Betrayal at House on the Hill – Tabletop Review

Wanting to get together with friends during this Covid-19 lockdown but not wanting to break quarantine protocol and spread the disease, I reached out to a member of my community who was wonderful enough to gift me a copy of Tabletop Simulator and promptly got a list of games together to play which included Betrayal at House on the Hill, but with so many games out there, is this game worth your money and time?

 ⚅⚅⚅

The story behind Betrayal at House on the Hill doesn’t matter.

Rather, the story behind Betrayal at House on the Hill is simply whatever you want or need it to be in order to get your group of various characters to the house sitting atop the hill because this wonderful game by Avalon Hill knows it’s what happens within these walls that truly matters. It’s what transpires behind that locked door that provides the most entertainment, and what happens is a lot of fun with a twist of betrayal!

I played this game with three of my friends, but it can be played with up to six total each taking the role of one of the six characters in the game who have varying ages and backgrounds. However, this is all just for flavor. It will be their attributes that you will want to keep an eye on as they are what impact the gameplay.

Beginning a game of Betrayal at House on the Hill
The fun begins…

Speed, might, sanity and intelligence are the four attributes that will affect how you interact with the world around you in various ways. Speed, for example, not only gives you the number of tiles you can move each turn, but affects how you interact with certain items or events when called on. The Revolver item allows you to use your speed attribute when you attack rather than your might – the more common attribute used with melee weapons – which is obviously a good thing, or is it?

The first phase of this game – the exploration phase – is a cooperative experience in which all the players take turns to move throughout the house into random rooms stopping only to investigate the items, events or omens they find within. You are free to share these items and omens as long as you are in the same room as other characters and the card allows it, and there is justification to do so. After all, the first member to die will be the weakest link, the one with the lowest attributes and the least amount of items to help them.

Item cards

Items are generally used to attack enemy, raise your attributes or aid you in some way and you are able to take them with you and trade them.

Event cards

Events happen on the spot, generally heavily rely on a dice roll giving you a heavy chance to hinder as well as help you and can not be taken with you.

Omen cards

Omens are almost a mix of the two. Sometimes you take them with you, but others happen on the spot. Sometimes they can help you but they can also hurt you. Sometimes you can trade them with others. Every time you get an omen, however, you have to make a haunt roll meaning you have to roll six dice and meet or beat the number of omen cards on the table. If you do, the games continue. If you don’t, the haunting begins.

☠ THE HAUNTING ☠

Haunting chart
The many different forms of haunting.

Depending on what the omen was and what room it was found in, you may find yourself in one of a hundred different hauntings which is amazing for replayability keeping things fresh. Also, you never know who is going to be the haunted. It may be the person who drew the omen card, or it may be somebody with the lowest called on attribute – intelligence, for example. This is the justification for not helping other players during the exploration phase. If the player you are helping turns into the traitor, you will have been making the enemy stronger all along and taking valuable resources from the survivors.

Our first run was haunting number 38: Hellbeasts.

Haunt 38: Hellbeasts

This one has the person who pulled the omen turn traitor – in this case: MotherTrix. Using rules that only she could read, she simply turned traitor which means she could not help our cause, but also had to place firebats in the house which tracked us down to drain us of blood to breed. Not particularly nice.

The rest of us, as the survivors, read our rules which stated to win we had to exorcise the firebats from the house by performing an exorcism ritual – a sanity or intelligence roll – in certain rooms and on certain items equal to the amount of players. If we didn’t have the rooms or items, we had to search until we did. Oh, and we couldn’t attack the firebats either.

This had the full potential to easily overcome us, but we luckily had the items and rooms needed so we quickly laid out our best strategy, had four good rolls and the game was over quickly in our favor.

Survivors = 1. Traitor = 0.

The next game we played didn’t turn out so well. It was haunting number 59: The Fleshchild’s Alchemical Mandate, and it was a bitch.

Haunt 59: The Fleshchild's Alchemical Mandate

The basic idea is the traitor – FatsackFails, in this case – has now turned into this Fleshchild who must go around gathering a pound of flesh from each of the characters. If all the flesh is gathered or all of us are dead, the traitor wins.

Our goal simply is to kill the Fleshchild. This would have been an easy task but we had a really good round where we had collected a good amount of items which meant the traitor had, among other things, the Blueprint which allowed him to travel to any dumbwaiter on any floor from another which was basically fast travel. Also, he was allowed to raise each of his stats by 4 – the same amount of players in the game. And he was the first to pick up any items and omens from the ground of the people he killed.

Through all of this, I had a plan. I had a card which I could use to steal the blueprint from the traitor slowing him down and allowing me to get nearer to the other living survivor downstairs. I also had dynamite that, if it didn’t kill him, would at least force him to drop all the flesh buying us more time.

And then I roll all zeros on a defense roll when attacked.

Survivors = 1. Traitor = 1.

With this we ended our night, positive we will come back to play this game again.

⚀ EPILOGUE ⚀

Betrayal at House on the Hill is an exceptionally fun game that is easy to understand, set up and play. There was rarely a time where we were fuzzy on the rules and, if so, the rulebook clarified them quickly. Replayability is something that is absolutely necessary in a board game and this game has that in spades with the way the house, item, omen and event cards are randomly drawn from their respective decks during the exploration phase and how the haunting has 100 different options.

All said, I can’t recommend this game enough as it offers countless hours of surprises and fun promising you will visit the house on the hill over and over again.

+ + +

You can buy the physical tabletop game on Amazon or the Tabletop Simulator player-created version on Steam.

You can watch our full playthrough on Twitch.

Eternally Doomed

Four years after the phenomenal Doom 2016 was laid upon us unexpecting gamers, id Software releases their highly anticipated follow up – Doom Eternal – which manages to not only take and build upon what was created in the earlier games of the series, but to add in new mechanics as well; however, is it all a worthwhile experience?

