Author Archives: Jon Spengler

About Jon Spengler

A Seattle transplant from Minnesota, Jon has a long history of running table-top role-playing games, being overly enthusiastic, and not finishing video games.


PAX Prime 2015 – Indie Highlights Day 2

I’m not going to waste any time jumping into the rest of my indie game picks from PAX Prime 2015. The more time I spend in this wonderful air conditioned room chilling out without shoes on the less time I have for table top games and alcoholic beverages!

Rain World, Videocult (PC, Consoles)

I was lead to play Rain World by a friend that enjoys two of the same things that I like in games: genuinely pulling off seemingly simple ideas, and misery simulators. Rain World does both!

The concept is so simple: prey and be preyed upon as an adorable cat slug in what is most likely a post apocalyptic Earth. The cat slug’s motions are fluid and limited in a way that feels organic: sliding around is fine, jumping is hard, and climbing is a breeze. The backgrounds and environments are hand crafted and stunningly detailed. While the game will have a large world to explore, the PAX Demo was straight forward: eat 5 bats and get back into shelter before the deadly rain starts falling. I didn’t even get close to succeeding.

The true genius of the game is the flora and fauna of the post apocalyptic world. The world may be hand crafted but the creatures hunting your adorable cat slug are purely procedural. You’ll have to use your wits to use the environment and interactions with other creatures to stay safe while you explore. The curious and harmless swamp worms that watched the cat slug pass were probably my favorite, adding a nonthreatening touch of life to the destroyed husk of a city filled with predators.

Rain World is something that needs to be watched carefully. It’ll prove to be one of the best indie survival games yet if the polish that’s been applied to the behaviors and graphics are applied to the game’s core design.

Necropolis, Harebrained Schemes (PC)

Otherwise known as Zelda: Ocarina of Roguelikes. Necroplis is a stylish third person brawler with a sharp sense of humor and solid fighting mechanics. You will try (and fail) to navigate your hero to the bottom of the terrible Necropolis, and if you die you die for real permanently. You know this jam already. The game is responsive and functional, and the trailer doesn’t lie: the style and animations work. You’ll be z-targeting enemies and performing sword combos in no time.

After speaking with the executive producer it’s clear that they have a grand scope for this game that they have yet to achieve. They want 40+ different monsters with many pieces of craftable equipment, specifically calling out a Monster Hunter like weapon system where new types of weapons change the style in which you fight. The goal is to create a game that will take hundreds of hours to master, but only a few hours to complete.

Unfortunately, as of PAX, the demo is more of a proof of concept, showing that the team can create a visually distinct action title with a flourish. Even if it’s more style than substance at the moment, this is still definitely one to watch!

Ultimate Chicken Horse, Clever Endeavor Games (PC)

Oh my god. Ultimate Chicken Horse. Seriously.

I’m confident saying that Ultimate Chicken Horse is the best couch multiplayer game at PAX. It’s certainly the number one generator of excited screaming and “OH SHITS” I’ve seen so far. You and your friends are all adorable farm animal characters in a standard empty Mario-style platforming level. The goal is to get to the flag across the screen, but there’s a pit separating you from it. You all, as a team, will have to use bits and pieces of scenery to build a trail there. But some of the pieces of scenery are things like crossbows. Or swinging buzz saws. Or traps. You only get points if you make it to the end of the course, but some of your friends don’t, so make it as deadly as you can without making it impossible.

Actually, just watch the video for the explanation.

It’s instant fun that will have you calling your friends names while you cheer them on. Easily the most fun I’ve had playing a game at PAX this year.

I plan to put together a few deeper pieces on games that I’ve played in the coming days. Stay tuned for more on Darkest Dungeon’s latest content patch The Cove.

