Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius Review

Recently an online friend who knew I enjoyed wargames and weeb shit recommended Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius to me.

It’s an interesting hybrid of Visual Novel waifu game and turn-based tactical. It’s space opera with mechs, except your mech pilots are basically a growing harem.

Funnily enough, the wargame portion of Sunrider is brutally hard. Mechanically, it’s ultra-lite compared to a game like Power Dolls, though it uses the similar combination of action points that are used to move and perform attacks. Each mech has its strengths and weaknesses and utility which will determine how you should use them in your strategy.

Since all missions are in space, with the exception of a mission where sharing a hex with an asteroid reduces your chance of being hit, there’s no effect of the map on strategies. Variances in the missions are more based on when and where enemy reinforcement come from. Early missions with fewer mechs and enemy “bosses” may be a bit more interesting and flexible than the later large fleet battles. The later fights often tend to be “pick a flank, try to crush it, sweep up or down on the other side, then deal with reinforcements as they come.”

The cutscenes of the attacks get old fast, and it would have been nice to be able to disable them more easily; turning on “skip mode” does it, but it can only be toggled in the battle if a character has a line of story dialogue come up during the fight. Still, it’s fun and scratches an itch for turn-based mech space combat.

The Visual Novel portion of the game is a mixed bag. On the face of it, I actually really like the story, but Sunrider uses post-Eva and 21st century waifu tropes for most its characters; I would definitely prefer the “tough dames” of the older real-robot mech genre or at least the mil-sf aesthetic that Power DOLLS went for. But it’s personal taste…

Unfortunately, Sunrider is an episodic game, and Mask of Arcadius only contains the first two episodes. While Liberation Day updates the actual gameplay of the battles in a pretty satisfactory way, it makes the VN aspect of Mask of Arcadius something of a shaggy dog story. [You fill out a questionnaire of your choices when you start LD; which is nice that you can do that, at least, since my End-of-Game save file wouldn’t import correctly].

I’ve found a doc with the under-the-hood effect that your choices make, but they don’t appear to have much bearing on how things actually play out story-wise in Mask of Arcadius. None of the character paths had been set yet, and one character path ends up being fixed for story purposes in Liberation Day [to the groaning of many fans].

Now, because this is a waifu game, it’s only fair that I rank the characters from dumpster to Best Girl.

Claude280px-Claude_character_LD
Claude is a trash tier waifu, who’s “UwU command me captain” shtick is old from the moment it shows up. She’s the worst the game has to offer in this regard, unless you’re really into that sort of thing.

Her utility mech has a few nice features, such as the gravity gun, which is good if you can use it to draw an enemy mech between Asaga and Icari. The deflector shield projection is useful, of course, and the shotgun is helpful to finish off any enemies your better combat units have left near dead, but it’s not enough to make me not hate Claude.

ChigaraChigaramech
The Shinobu. Chigara’s Asaga’s best friend and one of the first pilots you get. She’s supposed to be a brilliant mechanic, and from a gameplay standpoint, this bears out nicely, as she’s the one actually doing the upgrades to your units that you purchase. Except she’s a loli with crippling self-doubt always hoping for validation from the main character, which makes her pretty obnoxious. But miles ahead of Claude.

She’s a forced romance route for story reasons in Liberation Day, which many fans grumble about.

Her mech is a support mech. One of the first mechs you get, its repair capabilities, disable attack, and deflector shield generation make it invaluable.

300px-Cosette_Cosmos

Cosette

Cosette is a yandere loli space pirate.

Toxic chemicals from the mining colony she’s from stunted her growth and, combined with her horrible and traumatic childhood and adolescence, made her completely crazy.

Not my thing at all, but she makes for an interesting villain.

Giving all of the characters numbered flight suits is pretty spoilerific, so I’m assuming you can get Cosette at some point.

[update: you can get Cosette in Liberation Day, but I opted to just kill her instead.]

