Friday, March 15, 2013

How Long Do You Game?

I'm excited as all get-out that our new campaign is starting tomorrow. While writing the first adventure I tried my best to keep time in mind. I have a reputation for starting every game with "Ok guys, this is going to e a short one, I swear!" To which everyone responds, "Yeah, right. You said that last time!"

I think the reply is more in jest than a complaint... at least I hope it is!

I have been thinking though, how long is your average game? Over the years, our games have declined in frequency to about once or twice a month. There's a lot of factors involved - mostly scheduling. We're adults now and we can just drop everything  for an afternoon of dice rolling!

As a side effect though, the games we do play have become significantly longer. It's not unusual for a game to last eight or ten hours. Heck, we've done twelve hour games on more than one occasion! These all day events evolve each session, changing the flow of the game. We used to order takeout and eat at the table. Later, we started taking a dinner break and later still, Beck began preparing meals to avoid having to order out. Ordering food is not only expensive, but it breaks up the game twice; once to figure out the food and order; then again to eat it when it arrives.

There's also something to be said about the evolution of our gaming habits and where we play. If we play at my house for instance, odds are we'll have home cooked food. If we play at Jim's we'll most likely have something from the pizza place or Chinese/sushi. (It's also nearly guaranteed that Jim's wife Erica will bake us cookies or brownies or something awesome!)

Uh oh, getting off topic. Sorry!

Now I know a few GMs and bloggers out there who play almost once a week and all I can think is "Where do they find the time!?" Fellow GM and player Noah M. plays in my game, occasionally runs his own and plays in another game online - that's a lot of gaming!

How long do your sessions normally run and how often do you play? Also what's your ideal playing time and schedule? I'm just curious to see how other folks handle their gaming.

Until next time, happy gaming!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Impromptu Game Night

This past Saturday we held an impromptu game night at our home with Noah, Jason, Beck and myself. It was a blast! We played three games: Domain: The Warlock's Challenge, Betrayal at House on the Hill and Bohnanza.

Domain is a 1-4 player dungeon crawl game published by Hobby Products. It is printed in both English and German. In Domain, you take on the role of an adventurer who has decided to brave the labyrinthine dungeons of the Warlock Algrim in the hopes of escaping with one of his four magic treasures.

The game is fairly straightforward: You travel through the dungeon and lay down new tiles as you go. When you reach the central treasure chamber, steal a treasure and escape. During the game you will fight monsters, set off traps and perhaps encounter the nefarious Algrim himself!

The mechanics are sound, although in the opinion of myself and my fellow players, they could use some work. Since the game is tile based, it is possible for one player's portion of the dungeon to be built with no access to the treasure room, forcing him to backtrack and then venture through another player's tiles, a long and often arduous process. In one game I found myself barred from the treasure room altogether, as falling debris, walls, and undead monsters blocked my path! (Undead can only be destroyed with rare special weapons) The largest complaint seemed to be the monsters in the treasure room itself. With an initiative of 40, and beefed up armor/defense, they are nearly unbeatable, requiring a player to either grind out extra levels or use magical means to bypass them. Since so many of the available experience points/magical items/spells are random and hard to come by, luck of the draw plays an overly significant part in your success or failure.

Drawbacks aside, the game is still pretty fun and sometimes the random nature can lead to surprises. During the last game Beck's character, "Lady Vikingchick" was a mere two spaces away from victory when a rock slide blocked her exit, allowing Noah's aristocratic, "Sir Brutaldude" to escape with the magical grimoire and win the game! I'd rate Domain: The Warlock's Challenge a 3 out of 5 stars.

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a survival horror game where up to six explorers find themselves within the confines of a haunted house. During their wanderings, one player will eventually become The Traitor, falling victim to the evil influence of the house. The traitor can take the form of anything from a giant spider to an entranced convert seeking to summon an elder god. Once revealed, the remaining explorers must do everything they can to stop the traitor and escape.

The game is tile based and features some interesting mechanics. The presentation is good and the idea that any of your compatriots can become the enemy can be nerve wracking at times. Once revealed, the traitor is presented with a booklet describing what they must do to win. The explorers are presented with a similar booklet, which also dictates their winning condition.

