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!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Importance of the World Map

Adventurers are a crazy breed: Battling monsters, delving into dungeons and traveling the world in search of fame and fortune. As a GM you probably have plenty of books covering monsters and a stack of dungeons on-call but what do you do when they tread off the beaten path and strike out into the wide-open world? Do you make something up or do you already have the situation under control? Published campaigns offer the convenience of pre-existing and professionally crafted maps so there's no big problem there. What about homebrew games though?

For a long time I ran a very run-and-gun style world. My original world map -if you can call it that- was more of a vague diagram than anything else. It was created as we played; every adventure led to a new place for the players and for myself to discover. It's not a bad way to play, it just became cumbersome. I found the players asking legitimate geographical questions that I didn't have an honest answer for. Questions such as "How far are we from town? How long is this trip going to take / how long have we been on the road?", were often answered with an arbitrary number. It may not make a big difference in the grand-scheme of the world, but I don't want to cheat the players either. I should be flattered that they have so much interest in the world we've created, not worried that I might give them wrong or even worse, confusing answers.

Our original world map: Simple AND misleading!

Keeping these thoughts in mind, I finally decided to sit down and flesh out our campaign world. The task was much more daunting than I anticipated. I was intimidated by geographical features and land shapes. I started asking questions like "What is the determing factor for the creation of mountain ranges, where should they go?" and "Can I put a river here? It makes sense for the story but I don't know if it's scientifically sound." I began scouring the internet looking for answers. Unfortunately the only thing all that reading provided was an increase of my own self doubt.

I stared at my blank Photoshop screen for a moment before saying to myself, "Who cares? Just draw the thing already!" So I did.

Once I tossed away my worries and doubt I found world-building to be a very organic experience. My original goal was to create a functional map with illustrated borders and geographical features. What I ended up with was a multi-layered Frankenstein of cartography! Once the borders were down I started adding rivers, then mountains and forests. Once those were in place I began plopping down capital cities and surrounding villages and once those were in I couldn't help but add roads and trails... I was out of control!

My first geographical map! Not too shabby if I do say so myself... and I do!

My end result is -in my opinion anyway- pretty impressive! It isn't just a map for show, it's a functional tool for our game world. I can open it up at any time to figure out where the adventurers are and where they can go from there. I kept it in layers to make interpreting it easier. If I don't need to see the roads or borders, I can turn them off. I've even got a handy layer that tracks where their various adventures were and where they've traveled. Picture the flight scenes from Indiana Jones. Yeah, kind of like that.

While I haven't presented it to the players yet, I've already found the map an invaluable tool. I've already discovered some of our in-game travel was gruelingly longer than it needed to be. I've also been able to use it to establish weather conditions and general climates for different areas. It's awesome!

In this closeup I've made the roads/trails visible as well as the adventurer's trail so far.

Our map is in no way complete, but with how much enjoyment I've had while crafting it, I'm sure it will be soon! How do you feel about world maps? Do you use them in your games?

Thanks for reading and until next time, happy gaming!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Perkins the Dragon Slayer

A horde of undead champions and necromancers assault the adventurers! There were six statues in this hallway as well, which the players insisted were some sort of golems... they were not.

An exciting game to say the least.
The players, having received a request of attendance from their former military commander, found themselves traveling across two countries in an effort to reach the massive city of Sessovir, the capital of the Holy Empire of Man; A city often described as "The capital of the world."

During this journey they picked up a new companion: The once famous minstrel Perkins. While his career has waned, Perkins still has the attitude and swagger of a superstar. He has a habit of bossing around not only his bodyguard Corwyn, but the rest of the party as well. He agreed to travel with the party in hopes of finding inspiration for his next series of songs. Some of his former hits include such famous tunes as: The Dragon Slayer; Five Days Ago; Dancing for Silvers and Vicky's Lament.

Perkins is played by my friend and fellow blogger SaintMort, author of Pure Mattitude. He is a hilarious guy with a lot to say. He wrote full songs for his character and performed them at the table! To be honest, I would not consider any of the songs appropriate for a 'general audience'. Nevertheless, here is a heavily censored excerpt of The Dragon Slayer.

There once was a town where a dragon lived...
He ruled the land, and he'd eat the kids!
The town was helpless, no one was spared!
There was murder and famine everywhere!
So I took a trip to that far off land and said:
You can't kill him... BUT I SURE CAN!

I'm the mother ******* dragon slayer!
I'll **** up that dragon's **** night and day or I'll die ****** tryin'!
Mother ****** I ain't lying! Cause I'm the death defyyyyyiinnnnn'...

Now my name is known both far and near
for the dragon hid in his cave with fear
I said: HEY ***** QUIT BEIN' A *****!
Get your *** out here! Let's do this ****!
The dragon sensed fate wasn't on his side
and the little ***** ***** committed suicide!

