Dungeons and Dragons: TSW Campaign Complete + EVEN MORE CHARACTERS

After a few delays due to illness, my homebrew D&D mini-campaign based on The Secret World setting has wrapped up. Over the course of four sessions, my friends embarked on a twisted journey from a northern Ontario town (complete with a boss fight in a Tim Horton’s), to the haunted ruins of the Third Age, to the surreal realm of the Dreaming Prison.

One of the maps for TSW homebrew campaign for Dungeons and DragonsMostly I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Everyone seemed to have fun. I do think I could have done a better job describing locations and selling the ambiance of the setting. My performance anxiety holds me back a lot.

Also, while it could have been far worse given my inexperience, game balance was an issue. The new warlock subclass I designed turned out to be OMGWTFBBQ overpowered, and my version of Exquisite Corpse turned out to be pretty overtuned, too. Conversely the monsters I designed ended up being fairly wimpy. It took me until the end to finally start getting the balance right.

On the plus side, the last boss fight went pretty well. I didn’t manage to kill anyone, but our Enforcer went insane and tried to murder the rest of the party, so that’s something.

I do plan to publish all of my homebrew at some point in case anyone else wants to try D&D in the Secret World setting, but first I need to polish it up a bit more (and finish nerfing Backer warlocks).

I’m not sure if I’ll do anything like this again. Some of my friends have expressed an interest in returning to TSW at some point, and I obviously have great love for the setting, but if I’m being honest, I didn’t love being a DM. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.

The epic conclusion of my TSW homebrew campaignThe thing is it’s just really mentally exhausting. As much as it can be frustrating to wait for your turn as a player, that wait time gives you the opportunity to chat with friends or otherwise rest your mind. You don’t get that as a DM. Since I’m talking about these things now, I’ll just say: It’s rough on my burnout issues from being on the spectrum. My brain can’t handle that much input for that long.

Also, somewhat ironically considering I wrote the whole campaign, I don’t feel like I’m expressing my creativity as much as when I’m a player. I miss the experience of designing a character and role-playing.

At least I got to role-play as the Black Signal. I enjoyed that. There’s something cathartic about playing a truly awful villain.

For now, I return to life as a player.

On that front, my addiction to creating characters continues to balloon out of control. Mere weeks after posting an extensive list of my current roster, the cast has already increased.

Some of my friends (who somehow seem to have gone even more D&D crazy than I) have started running drop-in AL games every week. I’ve used this as an opportunity to import my Dwarf warrior, Davri, from WoW, as I discussed doing previously.

My Dwarf warrior receives the hidden artifact appearance for Strom'kar, the Warbreaker in World of WarcraftThe prospect of being a straight fighter bored me, but I finally found a good fit for her: a War Domain cleric. Ironically I’ve since multi-classed her, and she’s now more fighter than cleric, but mostly that’s just so I can get Extra Attack. Once I have that, I’m going back to focus on cleric levels (if I play this character long enough).

I’m quite enjoying her. She’s fun to role-play. She’s a distant scion of a royal house, and she takes herself very seriously, in both good and bad ways. She can be a bit haughty and joyless, but she takes her duty seriously and is very earnest about defending the innocent and making the world a better place. I also enjoy how she’s almost the total opposite of the usual Dwarf stereotype: cultured, refined, effeminate.

Mechanically, she’s wound up as the party’s main tank in most sessions so far. Though I haven’t loved melee in D&D previously, I’ve had fun with it on her so far. It’s incredible the amount of punishment she can soak up.

And I’m already considering yet more character concepts. I pitched the DM of our regular campaign on the idea of at some point doing a Mirror Universe one-shot — our regular party, but evil — and I feel like evil Mai would be the perfect opportunity to finally play a Great Old One warlock like I’ve wanted to forever. A nihilistic death cultist is the perfect antithesis of a life-preserving paladin.

I’m also toying with the idea of a Bladedancer (raise your hand if you’re surprised I took an interest in the Elf-only spec). That I want to play outside of Adventurers’ League, if I play it at all. To my eye, Bladedancers seem a little underpowered, so I may wish to tweak the mechanics a bit, and I’m also thinking of homebrewing a race for them.

See, for some reason I got it in my head that I wanted the character to have an Eastern flair, so I delved into the lore to see if Forgotten Realms has an East Asia analogue. It does: the distant continent of Kara-Tur. Kara-Tur is largely lacking in Elves, but there is some mention of a very obscure and nearly extinct Elven subrace called the Maraloi. So now I kinda want to homebrew new racials for a Maraloi.

