Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Iron Maiden!?


Yesterday, I was about to post about the awesome image blog, Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor when I was temporarily distracted by what may actually have been an online tabloid troll.*

Anyway, on to the awesome! Here are a couple samples:

Originally from WOTC

By Wraithdt

This one reminds me of the half-orc the GF played in one of our campaigns
-by Hamsterly

I thoroughly approve of armor as clothing to serve a defensive purpose. And while instances of unreasonable female armor have certainly outstripped (get it?) their male counterparts by a longshot, let us not forget that Frank Frazetta, who really got a lot of this stuff started, just liked to see everyone naked.

Because all you really need is a helmet and a belt...

Oh, and maybe a metal breastplate for those chilly trips to the arctic...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Geek Love

This is my short, less angry response
Edit: The Australian edit is gracious enough to not mention the bad date by name, but includes a last paragraph that leads me to believe the whole situation was set up to fail.

I feel obligated to respond to yesterday’s Gizmodo article, titled, My Brief OkCupid Affair With a World Champion Magic: The Gathering Player, because it really strikes at the heart of why I started this blog. In the article, author, Alyssa Bereznak tells a cautionary tale of woe about how she went on a date with someone from OKCupid, only to find out that he was a world champion Magic: The Gathering player--The HORROR! The article illustrates the very real stigma some people associate with fantasy gaming--a stigma with which I myself still struggle.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Off nights

Last night was game night, and I just felt off. As someone who has occasionally been active in theatrical performance, I recognize that this happens to everyone. During the course of a show, there will inevitably be a night where things just seem to go wrong. Your energy is low, maybe you forget a line or two, or are late on an entrance, or maybe the audience is just not as responsive as you have come to expect, but regardless, you feel like you failed to deliver. Thoughts of, "have I lost my edge?" "do I suck at this?" inevitably start to creep into your head like a mindflayer's malevolent suggestions.

In a lot of ways, a GM is like an actor delivering a show to an audience, with the unique twist that the audience participates in return. And so, a GM can similarly have off nights. They should be expected. They will happen. Nevertheless, when they do happen, you feel just as awful. That was me last night.

Last night's game began with a bar fight. It should've been exciting. It's something I have wanted to run for a long time, but I felt like I just didn't click into it. My notes were a mess, I spent a lot of time looking up rules and even more trying to find the right sheet in a disorganized stack of books. This threw off the rhythm, drained the energy and slowed down what should have been a fast-paced, exciting scene. The problem didn't come about for lack of preparation. I had my notes and quick stat cards. I had thought things through. I think the real problem was a lack of calm.

Let me explain. By calm, I mean that quiet time before the game begins. This is the time in which I get into my GM mindset, organize my space behind the screen and focus on the task ahead. Last night, I got tied up for an extra half hour at work, so by the time I got home, my players were about to arrive. The group had decided we would fend for ourselves for food, so I had to order pizza for the GF and me. The laundry I had laid flat to dry on the dining room table was still in place, along with the detritus of several days, which needed to be moved to make room for the battle mat. I had also just received a package containing a new dungeon tile set that I REALLY wanted to use that night, so I had to punch out those cards. Oh, and despite having taken good notes, I hadn't printed them out. All this led me to feel rushed and my focus scattered when 7pm rolled around and it was past time to start the game... and I think it showed.

My takeaway from all this is summed in a mantra repeated ad nauseum by my high school theater teacher: "Leave your day at the door." Last night really made me realize just how important it is to have time before running a game to take a deep breath and just clear out all the mental clutter that life brings.

Next time, I will try to remember that so that I will hopefully be less concerned about starting "on time" and more concerned about starting at the "right time."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Player Characters, not so cute and cuddly anymore

Killing vampires... not as exciting as it used to be.

Running a long-term D&D campaign feels analogous to raising a St. Bernard, or perhaps a bear cub. When I started my current game, almost three years ago, my players’ characters were level 3 -robust enough to have a chance against a pack of wolves, but still be anxious about a toe-to-toe incident with the town militia or a group of bandits. They were rambunctious and cuddly, like a puppy or bear cub.