Asaga
The genki girl. Also, the Mario. Asaga is the first pilot you get along with Chigara. She’s bubbly and funny. She’s a major driver of the story [spoilers: she is actually a runaway space princess]. Like her mech, she could be a lot worse, but she could also be better.

Liberation Day makes her a bit more complex [maybe even somewhat villainous? Dunno, I haven’t finished it.] She literally starts going insane with jealousy over Chigara as the romance-on-rails between Chi and the captain plays out.

Asaga-1

Black Jack is an all-purpose mech. Battleship grade laser cannon, pulse beams, and assault rifle. As more Pact enemies get deflector shields mid-game (or when those damned Pact support mechs show up), Black Jack loses a lot of its punch and gets reduced to drawing fire and trying to pick off nearby targets that have had their armor weakened by stronger units

Sola300px-Sola_portrait
Teh Rei. Not an archetype I generally like, but somehow they make it work here.

She’s found in cryo-stasis in a ghost-fleet and supposedly was a mech pilot for an ancient space empire thousands of years ago.

She’s a royal bastard (literally), whose mother was tragically betrayed and forced into exile by a noble of the imperial court, making her very distantly related to Asaga.

Unfortunately, her mech is kind of boring. The Seraphim’s cannon takes up all [or almost all, if you’ve upgraded it] of the mech’s energy points to use. Still, it’s nice having one reliable big-damage, good accuracy, long range attack per turn.

Icari
IcarimechThe tsundere. Icari’s a mercenary you start out at odds with but who becomes your third pilot. She’s a bit of a ‘by any means necessary’ type, which puts her on your bad side on a fairly difficult early escort mission [by her logic, if a bunch of innocents get killed, it’ll accelerate one faction’s entry into the war and bring about a quicker resolution].

Icari ranks high because I like her design and her mech is actually really fun to use [provided it doesn’t get killed on the first enemy turn]. The Phoenix is a fast close-combat mech with a special ability to avoid attacks of opportunity when moving adjacent to enemy units. Its melee attack can make short work of enemy mechs, and her machine guns are good at finishing off damaged enemies, but the Phoenix has very low armor and is generally poor against ships. Phoenix is good for reducing enemy economy of action on turn one, but has a bad habit of getting shot down. The Phoenix is a big reason why I rank her over Sola.

Ava300px-Ava_portrait
The Sunrider’s first officer and the protagonist’s childhood friend. She’s up there for awhile as Best Girl [at least until Kryska shows up], because she’s one of the few characters who acts like she has some common sense and professionalism.

Her character could easily transplant to a more serious SF story [or maybe it’s just that the bottom ranked characters feel out of place in what actually is a more or less serious SF story].

Kryska barely takes the lead because Ava’s air of professionalism sometimes dips into the mopey as she tries to be the “one sane person” in a crew of obnoxious VN tropes. Spoilers: If I factor in Liberation Day, where she has an eye-patch and Kryska gets turned into a grabass, she may reclaim top-slot.

Kryska
KryskamechI was initially disinclined to like Kryska because it’s made painfully obvious up front that she’s a spy planted by the Alliance to gather data on your ship and your crew. But she has her shit together, is a professional pilot, and her mech shows up really right when you need it. She has kind of a blue-oni/red-oni thing going on with Icari, who gives her crap for being up-tight and unfeminine. Kryska and Ava are in a class of their own, though. [Liberation Day looks like it may play her up as a lesbian stereotype, unfortunately.]

Kryska’s mech is a heavy fire support mech [the Guncannon/Guntank]. At a time where Asaga’s mech is becoming much less effective against everything, it’s nice to have an extra heavy cannon to punch through capital ships’ armor. Downside is that it’s very slow, but that big damage is everything mid-to-late-game.

Overall, Sunrider is pretty niche… I think it really requires the right combination of patient-but-desperate-for-new-content wargamer and weeb to enjoy. Wargamers might find the wargame aspect weak and the VN portion cringey, while VN fans might find the wargame aspect too difficult and frustrating.