With Perkins in tow, the players continued their journey, setting up camp one night just inside the borders of a nation called Bour/Orlan. Rising the next morning they found a pudgy old half-deaf man wandering the road. The bumbling man introduced himself as Benedict and was absolutely certain that the players were sent there to provide him escort through the wilderness to a nearby mining camp. He claimed his cousin lived there. Benedict meant to recover his favorite walking stick, which he loaned to his cousin long ago.

The players were confused, but his coin was good so they took the job, all the while wondering how the old man managed on his own in the first place. 

The deaf, pudgy and bumbling character Benedict was modeled after our kitty. The deaf, pudgy and bumbling Benny. 

When they reached the camp they discovered the mine to be closed due to an apparent cave-in. There was also no sign of Benedict's cousin... or did he say brother? Nephew? He couldn't remember. They spoke to the workmaster who pleaded for their help. He confessed that there was some sort of monster attack within the mine and needed help in clearing it out. The cave-in story was a tale to keep the miners at ease.

The players accepted the mission -for more gold of course- and ventured into the mine. Benedict insisted on attending and they allowed it against better judgement.

Working their way down they discovered a surprise! The miners had unknowingly mined directly into a long lost tomb complex and were summarily slaughtered by the restless undead who lived within. The players battled their way through the tombs, trying to keep a watchful eye on the oblivious Benedict while fighting all manner of undead.
About halfway through the dungeon one of the players called it a day. Jubal the Insane (a sorcerer/cleric) had exhausted his spells and was suffering from the effects of level drain. He went back to the camp in order to rest for the night. Benedict did not agree and he urged the party forward.

The rest of the party stayed and although Benedict shouted words of encouragement, things went from bad to worse. Perkins eventually joined Jubal outside the mine when he witnessed his bodyguard's head messily removed from his shoulders by a spirit of denial (a creature of my own invention). The remaining four adventurers pressed on.

A few traps and floating skulls later, the adventurers found the source of the evil. Inside an immense throne room they discovered a seated skeletal figure clutching a short staff in his gnarled fist. Benedict let off a stream of curses and approached the figure, trying to wrest the staff from his dead hands. The figure let off a bust of magical energy and sent the party flying against the walls.

The adventurers did battle with the undead lord the best they could but he siphoned their spells right from the air and numbed them with his freezing fingers. The battle was hard fought, but they came out victorious.

Benedict, who's usefulness can be best described as minimal, retrieved his stick and praised them for a good job. The party for the most part was puzzled. This tomb was well over a thousand years old! How could this bumbling old man loan anything to some ancient undead? They tried to ask him, but he was tired and wanted a drink.

Benedict knocked on a nearby sarcophagus with his walking stick and opened it up, as one would open a door. The adventurers were shocked to find a bustling tavern on the other side! "Well, are you coming?" he asked them.

They followed him through and found themselves within a filthy tavern in one of Sessovir's various slums. They were shocked at their surroundings, shocked again that they couldn't find Benedict anywhere and finally, curious as to what will happen to their two companions who are now hundreds of miles and an entire country away!

Until next time, happy gaming!               

Monday, January 21, 2013

Foods to Game by

Recently in preparation for our Pathfinder group's game days, I find myself thinking a lot about what to make.

We mostly try and cook a big meal when people come over now rather than ordering out. It's fun, much cheaper, and it helps make a breaking point in the game after or right before a major battle. I also try and make something sweet to snack on during the game, but after last game's success with some sour dough rolls I realize that something savory would be good too.

My criteria for choosing food for gaming:
1. Messiness - will it ruin cards/books/dice
2. Cooking - it needs to be prepped ahead of time so you can pop it in to cook and not worry about it.
3. Awkwardness - can you eat it and still talk or play
4. Will Eddy eat it? - keep any player allergies/dislikes in mind 

The preparation ahead of time is a game changer. Some weeks I'm on top of it, other weeks I'm rolling dice from in the kitchen and yelling into the living room. If you don't have a crock-pot, go to a thrift shop or Goodwill and pick one up. I have an old olive green rival crock-pot that is awesome. Run, do not walk. It makes foods that seem fancy with minimal work. The essence of cooking with a crock-pot is: Shove meat and spices in pot, put in liquid (you can use beer) to just below the top of all of your ingredients. Turn on low for 6 hours or high for about 3 hours. Job's done.

Some so-easy-there-is-no-excuse-not-to-make-it crock-pot suggestions: chili, pulled pork, bbq shredded chicken, meatballs, beef stew.

Some make ahead and then shove it in the oven meals: lasagne, enchiladas, baked ziti, any casserole, homemade pizza, homemade stromboli, pot pies.

I've got a pinterest board with some things I'm trying, have made, or want to make over here.

- beck

Friday, January 18, 2013

It's Officially Offiicial!