PAX 2015 Day 1

PAX Prime 2015 – Indie Highlights Day 1

I’ve come to terms with my taste in video games in the year and a half that’s passed since I’ve last written for Dorkadia. I used to think that one needed to have a universal appreciation for all genres and titles in order to truly “get games”. Screw that. Megan’s recent full embrace of her love of story games made me stand up and declare before my friends and family: I love quirky indie games, I love roguelikes, fuck the rest. Continue reading

Icon Relationship Feature

13A Hack: Player Driven Relationship Rolls

The 13th Age core book details three main uses for Icon relationship dice: rolling at the start of every session for improvisational guides, rolling for dramatic events, and rolling for discovery and surprise when the players go off the prepped course. The latter two are brilliant; they successfully allow players to see how their character’s personal relationships shape the story when they turn an important and perhaps unplanned page in their adventure. But I’ve always felt that the improvisational use has needed fleshing out and clarification.

In practice, when the players roll their Icon relationship dice at the beginning of the session they’re not just rolling for group-wide improv inspiration, they’re actually rolling for unique and personally tailored resources. The book makes it clear that the players, not just the GM, can use these relationship rolls to gain secrets, magic items, narrate flashbacks, and more. It’s an exciting prospect that’s bursting with potential but the rules are unclear how these powers are shared, how they interact with mechanically concrete things like combat and skill checks, and what guidelines there are for building the narrative together.

This player driven relationship roll rules hack is designed to address this ambiguity but keep the spirit of this the relationship rolls intact. These clarifications aren’t limiting player or GM options, they’re giving the players a powerful tool to leave their mark in a session’s story and to use those Icon relationships to their fullest. Let’s flesh out those start of session relationships rolls so they can be the player driven, narrative sharing, compelling resource that they should be!

What You’ll Need

Icon Relatoinship CardYou will need a small number of two different kinds of tokens. Small glass tokens of two different colors will do, differently colored poker chips, or two different kinds of coins. One type of token will represent “unambiguous tokens”, or a 6 on the Icon relationship roll. The other type will represent “complicated tokens”, or a 5 on the Icon relationship roll.

You should also print out an Icon Relationship card for each of the individual relationships each PC has. You may want to slide them into protective sleeves designed for collectable cards after filling them out.

Icon Relationship Cards PDF (with background)

Icon Relationship Cards PDF (without background)

Rolling Icon Relationship Dice

When the characters are created (or when this hack is introduced into an ongoing game) each of the players will fill out a card for each their individual relationships. They need to fill in the name of the Icon and circle the type of relationship.

At the start of each session all of the player will roll their Icon relationships dice just like in the core rules. Then:

  • For every 6 rolled place an unambiguous token on the respective card.
  • For every 5 rolled place a complicated token on the respective card.

Generosity the wizard fills in two cards, one for her 2 point positive relationship with the Archmage and one for her 1 point conflicted relationship with the Lich King. At the beginning of a session she rolls a 5 and a 6 for the Archmage and a 3 for the Lich King. She puts one unambiguous token (represented by dimes in her group) and one complicated token (a penny) on her Archmage card. No tokens are placed on the Lich King’s card.
Icon Relationship Example 1

Spending Tokens

At any time a player can spend a token from one of their Icon Relationship cards to describe how their personal relationship with their Icon is providing them a benefit. The player can choose from one of the following benefits:

  • Reroll any d20 the player just rolled, keeping the result they like the most.
  • Add a +5 bonus to any d20 the player just rolled.
  • The player can introduce a new story element of their design that allows the party to attempt to solve a problem in a creative way.

If the player spends an unambiguous token the benefit is gained without trouble. If the player spends a complicated token then the GM will introduce a twist either right after they gain the benefit or later on in the story.

Generosity’s party has been ambushed by medusa scouts! She was struck by a petrifying gaze earlier in the fight and just rolled a 3 on her fatal last gasp save. Generosity spends a token from her Archmage card, recalling how she witnessed a wizard from Horizon stave off petrification from a cockatrice bite by redirecting arcane energies to the still-alive flesh until he could be saved, which she immediately tries to emulate. She crosses her fingers and rerolls the last gasp save.

The party finds themselves unable to avoid a confrontation with the massive stone golem guarding the jungle temple. As it rumbles to life, Generosity levels her staff and casts lightning bolt. Her player rolls a total attack roll of 16, just under the golem’s PD. Not wanting to waste her daily spell she spends a token from her Archmage card to narrate how her arcane sight allows her to locate the bubbling arcane core within the stone golem’s chest. That core would be vulnerable to a lightning bolt, if it’s hit just right. Spending a token Generosity gets a +5 bonus to the attack roll, making it hit!

