Category Archives: Conundrum Sticks

Nasty Nate’s Virtual Storefront. Smells like dice and joysticks in here.

“To Market, To Market” – WFRP, Episode 1

The striking fortress-town of Ubersreik is situated between the gloomy Grey Mountains and the depths of the Reikwald Forest. The town guards the Grey Lady Pass through to Bretonnia, and is one of the busiest trading centres of the Empire. A mighty, Dwarf-built bridge that spans the red waters of the River Teufel stands at its centre. This impressive crossing connects important trade roads from across the Empire and beyond.WFRP 4th ed. Starter Set, The Adventure Book

Continuing recaps of our long drawn-out Enemy Within campaign. Game summaries and narrative interludes in black text; behind-the-GM-screen commentary and context in the green boxes.

Link to Session 0 – “Let Me Buy You a Drink”

Our budding adventurers, each responding to a similar invitation by the mysterious stranger, gather at the Sprinthof Coaching Inn, just outside Auerswald. The stranger, who now identifies himself as Jekel Schroeder, is in the company of a massive Kislevite missing his left ear and a stout, armored dwarf.

Godabert is the last of the four adventurers to arrive, a wisp of a young man dressed in meager attire but somehow in possession of a bulging money purse. God emphasizes his fashionably late arrival with a stool flourish that takes a tragic turn. He tumbles to the ground and spills a bag full of rocks all over the table and onto the tavern floor.

Prior to this first in-person setting, Godabert informed me that he was going to lurk about until all parties had arrived, and he was going to fill up his money purse with stones, so as to always have a supply of improvised ballistic projectiles.

I can’t remember exactly what this initial skill test was… or why I called for it… I just know that this represented our group’s first exposure to the fumble mechanic. Godabert’s first impression was hilarious on many levels, and opened our gaming in what I kept emphasizing as a “grim and perilous world” in perfect fashion.

Jekel explains that he chose each of the adventurers for a specific reason, assembling a party of mercenary investigators uniquely suited to the mission at hand.

The group is being hired to travel to Ubersreik, and locate Lena Bauer, an apprentice Bright Order wizard and member of minor noble family in Altdorf.

Continue reading “To Market, To Market” – WFRP, Episode 1

“Let Me Buy You a Drink” – 4th Edition WFRP, Episode 0

Inns and taverns are a distraction from the misery of existence for many citizens of the Empire, and an entertaining diversion for many more. They can often be places where political agitators do their work to whip up sentiment against the authorities, or where witch hunters prowl for rumours of the unnatural. Con artists and robbers also ply their trade amongst the inebriated unwary, although there is also some honest respite to be had, and the scribe is right about the pickled trotter.WFRP, 4th edition Core Rulebook

Today marks the two-year anniversary of what very well could be, if Sigmar allows, the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign that I play for the rest of my life.

As mentioned in previous posts, I got back into the ttrpg hobby after decades on ice, and, after an ill-fated trio of 3rd-edition WFRP sessions, news broke of Cubicle 7’s fourth edition. Plans were hatched, long-lost first-edition tomes were reacquired on eBay, and I promised my fledgling gang of adventurers that, even if this new publisher didn’t release an adaptation, I was going to run them through the greatest rpg campaign ever written.

The Enemy Within.

The first book in The Enemy Within campaign, from WFRP first edition

We’re still going, with our 22nd session scheduled for tomorrow night, and the gang has almost arrived in Bögenhafen. The lengthy delay will make more sense as I recap two years’ worth of introductory scenarios, side-quests, and an unnecessarily complicated master timeline (that I have since become wise enough to rein in). Game summaries and narrative interludes in black text; behind-the-GM-screen commentary and context in the green boxes.

Let’s start with those session zero character-creation meetings, and the narrative hooks that were crafted alongside my players.

Continue reading “Let Me Buy You a Drink” – 4th Edition WFRP, Episode 0

A Brief, Unspectacular Attempt at 3rd Edition WFRP

As of December 2016, I hadn’t maintained or updated my Amazon wishlist in… I don’t know… years? But my folks, who have ever endeavored to surprise me with Christmas gifts that they knew (or assumed) I wanted, and had newly discovered the ease of shopping online, found Fantasy Flight’s box set for the third edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay deep within a list of graphic novels I had already since purchased (or forgotten about) and now out-of-print vinyl.

So my Christmas present that year was indeed a surprise.

Don’t get me wrong — I was excited to receive it. It was just that, the last time I had played WFRP was probably the summer of 1991 and, except for a brief attempt at Trinity in the early 00’s, that was the last time I had played a tabletop rpg of any kind.

