My other writing

I haven’t had much going on that I’ve felt the need to post here about since my last update, but I’ve been fairly busy doing posts elsewhere or running games for people.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I’ve started a new blog Reviews from a Dead Planet, where I will be posting my game reviews from now on.  I’ve most recently reviewed Don’t Rest Your Head and prior to that was a review of the near final copy of Hot War.  I think both games are very cool.  If you want to know more, give the reviews a read.

Secondly, I’ve decided to run a series of interviews with a variety of independent gaming publishers over at Canadian Geek.  The first in that series was posted today, which was an interview with Tom McLaughlin of Mind Storm Labs.  I’ve got several in the hopper, so keep your eyes peeled there for more in the future.

Secrets of the Galaxy has had its third session and is going very well.  The wiki is slowly being updated to reflect the ongoing actions of the campaign.  I’m very excited about how well things are going so far and I look forward to seeing how things turn out.

Last night I ran my first session of Rippers, which was just character creation.  It will be run as a drop-in game, so whomever shows, shows.  It should be alot of fun, especially with the wide variety of characters we have so far.

So, that is pretty much all I’ve got right now.

Going to Vegas in 41 days or so.

Board Games

[Cross-posted, originally posted on Canadian Geek]

I’m going to go off in a different direction for this post – I’m going to talk about Board Games.  I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but I find several different titles quite enjoyable.

 I don’t know alot about what goes into designing a board game (of course, by extension, one could argue that I don’t know anything about RPG design either, which isn’t stopping me).  What I do know is what I like – which is what I’m going to focus on in this post. 

Here’s a few board games you should check out.

Diplomacy

Diplomacy was introduced to me by a very close friend.  The draw that Diplomacy has to me is that chance is not a factor to the outcome of the game (unlike Risk or Axis and Allies).  Personally, I really disliked Risk because of a few games that burned me due to die rolls screwing me over.  Axis and Allies had a bit more strategy involved, but it was still possible to watch a single infantry unit eliminate a vastly superior force.

Originally, Diplomacy was designed to simulate the dealings of the major powers prior to World War I.  The players take up the helm of one of: England, France, Germany, Italy, Austria-Hungry, Russia and Turkey.  Each turn, the nations confer with each other, looking to make alliances and determine strategy.  Orders are submitted and executed simultaneously.  This is where the fun begins.  Who kept their word?  Who didn’t?

Diplomacy is an excellent study of game theory, which in itself, is a very interesting subject.  This could be why I enjoy the game so much.

Players worldwide have developed many different variants.  Some simply modify the basic board (changing the starting units, modifying the layout of supply centers) and some develop entirely new boards to reflect different areas (and times) of the world.  Articles on strategy are abundant.

Diplomacy is an excellent game, especially when played with a number of skilled players.

 Settlers of Catan

I really don’t know what to say about Settlers.  I really like this game.  I’ve only played a few times and I’m sure that I haven’t even scratched the surface of the strategy and awesomeness of the game. 

Settlers also has several expansions that add new rules and change the experience.  I’ve yet to give any of these a try, but they look cool.

Just play it.  You’ll understand.

Arkham Horror

I had the opportunity to play Arkham Horror for the first time this past weekend.  I quite enjoyed how the game played, even though we lost.  It definately is a game for ‘gamers’.  It’s also co-operative, which is pretty different.

There’s several expansions available, which changes how the game plays, with more on the way, to make sure each play is vastly different than the previous play session.  I’d like to play again to get a better grasp on the rules, but overall, It was very fun.

 So, obviously, the recommendations this month are:

  • Diplomacy
  • Settlers of Catan
  • Arkham Horror

If you like board games, at least one of those games will suit you just fine.

My Take on Character Creation

[Cross-posted, originally posted on Canadian Geek]

 Every game basically starts the same way – you make a character. For me, character creation has always been one of the hardest things to do, mostly because of the various GMs I had played for requiring an extremely large backstory. Since I think of myself as fairly uncreative, I usually had fairly cookie cutter backgrounds, followed by some fairly exciting stories about my characters in the game. This realization helped me to discover my philosophy on character creation.

Simply put, for MOST games, I believe characters are/should be be relatively uninteresting at the start. Sure, if you’re not starting at level 1, then maybe a more intensive backstory is required (but not always!), but I think the real interesting things about a character is what happens to him/her IN THE GAME. My view is you aren’t a hero until the game starts – then you start developing your true character.

