Friday, February 19, 2016

Moving on up...

Hey those still watching, I've somewhat abandoned this site to move on to bigger things.  That's the bad news...the good news is, I'll now be posting podcasts, blogs, and more information on my new website, where I'm a literal Storyteller for hire! Come over and check us out, and if you're in Central Ohio, and looking for a game, have it run by our expert Game Master!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

So Many Games, So Many Goals, So Little Time.

Hey there all two of you who read this blog and the other folks that accidentally navigate here!  Welcome back. Man, it's been mooooonths! Entire months since I wrote a blog.  To be honest I took a bit of a break because I found it exhausting attempting to make each post so full of meaning and love, and especially exhausting when I was trying not to, and I only recently remembered this was here.

But, I have kept up with tabletop gaming, and it's been interesting.  Instead of pulling everyone into one group to play one game, there are now three groups.  It's odd, I was always afraid of the consequences of splitting folks up, but this has really worked out.  Let me touch base on a little that has gone on in each game and why I split the groups.

So initially I split my entire gaming group into two teams based mainly on what I perceived to be their goal in table top games.  Having played games with all of these people for a number of years, I think I have a good sense of what these folks enjoy the most about table-top role-playing (thank you trial and error!), and I split groups based on that.  This came (somewhat predictably) to two groups, "The Old Guard" and "The New Guard" .

That's what I call a One-Two Punch.
"The New Guard", my largest group (and growing) chose Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition.  There is much I can say about 4th edition, so much that I started another post about it, based on what I just removed from this post.   It's little wonder that many of "The New Guard" are sports fans.  Of all the systems I've played, 4th edition is by far the most team oriented.  In short it's a game that thrives on the group approach, enforcing group roles at character creation (Defender, Leader, Controller, Striker) and rewarding tactical play styles.  In previous iterations of Dungeons and Dragons, emphasis in character development has been on amassing the means of survival and power individually.  Fourth Edition recognizes that each adventurer is, foremost, a member of the team and one part of a whole, even at the launch of the system, touting the motto "Never Split the Party".  It also happens that 4th edition is the system that many of "The New Guard" cut their teeth on when it comes to table top RPGs.  In this place of comfort, "The New Guard" thrives.

"The Old Guard" is composed mainly of the people I learned to play RPGs with, and for them I run Numenera, a far future Science Fantasy RPG with a minimalist rules system to allow emphasis on story and description of the strange (and boy do I mean "Strange") and exciting "Ninth World".  Perhaps in time I will write a post solely about the Cypher System, and it's merits.  As mentioned "The Old Guard" introduced me to table top gaming, and as such our experience with different systems has been vast.  Three and a half versions of D&D, two versions of Star Wars, Shadowrun, Two versions of Mutants and Masterminds, (Multiple) Old and New World of Darkness, Robotech, Heroes Unlimited, and on and on.  So I knew that introducing them to a new system wouldn't be an issue.  

Both in system and setting, Numenera has been a challenge, and a very welcome one at that.  Again, more about Numenera and the Cypher System in a later Post (the majority of which will be poached from what I just removed here.)

Welcome to Earth. Partying like it's 1,000,002,014.
Aside from the fantastic fantasy and "weird future" elements, Numenera is a game about discovery and rediscovery, with emphasis on "thinking outside the box".  More so then any other system I've played, there is no right or wrong way to solve a problem, but there are many, MANY ways to achieve a goal.  Players are rewarded for ingenuity and (re)discovery.  "The Old Guard" is a mix of players somewhere on the scale of "cautious beyond paranoia" and "too curious for their own good", a perfect mix of future explorers.  In a departure from time honored "Slay Monsters, Acquire Loot", players have been solving puzzles, uncovering mysteries, and exploring facilities, while ancient are also highly advanced, appearing more like a dilapidated Star Wars set, or the structure early on in "Portal 2".  4th Edition forces players to work together (The price of an individual's ego is the suffering of the party).  Numenera does not force players to work together, but the "The Old Guard" does, and to great effect, with little issue.  Maybe because they're seasoned veterans and know the price of hubris in a dangerous fictional world, maybe because they've been friends for decades and know they can trust each other implicitly, possibly because they're literally family whether by blood or marriage.