Cut to today, my game’s PCs are level 10. In terms of their power level, they are now like young adult bears, able to tear their way into cars and campsites and afraid of very little aside from bigger bears. As a real-world human comparison, they are now similar to a group of Navy SEALs. In short, it’s getting harder and harder to provide a reasonable challenge, especially when it comes to encounters with other in-game characters (as opposed to monsters).

According to the stat blocks laid out in various D&D rulebooks, most civilized organizations, whether they are law enforcement or criminal in nature, wouldn’t stand a chance against my PCs. The average city guard is between level 1 and level 4, essentially similar to a rent-a-cop, and even a watch captain, or head of a theive’s guild has to stretch to meet the PCs’ power level.

I have been wrestling with the challenge of keeping human encounters interesting and challenging for my players, while maintaining a degree of realism to the power dynamics in my world. So far, I have identified a couple of approaches I can take:

  • Boost the power levels of NPC organizations to make them a challenge. While this can keep fights and interactions statistically interesting, it has a number of issues. If the king and his guards are so badass, why don’t they do their own dirty work? Why is an uber-powerful thiefmaster running a smuggling ring in some out of the way backwater?
  • Leave the power levels alone and just pile on the numbers. How many level 1 soldiers does it take to reach a level 10 sorceress hurling fireballs in their face? Would they even try?
  • Avoid human encounters where possible in favor of more powerful and exotic monster antagonists. Why have these super powerful monsters been hiding away until now instead of claiming their dominion over the weaklings of the region?
  • Take the Spider-Man approach -With great power comes great responsibility. On the surface, this sounds like the best option, let the players be Navy SEALs, and face consequences if they open up with fireballs in the middle of a bar fight. Of course, if the authorities are two weak to actually enforce those consequences, this doesn’t really solve the problem.

Any thoughts, tried and true techniques or other advice on the subject from my gaming friends?

Monday, August 22, 2011

RPG Blog Carnival: Animals in RPGs - Catfolk

Ahh, catfolk...

This race of feline-faced humanoids appeals to furries, cosplayers, Red Dwarf fans and occasionally to normal people who like playing dexterous and agile sneakitypes.

As a concept, catfolk have great potential to add an element of comic relief in your game. Many people have cats, and 99.9% of those cats do amusing and or ridiculous things on a fairly regular basis. So, naturally, infusing the haughty-yet-playful personality of the average feline into a human character should equate to comic gold, right? Well, it could also result in something incredibly annoying.

For instance, before the GF and I met, she played in a campaign with two catfolk PCs. Apparently the players made a regular point of allowing their characters to be distracted by bits of string and other shiny objects in the middle of otherwise tense situations. While a catperson who winds up with armfuls of gaudy baubles on a trip through the local bazaar is one thing, when they decide to chase a beholder's eye rays rather than leap on its back with daggers in-hand, the cute personality gets a little annoying. Seriously, kill the beholder first and then let the wizard wave its severed eyestalk around to your heart's content!

Now, I will fully admit that the catfolk in my game can be pretty friggin' obnoxious. After all, I could not resist my love of pop-culture references, and so decided to base their culture on LOLCats. However, I do try to use some restraint when running them as NPCs. I make a concerted effort not to let their antics get in the way of the PCs' glory or the excitement of the adventure. It's all about finding the balance... like a cat.

A couple things to consider that can help an aspiring catperson find the balance in their character include:

I'm gonna eat you little fisheee!
  • A catperson is a more highly evolved feline. They presumably have human-level intelligence, and so, like civilized humans, one would assume they have developed a level of restraint that helps them control their animalistic urges. After all, most people who play human characters don't pick lice of the other party members, obsessively eat bananas and fling their poo. Catfolk are to cats as humans are to apes.
  • Cats are not just ridiculous clowns to amuse you. In fact, to people, they mostly seem that way because they are small. If you ran into a tiger wiggling its butt as it gets ready to pounce, chances are, you would not be thinking, "aww! How adorable!"
  • Cats have incredible survival instincts. Many hunt with a great degree of skill. My family had a cat who used to get in tussles with alligators when we lived in FL. They are agile, stealthy and quick. Even the GF's lazy flabby cat can put on quite a burst of speed when she wants to.
The point is, catfolk have a lot of potential as a character race if they are played honestly and with the intent to contribute to the story rather than detract from it. As one of my former GMs used to say, "don't play chaotic-stupid."

