Friday, 19 February 2016

Who's in the wrong #FFXIV

This literally just happened to me.

I rouletted (yes, that's a verb) into Thousand Maws and straight off the bat the Healer says: "I can't cast Protect because I'm Level Synced D:" The Tank immediately drops and I explain (guessing because I'm not sure) that the Healer needs to reorder the Additional Skills so that Protect is further left.

We then had to disband because... well, what tank is going to Roulette into "Party in Progress"?

Personally, I think the Tank was a 1st class asshat. What do you think?

Monday, 15 February 2016

"Your mother was a hamster and..." #D&D

If you've played D&D as, or with, a Bard you'll be all too familiar with this. Bard can cast a few spells and one of the spells it can cast for free (a cantrip) is called Vicious Mockery, which is described thus:
You unleash a string of insults laced with subtle enchantments at a creature you can see within range. If the target can hear you (though it need not understand you), it must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or take 1d4 psychic damage and have disadvantage on the next attack roll it makes before the end of its next turn.
So, basically, it hurts their feelings and puts them off what they are doing. It's kind of like sledging in cricket. As a level 1 Bard you'll basically do this:

It's pretty much your only direct damage spell at L1. Or so I thought.

I just hit level 2 and in preparation for tonight's session I was looking at which new spell to add to my list and I discovered Dissonant Whispers:
You whisper a discordant melody that only one creature of your choice within range can hear, wracking it with terrible pain. The target must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, it takes 3d6 psychic damage and must immediately use its reaction, if available, to move as far as its speed allows away from you.
Well, gee, that looks good! Not sure how I missed it or why it's not recommend in the "quick build" for Bard as it seems pretty decent.  What I also noticed is that it's exclusive to Bard: no other class can cast it. Since we're a big group there is a real danger of taking spells that another class could cast better and that got me thinking: what other spells are exclusive to Bard in D&D 5E?

It wasn't all that easy to find out. I actually used the data from Grimoire and searched inside the files for all the Bard spells, then each other caster class in turn, deleting as I went. I ended up with four. Yup, just four spells that Bard and only Bard can cast. Two of them I've already mentioned and the other two are Compulsion and Power Word Heal.

Power Word Heal is a level 9 spell (so you need to be level 17 to cast it) and is pretty straight forward:
A wave of healing energy washes over the creature you touch. The target regains all its hit points. If the creature is charmed, frightened, paralyzed, or stunned, the condition ends. If the creature is prone, it can use its reaction to stand up.
Compulsion on the other hand, like VM and DW, is pretty fun:
Creatures of your choice that you can see within range...On a failed save...Until the spell ends, you can use a bonus action on each of your turns to designate a direction that is horizontal to you. Each affected target must use as much of its movement as possible to move in that direction on its next turn.
The creatures can still attack, so not much use against ranged enemies, but you can use this to provoke opportunity attacks or just control the room a bit. It's a level 4 spell, though, so there may be much better options available by the time you can access that.

And finally, Heroism is another notable level 1 spell, which can otherwise only be cast by a Paladin.
A willing creature you touch is imbued with bravery. Until the spell ends, the creature is immune to being frightened and gains temporary hit points equal to your spellcasting ability modifier at the start of each of its turns.
For a level 1 spell it's a decent buff and I can think of a few occasions so far where I would have used it. So far our DM has rolled very badly and we haven't taken much damage but it's only a matter of time before our luck runs out...

Saturday, 13 February 2016

The elements #FFXIV #FFXI

Along with crystals, elemental magic is a long standing part of Final Fantasy lore. Aside from providing familiar and consistent spell names like Aero, Firaga and Meteor these elements have been deeply embedded in the MMOs created by Square Enix. Well, one of them at least...

In Final Fantasy XI, the elements were involved in almost everything. There were eight elements: fire, ice, water, earth, wind and lightning/thunder plus light and dark. Of course these were associated with your usual Black Mage nukes like Blizzard and Stone but also Ninjutsu spells and a Summoner Avatars. What's more there were eight days of the week, one for each element and a point on the compass dedicated to each element. There was also weather associated with each element, which could result in a storm, also known as "double weather". Most obvious and, I guess, frequently encountered was the double ice weather that caused blizzards but the double light storms in Qufim Island were rare and beautiful.