Much like this wonderful piece by Fredrik Eriksson,
A good vampire game blends a world with which you're
familiar, with something...darker. Check out his Stuff
Then there's the smaller group, who plays intermittently during the week.  They play Vampire: The Requiem.  You see, the point of this post has been to frame what I've learned from playing multiple different games, and none has illustrated this point to me more, then my week night game of Vampire.  I've been playing table top RPGs since I was eighteen or nineteen years old, and everyone had combat, action, and adventure, especially the ones I've run.  Not only did I want Action and Adventure, I wanted intrigue, and horror, and exploration, etc., etc.  Worst is I always tried to squeeze it out of one game (Usually D&D 4th Edition), whether the game's system supported that style of play or not.  

Now that's not to say you can't splash a bit other genres in your games, but at their core, Dungeons and Dragons (D20 system) was made for high adventure, Numenera (Cypher System) made for discovery and exploration, and World of Darkness (Storyteller System) for brutal Gothic horror.  And while it's good to work a little of adventure into Vampire at times, and discovery into Dungeons and Dragons, letting these games play to their strengths is where they truly shine.  And though my current players are in no way relegated to these games specifically, I found a lot of luck in "playing to the audience" not only in picking their brains at the end of a game ("What was your favorite part? What do you want to see more of?"), but choosing systems that support the play styles they enjoy the most.

There's a lot of systems out there, and it's easy to look at table top gaming from the outside and call all of it "D&D" because of the game's iconic status.  But remember, there's a reason that not everyone refers to Science Fiction Movies as "Star Wars", not everyone refers to famous painters as "Picasso", not everyone refers to books as "Harry Potter".  There's a wealth of creativity and systems knowledge in the world of table top, all you need do is find the one that fits you best...

...though of course, you could always make your own, that's what Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax did.
The two men at the bottom right, only responsible for a large part of
Contemporary Gaming History, that's all.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


it's alright to be jealous
So I've got a bit of a problem.  Well, a couple problems.  Those problems are Crowd Funding sites and Bundle sites.  Because really where the hell else should I be spending my money on anything other then necessities and NERF weapons?

But alas, crowd funding provides a brilliant opportunity to sink money into things I want before they're designed for what everyone wants.  Do I want to fund a new Monte Cook game and get a copy when it's done? Hell yes I do!  Do I want to help fund and get a copy of awesome far-future rogue-like, Hyper Light Drifter, or help pay to develop a billboard space turned into topiary, or fund a community owned exploration telescope that will be fired into orbit, or fund a funny science-fiction cartoon or Bee and Puppy Cat so I can continue to watch them on Youtube, or pay for the development of awesome fantasy sound effects, or fund a tongue cleaner that while originally made for people is now being made for pets?

My answer to all these things and more was "Yes", and you know what, it feels good.  I feel like when I support these products, not only am I paying to receive these products, but also to support the culture these products are a part of.  It's like instead being on the other side of the coin as a consumer, instead of telling you what I like when you sell it to me, I'm telling you what you shouldn't bother selling, because I'm not supporting it.  I'm a fan of the process.

whispering:"I support you"
Bundles are another matter, in a previous post you may have seen me mention the "Bundle of Fate".  Since I've been following bundles such as "Bundle of Holding" and "The Humble Bundle", which feature Tabletop gaming products and video game products, respectively.

Bundles are ingenious, you pay what you wish for an amount of content, say a third or half of the products featured, but then if you pay above the community average, you get the rest of the content.  Even better, the money money is split between being able to support future bundles, and charity.  The number of games and books I've acquired via bundles is a bit staggering, especially when I take into account that some of the games I've not finished, and many of the books I've never utilized in play with others.  My buyer's remorse (as if I'd ever have it for books or video games) is soothed though, as I'm able to rationalize that the money spent went to charity.

So the most recent Bundle of Holding contained a number of books not just playing games, but inspiration for world building and running games as well.  So now I'll share with you some of the random creatures I've been able to create from the "Tome of Adventure Design"

The Anurasphinx has the body of a frog, the head of a man, and the wings of a bat.  It reproduces by dropping it's eggs into a rushing stream, where they are eaten by fish.  After a brief gestation cycle where the egg absorbs nutrients from the fish, the "Tadsphinx" breaks it's egg, releasing a foul tasting enzyme that causes the fish to regurgitate the young, it then moves to the waterside to work blood into it's wings.  The Anurasphinx spends its time stalking travelers, especially musicians, as it's main source of sustenance is the sound of Music.

