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,

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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!

Dungeons & Dragons: The Book of Vile Darkness Thoughts

So, there comes a point in every role-player’s life. At this point, they’ve played a few different campaigns, a few different characters, but there has always been one this that at least one of the DMs they’ve had have never allowed.

Playing an evil character.

The DMs will argue that having evil characters just doesn’t work in their game. It’ll ruin the plot and cause characters to fight and why would the rest of the party allow Ethelred the Adulterer to travel with them, especially after the damage he caused to the Temple of Boccob when they needed the priest to give them his blessing to enter the Sanctum of Magic and repair the Crown of Marragin? But I digress…..

The point is, at this point, the bright eyed and bored role-player wants to try his hand at slaughtering villagers instead of saving them, of holding the princess for ransom instead of rescuing her. In comes the evil campaign

The evil campaign is the ultimate gamer cathartic experience. They get to try their hand at “more complex characters” with “deeper back-stories”. A lot of the time, this is baloney. They just wanna smash stuff and get rewarded for it, instead of chastised for their insolence by the DM.

The Book of Vile Darkness is the third installment in the D&D movie franchise. If the first movie was the franchise in it’s infancy (and let’s face it, it wet the bed), and the second movie was the more mature flick that had some better indication of what it wanted to be, then the third film is the adult realization of the bunch. And I do mean adult. Apparently, if the mature content disclaimer on the front of the D&D splatbook of the same name is any indication, then the nudity and “mature themes” in this movie are well expected.

The film features Grayson Azreal, newly knighted member of the Knights of the New Sun, a coterie of knights dedicated to the Sun God, Pelor and the eradication of all evil. Every knight during their initiation prays to Pelor hoping to gain his divine blessing, but no knight has in over 800 years, but they still get to be knights, so it’s not that bad. Grayson is butthurt that he wasn’t the one to awaken the blessing of his deity, but before he can sulk too much, the knights are ambushed, and Grayson is the only survivor, his father carried off by the baddies. Grayson denounces his faith, and rushes off to find his father. He soon discovers the best method to achieve his goal is to join a group of evildoers on their quest to locate the pieces of the titular Book of Vile Darkness and present them to the man who kidnapped Grayson’s father.

Forced to to terrible things like murder in cold blood, break his vow of chastity, lie, cheat, and steal in order to fit in with the group and not arouse suspicions that he is more than just a man-at-arms looking for gold. Eventually it gets to the point that when he reaches his father, he’s decked out in black armor, carrying a cool wicked-looking vorpal blade, has a scar on the side of his face, and his father thinks that he’s just gone totally evil. This led to one of the facepalmiest realizations I’ve ever had. Gray-SON. His entire quest revolves around engaging in morally GRAY activities on a quest to rescue is FATHER. Clever writers, very clever…

I think this is the strongest out of the three Dungeons & Dragons films, and the purest example of the evil campaign done right. The film has relaxed a little on the previous installment’s penchant for referencing the source material while still presenting the casual role-player with enough Dungeons & Dragons-y things to call it self a D&D flick. Bonus points for including the Slaymate from the Libris Mortis splatbook in what is genuinely a very creepy scene. If you can find this movie, check it out. It’s my personal favorite of the lot, and is a great way to cap off a series that has until now really dragged.

Goblin Interstitial: Accentuating the Positive

Hey folks. So, today I was going to do a look at GamerZ, a neat Scottish film about a fantasy role-playing game group, but I’ve had some issues.

Thing is, I want to like the films I talk about. The whole point of this is granting exposure to the gamer films I want people to see. While I still want to look at GamerZ eventually, I found myself being pretty negative towards it, or at least passive-aggressive, which isn’t fair to it. It’s actually a pretty decent movie. The camera quality is a little low, but the characters are realistic (as they can be), and the fantasy sequences are really visually engaging.

Whenever I turn on my reviewer-senses to sit down and watch a film, I tend to be much more critical (in the negative sense), and this bugs me, because not everyone watches films with the intent to pick them apart.

I think one of the problems is my subject matter. I’ve gone over this before, but the genre that I’ve chosen, gamer films, tend to be a little on the dramatic side, focusing on the characters, rather than the plot. The problem with this is that gaming should not be a dramatic thing. It should be a fun diversion from the drudgery of modern life. (not an escape as many use it as).  A lot of gamers (but not all, I’m not trying to stereotype here…) in real life are at least a little bit unbalanced, preferring fiction to reality, being socially inept (i know the feeling), some even have diagnosed mental problems, such as Aspergers, ADHD, and other various mental maladies. These people should not be made into dramatic devices, at least not in most circumstances.

