Game Day: My Game Inbox Runneth Over

After a week away from home at the Portal 2007 higher ed conference at Gettysburg College, I’ve returned home to an inbox overflowing with games. My Xbox 360 will be seeing heavy action this weekend as I put Shadowrun and Forza 2 through its paces, while my non-video game moments will likely be consumed by reading The Mastermind’s Manual and Lockdown sourcebooks for Mutants & Masterminds.

Finally, Friday night gaming arrived just in time with a return to the misty lands of Ravenloft and our ongoing attempt to find the long lost Amulet of Ravenkind.

Running in the Shadows, Driving in the Sun

I’ve spent a few hours playing Shadowrun, the first-person shooter loosely based on the role-playing game of the same name. I’ve been working my way through the training tutorials and trying out some bot matches but I’ve been waiting until I get some experience under my belt before venturing online.

The setting is the same as the RPG: magic has re-awakened in near-future, cyberpunk world. I like the combination of tech and magic powers, and the visuals can be stunning. I think the game has some cool tactical potential, in that you can reshape the battlefield with Entangle, take out magic effects with Anti-Magic Generators, etc. The diversity of options can’t hide the game’s shallow nature: there are only two game types, team death match and capture the flag, and those can get old quick.

The lack of a campaign mode — even a barebones one like you’d get with Timesplitters — is a real drawback. The solo battle mode is ok for trying out maps, and I like being able to have bots to play against, but given the game’s role-playing history the lack of a campaign is really a crime.

Based on what I’ve seen so far, it’s not a bad game, but it’s not a ground breaking one and it’s not a replacement for Halo 2 (especially when the Halo 3 beta is out there for people to play).  Having said all that, since I don’t have the Halo 3 beta this is my best chance to blow people up, and I’ll be doing that this weekend.

I’ve been looking forward to Forza 2 ever since I got the 360. So far the game appears to be a little underwhelming — the two tracks I’ve raced on aren’t significantly better than what I saw in the original Forza game, though the cars themselves look sharper. Game play has been solid though, and I needed a game I could play in front of the kids (unlike, say, Gears of War).

Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow

Our Mutants & Masterminds campaign has a firm launch date of June 29, which means I need to get off my ass and finish fleshing out the opening session. Since we’re doing this “Dark City” style, my game prep will be limited to creating different vignettes for each character, but I still need to flesh out the campaign’s setup and some of the overarching plot for the first season.

To that end I got two new Mutants & Masterminds source books. The first is Lockdown, which is a supervillain prison source book. It details the penitentiary known as Buckner Ridge, complete with detailed floor plans, new villains, prison guard NPCs, and much more. This should fit nicely with the Season 1 theme … which I’ll talk about more during a future game day column.

The other source book is the Mastermind’s Manual, which is a sort of Unearthed Arcana-style optional rulebook for M&M. There are a few areas of Mutants & Masterminds that we’ve considered tweaking, and this book provides plenty of variant rules. I don’t think we’ll use any in the first few sessions, but it’s nice to have such a source book to fall back on.

The Deadly Mists of Ravenloft

Friday’s Ravenloft game saw yet another death, this time in the form of Donegal, cleric of Daern, fellow of the Lightbringer Guild. He died fighting huge blood-sucking worms, two of which latched on to him. The wounds they inflicted, combined with the blood drain, overwhelmed him before the rest of the party could save him.

This will gravely affect my own character, Pierce Haligarth, who had joined the Lightbringers with Donegal. While the two rarely saw eye to eye (Pierce being an opportunist in search of gold, Donegal being a stalwart defender of the people) they were members of the same guild, and seeing his friend die on the frontline of battle has caused Pierce to begin to grow a spine. Badly shaken by several encounters with the undead (including one that saw his intestines spilled out onto the street by ghouls), his membership in the Lightbringers, his new-found training that allows him to use his “sneak attack” against undead, and Donegal’s death is having a steeling effect.

As a result, when the horrifying sea hag defending the Amulet of Ravenkind appeared before the surviving party members, Pierce stood his ground, was not shaken by her fearsome presence, and even ran up to attack the creature with his rapier along side his companions.

As far as the campaign goes, I’m enjoying it greatly — Pierce is turning out to be a fun character — but we’re having a lot of trouble with level draining and ability damage. Most of it isn’t permanent, but it’s killed at least one character (maybe two) and causes us to fall back to the village to rest and recover.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the village itself doesn’t have much in the way of resources so its hard to do much of anything else while we’re there. I’m going to suggest to our DM, Erilar, that our defense of the village and the defeat of the undead who threatened it has allowed a few traders to come in, which could help with that very problem.

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