Wednesday, February 27, 2013

TableTop Day!

I was pondering what to post today and about to settle on something half-hearted and half-baked when this announcement dropped into my Twitter feed with a resounding fanfare!

This is one of the most fantastic ideas I have seen/heard in a while, and I wholeheartedly intend to participate! I have not yet figured out exactly HOW I intend to participate (house party, game store party, bound to be overcrowded Café Mox party), or with whom (Usual game group, all friends ever, random strangers), but something is gonna happen!

If you are not familiar with TableTop, it is an online game review and demo show created by Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day. It has become one of my favorite ways to learn about new games. I also believe that online channels like Geek and Sundry (which hosts TableTop) produce some of the best television around.

If you love games, I encourage you to unplug the kids, break out the cards, dice and boards, and make a point to create your own tabletop fun on March 30. The first ever TableTop Day!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Make-it Monday: Minis and Papercraft!

This week's Make-it Monday brings you a two-fer: a mini and a papercraft structure! After last week's disappointing mini painting experience, which produced Butterface the elf, I decided to immediately dive back in with another painting project in hopes of redeeming my sense of painterly self worth. I painted up an orc sorceress figure that I had previously been hesitant to tackle due to the complex detail in the sculpt. I gotta say, I feel really good about how she turned out, and I think the model had a lot to do with it. I feel like, this particular model had a lot of really well-defined detail that was lacking on ol' Butterface. As a result, the paint just seemed to know where to go.

I thought the one blue eye, one stark white eye was a nice touch.

Now, I actually finished that paint job on the same night as Butterface, so in order to actually make something this past week, as per my goal, I decided to actually finish a whole papercraft project for once! See, I have a horrible habit of starting papercraft models but never finishing a whole set. This time, I took one of my smaller sets--a ruined inn--and built the whole structure. I also worked on some furninshings for it and then dropped the orc witch in for good measure.

cozy, isn't it?
I am getting excited for my Bones minis to arrive later next month, and I really want to get in some more practice before they do. I'm going to need to get some new paint, however, because I've discovered that the cheap hobby stuff I've been using doesn't hold to the minis particularly well.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Get Rolling: Starting with RPGs pt. 1 (The Nerd Thing)

They see me rollin'...

Big thank you to everyone who popped by on Wednesday during the Level Up Blogfest. There was a pretty good conversation going in the comments and I wanted to follow up on a sentiment I heard several times: 

"I am interested in  D&D or tabletop roleplaying games, but I have [problem] that keeps me from getting started."

Hearing about all this thwarted interest got me thinking, and today I have decided to begin a blog series called Get Rolling. This series will cover how I got started in tabletop gaming, and will present a number of suggestions for ways to overcome some of the most common challenges a prospective gamer faces when trying to get in the game.

So, that being said...

You got problems? I feel bad for you son. I got d% problems but the game ain't one.

A Bit of Back Story 

As I mentioned in my Level Up post, I have been running a game for a group of my friends for the past four years. Before that, I had played off and on in campaigns that always seemed to fizzle out for one reason or another. I had been out of the game for a while and I was getting the itch to play.

Step 1 to getting started: Decide you want to play! 

I eventually decided to take my lack of a gaming fix into my own hands and get a group going with me as the Dungeon Master. My fiancee, who also played, was immediately on board and she and I broached the subject to a few of our closest friends, none of whom had played before. 

They were all hesitant at first, but a little persuasion convinced them to roll characters and play a few sessions, and they quickly got hooked. This same group has now been playing for the past four years. A couple of folks have had to go on hiatus at various times due to scheduling challenges, but when their time freed up, their fingers started to itch and I got an email saying, "soo… you got room?"

During our four years, we faced many common challenges that people mentioned in the Level Up comments. These can stifle a game before it even gets going. Nevertheless, we overcame these challenges and have built game night into a highlight of our weeks. Now, let's look at the first challenge to getting started and ways to overcome it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Power of Imagination

Original image by Don Dimanlig
The folks at Obsidian Portal tweeted this image yesterday, and I couldn't resist sharing. Imaginative play seems to come naturally for us as kids, but sadly seems to fade as we grow. One of the things I love about roleplaying games is that it re-engages that part of my brain... Granted, I play at home and don't wander around a supermarket pretending the floor is lava... hrmmm...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Level Up Blogfest: D&D

Level Up! Blogfest

Today is the day of the Level Up Blogfest, hosted by Jamie Gibbs of Mithril Wisdom and Allison *hrphemumble* of Geek Banter. The 'Fest celebrates the joy of gaming in all its forms--board, video, card, mind, wicked, recess, reindeer, etc. As a consummate lover of all these different forms and blogger on this very subject, I felt it was my solemn duty to join in the festivities.

