Saturday, 21 January 2017

Myconids, Vegepygmy and others...

Pretty much every kind of living thing has '-man' put after it in some way in gaming. You know the kind of thing, an anthropomorphic tree, cat, hippo, rock... You name it, its probably been done in D&D or some other game. Even ducks.

It can be done well, and there's nothing inherently wrong with this. Lets be honest, when running tabletop RPG's we've all included one or more of these at some point. But what are they for? Are your players really so bored of hacking and slashing their way through orcs, kobolds, hobgoblins, goblins, and bugbears that you need to start putting frogs heads on humanoids for a bit of variety? I can't help but think that monster manuals in every version of D&D have got ever bigger largely for DM's to give more and more variant things for adventurers to beat up. But the games themselves are so much more fun when your games antagonists are more than just another set of stats with a different head.

And of all of the anthropomorphic weird shit, the ones that most annoy me in this regard are the mushroom men. Myconids, vegepygmies, it doesn't matter what you call them, the only thing that makes them different to other humanoids is that they look funny and, maybe, the DM will use some freaky spore power. Why would you bother? In that context they're almost interchangeable with orcs with funky gas grenades. I think in part this is because few people ever look at fungi for inspiration - Because fungi are, in reality, way freakier than Myconids have ever been...

So here are my top 5 picks for new fungal folk, and combinations to liven up your games....

(1) Explosions and Light!

Have you ever heard of hat-thrower fungus? No? Well watch this video I've embedded. Yes, really, watch it. I'll wait.

Pilobolus is an amazing little fungus, growing on poo and making high-pressure jelly packets underneath a spore cap, which then explode. They point up at the light, blow up, and fire a packet of spores into the distance. Yeah, I know, musrhoom men with exploding heads, I'm right up there with you. Its awesome and you can immediately imagine kamikaze-head exploding myconids. But we're also talking about mushroom men with light-sensitive exploding heads. You know where I'm going with this...

A front rank of mushroom men with jelly heads that the glow-in the dark vegepygmies behind can focus light on to/through to make their heads explode? Well, yes, now that you mention it, thats precisely the encounter I used in my game on Monday...

(2) Lasso Fungus

The PCs have been trapsing through the dense underground fungi forest for hours, braving the cold, damp conditions until each mushroom looks pretty much like every other. The mage turns and looks back, then forward, and slowly a worried look crosses his face... "Guys", he calls out, "Where's the hobbit?". The party looks around, calls out, and then, finally, thinks to look up... How did the halfling get up THERE? And what are those tendrils?

Yes, there are species of fungi that, quite literally, lasso animals as prey. Typically its nematodes (little round worms) being caught and digested, but in a fantasy world why wouldn't they be going for larger prey? The myconid as an ambush predator...

(3) Parasitic Myconids

This has sort of been done previously in D&D with the gas spore/blast spore. But, again, real life is ever so much weirder...

So for example the adventurers are sent to investigate whats happening in a village that hasn't been heard from for weeks. When they arrive, they find the locals are all there, and accounted for, but they're all acting really strangely - can the PC's work out why in time to save them before the myconids they're gestating burst out and become a whole army? If this is how your mushroom men reproduce you've got a distinct incentive thats different to simply raiding or killing - it becomes a unique humanoid race with a real difference, and a disturbing edge. 

(4) Eco-Myconids

Of course there's no reason to suppose all the mushroom men have to be antagonists - there are several kinds of fungi with really amazing abilities to degrade, store or otherwise alter dangerous compounds in the environment, and there are scientists who have for a long time been looking to exploit that, a process called mycoremediation.

If this is your version of fungus-people, they're likely among the creatures who turn up after whatever world-changing cataclysm the PCs have averted (or caused!). They might work with druids, elves of fey folk to repair the harm done to your game world by whatever big-bad has wrought damage most recently. Or maybe they turn up on the spoil heaps of mines and clean up the mess - and the problems for a town really start when something happens to them. An adventure hook might be to accompany mushroom people who have absorbed all of the pollution or harm from a site (an old mine, a place of great evil, whatever fits for your campaign) and take them to somewhere to release this again, or to store it away.

(5) Myconids are Eloi!

Humans think they're so smart, but among the many things invented by animals countless aeons before we came along was farming. Specifically, fungus farming...

In this scenario the myconids are a kind of slave race - they're kept by giant ants - fed, housed, looked after... And preyed upon. The relationship might be akin to that of the Morlocks and Eloi in H. G. Wells classic The Time Machine. One might envisage the fungus people as timid, shy, naive, and vulnerable - would it be right for the PC's to kill off those who both enslave and protect them? Then what do the PC's do with the fungus people?

