other big stuff, that is) that fit together well for the most part. You might be able to make out a bit of the black Blu-Tac (only color I had to hand) peeking out of one wing seam, but that’s about it.

demon

I simply had to assemble this one half of the Demon pair. This guy’s wing span is incredible, dwarfing even some of the dragon’s. All the parts fit together smoothly as silk. Wings, tail, sword arms, only the head needed some Tac help staying in place.

undeadgiant

The undead giant was impressive as all get out. I could have sworn those thin arms would not have stuck on to the sockets, but they slid in and did. And the entire torso sits snugly on a waist joint. The only thing is the hammer is a little wobbly, since the arm is quite thin.

deathsleet

These two, Deathsleet and Red Dragon, are slight problem children. Don’t get me wrong, the sculpts are beautiful, the wings fit (with the help of a little temporary Tac) but they have a slight balance problem. Deathsleet tends to lean over sideways and threatens to fall over. Red Dragon leans backward and the front of the base lifts off the surface.

I suspect this is the materials change causing a change in the center of gravity as compared to one made out of metal. Red Dragon could probably still be used as is (but look unsightly, I was tempted to glue a washer or two to the front underside of its base) but Deathsleet will fall over with a faint breeze. These two would definitely benefit from a nice hefty solid base.

ebonwraith

Of this lot, the only one I struggled with and thus was not immediately thrilled by was Ebonwraith. He looks cool, no doubt about it. His wings have a fitting problem.

They also look rather identical, so I was sitting there for a while trying out both wings on each socket in different configurations, squinting at the socket joins to see which fit the best. No smooth fit like the rest of the minis had spoiled me with.

It’s not extreme, in the sense that you won’t be cutting anything in order to fit them, but it is major enough that you’ll be filling the gaps with quite a bit of putty.

wingsocket

On the bright side, I suppose this allows you to adjust the wings at different angles according to your preference this way.

All in all, am happy to report that everything was as it should be and none of the extras were missing. As for the Vampire box stock-take though:

vampireminis

Yeah, that’s going to have to wait for another night.

Red Sand, Black Moon: Dwarf vs Elf, Playtest #1

Go figure, I said I was tired of combat as a conflict resolution mechanism but in my search for narrative across solo roleplaying blogs (the Solo Nexus is a good place to start), the following ideas gelled together in my head.

  • Until Fantalonia talked about it, it never occurred to me that I could print cardstock and paper miniatures at a reduced scale of two pages to one sheet of paper and that would approximately shrink it down to 15-20mm scale.

I’ve always been used to the 25-30mm scale, which looks great, but is a bitch to set up on the dining table with your family giving you dirty looks because that’s where one is supposed to eat, not arrange a giant diorama (that cannot be moved) on top of it.

For solo wargaming, 15mm is much more portable, easier to find an undisturbed surface to play on and easier to store. Pretty compelling reasons for giving it a try.

  • Here’s another blog that uses Red Sand, Black Moon rules in a post-apocalyptic setting. Gorgeous looking paint jobs on the minis.

I’d previously flipped through a couple of cheaper old and free rules from their website. Their main differentiator is what they term a Chain Reaction mechanic, which allows for both sides to react and exchange fire in the same turn, rather than passively waiting for each other in standard “I go, you go” turn-based fashion. There are generally also mechanics for a sort of “NPC AI” which allows a solo gamer to play one side and make decisions for that side, while letting the rules and random dice control the movements of the opposing side.

But until now, I never seriously bothered to learn any of their rulesets or playtest them because learning the rules involves a fair bit of flipping up and down pages, referring to a lot of tables, and cross-checking like mad, hoping you didn’t miss a crucial sentence and screw up the reactions or NPC AI, wondering when the hell you’d finally internalize the rules to make them second nature and reduce the frequency of all that checking.

Two gladiators now, that seemed easier to get a grasp on, rather than multiple squads of people.

I had an earlier version of their ancient gladiatorial combat rules, Red Sand, Blue Sky, but after flipping through it, it looked like the newer versions had undergone some serious refinement. New arena and zones of movement concept, instead of measuring inches, and so on. So I bit the bullet and bought the Red Sand, Black Moon rules, which would offer guidelines on adapting fantasy figs, rather than cleave faithfully to Roman gladiatorial combat styles.

(To be honest, I’m not terribly in favor of the lethality of vanilla RSBM fights though, so I might pick up their new RSBS rules some day or try to figure out based on the old rules if there’s a way to shove in some defeated/yield/surrender mechanics. But that’s a project for another day.)

Still, if I was going to learn the rules, best to play it as directed.

Browsing One Monk Miniatures yielded up some free paper models from their Forum Hoard that inspired the arena setup and narrative setting. We’d start simple, mano a mano combat between two characters and ramp up the complexity from there.

