Rolling stats vs Point Buy

Here's a couple examples of stat rolling I did.  They show a bit of the variability of rolling, but both are quite good.
Here’s a couple examples of stat rolling I did. They show a bit of the variability of rolling, but both are quite good.

When I first started playing D&D, everyone always rolled for their stats.  Depending on the DM, you might get three or four d6s to roll and taking the highest values; you might even get to reroll 1s once.  For both of these, we would then get to decide which results go to which stats.  Others make you assign your results in order and thus what kind of character you would play would also be determined from your stat rolls (it just wouldn’t make sense to play a wizard with an INT of 10).  For several years, this is always how I generated my character’s stats.

Point buying is the other way to generate stats for your character.  For D&D 3.5, all stats started at an 8 and you had to buy your way up (Pathfinder starts at 10).  When I first started, I didn’t like this because 18s were extremely expensive, and all of your other stats suffer because you cannot afford to buy them up as well.  So, in my opinion, you only could have mediocre characters.

Here's a quick 20 point buy process I did, starting with STR and working down.
Here’s a quick 20 point buy I did, starting with STR and working down.

After a particularly nasty TPK (Total Party Kill), when we were all rerolling our stats, I got hit by the balance train.  You see, I had rolled amazing stats.  I think my lowest roll was a 15, and I had at least one 18 and two 17s.  When you put my rolls into the point buying system, they had a value of around 52, which is well outside the realm of typical point buys.  Most point buy campaigns are around 18 to 20 (in Pathfinder anyways) with epic fantasy being a 25 pint buy.  My numbers were crazy huge, but I did feel that my character was going to kick all kinds of tail.  Another player, who rolled the second best stats, had a point value in the mid-30s.

However, as someone in our party is wont to do at any given time, terrible rolls were made.  I think their highest score was a 12 or 13 and they had multiple rolls below 10 (and these were the better set of numbers as we got to roll stats twice).  They were going to be extremely weak, especially when compared to my character.  I looked over their numbers, looked over everyone else’s, and then looked at mine.  I could not, in good conscious, play my character when everyone else would be considerable weaker.  If everyone else also got into the mid-30s with their rolls, I might not have complained to the DM, but it was more than night and day between me and everyone else.

So, I flat out said to the DM that we have to switch over to a point buy system.  This started us on the point buying train and we have been on it ever since.  While I still like the idea of rolling stats, there’s just too much volatility in it where some characters will be awesome, stat-wise, and others will be awful.  Point buying allows everyone to start off on equal footing, which I believe is necessary for a group game like D&D or Pathfinder.  I think that you set yourself and your character apart from the others by how you play them and the personality you give them; not by playing Superman while everyone else get to play regular citizens of Metropolis.  I do prefer Pathfinder’s point buy system over D&D 3.5 as I feel 10s are a better starting point than 8s.

What do you think about rolling stats vs point buys?  Do you prefer one system over the other?  Have you had an experience similar to mine where you rolled awesome (or terrible) stats compared to everyone else?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

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Adventure Path or Homebrew?

I have been thinking a lot about the new adventure path my Pathfinder group is playing, Mummy’s Mask.  The reason I am thinking about it is because this is the first adventure path I have played that I have actually really enjoyed.  Not saying that the others were bad, as Kingmaker and Rise of the Runelords are not bad modules.  However, adventure paths are a completely different beast than homebrew campaigns.  And, if followed rigidly, feel like plot train where everyone is going to the same destination regardless of whether or not they want to.  But, if the adventure path is followed loosely, with several options put forth for the players to choose from, all reaching the same destination differently, then it no longer feels like we’re on a train.

Generally, I prefer homebrew campaigns a lot more than I do adventure paths.  There’s just something about knowing the DM came up with the world and story all on their own and that we, the players, are a major force within said story and world.  There, of course, is the overarching plot, if you will, that we do have to contend with, but we are essentially given carte blanche on how to get there.

The DM caters every week based on what we did and what we discussed the week before.  This makes it pretty much impossible for the DM to plan several sessions ahead, but it gives the players much more say in what goes on.  There’s almost infinite choices and paths to trek down.  There’s hidden gems distributed throughout the world and story for us to stumble upon and discover.  I absolutely love this aspect of homebrew campaigns.  Everything is completely unknown at the time, and if I was so tempted (which, thankfully, I never am) there’s no material I can dig up, anywhere, that will give me hints as to what’s to come.  So, when given the choice, I would play a homebrew campaign 11 times out of 10.