The information presented in the booklets was the primary complaint at our game. We were presented with the elder god scenario. Our goal was to steal an evil tome from the traitor and destroy it before she could summon the evil deity. Her goal was to summon it and kill us.

We were successful! Jason managed to sneak in via a magic elevator and snag the book, he then made a run for the chasm where he would destroy it. Following his theft, Back summoned the evil one.

There was a pause at the table...

We were confused. Our booklet told us that she would use the book to summon the monster and we had just stolen the book! How did she summon the monster? What we discovered was that HER booklet stated that she could summon the monster even if she didn't have the book! We realized that it was just part of the mechanics, but it just seemed... cheap.

Other than that, the game was pretty fun. I'm interested to see what the other scenarios are. I would give Betrayal at House on the Hill 3 out of 5 stars.

Finally we played Bohnanza. A farming themed card game where each player takes on the role of a bean farmer. The idea is to sell your crops just the right time to yield the greatest value, while doing so you are trying to horn in on your opponent's profits by forcing them to sell early and lose money.

The game was great! The instructions were a it confusing, but once we got past them we really got into the flow. We only played one game which was unfortunate, as we didn't really get into the flow until about half way through. The art on the cards was sufficiently comedic and the turns go around relatively quickly. I would rate Bohnanza 4 out of 5 stars. 

And just to update from the last post, There didn't seem to e enough interest to warrant setting up a Kickstater. Thanks to everyone who spread the word though!

Until next time, happy gaming!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Desperately Seeking Gary

This is not the article I thought I would be writing today, but I beg you, stay with me!

Just over a year ago I was reading articles over at Green Skeleton Gaming Guild when I came across a small picture in the right hand column. It was a photo of Gary Gygax that I hadn't seen before. Since then it has become my favorite picture of Gary to date!

The photo is fun, it's whimsical. It captures both Gary and the spirit of fantasy RPG players in a great light. In a strange way just looking at the picture makes me feel happy and of course, nostalgic.

I wanted to find a copy to hang on my wall. I asked around a bit and discovered that the photo was featured in a People magazine article from January, 1980. I tracked down the article but wasn't satisfied with the results. I eventually discovered that you could plug an image into Google to find better quality versions of existing images. In this case however, the next best picture was still not frame-worthy.

Still, it was progress! The larger image was a full-page scan of the article and the photographer's name was listed on bottom left corner of the page. The photographer was a man by the name of Marc PoKempner. I quickly Googled his name (plus the word photography) and found his website and contact info. I sent him an email detailing my journey so far.

It was a shot in the dark, but a shot that paid off! Marc wrote me back within a few hours! While I won't post the entirety of the email here, I'll summarize it the best I can. He congratulated me on tracking him down and confirmed the he indeed was the man responsible for the photo! He went on to describe the shoot briefly, saying, "I didn't know much about Dungeons & Dragons before I shot that assignment, but Gary had the figures, and the tree knot seemed like an appropriate setting - glad to hear that it still has resonance". Awesome!

He also informed me that digging up the negative and making a single 8.5"x11"print would run in the $250 range. That's a lot of GP and a bit out of my price range for a single photo. Don't worry though, hope is not lost! Marc elaborated that the price tag reflects only a single print and that multiple prints would drop the price-per-print.

My question to the community is this: Would anyone else out there be interested in this print? The greater the desire, the lower the price (to a point I'm sure). Is this potentially Kickstarter worthy? If so, it's something I'd be willing to pursue. If not, I'll start saving my pennies!

Thanks for reading and until next time, happy gaming!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Alas, poor HP, I knew you well.

The title is a bit tricky, and for that, I apologize. By HP, I don't mean hit point, I mean Hewlett Packard. My poor PC has been whining and groaning for a few days now. It's been having trouble starting up and coming out of sleep. I can't say I'm surprised. After all, I've had the thing for going on 6 years and haven't had a single problem with it until now.

Also, I don't exactly treat my stuff with kid gloves.