My love affair with gaming during those intervening decades was as tumultuous as my human romantic relationships, and no less complicated. That’s a blog post for another time. Suffice to say while I satisfied a passion for games with a host of different collectible card games and an ever-increasing library of boardgames, I had neither the time nor the support to dive back in to ttrpg’s.

That all changed when I moved back home to San Francisco in 2012. I had reunited with a group of friends and family that loved late nights at a dining room table covered with dice, tokens, and map tiles almost as much as me. Around this same time, my brother, who had never himself played a ttrpg, but had been listening to a number of newly popular gaming podcasts, expressed a desire to start a D&D campaign. My Dungeons & Dragons experience was buried even further back in the past (last time had been… ’87?), but I do know something about this Warhammer universe and it just so happens that we’ve got this massive box of third edition WFRP goodies to explore.

Continue reading A Brief, Unspectacular Attempt at 3rd Edition WFRP

Law and Chaos: From Elric to Warhammer and Back Again

WFRP, 1st Edition, ca. 1986

I will not start at the beginning. I can’t possibly, or I’d never start writing these blogs. And I promised my pal, SolomonLox, that we’d channel some pent-up musings, reflections, or, in his case, recipes, that have been on our mind since the first incendiary sparks of a fiery 2020 rose up in mid-March, into new posts.

If I did try to start at the beginning, tracing my rejuvenated obsession with gaming and tabletop RPG’s in particular, I might never get around to reflecting on my current state of mind, my pandemic reading list, or recent Roll20 exploits. Plus, that would require too much organization on my part (so as to not upset the chronology). Another pal, HolyBeeOfEphesus, employs a workhorse mentality to his note-taking, sequencing, and thoughtful composition of blogs, evidenced most notably in his Used To Be My Playground series. I’ve seen the preparatory legal pads, ladies and gentlemen, and that guy works. Me, I’m just going to start rambling.

Let me instead start with a recent fantasy read and its connection to Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. WFRP (“whuff-rupp”) for short. To borrow terminology from my favorite podcast, The Grognard Files, WFRP wasn’t my first RPG, nor was it my last, but it certainly is my everything. Future installments of this blog series will delve deeper into my adolescent explorations of TSR’s classic games and then draw a line from the Talisman boardgame through Games Workshop and into that first edition WFRP tome that I so cherished as a teenager. It may even feature game recaps from my currently underway 4th edition Enemy Within campaign.*

*It will most certainly feature those game recaps because I’m already in the habit of writing them for my players and, something else I’ve learned from The Holy Bee is that no amount of writing should go to waste. Why publish those solely for the benefit of my four friends when I could perhaps double that number by posting publicly?

Continue reading Law and Chaos: From Elric to Warhammer and Back Again

SDCC 2018: Top 10 Toy Exclusives

The 49th San Diego Comic Con starts in a few days, so I felt that it was a good time for my first column. Here are my Top 10 picks for toy exclusives offered as part of this year’s con. I used a number of factors in determining my rankings: resale value and opportunity; scarcity; and, simply, just how cool the toy looks.

#10
Funko Pop Movie Bruce Lee Gold and White Pants (BAIT)
Both of these Funko Pops are from the movie Enter the Dragon and retail for $30. They are currently reselling on eBay between $60 and $75 each. These are not SDCC exclusives, however; in fact, the Gold Bruce Lee was sold two weeks ago at Anime Expo. These make the list because it’s Bruce Lee. The only Lee that would be more valuable, at Comic Con, would be Stan.

#9
1990 Movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Figure Set (NECA)

Once again NECA is delivering your favorite heroes in a half shell. The boxed set retails at $125, or $250 if you want the Movie Street Diorama. This seems unnecessary though — I mean an extra $125 for a piece of cardboard? Blah. This set is currently reselling on eBay for $220 – $240.

Continue reading SDCC 2018: Top 10 Toy Exclusives

The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past Turns 25 Today

In a parallel universe where video game cartridges (THAT ARE GOLD) are sentient beings, The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past is out renting a car from Hertz and going on a road trip with its underage friends Donkey Kong Country, Super Metroid, and Earthbound piling in the backseat.

Continue reading The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past Turns 25 Today

Board Games I Have Loved and Lost

Growing up, winter break meant candy and soda-fueled all-nighters at my cousins’ house in Marin playing Nintendo, reading comics, and covering every available surface with gameboards, cards, and plastic tokens. Today I have boardgame boxes occupying major real estate in three different closets, and I’ve spent significant time of late burning the midnight oil over lengthy Descent and Talisman sessions. But you never forget your first… Or your fifth, for that matter. Mom cleans out closets like nobody’s business, and if it seemed old, underused, or even slightly neglected, out it went.