Image credit: http://paizo.com/products/btpy94qz?Pathfinder-Adventure-Path-79-The-HalfDead-City
Image credit: http://paizo.com/products/btpy94qz?Pathfinder-Adventure-Path-79-The-HalfDead-City

However, that is not to say that adventure paths are boring.  If done properly, as I mentioned above, they give the players the notion that their choices do matter.  This brings me to the current campaign I am in (technically, we have three active campaigns going on, with DMs rotating when they get too busy at work or are too tired to prep), Mummy’s Mask.  I have played in a homebrew campaign with this DM before, and it was quite fun…until the Big Baddies continued to become bigger and badder at a faster pace than us.  So, needless to say, I was a tad hesitant when they said they wanted to run an adventure path.

My trepidations were unfounded.  They have proven to be most adept at running an adventure path.  They decided that there were going to follow the path very loosely, yielding a lot of control to the players.  If we decide not to do something, it is completely skipped.  Instead of dwelling on all the stuff we did not do, the DM just moves us forward.  To make up for some of the skipped parts, the DM throws some extra stuff into the road we are currently travelling.  This makes it feel less plot train-like and more spontaneous; it’s just another encounter we have to overcome.  At this point in the path, and we have definitely jumped all over the place, I have no idea what is actually coming from the module and what is coming from our DM.

This, to me, is how an adventure path should be run.  Follow the overarching storyline, but allow room for the players to get there their own way.  You truly stop thinking about it as another adventure path and just run with it.  It has completely changed how I feel about the numerous adventure paths that Paizo puts out for Pathfinder.  I might even consider running one someday.

What is your take on adventure path vs homebrew campaigns?  Which do you prefer?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

How terrible endings can set us off on a rant

While the good endings stick with us and are remembered fondly, the bad endings, the truly bad endings, even several years later, can set us off into a furious rant.  While I have written about how I thought the ending to Mass Effect 3 was bad, it sparked debate amongst gamers as not everyone agreed (most did) and everyone took something different away from it.  Others, however, have ending so bad that there is no debate, just competitions to see who hated it the most.  To me, there are two games that standout, above all others when it comes to terrible endings.  The funny, or ironic, thing is, one of them is the sequel to the other.

The games I am referring to are the Soul Reaver games, both Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver and Soul Reaver 2.  Both of the Soul Reaver games offered fantastic storylines and amazing game play.  I spent countless hours in college playing these games, getting enthralled with the story and lore.  Each step closer to Kain brought me closer and closer to the edge of my seat; they were just that good.  And then, the ending happened and my spirit was completely crushed.  How is it possible that such an awesome game can have such a terrible ending?  How was is possible that the sequel, a game which I thought would make up for the terrible ending in the previous game, would instead try to top that terribleness?

To this day, several years later, I still just don’t understand what the developers were thinking.

My copy of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver
My copy of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

Soul Reaver introduced us to Raziel, one of Kain’s lieutenants.  Through a fit a jealousy, Kain throws Raziel into the Lake of the Dead.  There, several centuries later, the Elder God resurrects Raziel and sets him out on a quest to kill Kain and his brothers in order to restore the land of Nosgoth.  Kain and his ilk, through their eternal life, have devastated the land.  So, not only is your quest one of revenge but also salvation.  It was truly an interesting premise.  And the gameplay was superb.  The world was just fantastic.  Your sword, the Soul Reaver, was incredibly interesting and awesome.  The lore you pick up throughout the game kept you intrigued and wanting more.

Then you confront Kain and suddenly, the awe-inspiring world you were in reveals itself as a thin shell that shatters all around you.  After struggling through the game (especially the spider level, which was crazy difficult and super creepy) you strike Kain down only to see him flee.  At first glance, you’re thinking “I’m going to chase him down.”  And you do, kind of.  After you jump into the portal Kain escaped through you are greeted with a wall of text.  Yes, a literal wall of text.  It is about a full page long and it is the ending.  That’s it, a wall of text ending.  Just writing those last couple lines got my blood boiling again.

Header I grabbed from Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/224940/
Header I grabbed from Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/224940/

Soul Reaver 2 sends you back to the past to a time when the Sarafan were a powerful order whose sole mission was to kill vampires (from the first game, you know that Kain killed the Sarafan and turned them all into his lieutenants, i.e. you).  Again, you go on an epic journey discovering even more lore and falling in love with it yet again.  You find an ancient vampire named Janos who not only looks like you (very unlike other vampires) but also was expecting you.  At this point, I was thinking “Ok, that’s fine, it’s still interesting.”  Then you find out the Sarafan named Raziel (yep, you) was the one that tracked down Janos and killed him.

At this point, I just couldn’t believe it.  Circle after circle you have traversed, and now everything makes absolutely less sense than before, which I didn’t think was possible.  However, this game had one more screw to put to you; you were the one that killed all the Sarafan.  The final battle pits you against your younger Sarafan self.