Each of the elements also had corresponding elemental strengths and weaknesses as shown below:

It was widely believed, but never confirmed, that this elemental relationship even affected synthesis. In other words, attempting synthesis with  a Wind Crystal on Earthsday was more likely to result in success, while using it on Iceday increased the chance of an HQ result. The speculation extended to which compass point you faced!

The weather also affected some weaponskills and activated certain bonuses on some equipment. One of the most sought after was the Desert Boots, which made you run faster in a duststorm. When the Scholar job, which could create it's on own localised duststorm, was introduced some people got very rich...

In many ways, the degree to which the elements were involved got a bit daft. If you were a mage and wanted to maximise your damage you needed a corresponding staff and even a belt! The speculation about how the elements affected crafting bordered on tinfoil hat crazy and let's not even get into how the moon affected skill gain!

However, I can't say I'm not disappointed to see a lot of this missing from Final Fantasy XIV. One of the things I loved about Black Mage in FFXI was that you were a true master of all the elements. In FFXIV the elemental spells have been split between Thaumaturge and Conjurer. This does make a lot of sense when you consider that a max level BLM in FFXI would only ever cast Blizzard and Thunder spells as, for some reason, they were created to be the most powerful. Also, the Light and Dark elements have been replaced by the Astral and Umbral dichotomy.

In FFXIV a lot centres on the Twelve, and I expect the days of the week are named for them but if they are, I haven't been able to confirm it. The Twelve also don't seem to be mentioned much in the story, except by swearing pirates. Maybe I'm too new to the game to fully appreciate the implications of the new "affinities" but I suspect that a lot of the details were lost, or never fleshed out, when the original FFXIV died. If that's the case it's totally understandable but the elemental system in FFXI really added a richness to the lore that I am, so far, missing in FFXIV.

Friday, 12 February 2016

First steps to pen and paper

In September I changed jobs and instead of taking a 3.5 hour round trip to work it’s now more like 1.5. Obviously this is good for all sorts of reasons, the main one being I get to see much more of my children, but what it also meant is that I could do some “after school” activities.

Because of my work hours I haven’t really been able to make any friends where we live so that was the first thing to be remedied. I thought a lot about what I’d ultimately like to do with my new friends so I’d know where to start. The resurgence of board games was very much on my radar, as was a desire to play some of the 40k table top games I loved in my early teens. I'd also been listening to a new podcast called The Adventure Zone and that made D&D sound like an awful lot of fun. But, to be honest, I thought RP was something people would be less inclined to do with complete strangers. So finding some people to play an RPG with wasn’t a strong motivation; it was more something I thought might come with time. 

Armed with this self-awareness I set about searching for groups and message boards for clubs in my area. A lot of the clubs seemed to play old school war games or straight board games and games like 40k didn’t get much of a look in. The best bet was a local group on that seemed to do a bit of everything. It felt a bit weird signing up to try and meet people online until I thought about online dating. If people can find love, I said to myself, I can surely find some people to play toy soldiers with.

As chance would have it, the first meetup I attended was actually a one-off D&D 5E taster session that the meetup leader ran. After that it turned out that I didn’t actually have all that much time to attend the meetups and I only managed to attend a few of the more social events. That did the trick, though, because me and another prospective dungeoneer managed to find our way into a D&D group starting a campaign with a novice DM. We’re now playing 5E with a nice mix of beginners and experienced, but patient, players. It really couldn’t have been a better start for me. 

We've only played two sessions so far and both have been fun. I'm really looking forward to getting to know the group better and I think the campaign could be pretty long running. I'm already formulating a plan to broaden my horizons even further but more on that another time.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

My alter egos #FFXIV #GW2 #Aion #FFXI

All the hashtags!

When I started out play FFXIV my main intention was to level Arcanist and play a Summoner. This is because it's what I always wanted to play in FFXI but felt I was never really allowed. Back then a SMN was basically known as a "sub-par WHM" and you'd never get a spot in an exp party. It's since become much easier to solo on SMN but that came too late for me.