Followed by agents of the Lich King, Generosity and her party are looking to find quick and discrete transport to the peak of Starport hundreds of miles away. Generosity spends a token from her Archmage relationship to find someone that can teleport them the entire distance.
Generosity: I want to find a wizard that can teleport us directly to Starport so we can’t be followed.
GM: I didn’t even know that was possible! Who knows how to teleport, and why isn’t teleportation happening all the time in the Dragon Empire already?
Generosity: Probably an old contact from the wizarding college. Also, teleportation is unpredictable and dangerous and takes a top notch wizard to control.
GM: Awesome. Why would a top notch wizard do this for you? Sounds like a major service you may have to do a favor for.
Genersity: Oh no, he’s not top notch. He was kicked out of the college for doing strange experiments with time and space. But I believe he can get us there.
GM: Sounds great. You find your contact and he’s eager to finally be able to do an experiment with living subjects. Tell me where you find him and I’ll take it from here.

Rerolling and Adding a +5 Bonus

Players can choose to reroll or add a +5 bonus to any single d20 just rolled. That includes attack rolls, skill checks, saving throws, death saving throws, disengage checks, recharge rolls, etc. Players can’t combine the reroll and the +5 bonus, nor reroll more than once or give multiple stacking +5 bonuses. See “Spending Multiple Tokens at a Time” below.

Introduce a New Story Element

Easily the most exciting option, a player can spend a token to conjure up a story element to take the plot in a new direction. When a player spends a token in this way they’re drawing upon their character’s personal relationship with an Icon and the Icon’s domain to shape the world in a meaningful way. The player needs to clearly state what they want out of this new story element as they spend their token. Then they need to narrate the new story element, bringing it to life for themselves and the rest of the group. The GM should ask questions to get a better feel for the new story element and how to weave it into world. Questions of how, why, and who should flesh out new element and place it within the larger picture of the campaign. (How does this new story element fit in with what the party knows about the world? What the Dragon Empire knows? What the other Icons know?) Table talk is encouraged, other players should jump in with their own questions and even include their own player characters with the narrating player’s permission. By the end of the questioning, the party should be eager to draw on this new story element and the GM should be thinking of all the new challenges that couldn’t have been created until the moment that story element came into existence.

When a token is spent the authority shifts from the GM to the player, if only for a short time. Normally, the players are asking the questions and the GM is providing the answers. When a new story element is being conjured by a player, the player is providing the answers instead. Imagine that the GM has passed the mic to the player for a bit and is now joining the audience. Work together as a group to make sure that new story elements are a beginning, not an end. Even if a new story element gets the player what they want, they should still guide the story in a new player-born direction that is exciting and full of adventure.

What is a new story element? It could be an old contact that owes you one, a secret passage into the fortress, a nursery rhyme with a clue for fighting the beholder, a damning vice to leverage against the Imperial Governor, a constellation whose starlight reveals the ancient path, a loyal village dog that distracts the goblins for just long enough for the rogue to try to sneak away.

Viability and Transparency

In the spirit of 13th Age’s other limited resources, the GM needs to let the players spend a token to reroll a d20 after it’s known that the original roll would have failed. The GM also needs also be honest as to whether or not a +5 bonus would make the difference between success and failure. These tokens are there to allow players to succeed in the face of unlikely odds and bad luck, not to dupe them into spending a resource when it wouldn’t matter.

Spending Multiple Tokens at a Time

Typically, a player shouldn’t be able to spend more than one token on a single check, as spending a token requires at least a short narration of how the Icon relationship grants you that specific bonus. (Not “grants as many bonuses as I need right now until I succeed”.) Players can’t spend multiple tokens to get the +5 bonus more than once on a single check, nor reroll a check more than once, nor combine the reroll with the +5 bonus. Players should also technically not be able to spend more than one token to introduce more than one story element at a time, but story elements should grow and be expanded upon generously as needed.

Unused Tokens

Unused tokens are lost at the end of each session if they are not used.

Are the Rolls Still Improv Inspiration?