☠ ☠ ☠

Doom Eternal picks up sometime after the events of the first game with the “Doom Slayer” hovering above Earth like some omnipresent God lording over his flock in the Fortress of Doom – a towering citadel planted on a jagged piece of rock that acts as his personal headquarters he will visit after almost every mission. Last seen being teleported away to somewhere by Samuel Hayden at the end of Doom 2016, the Slayer’s presumably just arrived somehow after a long journey to find Earth overwhelmed by demons. The resistance – whom you never see and who manage to put out radio broadcasts like John Conner in some demon-infested reimagining of Terminator (and there are many references to this I.P. from the Mecha Zombies to this) – are begging for help before all of humanity is snuffed out of existence. Luckily, you are here to answer the call!
Thus begins Doom Eternal.
Fortress of Doom
The Fortress of Doom hovering above Earth.

☦ HELL ON EARTH ☦

In a reimagining (…or is it? More on this later.) of the second game in the series, Doom II: Hell on Earth, DE not only takes all of what was created in Doom games past and manages to build upon them by refining and ramping up previous mechanics, but adds new ideas to the fold creating a unique experience from D2016. However, is this experience entirely positive?
For me it was a mixed bag.
I’ll admit, at first I was really questioning the more prevalent chainsaw mechanic (used to get ammo from enemy), but after playing a while it made perfect sense. I rarely ever used the chainsaw in the original (as did most people apparently) because it felt tacked on and not needed, but not in this game. In Doom Eternal it is absolutely essential because you will be running out of ammo fast, but it’s not as much of a distraction as it is more of a push to get you to continually move forward as was the glory kill mechanic of the first game that gives you life and the new armor mechanic that has you destroying enemy after you hit them with a fiery blast from your Flame Belch. Killing is the only way you will survive in this game on multiple levels.
Chainsawing an Imp
You’ll be doing a lot of this.
The enemy are fast, furious and even more deadly than they were in D2016. Old enemy have some new tricks from shooting a higher number of blasts at varying angles or a beastly melee attack that does massive damage to better mobility allowing them to get near you faster or shields that protect them from your attacks until broken (if they can be). New enemies are full of surprises and fill in the voids that may be left by their counterparts. The Whiplash, a cybernetic snake-like entity, will ruin your day with its speed and ferocity if you’re not careful. The Gargoyle will burn you quick with its acidic spit as it flies about the level keeping its distance from you. Then there are returning favorites such as the Archville which apparently has retaken its rightful place from the Summoner in D2016, but also comes with a new trick. However, none of these demons hold a candle to the outright fuckery that is the Marauder.
I mentioned the enemies that will hide behind their shields until broken. The Marauder has an unbreakable shield he will hide behind, only hittable when his eyes flash green during a melee axe attack. All his other attacks – throwing argent energy axes from afar, summoning quick spectral hounds to fight along side him and a super shotgun blast that will push you to long range keeping you right where he wants you – are impervious to attacks… or so they say. I’ve hit him more than a couple of times after his super shotgun blast, however trading blows like this won’t keep you alive long. Take all that and add on his teleporting movement and the fact that you will have a slew of other enemy trying to rip your head off and you have a perfect storm of frustration. He is easily the hardest enemy you will fight in the game.
The Marauder
This guy can eat a dick.

All other enemy provide their challenges but can be overcome if you handle them correctly, and they go out in glorious fashion as each shot blows a chunk of flesh off of your target eventually turning them into giblets. You can shoot the rocket launchers off of the Revenants and the guns off of the Mancubus. You can Blood Punch – a punch that gives you health and instantly kills the enemy – the armor off of the Cyber Mancubus… if you want to get that close to it. And most of the time you will have to if you want to survive long. Like flies to shit, the enemy will be drawn to and quickly surround you bouncing you around like a pinata at some sort of demonic quinceanera. It sucks, but that’s where your improved mobility come into play.

As you upgrade your slayer you will begin to feel like a God as you double jump and double dash your way around the enemy like you’re a ballerina performing in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. I didn’t even mention the “meat hook” attached to your double barrel shotgun that will pull you towards any enemy you attach it to, the pull-up bars that a spread around the levels that allow you to stay in the air longer or pull yourself up to a higher location, the jump pads located around levels that propel you in various directions and the wall climbable ares that allow you to get more verticality on your targets.
Platforming in Doom
You’ll be doing a lot of platforming in between battles.
Your ability to maim and murder your enemy has dramatically increased, but it’s when you’re out of battle that the downside of Doom Eternal rears its head. More so, the game seems to pause – dragging on through sluggish platforming sections that swing the pendulum entirely in the other direction from the action-oriented combat to more methodical and slow movement as you leap onto falling platforms, around fire whips and climb up walls looking for you next destination or secret. I don’t mind this in moderation but this game does it all too often slowing down whatever momentum it had built up previously and sometimes (literally) dropping you into a pit of frustration (and death) if you don’t time the jumps just right or fail to see a button you have to shoot across the map that will extend a platform that you need to complete the section.
Adding insult to injury there are some elements that just don’t fit at all. Wall cannons that you can’t destroy shoot huge fireballs down the hallways that do damage to you but not the enemy giving you yet another thing to dodge, tentacles hide in holes or under water ready to jump out and swipe at you as you gloriously dance around your enemy or run through the level, and the sludge…
The sludge is absolutely counterintuitive to Doom. In a game that constantly pushes you forward toward the enemy and have the enemy constantly coming toward you firing more ammo than ever, why are there large pools of unavoidable goop that slow you down considerably and prevent you from running, jumping or dodging? It feels like a kick in the balls rather than a reinforcement of any kind of game mechanic or principle.
The hub in the Fortress of Doom
The Fortress of Doom – your hub in between missions.
And this slowdown happens in more way than one throughout the game. In between missions you will be sent back to your Fortress of Doom where you can look at all the things you’ve collected throughout the levels which include your weapons and Funko Pop! toys of the characters in the game, use Sentinel batteries to unlock certain powerups and armor (outfits) trapped behind locked doors, and listen to albums containing music from various id games. You can also collect disks containing cheat codes that can be turned on during the regular game and even play the original two Doom games in their entirety. There’s a lot to do in this location, but I didn’t see a reason why this couldn’t be included in the menu system and the Doom Slayer could just travel from one level to another.
The upgrades are even more plentiful as you have mods for your weapons, and then you can spend Weapon Points to upgrade those mods which can be upgraded to a Mastery level after completing a challenge (or by using a collectable Mastery Point). Your suit and its weapons can be upgraded in various ways using Praeter Suit Points… almost everything can be upgraded to help make the Doom Slayer an ultimate badass. The only weapons that can’t be upgraded are the one-shot powerhouse Crucible Sword and the two most powerful guns: the returning BFG 9000 and the Unmayker.
The Unmayker
The Unmaykr.
Yes, the ultimate weapon from Doom 64 that was originally supposed to be included in Doom according to the Doom Bible which is a beautiful bone white (as originally described) and listed as a “demon-tech weapon that hurts pure demons a lot, demon-humans very little, tech demons some. Made of demon bones.” It is here, white and does some nifty damage, even if you don’t use it much alongside the Big Fucking Gun. Of course, that’s not the only thing taken from Doom 64…
(spoilers and more ranting ahead)