Be sure to check out other posts from this month's RPG Blog Carnival, Animals in RPGs

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Puzzler

I just want to give a shout out to one of the players in my regular D&D group. He took 6th place in the 4x4 blindfolded Rubik's Cube competition* at the Cubing Nationals and is now ranked as one of the top 100 Rubik's Cube solvers in the world!

And to think, I'm expected to occasionally design puzzle traps and encounters for this guy.

*That's a larger than normal cube, solved blindfolded after examining it only once.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

My reading list just got a lot longer.

Sci-fi AND Fantasy!
Budd, over at Sci-fi Media posted about NPR's list of their top 100 science fiction and fantasy books and it looks like I've got a lot of catching up to do. I have only read about 1/3 of the titles on the list. To make myself feel better, I can say that I have read many of the series on the list, all of the top 5 and 10 out of the top 15... so, that's good, right?

Some notable absences I felt included Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy and C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. I don't even particularly like the Narnia series, but it is certainly a formative work in the fantasy genre.

Also... No Harry Potter!? Not making a judgment, but I was genuinely surprised. I wonder if the "real world" setting causes a psychological block so that people don't think of it as fantasy. Or maybe Harry Potter fans don't listen to NPR.

What are your thoughts on the list?

Edit: The absence of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire is also surprising, given the recent HBO series and his skyrocketing profile in the fantasy authorship ranks. I actually find that fact kind of satisfying, because it reduces the argument that the selections are based on the new hotness on the book shelves. "Reduces" does not necessarily mean "eliminates." Okay, clearly I was suffering from some sort of selective vision/memory because SOI&F is #5! Please resume complaints about this being a list of "what's hot"

Also, this.

Monday, August 8, 2011

RPG Blog Carnival: Animals in RPGs

The Tower of the Archmage is hosting an RPG blog carnival this month on the subject of animals in RPGs. David, the archmage in residence (for that is a good name for an archmage) poses the question:
How have you used animals in your games? Do your adventurers bring Dogs in the Dungeon? Have your space cowboys ever had to transport a herd of goats? Have your adventurers ever bought chickens or cows? Do Cardassian voles or mynocks ever muck-up the ship's engines? Does anyone keep a rat in their hood or an exotic fish in their office? Are the local crabs sacred and not for eating? Do you allow animal PC classes? Or do you even run entire games with nothing but animals?
Several post ideas immediately sprang to mind, so I decided to bust out my cotton candy machine and get in on this carnival.

Without further delay, I bring you my first post of Animals in RPGs

The Dreaded Giraffelich!
The idea of a giraffelich first popped up on Obsidian Portal's Facebook page. For those not hip to the lingo, the term combines the long-necked herbivore, known as a giraffe with an undead sorcerer of incredible power, commonly called a lich. Once the idea popped up, OP recognized it as roleplaying gold and decided to hold a competition to design the giraffelich. Contestants could create a picture and/or stat block for the creature and submit them to win fabulous prizes. I did just that and wound up taking second place in the stat contest with an honorable mention for my artwork.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Devil's Workshop

The old saying goes, "Idle hands do the Devil's work." Well, in an effort to curtail anything untoward during my downtime, I like to engage in ridiculous and random acts of creation, and right now I'd like to share the forbidden fruits of some of my recent labors.

First off, as I mentioned recently, I have been seduced by the siren song of index cards as a game management tool. I have started creating NPC cards for each of the characters my players will encounter in a particular game session. I have started doing this for two reasons:

  1. I have an obscene amount of blank 4x6 index cards that have been sitting in my office unused for untold eons. Where did they come from? Nobody knows! They're like the druids that way.
  2. Creating frivolous things using office software is a past time I enjoy just about as much as D&D, and I don't need to convene a group to do it.
As a first step in my indexing efforts, I created a template, which presents a character's stats in an easily scanned* format and, which can adequately portray most NPCs or monsters. If you want to check out some examples cards completed using the template, you can see them here. I am now gradually converting many of the NPC stat blocks, which I had previously recorded in a myriad of mismatched ways into this single clean and compact format.