First off, a very simple tournament of four. Two fights of 2 vs 2, and the victors will fight each other.

A prisoner’s dilemma it wasn’t. The goblin capered and cackled as he translated the orc shaman’s guttural speech into the common tongue. “You step in magic ring, we give you back armor and axe. You fight. For glory of Blood God. Last one who stand, we let go free. Dead ones, we eat.

If you not fight, then you useless and we also eat.”

Kordan Stonebreaker glared back at the creature through the bars of the cage as he cracked his knuckles, thick fingers knotting  as he imagined wringing its scrawny neck. Not only did this orc tribe have goblin hangers-on, they had three very big ogres to back them up. Still, the only way they’d caught him was cos he was stone drunk and napping at the time.

“That’s fine by me,” he rumbled. He’d seen the other three prisoners. A pair of humans and a stinking elf. None of them looked to be much trouble, his freedom was pretty much there for the taking.

It figured, they’d match him up with the pansy elf first. Kordan threw on his helmet and his chainmail in a hurry, watching out of the corner of his eye the elf putting on some leather armor and testing the weight of a short sword.

The orc shaman had drawn a circle of blood demarcating the boundaries of the fight. Palpable dark power emanated from the clotted liquid, making the hairs on the back of his arms stand on end. The dwarf resolved not to go anywhere near it.

“Fight fight!” screamed the little goblin as he waved a spear much too big for him.

“Let’s get it over with,” Kordan said, hefting his axe with both hands, and marching toward the centre of the circle.

The elf didn’t move, just frowned with furrowed brow, his sword slack in his grip.

(Round 1: Dwarf wins initiative and moves toward centre of the arena. Elf stays where he is.)

Kordan again took the initiative and stomped dead centre into the ring. “Come on, elf. Whaddya afraid of? I ain’t gonna ‘et you. They are!”

The elf met his eyes and walked steadily forward. “Look, dwarf, I don’t want to fight y-”

(Round 2: Dwarf wins initiative and moves into centre of the arena. Elf approaches one zone towards dwarf.)

“Too bad, cos I do,” Kordan charged, axe raised. It clanged against the elf’s swiftly raised sword. They circled, the elf easily matching the dwarf’s movements. A few exchanges later, Kordan moved back, unable to find an opening.

The elf pushed into the centre, angry now, raining down a flurry of blows, which Kordan blocked adroitly with the haft of his axe. Unable to press any advantage, the elf also backed off.

(Round 3: Dwarf wins initiative, moving into elf’s zone. Rolling for maneuvering, adding the successes to speed and other modifiers, they both end up with an equal number of successes. The Maneuver Table indicates the result as the active player unable to find an opening to attack and moving back to the zone they started in.

Elf’s turn, he moves up, maneuvers, equally matched success again, and he moves back to where he started.)

Breathing heavily, the elf told him, “Don’t you see, this is f-“ He broke off in mid-sentence to dodge the dwarf’s charge yet again. They exchanged more blows, the elf steadily increasing the speed of his attacks to a point he hopes the dwarf cannot match.

Panting, Korgan appeared to slip. A triumphant lunge by the elf became an expression of shock as the dwarf neatly sidestepped and brought his axe down. It came down on the elf’s left arm, and bounced right off the suddenly-appearing sphere of blazing energy with a shower of sparks. The shield saved the elf from harm, but the force of the blow sends the elf sprawling facefirst into the ground.

(Round 4: Elf wins initiative, and catches his breath where he is, regaining one bonus dice. The dwarf charges in, the elf wins the maneuver by 1 success and attacks. He scores only 1 success higher than the dwarf. Attack Table indicates the result is to re-take the Attack test, discounting weapon reach and the previously used bonus dice. This time the dwarf wins the attack, 4 succcesses to the elf’s 1 success.

Attack Table result – attacker lunges aggressively, defender steps aside. Attacker is forced into the movement zone directly behind the defender and is now knocked down. Defender scores hit on attacker as he goes by.

Rolling for hit location yields the elf’s left arm, which is conveniently his shielded arm, which protects him from damage.)

“Pah, magic-user,” Korgan spat. Before the elf could recover and get back up, the dwarf ran at him and aimed a series of attacks at his back. It took all of the elf’s agility to block and counter, as he flipped over to face Korgan, just in time for the dwarf to find a way past his defences.

The axe bit deeply into the elf’s chest as the elf threw himself back wildly, narrowly missing the blood barrier of the fighting ring. His nimbleness spared himself a lethal injury to the heart, but Korgan could see blood soaking into the leather regardless.

The elf scrambled upright, his breath coming in pained gasps. He paused to catch his breath, sword in a guard position.

(Round 5: Dwarf wins the initiative. He moves into the elf’s zone.