This isn’t to say that you should sit down at the table with just your stats. You need to develop a personality. Where did you grow up? What was your family situation? You need to have some sense of what your character’s worldview is, so yes, you do still need a backstory. I’m just saying it doesn’t need to be long.

Dark Heresy’s character generation chapter has a great outline of what you need to do after you’ve finished the stats for your character. Spirit of the Century’s character generation phases offers several key questions to answer with regards to your character (keep in mind that SotC characters actually are heroic prior to the game begining, by design), but has the goal of keeping your overall story short.

I could continue to discuss this topic, but I think I’ve passed my point along. Its not the right way to do things, its just the way I like the best.

Game Recommendations

As promised, here’s a group of indie games worth a look.

  1. Cold City – Monster Hunting in 1950s Berlin.
  2. Burning Wheel – There’s several settings already produced for the Burning Wheel system. Character creation sounds quite interesting.
  3. Piledrivers and Powerbombs – Pro wrestling without the spandex!

Brief Game Master Pointers

[Cross-posted, originally posted on Canadian Geek]

I’ve got a few administrative items to pass along this month that I’ll pass along before we get to the meat and potatoes. Firstly, I’m going to add something to the end of my columns – a few game recommendations. These titles are likely going to be games I’ve never played and have barely read through, but something about them caught my eye. I hope some of these turn out to be gems in your collection. The second item is to blatantly self promote – if you’ve never RPed before, or if you just haven’t been able to find a group, be sure to check out the Edmonton Gamers’ Association. You can check them out on Meetup, which will tell you about all the events they have planned (There’s one this weekend, March 8th!).

With that taken care of…here’s a few pointers for new Game Masters.

Game Master Tips

The first two pieces of advice I’d give to new GMs are:

  • Plan out your session beforehand. Know where you plan on taking the adventure.
  • Don’t plan out your session beforehand.

Of course, I’m sure you realize these points contradict each other. Let me explain what I mean in a bit more detail. For most GMs, just making stuff up as they go just does not work, you’ll end up forgetting something and your players will call you on it. You need to have an idea of what the goal of the adventure is. Know some of the details of how the characters go from point A to point B. But…don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Players hate ‘box canyons’ with one direction of travel. They will find a way to break your intended path. So, don’t plan everything. Make multiple-plan ideas. Think of one or two alternate paths that can be chosen to get to the end goal. Sometimes, they’ll think of something you never thought of. You’ll have to make that up – but take personal notes of what you’re telling players. It will help you later on.

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Challenges Facing Roleplayers

[Cross-posted, originally posted on Canadian Geek]

There’s a number of challenges that face roleplayers these days. The lack of time, the lack of ‘new blood’, getting/keeping a gaming group alive are just a few of the things that we find ourselves dealing with. And that only covers face-to-face!

As primarily a play-by-post roleplayer, I find the time excuse (generally) to be moot. With that said, it is easy to become overwhelmed if you join/run too many games. But if you know what your limits are, you can organize your day to put in the 10-20 minutes to put up a post or a flurry of posts in a game or two. The problem with play-by-post is the time. Things aren’t always as fast as you’d like them to move. For instance, I just ran a sample Star Wars Saga combat session, which took almost a month. Granted, I did let the players ‘take their time’ because I was writing exams. In both of my games, I’m trying to get a posting rate of 3 times a week, which I’m having difficulties achieving due to my players, when I really should just post without them if they are unable to notify me of their absences.

When trying to get new people to play, some common responses are:

  • RPGs are too complicated (“I don’t know all the rules” / “I can’t create a character” / etc.)
  • RPGs are too boring (“It’s just a bunch of people sitting around a table munching snacks?”)
  • RPGs are too time consuming (“It’s going to take hours, and we still won’t have gotten anywhere!”)

Yes, time is always a factor – but if its something you enjoy doing, you’ll find time for it. Of course, if this is someone who’s never played before, you might want to introduce them into a one-shot in the system you’d like to play in or play a pick-up game that is designed for one-session play. The point being – you can get somewhere in just a few hours. Then, if you liked the one-shot/short-session game, try a multiple-session game. Going back to my original statement – if you like it, you’ll find time to do it.

