Proper Party Put-together.

I’d like to make this little impromptu post to address a concern I’ve had. As you may know, I’ve been slowly growing weary of D&D. I don’t WANT this to happen. I love D&D. I love the stories I get to tell, the decisions I get to make. It’s amazing. But I’ve had to deal with a lot of…interesting players. It seems to be a growing trend that players always fall into one of three categories: People that build characters for versatility, People that Build characters for their Special Little Snowflake (SLS) status, and for the purposes of this article, the people who do it “right” (remember folks, cum grano salis I’m only one man). Here’s my issue. At it’s core, D&D is a game about creating a team that works well together, has adventures, faces dangers, and generally cracks skulls. 

When I see a party that ultimately looks like this:

I say to myself “What’s the point?”. You’re all basically playing the same character. There’s little variation, there’s no real stand outs. Everyone is functionally the same. You can all do magic, you can all use magic items, and you all have a lot of points in Dexterity.

And when I see a party that looks like THIS:

Just…Are you freaking kidding me? It creates a case of “If everyone is special, then no one is.” They probably bicker, because each player has so lovingly created a unique and tormented backstory that strives to dominate the narrative. And believe me. This game will be narrative heavy. All the players will talk in character in low tones, growling at each other.

“But Goblin!” I hear you saying. “This type of party can totally work well together”. In a perfect world, yes, sure. But we live in a world of selfish, broken people who have a hard time empathizing with others. If you didn’t want to deal with this type of person, you’re in the WRONG hobby, Dave.

Here’s my argument. D&D is a team game. A good team is made out of individual pieces that work together. checks and balances. Not everybody is going to be great at everything, and not everybody should. Playing with different strengths and weaknesses means you actually have to do this crazy little thing called relying on others.  The best part of playing a more traditional party, doing it “right”, is that each archetype, those being stuff like Cleric, Fighter, Thief, Wizard, all have dozens of interpretations, each one with its own bailiwick of abilities and outlooks on life. Simply amazing opportunities for role-playing. Try them out next time, instead of making that CN Dragon-blooded half-demon Hadozee soulknife-necromancer you’ve been thinking about, consider seeing what kind of mileage you can get out of an Elven Wizard. You may surprise yourself,

Preparing for your game.

So, you’re finally ready to play D&D. You’ve gotten your friends together, made your character sheets, purchased all the beef jerky your starting gold can get you, and you’re here to take on the world. But unfortunately for you, you’re the Dungeon Master, and everyone will be over at your place tomorrow for the first session! Whatever will you do!? Well, I never claimed to be an expert DM, and I’m sure that there are far more experienced people for the job. But it’s how I got my start in the game and it’s what I like doing best. I’ve had games derailed by everything from not having a place to game, to not having anyone show up, to doing a silly Jamaican accent (he was a Planeswalker. Can you blame me?). I’ll tell these stories some other day, I promise. Today we’ll focus on a better-case scenario. I run games using what I’ve referred to as “The list method”. I’ll have a basic outline of what I want to happen in a game’s storyline (e.g. travel between two in-game locations), and a list of stuff I want to add. I’ve given an example of that in a previous post, but I thought I’d start over. Here’s what I came up with.

  • Swarms of tiny demonic piranha-chihuahua hybrids called nits.
  • An island of giant, talking plants.
  • a necromancer blocking off all travel through a mountain pass with two giant zombie umber hulks
  • a man stranded in a town, with no money for supplies for the journey home and a bag full of oddities.
  • a telescope that allows you to talk to anything you can see in it as if they were right next to you.
  • A sword possessed by the spirit of the man who wielded it in battle,
  • A traveling magician who is essentially a less goofy version of Maurice from Beauty and the Beast

I’m going to stop there because, well, I’m tired. Having this list can do many things for a Dungeon Master. From the list above I’ve gained 2-4 recurring NPCs, a location, 2-3 encounters, and at least three chances for magic items. Each one of these, whether you use them or not, can lend itself to something new. I’m a very free-form DM. This lends itself neatly to my weakness: In the moment physical narration. Running battles tends to bore me because I’m not great at doing it. Aside from a few favorites like the zombie spellslinger fight, a lot of my combats consist of “….12. You miss him. He moves towards Steve….16. Steve is hit….”. It sounds lame because it is. I hope to improve on this in the coming months. It’s like Don Draper said “Just think about it deeply, then forget it…then an idea will jump up in your face.” When you make your list, what you’re really doing is planting seeds. Each one gives you a little bit more of the setting. In D&D, drawing players into a well-developed storyline through setpieces, items and NPCs? Pretty Fuckin’ Smart. A couple other things about my DMing. I have some rules I make people follow around the table.