I had a moment of puzzlement here as I tried to figure out if this meant the dwarf had rear facing on the elf. If the elf fell forward, it would make sense that the dwarf could attack his unprotected back. This was quite important as attacking someone’s rear meant discounting Speed successes, which normally add on an automatic success per point of speed. The rules were also a little unclear as to whether just the rear attacked victim had to discount the speed successes or both.

I eventually decided to allow rear facing and discount just the elf’s Speed, which made for a very lethal maneuver in favor of the rear attacker. 8 successes for the dwarf, 3 for elf. Winning by 3+ successes meant you could bash attack, bite or tail attack, as well as attack an unshielded side. Despite Korgan’s bar-brawling habits, I doubted his bite attack would amount to much, and there was no point to bashing since the elf was already on the floor and would regain his feet on his turn. So attack unshielded side it was.

Luck of the draw, the elf rolled 1 dice and scored 1 success. The dwarf rolled 7 dice and scored only 2 successes. Re-attack again, but this time the elf turns to face opponent.

His luck runs out, the dwarf has 5 successes to his 1, pushing him into the next zone against the arena’s wall. Rolling for hit location and damage, the dwarf scores a serious wound to the chest (-2 to that location, the elf has essentially 3 hitpoints there, equivalent to his strength, narrowly avoiding getting killed outright) and would have knocked down the opponent, except he was already down.

Elf’s turn, he jumps to his feet and catches his breath, having run out of bonus dice defending madly while knocked down.)

Korgan flung himself at the elf again, hewing mightily as if trying to chop down a tree. But the elf defended well, with a fast one-handed movement of his blade, and forced the dwarf back once more, leaving himself yet again a space to recover.

(Round 6: Dwarf wins initiative, he’s low on bonus dice too, but I wanted to press the advantage and charge at the elf again. Maneuvering, they’re evenly matched, the dwarf retreats to his zone. Elf stays where he is and catches his breath again.)

Then the elf moved purposefully on Korgan, attacking him head on. It took all of Korgan’s skill, including some won at bar-brawling, to counter the elf’s rush at him. Their weapons locked together, the dwarf growled and lowered his head, thinking to headbutt the elf.

Oh crap, went through his mind in one swift shocked instant as the elf somehow twisted his blade out of the lock faster than he thought possible, and took advantage of the opening to bring the sword down onto his head.

The clang of metal striking metal was as loud as a hammer hitting an anvil. The dwarf reeled back blindly into the centre of the circle.

Then it was the elf’s turn to look shocked, as Korgan’s eyes uncrossed, and he shook himself like a dog to shake off the impact. He reached stubby fingers up to his battered, dented helmet to feel out the extent of the damage. The force of the blow had sent the edge of the helmet deep into his brow. Blood flowed freely from the gash, but it just looked worse than it really was.

The dwarf spat again, “That the best you can do? I’ve had worse headaches waking up after a night of two dozen pints of Skullsplitters’ finest.”

(Round 7: Elf wins initiative, moves into dwarf’s zone. Maneuvering yields a head on attack for the elf. Evenly matched successes, it’s a draw, both remain in the same zone.

Dwarf’s turn, they maneuver, and the elf wins an attack to his unshielded side. Elf wins the attack roll by 3+ successes, pushing the dwarf back into the arena centre, and rolls a hit location of the head, causing me to stop breathing as I was sure this was the end for Korgan.

Between the elf’s puny strength and Korgan’s armor class, he only manages a Wound of -1 str on the dwarf’s head, and I didn’t even have to bring any dwarf Signatures into play. Korgan has 5 str, so his skull is very thick. 4 hitpoints left. Phew.)

But both fighters were exhausted after that exchange, and they spent a mutual moment breathing hard, their eyes locked on each other, alert for the slightest movement.

(Round 8: Elf wins initiative, and catches his breath to regain a bonus dice. Dwarf is also out of bonus dice, and I decide to let him take advantage of the breather to recover one too.)

The elf, deadly serious now, came at Korgan with a furious flurry, steering the less maneuverable dwarf in a circle. He slid his blade through an opening but it barely scratched the links of Korgan’s chainmail. It left himself open in turn for Korgan to press an attack, but the elf again twisted out of the way in the nick of time. Once more, the elf narrowly just missed scoring another hit, and aggressively attacks yet again.

Which proved his undoing as he fell for one of the dwarf’s feints and lunged forward a mite too far. Off-balance, he staggered and Korgan helped him on his way to the floor as his axe dug deep into the elf’s right arm, tearing into the muscle.

The elf had no time to worry about that wound as the dwarf followed up by jumping right on top of his back and bringing his axe down on the elf’s neck.

The guttural cheers of the orcs and ogres around him heralded his victory as the elf’s severed head rolled to a stop against the blood barrier.