So, when I picked up FFXIV Summoner is what I wanted right from the get go. However, I very quickly started to lean towards Bard and today I find that my Archer has fractionally more EXP than my Arcanist. Now, this seems totally out of left field to me because I never held even the smallest interest in Bard in FFXI but is it really out of character? I thought I'd have a look back at all the classes I have played and see what, if anything, is my type.

Final Fantasy XI
I always wanted to be a Summoner and I was a Tarutaru. I was thus effectively fated to be a career Black Mage, which I ultimately was, at least in raids. When I played alone I enjoyed Puppetmaster and Ninja much more. I think you can readily call PUP a pet job so I guess that scratched the itch.
Black 'n' Blue: me (on the left) in my full Relic AF

Clowning about: in my PUP Relic AF
My first class in this initially enjoyable but ultimately grindy Korean import was Ranger and I loved the departure from my FFXI classes but after a while, standing at the back going pewpew got boring and I rolled a Chanter to get closer to the action. Chanter was probably the first pure support job I played.
Power Ranger: big wings, big hair
Guild Wars 2
I went back to FFXI after Aion but Guild Wars 2 was my next big game. The first character I rolled was a norn Necromancer. I think this was the closest I could see to being a Summoner and I liked the idea of having an undead legion at my command. Didn't really work out that way. I soon switched most of my time to my Engineer whose gadgets evoked fond memories of Puppetmaster. I also spent quite a lot of time on a DoT asura Thief, which, come to think about it, must have tied back into my love of being a back-flipping Taru Ninja.
Saga of the norn: frankly, most Necros are a walking cliche. I tried to avoid that by playing up the norn
Glorious: one of two or three medium armour bodies that aren't coats
I played a Medic for about 10 levels. I don't even have any screenshots.

The Secret World
I've only played this for about two weeks so far but the first starter deck I worked on was the Commando, followed by the Maverick. Again, slim on screenshots but you can definitely see that melee isn't my thing.

Blade and Soul
I played in one CBT session and, guess what, I played a Summoner. It didn't really gel with my existing notions of what a Summoner should be and once again, the lack of screenshots kind of emphasises the lack of love. I did call my cat Mr Bigglesworth, though.

Final Fantasy XIV
As I mentioned at the start, my two main classes in FFXIV have been Arcanist and Archer, although my Fisher is a higher level than both (but that's another post in itself).

Serious business:
I have tried some other classes, mainly to get access to other skills, but nothing has really appealed. I am levelling Conjurer (ultimately White Mage) because I know I can walk right into any group content that appeals but spamming cure is pretty dull.

While I think I like pet classes I'm not sure that's true. Looking at the evidence I haven't consistently played pet classes and many of my favourite classes haven't had pets. What is obvious is that I'm not much of a front line fighter. The only real exceptions you'll see above are Ninja in FFXI and Thief in GW2. However, I played that Thief with a short bow most of the time and throwing (yeah, really) was one of the things I liked most about Ninja. You see, when they introduced Ninja into FFXI it was supposed to be a debuffing, ranged damage dealer and that was what caught my imagination. I never really liked tanking as Ninja, though I enjoyed the skill required.

Considering my history I think my affinity with ranged classes is undeniable, whether the damage be via magic or weapons, so my enjoyment of Archer makes a lot of sense. In many ways it's nice to be standing at the back but not using magic. However, the draw in FFXIV isn't Archer, it's definitely Bard and, while the two become effectively synonymous past level 30, being a Bard adds a certain "je ne sais quoi".

In FFXI Bard is very much a support job but I know that's an extremely minor function in FFXIV.  Also, looking at my track record, it doesn't seem like I'm a support class kind of guy. Ultimately, it might just come down to aesthetics. Maybe Bard has just captured my imagination that bit more than your usual ranger class. There could also be something to the fact that I am playing a Bard in my D&D campaign but the similarities between the FFXIV class and D&D class could be listed on one hand!

The fact is looking back I can't actually tell you why Summoner appealed so much to me in FFXI. Summoning has always been a big part of Final Fantasy lore but I was never that big a Final Fantasy fan. I only ever finished FFX.