Of course, I have chosen to talk about Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) as the subject for my Level Up post. I am certain that I am not the only person in the Blogfest to do so, but because it is the main topic of discourse here on ROFLInitiative, I feel it is only appropriate.

The Level Up fest actually comes at a significant moment in my history with D&D. This month marks the (counts on fingers) fourth anniversary of the start of my current campaign, and the first game I have ever run--with the exception of some awkward experimentation in high school.

So, what is D&D? In essence, it is interactive storytelling set by default in a high fantasy world and using dice to instill an element of chance in the flow of the story. Unlike many board or card games, D&D is cooperative in nature and does not have a set win/end condition. One player takes on the role of the storyteller, called the Dungeon Master, or Game Master. He or she is responsible for developing and implementing the story, supporting characters and acting as a sort of referee. The other players take on the role of the heroes in the story, each typically assuming a single character role.

Originally published back in 1974, the game has gone through several official editions over the years and has spawned countless spin-offs, copycats, rules variants and game materials of various associations. All of this creative procreation (is that redundant?) makes it very difficult to peg down the essence of D&D. It's like jazz. Nobody plays it exactly the same as anyone else, and that's what makes it beautiful.

For the past four years, I have run a game for several friends of mine. When we started, I was new to the role of DM, and only my girlfriend-now-fiancee had played before. Our initial group of four players and myself, eventually grew to a total of eight individuals, having added another newcomer and a couple experienced dice rollers. My players all look for different things out of the game. Some love the thrill of blowing stuff up and smashing faces in dice-driven combat. Some love planning tactical infiltrations, or solving puzzles, or devising complex psychological interrogation regimes involving smelly foods. Others like to hang out with the group and quote Futurama. Beneath all this variety, however, we all have one thing in common. We like each other, and we like playing the game. That's why we've been playing pretty steadily every couple of weeks since 2009.

The long run definitely leaves me feeling worn out sometimes. As the GM, I spend more time preparing the adventures than we do actually playing. But building the adventures scratches its own itch. Ever since I was a kid, I have loved dreaming up worlds and strange imaginings. In grade school, I came up with the world of Boink, which featured a hodgepodge of classic fantasy elements, late 80s consumer culture references and weird 8 year-old logic. A couple years later, I created another universe around a Whovian Lego personality named the Intergalactic Hood. What can I say? It's in my blood, man! So, as time-consuming as it can be, I can't help but get giddy as I did last night planning for my next game as the muses on my shoulders spun epic visions from the ether of my imagination. Tonight, I get to share those visions with my friends, drinking beer, eating good food, rolling dice and telling stories. That is why I play.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Make-it Monday: Facing Disappointment

Any creative person fails to live up to his or her standards from time to time. This week's Make it Monday project was one of those times for me. I decided to use my holiday today to paint a mini. As per my usual process, I started with the minis face. It turned out fugly... so I re-did it... fugly again. I re-did it a couple more times with little improvement until I got frustrated and decided to move on to the rest of the figure. I spent several hours painting a decent looking figurine, before returning once again to the face. I just, for the life of my could not make this one look like anything other than a cakey mess.

So, for this week's Make-it Monday, I give you, Butterface the elf.

I eventually had to call off any further attempts at improvement, because nothing was working. Of course, this leaves me feeling restless, rather than relaxed. How do you deal with your own creative failures?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Review: Fabula

Last weekend I went to a friend's birthday party. which was held at a local game store and bustling cafe (because in the Seattle area, such things are not solitary outliers, but actual hubs of community activity!)

We broke out several games over the course of the evening, among which was Fabula from the makers of the highly recommended Dixit.

Fabula is a storytelling game framed as the inner struggle of one of the Grimm brothers to write a new fairy tale. One player takes on the role of Grimm, the Storyteller while the others play figments of Grimm's imagination, each seeking to convince him that they should be a part of his new story.