The madness continues.


Anthem Early Impressions

Early on I was pretty skeptical of Anthem. Bioware making another MMO, and it’s a “me too” Destiny clone? That doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. But a lot of good buzz coming out of the alpha and my general Bioware fandom won out, and I wound up pre-ordering (the deluxe edition, because pretty outfits).

My Storm Javelin cuts a pose in AnthemI didn’t touch any of the innumerable demos or early access periods, but I did jump in on launch day (which was remarkably free of technical issues). I’m still pretty early in the game — level seven at the time of this writing — but here’s my thoughts so far.

Overall, Anthem is mostly living up to my expectations, for better and for worse. It’s probably not going to down as one of my favourite games of all time, and I’m not sure I’ll stick with it much once I’ve finished the story, but for now, I’m having a lot of fun.

The one thing I want to say out of the gate, and the one real surprise, is that this is not a clone of Destiny or Warframe. There are similarities because it’s the same genre, but Anthem has a very distinct flavour and character all its own. Do not write it off as derivative; it’s not.

What sets Anthem apart more than anything is its mobility. Players can fly, sprint, hover, double jump, and glide. Aside from being ridiculously fun, it adds a whole new dimension to combat — quite literally — that most games lack.

It’s funny because in many ways combat in Anthem feels just like Mass Effect. You’ve got your third person perspective and your mix of powers and guns. But in Mass Effect, you spend most of your time hunkered down in cover. Moving tends to be a risky proposition.

My Storm's ultimate ability in AnthemIn Anthem, the opposite is true: If you stop moving, you die.

I’m just beginning to fully grasp the tactical options that Anthem’s mobility options open up. There’s so much you can do when you can literally fly circles around all of your opponents. It makes me so much more aware of the terrain around me and the opportunities it presents. It’s something that’s very hard to get across in text, but it’s an experience unlike anything I’ve had in a video game before.

I’m also impressed by how powerful the Javelins feel, especially when it comes to ultimate abilities. The game design critic in me is aware that the ultimates are theoretically bland since they’re all pretty much just a massive burst of AoE damage, but the rest of me is having too much fun cleansing the earth in fire to care.

Especially as a Storm, using your ultimate really does feel like calling down the wrath of some vengeful god to obliterate anyone foolish enough to stand against you.

Normally shooters feel a bit bland or hollow to me, but so far I haven’t felt that way about Anthem. The mobility, the use of terrain, the powerful abilities and the way they combo off each other all combine to create a very rich and engaging experience.

Story-wise, Anthem has thus proven adequate, but nothing more. The setting is pretty interesting — a lot of thought went into the world-building — but the meta-plot so far is kind of basic. It’s fun in a pulpy kind of way, I guess.

A bar in AnthemThe NPCs definitely don’t have the depth you normally see from Bioware, but that being said they’re still above average as far as video game characters go. Owen is such a ridiculous dork, and I love it.

I also really like the actress who plays the female Freelancer. Her voice is very soothing, and she’s very good at sounding like a cool, confident badass without going over the top about it.

I do have a number of complaints about Anthem, but most of them are just minor nitpicks. The open world feels a bit empty, item tooltips are less informative than they should be, and I hope a FOV slider gets added at some point because I find the default camera a bit claustrophobic.

I will say I’m really over this “your character is a faceless robot” trend. I mean, it is realistic that we stay in our Javelins most of the time, but there’s no reason we couldn’t have more story cutscenes featuring our character, or helmets with clear faceplates, or something to give your character some sense of identity. Spending all your time as a robot who looks pretty much just like everyone else’s robot sucks a lot of the soul out of the game.

It doesn’t help that all of the Javelins are, well, kind of ugly. They’re not half as hideous as Warfame’s titular robo-ninjas, but they’re not really appealing, either. The Legion of Dawn skins from my pre-order are the only thing making them bearable, if you ask me.

A scenic vista in AnthemIt also doesn’t help that they abandoned the idea of varying Javelin appearance by gender halfway through development. Now, I don’t have a problem with that as an idea — there isn’t really a good reason for massive sci-fi combat suits to look different depending on the sex of the pilot — but the problem is some of the suits are still visibly gendered. The Storm is clearly masculine, while the Interceptor is obviously female. That’s a bit jarring if you’re piloting one of those as the opposite gender.

Not everyone’s going to care about that, though. I’m just a bit of a virtual fashionista.

It’s early days, and my opinion may change, but for now I’d say I do recommend Anthem. It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s fun and worth the price of admission. I do think it’s probably the best of the MMO shooters I’ve played to date.