  1. No Drugs at the table. No weed, nooo nothing, unless it A. Is medically necessary and B. Won’t get you really high. It’s not because I’m against the use of recreational drugs (which I am), it’s because of situations like this. I was running a game at a table at my local game store, Moondragon Games, when two of my players (one of whom knew the rule, one of whom didn’t) ducked outside for a few minutes while I was setting up a new encounter. I looked up from my mat and they weren’t there, I knew exactly what had happened. I ran outside to confront them, and the guy who knew the rule was being a huge douche about it. I herded them back inside, and the game progressed, and toking even helped the other guy concentrate on the game better. Why was all this bad thing? Because another one of my players, who was sitting next to them, spent the entire session like this:

She couldn’t handle the smell. Be considerate to the people around you. I’m no longer friends with one of those guys for this reason, as well as a few others.

  1. (yeah, there are two number ones, they’re both important) No Cell phones. Unless you’re expecting a very important, specific call, turn it off. Especially if you’re going to text at the table. Get the hell out. It’s disrespectful to divide your attention when it’s hard enough to get a game together as it is and everyone put effort into being here.
  2. Unless you don’t have a problem with jokes, make it clear beforehand how serious you want the game to be and make it clear that some “jokes” might be taken as your actual in-game intent.
  3. No laughing at the DMs  fake Jamaican accent.

Food on the Table

Okay, that was weak. I was tired and on my way to work when I wrote that last “update”. Let me try again.

I’ve even got a good topic. Food around the table.

We’ve all heard the Mountain Dew and Cheetos jokes, right? Well, as far as they go, I prefer Doritos, and the Dew? It has to be Code Red. Code Red is my DM fuel, in the most literal manner. I’m currently not of drinking age in America quite yet, but if you want to talk alcohol….I dunno. Ask your parents. I once tried to teach a room of drunk people how to play Munchkin, and it went about as well as trying to put a cat on a vegan diet, with similar results.

I’m well acquainted with snacks, and I’d like to share a few tips and ideas:

  • If you’ve got a fancy-shmancy expensive game mat like I do, it’s probably a good idea to limit the messy foods. stick to small, handful-style foods, like M&Ms, Skittles, pretzels, or chips. No dips though. Expensive game mat, remember?
  • These will probably get me laughed at, but if you’re of a healthier bent, then nuts, raisins, trail mix, and my personal favorite, dried fruit (pineapple especially, but trust me when I say that eating more than a pound of the stuff in one sitting? Not a great idea.). IF you spill any of these, you probably won’t ruin any character sheets.
  • If you want to get a little more creative, you can tie in the foods you eat into your game. Smell and taste are your major memory trigger senses. If you’re running the game, and the PC’s are traveling over a long distance, serve them up something that might be a part of their rations, aside from the dried fruit and nuts mentioned above, people tended to take foods that wouldn’t spoil on long journeys, and this meant preserved foods like pickles, dried meats like beef jerky and smoked fish (As a former Alaskan, that means salmon). If your PCs are in a tavern then you can try simple stuff like cheese and bread and pickles (a cheap plowman’s lunch). If you want to put in the effort and make it a party, meat pies still might be a little messy, yet historically accurate.

Fun fact: in D&D or one of the spin-off video games, you might have seen an item called an “Iron rations”. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, assuming it was something like beef jerky or something else with a high iron content, but after looking a little into it, Wikipedia tells us:

The first attempt to make an individual ration for issue to soldiers in the field was the “iron ration”, first introduced in 1907. It consisted of three 3-ounce cakes (made from a concoction of beef bouillon powder and parched and cooked wheat), three 1-ounce bars of sweetened chocolate, and packets of salt and pepper that was issued in a sealed tin packet that weighed one pound. It was designed for emergency use when the troops were unable to be supplied with food. It was later discontinued by the adoption of the “Reserve Ration” but its findings went into the development of the emergency D-ration.