Before I set up another fleet of Rebel starships in an Armada showdown, I feel the need to reflect upon five games that I haven’t owned or even seen in decades… but that still tug at my heart.

kings and thingsKings & Things ca. 1987
I was a Games Workshop junkie in middle school. I bought White Dwarf regularly, cut-and-pasting together my own Warhammer cards from its glossy pages, and maintaining a tackle box full of (poorly) painted lead miniatures. I wanted to play every new boardgame that hit the shelves of Gamemasters on Clement St., but after blowing most of my saved allowance on comics and baseball cards, I was too often relegated to the back-of-the-store sale section. This turned over some turds like Judge Dredd and Blood Royale (which may have been fun, in retrospect, but far too complex for a teenager). Then came the day when this little gem fell into my lap.

An old Games Workshop Boardgame, where players fight for supremacy using rag-tag armies made up of Every little thing

Kings & Things declared itself a “Fantasy Boardgame with Everything,” and it wasn’t kidding. This box was FULL of cards, pieces, board tiles, and those tiny square pain-in-the-ass cardstock tokens that GW used to love. But the greatest thing about the game, for me, was discovering the ever-changing playing surface generated from random hexagonal tiles. I don’t know if this was the first time this mechanic was employed, but it was certainly my first experience. And I loved it.

Current fate: Unknown, presumably disposed of during one of the off-to-college purges.
Play it again: There are a few sellers on eBay, including this bloke in Delaware who has a near-mint copy for fifty bucks.
Similar current game: Although Kings & Things was reprinted by a European publisher, that version is also out of print. Luckily there are many fine modern games that employ the random tile-generated board. My favorite? Carcassone. Continue reading Board Games I Have Loved and Lost

Battlefront: the Star Wars game you are looking for

It is now December 2015, which means it is officially the month of Star Wars. A brand, spanking new Star Wars movie will be in theaters in 13 days. I completely forgot that when new Star Wars movies come out, it’s merchandising effectively consumes our lives. Boba Fett’s Sweet Creamer from CoffeeMate found its way in to my coffee this morning, and it’s probably going to be that way for the next six years. I’m not complaining.

While Star Wars may rule everything around me, there is one piece of multimedia that has made itself a part of my everyday life. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a new Star Wars game released that has caused as much excitement as EA’s awakening (see what I did there?) of Star Wars Battlefront.

Released for Xbox One, PC, and PlayStation 4, Battlefront puts players in the shoes of both Rebel soldiers and Imperial Stormtroopers across a slew of planets. This reimagining of Star Wars Battlefront is handled by DICE, the same studio responsible for the incredible Battlefield games. The response to the announcement was mostly favorable, although some skeptics were afraid this would just turn in to a Battlefield game with a Star Wars skin.

After weeks of playing the new Battlefront, I can assure you that is not the case. This game reminds of everything I loved about that first Battlefront and more. While there can be a significant learning curve to this game for those familiar with other first person shooters such as Halo, Call of Duty, and even Battlefield, the game makes up for this in a number of ways. Continue reading Battlefront: the Star Wars game you are looking for

Years Late to the Mass Effect Party

As of August 19th, 2012, I have finished the first installment of the Mass Effect trilogy. For most, that won’t mean much, almost as if I was empathizing with the fact that they never finished Super Mario Bros. 3 (even when you were shown how to get easily to World 8 in The Wizard). But the fact is that I didn’t actually start Mass Effect until a month prior. That’s where I deserve the obligatory “Where the fuck have you been?” and “Why the hell were you playing Trials and Fez instead?” Well, I just wasn’t that interested.

The fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy

Long long ago, in a small duplex way up Old San Jose Rd…
To illustrate why this seems like eons ago, the guy who first showed me a Mass Effect preview has since moved out of the small duplex (where he showed it to me) and into another apartment with a girl, became engaged to this girl, bought a house with the fiance, broke off the engagement and moved out, and I haven’t seen him since. The ex-fiance has since been through two more guys, who each had their own set of issues, which would sometimes boil over at parties, making me uncomfortable and want to leave, so now I don’t drink at her parties just in case the mood strikes me to drive somewhere else. Without a daytime television program, it takes the better part of a decade to witness that much drama. That wedding I mentioned was set for the day before the Beijing Olympic Summer Games, if that helps set some sort of timeline. I didn’t even have an Xbox back then, and the hottest shit anyone could play was Guitar Hero II (I was a maniac on that orange button).