Just thought I'd drop by and let everyone know that our paperwork came back from the Department of State confirming that our modest little game company is recognized as a corporation! We're still moving in pretty small steps and our site needs a lot of work but you can see it by clicking here.

You can also check out our Facebook page by clicking here. I'd be grateful if you clicked the 'like' button!

Until next time, happy gaming!

Games as Therapy?

I love playing games. All sorts of games - board games, role playing games, card games, video games; even kickball! While competition is an integral part of most games and tempers can flare, I've found that they can also be very therapeutic on both an individual level and in a group.

A few weeks ago we played a game of Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre and I was decidedly the loser. A few days later we played a few games of French Tarot. I was again not victorious. Not only did I lose the games, but I was a pretty bad sport about it. I didn't throw the cards across the room or anything, I was just... grumpy.
Don't worry, it was a good thing! On the drive home I was forced to confront my own poor sportsmanship. I wanted to say, "I don't like those games. They are stupid anyway." but my brain knew better, they are great games and I was being a doofus. It may seem like a small thing, but it's important. I asked myself, "Self, do you really want to be that guy? The guy who only has a good time when he's winning?"

I apologized to my friends for my behavior and although they assured me they didn't think anything of it, I felt relieved and maybe... just maybe... I learned something.

A hand of French Tarot

I find pen and paper role playing games to be an excellent vehicle for self therapy. They offer a variety of means that allows one to throw off their normal inhibitions and let loose. You may see a great deal of people who poke fun at RPG gamers. The stereotypical interpretation of scrawny, bespectacled geeks pretending to be battleaxe wielding barbarians could not be farther from the truth. Even if it was the truth though, would it really be a bad thing?

I've played RPGs for the greater portion of my life now. In that time I've met players who create fantasy versions of themselves as a way to act out daring adventures and political intrigues that they could / would never consider in their day to day lives. I have also encountered players who use the game as a means to explore life outside their comfort zone. Young men who play as withered old crones; college educated and deeply intellectual women who portray mighty barbarian powerhouses; and even blue collar factory workers who take on the role of pious and devout priests or healers.

I must admit though, by far my favorite thing to see is rare, but not unheard of. Nothing is more pleasing than to see a quiet and shy person break out of their shell simply because they are playing as someone else and not themselves.

Looking beyond the individual, pen and paper RPGs often offer excellent opportunities for social interaction. In the simplest interpretation they bring people together and celebrate community, in reality though, there is much more to RPGs than 'a party in mom's basement with cheese doodles and soda.' They may seem like little more than games while being played, however each player is taking part in the writing of an elaborate and constantly evolving story. A group of people sitting together to create a tapestry that they can talk about for years to come. Most of these tales will never see print and won't have a great cultural impact but for those involved, they can rival even the greatest literature.

Wait a sec... sunlight? windows? That doesn't look like a basement!

I've forged a great deal of friendships and bonds through games over the years. What's better is being able to re-forge those friendships later on. There have been plenty of occasions when I've run into an old friend and invited them to a game. Like many shared hobbies, games can break down those awkward social barriers that would prevent some people from socializing. It's easy to run into an old pal and give an obligatory "Yeah, we should catch up sometime" yet with games we can just as easily ask "You wanna hang out and play a game?" They offer a great deal of versatility and can provide some redirection of focus should the conversation get stale or uncomfortable.

Maybe that's what bridge has had going for it all these years?

Do you think games can be therapeutic, or are they just kid's stuff? Do you think they have real social value? I'm interested in your opinions.

Until next time, happy gaming!       

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dynamic Persistent Characters

Dynamic persistent characters have become a topic of interest for me as of late. (to make life easy, we'll just say DPC) A DPC -in my mangled explanation of it- is a character who appears repeatedly throughout the works of any given creator. While there are plenty of recurring characters to be found in the world of literature, games and movies, the dynamic persistent character is a harder creature to pin down.

I know I may sound a bit confusing but I couldn't settle on a suitable term to describe what I mean, so allow me to elaborate. I promise, it IS game related!

DPCs are different than recurring characters. True, they can be recurring characters, but they don't have to be. A dynamic persistent character is one who exists across many stories yet are not necessarily the same person. They often share significant similarities with their other versions and oftentimes are identical but still somehow... different.

Are you getting me? I hope so, because I'm hardly getting it myself!

 Kilgore Trout: "Life is no way to treat an animal."

Kilgore Trout is a great example of the dynamic persistent character. He is a character who appears throughout a few of Kurt Vonnegut's works of fiction. Many of Trout's portrayals are very similar, some not so much. One thing is for sure though, while reading the various works of Vonnegut I always grin when a Kilgore Trout is introduced. Even though he is not the same character as the last Trout, I already feel like I know him.