Sounds less than appetizing to me. Why, you ask, is something  that was invented in the 20th century found in a medieval fantasy setting? Remember, the first D&D players were wargamers, people who studied the culture and tactics of wars throughout history. Gygax, a huge wargamer himself, probably borrowed a little something from that to add to his games.

If you’d like to share your typical gaming fare, leave it in the comments below. Until next time!

Diceroller Flicks: Zero Charisma…Finally

I’m back folks! Please, let’s hold off the raucous applause and adulation until after the review.

Today we look at one of the newer entries into my bailiwick. I proffer to you, Zero Charisma. Released last October, the film was funded on Indiegogo.com, making about $25,000 for production.

It follows Scott, metalhead, delivery boy, and the general stereotype of a Game master that takes his fantasy too seriously.

As our film starts, it’s interesting to note that this is the second film I’ve looked at that starts in a supermarket. The main character Scott is buying snacks for his gaming group.

ZC1

If you could call them that.

I like this guy’s style. He’s got a bumper sticker on his car that says “Because I’m the Game Master…that’s why”. He arrives to his game, and the night seems to be going really well, he’s got snacks, a real DM screen (Lucky him, I made mine out of cardboard, and then glued a bunch of AD&D rules inside it. Alas, it was destroyed in the purge [when I moved a few months ago]), all his players sitting around his kitchen table, and he seems to be working his magic as a game master, until his friend makes a small joke that happens to interrupt his narration.

ZC2

I’ve been there. It took a week to get the blood off the game mat.

Slightly irked, he continues his narration, that is until his grandmother comes in to make a sandwich and asks him to open a jar for her. When he gets up to do that, one player leaves the room to make a call, and the others start watching the latest episode of their webseries.

ZC3

Scott goes to check on Kenny, the guy who left the room. You know, it’s a pretty big rule of mine (and I’m sure the same goes for a lot of you) that I don’t allow cell phones at the table. I don’t know what this guy’s doing that’s so important, but he did get up without saying anything. That’s pretty rude. Scott chooses to ignore Kenny’s blatant disregard for etiquette and just tells him to come back to the game. He says he’ll be back in a minute. Dude, you can’t start the game without everyone at the table! What’s your deal?

His wife’s leaving him? Oh. Umm…that’s not good…Well, I guess he’s allowed to have a reprieve. He says he can’t play anymore, and Scott tries to reason with him, saying they’ve been playing the same continuous weekly game for three years.

THREE YEARS?!? Kenny, bro. Let’s be reasonable, there are other fish in the sea…

What? You think that’s cold? I’d move to Tiksi if it meant a weekly game.

kerrik in the snow sad

I jest. Kinda.

Anyway, this means that Scott’s group is now incomplete. Because Scott is the kind of guy that can’t tie his shoes without rolling a success check, this comes as a bit of a shock. Seriously though, you can really tell that RPGs are his life. He gives this impassioned speech about “reawakening the tradition of communal storytelling” to one of the prospective players, and even though it didn’t get him very far, and was so much marketing baloney.

While delivering Chinese food to the local game store (from which he was fired the previous month for letting the cash register get robbed), he runs into Miles. Miles is looking to get back into D&D, and Scott takes the opportunity to rope him in.

The next game session rolls around (see what I did there? Like dice!), and Miles shows up. This guy seems really cool, he brings a six-pack, he’s a hugger, he’s up on his nerd trivia (Apparently the Millennium Falcon is faster than the Enterprise. Who knew?), and he’s a really great role-player. He’s a little too perfect for Scott, who likes to be in charge in order to put himself above others, (plus Miles answered a text at the table. Seriously, that’s just wrong) and heads are butted.