But I haven't given up hope! I've passed it along to our friend Michael to see if he can rejuvenate it. Cast a technological Restoration, if you will. The man isn't just a "computer guy." He's a guru; a silicon valley sorcerer.

Unfortunately that means I'll be using my better half's laptop for this article, a task I am not too eager to undertake. Sure, I can type ok on it, I can technically do anything I could do on my desktop. Still, it just feels awkward.

Enough about that though, let's get on to the content!

I've been watching a lot of movies these past few days. I'm not sure what's come over me, but I've been on a real bender of demon themed movies. First it was flicks from the 90's but eventually progressed to anything I could get my hands on; a journey which eventually led me to the 2009 independent movie Lo.

I won't spoil the story for you. Watch it if you get a chance, it's currently on netflix instant. I will say though, that this movie does a phenomenal job at portraying demons. (In the FRPG community, they may be more accurately described as devils.) They are crafty, conniving and emotional.

Wait - what?! Emotional?

Yes sir! Emotional. Sure, the most common emotion is anger, but it isn't the blind, senseless rage that is so often the case when Hollywood depicts the lowliest of the low. There are times when you can really empathize with the bad guys. You can watch their smug grins transform to false apathy, only to shift again to frustrated anger and eventually defeat.

How very... human!

Seriously though, these demons have character far beyond the normal M.O. of tempting dudes with spiky horns. At one point they pick up instruments and break into song (in the form of a mid-50's prom band). The infernal things do it in a tongue in cheek, yet still brutally cruel way to crush the protagonist's spirit.

It really got me thinking about the nature of evil and demons/devils in my own game. With devils I have a tendency to lean toward the elaborate trickster motif. After watching Lo however, I may just change that.

Until next time, happy gaming!

Oh, and sorry about the lack of pictures this article. I'm lost without a mouse!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pass/Fail or something in between?

Inspiration can come from the strangest places. In this case, it came from a video game!

If you ever game on a smartphone or tablet, chances are you've come across Temple Run 2. It's known as an infinite runner style game. You control a hapless tomb robber.. err.. I mean treasure hunter who has stolen an artifact from an ancient temple. Upon acquiring the artifact, a giant beast with a skull mask gives chase and your mission become clear... RUN AWAY!

The title screen

Unfortunately your path is impeded by a variety of obstacles. You must jump, dodge and slide your way from hazards while a tireless brute breathes down your neck. It can be disorienting at times but it's actually quite fun!

They aren't paying me to advertise their product so let me get to the point. There is a particular mechanic in Temple Run that got me thinking. You see, if you miss a jump by just a hair, or if you fail to dodge a small obstacle on the ground the little man on the screen trips. He doesn't fall down, he doesn't get gobbled up by the monster, he just sort of stumbles for a second. The screen shakes, a booming roar echoes out of the speakers and the hulking beast gets closer to your pint-sized pilferer. The game is letting you know that you're safe for the moment, but trip again and you're monster chow! It's a great way to keep you on your toes.

The beast!

Let's take a look similar situations in many fantasy tabletop games. You stepped on a pit trap? Make a reflex save to jump out of the way! You got hit with a poison dart? Make a fortitude save to see if you succumb to the toxins! Some lusty water nymph charmed you? Roll a willpower save to see if you can shrug off her entrancing allure!

Not only are these common occurrences, they also have a common quality: they are pass or fail situations. Pass your reflex save and deftly jump over the pit, fail it and you plummet to your doom! Fail your fortitude save and fall over with burning guts and explosive diarrhea, pass it and you can sprinkle that poison on your cornflakes to give them a nice piquant aftertaste. There's no in between!

It's pretty much like this. Every time.

I've been playing with the idea of near misses and close calls. What if the player failed their reflex save in the aforementioned pit, but only by one little point on the die? Is it reasonable to say that the player fell in the hole but caught his foot on a dangling root about half-way down? Maybe he only takes half the fall damage, avoids the spikes and loses all his spare change? What about the adventurer and the poison dart? Say he passes, but by only one or two? Is it possible that the toxicity still runs it's course but he is mostly resistant? Maybe it leaves him feeling just slightly off or it gives him such potent gas that stealth is out of the question for at least an hour!?