☦ WHAT GOES AROUND, COMES AROUND ☦

Icon of Sin
He just wants to say hi.
As legend (or various online articles including this and the Doom wiki) states, the Doom Slayer is actually one in a long line of descendants that date all the way back to the original Doom Space Marine (Doomguy) who was the grandson of Commander Keen, no less, the unlikely hero from id Software’s first game.
After Doomguy battled through Phobos, Deimos and Hell in the first Doom (around 2022) and was returned to Earth in Doom II: Hell on Earth because he was found “too tough for Hell to contain” but, upon finding Earth in demonic ruin, Doomguy suits up again to free the remaining human survivors to space and enters Hell to battle the Icon of Sin and rid Earth of demons forever. Or so he thinks.
In Doom 64 the demons trick Doomguy back down to hell once more in an effort to stop him, but he manages to defeat them once again, along with the Mother Demon. No longer able to return to a normal life above ground, Doomguy stays in hell to make sure no demon escapes to Earth ever again.
The codex
There’s a lot of lore crammed into this game in the form of codex pages.
Nobody really knows what the fuck happened with Doom 3. Well, some say it’s a prequel to the original Doom, but it takes place in 2145 so… ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Sometime before the events of Doom 2016, the Doomguy was found near death in Hell by the Maykrs, trained and turned into the badass Doom Slayer to do their bidding as a Night Sentinel which is basically their bitch.
He was sent to Hell or something to do battle with the demons (because that’s what he does) but the demons apparently trapped him in a sarcophagus without his armor where he would have stayed until the end of days. However, at the beginning of Doom 2016 (in 2149) he was released by Samuel Hayden to stop the new demon onslaught lead by Olivia Pierce and the events in D2016 happened. At the end he is teleported somewhere as Samuel Hayden walks away with the Crucible Sword.
Some years later Doom Eternal puts our boy back on Earth fighting for humanity’s survival which means either a long time has passed between Doom II and now so that humanity had plenty of time to repopulate and be rampaged by demons once again, but that doesn’t explain the Icon of Sin being reborn unless there were two or more of them but then why doesn’t Hell just attack with multiple Icons of Sin? A more popular belief (?) is that you’re in alternate dimension that might have started with Doom 3?
The Khan Maykr
Battle with the Khan Maykr can take a few interesting turns.

The Hell if I know.

Whatever the story is, I can’t help but feel it’s a letdown to go from a simple soldier who is literally thrown into the bowels of hell coming out the other side beaten, bruised but still breathing to some God-like superhero who can jump in a cannon and shoot himself across space through a sanctuary wall without so much as a scratch.

My heroes are the cowboy-types who go through seemingly insurmountable odds taking their share of bumps and bruises along the way, but come out on the other side a better person. Bruce Willis’ John McClane in Die Hard and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch Schaefer in Predator are perfect examples of this. However, with the somewhat new direction of the series, this God-like persona and moveset seem entirely necessary.

☦ OVERKILL!!! I MEAN, OVERVIEW ☦

All said, Doom Eternal is a very good game. I don’t think it’s as solid as Doom 2016, but at the same time I wouldn’t hesitate to tell somebody to pay full price for it today. The AAA quality from edge-of-your-seat gameplay to jaw-dropping graphics to absolutely metal music and sound effects all combine to overcome any shortcomings the game has, even the three crashes to desktop that occured during my playthrough. There is plenty of challenge and plenty of frustration that goes with it, but once you take down the hoards of beasts (or single damned demonic Marauder) that have given you pause, you will begin to feel like a true Doom Slayer.

I don’t know where the series goes from here – literally fighting God and the Devil? The story has left plenty open for a sequel. Was the blood curdling scream when Kahn Mayker bit the dust just an homage to Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan or was id Software leaving the door open for their next big bad? Will they somehow fit inter-dimensional travel into the series proving theories correct?

Where ever it goes, success is sure to follow because despite the time we live in or whatever platform we are using, Doom is seemingly eternal.

+ + +
If you want to purchase Doom Eternal, please consider using my affiliate link to purchase from Amazon.

Skyrim Modslist & Challenges

I created a mod list and challenges for our upcoming playthrough of Bethesda’s The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim which will shift it to more of a realistic and deadly survival role-playing game… especially when hit with some of these challenges!

+ + +

I recently decided to play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim again, but didn’t want to play the same game I did almost a decade ago. Instead, I wanted to play as a normal adventurer just trying to get by in a cold, deadly world that will eat you up and spit you out any chance it can get – you know, the real world. The experience I wanted to get out of this playthrough could basically be narrowed down to three main ideas:

  • Survival
  • Deadly
  • Realistic

I wanted to create a more realistic and deadly survival role-playing game.

I immediately got on the internets and started researching mods. I had modded the game in the past so I was familiar with a handful of mods already. However, I’m running the original game – no “Special” or “Legendary” edition – without any of the DLC, so at this point in the games long and winding history it’s bit of a challenge to find mods that work within that criteria. That said, I was still able to find a slew of mods – some current and some old – that worked.

