Doing The Right Thing (In Games)

I love games that provide at least the illusion of decisions and consequences, where a choice in how yourselves a problem has dialogue or cutscene changed or a lasting effect on gameplay or final endings. Who do you save in the first Mass Effect? Do you shoot Wrex? Or do you complete a game in pacifist mode or genocide mode?

I was playing the Seige of Paris DLC for Assassins Creed Ragnarok and chose the harder fight option of sparing the King’s life. I got a rare achievement called Doing The Right Thing, and a number of nuanced responses in cut scenes from different characters that implied other political outcomes and developments.

That’s what got me reflecting that by and large I tend to choose the more moral and ethical options when gameplay offers the choice. Partly because most games version of being evil is just closing crass dialogue options or being a jerk.

I have to say that the decisions are in line with my personal ethics and morality rather than necessarily being traditional apple pie and vanilla goodness; and so may drift according to a given games ruleset. I suppose the ultimate decider tends to be that I don’t like being rude.

If I can help or be kind in a game, that tends to be the option I take, unless a little cruelty leads to a better result for people/realms/kingdoms/civilisations…

Hmmm.

How Bungie is Breaking My Partners

A regular part of the week is where boy s, Lady B and myself team up to play Destiny, usually streaming it on Lady B’s Twitch channel. It’s usually a bouncy fun experience of teasing, mindless shooting, and putting the world to rights.

Then Bungie released its latest Season of Content and started telling a harrowing story that confronts major characters with loss and regrets in the form of embodied nightmares of people who were important in some way to them. As players, we assist in their attempts to bream free of the grip of these taunting entities.

So far, so normal, but the dialogue and pace and beats of the story have been making my partners cry, and occasionally making me wince, as attempts to sever links fail and instead the characters have to come to terms with accepting these dark shadow sides of their regrets and fears. The nightmares are unrelenting in their taunting and harsh observations, in a way that anyone who has wrestled with their own demons and regrets in the small of the night will find arresting familiar.

Through a mix of cut scenes and in-game dialogue we’re being taken on a harrowing story of the need to forgive ourselves and come to terms with the people and events of our past that still hold on with fierce grips. It’s like being beside people doing deep therapy work, and it’s an unexpected rollercoaster that has been deeply affecting us.

Who would have thought that the new weekly chapters of a shoot and loot game all about space magic would turn out to have some of the deepest and sympathetic treatments of loss and regret across a whole slew of popular media currently available, and would be doing so in an engaging way that keeps us coming back for more and caring ever more intensely for these imaginary figures as they reflect our own fears and doubts back at us.

As the saying goes: “I came here to have a good time, and honestly I’m just feeling so attacked” – and as entertainment that pulls us out of our comfort zone, I can’t think of a better summation

Orcs on a Train

Despite the best efforts of the rain to knock out our Internet connection we spent this Father’s Day evening back in the world of Eberron for the further adventures of the DDC.

Our last session had seen dreams and prophecy mix with nightmares and a redemptive struggle that ended with Caeluma losing some of their infernal heritage and instead growing feathered wings.

By contrast this week saw a brief couple of hours layover at the Lightning Rail station at Passage, where Valenia got lucky and Thorin was discretely quizzed by an Inquisitor from the Silver Flame about the whereabouts of Thorin’s sister and any recent contacts.

And then the journey continued uneventfully for a couple more days. On the second night, a group of assassins landed on the roof of one of the carriages and made their way in. They began trying to separate the front of the train from the rest of it, and seemed intent on isolating and killing Thorin.

The surprise attack was thwarted by Thorin and Valenia both being light sleepers. Thorin grabbed his axe and charged down the orcs leading the assault, while valenia tackled another and kicked them from the train before they could disconnect the carriages.

The rest of the group was roused by the sounds of conflict, and battle was joined. One of the orc assassins dropped a magical darkness in the train’s corridor and a brief but frenzied exchange of blows followed…

And that’s where we left the cliffhanger…

New Distraction

I’ve been playing Aven Colony recently, having discovered it on the Game Pass list. At its heart it’s a relatively simple sci-fi resource management game where you guide the development of colonies on a distant planet.

It’s the sort of game that I can lose hours to, especially as it steps thrpugh a series of small milestones. As a result it keeps me hooked enough that several evenings this week have swept by.

There is a story being told as the game options began to widen up, so I’m intrigued enough to keep at it, even as I keep a rueful eye on how late I’m finishing my evenings.

Just as well I’m on leave this week.

Dinner on the Lightning Rail

We had a good D&D session last night, returning after a couple of weeks where people were unwell. The mighty adventurers are facing possibly their toughest challenge yet: high society. Travelling long distances takes many forms, but by far the most comfortable available at this moment for them is the Lightning Rail run by House Orien – and so they have joined the train in first class, along with a new member of the group and have some time to kill.

Its been a good excuse to pull back from the action and adventure and spend some time with the players reintroducing themselves and doing some reflective roleplay as they get used to both the new surroundings and people. Sometimes railroading can be a useful tool, and this has been very popular with the players as I’ve checked in after the sessions. Their biggest worry has been to decide on what to choose from the menu. Their biggest dilemma has been wine versus cocktails. Their main concern has been how drunk the dwarf barbarian might be getting…

I’m really enjoying going to town with the world-building in this little travelling location, and the players (and the characters) are enjoying it all too – watching the little wonders of the world pass by while retired generals and robust noblemen drink brandy and smoke cigars in the lounge car, and an undead elf tells a dragonborn sage tales of the fall of the goblin empires in the saloon. A tiefling warlock knits scarves in their cabin while their familiar snoozes with a hoard of table scraps, and hangovers are something that won’t happen until the next session…

Time For A Break

It’s nearly a weekend, I think. To be fair it’s been another slightly hectic week between boy s falling ill and a variety of surveyors and engineers needing access at strange times to various buildings – all while covid continued to rampage through my staff.