The Mass Effect preview video I watched wasn’t a trailer so much as it was one of the developers narrating some of the game’s development, specifically how battles would play out. The developer showed how the player would give his or her team commands, both in movement and abilities. One could even choose which weapon his or her team members would use. This was all during battle; while fighting a large robot thing, the developer would essentially pause the game to issue placement and ability commands to his teammates, then take cover and shoot the enemy a few times. Rinse, Repeat.

This shit did not look appetizing

That looked too involved and not fun. Fable was about the level of depth that I was into. In fact, Fable was about the fucking pinnacle of awesome games for me at the time. I enjoy games where I can upgrade my characters and their weapons, but there is a limit to how deep a management system can be and still hold my interest. I first realized that there can be too much to upgrade and manage when I played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (made by BioWare, who also made Mass Effect). My character had a lightsaber, and I was ready to make him break something, but upon finding a battle, I had to choose my defensive and offensive attacks from a menu, and order them correctly to successfully parry and strike my opponent. Within two battles, the game had become tedious and cumbersome, so I ejected that disc and moved on to Morrowind. The battles in Morrowind were better since they were action-based instead of real-time-strategy-ish, but even the smallest details around inventory or skill-sets were managed by the player, and every detail was seemingly important. People fucking love SW: KOTOR and Morrowind, and I’m sure they are fantastic games, but the player involvement ran too deep for me to enjoy. And I was instantly reminded of these disappointments when I watched that first video of Mass Effect gameplay, so I decided then, all those eons ago, that it wouldn’t be a game for me. Continue reading Years Late to the Mass Effect Party

Fez Shows the Depth of 2-D

Fez is a 2-D side scrolling platformer that gives you control of both the character, Gomez, and the world he lives in. It’s hard to describe the 3-D rotation effect with words, more accurately  it’s hard to describe how it affects the gameplay. It’s easy enough to imagine a cube at a perspective so you only see one side, then rotating it so you only see another side, which is how the world is controlled in the game. But in Fez, shifting this perspective can line up paths that were disjoint before, revealing a new path for Gomez to pursue. It’s difficult to describe this mechanic with words and have it make sense in my own head, so this is one you’ll just have to play to really find out what’s going on there.

That jump is totally doable from a different angle

The artistic style of Fez is directly influenced by 8-bit games from the 80s, so this may not be your game if you’re really into high-end graphics. Gomez is a minimally drawn two-tone (more-toned if you include his magic hat) figure/dude/thing that can move, jump, and climb. He has no special attacks and never levels up. There are no enemies or time limits, and falling from a ledge results in an instant re-spawn from the previous ledge. The game is played at your own pace, and the minimalist design and gameplay are almost comforting, even if a half-hour of exploration goes by with no real progress.

What little background story the game gives at the start reveals that there are cubes strewn about Gomez’s world, and said cubes have been broken into cube-bits, and the cubes and bits must be collected or something shitty will happen to the world. Honestly, that’s about all it tells you. Collecting 8 bits (get it?) will produce a cube, certain amounts of cubes will allow you to open certain doors throughout the game, and the last door before the end credits does not require the full collection. There are also anti-cubes, awards for some of the more difficult puzzles, which also count toward your end-game total.

Two cubes won’t cut it for this door

There’s not much more to say about the game’s content without revealing too much. Below the Metroidvania-ish shell, the game is figuring out that specific pieces of knowledge exist, and if you so choose, finding out how to acquire such knowledge. Sometimes this knowledge is useful somewhere else in the game, and sometimes it just takes up space in your brain.

Finishing the game is not difficult, or at least it is not hard to find enough cubes the see the end credits. Some will find this to be just the right amount of game, play through it purely for the exploration experience, and be done with it. Without spoiling anything, or at least trying not to, I highly recommend that everyone do this first. Just finish it because you can, before it gets frustrating enough for internet research, and while it still is a satisfying experience. Once you have completed the game, if you are still hell-bent on finding everything (like myself), then go to it. And have a laptop ready, because I guarantee you will not find it all on your own. You may take this as a challenge, but this is fact. I’m not telling you back down, but preparing you for reality.

This screen is never not satisfying

Should you play the game? Yes. Even if only for a little bit, just long enough to feel comfortable with the the change in dimensional perception. If video games really aren’t your thing, there is a film called Indie Game: The Movie that is worth your time. The film chronicles the development of Fez and Super Meat Boy, both of which are games by independent developers, and shows plenty of Fez gameplay as well as the struggles Polytron Studios went through to bring the game to market. I saw the film during its theatrical tour, which was when I first saw Fez in action, and I was not disappointed when my time came to explore it.