After taking an extensive break over the holidays I am back at work. This is also a good opportunity to give you an update what I have been up to lately. Without further ado, let’s get started…
Forbidden Lands and Shipping Woes
In December Fria Ligan’s latest roleplaying game called Forbidden Lands was finally ready for shipping. It’s a sandbox fantasy roleplaying game which I backed on Kickstarter in 2017. When the game finally was done it was already a bit delayed but that’s something you get used to when you regularly support projects on Kickstarter.
Sometimes things don’t work as planned. Unfortunately, the shipping of the Forbidden Lands boxed sets quickly turned into a total disaster. Backers started to get grumpy when it turned out that the books and boxed sets were already done, but the distributor had to delay shipping because of another Kickstarter fulfilment.
When finally shipping started everyone was excited and a few people quickly got their packages but then things went downhill pretty fast. A lot of backers didn’t get any shipping information even though the distributor claimed they shipped everything. When Fria Ligan support contacted the distributor they got told that the packages have been sent out without tracking – which is a terrible idea considering some people were waiting for stuff worth up to hundreds of Euros. Then the same people suddenly got shipping confirmation emails with conflicting information. Quickly accusations were thrown around and it seemed as if the distributor was lying to both Fria Ligan and the backers.
At this point I decided to write an email to Fria Ligan support, the distributor as well the CEO of Fria Ligan and voice my concerns and displeasure with the whole situation. I usually don’t use my status as an “influencer” but this time I thought it might be wise to throw my weight around. And lo and behold the management director of the distributor reached out to me and they even posted an update to the Kickstarter explaining what went wrong. And only a day or two later packages which have been stuck in some warehouse for ages started to move again.
The whole kerfuffle was caused by the initial shipping delay. Shipment of hundreds of boxed sets coincided with a lot of traffic caused by both the Black Friday sales and pre-holiday online shopping. The distributor’s logistics partner was extremely overwhelmed. Even though they had hired additional help, some shipments stuck for up to two weeks in sorting hubs all over Europe. Bad communication between the distributor, Fria Ligan, and the backers caused a lot of bad blood, but luckily things calmed down after people finally received what they’ve paid for. And oh boy, Forbidden Lands is a beautiful product. The long wait was definitely worth it. I’ll probably write more about it in the future.
Hacking, Alchemy, and animated GIFs
As you probably know I am not only interested in roleplaying games, but I am also a great fan of video games. I also dabbled in software development (which is probably a too big a word for what I’ve been doing) since my teens. So it’s no surprise that I enjoy many of the games released by Zachtronics. Most of their games consist of puzzles which are solved by programming. During the Steam Winter Sale I added both Exapunks and Opus Magnum to my collection. In Exapunks you play a hacker living in an alternative version of 1990s who has to work for a mysterious AI in order to pay for medicine they need to survive. To do your job you use EXAs (which are small software constructs) which you program with a programming language comparable to Assembly language.
The other game I picked up is Opus Magnum which is set into world where Alchemy works. Your job is to design transmutation engines to – for example – turn lead into gold. It reminded me a lot of Zachtronics’ older title SpaceChem, but is much more polished in every way.
You’re probably wondering why I mentioned animated GIFs earlier. This is easily explained. Most new Zachtronics games allow you to export your solutions to the puzzles in the form of animated GIFs! I’ve included one of my solutions to a Exapunks puzzle below.
Demons, Bomb Disposal, and Nausea
Traditionally my wife and I spend New Year’s Eve with friends. Usually I run a roleplaying one-shot, but this time I just didn’t feel like it. So our hosts offered we play Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes instead. It’s a party game developed for VR headsets in which one player has to disarm a bomb only they can see, while the other players have access to a manual with disarming instructions. It’s a fun game where precise communication is key. This has actually been the first time I experienced VR on a Playstation 4 and I was surprised how well it worked.
Last time I had the chance to try out a virtual reality headset was when a friend lent me his Oculus Rift Developers Kit 2. My PC at the time was barely VR-ready and most of the games weren’t really optimized yet. When it worked it was pretty impressive, but also extremely nausea-inducing. Surprisingly the PS4 VR headset didn’t cause any of these problems, even though movement in VR still felt a bit weird.