Sometimes I guess it just comes down to what feels right for the character you want to play and that might depend on a whole bunch of choices like race and faction, as well as class. I think lore also plays its part and something that's always been important to me is how classes and their roles have been woven into the overarching world. I think I'll explore that a bit more another day.

For now, I'll continue my efforts towards Bard and Summoner in parallel. Fortunately, I don't think Square Enix will ever make me choose between the two and that's one thing that makes FFXIV a great RPG.

Monday, 8 February 2016

GamerGate, the perils of being a "hashtag warrior" and what Anita really means

I wrote this post AGES ago but I didn't post it at the time as it was absolute flamebait. Still, I'm quite proud of it, so here it is:

OK, so GamerGate is starting to take some flak. The worm has turned. Time for my 5p.

Once there was a political party called the German Fatherland Party. It was anti-capitalist, nationalist and deeply anti-Semitic. It later became the Nazi Party. But the party didn't start out with genocidal intentions. Not everyone that signed up wanted that. All it takes is one nutter and suddenly you're membership is implicit approval of all sorts of shit you didn't sign up for.

And so, GamerGate. Whether it was ever a legitimate pro-consumer, anti-corruption campaign or a false flag operation initiated by women-hating trolls, we'll never really know. What we do know is that, fairly or not, GamerGate is now synonymous with misogyny, sexism and threats of rape, murder and violence. As a GamerGate supporter you might not see if that way. You might still be holding fast to the ideals for which you believe the "movement" was created. Well, good for you! Except you should understand that the internet is looking at you and thinking twice. The problem with a hashtag is that anyone can take it up for their cause: how many times have we seen clumsy marketing campaigns with poorly conceived hash-tags get co-opted and turned into a laughing stock?

With regard to NotYourShield, as I understand it, this hashtag says "I'm BME/female/gay and I like games they way they are, so don't speak for me and say they need to change!" That's correct?

Well, the fact is, that's a lot like saying black people can't be racist towards other black people. Or that women can't have sexist attitudes towards women. In short, that's an ignorant position to take. You might not understand why some games are deeply sexist and, frankly, watching Anita Sarkesian's videos won't help you. She's an academic. She uses academic language. It's tough to follow.

What you need to know is this:
1) the natural state of the majority of the world is sexist
2) feminism (which has an extremely broad meaning) basically recognises this and critiques it
3) because of 1) games are inherently sexist but, knowing better via 2), they could be less sexist

Sexism is currently a lot like racism was 70 years ago. You didn't need to be racist, you just were. Everything around you taught you that racism was normal. Times have changed and racism is no longer socially accepted in many countries, similarly homophobia.  But sexism still persists and that's because it is so deeply ingrained within society.  It's so ingrained it's almost impossible to imagine how different the world would be if we swapped the gender of every world leader in the last 100 years.  A lot of things might be the same but many things wouldn't be. Feminism simply points this out and says, "hey, why don't we give that a try? Could it be worse?"

So, much in the same way I can't hold it against my Dad for saying racist things when I was younger, I can't hold being sexist against anyone.  It's not your fault, you don't know better. Most importantly society doesn't want to punish you for your ignorance. You didn't even know there was something you were ignorant of. That's how deep sexism goes. That's what feminism says, anyway.

But, if my Dad says racist things now (he never does wait, does Scotland count?) I would be very angry because he knows better. The work of Anita Sarkesian means the world knows better about sexism in games.  If you pretend not to have got that message and feign ignorance, then you might soon find yourself in a socially unacceptable minority.

Finally, let's also consider this.  It's not illegal to hate gay people, or black people, or Asian people or women.  What is illegal is to act upon that hate, verbally abuse, make threats, discriminate again, assault and murder people.

In the privacy of your head, it's still OK for you to look for a white person in a black area to ask directions. That's not a crime. It's OK for you to move seats if the two guys kissing in front is making you feel sick. That's not a crime either. It might even be what the majority of people might do.  That doesn't mean it's not racism, not homophobic.

What's not OK is to suggest that these thoughts and feelings should, in any way, be portrayed in a video game as normal and accepted.  Or that games should be an enabler for you to act on those thoughts or feelings. We should be thinking about sexism in video games exactly the same way.  That's all Anita is saying.  She's pointing at examples and saying "this is bad". This is perpetuating harmful stereotypes or, at worst, championing them.  This is teaching young people that some things are OK, which aren't.  That's all she's saying.