The Urchin Wyrm is a large reptilian creature that lives on both salt and fresh water coasts.  When at rest, it is difficult to decipher what part of the dragon is what because each of its scales elongate into quills that cover its body.  Only when the dragon attacks is it easy to decipher that the spiky mass is actually a creature of any kind.  Some say the Urchin Wyrm isn't a dragon at all as it lacks a dangerous breath attack, the truth is that the dragon's maw houses an organic gravitational mass generator, allowing it to use its "breath" to push, pull, lift, and even teleport objects in its range.  The Urchin Wyrm also has a keen intellect and a love of dungeons, giving it a working knowledge of dungeon type areas, stories and myths surrounding magic items and legends.  Urchin Wyrms are usually loath to share this information as they see most other life as beneath them, but once it has been suitably terrified, it begins spewing this information out indiscriminately in an attempt to placate or confuse what threatens it.

The Euthanasia-Porpoise is an Elemental Monster from the Plane of Death, specifically the Quietus Ocean.  It travels between worlds only when a sacrifice is made in its name, and when it manifests into the material realm, it glides about, instilling the living with a sense of exhaustion and dread.  It's siren call drives mortal
creatures to end their own lives in the most peaceful way they can imagine.  Those who summon this terrible grampus do so at their own peril, as the Euthanasia-Porpoise does not care for wealth, power, or gifts, it seeks only to spread it's morbid influence.

So, three creatures later, and I'm pretty sure this book has paid for itself.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

These are the Rules I Game by...

So recently a friend asked "I'm planning on running a Tabletop RPG, do you know an good resources to get me started".

Now mind you, it's been months since I've played any tabletop, Amanda and I have spent some time getting moved into a house, and even before that, conflicting schedules left us not much time together.  But, storytelling games are neither jealous nor fickle, when you need to take some time for yourself its books wait patiently on your shelves, its dice and pens sit in their organized cubbies, its hand-crafted map tools and miniatures wait silently in their boxes.  And when you're ready, they embrace you with open arms, and I am ready to start again.  Every weekend that I'm not sitting around a table rolling dice with my friends is a weekend I want to jump out of my skin.

Aberrant Bunny Man, Tentacle Woman, or
Three-Eyed Intelligent Mutant Rat. But a few of
Gamma World's Character Options.
...but I digress! As I said, it's only been a few months, so when the gears started moving there was no rust to stop them.  "Which Game? What kind of story are you running? How many Players do you have? How long will your sessions be? What sort of map are you using? Who're you antagonists? What is your theme?"  of course, before I could ask any of these he added "...Specifically for Gamma World".

Ah...Gamma World, you know what's great about Gamma World? Everything's great about Gamma world.  Gamma World is a little bit of everything.  It's a little like if the Shadowrun tabletop RPG and the Fallout video game series had a baby, but the baby was too ugly so they put it up for adoption, but then it was adopted by Dungeons and Dragons, because D&D has a heart of gold, and Gamma World was too ugly not to love.

To the initiated, I'm of course talking about Wizards of the Coast's October 2010 release of Gamma World (or 7th edition)

To the uninitiated, Gamma World is an adventure game that takes place in an alternate reality where, well, all "Alternate Realities" collapsed on one another, including many like our own in an event called "The Big Mistake" due to the activation of the Large Hadron Collider.  In many realities nuclear war had broken out, in many strange and alien creatures walked the earth, etc.  Just about anything you can imagine can appear in the haunted, irradiated, apocalyptic landscape of Gamma Terra.  You are one of the strange mutated denizens of said planet, your body undergoing constant "Alpha Mutation" due to your strange physiology or perhaps just quirks of reality.  Ruins of countless "old worlds" dot the landscape, as does their discarded technology.

As bleak as this mess sounds, the game's guide urges storytellers and players to "Embrace the Weird".  Storytellers are armed with strange creature to throw at players, while the players themselves create characters from a random table of origins, mixing tropes to make Psychic Yetis, Pyromantic Intelligent Plants, Genetically Engineered Giant Roaches, Kitten Swarms, Empathic Hawk Men, Radioactive Androids...the list goes on, and any combination of those things really.

Penny Arcade knows what it's all about.

The system is based strongly on Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition rule set, making Gamma World, a fantastic game for new players and storytellers alike.  So maybe I should get back to that part, instead of writing a review of the game...

I started to compile a list of what I'd learned as a Storyteller for table-top RPGs, a few rules to live by when it comes to running a game. Said list is as follows.

This guy's D&D campaign would be
1. Know your Audience:
Like any great performer, you're looking to make sure your audience has a good time, have an interactive audience makes that job much easier.  These are your friends and loved ones playing a game, tailor it into something they will love as much as it's a cool idea you had for a story.

