Why Do Video Game Bandits Keep Attacking Me?

It has been a rough few days. I have a medical issue that’s been cropping up throughout 2021 (because this is apparently the year of just constant but relatively low-stakes problems I guess, for me, personally) and it once again reared its head this past weekend, resulting in no blog posts, lots of escapism, and some pretty constant headaches. Not because of the medical issue. No, these are from jaw clenching, actually. Lots and lots of jaw clenching.

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Tabletop Highlights: D&D 3.5 Versus Pathfinder

To be entirely fair, there isn’t a big difference between these two rule sets at a macro level. Pathfinder was intended as the next step of D&D 3.5, trimming down the rules to remove complications and re-balancing the game’s power so the often under-powered martial classes could stay relevant during higher levels. As a result, it is fairly common to adapt things from one version to the other. For instance, most of my D&D games incorporate the character sheets and skills of Pathfinder, along with a few other rules–such as cantrips (the most basic, lowest-leveled spells) can be cast without limitation and all combat maneuvers are performed using the rules from Pathfinder rather than 3.5.

I find that combat runs a little more smoothly, skill allocation is easier, and general player satisfaction is higher when I incorporate these rules. It allows me to bring in a bit more power to skill-based characters without running into what I believe is the biggest problem of bringing Pathfinder rules and character stuff into 3.5. As a whole, the core components (character classes and racial abilities, mostly) of Pathfinder achieved a state of balance by increasing everything’s power. There are exceptions, of course, but it can be frustrating to try to balance a character built using 3.5 rules with a character built using Pathfinder rules.

3.5 can also be hard to adapt to Pathfinder because it has a similar problem. The core components may be weaker, but 3.5 has a wonderful array of extra feats, class variations, racial features, and poorly balanced errata that make breaking the game much easier. I can build character with limitless power in 3.5 and I’ve yet to find a way to even break the game on the same scale with Pathfinder. I can make a character that can easily move a mile every two minutes (and I know I can get it higher if I try) in 3.5 and that’s just silly. I can create cell towers and rail guns. I can do pretty much anything, if my GM doesn’t know to stop me and I’m feeling perverse. The only thing that redeems 3.5 is that it takes very specific knowledge (which anyone can now find online) to build those things and your average player doesn’t want to break the game.

When it comes down to determining which variation you want to play, 3.5 or Pathfinder, I find it breaks down fairly well. Either works great for role-playing and story-telling, but 3.5 works really well for players who want complex builds or have more experience. Pathfinder is great for people with less experience or if you want to keep your campaign simpler and more focused. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to remind a player in one of my 3.5 campaigns that, just because he found it in a rule book, doesn’t mean his character knows about it or would even be able to obtain it. This has been happening a lot in my weekly campaign, which can be frustrating at times because he keeps accidentally trying to min-max his character. If we were playing this campaign using Pathfinder, I doubt he’d be able to get up to even a quarter as much crap as he does.

The few times I’ve played Pathfinder, it worked really well for introducing new players. The abilities were much more clear and I didn’t feel like I needed to spend a few days browsing books, PDFs, and forums to figure out how I wanted to build my character. Every time I’ve gone and done a pick-up-and-play campaign at a game store, it has been a Pathfinder campaign. I’m certain the latest edition of D&D (5.0) would be just as easy to pick up and play, but I feel like Pathfinder has more depth to it for the people who want it. You can still get multipliers to your power level instead of just adding to it.

I really want to play more Pathfinder, mostly to learn more about it. I don’t own any of the books and everything I’ve read about it has been what they released online as part of their System Reference Document (search the version you want to learn about and “SRD” and you should wind up with all the rules you need to play). I’d like more experience, both as a player and as a GM. It can be fun to experiment with different rules and see how far you can go, but there’s also strong appeal to playing without all of the crazy extra stuff. Just like when I want to play Skyrim without any mods sometimes, despite loving what the mods do to the game.