Absolutely! This system does not prevent GMs from using the beginning of session relationship roll to shape the session. The player driven mechanics are simply laid on top of that improv inspiration, GMs are free to give out information, magic items, and introduce contacts and threats based on the rolls as they please. If desired, GMs can still fill in a worksheet like the one found on page 180 in the core book as a guide to fill the session with Icon-specific adventure.

Complicated Token Twists

When a complicated token is spent by a player the GM needs to introduce a twist either right away, if something immediate makes sense, or later on in the adventure. Twists shouldn’t negate the bonus the players just received, nor should they get them into trouble that’s wildly worse. This rules out giving a condition (like dazed) to a player that just rerolled an attack roll, it’s just not fun.

Twists will likely depend more on the fiction than the mechanical benefit gained by the player, and the GM should ask questions (similar to introducing a new story element) to inspire a twist if needed. It’s also not out of bounds for the GM to ask “how does the Crusader’s commander know you, and why is that a very bad thing?” If the token spending player has an idea for a twist the GM should run with it! Ideally, the twist should directly spring from the Icon and player involved but it’s not a requirement; GMs shouldn’t be afraid to occasionally mix things up in a truly surprising way or introduce a straightforward complication like “yes, even more goblins”.

Here are a few options for twist inspiration:

  • Change the environment in a way that will cause trouble.
  • Take a fictional element of their narration and create unforeseen trouble.
  • Reveal an unwelcome past or relationship.
  • Introduce or foreshadow a threat that now is paying attention to the party.
  • Create an obligation or demand from the Icon’s organization with consequences. (Could be an immediate demand or a demand left for a future golden opportunity.)
  • Cause trouble for the party’s friends, contacts, and favorite settlements.

Let’s imagine that Generosity spent a complicated token to introduce the wizard that could work some risky teleportation magic to get the party to Starport. The GM thinks for a moment, wondering if she wants to pocket the twist until later, but she has a good idea for immediate action. The party is teleported to Starport without their enemies knowing of the journey, because that’s what the player stated she wanted out of the token. However, the GM describes that the party finds themselves teleported to a location within Starport, in glassy ice tunnels burrowed into the mountain’s glaciers. The echos of chittering rhemoraz can be heard in the darkness. This is an example of a fictional element being a source of unforeseen trouble. The new story element is successful and has moved the story forward in a fun player narrated way, and the GM adds in a twist that doesn’t undo or contradict what the player wanted, demands immediate attention, and kicks off a new adventure!

Perhaps Generosity spent a complicated token to add +5 to her attack roll against that that temple guardian stone golem, targeting the bubbling arcane core within its chest. The lightning bolt hits, but the arcane core within the golem magnifies the magic wildly! Unnaturally swift storm clouds start to build in the sky above the fight. This effect shouldn’t immediately impact the fight mechanically but the rain that starts after the encounter will certainly impact the dungeon crawl in the jungle temple. This definitely changes the environment in a way that will cause trouble: swift moving waters pulling PCs towards pit traps, damp soil pushing giant dire beetles up to roam, and jungle beasts on edge thanks to rumbling thunder will shape the rest of the adventure.

Interacting with Class Abilities

Most of the abilities that adjust Icon relationships in the core book will play extraordinarily well with this new system. When in doubt, rerolled dice should give the opportunity to gain tokens mid-session (see the paladin’s Way of Evil Bastards talent) and new points of relationship interact normally with the beginning of session rolls (see the bard’s Balladeer and the rogue’s Smooth Talk talents).

Created and Shared Under the 13th Age Community Use Policy

This rules hack uses trademarks and/or copyrights owned by Fire Opal Media, which are used under the Fire Opal Media, 13th Age Community Use Policy. We are expressly prohibited from charging you to use or access this content. This rules hack is not published, endorsed, or specifically approved by Fire Opal Media. For more information about Fire Opal Media’s 13th Age Community Use Policy, please visit For more information about Fire Opal Media and 13th Age products, please visit and

White Dragon by Sandara

13th Age Contest: The White and the Wizard King

I only recently discovered the Iconic Podcast, a show dedicated to my favorite edition of D&D: 13th Age. Not only do they interview the big players in the 13th Age scene including the game’s co-creator Rob Heinsoo, but it’s refreshing to hear a gaming podcast really drill down into the mechanics of a particular game in addition to bantering. Thankfully I found the podcast in time to enter their first writing contest!