RPGs are boring…well, I guess I can’t provide an argument to that. If you don’t like it, that’s fine – you don’t have to do it. But really, how is ‘sitting around a table eating snacks’ any different than any other thing you do with your friends?

Finally – the game is too complicated. I won’t deny that many games are very complex. There are some that aren’t. Even with that said, once you learn one system, you generally can run pretty much any sort of game you’d like (to varying degrees of success). If you learn the d20 system, you’ve got D&D, Modern, Mutants and Masterminds, and Star Wars pretty much covered. Sure, each have their own ‘tweeks’, but the basic mechanics are the same. The same goes for the World of Darkness games – you’ve got the full supernatural spectrum covered. So, once you’ve learned something, you can play a range of games. Of course, if you’ve never played, it can take some time to learn. Personally, I think the best way to learn is to just start playing. If you’re trying to introduce someone to gaming, help them to make them a character (ask questions like, what do you want to be good at, etc), or have the GM give them a character skeleton (allow the new person to customize by providing the personality and background).

These are just a few ideas to help introduce new people to games. I certainly don’t know how to solve all the problems. Hopefully, the gaming community can continue to discuss how to introduce new players to our hobby of tabletop gaming.

Why not role-play?

I had recently been invited to contribute to another blog (with RPG content) at a community I frequent called Canadian Geek. For my first article, I did a bit more thinking on my post “What’s the Difference” and came up with the following – it mostly contains the same ideas, written differently and incorporates few of the original comments. Nothing much new, just re-written for a new audience.

[Cross-posted, originally posted on Canadian Geek]

I started role-playing when I was in my pre-teens. My ‘gateway drug’ was Star Wars d6 from West End Games – of the reasons I ended up playing this game, the biggest was because it was Star Wars. My gaming groups weren’t larger than 3 or 4 and after my first few adventures, I ended up being the GM for everything. Eventually, one of my friends came across a number of Dungeons and Dragons materials at a garage sale. He picked them up and promptly handed me everything so that I could learn the system and run a game. We ran one D&D session. I really wasn’t interested in running a game in that system, which made it difficult for me to really provide a great game for my players.

I was able to put together a few Star Wars games, but nothing that really lasted long-term. Eventually, I began looking online for an online group to game with. I eventually found an established Star Wars play-by-post community which I played with for a few years. Again, because I was reliable, knew the rules, I was asked to GM. I put together a few games, but unfortunately, with play-by-post, games with new players tend to die as the players go ‘poof’. As time went on, I moved up the site’s administration ranks and took the reigns. I made a number of changes that I felt would improve the community, which I feel it did. What I did realize however, was that I was completely bored of Star Wars. To this end, I founded a new community, to meet my need of ‘not-Star Wars’. This community infused me with a new outlook on role-playing.

With this newfound interest, I searched out more communities to find out what I could do to improve mine and improve my skills on both sides of the table. I found a number of very interesting podcasts which gave me a number of thoughts. Why do people shy away from role-playing? Is it because they haven’t had an experience or a poor experience? What is the difference between a standard board game and a pen-and-paper RPG?

As I thought about it, my opinion became such that I don’t believe that board games are any different than role-playing. I asked my friends about it, and I did receive a number of responses that showed me that many of them had tried an RPG, but found the experience lacking in some way, compared to a board game. The most common reason for not playing RPGs was the time. Based on the knowledge of RPGs of the people involved, I completely understand the concern, but I think there are many other options available that do not require long-winded campaigns. Another comment was the differing reward structures between RPGs and board games. A direct quote: “RPGs reward effort, whereas board games reward strategic thinking”. Again, I think this attitude comes from playing online in a D&D/Experience Points based system – there are plenty of other systems that emphasize the story rather than character advancement. Does this enhance the strategy aspect of the game? Maybe not, but other systems exist that provide more out to the players than just than dungeon-crawling.

There are so many different game systems available, in more settings than you can imagine. So many great games like Mutants and Masterminds, Spirit of the Century, Star Wars: Saga, Dungeons and Dragons, and Vampire: The Requiem, to name a few. If you’ve never played an RPG, I’d love to talk to you about it. If you have and didn’t like it, I’d love to know why. You’re reading this blog, so you’re not afraid of being called a geek. So my question to you is, why not role-play?