The second project I recently launched involves the barbarian dream house I got my players as a Christmas gift. Basically, I gave them an in-game present -a castle, which now serves as their base of operations, and which provides an opportunity for a different type of game experience. As part of the terms of ownership, my players are tasked with maintaining and managing their new base. They have taken to the task with gusto, and have already made numerous improvements. To help keep track of the structural renovations and modification projects they have launched, I decided to create a virtual 3D model of the keep in Google SketchUp... like ya' do.

Along with being a D&D nerd and an office software nerd, I am also a big ol' SketchUp nerd. You have not lived until you've moved into a new home having plotted out all your furniture placements in advance using SketchUp. When the gf and I moved into our current place, we did just that and had almost no fiddling with furniture on moving day. It all just fit. Perfectly.

Anyway, if you haven't heard of it, Google has a very robust free version of the program available for download. That was the version I used for a long time before I managed to finagle a copy of SketchUp Pro in exchange for providing an introductory seminar on the program at my old grad school. Yes, I am that level of leet SketchUp nerd.

Anyway, these are just a couple examples of the sort of trouble I get into when my hands get idle.

mmm... forbidden donut!

* scanned as in the DM frantically hunting for a stat in the midst of a combat encounter, not the thing which puts photos on the 'puter

Monday, August 1, 2011

Scribble and/or Edit

Okay party people, being a combination movie and book nerd (Are you reading this, Olivia!?), I have decided to jump on Scribble & Edit's Novel Films blogfest. The festival asks participants to list all of the books/plays/comics that they have read that have also been turned into movies that they have seen. So, here goes mine...

  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • The Harry Potter series
  • Dune - The TOOTH!
  • Tarzan - These books were my first foray into fantasy novels
  • The Three Musketeers - The Disney movie is entirely different from the book, but enjoyable, nonetheless.
  • Pride and Prejudice - I am confident in my masculinity!
  • X-Men - Comics are tough to judge, because the movies typically span and warp several storylines
  • The Watchmen
  • Lone Ranger and Tonto, Fistfight in Heaven - Smoke Signals
  • Animal Farm
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - Secret of NIMH
  • Watership Down
  • Don Juan - Don Juan de Marco (It's a stretch, I know!)
  • Angela's Ashes
  • Heart of Darkness - Apocalypse Now
  • The Time Machine
  • The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
  • The Golden Compass - Despite everyone's legitimate issues, I enjoyed the movie!
  • Jurassic Park
  • The Scarlet Letter
  • The Last of the Mohicans - James Fenimore Cooper is an intolerable author, but the movie was entertaining
  • Of Mice and Men - Both the Malkovich/Senise version and the multitude of Looney Toons references. "I shall mash him and pet him and name him George!"
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Edit 1
  • The Neverending Story - I can't believe I forgot this on the initial list!
  • Like Water for Chocolate - Read it over Thanksgiving, DELICIOUS!
  • The English Patient - The book was far better than the movie
Edit 2
  • Little Shop of Horrors - Now here's an interesting case of a movie turned into a play, turned back into a movie.
  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead - Tom Stoppard as portrayed by Tim Roth and Gary Oldman? Awesome!
  • Death of a Salesman - Though I'm honestly not a huge fan of the material, I do often find myself worrying about turning into Willy Loman.

Shakespearean plays deserve their own subsection!

  • Romeo & Juliet - both Franco Zeffirelli's and Baz Luhrmann's versions
  • Hamlet - Both the Kenneth Branagh version and Strange Brew!
  • Henry V
  • Richard III
  • Twelfth Night
  • Macbeth - Scotland P.A. is my favorite movie reimagining of Shakespeare's work, EVER!
  • A Midsummer Night's Dream
  • Taming of the Shrew - Both the Liz Taylor version and 10 Things I Hate About You
Okay, that is the list I can come up with off the top of my head. I'm sure there are some missing, so I may make some supplemental posts later.

I will close with the inclusion of the trailer for the soon-to-be-released The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists. If you haven't read the book yet, go read it now! I have to admit the movie trailer makes me a bit nervous. I am encouraged by the fact that Gideon Defoe worked directly on the film and I like Aardman's other stuff... but still.

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