There are two figures in the 13th Age core book that are only hinted at: the evil Wizard King that ruled the world before the setting’s sprawling Dragon Empire did, and the White dragon who was killed by said Wizard King for reasons unknown. The Iconic Podcast uses the White as their mascot, so they asked writers to offer their perspective on who exactly the White was and what showdown occurred.

I wanted to share my entry for the contest, which I’m very happy with largely due to Hannah hitting my fiction writing gears with a hammer hard enough to shake some of the rust off. I wanted to produce something that wasn’t just a character piece on the White, but instead was something that a GM could read and be full of and locations for their own game. It must have worked, because I manged to sneak away with second place! You can see the other entries here at the Iconic Podcast’s site.

13th Age Contest Entry: The White and the Wizard King

The oldest records we have here in Horizon suggest that this world has always been full of change and strife, even before the Ages started. The Wizard King built roads and raised forts against the monstrous wilderness, all before the Dragon Empire’s first Seal. But what could have been a glorious beginning was doomed to be a painful misstep. The Wizard King, history tells, would not be content until he controlled everything.

The Wizard King established absolute power over his growing domain through an alliance of lawful and evil Icons. Our shelves are full of tales of arcane police exacting cruel punishments for crimes not yet committed, chimeras of humanoid and beast charring those that would not bend their knee, and even idle armies of sleepless undead. The Icons that resisted the rule of the Wizard King’s dark empire fought bravely but they founds themselves bested. With broken bodies and spirits they fled to the only lands not yet controlled by their enemy’s forces. It didn’t have a name then, but we have come to call it the Howling North.

The White desired nothing but distance. Glacially large and ponderous, the white dragons were happy to be lone philosophers charting the paths of the stars while hearing the ice floes sing. However, the pleas of the fleeing Icons broke the White’s quiet contemplation. The Great Gold Wyrm cautioned the White! He said this was a foe too strong for even a single great dragon to stand against; with the Wizard King’s alliances so too would his enemies need to stand together.

With time, the White would eventually see the wisdom in the Gold’s words. The resistance and the Icons who lead it would need years to recover after their battles against the King, but the White was strong, untested, and ready to lead. Clearly the direct assaults of the past would lead them nowhere against the Wizard King’s aberrant and undead armies. The courage of the Gold and the wisdom of the White had to find another solution.

The dragons’ forces left the Howling North and marched to the Wizard King’s empire, a fact the Gold and White allowed their enemy to discover; baiting him into action. The King crafted great arcane dragon-traps in the path of the army while abominations waited in tunnels to ambush soldiers. Some suppose that the Wizard King saw the White’s defeat as his last final challenge, others are convinced he merely wanted to see if he could turn the White into an undead servant. Either way, the threat of a new Iconic dragon was too much for the Wizard King to ignore.

The trap was sprung as the resistance approached. Men, elves, and dwarves fought valiantly but were dragged away screaming below the ground. The white dragons froze entire legions of unnatural creatures, summoning blizzards and hail, but even they were brought low by the Wizard King’s trickery. With flashes of light and the breaking of runes, living lashes of force leapt from the ground to ensnare them. One by one the dragons were dragged, roaring, to the earth.

Those few soldiers that remained above ground watched as the Wizard King himself approached the bound White. He brought his Focus to eye level with the grounded dragon. As he started an incantation, the White summoned all of her power. She bent the arcane bonds to their limits to make one final snap of her jaws, severing the Wizard King’s arm and swallowing it. The Focus was quickly ground to dust between the her momentous icicle-sharp teeth.

Enraged, the Wizard King brought complete and utter destruction upon the White. He summoned now forgotten syllables that struck beyond the White’s body and into her being. Her existence was erased, the land around them blasted by the force of reality being rewritten. The destruction bled from the White and into her children, cursed to be feeble until the end of Ages. Even the arm that was within the her belly was gone, forcing the Wizard King to fashion one of iron as the Lich King.