Those are listed below, but first I ask you: what good is a livestream if you, the viewer, can’t participate?
Challenges

To get more community involvement in the game I have created “challenges”. By cheering/tipping/subbing during the livestream you can mess with me and the game in various ways depending on amount given. Note that with the various survival and other mods incorporated, a lot of these challenges mean sure death! ☠

The challenges are as follows:

  • 100 Bits / $1 – 3 minute fisto (fists only) challenge: I’ll fight with only fists for 3 minutes.
  • 200 Bits / $3 – 3 minute armorless challenge: I’ll remove all armor giving up protection from damage and cold.
  • 300 Bits / $4 – Wild animal challenge – I’ll fight an animal of your choosing (wolf, bear, skeever, mudcrab, chaurus, sabre cat)
  • 400 Bits / $5 / T1 sub – Forsworn challenge: I’ll summon a Forsworn to fight!
  • 500 Bits / $7 – 24 hour wineo (alcohol only) challenge: I forgo water and drink only alcohol. Other than getting you drunk will also dehydrate me when effects wear off requiring more alcohol. You see how this will go downhill quickly.
  • 600 Bits / $8 – 24 hour raw food challenge: I eat only raw food for 24 hours… I got a disease and died from one piece of Mudcrab meat so…
  • 750 Bits / $10 – Murder random challenge: I murder the first random person I encounter.
  • 1,000 Bits / $15 / T2 sub – 24 hour nude challenge: I’ll take off all armor and clothing meaning zero protection from weapons and temperature.
  • 2,000 Bits / $28 / T3 sub – Giant challenge: I’ll summon a giant to my position. This won’t last long…
  • 5,000 Bits / $70 – Dragon “sure death” challenge: It’s sure death because I’M SURE TO DIE. You ever try run from a dragon?

⚔ CORE MODS ⚔

Now onto the mods – I wanted to make the game more immersive, realistic and difficult in all aspects which meant the core of Skyrim had to change. Here’s how I think I’ve accomplished that.

➊ Primary

Skyrim Unbound: I didn’t want to follow the same Dragonborn story from the last decade. Instead, I wanted to be just another adventurer walking the paths of Tamriel and beyond. This mod allows me to choose from a ton of starting options (or randomize them) as well as play as a non-Dragonborn character.
Skyrim Redone: This is one of the key mods in my list. SkyRe changes a slew of core elements of Skyrim including: revamping and deepening the entire perk tree, revamping the racial abilities, revamping the combat module to be much more deadly and strategic, revamping the standing stones, adjusting the enemy scaling, altering the enemy strategy in combat, modifying encounter zones and adding survivalism. It’s really good.
Campfire – Complete Camping System: This feature-rich mod gives you the ability to camp anywhere by setting up a tent to sleep in and remove fatigue and a campfire to warm yourself and cook raw food. On top of that it implements other skills and gives you a set of new options from sensing the weather to harvesting wood for fires.
Frostfall: The go-to mod for making temperature a factor in Skyrim, this mod tracks weather, time of day, clothing, distance to hot/cold sources and more to give your character conditions based on all of these factors.
Climates of Tamriel: I would put this in the graphics section, but it’s so much more than that. CoT is a complete overhaul of the weather system as well as the lighting system. This, of course, plays into the Frostfall mod perfectly as you will be bombarded by storms (more appropriately) as your journey. The lighting plays into the immersive portion of things requiring you to have a source of light if not in a well lit area.
Cloaks of Skyrim & Winter is Coming: They add in purchasable and craftable cloaks into all of Skyrim that can look anywhere from garrish to haughty, but they also serve a purpose by adding a bit of extra protection from the cold!
iNeed – Food, Water and Sleep: Makes food, drink and sleep a relevant factor in your character’s day. You can adjust the timescale as you see fit, but by default your character needs to eat and drink 2-3 times per day or suffers penalties. If they get fatigued from lack of sleep, they will also suffer penalties.

➋ Secondary

Convenient Horses: Tons of options for making horses… more convenient.
Dynamic Things: Find wood and other materials out in the wild where you would expect them.
Dynamic TimeScale: Change how Skyrim handles time during various activities.
Immersive Armors: Many different types of lore-friendly armors.
Immersive Weapons: Many different types of lore-friendly weapons.
Realistic Lighting Overhaul: More realistic lighting.

➌ Tertiary

A Hunter’s Life – Hunting OverhaulAuto Unequip AmmoBetter Dialogue ControlsBounty Hunter – Bounty Quest TweaksEnhanced CameraGuard Dialogue OverhaulImmersive AnimationsImmersive Player DialogueJaySuS SwordsRealistic Ragdolls and ForceRealistic Wildlife Loot and RecipesSimple Bedrolls and SuppliesSimple Campfire Stuff Skyrim FishingSkyrim Project OptimizationUnique UniquesWet and Cold

⚔ ADDITIONAL AREAS ⚔

I wanted this to be the biggest world I could make it so I included some new and brought back one old area of play!
Helgen Reborn: Bringing Helgen back to the world!
Falskaar: A whole new world… I don’t actually know much about this.
Moonpath to Elsweyr: Let’s go to the Kajiit homeland!

⚔ USER INTERFACE ⚔

3D LoadscreensA Matter of TimeCustomizable UI Replacer SkyHUDDear Diary – Paper SkyUI Menus ReplacerFileAccess Interface for Skyrim ScriptsImmersive HUDLess Intrusive HUD IILore-based Loading ScreensOneTweakSkyHUDSkyUI Tweak – Equip on TopSkyUISounds of Skyrim – MCMTranquility Main Menu

⚔ VISUALS ⚔

All the visual elements added from fonts to better textures to fog. I think I have it all covered (probably too well) here.

12th Century BookfontBeards – Hvergelmir’s AestheticsDeadly Spell ImpactsDynavision – Dynamic Depth of FieldEnderal Font for SkyrimFlora Collection – All in OneImproved NPC ClothingOblivionesque Category Icons For SkyUIOblivionesque Active Effects Icons For SkyUIOblivionesque iNeed IconsOblivionesque Loot and Degredation IconsRealistic Smoke and EmbersRealistic Water TwoRevamped Exterior FogScary HagravenSkyFalls and SkyMills BasicSkyFalls and SkyMills FalskaarSkyrim HDTamriel Reloaded – Mountains and RocksTamriel Reloaded – Field Grass EditionTamriel Reloaded InteriorsTamriel Reloaded TreesThe Skyrim Distance OverhaulTrees in CitiesUltimate HD Fire EffectsUnique Flower and Plants Verdant

⚔ AUDIO ⚔

Not to be overlooked in any medium, audio plays a huge role in defining the mood and setting. Skyrim is no different so here are a slew of music and sound effects mods that help make the experience better.