She's not advocating that there should never be another game with a white male protagonist.  She's saying it would be more inclusive if some games didn't.  She's not saying young white men need to be punished.

We're also not going to see games suddenly have men rescuing men.  We won't have a scenario where a straight man, working as a stripper, has been raped and beaten by another straight man because of reasons.  We won't have that because, to a big proportion of the gaming audience that would be considered "faggy". "A man, sexually abused by another man, helped by another man. What a bunch of gays."

You swap the gender of that stripper to female and suddenly that's a completely acceptable scenario: man protects woman from other man. That ticks all of our preconceived gender role boxes.

But Anita's not saying that scenario is wrong. That's a perfectly acceptable story telling device: "fridging" a loved one is easy to relate to. What Anita is saying is that it's almost always women in the fridge. Her series was called "Tropes vs Women" for a reason. These tropes are reinforcing the sexist norms of the world and that games could, and should, know better and do something about it.

Because hey, in games, we're always the good guys, right?

Sunday, 7 February 2016

A few #FFXIV regrets

I'm not a big fan of guides to games. I tend to find they are a bit spoilery and I do like a surprise. I also wanted to have a fairly "raw" experience of FFXIV as my experience of the original was so poor I wanted to have a comparison untainted by the benefits of someone else's experience. However, there are a few things that, with hindsight, I wish I had prioritized.
New fan club members

I've now reached the point in the main story where I have joined a Grand Company and I've realized that I could have been earning seals for things that I have been doing all along anyway. Admittedly the only thing I want seals for right now is a Chocobo license and I'm more than half way there after just a few hours but still. Want compounds this is that I have spent quite a lot of time leveling my "sub jobs" as they used to be known in FFXI.

In FFXI, you set a main job and a sub-job. You had access to all the abilities of the sub-job up to half the level of your main job. So, a max level (99) Black Mage with a White Mage sub-job (BLM99/WHM49) could cast all WHM spells up to level 49. FFXIV works in a similar way with cross class skills.

So I've been busy leveling Pugilist, Thaumaturge and a bit of Lancer. This is mainly for access to Bard and Summoner but also for some cross class skills. Since I have been doing this using a lot of FATEs and Duty Roulette I really have missed out on a lot of seals. It's not the end of the world but I do wish I had put more emphasis on working through the story and left this stuff for later.

Looking ahead to the near future I'm looking forward to lots more Roulette on my Conjurer; lots of FATEs, Leves and exploration on my Archer and hammering the main story on my Arcanist. I certainly won't be sad to see the back of Thaumaturge. That really was super dull!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

The #FFXIV Ego Trip

We know it's a bit of a tired trope but MMOs really are in love with the "only you can save man kind!" storyline and none more so than Final Fantasy XIV.
Some members of my personal fan club

I'm really enjoying Final Fantasy XIV. As I recently tweeted I had absolutely no compunction about subscribing as soon as my trial period ended; it's been a pleasure to play. Whether that will last into the "elder" game and gear grind remains to be seen but in the short term there is plenty for me to enjoy.

A few QoL niggles aside (these are fine examples) the only thing that really bugs me about the game is how awesome I am. Not only am I obviously fated to save the Universe (I can only assume that's the case) but every new class I try my hand at I'm just incredible. The incidental characters in the class story lines pale in comparison to my skill. The only person who I don't seem able to impress is Silvairre from the Archer's Guild but since he's a right-wing xenophobic maniac I don't have a problem with that.

So, yeah. This really breaks my immersion. It's not an issue unique to FFXIV, I think the Secret World is one of the few MMOs I have played that actively avoided the "chosen one" trope, but it is pretty lazy. However, what would also be lazy is for me to look East and examine "cultural" issues for the reasons behind the popularity of this type of story line. I see a lot of people doing that when considering FFXIV idiosyncrasies. Hell, I used to do it with FFXI all the time. I'm starting to think that's wrong and we can do better.

(This post went in an unexpected direction at the end there.)