Play begins as the storyteller selects a story card and reads the prologue. It then proceeds through three chapters and an epilogue. During each chapter, the storyteller presents the other players with a problem to be solved. Each player chooses an item card from a deck and then tells a bit of story that uses their character and the item they chose in order to convince Grimm to make the story about them. If the storyteller likes what they are saying, they get points. The point levels go up as the items available go down. For the epilogue, the two players with the most points face off in a lightning round that gives them 30 seconds to incorporate the last two items and themselves into an end for the story.

In many ways, the game is really cool. It has fabulous art design in the same quirky style as Dixit. It fosters creativity among the players, rather than just dice rolling or card drawing, and once it gets rolling, the rules are very straightforward. In many ways, it's like the perfect introductory RPG. It is interactive storytelling. There is, however, a problem.

The problem with Fabula, which causes me to feel that it is an okay fun game and not a friggin' amazing game, is in the way play proceeds from chapter to chapter. Rather than incorporating the ideas that the players put forth in the previous chapter, the game simply introduces a new, canned development in the story. As a player, I began to feel like the stuff I came up with didn't matter from chapter to chapter as ol' Grimmy was just going to barrel ahead with his story. In tabletop RPG terms, I felt like I was being railroaded.

The railroading problem may be compounded by the character choices available to the players. The game clearly wants the player to put their character in the role of the story's hero. However, many of the options available are characters more traditionally reserved for antagonist or support roles (e.g. The Wolf, the Fairy Godmother, the Sly Merchant). I chose to play the Leprechaun and right off the bat went for a Rumplestiltskin-style bargaining approach. The plot of the story revolved around a young prince who had been trapped in his room by an octopus. I offered to lull the beast to sleep with my magic flute (item) if the king and queen promised to have their son come live as my servant as of his 18th birthday... Well, despite being selected as a "liked" plot, the chapter two card simply ignored mine and everyone else's suggestions... and so the game went from chapter to chapter.

Perhaps I was just sensitive to the railroaded feeling because I play full-blown RPGs, and perhaps that feeling could be mitigated without altering the game's structure. I would like to try the game as the Storyteller and use that role to transition between chapter cards in such a way that at least one of the players' stories is incorporated in each transition, rather than simply presenting the problem, hearing their suggestions and then presenting the next problem. I would need to try it out, but I suspect that doing this could elevate this game from "okay fun" to its true fantastic potential.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Make-it Monday: Map, River Crossing

I swear, one of these weeks, I'll make something other than a map. I've been itching to do some papercraft or mini-painting, but the ol' homestead is looking a little post-apocalyptic at the moment, leaving me with no place to set up.

Two of my players managed to decode the goblinoid scribblings found on last week's map and were given bonus XP as promised.

For this week, I decided to try out some fancy new artist pens I picked up. I drew up a simple encounter map for a river crossing where my last session ended. This otherwise pastoral scene was made decidedly less so when my players discovered that the bridge was rigged with arcane blast discs. That happened about half a second before their scouty types got blasted by a lightning-hurling mage who emerged from the cover of an invisibility spell to mark the cliffhanger end of the session.

I'm kinda digging the pens. I think I may run with it. It adds a bit of painterliness to an otherwise old-school map.

Oh, I also set up a page with a list of all my Make-it Mondays as they progress.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Make-it Monday: Map, Lastholt Mines

Significant locations around the Lastholt mines

We were back at the gaming table last week, and my players were running through another interrogation encounter. They like to take prisoners, so what can ya' do? This time, it was a hobgoblin slaver and they were trying to extract information about the mining operation that was taking place in the caves beneath the ruins of Lastholt.

Well, when the cleric and monk's usual good cop/bad cop routine started to backfire*, the sorcerer decided to use her wand of charm person on him. Well, that turned things right around, and the party convinced the prisoner (and by proxy, the GM) to draw them a map of the mining operation.

Well, here it is, complete with captions written in goblinoid! For those players, or blog readers wishing to earn some bonus XP, you can attempt to decode the script on the map. All of the words are written in English, just in a runic-looking font that I found. Decipher script check... go!

*pro-tip: a slaver who makes his living intimidating others knows the game and doesn't react to intimidation as expected.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Explaining D&D

I have a legitimate post planned for later today, but I just stumbled across this wonderful tool for explaining D&D to those who don't understand it... as long as those people aren't offended by naughty words.

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