More than anything, it made me wish that it was better, either mechanically or aesthetically, but it also made me thankful that someone out there was at least trying. Still, I liked it enough to pick up Liberation Day to see how it all pans out between the Alliance and the PACT.

Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius is free on Steam and Gog.

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Quick Update on Some News & Things

Lot of stuff going on, and we’ve had so little time to talk about it!

First up, I was recently on a podcast with Mr. E and a couple other folks talking about comics & stuff. Lots of fun. You can listen to it here; mid-way through, though, I was dealing some stuff that came up in meatspace, so I only managed to get in two “controversial opinions”.

This Friday, we’ve got two huge things going on:

Black Amazon of Mars drops, and we’ll be launching our IndieGoGo for Wild Stars.

This saturday, if everything goes according to plan, we’ll be on with Daddy Warpig & Dorrinal for the newest episode of Geek Gab.

Then, on the 6th, we’ll be live on location with Michael Tierney and Shane Stacks for the Shane Plays radio show on 101.1 FM The Answer.

We’ll have more news on that as we’re able to push it live.

On the side, been playing a lot of Ogre with my dad; I got him the Designer Edition for his birthday, and we’ve been getting a lot of use out of it [my dad’s already having us use more boards than scenarios call for and doubling the piece counts and such].

Also, I’ve been playing Sunrider: Mask of Arcadius on the recommendation of a friend. And good lord, that game is brutal for a mech pilot waifus in space tactical VN hybrid. In some ways, it reminds me of Power DOLLS. PD is a better wargame despite all of its issues and clunkiness, and frankly I like its overall aesthetic better, but the cheesy space opera story of Sunrider’s VN is fun [even if the waifus are trash] and does a good enough job of breaking up the incredibly difficult battles. [I’ll note that the difficulty curve between Captain [default 4/6] and Ensign [3/6] is astronomical–what took me days to get to on Captain only took a few hours to replay on Ensign when I restarted; but once I got back to where I’d stalled out on Captain, it’s been slower going even on the lower difficulty].

If I get time, I’ll do a more thorough review of it, with a ranking list of best girls and best mechs.

How to Solve the Problem of Players Becoming Murder-Hobos

Marie Cham asks:

Dear , From one dm to another, how can you stop/prevent your players from always becoming murder-hobos and killing their way through your campaign? Sincerely yours, a desperate dm that has tried for 4 years.

Well, I may not be Matthew Mercer, and I may not play a DM on a Youtube show, but as someone who has DMed and been a part of groups that have cured players of their murderhoboing, I may be somewhat qualified to answer.

My recommendation is simple:

  • Play B/X
  • Do not use negative hitpoints
  • Let Characters die because Players make bad choices

The first point really is mostly a preference choice that facilitates the third point. But if you let the choices that players make have serious consequences, even power players will shift their play-style towards more creative solutions than “kill everything”.

Your players party WILL go through a “kill everything with fire” phase of abject terror, where they realize that the horrors out there will kill them, but they haven’t quite figured out how to deal with it. Parties will learn quickly, however, that stone structures do not burn well…

Murder-hoboing is a behavior that CAN be trained away. Social contracts and pleading for your players to behave differently is ineffective because behavior is often facilitated by the game itself (not just the system, but “game”, meaning the sum of the system, the players, the DM, the adventure, etc.). B/X is an excellent training ground for changing this behavior because it shifts the equation in favor of that change. Characters are not overpowered and mistakes/bad decision making can be lethal. No, don’t kill characters to kill them, but allowing characters to suffer the consequences of their choices can put a kibosh on murderhoboing pretty quickly.

This approach is a great remedy for “always chaotic evil” guy, who will start coming up with characters who contribute positively and meaningfully to the group. And it helps murderhoboing parties because that situation usually comes from the whole group rather than a single player. It’s a mind-set that consequences can break.

“Oh, my asshole character died because I made bad choices” is going to bring about real change in a way that sitting everyone down and saying “Can you please not play an asshole this time?” simply will not.