At first I thought these characters were out of the ordinary, but they happen far more often than I thought! Rowan Atkinson's portrayal of Edmund Blackadder for example, Biggs and Wedge in the Final Fantasy franchise; and I know it's a stretch, but even Doctor Who has a few elements of dynamic persistence.

The many faces of Edmund Blackadder

We've had quite a few dynamic characters in our RPG's over the years. No matter the setting or campaign, DPCs offer a great way to make players feel involved and familiar with the game world.

My first DPC was stolen from the pages of Dragonlance. I merrily plopped Fizban the wizard in whenever the players seemed a little down or the game was taking too bad a turn. Sometimes I intentionally wrote him into the story. Nothing brightens a party's day like discovering their favorite bumbling wizard just so happened to fall asleep outside the dungeon they were about to explore and nothing makes a GM happier than to hear the party shout "Alright! Fizban's here!" in delight.

By far though, our group's most popular DPC has to be Sgt. Reginald Slawter. A strange mash-up of past NPCs who have evolved into a wholly new character. Reginald was already a DPC who the players had encountered many times over the years. Sgt. Slawter was a separate character, a nameless NPC with the rank of sergeant. A player asked his name and I spouted out the first thing that came to mind.

I had no idea the name would stick...

Sgt. Slawter became legendary in our games. He was a stalwart ally of the party and became separated from them in one particularly nasty encounter with a group of yuan-ti snake men. The party had no choice, they were outnumbered and ran away. Sgt. Slawter's screams echoed in their ears and there was definitely a long awkward silence when everyone at the table realized that they felt bad. I'm not saying they role-played remorse. There was a real sense of loss and the PCs felt responsible for the death of a person who wasn't even real!

That's some Jack Chick $#!% right there.

Years later, the players and their new characters were introduced to Sgt. Reginald Slawter. They were thrilled, like seeing an old friend again. Or I guess it's more like seeing two old friends who just happen to be stuck in the same body... gross.

Anyway, what do you think about Dynamic Persistent Characters? Do you have any in your games? Is there already a name for this that doesn't sound as ridiculous as the one I've devised?

Until next time, happy gaming!   

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Love that 'New Site' smell!

Alright everybody, welcome to our new site! If you are coming over from Warbear/Hero's ruin you may recognize the layout, as it hasn't changed much. It's just a new name and new pictures really.

You may be wondering what I've been doing for the past few months. My posts were scarce and I kept changing the site around. No, I didn't lose interest. No, I didn't have a horrible accident and I certainly didn't die.

The truth is - my friend Noah and I have decided to throw our hat into the ring of game design and production. Our business is called "Hero's Ruin Game Co." and our first project is a game of his design. Under the working title of The Saboteurs!, it is a two player combat strategy game fought over a steam-punk battlefield. The game design is complete and the play-testing is finished. Now we've got to focus our efforts on getting funded and getting ourselves some professional artwork. It's very exciting stuff. Terrifying, but exciting!

While waiting for The Saboteurs! to move along we've also started development on a second game; a larger scale combat game for 2-8 players. I'd like to say more, but it's all a bit top secret at the moment.

Anyway, we aren't here to talk about that stuff, we're here to talk about the games we're playing.

We have restarted our Pathfinder RPG campaign. It still takes place in our homebrew campaign world of Lergus. I still preside as GM and the party so far consists of a fighter, a monk, a wizard and a cleric/sorcerer. This weekend's game looks to introduce two new regular players but their classes are still a mystery to me.

So far their adventures have taken place in the large town of Ludkona. It is the westernmost town in the country of Skoldland. Skoldland itself is the westernmost member-nation of the Holy Empire of Man and borders the last remaining portion of the elf dominion.

In the nearby forest known as The Withering Wood, the players have found themselves rescuing kidnapped half-elves, making deals with ettercap matrons and even doing things... well... things I won't go into detail about with a night hag. During our annual Christmas game they found themselves tracking the elusive and ever dangerous Krampus. An otherworldly fiend who kidnaps naughty children in the middle of the night. Upon discovering him they were presented with quite a quandary... You see, the Krampus is no normal demon or devil, he was created for a purpose and serves his purpose willingly every year. Do the players let the Krampus live and lose the children? Or do they slay the beast and risk suffering the wrath of the gods?

 This is the Krampus. Check out his Wikipedia page by clicking here.

They settled on striking a deal with him. He was trapped in this part of the world by a group of hags. The group took care of the hags and the Krampus left town, taking only the two naughtiest children with him. While not 100% successful, the party returned to town as heroes and (like every Christmas game) were rewarded with a single wish. Unfortunately (this also happens every Christmas game!) one of their number had fallen in battle and they used the wish to bring him back.

It's getting a bit late for me so I'll end it here. Stay tuned for my next article about persistent characters in our campaign worlds.

Until next time, happy gaming!