Fanmade & Nordic Exploration and Combat Music ModImmersive Sounds CompendiumSounds of Skyrim – CivilizationSounds of Skyrim – The DungeonsSounds of Skyrim – The Wilds

A Journey Back to Daggerfall

I take a walk down memory lane to see if what I recall of The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall holds true, or if I have been looking at my experience in Bethesda’s epic 1996 role-playing game through rose-colored glasses.

♔ ♔ ♔

In her poem The Speed of Darkness, American poet and political activist Muriel Rukeyser wrote, “The universe is made of stories, not atoms.” Though she writes of subject matter much different, a similar statement can be said of many video games, Daggerfall included.

Game worlds are built not through code alone, but in complex storylines that are the apogee of its many fragmented bits from music to environmental effects that may be great in their own right, but not exceptionally noteworthy. However, it’s when they are weaved together throughout the course of an interactive narrative that you able to see something exceptional. It’s only then that you begin to comprehend the grandiose picture of what the developer was trying to build.

Tamriel - the map of Daggerfall
The world at your fingertips – the map of Daggerfall.

Bethesda Softworks’ The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall fits this mold. Taking place in the land of Tamriel – more specifically the countries of High Rock and the northern portion of Hammerfell – the game map spans a whopping 62,394 virtual square miles, or roughly half the size of Great Britain, ensuring there is no question that the game was epic in scope. In fact, it is the largest game in the series consisting of over 750,000 NPCs; over 15,000 towns, cities, villages, and dungeons; 9 different playable races and countless stats, items, enemy and more to tinker with. Daggerfall was a marvel in its time and even today dwarfing even its more modern successors. Skyrim, for example, is only 14.8 square miles with around 1,000 NPCs.

When I was sixteen, this game was my world. Unlike other RPGs that I played at that time, Daggerfall most successfully mixed the real-time action of popular FPS games of the era like Doom or Duke Nukem 3D (or, more appropriately, Heretic or Witchhaven) which were consuming my life with the more traditional first-person RPGs like Wizardry or Stonekeep.

And the freedom…

Outside Privateer's Hold
Your first view of the world just outside Privateer’s Hold

I honestly don’t remember if I ever finished the game back in the day, but I do remember many, many adventures fiddling with character stats and just seeing what I could do as a burglar, pickpocket, bloodthirsty killer, religious hero and more; and it’s all there for you when you first step out of Privateer’s Hold, the first dungeon. Upon stepping out you look around, the sunrise just breaking the horizon or the rain falling from the dark clouds above or the cold night wrapping its arms around you or the snow falling thick into your face…

Where do I go next?

Anywhere.

What do I do now?

Anything.

Daggerfall was one of the first PC games I remember playing that let me do anything I wanted right out the gate. A lot of early role-playing games on consoles such as the Colecovision and Atari 2600 and even the NES and Genesis followed a strict rules system or had very linear gameplay due to hardware restrictions. Even a swath of PC games had these same restrictions. Now I could seemingly do anything I wanted – go anywhere I wanted – be anyone I wanted. Of course, there was always something for you to do like the main questline, if that’s what floats your boat.

♔ REST WELL TONIGHT… ♔

Sent to Daggerfall by the Emperor Uriel Septim VIII, you are to investigate the shade of King Lysandus which is haunting the city of Daggerfall and hopefully put him to rest, but you also have a secondary quest of finding out what happened to a letter he sent to the Queen of Daggerfall, Mynisera. However, if you choose to follow these quests is up to you. You can run it through its roughly 30 hours of content or choose to throw it aside and do side quests for any of the various factions from the Fighter’s Guild to the Dark Brotherhood or just stick with quests from the nobles and merchants of the towns and cities. If you so choose you can throw all those silly quests aside and go on a murderous rampage through the countryside… just don’t expect to be too well liked on your next visit to the city.

Daggerfall embraced the fact that you were able to do anything with your character which made it feel almost like a survival simulator at times. From the moment you start the game you feel like a child setting foot out on your own from under your parents’ protective arms. Every move you make you will have dire consequences to your character’s future as, especially in these early stages, even those pesky Giant Bats and Imps can deal a death blow. Hell, even as you level up things don’t necessarily get easier, you as a player just learn and grow patience like a thick skin of armor around you. Delving those dungeons isn’t a one and done affair. No, they are their own beast that you must show true poise and composure to conquer.

Eventually, you’ll become a master spelunker gathering even more loot than you can hold. The game has an answer for that: a horse and cart. The game actually has an answer for many of your ailments. Walking takes too long? Buy a horse. Too much loot to carry around? Buy a cart. I wish I could travel the sea. Buy a boat! I wish I could have a place to call my own. Buy a house! Yes, Daggerfall had, built in, the ability to own property, no mod needed.

In fact, a look at the Daggerfall TEXT. RSC” file shows the vision for the game was much bigger than even we got. Bethesda originally planned on having the ability to have sex with NPCs, a step in the direction of what we see in Skyrim with companions and marriage, no doubt. Prostitutes were supposed to have some varied flavor text to throw at you and there was an idea for a bard who would sign wonderful limericks to you, the player. Seriously, there is an over 2,000 word ballad that wasn’t included in the game. Although it’s no Toss a Coin to Your Witcher, I can easily see myself singing the lyrics “I’m the knight to thy queen; I’ll be Johnny, you be Jean” to myself on a daily basis given the right beat. Eat your heart out, First Aid Kit.

Lady of the night...
Lady of the night…

However, even with its high points, Daggerfall falls into the love it or hate it category for a large part of its audience because, for all its girth, Bethesda didn’t seem to know how to handle it.

Detractors downplay the size and complexity of the world because the terrain was largely randomly generated and largely empty, and they do have a case to be heard. With only a limited array of building blocks and a small set of NPC graphics, the towns and dungeons start to feel monotonous over time giving you a been-there-done-that feeling. The world is so large trying to walk across it is a daunting task – over 69 hours according to one man’s heroic efforts – forcing you to use the fast travel screen a lot. Even walking around towns and cities can be drawn out affairs that can test a player’s patience. Combat is an attempt at giving battles a real-time feel, but oddly enough can come off slow and somewhat clunky. Missions are lackluster and sometimes have vague targets and/or impossible time limits. Compile that with the “usual” Bethesda game bugs and poorly pieced together (and huge) pseudo-randomly generated dungeons and one could easily dismiss this game with props for trying.