2. Characters are Characters, Stories are Stories, Know the distinction:
Those new to tabletop gaming often come up with a grand tale when faced with creation in a game, full of scenery and great characters.  None of this great creativity should be wasted, it should be shared.  Storytellers and players alike should remember this is a cooperative storytelling experience. Enforce your roles as players and storytellers, but don't be afraid to give ideas and build a story based on collaborative ideas.

3.  Know the Rules at least well enough to Fake it:
You don't need to know the game like the back of your hand, but you should know it well enough to make rules as you go so that you don't have to waste time going through books.  Just remember to explain to your players that you are taking liberties for the sake of keeping the game moving and they should be pretty understanding.  If you do fudge a rule though, make sure it favors the players; ruling off the cuff is risky, and at the end of the night you can either have people walking away from your table wondering why you were making up rules to cheat them, or talking about how awesome it was when their character used their "Use Rope" skill to lasso an airship and swing to it like Errol Flynn.  I'd prefer the latter.

4. Never Punish your Players:
Friends get goofy, especially if your game goes late into the evening, or allows alcohol.  These antics can go from simple distractions, to game-breaking disruptions that angers everyone at the table.  As a Storyteller (especially in a state of exhausted, Mountain Dew fueled, frustration), it's easy to lose your temper and say "You've been struck by lightning", "your horses are dead", "All your stuff has been stolen", "you don't get paid".

...this one's would probably require
quite a few savings throws.
Catching yourself before "bringing the hammer down" is tough, it's a bit like supressing the urge to strangle the life out of someone who has just slapped you in public and is now laughing to everyone around you about it.  They ruined your game, they've wasted your time, and now they're going to pay the price. (I could do a whole post about this).  IF you have the good sense to identify this situation as soon as it starts say "let's break a few minutes before this escalates". Stand up, grab a drink, talk to your players about what's going on in the game.  If things are going in a logical direction and you think the game can be salvaged, then gather your thoughts and prepare, then get right back in there.  If you feel continuing in this direction is only going to create more disruption, or worse hostility, don't be afraid to call the game for the night.  Everyone's here to have fun, Storyteller and Players.  If someone isn't having a good time, then the game wastes their time too.

5. Challenge your Players, and Never Leave that Challenge to Chance:
A story is nothing without adversity, and if there's anything my good friend Kristina Elyse Butke has taught
me (shameless name drop), it's that "the stakes have to be life or death, anything less your audience won't give a shit about."  Death doesn't just mean character death though, it can also be a change of life as they know it.  Your players should be striving to work through something, and though bad rolls can rob your player's characters of glory, simply leaving such finality to the roll of a dice is boring, especially if they have nothing to gain from it except "Not Dying".  Don't throw needless, tedious combats at them (a crime I have been guilty of, MANY times over), and don't pigeon hole their options to "Door A, that's all".  "Challenge" means more then "heap of monsters to kill", and a player's "hard decision" shouldn't amount to whether or not they can kill something.

Wrapping up, I'm sure I could come up with many more rules, but that would diminish my point.  Running a game is more then memorizing rules.  It's easy to get swept up in trying to recall procedure like "attacks of opportunity", the bonuses you get from certain types of cover, and whether something made a saving throw for ongoing damage.  So long as the people around your table are laughing and having a great time, you can't go wrong.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bundles and Bundles

Hey everyone, I know I've kind of let this blog fall by the way-side, but if anyone's still listening, I recommend checking out Bundle of Holding's "Bundle of Fate".  If you're unfamiliar with "Bundles", their kind of like an organization's way of raising money for charity, while giving you an arm-full of goodies at a steal of a price.  I'm usually a fan of the Humble Bundle, but when I saw Bundle of Holding, released a Bundle of FATE (a system which I've long been eyeballing), I couldn't resist.

And Neither Should you! A marvel of a system from Evil Hat Productions for a mere Tuppence! 10% of proceeds go to Somaly Mam Foundation and War Child International.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Rope Trick; A Tale of Epic Skill!

So games have come and gone, and recently I've been running a new campaign.  I was lucky enough to be invited to the D&D NEXT Playtest.  Given the specifics of the non disclosure agreement I agreed to (and respect to the developers of the game I love so much) I won't mention much about the rules set, other then I love them and that there are skills.  I don't think that's too much, as skills have been part of the game since...oh...Advanced D&D?  And to those of you who have not played Dungeons and Dragons (you potential new players, you) skills are abilities that define what your character specializes in doing, be it tracking, swiming, expansive knowledge of the world's history, or the ability to read and write foreign languages, like Goblin, (or as I like to call it Goblinese or Gobbledegook). I believe went a bit into skills in a previous post.
Probably not a written
language though...

