Episode 13 — “Crackernuts”

It’s an episode full of wild entertainment, wild guesses, and a list of things we wouldn’t mind too terribly much. Not to mention one or two misguided sentiments. Enjoy what can only be described as Episode 13.

Brian: https://twitter.com/Fiddleback
Scott: https://twitter.com/TheAngryGM

Website: http://www.DigressionsAndDragons.com
Email: DigressionsandDragons@gmail.com

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The voice and producer of GM Word of the Week, he is also a Freelance Tabletop Game Editor and Writer as well as a long time podcaster. He has written and edited for Fantasy Flight Games' Star Wars RPGs, Modiphius Entertainment's Mutant Chronicles and Infinity RPGs and several others. He is currently working on his own Transit RPG.

11 thoughts on “Episode 13 — “Crackernuts”

  1. You mentioned how the Nutcracker was actually not very successful originally- We have Disney largely to thank for much of its popularity.

    In the United States, at least, its popularity can largely be attributed to Fantasia. In the actual show, they even say something about “this music isn’t very popular”.

    Fantasia came out in 1940. The first performance of the Ballet in the US was 1944 in San Fransisco.

  2. I love PUBG, hundreds upon hundreds of hours in it. Can’t stand Fortnite. The gunplay is totally off.

    Extra Credits did a great video explaining how the pacing of PUBG makes it more of a Thriller than a typical shooter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uz9CqEgaIlo
    Also, the now-shuttered RPG podcast NPC Cast did an episode about lessons to take from PUBG into your tabletop RPG: https://npccast.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/pubg-in-rpgs/

    I agree with Scott’s point about most of these critics not understanding that the gameplay is itself an integral part of the total experience of a game. Otherwise why even make it a game? Might as well make a movie. The problem is that I think that there are quite a few games these days where the gameplay is so detached from what the overall game is doing and the gameplay is a chore that stands in the way of what the game really cares about, which is its story or cutscenes or whatever.

    I’m a hardcore gamer, but for a lot of these games, I will select the easiest option if it is available. I liked how Deus Ex: Mankind Divided labled their difficulty levels.
    1. Tell Me A Story
    2. Give Me A Challenge
    3. Give Me Deus Ex

    I just don’t find the actual gameplay of a lot of these games to be particularly compelling. The entire point of me playing them is to go through the story, and this is the case for most RPGs. The actual “playing” of the game is generally the least interesting part. These are also the types of games where “difficulty” is generally nothing more than inflated or deflated numbers for the player or for enemies. The technical skill required, or the discrete types of choices/action you are taking generally isn’t changed, just how frustrating encounters can be or how long you have to grind to overcome them.

    This is different for other genres, like platformers or shooters or strategy games. Those are the games I play for the challenge, for the gameplay itself, and to try and improve my skills.

    One thing I do find annoying about modern games, however, is the lack of cheats. Sometimes after beating a game I just want to mess around, or try a skill or power without spending hours going through a different route to get that. Maybe because they know that now they can charge for an XP booster or something instead.

    Re: every game for everyone

    I think Scott’s article on the 8 Kinds of Fun is a big thing here, and it was mentioned briefly. You could, theoretically, make a game that maximizes the opportunities for and levels of all 8 types of fun. But it’d be really hard, and probably be really expensive and take a long time to make.

    So designers have to make trade-offs. They have to decide what kind of fun they want to focus on, and that necessarily implies a certain type of audience. In order to maximize the Fun for Challenge seekers, you might have to give up some things that would make that particular game more Fun for Narrative or Expression seekers.

    For a platformer like Cuphead, reducing the challenge is not a simple thing, as was mentioned, because the challenge of the game is built in so tightly to what the game is. It’s not a matter of turning some difficulty knobs. And so to reduce the Challenge would be to take away the Fun from some types of players in order to make it more accessible to other types. You might increase the overall number of people who can enjoy your game. But you’re going to be limiting the top level of enjoyment that the Challenge seekers can ultimately derive from the game.

    This is sort of like the discussion in early episodes about barriers to entry and good vs great RPG products.

  3. Mostly the thing about Secret of Mana for me was the world and the art style, that’s what I really embraced. Yeah the combat was…janky at best. Most of the gripes about Secret of Mana’s combat system were addressed in the third game in the series, Seiken Densetsu 3, which unfortunately never saw an official release. Thankfully there is a fan translation. The main story is a bit simpler but has a lot of little stories for each of the six playable characters, three of which you choose to be your party at the very start of the game. Each character has their own class tree based on a sort of Light/Dark theme. The fighter character for example upon the first class change could choose either knight(light) or gladiator(dark). Then at the second class change he could choose a light or dark class. The knight could go either paladin(light) or lord(dark) and the gladiator could go either sword master(light) or duelist(dark). The stamina system is gone and now you when you hit an enemy it would charge up the meter to allow you to execute more powerful attacks. In my personal opinion I much prefer its art style over Secret of Mana due to the sharper color contrasts and such, plus the soundtrack I feel is vastly superior. I would really urge anyone to check it out.