Even on my more recent playthroughs I noticed myself feeling fatigued in these areas, and I noticed that my memories of other areas of the game were skewed. Because of the size of the game and the varied terrain, I remembered it taking place in more countries than just the two. Along similar lines, I really thought there were more Khajiit, Argonians and other races running around! There, sadly, are not. There are, in fact, besides enemies and a select few NPCs, largely only humans running around. Well, who really knows what race this guy is…

After taking off my rose-colored glasses and getting a revised view of the game through my more recent playthrough, I still love Daggerfall. It honestly provides a different experience in The Elder Scrolls games that you don’t get today even with modding. It feels like a more open-ended experience that tried a lot of things that wouldn’t be seen until over a decade later. Of course, it all comes at a trade off as just trying isn’t good enough. Implementation can make or break a game and Daggerfall falls short or just straight up fails in parts.

♔ NEW LIGHT IN THE DARKNESS ♔

I’ve long wanted to see a Daggerfall remake to bring it on par with it’s more modern kin or at least make it easily playable on modern computers, but everything that makes up the game including the huge game map with randomly generated terrain and the vastly different engines mean it isn’t a simple port but a complete remake that is needed. However, never doubt the power of a dedicated community.

The history of the game engines used in development of these games is complex. The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall was made with Bethesda’s old Xngine, The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind with NetImmerse, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was created in Gamebryo (based on the NetImmerse code) and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is made with the Creation Engine which, in turn, is based on the Gamebryo engine (a whole write up can be found about these engines and how they relate on Reddit). All said, a lot of elbow grease would be needed to take Daggerfall to the next level, but a few groups of resourceful fans set out to do just that.

Horse riding in Daggerfall Unity
Riding a horse in Daggerfall Unity

Daggerfall Unity, which garnered the attention of Daggerfall’s “Father of The Elder Scrolls” Julian Jensen, is a very ambitious remake of Daggerfall in the Unity engine which has just finished implementing all core gameplay features as well as a large portion of side quests and other game features meaning you can complete the main quest from beginning to end. It is the closest you will get to a strict port of Daggerfall now that the XL Engine and games being made with it, DaggerXL included, seem to be dead in the water.

If you’re looking for a more modern remake, the closest thing you will be able to come across is Skygerfall which is Daggerfall created in the Skyrim Creation Engine ala Skywind (Morrowind recreated in Skyrim). However, even the creators of this mod admit the breadth and scope of Daggerfall is too large to recreate in this engine, but they have done their damndest to port over the main story, bestiary, spells, dungeon experience and world. It is a commendable job and well worth the download.

King Lysandus' ghost in Skygerfall
King Lysandus’ ghost never looked better than in Skygerfall

Of course, if you have the patience or the hardware necessary, you can download the original The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall from Bethesda’s website and run it in Dosbox. It will require a bit of fiddling to get running, but it is truly the purest form of the game.

That said, it’s always fun to think about Daggerfall getting a complete overhaul one day including a vast map to journey across with supple new graphics and animations, an amazing new score similar to the wonderful themes Jeremy Soule composed for the series starting with Morrowind, a streamlined combat interface… then I start to question if we don’t already have that with the newer incarnations of the series up to and including Skyrim?

Haven’t all the newer games in the series tried to take the best aspects of the games before them and improve on them? Daggerfall‘s world was too vast and open so they shrunk it down but made it vastly more dense. It still felt like a huge open world, but without the emptiness and repeat areas. The dungeons definitely are better laid out than what came before. The combat, though largely the same, felt refined and faster. The music and graphics and sound effects all were greatly improved. Even the story received voice overs and intertwining plotlines to help pull in the lore.

But, at that point, what’s left of Daggerfall?

Perhaps these game worlds transcend what can be made by human ingenuity into territory that can almost be described as spiritual. Perhaps this game world is only as it is because of the good and the bad that go with it. As you strip away more and more of the bad, it becomes less of itself. It just becomes a copy of a copy of a…

No matter how it is served up, Daggerfall is a must play for those who love The Elder Scrolls and want to feel a bit of the history of the series, just remember it comes with its own baggage. After all, the universe is made of stories, and this story is as rich and troubled as they come.

Wading in the Pool of Radiance

Over 30 years after SSI and TSR unleashed the first Advanced Dungeons & Dragons computer role-playing game onto the world, I finally wade in the Pool of Radiance to see what all the fuss was about and if it still holds up today.

♦ ♦ ♦

I was afraid to play Pool of Radiance.

If I’m being honest I’d tell you I’m afraid to play a lot of older computer games because of scope and limitations. A lot of them are widely open-ended and only offer sporadic clues as to where to go next which leaves you, the player, to wander around trying to locate these areas based on your own hand-drawn maps or, if you’re lucky and/or resourceful, in alternative sources such as cluebooks and the internet. This wouldn’t be entirely an issue if their difficulty wasn’t so varied and simple details completely missing. Through their archaic systems and mechanics compounded with their older UI, it can make for a truly unforgiving experience for all the wrong reasons. Not to mention a very awkward play through. Nobody wants to watch a player meander around cluelessly through these games dying over and over… do they?

Honestly, I wish I could say Pool of Radiance was different than a lot of older games, but it’s largely the same. Limitations on hardware leave huge gaps that the user interface, storytelling and graphics can’t completely fill in. However, it’s somewhere within these gaps that your mind takes over and you start connecting the dots with theater of the mind. It’s in this spot that wondrous things begin to happen, and that’s where they magic lay.

♦ The Wild Frontier ♦

The city of Phlan
The city of Phlan.

You begin your journey in Pool of Radiance as you do in most other role-playing games – by creating a group of adventurers through a mostly familiar character creation screen which allows you to choose the race, class and stats of your characters. Nothing groundbreaking here.

You then set out to Phlan to help take it back from the evil forces that have taken it over after The Dragon Run over thirty years earlier (odd coincidence). The citizens of Phlan are a stubborn bunch who have rebuilt the city numerous times after countless attacks from both deadly humanoids and creatures alike, and this won’t be any different in their minds.