After playing Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes for a while I also had the opportunity to try out DOOM VFR which was totally awesome! If you ever have the chance to play this game, you definitely should do so. There’s also a video of me playing this game which doesn’t look as silly as I feared, which I might upload to YouTube eventually.
Retro PC Gaming and Thin Clients
The older I get the more I enjoy playing old computer games from the MS DOS and early Windows era. Some of these games just have a certain charm that modern titles lack. Tools like DOSBOX and online shops like GOG have made it much easier to play old games on modern machines, but there are advantages to running games on actual hardware. While browsing YouTube I stumbled upon various videos in which retro gaming enthusiasts talked about using thin clients for retro gaming.
A thin client is basically a stripped down computer basically not much more than a terminal used to access a remote server. Most of these machines use outdated hardware and are available for just a few bucks on eBay. After doing some research I found out that a good choice for a retro-gaming machine was the HP T5720 thin client. The CPU is not too fast and can be further slowed down by reducing it’s speed multiplayer and disabling its cache. This can even be done by software while the computer is running. This is perfect if you intend to play old DOS games.
Quickly I found an HP T5720 on Amazon Marketplace for less than 20€. Unfortunately the seller supplied the wrong AC adapter. Luckily he immediately sent me the correct one, but alas the thin client still didn’t work. This time replacing the CMOS battery did the trick. While opening the machine I also found out that the seller sent me the HP T5730 by mistake. For a moment I considered returning it, but then decided to keep it for some other future project.
A few days later I found an offer for a HP T5720 on eBay. After the auction was done it turned out I was the highest bidder and for less than €20 including shipping it was mine! This time I got the correct machine including the original packaging, all documentation, a USB keyboard and a PS2 mouse. Yay!
It took me a while until I figured out how to install Windows 98 using an USB drive, but after a couple of hours my retro-gaming PC was working fine. The sound chip included on the mainboard is unfortunately not 100% DOS compatible, but works fine under Windows. I own a couple of games intended for Windows 95 and 98 which are almost impossible to play on modern machines, which should work fine on the thin client. If you’re interested in reading more about this project, please let me know.
Roleplaying game plans for 2019
Over the holidays I also had the opportunity to think about how my roleplaying activities went last year and what my plans for the future are. When it comes to Kickstarter projects 2018 was for me dominated by Fria Ligan projects – and not just on Kickstarter. I have probably played Mutant Year Zero, Genlab Alpha and Mechatron more often than any other roleplaying game this year. I also own Tales from the Loop and have backed their successor Things from the Flood which I am very excited about. I have considered running the games for a while now, I just couldn’t commit myself to preparing anything yet.
Other games I would love to run in 2019 are John Harper’s World of Dungeons Turbo: Breakers, which uses a very cool and extremely streamlined variant of the popular PbtA mechanics (it’s also free!), Everywhen, a multi-genre implementation of Barbarians of Lemuria, Advanced Fighting Fantasy or its scifi variant Stellar Adventures, and – last but not least – D&D using the Rules Cyclopedia.
My last few years as a DM have been dominated by failures and even though I feel the itch to run a roleplaying game from time to time, I haven’t been able to commit to anything yet. I also know that I’ll have to make some unpopular decisions in the future. The group I regularly play with is just too big, so I have to make up my mind who I want to invite to a new game. Regardless of who I pick, scheduling will probably an issue, and this had lead to some serious burn-out in the past. I don’t know why scheduling issues are such a huge problem for me, but it drives me totally bonkers.
I also would love to write more in general and definitely more regularly for the blog, but my lack of writing is directly tied to my lack of DMing. It’s much easier to come up with interesting topics to write about if you run a weekly game. I haven’t run anything in quite some time, and I am not sure if it’s wise to bore you with stories of my failed attempts to get a new campaign running. Heck, I am already boring myself just thinking about it…
So what have you folks been up to lately? What are your plans for 2019? Please share your comments below!