    I would say it might redeem the series but sadly the series as a whole plummeted off a cliff with the fourth game with Legend of Mana for the PlayStation. The series just languished at the bottom of the cliff from there, occasionally trying to climb back up the rock face only to slide back down due to its broken body.

  4. First of all, thank you both for doing this every week. I really love and enjoy your podcast a lot. I have been listening from the very beginning but it’s my first time commenting now.

    Re: The Next Big Adventure
    I understand the criticism that Wizards of the Coast is just republishing old modules without exploiting the different possibilities presented by the settings and mechanics to the fullest, and instead making a decent but ultimately mediocre product instead of a great one. I also know that you both usually create your own adventures, but maybe one of you knows about something interesting.
    So my question would be, for a DM running 5e that doesn’t want to dedicate that much time into creating his own adventure, where could he find actual high quality content to run with moderate effort? Does anything like that exist? What if the person would be wiling to put in the work needed to transform a module from whatever system into DnD 5e (supposing they are reasonably similar), would that give any options?

  5. Thanks for the mention of Devil in the White City; I picked that up as a gift for my wife. Interesting (to me) tidbit: about 3-4 years ago we went to a performance of “Murdercastle” by the Baltimore Rock Opera Society (a friend of my wife was in the cast), which was, perhaps unsurprisingly, a rock opera about the Chicago World’s Fair and about the serial killer and his hotel and so on. There were some neat bits in the presentation, but it could have done with another editing pass … or five.

    Re: Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, I think you’re conflating the random effect mechanic from Awful Green Things (which is a great game, I agree — I had the TSR version, and apparently it got mislaid at some point in the intervening years so I picked up the Steve Jackson version a few years ago) with it. The random tables in Barrier Peaks were just to figure out how to operate the various items of technology – you would roll a die every round spent fiddling with the item, and progress along a flowchart which could end at basically “you figured out how to work it” or “AMUSING/DEADLY MISHAP!” or something like that. I believe that mechanic was taken from Gamma World (the whole adventure really reads like a Gamma World adventure, honestly — I _think_ Gamma World came out before Barrier Peaks, but I’m not sure … maybe the mechanic originated with Metamorphosis Alpha, which I never had).

  6. I’m not good at writing, so I’ll jump in.

    I’m still in the midst of episode 13, but I arrived at work just as you were wrapping up the discussion on game difficulty (I think you were wrapping it up, perhaps there’s still 20 more minutes of discussion and I’m about to make a fool of myself, ah well). I have some thoughts.

    First and foremost, I think you are correct in that it isn’t really the games making the industry toxic, divisive, and exclusionary. Yeah, there can be some content that does that, but it is by and large the people and their responses that create division within the gaming community at large.

    As for game difficulty, I feel like there are some different kinds of difficulty (and these will be broad strokes).

    There can be difficulty in the puzzles presented (if it is a puzzle sort of game). I see this most often as a “sphinx-type” setting. In my D&D games, whenever the party encounters a sphinx, I want to give them something different than “what walks on four legs in the morning…”. And most players enjoy new and different riddles. Also, if I use the same riddle each time, it really doesn’t give them a challenge at all. Of course, to that rare person that has never heard that particular riddle, it would be challenging to hear it. But pretty much anyone can overcome this type of difficulty as long as they have a pause button and access to the internet.

    Another type of difficulty is the “you must be this tall to play this level” wherein the in-game characters must be a certain level/power/class/whatever to be able to face the big-bad. In my experience this is usually used to get the players to go out and grind in the world, potentially learning more about the game world and setting and also giving the designers opportunities to put in additional content that isn’t necessarily a “direct line” in the story plot, but still can be an enjoyable gaming experience. This kind of difficulty is overcome simply by grinding in the game. Or, alternately as you mentioned, in the “pay to not play” model wherein you give the game developer(s) money and they give you downloadable stuff that lets you bypass the requirement to grind up in level. So again, pretty much anyone can get around this kind of difficulty.

    There is the difficulty, however, that doesn’t have a workaround as far as I can see. And that is the difficulty in games that involve manual dexterity/hand-eye coordination/twitch to win. We all know these kind of games that require the person holding the controller to be able to do the equivalent of patting their head while rubbing their belly, but in bullet time. And this is where I end up scratching my head on how to address it.

    I learned long ago that games like this weren’t for me. Even as a teenager, I didn’t really have the kind of “twitch skills” for playing these types of games (and that was in the 80’s when games were slower and less detailed). But I can honestly say that there are some games that I might have enjoyed if I had the skills necessary to play them. I think that this category of difficulty is the only category that holds any room for a discussion “accessibility”. I think that any reasonable discussion must include the idea that there are some people in this world that have physical limitations that prevent them from being able to play the games with the necessary skill level needed to complete the game. And their lack of this skill is through no fault of their own.