That night, Scott’s grandmother has a stroke, and his mother, Barbara, comes to visit her. Apparently Scott and his grandmother share a dislike for her, and it’s easy to see why. She’s pushy, controlling, and dramatic, and a little self-centered. Her fiance that she dragged along with her seems a little backwoods, but you can tell he’s trying to be a good guy. And she clearly doesn’t approve of him playing “that little dragons game”.

Quick tangent. Sorry. The thing is, I have never understood why people can look at certain things and think “Oh, that’s immature”. The really cool thing about being an adult? It’s that I get to decide what being an adult means, no one else. If I want to piss away hard earned money on plastic figurines and dice and books, that’s my prerogative. You watch football? I watch Game Grumps. Entertainment is entertainment. To each his own, right?

ugly_strange_men_07

Even this guy. Especially this guy

Anyway….sorry.

At the next game session, Miles wants to put the webseries the two guys were making onto his website, a popular geek-gaming-pop culture news site called geekchic.com. Which is apparently like a Nerdist.com or Kotaku stand-in for this movie. Scott tries to puff himself up. He’s got a blog, a totally awesome blog that is “mostly game related, but he writes about movies and other stuff”….I wouldn’t know anything about that. I’d kill for his “14 visitors a week” though….

Barbara tries to stop the game, telling him it’s late and to “be an adult”, and he tells her to leave. This means war, and she sits down with the group, telling all kinds of embarrassing stories about Scott until he quits. He storms up to his room, and in classic “I can’t deal with my emotions” fashion, blasts some thrash metal and puts his fist through his bedroom wall.

They decide to hold the next session at Mile’s house. Things just can’t get much worse at this point, right? WRONG!

Miles not only runs a popular website, is relatively physically attractive, nerd-savvy, and has a super cute girlfriend, he’s also a talented comic book artist with a really nice house.

After a failed attempt at claiming he wrote The Matrix (long story), Scott ends up crying in Mile’s bathroom. Throughout the movie, we see Scott painting a mini of  Ulric Bennevon, his DM avatar character in his campaign setting. He uses Ulric to block the PCs from gaining a certain plot-necessary magic item called the Stones of Light, and tries to shepherd them into a quest.

Miles decides he wants to just kill the guy and take the stones. Having been confronted on his controlling nature, Scott flips out and reveals to the room that essentially, he thinks that all his friends are losers, that he thinks their webseries sucks, and he hangs out with them to be the big man, something he just accused Miles of doing.

As much as I want to hate him, I can’t. Honestly I used to be this guy. I’m sure a lot of insecure nerds have done similar things in the past. Especially the ones that are big on fantasy because they prefer it to real life.

There’s a lot going on in this movie…Barbara tries to sell her mother’s house because she’s in a lot of debt and doesn’t want her fiancée to know. As the house had been promised to Scott, he’s more than a little upset.

You should have seen it before…

Amidst the rubble, he sees a picture of Greg “Totally Not Gary Gygax” Goran, the Godfather of Gaming. Who he remembers is making an appearance at the game store soon. He decides to go and see him, to clear up some of his doubts (as well as try to get his old job back). After this fails, and he’s at the lowest of the low and seething so hard you can see his ears steaming, he shows up to Miles house, where he’s having a party and all the cool, hipster-y people are there (excluding the game group). This random party guy named Kevin who looks a lot like Oancitizen goads Scott into challenging Miles to a medieval-style duel. With Crutches.

ZC5

Screw Kevin.

Miles is clearly panicking, his thin veneer of plastic glasses and cool-guy facial hair fading, he has nothing else to do but follow along. But then he gets a shot to the face, and repays in kind with a punch to the stomach that floors Scott. Scotts sidekick, who shows up to pick up Scott, jumps on Miles and gets a fistful of his hair.

After a brief time skip, Scott is now working at the retirement community that his grandmother agreed to go to after the house was sold. He’s looking after his grandmother and running an RPG for some of the old folks. One of the old guys tries to put the moves on a female character. It’s pretty cute. Fun Fact: Did you know that the STD rate among retirees has doubled in the last decade?

