Goblin Interstitial: The most powerful DM tool at your disposal.

So, throughout my tenure as a DM, I’ve garnered a few tricks of the trade that make my job just a little bit easier. I’m feeling charitable, so I’ll let you in on the biggest innovation in gaming since the to-hit roll. It may seem a little crass, but the sheer brilliance of it will blow your mind.

Are you reading intently by now?

Steal anything you can get by your players. And a few things you can’t.

I occasionally challenge myself to see just how much I can do to stretch immersion. If you wanted to say, slip the entire plot of Fight Club into your game. Do it. I have. It’s actually really easy, depending on how subtle you are, and just how many in your group have seen it. If I were to approach my players with “You hear the sounds of a scuffle around the corner. If you choose to follow it, you find a young half elf exchanging blows with apparently no one”. That immediately draws the whole group in. As soon as they learn that his name is Tyaldur Denn and that he runs the soapmakers guild/laundry, the players who have the movie fresh in their minds might get a little suspicious, and when he invites them to a secret club that meets in the laundry basement, that’s when the rest of the alarm bells will go off. The subtlety comes in when you space out this information, perhaps even over a session or two, at that point, by the time the jig is up, they rest of the players will look at you with a collection of looks that either say “this man is the cleverest guy on the planet”, or they’ll look as if you just told a really bad pun (and who doesn’t secretly love puns?). Either way, by this point, you’ve still given them an interesting set up, and from there, you can decide whether or not to stick to the movie, or throw them a curveball (hint, use the curveball. Keep those sons-of guessing). You’ve got whole universes of fiction to pilfer. Your players can’t have read all of them.

RPGs are the best medium for idea stealing. It’s not like anyone’s going to sue you over adding Gollum to your D&D game. Have some fun with it. Some call these “references”, or say they were simply “inspired by” a certain work. I say I just stole an entire dungeon from the ending scene of Freddi-Fish 3, and I’m extremely happy about it. Who the hell remembers that game besides me? They aren’t going to notice. Plus, saying I stole something of that type makes me feel like Carmen Sandiego. She stole locations too. and she loved it. Don’t you want to be like Carmen Sandiego? No? Liar.

If you’re not too amazed by my DMing savvy, and aren’t currently preoccupied scraping your brains off of the wall behind you, leave a comment or find me on twitter at @GoblinGilmartin and harass me. I don’t mind. I’ll get back to movie reviews shortly. I just need a LOT of time to recover from that last one…

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Diceroller Flicks: Gamers (2006)

This movie sucks. I was originally planning on saving my negative reviews for video reviews, But I don’t have too much to say about this one.

This movie pisses me off. The cover is really presumptious. “5 out of 5 stars” says efilmcritic.com. “Old School funny” says John Gaudiosi of AOL Games. Based on the capitalization, I’m assuming they mean the Will Ferrel film? But the real doozy of a blurb is on the back. “Funnier than Knocked Up and Superbad combined”. I’ll let that speak for itself.

But the cover isn’t done name-dropping. Kelly Lebrock of Weird Science fame. William Katt, the former Greatest American Hero. John Heard. And Beverly D’Angelo. So a bunch of has-been cult icons and the dad from Home Alone. They’re top billed on the box (not even mentioning the main cast), and they’re all cameos.

The movie is shot documentary style and is about a group of losers in their forties, they live with their parents (or grandparents, as it may be). They’re all maladroit weirdos who care waaay too much about DND (Demons, Nymphs, and Dragons. Thanks copywrite!). They’re about to break the record for Longest Continuous Campaign, at 74,558 hours over twenty years.

If you’re a fan of dick jokes, you might like this film. If you’re a fan of homo jokes, you might like this film. If you’re a fan of gross-out humor, you might like this film.

I did not.

“Funnier than Knocked Up and Superbad combined”? Sure, if you took out all of the charm, and the likeable characters.

Portrayal of RPGs – 2/5

There ARE RPGs in this movie. They aren’t really looked at too closely. There are dice, and character sheets, and people sitting around a table.

The Plot – 1/5
To be fair, there IS a plot. It’s not that important to the movie.

 

It baffles me that it got as much as a 41 percent on rottentomatoes.com, and a 7.1 on IMDB. I had more fun listening to the answering machine gag on the main menu screen of the DVD than I did watching the film.

If you thought differently, I don’t hate you. If you like this film (available on amazon and the iTunes store), let me know. Leave a comment.

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,

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.

In response to The Gentleman Gamer

The other day, The Gentleman Gamer (the suavely voiced VtM expert) posted a video about how D&D isn’t a good game to start off new players with.

While I can understand why he said what he did, and I agree at times, I have to counterpoint him here.

He says that the amount of books you need to play it, and the contents of said books can be daunting to new players. Yes. But yours truly learned D&D by myself with only one other friend who had never played before. We sussed it out over the course of a couple of afternoons in highschool.

The complexity of D&D I think is actually a good thing. If you start on D&D, and you master it, then nothing else can phase you. If you start players off with a very simple game and they get comfortable with that, then you will most likely meet resistance when trying to bring them to a different system, especially one with more “crunch”.

Another interesting benefit of D&D is it’s  malleability, and based on your DMing style, you can prepare players for other games. If you want to stick to dungeoncrawls or war simulations, then you can introduce your players to different types of battle games with less resistance. If you play it very story heavy, or political intrigue-y, you can move onto games like Vampire or noir, or detective games.