You get your quests by speaking with the Council Clerk and eventually attracting the attention of the Council of Ten members who rule the city, more specifically Porphyrys Cadorna who needs your help with quests of his own – all of these quests taking you through and around Phlan and the Moonsea region. Eventually this all leads into the main quest of the game and, if everything goes well, the freedom of Phlan, but as we all know it’s not the destination that necessarily matters, it’s the journey and the journey quickly becomes a muddled affair.

♦ The Dark Side ♦

The wilderness
The wilderness around the city.

There’s a lot I can rag on in this game.

The developers clearly thought everyone playing the game would know the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules so many things go without explanation which, back in 1988, would have meant looking them up in the rulebook to see what can be accomplished. During character creation, for example, you don’t know that some races cap out at certain levels. The only way to know that in game is when you hit that cap and can’t level anymore.

The story is doled out in sporadic chunks that are hard to piece together entirely, especially if you are unfamiliar with the characters in play. Sometimes it just feel that there are entire logic jumps or they want you to walk a razor thin line of rationale and not look down for fear of falling and it all coming down with you. This is largely where that “theater of the mind” comes into play because you are able to give your own reasons to situations and connect the dots however you seem fit.

There are clear limitations to the game engine as well. You don’t have stats for a lot of the items picked up so you’ll be buying, looting and swapping a lot of items just to find out that they really don’t change that much. There is only one healing spell in the game and since you can only know a certain number of spells before you need to memorize them again through long rest, you’ll be stuck healing your party up for a long time considering you very frequently get interrupted during sleep which prevents you from memorizing the spells. I don’t even want to think about the de-leveling monsters such as the Wight. The only way to get these levels back in whole is to use a Restoration spell which you can only get through found scrolls in the game, but those are hard to come by until much later in the game (and by then you will have sworn off those areas with those creatures).

I could go on, but there’s no point. This is an over 30 year old game that I’m looking at with 2020 eyes. Instead, I will mention the Gold Box Companion which I can not recommend enough because it takes care of a lot all of these issues, and even some you didn’t think you would need help with. I wrote about it in further detail in a previous blog post, “Must-have mods for Pool of Radiance“. It’s absolutely free and truly a must-have.

♦ The Light Side ♦

The game, however, does have a lot of upside if you can get past all of the down. The story is truly an ageless story of good versus evil. There are subplots that make you question what it truly means to be evil and the dangers of having too much power and much more. These things they get through to you as best they can and a majority of the time they hit on these themes.

The region the game takes place in feels fleshed out among the Zhentil and Mulvaunt and Phlan and all the various smaller groups around the environment. It feels lived in and dangerous and fun to explore when you are given the freedom to just freely walk about. Also, each area has interesting ideas within them that make them feel inventive.

This is all helped by the graphics which are only displayed on a small corner of the screen, but for what they show your character you are able to see the very different areas that your characters must wade through and characters you need to interact with. The nomadic village looks completely different from Zhentil Keep. Kuto’s Well looks so much different from the Lizardmen Lair. Valjevo Castle looks different than Sokol Keep or Cadorna Textile House. It’s these small differences that keep the game fresh and new.

Pumping iron
Tyranthraxus showing us his flex.

The music is unfortunately non-existent in version 1.3 and the sound effects are pretty bland. You can, however, turn on the much better built-in Tandy sound effects and download the actual music from the web. Details you can once again find in my blog post, “Must-have mods for Pool of Radiance“.

♦ The Bottom Line ♦

It’s a fun game that I’m glad I played because it let me in on the early days of the Dungeons & Dragons rules and a classic computer game built using that system. The game has a lot of upside but it is hindered by old rules and mechanics that hold it back. I’m not sure how I would’ve understood a lot of the details without the included cluebook and the internet. I honestly probably would’ve given up without the Gold Box Companion. Just know that if you are interested in the early days of Dungeons & Dragons gaming the GBC is there to help you do just that and the game is amazingly inexpensive as you are able to pick it up regularly on sale for a couple of dollars in the GOG.com Forgotten Realms collection which also comes with all the necessary digitized reading material. If you know this isn’t your cup of tea, there are plenty of D&D games using the newer rules that you will be able to enjoy.

On a side note, playing Pool of Radiance did inspire me to buy the Ruins of Adventure tabletop module that the computer game is based off of which I am currently converting into the 5th edition ruleset I plan on publishing on GMSGuild.com. It’s Moonsea setting also inspired me to write up some new gritty survival rules I also plan to publish in the future as well.

Changes in the New Year

We may not have flying cars, robotic servants or any of those other things promised (lied) to us in the years past, but we do have a lot to look forward to on my Twitch channel starting with a new bot and merchandise store.

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Happy New Year!

Okay, I’m a little late with this… so sue me.

Yes, a new year is upon us: 2020! We are living in the future which means that by now we all have robotic servants; are vacationing to the Moon and have landed on Mars; have self-flying cars in every garage; are living in virtual worlds as if they are real… okay, maybe we’re not living in that future, but it’s the future nonetheless.

Being it’s the future, I think it’s about time to update my channel to match.

My channel has gone through many changes in the past – all of them meant to push it forward in one way or another – and I feel they have done just that. So let’s keep this train moving forward and talk about upcoming changes to the channel and community that surrounds it!

NEW BOT, WHO DIS?

Streamlabs

I’ve used Streamlabs to some extent since I first started streaming years ago.

They had the perfect answer for all your streaming needs and were constantly pushing to get you things you never even knew you needed from chargeback protection to a donation cup to overlays and much more. It really felt like they were streamers who were trying to make a platform that they needed.

Over time they began expanding. First by acquiring my favorite loyalty/streaming bot – Ankhbot – and converting it into Streamlabs Chatbot, then by creating their own distribution of my preferred streaming software, OBS.

It didn’t take long before I started to feel Streamlabs were getting a bit too big for what they could handle. The programs they acquired – seemingly needing to be largely rewritten from the ground up – were lacking in features that their predecessors had and the company wasn’t releasing updates and new features as fast as others such as OBS. In a burgeoning medium such as livestreaming, these limitations are dangerous.

By the time Logitech came into the picture, I was done. I saw systems being put up behind paywalls and the platform itself turning away from something created by ‘streamers who were trying to make a platform that they needed’ to ‘a corporation who bought a platform to make them money.’