As an addendum, I will say that I absolutely HATE people who say things like “Just tell everyone that you won’t tolerate a murder-hobo campaign! I mean, we’re all mature adults, right?!”

It treats people’s gaming groups as disposable and interchangeable. Sure, kick out intolerable players whose behavior can’t be changed, many people have a limited supply of friends with whom they can play D&D. And the behavior CAN be changed by teaching. Such an approach is needlessly reductive and an unhelpful suggestion, because even though players CAN be taught to play better, this is saying “it’s not worth it teach your players a new way of playing; get new friends.”

You don’t need new friends. You don’t necessarily need a new game–after you’ve done your road-work on B/X, you can switch back to other systems, the skills your players picked up will carry over. What you DO need to do is understand that behaviors at the table can change and are shaped by consequences–reward and punishment, carrot and stick.

 

The Franco-Angevin Wars Continue! (More Richard I the Lion Heart)

The first three games of our series of Richard I the Lion Heart went “Surrender for Richard” (Dad wins), “Philip captured, French Army routed, Richard dies in battle” (draw), and “Philip stalls Richard, deploying troops everywhere, refusing to fight in pitched battles, conquers Touraine and Maine, endlessly subverts vassals, and wears Richard down to a state of recklessness, at which point he falls in battle” (I win).

We played another game to break the 1-1-1 set, and my dad wanted a second go as Richard. I enacted a similar strategy as in the previous game, using Philip and the Count of Au to move troops to French border castles where Richard would hopefully be bogged down. My dad spent next to nothing on diplomacy in the first turn, which mean on one hand, he had a lot of troops, but on the other hand, almost of his provinces were in rebellion.

Rather than get stuck in sieges or get wiped out early on, I sacrificed my siege trains and would send Philip and the Count out of Normandy to meet up with the rebelling barons. By the second year, I had a massive surplus of funds to replenish lost troops. So, even though I hadn’t won any battles (nor even stood to fight), I was never in too bad a shape, and Philip could always escape. Despite having a field army considerably damaged and bruised, I maintained several strongholds in Normandy with very large (in some cases unassailable) garrisons. The game ended rather early with Richard dying in a siege.

While this broke the tied set in my favor, it meant that Richard was 0-4. I wanted to give it one last go as Richard myself before we put this one to bed.

We’re only into the second year of this one, but I think I may have this one in the bag as Richard. I’ll admit that while I was lucky in that, while the diplomacy phase was a wash for vassals mostly, Baldwin of Flanders joined my cause for 1194. My dad had sent Philip down with most of the troops and the French siege train to subjugate Touraine, which meant the only real opposition in Normandy was the Count of Au with a small force along the border trying to harangue loyal English border castles.

I put everything I had on Caen to take it early, and a lucky first turn roll meant no siege. Rather than having Richard lead a mighty charge, I used him to move and reposition some troops to hold the fort on the road to Maine and reinforce the loyal border castles. Meanwhile, I sent Mercadier with the siege train and some of the troops north towards Dieppe, where he would meet Baldwin and take the city. The Marshal took most of the rest of Richard’s forces and went about overawing French border castles and burning them to the ground. Richard, meanwhile, stayed behind with John in an administrative capacity, only jumping in once to raise the bonus on a siege attack that I desperately wanted to win before the winter turn of 1194/1195.

All that’s left right now for Richard to win are two border castles, Gisors, and Les Andelys. Plus, Gisors has only one SP of garrison left. Best of all, I’ve used Richard so sparingly that there’s a 0% chance of his death! [Death # starts at 15, goes down by one each turn Richard is in battle, and goes up by one each winter—having only made two attacks with Richard in 1194, going into 1195, his # is 14; needless to say, it is impossible to roll over 14 on 2d6.]