Switching Skyrim Up

I mentioned last month that I was super excited that I was finally able to play Skyrim on the Switch and now I’ve finally done it. Skyrim was my first post-Christmas gift to myself and after letting it download over night, I finally started playing it a couple of days ago. While it was a little jarring to play at first, I eventually got used to playing it without the smoother control available on a computer. Tilt-controls for aiming my bow–I’m a sneaky sniper because I like to challenge myself to “unicorn” all my enemies by shooting them in the forehead–are super helpful, so I don’t really feel the “two sticks and several buttons” issue until I get stuck in melee combat. At which point I’m usually dead anyway, so it isn’t that much of a problem.

The thing I probably miss the most are my PC mods. Most of the mods I used where graphical changes or texture packs to make the world feel more real. I used to love wandering around Skyrim simply to take it all in. Killing things and going on quests were just added benefits to help pay for my tour of the world. The stars, the sunsets, the way the grass waved in the wind… All things I miss in this new game. I also miss the added carrying capacity and capes, but those aren’t as big a deal.

While I originally wanted the game so I’d have a pick-up-and-play console version of Skyrim, I have to say getting it on the Switch was definitely the right decision because portability is easily the best part of the game experience so far. If I’m going to my girlfriend’s place, I can bring my Switch along and start playing Skyrim while she’s playing Pokemon (literally did that a couple of days ago). If I want to go hang out in a coffee shop but don’t feel like writing or get bored with my book, I can play Skyrim (planning to do that sometime this weekend). If I’ve got a 15 minute break at work and want to maintain my “total nerd” status with my coworkers, I’ll bust out my Switch and Skyrim it up.

To be fair, I can play Breath of the Wild during all of those moments as well, but I feel like Skyrim has actually used the controller layout the best out of all the other games I’ve played on the Switch. The main reason I prefer my Pro Controller and TV for Breath of the Wild is that I’m often sprinting and jumping and changing camera direction all at the same time. This is an awkward button/stick combo on the Pro Controller and an impossible one on the Joy-Con (whether attached to the Switch or detached) for someone with hands my size. I tried doing it on the Joy-Con once and it was painful enough that I’ve never done it again and have zero intention of ever doing it again. Maybe if they ever make slightly larger Joy-Con for the large-handed individuals of the world, I’d consider it. Until then, I’m going to stick to Skyrim for mobile gaming.

While the download for the game was way smaller than I anticipated (17 GB only???), the entire game seems to be there. I’m sure there’s stuff missing that I could find if I went looking for it, and I know game sizes tend to get a little bloated when it comes to PC downloads, but it still seems like a huge shrink in size for such a huge game. Which makes the 13.4 GB size of Breath of the Wild even more incredible. I should do some research into what makes games as big as they often are. I mean, Doom on the PC is about 55 GB and its only 13.4 on Switch. That’s insane. I’m either missing 40 GB of game or there was 40 GB of fluff on the PC version. Even taking out the supposedly 9 GB of multiplayer (from what I’ve gathered online), that’s still 30 GB difference. Cleaning up the code can’t account for that much difference and setting restrictions for consoles seems like it wouldn’t be enough to account for whatever was left.

That’ll be next week’s post. I’ll do some research and report back. In the mean time, enjoy playing Skyrim and I’ll try to get some screenshots of me “Unicorning” my enemies once I’m a high-enough level to snipe stuff.

NaNoWriMo Day 17 (11/17)

I made the executive decision last night to go right to bed when I got home rather than try to write. That means I’ve fallen even further behind, of course, but I went to bed “early” because I’m spending all afternoon/evening today writing, then all day Saturday writing, and then almost all of Sunday writing. If I’m well-rested (or at least better-rested) going into this push, I’ll be able to focus and write more quickly. In case that doesn’t work, I’ve bought a case of energy drinks and created a rationing schedule so I don’t give myself a heart attack or over-caffeinate myself. I’ve also got tea for when I need a little something but don’t want to make the 5-6 hour commitment an energy drink requires.