I was out. I started looking for a alternative which I found in a simple yet full-featured system I had toyed around with previously: Streamelements.

WHAT DOES STREAMELEMENTS BRING TO THE TABLE?

Streamelements - Merry Christmas

On the surface, Streamelements does everything that Streamlabs does only for free. But it’s more than that. Streamelements has the streamer in mind.

I have nothing against people or companies making money, but when you have a program that starts off entirely free and then slowly block pieces away behind a paywall, that becomes a problem. Not so with Streamelements.

Streamelements has an activity feed, chatstats, overall stream stats, overlays, tipping pages (using PayPal or credit card using SePay and with chargeback protection), loyalty points, commands, games, moderation filters and much more.

I’ve already instituted a lot of these elements into the stream – carrying over much of what was built before – and I will continue to build upon it to create something special for our community.

Something that is a welcome return is the Streamelements Store where you can post rewards the community can buy with the loyalty points they have earned from watching the stream. Unlike the points Twitch gives your viewers, I have more versatility in the entire process which I love.

Another thing that just hit is the Merchandise Store.

A NEW STORE MOVING IN

Merchandise store comparisonI currently have a merchandise store through Design By Humans which has very high quality merchandise but the return on the streamers end is pennies on the dollar compared to the other services out there. On top of that, their customer service has left me soured as ithave done downhill since their great start.

I have a smaller, close-knit community so I need to be very concerned with where my and my community’s money is going. There are a lot of moving parts when you are talking about creating a merchandise store including the digital storefront, the quality of product, quality of print, customer service and more. However, all that taken into account, I still can’t see why I am only making $3 a shirt on Design by Humans whereas I can make around $11 a shirt on Streamelements.

The bottom line is Streamelements seems to understand that streamers are trying to use their platform as a component to create a brand around themselves… to build on their dreams. They aren’t primarily there to make money for themselves – that will come through the growth and happiness of those who choose to build their brands with the SE platform.

THE FUTURE IS OPEN

Overall, I’m excited where this move will take me! I feel I am slowly righting the ship from the wrongs I may have done in the past and as we go make this journey together I feel the future is open and ripe with potential!

is there anything you would love to see on my channel? Contact me through email, Discord or Twitter and we’ll talk about it.

Must-have Mods for Pool of Radiance

Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first entry into computer role-playing games, 1988s Pool of Radiance, may have been released before traditional modding came about, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t certain modifications and companion apps that will help make your journey through the past a less tedious one. Here are three I can’t recommend highly enough.

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Released in 1988 by Strategic Simulations Inc., Pool of Radiance was a marvel to behold at the time garnering high marks from many publications and even winning the Best Fantasy or Science Fiction Computer Game of 1988 at the Origins Award joining the likes of Sid Meier’s Pirates.

Unfortunately today, even if you are used to the graphics and controls of older games of this genre, the game mechanics and sound design can leave a lot to be desired. However, don’t let that prevent you from playing this wonderful classic!

I have compiled a short list of three simple “must haves” that will make you Pool of Radiance experience much better.

1. GOLD BOX COMPANION

Gold Box Companion
Gold Box Companion – a must have to play these older games.

Gold Box Companion is an absolute must-have companion app for not only Pool of Radiance, but all of the Gold Box games that gives you a ton of added functionality and takes away a lot of the tedium that comes with playing older games like these.

Normally in Pool of Radiance you can only see your characters hit points, experience, buffs and afflictions when you slog through various screens that seemingly want you to get lost in their perplexity. With the GBC you can see all that information through an added HUD above the DOSBox window.

Tired of getting lost or writing your own maps or constantly trying to follow along in the cluebook? GBC gives you an attached Automap that shows your real-time location so you will never get lost. It starts blank so you can fill it out as you explore, or click to have the computer complete it so you know where you are headed. You can also add notes on the map so you’ll never lose those secret doors, teleporters and other items ever again.

GBC in actionI haven’t even gotten to the good stuff yet! Normally in PoR to heal a character you would have to set up camp and have your cleric memorize the one heal spell the game has and, upon waking cast the spell hoping to heal him/her high enough to carry on. Then you would have to sleep and memorize the spells again. That is, of course, if you didn’t get interrupted while sleeping which you are almost sure to have happen.

GBC allows you to quickly heal up all members of your party at any time allowing you to actually play and enjoy the game. You can also store and restore spells that you have already memorized making that process a walk in the park.

Power users are able to jump into the character editor to tweak each individual character stats and even swap them to the unreleased (but in the code) paladin and ranger classes and so much more.

I have the GOG versions of all the Gold Box Games and it works without any issues. Oh, and it’s absolutely free to download and use; however, donations are highly encouraged for all the brilliant work that went into this wonderful program!

2. TANDY SOUND EFFECTS

Tandy sound effects

The sound effects that are turned on (at least in the GOG versions) are not very good. I know the game is over 30 years old, but simple PC beeps and bumps don’t really pull you into the game and get your heart racing. The good news is there are better sound effects in the game, they just need to be turned on!

By following simple instructions by Kirben on the GOG forums, you are able to turn on the built in Tandy sound effects which are light-years better than the standard sound effects.

Your ears will thank you!

3. ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK

Original music

Apparently music was, for whatever reason, disabled in version 1.3 of Pool of Radiance and that just so happens to be the version that GOG uses and it doesn’t look like there’s a way to currently get it back in game. However, it’s not a complete loss.

The Video Game Music website has the entire original Pool of Radiance soundtrack (and many, many others) available for download for the PC-9801, Amiga and NES versions of the game so go download them to play in your favorite program or play them directly from the website’s music player.

It’s a little tedious to have to manually swap the music each time you enter into a different scene (combat, dungeon, wilderness, city, etc.), but you can set the songs on repeat and I have to say there’s no feeling quite like playing a 1988 classic with glorious Tandy sound effects and rocking out to the original soundtrack

THERE IT IS!

That’s all I got for you but honestly there isn’t much more that you should need! I’m positive these three simple modifications will help make your experience with Pool of Radiance much more enjoyable because they did just that for me.

If you haven’t picked up any of the Dungeons & Dragons games like Pool of Radiance, GOG has all the collections available and almost always for ridiculous prices. Please consider using my affiliate link to help my website and channel!