Thankfully Janos gave you a physical Soul Reaver before your younger self killed him, as this sword heals you are you do damage.  Once you kill yourself (confused yet?) Kain comes out of hiding and stabs you with the physical Soul Reaver.  This puts you back into the shadow realm with the spiritual Soul Reaver jammed through your body and a big “What the hell!?” moment.  In a nut shell, Soul Reaver 2 answered two out of the dozens of “huh?” questions you had because of the first game’s ending only to create another dozen more.

Where Final Fantasy 6 and Skies of Arcadia show us what endings should be, the Soul Reaver games show us how terrible they can be and how that terribleness can set us off on a rant several years later.

Have you ever played an awesome game only to be sent off with a terrible ending?  Which game was it (I would like to avoid them)?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

How great endings stay with us

I recently watched the season finale of The Flash.  I found the show to be incredibly fun and you should definitely check it out.  After watching the finale, of which I was very satisfied, I started thinking about all those video games I played back in day and how they ended.  For me, nothing ruins a video game more than a terrible ending (as I have mentioned before).  You spend hours upon hours investing yourself into the characters, into the story, into the game’s world just to see it all come crashing down in a giant pile of steaming cow dung.

My copies of FF6 and Skies of Arcadia.  And, yes, I still have my Super Nintendo and Sega Dreamcast.
My copies of FF6 and Skies of Arcadia. And, yes, I still have my Super Nintendo and Sega Dreamcast.

However, not all games are like that.  Though I have played a few with terrible endings (like Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver), some of my favorite video games of all time did their endings right.  Specifically I’m going to talk about Final Fantasy 6 on the Super Nintendo (known as FF3 in the States) and Skies of Arcadia on the Sega Dreamcast.  These two video games remain in my Top 5 favorite video games of all time, mostly due to their incredible stories and game play, but also because their endings were fantastic.

I spent a great deal of my time in High School playing Final Fantasy 6.  I easily put in over 40 hours in the World of Balance, not knowing that it was just the first half of the game.  I didn’t care, the game was the best game I had ever played up to that point (it’s still my #1 favorite game of all time).  Then, everything got flipped on its head when Kefka decided to literally ruin the world (second half of the game is in the World of Ruin).  Again I didn’t care, I got to play even more of this incredible game.  I spent so much time playing that I even started generating a list, by hand, of everything you could win at the coliseum.  I made sure I got all of the characters, got all the best items, and spent quite a bit of time trying to level every character up to level 99 (even with two Experience Eggs, this just took too long).

So, with just my main party mostly at maximum level (Celes, Terra, Cyan, and Sabin), I decided it was time to defeat Kefka.  I remember defeating the first of the three boss Kefka encounter when Cyan died (stupid level 4 death spells).  However, that was the only death my party suffered.  When I got to actually fight Kefka, I remember he didn’t even get a chance to attack (thanks to Sabin’s eight attacks with the Genji Glove and the Offering).  After beating Kefka I was greeted with the most epic ending I had ever seen.  Keep in mind this was on the Super Nintendo, so you will understand just how epic it was.  The ending was over 22 minutes long and covered every single character in the game.  To me, this is the yardstick of endings in which all other endings should be measured against.  It gave you complete closure for everyone.  It was so memorable that I still remember it over 16 years later.

This brings me to another game with a truly awesome ending.  The short lived Sega Dreamcast gave us my #5 favorite video game of all time, Skies of Arcadia.  This game was truly unique; from the world you were in to the combat style, everything was just incredible.  Its playstyle was very unique in that you, essentially, had turn orders for your abilities.  It was the first RPG I had played that was like this.  Also, you could do combat in your flying pirate ship.  Yes, you read that right.  A.FLYING.PIRATE.SHIP!  I cannot describe well enough how ridiculously awesome this game was, you should definitely check it out.

Well, towards the end of the game I started getting worried that the ending would suck (Soul Reaver had previously ruined my game ending experience).  I tried to talk to my friend, who had previously beaten the game, about it, but he wouldn’t say anything.  He wouldn’t even tell me if the crazy difficult fight I was in was the final fight (I had saved ship upgrades because I thought there might be more).  This friend, by not spoiling anything, did me a huge favor.  He allowed the game to resurrect my excitement for game endings again.  Like with FF6, Skies of Arcadia has an ending that will leave you nothing but satisfied.  The awesome ending is why it will forever remain in my Top 5.

So, tell me what you think?  Do great endings of video games make them all the better?  Which are your favorites?  Please leave a comment below and/or share on Twitter.