Anyway, as the game is currently a "Playtest", parts of the game or constantly being changed to see what works and what doesn't.  This includes the list of skills.  And in one itteration, one of those skills was "Use Rope".  One of my players picked it up and for the past couple games was looking to use it at almost every opportunity.  Now this was part joke, as the Use Rope skill itself is a flaccid one, the kind of skill you'd only see in use by a sailor, circus performer, or cattlehand (which this character is).  Seeing as how a player has so few options for skills to be trained in, trying to make Use Rope viable for situations other then tying up enemies, getting yourself out of being tied up, etc. would be seen as a bit of a joke. Or would it!?

I made a horrible mistake once, not too long ago, my friend, roomate, and six-year hetero-life partner Eric made a character based loosely on one of his favorite television personalities, someone so skilled in perception that they would notice clues that even the most dedicated detective might gloss over, and because of this ability, could make deductions so percise they seemed psychic, prophetic, and almost magical.

Skill Focus Perception and
Knowledge: Pharmaceutical
Of course, being the dream crusher of a GM I was (not wanting players to take advantage of the rules, and afraid admittedly of losing control over the game) I said "No! Just because you're proficiant in a skill doesn't make it a magical power!".  You know what, I was wrong.

Epic Tales are my business (except for the making money off of it part), and my favorite by far is the Albanian telling of The Skillful Brothers (which featured seven brothers instead of four), each endowed with a special skill, some not so far out of the bounds of human accomplishment, some definantly on the the side of "Miraculous Power". In the tale the brothers are asked by a king to save his daughter who has been abducted by the Devil, each must use their trait to save her.  The first can find the location of anyone or thing, and finds the Devil's lair.  The next can open the earth to any depth, and does so to reach the Devil's home.  The third could steal anything without being caught (taking first the girl, then one of the devil's shoes, which must've been quite stylish.), The forth threw the shoe to the end of the earth, as throwing was his strong suit.  The Fifth erected an impregnable tower instantly to protect the group when the Devil arrived to reclaim the girl (winded as he was, having taken the time to retreive his footwear.).

The Devil has had many
Depictions in History. This
is my favorite.
Unfortunatly the brothers were a little too trusting, and when the Devil asked for one last look at the fair maiden before leaving the brothers to their victory, they opened a small hole to allow the Devil a glimpse.  The devil reached through and immediatly pulled the princess out and laughed as he flew away.  Leaving the sixth brother (an expert marksmen) to shoot the Devil with an arrow that struck him with such force that he dropped the princess, leaving the seventh brother to catch her (and only he could, as he could catch anything that fell from any height.  Imagine the games of catch between Four and Seven.  Nike commercial material.)

As a side note, this is my favorite telling because when the brothers return, all are rewarded.  And unlike the four brothers, none bicker over who marries the princess as she is the one who chooses her husband to be (Spolier Alert: She chooses brother Seven, who caught her and was the youngest brother and most handsome, as younger brothers often are.)

Now let's tie it all up.  Skills ARE magical powers! The power to speak, the power to write, the ability to influence others, "THE ABILITY TO READ!". These are things that we take for granted, these are things that ARE magical and miraculous.  I work with a guy who could take my car apart and put it back together and it would run just as well.  And though I know that it is possible and not "extraordinary" in terms of what humanity is capable of, in terms of what I'm capable of my car is made of Glass, Metal, Fire, and Magic, and that man is a Caromancer!  The ability to use a rope though we are disenchanted with it, could be something amazing! Look at what Indiana Jones could do with a whip!

Skill Focus: Use Rope and
Knowledge: Archeology
The point is that as time goes on, and I realize that my struggle to contain and control the confines of what characters are capable has been equal to struggle to remain innovative and inventive in my story because the two are inexorably linked! (I really enjoyed that sentance.)  I've been trying to protect a rules set like it's a sacred text when really it's just a decision system.  When I try to contain the world I've created I've served only as it's opressor and to free it I must face simple facts.  I am not an all powerful being, or omnipotent overseer of an alternate reality!  I am merely a chronicler, a watcher, a simple force with the illusion of control! In truth the rules mean nothing! The players have no limits other then what they can imagine!  My imaginary constructs are alive the moment I share them, they slip away from me and the players can take them to heights I never imagined!

And those my friends, have been my very favorite stories, and my job is the best, because no matter how high they go, I get to be the one that catches them.