    For example, there’s not a lot that I can do to increase my motor skills to a level where I could successfully complete these kinds of games. I could play the game over and over and over. I could hire a developer to create a program wherein I can practice the types of hand moves necessary to perform some of the functions within the game. But that still wouldn’t guarantee my ability to complete a game. It may simply be just beyond my ability. I have really poor skills in this area!

    Of course, I don’t know the solution to that particular problem. But I do know one thing for sure. We (the gaming community) aren’t going to fix this (or any) problems by pointing fingers and passing blame to others for making the community toxic or divisive. And I think it is very cool that when you discussed this topic, you made it pretty clear that the real issue doesn’t lie in the game design so much as in the way people direct their energy in talking about what they don’t like.

    As always, great podcast! I look forward to hearing the rest of Episode 13 this afternoon when I take a walk at lunch.

  7. I have a really hard time playing or GMing in any space-faring game without it turning into Star Wars. Am I alone in this habit?

  8. Some small comments and then some questions.

    I’m one of those video game players that delight in finding an “easy” mode in video games – not so easy I’m basically just watching the cut scenes, but not so hard that I have to refresh from save multiple times just to make it past the first baddie I run into. But I recognize this is my desire and do not it assign it as a failing of the game makers, so I avoid games like the entire “Dark Souls” series because I know I won’t enjoy them (and I don’t rail at the universe for being unable to do so). However, while it is the video game creator’s right to include or not include an easy mode (or leave in cheat codes), it is also my right as a consumer to vote with my dollar and only purchase as I see fit, and am not required to buy anything just because it’s popular. In a similar vein, I understand that “George RR Martin is not my bitch” per Neil Gaiman, but until that {expletive deleted} publishes books 6 and 7 of “The Song of Ice and Fire”, I ain’t purchasing anything else he may have put out there hoping I’ll buy it. (And I’m looking at you too, Pat Rothfuss – have Kvothe kill the {expletive deleted} king already)

    And “Secret of Mana” was more of an RPG than any of the three “Legend of Zelda” games up to that point, but looking back on it, SoM was still far more action hack’n’slasher than it was RPG. In fact, more I think on it, SoM was not an RPG, just like LoZ wasn’t – you’re going to play these characters, with these sets of skills, and follow the story pretty much in this order. Not a lot of decision making in either game.

    My vote for next official WotC adventure would be T1 – Village of Hommlet. Not so much that it’s a fantastic adventure, but because it’s a great generic starting village, lots of little NPC personalities in the town and some useful maps, just the thing for aspiring DMs to find use out of. They won’t, they’ve already wasted “Elemental Evil” on the Adventurers’ League, and Village of Hommlet was the gateway to Temple of Elemental Evil, so that’s a no go. Like Master Fiddleback, I too never played many pre-printed modules, so that’s about all I can say on the “classics” that you gents didn’t, but I would like to see a Pathfinder-level/-like Adventure Path – a series of adventures that ties well together and tells a great adventure/campaign.

    Amongst other RPG ponderings I’ve mentioned, I’ve been thinking about magic items in a high magic fantasy setting. Would it be possible to have mundane items automatically grow with the characters instead of being found? For example: this PC is now level 3 and can add a +1 bonus to any weapon or piece of armor, or one effect from Table A to any piece of their gear (the explanation being that because said formerly mundane gear has been used in and around magic for so long, that ethereal energy has seeped into its pores and it is now better than it was before). If away from the PC (or the PC dies) from so long, that item loses its properties. Obviously does not apply to major artifacts (hand/eye/left testicle of Vecna, etc) and “supply” magic items (potions, scrolls) or things you wouldn’t normally carry (who makes sure to bring a boat in their backpack? or iron bands?), these magic items are found as part of treasure troves as tradition dictates.

    When I started playing D&D, I missed the Mentzer edition of the Red Box (I got second hand copies of the first edition RB books, some of which I still have), and subsequently missed that the DM’s book walked a new DM through their first game – here’s the first floor of the dungeon, full and complete; and here’s the second floor, but wait, you have to fill in these bits; and here’s the general shape of the third floor of the dungeon, but it’s up to you to do everything (draw the map, choose the monsters and traps and treasures), plus the big bad. Good luck! Master Angry has talked in the past of a DM training regimen (exercise one: basic adventure in a dungeon; exercise two: basic adventure in the wilderness; exercise three: the random encounter), has he thought of generating one and publishing/selling it using the 5e OGL? And they redid the Red Box (same cover art, even) for 4th edition, did it have that adventure walk through found in the Mentzer edition?

  9. Tomb of Annihilation is Tomb of Horrors, Isle of Dread and Dwellers in the Forbidden City with a bit of Barrier Peaks thrown in for good measure.

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