Unknown to the Wizard King, while he faced the White’s forces, other Icons of the resistance lead a strike against the his throne of Stormmaker, called “Necropolis” in modern times. The White’s risk, the sacrifice of her life and legacy, was her plan from the beginning.

And that’s where our tale ends, sadly! Though some crude mosaics found to the North of Forge tell of a primordial Orc Lord taking the head of the Wizard King, no record remains of the strike on Stormmaker. All we know for certain is that shortly after the death of the White, the first Draconic Seal of the Dragon Empire was created. We assume that the loss of the Focus was instrumental to the King’s downfall, but we don’t even know what it was. For that matter, who were the Icons that sided with the Wizard King and what malevolent enchantments and promises remain to worry us in this modern Age? It’s a troubling thought.

Oh my, I’m sorry, I have completely went off on a tangent. You asked a simple question about a dragon and I’m afraid you got more than you bargained for. Adventurers are a rare sight in this library and I allowed myself to get excited.

But why were you asking about ancient history again?

Game Hooks

The actions of the White and her climactic bait-and-switch could have immediate application to adventures in the 13th Age. If your campaign involves the Lich King, the complex relationship of unaging dragons, or the ancient histories of the Ages themselves, the White and the Wizard King could be central players.

Losing Focus

The most obvious question is how the Wizard King came to power in the first place. The presupposition that his power was tied to a Focus object allows your game to revolve both around it and those others that would also seek it. What the Focus is, of course, depends on you and your players. Don’t rule anything out, nothing says that the focus has to be an inanimate object.

A Deal with Dragons

The White worked with the Gold to make a plan that would allow a strike at Stormmaker. What other Icons were involved, and are there any other debts that need to be paid? Deals with dragons are magical things that transcend death and time. If your campaign’s primary villain is the Lich King, even an Icon as slippery as the Prince of Shadows could be made an ally if the party could clear some pre-Ages debt he inherited from a predecessor in the process.

The Land Before Time

Injecting a myth like this into your game is begging for your players to question it, plumb its secrets, and create One Unique Things based around it. Threats and player elements that reach back to the time before Ages gives your story an epic scope without changing much about the game’s mechanics. They also gives you carte blanche for creating whatever bad guys you want. The Wizard King had beholder cavalry that are still waiting to be released from the Underworld and now the Lich King’s agents have found them? Why not?


Evidence of the conflict between the White and the Wizard King lies hidden deep below layers of dirt and history. Those locations that still remain in the world are well hidden, potent, and a complete mystery to most.

The Dragon Graveyard of Moonwreck

If this myth exists in your game, Moonwreck is certainly the site of the battle that spelled the end of both the White and, ultimately, the Wizard King. While the body of the White was destroyed, the bodies of her powerful children remained trapped in the arcane bonds the Wizard King created. Dragged down over time, the skeletons of dragons are scattered all throughout the underworld beneath Moonwreck.

A different flavor of Underworld: The underworld is already a dangerous place where all bets are off. But such a concentration of dragon remains gives you the ability fill the caves beneath Moonwreck with all sorts of arcane surprises. All manner of beasts could be given the gift of draconic magic given enough exposure.

Rumors from the Dragon Empire:

  • The Archmage believes that a scale of an ancient white dragon could be used to make a powerful scrying focus, if his tall tale telling subordinates are to be trusted. A curved scale filled with freezing water reflecting the stars could potentially answer any question. Any.
  • Some say the now-covered tunnels under Moonwreck are filled with ancient combatants and monsters from a forgotten war. Under the right astral conditions the bodies rise and do battle once again. It would be wise to stay out of that part of the Underworld. Unless of course you wanted to ask an ancient general something.
  • I heard gibbering before I could see them, but it was unmistakable: derro in the tunnels under Moonwreck. But they weren’t the normal, crazy, murderous kind. They were working together to mine chunks out of a skull the size of a tavern poking out of a cave wall! I had no idea what they were planning to do with those chunks of bone, but if it was worth derro working together I didn’t want to stick around to find out!

The Howling North

The White’s domain was far from the verdant, temperate lands that her more ambitious brethren lusted after. Frigid glacial planes, killing winds, and natural ice caves extend for miles beyond count. This is nothing like the frozen but populated slopes of the Dragon Empire’s mountains. Now that the White is gone the Howling North consumes the life of all living creatures that choose to stay within its bounds.