So tomorrow/today is Good Friday, which at least as far as myself and Lady M are concerned is a Bank Holiday. If the gym is open, we shall take the cub with us so he can swim and frolic – and we will unwind on a variety of exercise machines and possibly dip into the spa. Rude not to use all the facilities available.

On the games front, I’m still mostly playing Destiny2 with boy s and Lady B a few evenings a week. I have also managed to recover my old GOG account so I have most of the old Bioware D&D games to rediscover on my laptop. I even dipped into playing Alpha Centauri for nostalgia this evening. I do have a soft spot for turn based games.

Oh, and an added bonus: Lady M has twisted my arm into taking some leave next week, so that’s going to do wonders for my blood pressure.

Oops

Time flies sometimes and this week has been a case in point, to the extent that I completely lost track of time this week and forgot my regular counselling session this evening. I have duly made my apologies and acknowledged my status as a doofus.

Most of my tiredness today is self inflicted, but being the consumate geek that I am it has been through games rather than debauchery. Lady B, boy s and I have been regularly playing Destiny 2 together, using Discord to chat while we do, and we decided this week to have a go at the Grasp of Avarice Dungeon. This is a term for a high end adventure with challenging mechanics that isn’t quite as challenging as a 6 man raid event.

We spent about three hours earlier in the week making our way through the earlier stages of the scenario, and found ourselves cursing the developers as much as we were laughing for the traps, fake-outs, and fast-paced challenges that faced us.

We died, a lot, but kept at it, and cursed loudly when network issues meant we had to call it a night. Last night, we agreed to stream another attempt and were delighted to find that we had triggered a save point at the beginning of the boss fight.

A recording of the shenanigans can be watched here: https://www.twitch.tv/jedileah/v/1271300640?sr=a&t=1s

And we won, eventually, but it was the best part of four hours to do so, with some minor odds and ends at the end…

It was a huge effort and the first time any of us had done this type of activity, so small wonder that today has been generally reserved for quietly pootling around.

A Little More Human

I’m ending up the weekend feeling a bit more rested and functional than I have in a while – I’ve even managed to have a bowel movement four days after the operation so I guess I can start acknowledging that I’m full of crap again 😉 I was starting to worry that my body was so traumatised by the whole experience that I would need to retrain myself.

The quiet worry of it all did end up giving me a headache this morning, I think it was made a bit worse by having agreed to run a one shot game this afternoon using the UnFamiliar kickstarter rules for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.

I had only a vague idea of a plot, but had at least knocked up some characters guided by some prompts I’d put into the group chat yesterday.

I ended up pretty much winging it. The background has all four characters being ex-Familiars to a small number of spellcasters who had developed a spell between them to emancipate them.

Lady M played a flying squirrel who used to spy in aristocratic circles. Lady W played a Staffordshire cross that had ended up being a carer for their master in their dying days, the cub joined in with a boisterous frilled dinosaur that knew kung fu, and boy s played a fussy ex lab rat who had picked up alchemy and a few spells along the way.

Their tale involved rescuing a library researcher who had “fallen” into the delivery system and was now trapped in the stacks, locked in a cage as an unauthorised item. Shenanigans ensued.

So, an odd return to the tabletop, but the cub has expressed an interest in playing more, so who knows what will happen next…

Game Moments

I’ve been quietly – and sometimes not so quietly – enjoying the sheer indulgence of Assassins Creed Valhalla during this holiday period. In particular I’ve been checking off various myth and history references, along with different slants on plays. There are also some decidedly tongue in cheek pop culture references that have made me sit up, especially as to my eyes they come from a place of cheekiness and joy.

Some sample references have included a version of the story of Grendel and his mother where you refuse to take credit and so the character of Beowulf is created by the writer as a stand-in. There’s also an extended set of interrelated missions about a deposed lord and his three daughters that I’m pretty sure is a King Lear reference. For me though there’s two sets of references that have really stood out.

The first of these is set in the Weald and features a boy alone in the wood next to a big tree, trying to secure some honey for his friend who has been looking after him. Its a quiet little mission that does indeed have a bear (called Winifred) appear, eat the honey, and then amble off into the woods to play. The tree is a pretty good facsimile of the classic illustration of the tree from Winnie the Pooh, and you can carry it.

The second is in Essex, on the edges of Epping Forest, where a band is being harrassed by a priest who objects to their music. The lead singer, both in dialogue and visual appearance, is called Keith – and the whole thing is a very silly easter egg reference to The Prodigy. It is irredeemably daft and I love it for its sheer indulgence.

I’m a sucker for deep lore dives in games, let alone pointers to places and history I’m familiar with. I’ve been smiling with the memory of these moments, and that’s no bad thing.

Map-Making Evening

I was just thinking to myself: I’ve not been playing with Inkarnate much – so after sharing a bottle of wine with Lady M over supper, I’ve been making a random map I’ll probably never use. It’s been fun thinking about how I might throw it into a travelling session however.

Anyway, here’s the small and surprisingly rich riverside village of Brookside:

The original map has been published and available to clone at https://inkarnate.com/m/GXvlOw–brookside/ – enjoy!