(Round 9: Elf wins initiative, moves up to the dwarf’s zone. Maneuvering, he gets to attack the dwarf’s unshielded side. The dwarf wins by 1 success, re-take Attack test, the elf wins by 1 success, re-take Attack test yet again, then the dwarf wins by 3+ successes. Again the defender lets the attacker lunge past and whacks him as he goes by. The dwarf rolls a hit location of the right arm, which is unshielded, and dings the arm for -2str (aka hitpoints, again the elf narrowly misses having the entire thing chopped off.)

Dwarf’s turn, the rear attack maneuver is like taking candy from a baby – easy, mean and vicious as hell. He rolls a hit location of head, rolls for damage and scores a Killing Stroke!)

“Good! Good! You wait. One more fight, then you fight winner!” screeched the goblin.

The orc shaman was drawing up a new blood circle, the ogres escorting the two humans into it. They flung the fighters’ belongings onto the sand as the shaman finished his chanting.

Korgan looked grimly on from his circle, intent on studying the techniques of his next would-be opponent, the last obstacle to his freedom.

Wow. I’d thought I’d skewed the fight in the dwarf’s favor by giving him Star attributes (5 Savvy, 5 Strength, 4 Speed), since I chose to play him and I wanted a simple fight for my first rules-learning attempt. But the elf (4 Savvy, 3 Strength, 5 Speed), played entirely as an “NPG” or Non-Player Gladiator, moving according to the rules and dice rolls on a table, put up quite a fight.

He’d randomly rolled a Signature trait of Poser, which gave him a 2 dice advantage on maneuvering, but a 2 dice disadvantage on attacking, until he inflicted his first damage. I interpreted it in this context to mean that he didn’t have his heart entirely into the fight at first, as opposed to say ‘playing to the crowd’ posing a typical gladiator might do. His other racially given Signatures, Nimble, Slippery, Strong-Willed were quite effective at simulating how an elf might fight.  That is to say, he was pretty much dancing circles around the dwarf when he maneuvered, especially in combination with his speed.

The dwarf, on the hand, had Signatures of Mass, Resolute and Stout, making him really tough and hard to knock down – though these weren’t really tested in this battle. I picked a Hard as Nails Signature for him as a Star, and his random Signature turned out to be Vicious – giving him two extra Attack dice if he won the Maneuver. Which really made him very nasty when he managed to rear attack the elf twice. The dwarf’s higher Savvy (aka battle prowess) also gave him a slight advantage over the elf when they tangled up in combat.

The bonus dice mechanic was also interesting, simulating a kind of endurance and energy. It really swung the battle back and forth as I had to figure out if I wanted to spend the energy to press the attack or conserve it to defend or attack later, whereas I had no control over when the NPG would decide to spend his bonus dice. There’s an algorithm for that, where you roll all of the NPG’s bonus dice and he will use it if it comes up 1, or 1-2, or 1-3, depending on the situation. There was a round where the elf blew 5 bonus dice and me, having forgotten to declare the dwarf’s bonus dice first, decided to play it fair and say the dwarf spent none.

There’s also a fair bit of luck involved, which yields the element of surprise and emergence for someone playing solo. Just because you get to roll 7 dice only means you might score more successes (rolling 1-3 on a d6). If the dice don’t go your way, you might get less successes than you’d expect. This is adjusted by modifiers here and there to simulate various Signatures and change the probability of something happening.

The whole thing from printing and cutting up and gluing minis, reading the rulebook, assembling the arena and all took the better part of a night, 5+ hours or so, including the fight that took 3-4 hours. But that was me being a big rules stickler and a very slow learner, going backwards and forwards on the iPad with the pdf rulebook. I don’t think that particular racial match up helped either, fast squirmy bugger versus rabid stout rock made for a long back and forth fight.

I was also slowed down by the dice rolling. I went electronic some time back with the Dicenomicon app, but I was getting ready to murder something with all that flipping back and forth between it and Goodreader, where the rules were, so I grabbed the only three tangible plastic d6s I had to hand. Not enough to work with, I’d recommend having a good 10-15 of ’em for faster play, possibly one color for one opponent if at all doable. Gotta dig mine up from wherever they’ve gone for the next time.

With more rules familiarity, it’ll likely go faster, but there is still a lot of tables and special Signature skills to cross-reference.

I am liking the scale. I think by conservative accident, I only shrunk mine to slightly taller than 20mm (it’s about the old Ral Partha 25mm scale mebbe), but with the small arena format, the whole thing fit neatly into an A4 sheet of paper, which these days, is more realistic to maintain and store in the house without mouldering and dust collection than the dreamy ideal grassmats mounted on specialty art store foamcore boards of youth.

All in all, a pretty nice game and a good change of pace. It’s not THE narrative holy grail that I’m still looking for, but I’m glad I tried it. Chalk up one more game in my repertoire.