I didn’t spend any money on knights, because I’m hoping I can wrap this up without any pitched battles. Though Philip seized Maine at the end of 1194, I have 15 SP + 5 garrison SP (worth 40 total should Philip try to storm) in the castle blocking the road. My goal in the next two turns is to have Marshal and Mercadier take most of the troops between them to overawe the two remaining border forts. All I need is kill a single SP of garrison in Gisors, so I’ll leave just enough SP with Richard to see that it’s a sure thing. This should all be accomplished in the March turn.

If either of the two border forts don’t fall in the initial assault, I’ll send in John to move some extra troops to knock it out in the April turn. If neither falls, it could be a problem, but Mercadier and Marshal both have attack bonuses that should guarantee I take AT LEAST one with the odds I have. Regardless of the fort situation, as soon as Gisors falls, the siege train will move on Les Andelys with Richard. It would be a coup if I took it in the first round of battle in April. If things go into May, it may be a bit dicey.

Where Philip is right now, he can’t do anything that would reverse my fortunes in March. He could harry my fort on the road to Maine, but almost certainly could not take it in a single turn. He could take the road from Maine back into France and try to confront Richard’s rampaging troops. Unfortunately for him, it would take until the bottom half of the April turn to get there. So, I have two turns to knock out 4 strongholds. I am very confident I can take 3 of them.

If it comes to a pitched battle, Philip DOES have knights with him, but Richard’s generals are good enough that in a meeting battle, if one does happen between all of the English and all of the French troops outside of Les Andelys, they should be able to hold their own. The problem will be that this is the likely outcome: the English knaves slaughter the French knaves; the French knights slaughter the English knaves; one side retreats; even if the English come out with an army intact, they will not be able to challenge the French knights on the battlefield; the French knights alone will not be enough to trap an English army taking respite in a fortress; the war drags on for another year.

If it comes down to that, I do have a few things going in my favor: each stronghold in Normandy gives me 12k ducats, and I have 5 out of 6; Normandy pledged its loyalty to me for the 1195 year; Les Andelys is neutral, so even if I can’t take it, there’s a very good chance Philip can’t either, and he will be unable to garrison it with his own troops against me over the winter 1195/1196 turn. The troops I would be able to muster for 1196 ought to be enough to take out whatever’s left that needs to be taken in a single blow.

I’ll be honest: we’ve probably be playing the game wrong the whole time. In fact, I know in one spot we’re doing wrong out of convenience [a single roll for combat with results multiplied by the total troop number, rather than rolling an individual attack for every ten SP and a “partial” attack for numbers under 10]. The rules could stand to be a little clearer in places… But overall, this has been one of our favorite beer & pretzels wargames.

I’ll let you know how things turned out next week.

More King Richard!

This week, we wrapped up our second game of Richard I the Lion Heart; though the English forces utterly routed the French and captured Philip Augustus, Richard fell on the field of battle a few miles north of Maine’s border with Normandy. We called it a draw, though in retrospect it would be a long-term strategic victory for France; Philip would eventually be ransomed. The biggie would be that he would be substantially weakened in his dealing with John, and John, without perpetual holy wars with France, might avoid having to sign the Magna Carta.

It’s a game that you have to slow-play to win. I got over-eager, in part, because my dad wanted to call it, and I wanted things to go out in one last big battle, at least. I’d have likely won before the game-year was out, because there were only a couple places left in Normandy I had to take, and with Philip and the Count of Au left with maybe a 1/5th of my total forces, there wasn’t a lot they could do to seriously interfere with the ongoing sieges.

I’m trying this time as the French, and adopting a long-game stalling strategy. I used Philip to deploy garrisons in the towns and forts along the French and Norman borders, then bugged out with siege train to create trouble in Touraine. The Count of Au did similarly in the northern area of the border, but being slow, got himself caught and captured in a siege. I’m still debating whether or not it would be worth trying to ransom him back. I certainly wouldn’t want to overpay for him; he’s really not that good. But on the other hand, just having a guy around in the same province makes other strongholds more difficult to besiege. Plus, he’s the only thing besides rebelling vassal barons that Philip can use to keep from being out-maneuvered.