I hope this has given you some food for thought! If you're happy with your vegipygmys and myconids the way they are, thats fine, but I'm all for using whats actually there in nature as inspiration for gaming. Feel free to say how you handle them...

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Zombicide: The best Zombie game you'll play

Great playing pieces - Zombicide looks and feels a quality game
In some ways I'm an old-school gamer. I like my D&D classic, and I enjoy the risk of PC death as I strive for a more powerful starting space pilot (10 life points for whoever gets that reference). But I'm not opposed to a new board or roleplaying game when its well made, and for my money probably the best such game in recent years has been Zombicide.

Cool Mini or Not started out as a sort of rate-my-miniatures website, where people would paint up their minis and submit them for judging. A bit of fun that led on to a desire to create simple to play games packed full of beautiful miniatures, and Zombicide fits that bill. Somehow between kickstarter and release the game became the child of Guillotine games, and the rest is history.

There are three core Zombicide games (referred to as 'seasons'), each can be played individually or mixed up with any of the other core games, or the three main expasnsions, with a multitude of smaller add-ons and kick-starter promos avialable (sometimes at bewildering cost on Ebay). The game is good with anything more than three to as many players as will fit round your table, and you play one or more 'survivors' in a zombie apocalypse. Every turn, each survivor takes three actions (which can be moving, searching for weapons and equipment and attacking), and every time a survivor kills a zombie they gain experience. And, of course, as they gain experience they can go up in level and get more abilities. After the player turns we the zombies get to go - they shamble at you to attack, and then more spawn. And the more experienced the characters get, the more zombies spawn, making the sense of crisis rises right through the game. Each survivor is represented by a well crafted mini, and has its own range of available skills. Yes, you'll soon have your own favourite character to play. 

Each game session is a 'mission' (although there's a short campaign version of the game called 'ultimate survivors') - you have defined things to do on the game board made up of tiles representing parts of a city, shopping mall, prison, hospital, etc. You may have to find specific resources, clear out certain buildings, etc. Each time you open up a new building more zombies appear - so you'll need to coordinate with other players to decide when and how to get in to the buildings (which you'll need to do, to find weapons and resources).

Try not to wear your curlers for the Zombie Apocalypse - you'll look stupid

The variety of zombies in the original game is limited, there are the normal shambling kind, a fast kind who can get to you and attack, fatties who take more killing, and the abomination who's a massive creation who's the hardest creature on the board to kill. Subsequent sets kept those basic categories but brought in different species - toxic zombies who'll spray you with poison if you kill them hand to hand, berserkers who are immune to bullets, skinners who have a nasty habit of crawling after you even after mowing them down, and the fast, unpredictable seekers. They add flavour without too much complexity - and they're conveniently coloured to make identification of the game pieces easy.

What maintains the interest in this game is how varied it can be - you can download or devise a limitless number of missions, and each game will be different as you unearth different weapon and equipment types and face zombies coming at you in different orders. And if that isn't enough you can add in dog companions, assistant survivors... As few or as many add on's as you like.
The A-Bomb abomination. If this guy shows up you're in trouble

There are four things that, for me, set this apart from other similar board games. Firstly, the quality of the pieces - the minis are colourful, detailed and distinctive. The board pieces are fun and give a good feel for the field of play, and each new expansion brings more distinctive minis without overly complicating play. Secondly, it takes very little experience playing the published missions before you can come up with your own, which means you can tailor individual game sessions to the tastes of your group - the producers even provide a free software tool to draw up a map using their tiles. Which takes us to the third point; there's a good range of fan made material online, including custom decks, survivors, playing tiles, missions... Google for Zombcide fan sies and you'll find plenty. And, lastly, its simple - it grows and expands based on a very easy set of mechanics, so as you add more you don't lose the point of the game in the complexity.

There's a lot to like about this game. My only concern is the cost. It isn't cheap, but each main set is a weighty thing, I don't feel robbed paying more money for something stacked with good components.

If modern day zombie apocalypses aren't to your taste, then there is also Zombicide Black Plague. Its a good game, but I've neither the space nor the will to maintain two expanding versions of this board game. But check it out if thats your thing.

So all in all, this is one of the favourite games in our gaming group - its got enough about it to remain fun for the long-haul, while most other board games quickly lose interest for us. When we're short for D&D its one of our favourites, I highly recommend it.