It's a fun thought and I'm sure some systems out there support near misses. It would add a great amount of flavor but would also require a significant level of trust between players and GM, as rulings would be handled case-by-case and on the fly. Who knows, maybe I'll toss the idea to my group and see what they think.

Do you have any rules for close calls and near misses? Core rules or house rules? I think it's an interesting topic.

Until next time, happy gaming!   

Thursday, February 7, 2013 the Past!

So I was browsing through the RPG section of my FLGS (Showcase Comics, if you read the last article) when I discovered a little corner shelf!

"Discover" probably isn't the right word, I mean the shelf had always been there, but what was on the shelf took me by surprise.

Not only did the store start carrying old editions of RPGs, they managed to have a copy of First Quest! Now I know it isn't a rarity by any means but it's a treasure to me. You see, First Quest was my first real foray into Dungeons & Dragons and the world of RPGs.

 I imagine the fighter's next move is to brutally extend his middle finger.

First Quest is a bare-bones version of AD&D second edition. It includes figures, a DM Screen, a stripped-down rulebook, two spell books, a full color monster/treasure book, a double sided map, character sheets and a dramatic wall poster. I swear, the box lists it as dramatic.

Go ahead, have a minute to take in all that drama...

What I view as the hands-down coolest feature of the game is it's included CD! The box claims you can "Play it's audio CD and hear monsters, magic and mysterious dungeons spring to life. As the CD's interactive adventures, sound effects, and music ring forth, you and your friends play fighters, wizards, clerics and thieves."

I don't know about you, but that snippet seems like it needs about a million more exclamation points.

I wonder if they'll still honor these advertisements? I sure could use an attractive membership pin.

I have nothing but fond memories of this set. I remember sitting on my friend Brett's bedroom floor playing with him, his little brother and our friend Dave. It wasn't only my first time playing D&D, it was the first time I played a cleric, which is still my favorite class to this very day. It was my first time discovering a gelatinous cube and my first time seeing dice with more than six sides!

Now that I've got my grubby paws on the set, I'll probably try running it at some point in the future, as long as I can find a CD player somewhere...

CDs were so expensive!

 Until next time, happy gaming! 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Thoughts on the FLGS / My Favorite Stores

As gamers, we live in a privileged age. We can get almost any gaming material we desire in a .pdf file. Should we want a physical copy -be it books, cards, boxed games or miniatures- we can simply order them with the click of a button and our credit card number. We are no longer required to venture beyond our front doorstep like in the days of old, no more must we brave the elements or make contact with other human beings. Just place the order and watch our doorsteps.

Call me old fashioned, but I think it's a shame.

I'm not speaking from on-high mind you. I'm certainly no gleaming example of a hard-core brick and mortar customer. I've ordered from online stores. I've succumbed to the temptations of lower prices and convenience but I've been thinking about them a lot lately and it's something I want to change. I want to become a greater supporter of local businesses. As crazy as it might sound, I want to be a better customer.

Before I get started though, allow me to elaborate just a bit for the uninitiated. The acronym FLGS stands for Friendly Local Game Store. It is a term often used by table-top gamers of all stripes. It's a great acronym if you ask me. Sure, it could have just been LGS, but the F gives it an endearing quality. It lets the reader know that it's more than just a place to buy more stuff.

I've been to plenty of game shops in my lifetime. I've walked into hearty greetings and excellent service. I've seen die-hard gamers who spend more time in the store than they do at home and I've witnessed honest-to-goodness communities of gamers thrive and socialize in a place they can call their own.

I've also walked into disgusting sweat-boxes that stink like body odor and old bologna. I've had employees or owners ignore me because I wasn't a serious enough gamer for them and have recently read horror stories of an owner who described his own customers as "not very sociable" and "won't have people to send them [holiday cards]  to."

For now though, I don't want to think about those few bad examples. I want to talk about the good ones, the really great stores that I'm referring to whenever I type FLGS. When I want to hit the bricks and go to a game shop, I have three go-to spots that never fail to please and I present them to you here, in alphabetical order.