A dangerous trek: If you want to put a perilous journey between your players and anything ancient that they need to find, you can’t get much more dangerous than this. Journeys should require preparation and a few good background tests, lest the party show up to their intended destination with a quarter of their normal recoveries!

Rumors from the Dragon Empire:

  • Ancient ruins from an unfathomable alien culture lie beyond the frozen mountains. Not even the White approached these monolithic structures.
  • Everyone knows that sheets of colorful energy can be seen waving in the skies over the Howling North. But no one knows how they interact with ritual magic.
  • For what little is written about the Howling North, a singular ice fortress jutting up from the middle of a glacial plane is a recurring tale. The North is all but lifeless since the Ages began as far as we know, what is the castle’s purpose?

Magic Items

Scales of the White’s Heart (any armor, robe, shirt, or tunic; champion/epic)

Bonus: +2 AC (champion); +3 AC (epic)
Effect: If you have been reduced to 0 hit points at least once during a battle, increase the bonus of this armor by +1 until the end of that battle. (Champion would become +3 AC, epic would become +4 AC.)
Daily: You can use this power as a free action after you’ve rolled a death saving throw that you’re not pleased with. If you do, act as if you had rolled a natural 20 on the death saving throw. (Allowing you to spend a recovery and take your turn normally.)
Quirk: Someone changing your mind is as easy as changing the course of a glacier. That is to say, not very easy at all.

Badass featured image is White Dragon by Sandara, used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

Knight Squad Feature

Knight Squad: Chivalry is Dead

The Knight Squad station within the XBox One pavilion on the PAX Prime 2014 expo floor was unassuming. Nestled between the fluorescent Sunset Overdrive wall and the irresistible Dragon Age: Inquisition multiplayer demos, I might have missed it if it wasn’t for the people screaming while jamming buttons on their controllers. Knight Squad for the PC by Chainsawesome Games was the clear champion of PAX when it came to frantic competitive couch multiplayer. Continue reading

Hand of Fate Featured

Hand of Fate: Early Access Worth Your Time

I’m not a huge fan of early access games as I am a terrible alpha/beta tester. I have little tolerance for unfinished games and quickly become too impatient to offer actual feedback. But one of the most unexpected trends of PAX Prime 2014 was the presence of playable, polished, fun games that weren’t even ready for alpha release. Hand of Fate for the PC by Defiant Development is still technically pre-alpha but it has none of the usual problems associated with unfinished products. By combining solid action RPG elements with an intriguing deck building mechanic, it’s well worth playing in its current state.

Full disclosure: I received a steam key from the developers of the game after speaking with them. Continue reading

One Way Heroics Feature

One Way Heroics Review

When I’m looking through Steam for another indie fix I’m primarily looking for two things: novelty and stress. This is why the roguelike genre holds my attention the best: they all typically feature procedurally generated content to keep things novel and that special brand of permadeath stress. When I saw self-proclaimed “procedurally generated RPG-roguelike” One Way Heroics by Smoking WOLF on Steam for the same price as a pint I couldn’t help but buy it.

The storefront showed off a cutesy RPG Maker aesthetic and told of a crazy concept: a turn based RPG with forced map-scrolling. Every action you take inches you towards the left side of the screen as the map scrolls to the right with or without you. The left side of the screen is, of course, an all-consuming wall of existential doom that you’re outrunning. Sounds novel! Sounds stressful! But is it fun?

A Roguelike Brain…

One Way Heroics puts you in control of a fragile hero tasked with saving the world from the ever-advancing wall of eastward moving black oblivion. Defeating the Demon Lord will stop the wall’s advance, provided you can gather enough strength on your journey before meeting him. Every action you take, from equipping gear, casting spells, and trading with merchants causes the map to scroll half square, creating a sense of gravity for every task.