I think a lot of freaks and geeks can identify with some aspect of the main character. I know I could. That’s actually one of the reasons this took so long to do. It felt a bit too personal for me to comment on it. He’s socially inept, controlling, selfish, takes things way too seriously, can be over dramatic, can’t handle his emotions well, and puts other people down in order to make himself feel better. At least half of those were me in middle school. But that’s the point. He realizes all of these things and by the end of the film, he hasn’t changed too much, but he’s a lot happier and a lot more self-aware, as well a bit more forgiving of others.  And I think that makes all the difference.

Portrayal of RPGs – 4/5

There isn’t really a lot of RPG in this RPG movie. It’s about the gamers. There’s no “game world” footage, no random in-jokes about kobolds or mind flayers, and we barely see the sessions that take place throughout the film. The few times we get a good look at them, they’re very solid. and while Scott (the character, not Sam Eidson, the guy playing him) isn’t the greatest of actors, you can tell that he puts a lot of himself into the game. I would have liked to see a little more of it as the film progressed.

The Plot – 3/5

This movie, technically, is really well shot, well-acted, and the writing is pretty good. It almost seems to  suffer from another case of “Don’t sue us, please”, but it’s more subverted, in that the real counterparts do exist in universe, they just choose to do their own thing.

If I had to not like something about this movie, it’s the time skip at the end. It’s not jarring, but it really implies a lot that I would have liked to see. I can’t believe I’m saying this but “SHOW! DON’T TELL!”. You can see that Scott is a lot happier with this life, and although he hasn’t learned much, he’s much more relaxed.

Huh. Well, I guess this didn’t need that much editing after all. If you want to check out Zero Charisma, it’s available for streaming on Netflix, Amazon instant video and…Google Play? You can watch movies  on that? Huh. Cool. Anyway, until next time, See ya cyborgs!

NOTE: Due to a shift in my schedule, Tuesday will now be the day that I’ll be regularly updating. I can’t promise movie reviews, but I’ll have something for you to see here!

My campaign, my maps, and me

So, let’s just chill for a while and shoot the breeze. I’m still working on getting my 3.5 game together. I’m looking at a Healer Elf, a Kender Rogue, possibly either a Human Sorcerer or Bard, and I’ll need to toss in a GMPC to fill out the party balance though.

I thought I’d share my campaign seed, in case anybody was interested. I’m not ALL talk, you know.

The game will start at the funeral of a great warrior named Kilvarough Harmonsen, also known as “Kilvarough Orc-Friend” or “Kilvarough the Key. Bandits attack the funeral, and attempt to steal the body. The campaign will center on the history of this one warrior, and the players will learn more about him as they travel, possibly building to a culminating battle with the guy’s arch-nemesis.

Here’s what I wrote about Kilvarough, this’ll be a bit of a long one. If you’re one of my players…you don’t read my blog anyway:

Kilvarough Harmonsen grew up in the small hamlet of Honeymill, the son of Harmon Jaeksen, the mayor of Honeymill, and his wife, former royal courtesan Beritzia Roth.
Harmon struck a deal with several bands of orcs that lived in the surrounding plains. They wouldn’t raid, and they could work in the village as farmhands, guards, and any other work they wanted. Harmon and the chief Orcs, Rocksplitter and Three-Eye, were great friends, and often hunted together, bringing along young Kilvarough. On day, they were tracking a group of deer through a forest to the west of Honeymill, and the village was attacked by a Black Dragon named Throdenoth (Many-Toothed) and a small group of mercenaries. The men arrived, leaving Kilvarough hidden safely in the forrest. They fought The dragon and his men, eventually winning out, but it was too late to save the village, and it was left burned to the ground, and over half the village was killed. Beritzia survived, but if she knew how, she wouldn’t tell anyone.

They retrieved their son, and struck out to find a new place to call home. The orc chieftains went their separate ways as well. Harmon became an adviser to King Halva VII of Rebloss Kingdom. Kilvarough trained to be a warrior in the Kings guard.