Between Books

The first store on our trip is Between Books in Claymont, DE. The store was introduced to me by friend and fellow blogger oddanchorite. While it isn't exactly "local" for me, it's close enough for an occasional visit and one of my favorite stores. As the name suggests, it is primarily a bookstore but also carries a large selection of games, comics, miniatures, toys and other accessories. Walking through the door of Between Books is something like walking into the game and bookstores from my childhood. It even smells like a good store. Rows upon rows of wooden shelves line the walls packed with surprises both old and new. Model spaceships hang from the ceiling. Weathered graphics, stickers and cutouts litter the store. You will typically be greeted by Greg, the owner of the 30+ year establishment. Greg is the kind of person who put's the friendly in FLGS. He also happens to be an encyclopedia of knowledge, a wizard of the written word. I've talked about rpg's with him, his book suggestions have always been spot-on and if you want something that he doesn't have, he'll do what he can to get it for you. He regulary hosts events in the store. He carries local stuff, independent stuff and even the obscure. Heck, I picked up a copy of Orcs in The Hood there! If you ever find yourself in or near Claymont, DE, I highly suggest a visit. It would be well worth it.

You can find Between Books at:
 2703 Philadelphia Pike, Claymont, DE 19703

Redcap's Corner

Logo © Redcap's Corner

Second on our list is Redcap's Corner in Philadelphia, PA. Now I have to be honest, I've only gone here on a handful of occasions but I've been impressed on every visit. The store is bright and the people are friendly. They have a variety of game rooms and run regular events including Pathfinder, D&D, Warhammer, Magic:TG and more. I can't think of a single visit where the game room wasn't packed with folks playing one game or another. They recently ran a successful kickstarter to paint immense and awesome murals in their upstairs gaming room. My favorite experience in Redcap's to date was when my wife and I walked in to discover a rack stocked full of old Ral Partha AD&D miniatures and Shadowrun figures! I must have looked like a kid, looking at my wife with each figure I picked up asking, "Can I get this one too?!" Redcap's Corner also happens to be the store where I purchased my first Pathfinder Core Rulebook and switched over from 3.5, a decision that has proved great for my gaming group and myself. If you live in or ever find yourself in Philadelphia and have the itch for a good game, I highly suggest heading over to Recap's Corner!

You can find Redcap's Corner at:
 3617 Lancaster Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19104

Showcase Comics

Last, but certainly not least is the store I've been frequenting for most of my life. Showcase Comics is a comic and gaming store located inside the Granite Run Mall near Media, PA. While I could wax nostalgic 'til the cows come home, I'll save you the torment. Let's just say that my chubby little twelve year old fingers spent countless hours in this store browsing through brown and gold class books, buying Warzone and Chronopia figures and stocking up on shrink wrapped 2nd edition character sheets because I liked them way more than photocopies.

The store itself carries an incredible variety of products. Comics, board games, rpg's, card games, toys, war games, miniatures and more! If you play it, chances are Showcase carries it. They run regular games over twelve (i think?) tables and even hold community events like painting workshops. Mike, the manager of the store is an awesome guy and he'll help you with whatever he can. Just for example, my sister in-law purchased a set of Vallejo paints for me this past Christmas from Showcase Comics. She had no idea what she was doing and Mike was nice enough to not only show her what to get, but put her at ease by telling her "If he doesn't like a color or doesn't need it, he can just swap it out for another one, no big deal." I've heard the man give Warhammer 40k pointers and strategy over the phone to folks who call in with questions. Now that's customer service! If you ever find yourself in the Philadelphia area, Showcase Comics is definitely a place to go.

You can find Showcase Comics at:
 The Granite Run Mall, 1067 W. Baltimore Pike. Media, PA. 19063
They also have a location in Bryn Mawr at:
874 West Lancaster. Bryn Mawr, PA. 19010

Jeez, I didn't think I was going to write a book here but it looks like I did! I'm a big fan of Friendly Local Gaming Stores and thanks to our hobbies' being such social ones, I'm sure they will be around for long times to come. What do you think about your local store, and what's the best store you've ever been to? There's a few gaming mega-stores out there that I'd like to visit some day. Who knows, maybe I'll write about them!

Until next time, happy gaming!