I have crafted a weekend with no excuses to do anything but write. Spend time with my s/o? We’re going to make dinner and work on projects, maybe play a board game or two. I can’t focus and need a break? No Breath of the Wild of Destiny 2 for me, I’ve got a new Pokemon game that can be played for a few minutes and then set aside, paused because I closed the screen on my 3DS. Need something to eat for lunch? I’ve got pre-made soup from Costco. 10 minutes and my meal is done. Sleepy? Caffeine! I’ve got it all figured out. All I’ve gotta do is get through one last work day and I’m ready to sit down and crank out 20,0000 words in a weekend.

In other news, I can finally play Skyrim on my Switch! I’ve been looking forward to this immensely because I’ve always enjoyed playing Skyrim, but with easy it is to mod on my computer (and how I feel like its impossible to play WITHOUT mods, now that I have them), starting the game is now a bit of a longer process. I thought about picking it up for the Xbox One for some casual couch-playing, but then I heard the new Nintendo console was going to have it. Here we are, a year later, and I can FINALLY PLAY IT. At some point. I should probably not buy it this close to Christmas or else I’m not going to have anything to tell my family when they ask me what I’d like. Which is totally not a thing that has happened before.

Also, waiting until AFTER NaNoWriMo, at least, would be for the best. I can’t really afford another distraction and I just know I’d tell myself I was just going to create a character only to realize, 8 hours later, that I know owned a plot of land in every major city using only money I’d stolen from pick-pocket tutors. Yeah, they actually have a lot on them and aren’t any more immune to being robbed than any other NPC.


Daily Prompt

As a middle-class, heterosexual, white man, I have a tendency to look past a lot of the problems other people face, not because I’m trying to ignore their issues or struggles but because I don’t see them in my own life. It takes a lot of work to remain cognizant of my own privilege and I’m not always successful. A lot of protagonists in modern and almost all characters in historical settings would have had similar issues or would regularly encounter people with similar issues. For today’s prompt, write a scene where your character struggles to understand the problems faced by someone less privileged than them or where your character has to interact with someone who doesn’t understand their own privilege (the interaction can be a positive learning experience or a negative trial your character overcomes, you decide).


Sharing Inspiration

Today’s inspiration is my favorite book on writing, Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird.” If you want a really great book on what it means to write and some wonderful suggestions on how to frame things in your mind, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Lamott writes about her own issues, but uses them to address concerns and issues everyone faces. I almost feel like her book is a higher authority than some other similar books (Like Stephen King’s “On Writing”) because Lamott isn’t some millionaire writer, she makes enough to get by most of the time and thus still faces a lot of problems that we not-yet-pro writers face. I mean, how many writers starting out can relate to drug-fueled binge-writing sessions? Or struggling to make writing only a part of our daily lives rather than letting it dominate our lives?

There are dozens of really good quotes in this book, but the one that has helped me the most is “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” I feel like every writer needs to hear that at some point in their life. I bring all of my experiences, good and bad, into everything I write and I can often go through my stories and point out where each character came from and what happened to bring that character to life. I used to feel somewhat ashamed about how often people could find themselves (shown in a positive or negative light) in my writing. I don’t, anymore. Writing that honestly has helped me move on in many cases and, in one case, even helped repair a friendship I had thought damaged beyond recovery.

Ultimately, we can only write about what we know or have learned and, as Lamott said, “If you people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”


Helpful Tips

The irony of my upcoming tip is not lost on me.

If you’re having a difficult time getting your mind in order to write or you’re struggling with feelings of illegitimacy (which I still get sometimes, so its pretty common), I suggest looking for people writing about what it means to them to be a writer. As my inspiration shows, people writing about writing can help change your perspective on what you’re doing or give you a little flash of insight that can push you through a rough patch. If you do a simple google search, you will find thousands of results, some of varying degrees of usefulness. If you ask your writing friends, though, I’m sure they could make some suggestions.

Anne Lamott: “Bird by Bird”

Stephen King: “On Writing”

Thomas C. Foster: “How to Read Literature Like a Professor” (not exactly writing about writing, but it was still super helpful for me).