You’ll hit all of the roguelike high points: enchanted equipment to identify, levels to gain, random environments filled with deadly monsters. The character generation is robust enough to call out specifically: your class defines how you’ll interact with the game and there are plenty of them. Playing an indestructible knight that battering-rams his way through all dangers (and walls!) will provide an experience 100% different than choosing the fragile adventurer that must sneak into dungeons, opens all of the chests through his special lockpicking skill, and dash out before anyone can catch him. Each replay won’t fail to be unique.

…With a jRPG Heart

One Way Heroics Screenshot 2One Way Heroics is very adorable and very indie. Smoking WOLF is a single-man outfit that hand crafted most of what you see in the game. It’s as loving and genuine as a hand-drawn graph paper map of a Dragon Warrior dungeon.

The game also has a form of permanent advancement that blunts the loss of a dead hero. (And they will die, many many times.) You will generate Heroic Points as you play that can unlock new classes and perks. You can also stock a cross-character Dimensional Stash full of items for your next level 0 character to take advantage of.

In a very un-roguelike move, you can save your game provided that you find a save point. The saves function just like any jRPG, If you die you can restart at that save point with all of your resources intact. I believe this feature was a necessary evil considering the game’s downfalls: specifically the lack of tactical choice. Which brings us to…

The Dreaded Grey Area

One Way Heroics Screenshot 1What does One Way Heroics try to do? Is it trying to be a casual jRPG with cute graphics? Is it a roguelike that forces you to master the game lest you perish? Instead of picking one and running with it, One Way Heroics settles into the grey area in between the two and succeeds at being a failure at both.

The game can’t be a cerebral roguelike because it prevents you from gathering information about your environment. Distant objects and enemies are a complete mystery, there just isn’t a button for asking “what is that?”. If you happen to see an enemy you’ve never seen before the only way to gather intel on it is to pick a fight with it. Many times I found myself tangling with a new enemy that executed me in a single-turn multi-hit attack. Since enemies that use the same graphic can vary in power wildly, you end up simply exchanging ten minutes of your life for information on enemies, reloading from the aforementioned save points. The bottom line: tactical decisions in One Way Heroics are largely impossible; every game is an easy snooze-fest until you get randomly one-shotted by a monster you didn’t know was something you should have run away from.

The save structure attempts to save the game for casual jRPG fans, but the resource management is just brutal. Each piece of equipment that you use has a durability score that is probably hidden from you. (Unless you’re a class skilled in item identification.) When your armor breaks, you’d better have a back up. Your energy level (much like a hunger stat from other roguelikes) needs to be refilled or else your stats tank, creating a vicious downward spiral. If I picked this up wanting a pick-up-and-play jRPG I’d most likely be terribly frustrated.

A One Way Hot Mess

One Way Heroics Screenshot 3The UI is clunky and poorly thought out, which I think represents the rest of the game well. The screen is filled with messy blocks of text. Some unlabeled meters are still a mystery to me even after I’ve beaten the game with my first character. The janky minimap is located right in the middle of the screen.The menu system, in an effort to feel more like a jRPG, was designed as if it was 1990 again. Slow, plodding, obfuscating.

The controls are also headache inducingly obtuse. This is a game developed only for the PC but it was designed only for use with a gamepad. While supporting a gamepad is admirable, forcing a player with a keyboard and mouse to only use arrow keys and four more buttons is criminal. Simple and necessary things like rotating your character or moving in a diagonal direction requires you to hold down a button. The game’s Wolf RPG engine (made by the same developer) places the simulation of console jRPGs over usability, a fatal flaw.

Is One Way Heroics Worth It?

I said that I look for novelty and stress in my games. One Way Heroics meets both of these criteria with flying colors: it’s an original game with tons of unlockables and it certainly doesn’t pull its punches. But what the game fails to be is fun. Its dogmatic adherence to jRPG conventions prevents it from being a true challenging roguelike, and the game refuses to give the tools to the player to really let the possible roguelike elements shine.

One Way Heroics is just more interesting than it is good. After playing the game for hours the unlockable classes can’t convince me to come back, I can’t swallow the game’s poor design choices any more. While the game isn’t a complete failure, I’m sure some wouldn’t find its failures so distasteful, its poorly thought out UI and frustrating mechanics prevent me from recommending it to anyone. You would be better served going for nearly any other roguelike game or jRPG.