In GamerZ, the love interest character, Marlyn, is actually really creepy, identifying too hard with her character, even getting a tattoo of her on her back, and trying to stab the DM when he PK’s the party and her elf gets captured by orcs, meeting a “sticky end”, if you catch my drift. I have not a single good thing to say about this character (except maybe that the actress did a really good job of portraying a deranged woman), and the fact that so much time in the film is directed towards her–being the love interest and all–bugged me. I found myself making a lot of crude jokes at her expense in my first draft of the post, and as much as I admire critics like The Spoony One and his early text reviews and were inspired by them, I don’t want to write like them. I want to be my own goblin, and I want to be positive. Currently I don’t think I’m in the right mood to discuss a film of this “depth” in the manner that I want to. Join me in a couple of days for a different review, of a film that still fits my hint.

Ramblings of a mad Goblin: Gaming on the brain in Unicorn City:

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last six or so years thinking about how gaming affects the people who play them. The cause and effect is tough to wrap one’s head around. My review of Unicorn City brought some of these old thoughts to the surface. In the film, during the first playing session, a few things happen:

On the first viewing, the scene in meant to set up the characters. Specifically Voss and Shadow Hawk. Voss is the intense leader, and Shadow is the douchebag GM who cares more about his story than his players.

Thing is, we’re thrown into this out of context. The first thing we see is Clancy complaining about not having a thumb to hold a sword with. Shadow denies him this thumb, because his character is some big cat person, and has been since the game started.

This is totally reasonable from one perspective. Shadow is right. The character that Clancy CHOSE to be should have had its limitations fully aware to him at the beginning. That isn’t the problem though. The problem is that Shadow isn’t working with the players. He’s working against them. A good DM would listen to his players, and try to do something for them later, like, I dunno, a magic glove of opposable thumbs. It doesn’t even have to be a good item, but it would be valuable because it’s something the player WANTS, and can be used to get him to do things the DM wants him to do. DM-Player relationships should be symbiotic. Instead, he’s a huge ass, and Voss isn’t helping. He demands that his character be brought back into the Material Plane, and that Clancy’s character have thumbs. Then there’s that whole thing with the sword through the table. Look at his face after that. He seems to be completely regretting that that happened. He actually had a temper strong enough to make him stab a table.
I would NOT want to game with this guy.

Voss spends most of the film in this very intense, let’s-get-down-to-business mind frame, brought on by his belief that “he is what he pretends to be”, which in this case, is a bard/paladin knight. This is really to his detriment, as it leaves him blind to the feelings of the other characters at several important points in the narrative.

As the knight he believes he is, he’s TOO GOOD for things like fish tacos. This leaves him WITHOUT A JOB, with an eviction notice on the door, and no way to pay rent except for unemployment, but that’s okay, because he got the girl and the moral high ground in the end. See the problem

Once the players decide they really don’t care for Shadow’s game, Marsha writes her own campaign set up. Voss states that you can’t just “willy-nilly” a game together. YES YOU CAN. Spontaneity has been one of my biggest motivators as a gamer. Many a game has a started with a simple “You know what would be cool?” or simply stating “I want to play a game of Call of Cthulhu”. A mindset like that, making gaming into something that has to always have serious thought put behind it, is really dumb.

Games are fun! I play D&D to try out a new twist on a character, or to see how players will react when I toss them in a pit with a bunch of slime creatures, not as some expression of how into it I am.

As a writer, I get that it is hard to wring drama out of playing an RPG, I’ve tried. Drama comes from intense emotions and situations, gaming is a bunch of geeks getting together to have fun, if anyone takes fantasy too seriously, that’s when the questionable mental states come into play. If it isn’t fun, you shouldn’t be playing, if tempers flare, then the environment is just not right. As a gamer, I’ve been in situations where I need to do a bit of manipulating of people to get them to just sit and play. These days, I’ve gotten sick of solving everyone else’s problems. If it’s that much of a hassle, then just drop it. All this forcing it is gonna make someone blow out an O-ring.

Was this coherent? Would you want to read more interstitial posts  like this? leave a comment, or drop me a message at goblingilmartin@gmail.com