So, the goal and strategy:

  • create delays in Normandy, but don’t actively fight for it.
  • fight for and besiege the unguarded western Angevin holdings
    • Deny money and troops from Richard’s vassals
    • Line the French coffers with Angevin wealth
    • Build an unbeatable army of French knights while Richard’s forces dwindle
  • return to Normandy with troops to not confront, but to further delay Richard
  • wait for fate to take its course and for Richard to take an arrow through the neck

Holmes D&D: An Interesting Conundrum

Next month at a local RPG con, I plan on running the Holmes Basic sample dungeon, Tower of Zenopus, and I intend to run it using Holmes Basic/Blueholme rules. I’ve run it in the past before using B/X, and one of the reasons why I want to run this at the con is that I’ve run it before for a library program and know I can run it in a 6 hour timeslot.

Now, because I am a very busy person with a day job, a weekly column, a gig moonlighting as a retro-game reviewer, and will be shipping out a book I’ve published this month, I was hoping to find some reliable char-gen out of the OSR community so I wouldn’t need to roll up 20 characters by hand. I mean, it wouldn’t take me more than a couple of hours, but still, I wouldn’t mind saving the time.

What I found in the character generators I came across was interesting… While they had some really good features, particularly equipment generation, they either made the mistake of assuming Holmes used B/X’s magic system or they paid lipservice to the INT % modifier but did not calculate a list of known spells. Typically, they would just list one random level one spell that the MU/Elf knew.

I think part of it boils down to early D&D weirdness; the early games don’t actually work the way that most of us assume they work. Whether it’s giving all Magic Users “Read Magic” “because you need it to learn spells” or having B/X characters learn new spells from scrolls and having a spellbook containing more spells than the character has levels, DMs do a lot of stuff that’s not in the book. I’ve done it, too, sometimes from ignorance, sometimes for convenience. But we tend to make a lot of assumptions on how things works and cobble something together from memory and experience of multiple different systems rather than go by the rules.

I’ve never run pure Holmes before. In fact, this summer’s Ultralich mini-campaign is the first time I’ve tried running pure B/X [usually I’ve done weird alternate magic rules that are slightly more AD&D-esque, because those have a more Vancian feel].

I want to get that weird “this is not like D&D you’ve ever played” experience from the game I’ll be running, so I’ll be adhering to the following:

-No STR bonuses. Yes, that’s right, OD&D and Holmes did not have Strength bonuses. STR was purely a “roll under” stat.

-Magic Users will have their spellbooks with all 1st level spells, some of which they’ll know, others they will not.

-Dex-based paired initiatives.

-No Variable Weapon Damage

-Variable Weapon Speed

We’ll see how it goes! I’ll be brushing up on Holmes the next few weeks and see just how little I actually know about this edition!

Death Crypt of the Ultralich – The Artificer’s Workshop

The artificer’s workshop is below the south end of the abbey. It can be reached either by the stairs in the annex behind the hidden door or via the well.

Dungeon Level 3 - Workshop

  1. Artificer’s Bedroom. Skeleton*. Desk w/notes–Read Language will reveal his attempts to build “Daughters”. +1 Plate.
  2. Inner workshop. All manner of tools & blueprints, cogs, springs. A desk, tables, half-assembled bronze constructs. 4x “Daughters” 4HD*, AC3, 40′ 1d6*/1d6. (*stun for one round). Scrap worth 6k gold.
  3. 2x Iron Living Statues. 500 steel ingots.
  4. Workshop supplies. 100 hammers. 25 screwdrivers. 50 wrenches. 25 unknown tools.
  5. 3 patrolling bronze walkers. HD2, AC4 30′ 1d6 (will flee if attacked and summon LS then Daughters.
  6. Anvils, barrels of springs (5x 100 gp each) and gears (5x 100 gp each).

*:active if seal in L2-26 is broken.