I don’t really have closing thoughts. Umm…..Read any good sourcebooks lately?

Here’s the video I’m referring to, by the way:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oK3cZ0s-T-w&feature=c4-overview&list=UU366ezryJzVHMZeoaXdD3hg

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.

Diceroller Flicks: The Gamers

Okay. On with the show…

This week we’re looking at The Gamers.

Made in my home state of Washington by Dead Gentleman Productions in 2002 for about $1000, The Gamers is a love letter to late night gaming sessions with your friends. It opens with almost VGA level graphics of the main player characters, it’s acting is a bit on the poor side, and the writing was good not great, but none of that matters. If you have any experience with gamer movies, you’ve seen this one.  It pretty much invented the genre, or at least defined it. You can tell by their casual mentions of “the dark elf with the scimitars”, that they were being very careful to not get into any legal trouble, and the name of the game is never actually mentioned.

The movie starts off with an introduction to the player characters (and yes, I finally mean players in the gaming sense, you can relax now) and a text crawl that mentions an evil plot by a villain called The Shadow. bunch of dorks standing in their dorm hallway, chatting about something gaming related, one of whom wants to use the new sword of ogre decapitation he got, when a girl in a nearby  who is trying to study for finals goddammit tells them to be quiet. I’ve never been to college. Do people actually study there? I thought it was all drunken orgies…nevermind…

The gamers enter their little conference room, and get set up for their game. One of their players, Mark is absent, being out with this girlfriend. More dialog is tossed around that at a glance sounds like something a gamer would say, but isn’t: “I got your dice right here!

Then we learn that the DM has gone with the classic tried-and-true method of character motivation: Killing everything and everyone the character has ever loved.

gm1

WHYYYY!?!…Because I said so. That’s why.

They receive a letter telling of a kidnapped princess, whose only hope is them. They go to investigate, and decide that the answer they seek might be at the bottom of a bottle of dwarven ale in nearby tavern. I’ve only been in one game where drinking a bottle of dwarven anything has ended well.

gm2

Uh…Rogar? Buddy? You alive?

The thief goes to get more drinks, and in the process tries to steal everything physically possible from the guy sitting at the bar, including his pants.

Then the director walks in, angry that they left him behind to die in a previous battle.gm3

God I love director cameos, don’t you?

The angry warrior is about to kill the party, when Nimble the Thief attempts to backstab the poor guy with a ballista. There’s nothing against backstabbing with siege weapons in the rules, so it’s okay, and he proceeds to turn the obstinate giant into chunky salsa all over the tavern walls. Since they’ve now scared everyone half to death and can’t get any information off of the gore-splattered commoners,  they leave.

Having ruined any chance of the DM being able to give them information, he resorts to having the princess show up as a blue jedi spirit and tell them where she is.

gm4

 

Help me…Please help me…I am a prisoner in the dungeon of the castle. My name is Zelda…wait, what? Shit, wrong game. My bad.

The group journey’s onward until they reach a river, and thanks to a system of flaws and perks, the mage is afraid of water. In their attempts to knock him out they get a little overzealous and end up killing him. Short one party member, they travel along the waters of Puget sound until they get ambushed by “The Bandit King”. The elf kills the Bandit King before he gets a chance to pontificate overlong (that means make a boring speech, for those not in the know). The DM vetos this, and continues on anyway, attacking the group. They appear to be losing, until they remember that Mark’s character has been standing in the background, staring off into the middle distance. Mark shows up, and wrecks house, winning the battle with a berserker bonus

gm5.

A thousand-mile stare like that is usually reserved for the DM when he realizes one of his players is missing…

So they continue on to the castle where the princess is being held, and outside they find a familiar face. Their mage from earlier, or, wait, a completely different mage who just so happens to be played by the same actor and player. Adding new characters to a pre-established group is hard, okay?

They travel through the castle, until they come upon The Shadow, an evil Dread Pirate Roberts-type. After getting their asses handed to them, the mage comes up with a plan. Using baleful polymorph, he turns The Shadow into an ogre. The rest of the party consider this a very bad idea, until the fighter remembers the sword of ogre decapitation in his bag. They curbstomp the ogre and the day is saved, except that…the princess is nowhere to be found. they travel further into the castle, eventually stumbling upon a strangely well-lit corridor with a door, behind which they can hear voices. They decide to take no prisoners and charge into the room, in which a bunch of familiar dorks are sitting, Playing D&D. This leads to the most literal case of a total party wipe in existence as the movie ends with the girl from earlier storming in, not noticing the bodies, and tells the characters to shut up so she can study.

 

That was trippy, right?

Portrayal of RPGs – 4/5

The movie really feels written by a gamer, albeit one who was prevented from making more specific jokes thanks to copyright. I think if the movie had been allowed to actually say what game they were playing (all of their gamebooks had the covers taped over, but you could see they were using D&D 3.5 manuals) as well as reference it, it might have been a bit funnier, like it’s sequel, which we’ll get to next time.

The Plot – 4/5

I actually wasn’t sure how to rate the story here. It’s a standard fantasy save-the-princess plot. The dialogue was poor, and sounding like things someone thought a gamer might say if the observer had only been to a couple of games. But this movie did a great job with very little. was a pretty solid flick that made it’s way to having a cult-following among role-players. It’s got definite heart, and every gamer should check it out, unless they have to study.