Quickly advancing through the ranks, he became one of the most valuable men in the guard. Another of the advisers of the King, however, was a sorceror by the name of Silasso Venethel (He later changed his name to Vorastrix Tibur-Silasso [Draconic for “The sorcerer once known as Silasso”]). Silasso was once the apprentice of Throdenoth, and boded his time, waiting until the perfect moment to strike back at Harmon who, while now older and weaker, was protected by the king same as he. He almost succeeded, poisoning him during a great party held commemorating the visit of Three-Eye, one of Harmons oldest friends. He fell ill that night, and Silasso caused a panic that pinned the blame on Three-Eye’s men, almost causing a war between Rebloss and the orc nations until Kilvarough spoke up, delivering a speech that spoke of his childhood and the friendship that Three-Eye and his father had, this speech gained him the name “Orc-friend”. Silasso disappeared, and Kilvarough persued him for years, eventually killing him with the help of Three-Eye and Rocksplitter. Now, his quest complete, and far away from Rebloss kingdom, he made home in Churne, a small village where he spent the rest of his life, defending it, becoming the “Keystone” of the village.

At the end of his life, Kilvarough didn’t realize that Silasso hadn’t been killed, but he’d survived and become the lich Vorastrix.

On the day of his funeral, bandits allied with draconic creatures raided the village, kidnapping his granddaughter, and “trying” to steal the casket. Vosrastrix wants the body of his fallen enemy to use in an ancient magic that could turn him from a lich into a true dragon like he always wanted.

 …whew…

You may have noticed that I’m not great at naming things. If you have any better names for anything, lemme know.

In other news, I’m going to try and make my own 3D dungeon walls for my game. A friend of mine (my friendly local game store owner) gave me some tips. I’ll document the process when I do it, so…that’ll be cool…

kerrik sad

See you next time…

Lions and Tigers and Updates, oh my!

Oh…yeah. You’re still here….well, I don’t really want this to die, but I don’t have time for it these days. I mentioned a while back that I had a super-secret project I’m working on, well, I might as well tell you. I want to transition to video reviews. There were some films that I looked at, namely Gamerz, that I felt text just couldn’t do justice to, and hopefully, if I can get a little face to face time with you all, that might help. I’m chasing a few leads to get that up in the air, but my partner-in-crime on that venture is being somewhat of a flake. I also want to branch out into tabletop RPG inspired video games, and some other things (whatever I feel like doing, really). IF you have suggestions, put them in the comments, please…please?

I’ve been trying to learn how to animate, but it’s slow going. Can anyone out there help out?

In gaming news, I recently purchased a Chessex Megamat (it was a bit spendy, but I worked a little overtime recently, I think I can afford it.) and I’m slowly building up a collection of miniatures from the Pathfinder sets. If anyone has any minis they don’t want, I’d be glad to take them off your hands (I’ll pay if you’re not into that whole charity thing…).  I’m hoping to get a 3.5 game together with my roommates and ease myself back into it.

This year’ll be an interesting one, to say the least.

Sessions.

Evening ladies and gentleborgs.  I wanted to talk to you about RPG sessions. And I hope, hopefully, that you will talk back this time.

My RPG sessions have been varied and many. I’ve played them in club rooms while our history teacher does his grading in the background, while we all sat around a bunch of pushed together desks with a makeshift dry-erase grid mat. I’ve played in friend’s bedrooms, huddled on the floor while I work my way through an entire 12-pack of Mountain Dew: Code Red. I’ve played in game store backrooms, and while I scramble to get all my notes together two of the players sneak out to get high ( breaking the number one rule in any game session that I run: If you must partake, do it before the game. and I mean waaay before. Other than that, no performance enhancers).

I’ve played with people I will never, ever be in the same room with, over Skype and other neat little tools. Frankly, most of these sessions have ended in disappointment and frustration, or in a simple and utter lack of fulfillment.

Why I play though, are for those little moments. I think you know the ones if you are a gamer like me. The ones you can talk about later, even if at the time they didn’t seem that interesting. When my Malkavian died wrestling a dragon made of fire, the pile of bodies blocking the lightning rail from moving forward,  that time the Gangrel tried to assassinate the prince by crashing a plane into the Elysium, The time they met the Ogre bard who liked to sing nonstop.

Little tastes into other worlds. I always want a little more, but like I’ve admitted, I’ve never taken a D&D party beyond 6th level.

What I’m hoping to hear from you is this: What was your perfect game session? The one you’ve walked away from where you were truly content.