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Archive for February, 2012

When a Friendly Local Gaming Store… isn’t

February 29, 2012 6 comments

A few months ago I lamented the closing of a well-liked game store in town. I thought maybe it represented a microcosm of a contracting gaming industry as a whole. It turns out the owner of that place just wanted out, and somebody else bought the stock and is trying to reopen a new place in a different location. Cool! Another great place for games in our town! Maybe this industry isn’t in trouble after all! Or maybe it’s cutting it’s own throat.

A common acronym in this hobby is FLGS or Friendly Local Gaming Store. This refers to the brick-and-mortar stores that cater to people who are fans of RPGs, CCGs, board games, and sometimes comics or collectables. Most of the  advocates of the gaming community champion these stores as they are vital to new people discovering the hobbies we all enjoy, they can be a great place to meet other players, and places to get together and play some games.

Hillside Games in Asheville, NC has been one of these stores for years in our community. Until recently. When the above mentioned entrepreneur bought up the stock of Blitzkrieg Games, he announced he would be opening a new store in west Asheville called The Wyvern’s Tale. Once the announcement was made on facebook, Hillside proceeded to purchase every possible domain name (.com, .net, .mobi, etc.) that contained thewyvernstale. The whois records for all of those sites are in Hillside’s name. The Wyvern’s Tale posted these public records on their facebook site to let people know what was happening. Once news got out, a lot of the gaming community in town got up in arms. Hillside has since locked down public comments and “recommendations” on their facebook page to silence critics. But here is the icing on the cake, Hillside is filing suit against the Wyvern’s Tale for libel. Unfortunately for Hillside, a charge of libel has to be substantiated by the one party telling a LIE about the other. The Wyvern’s Tale was just exposing the truth.

So who cares? Why not just change the name? The Wyvern’s Tale might, but it’s the principle of the thing. Many of our readers don’t live anywhere near Asheville, but those that do should know the type of people they do business with. But beyond that, it’s important for businesses to know there are repercussions for their actions in the court of public opinion. If competition moves to town, compete by having good prices, the best staff, the best selection and a welcoming environment for gamers both new and old. I hope Hillside serves as a cautionary tale of what not to do in business in general, but in the FLGS community in particular.

I’ve purchased several things from Hillside Games, and was planning on purchasing more. It’s closer to my house, and I’ve met some great people there. No longer. I’ll drive across town to the people that deal on the level, and compete honestly and openly for my business. I hope other FLGS owners read this and understand gamers are a pretty close-knit community, and they should foster a sense of community and honesty in how they do business that helps grow the hobbies they serve.

Alright. Soap box over. Tomorrow we will be the proud host of the RPG Blog carnival with the topic: Crowdfunding and Crowdsourcing RPGs!

Zombies!!! – Game Night Blog Carnival

February 28, 2012 1 comment

For any fan of the Zombie genre, the setup for this is classic. Survivors standing back to back, surrounded by a horde of zombies in a town. Do they stick together, or do they split up? Where do they find supplies needed to survive?

Zombies!!! is a classic zombie survival game for 2-6 players. The object of the game is to be the first player to slay 25 zombies, or the first one to the helicopter pad. Players start out with 3 hearts and 3 bullets, as well as 3 cards that have different effects.

A typical turn goes something like this: Draw a map tile from the pile (Helicopter tile is always on the bottom), place the map tile in a way that makes sense; No roads to nowhere or buildings with no roads leading to them. Place as many zombies on that tile as there are roads leading off the tile, or if it’s a building, place as many hearts, bullets, and zombies as it says on the tile. Draw a card if you don’t have 3 in your hand already. Roll a die to see how far you move. If you move into a space with a zombie in it, it’s combat time!

Combat is super simple. Rolls of 4, 5, or 6 defeat a zombie. You can add +1 to your roll for each bullet you spend. If you are out, or don’t want to spend the bullets you spend a heart instead, and roll again. Once you’re out of hearts, you go back to start with 3 hearts and 3 bullets to try your luck again. More bullets and hearts can be found in buildings like the hospital, fire station, and sports equipment stores.

At the end of the turn, the player rolls the die again to see how many zombies move one square. Roll a 5? Move 5 zombies one square. This can aid you and hinder your opponents as you create a wall of zombies in their path. On the other hand, if they’re well armed, they will be well on the way to victory with some good rolls.

images from Board Game Geek

The cards each player has in their hand can seriously affect game play. For instance, as one player was racing to the helicopter once it was revealed, I had a card in my hand that sent her all the way back to start. Other cards can give you a bonus to movement or fighting, or can cause your opponents to wander off into a pack of zombies.

With Zombies!!! you pretty much know what you’re getting into, but it has enough variety in the randomness of the map and cards to give it a high replay value. The art on the cards is also really thematically cool, without trying to be gross-out graphic. If you like survival horror, this is a light and accessible game, that just about anybody can get into.

This is part of the Game Night Blog Carnival hosted by Roving Band of Misfits. Check out this other article from the carnival from the Learning DM!

February 27, 2012 1 comment

Certainty of death, small chance of success. What are we waiting for?

Geek Since Birth

So, yeah, I found this today.

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Categories: Uncategorized

March Forth for GMs on March 4th!

February 27, 2012 Comments off

March 4th is GameMaster’s day. If you are fortunate enough to have a regular game, with a regular GM, make sure to let them know you appreciate them. It’s a day to recognize the extra effort and time it takes your GM to prepare an awesome game for their players. It’s also (eerily) the day that Gary Gygax passed away. So honor your local GM and the ultimate DM by making sure that they know you appreciate them for what they do. If your game doesn’t meet on sunday, make it a point to celebrate either this week or next.

Here are a few suggestions to show you appreciate your GM:

Run a game for them. Maybe play your regular RPG system, maybe something you know your GM wants to play, but hasn’t had the chance yet. Marvel Heroes, anyone? A lot of GMs are really good players who would play a lot more if they weren’t such awesome GMs.

Get something awesome for them! A lot of GMs have amazon wishlists, or paizo wishlists. If you’re not sure, ask! Most GMs spend not only a lot of time, but a lot of money on books, minis, maps, and other game aides that make your game as awesome as it is. Show your appreciation by chipping in!

If you’re reading this and YOU are the regular GM for your game, it can be a delicate business bring this up with your players. You can always encourage your players to check out Skyland Games, and maybe they’ll get the hint, but why leave anything to chance. Just bring it up at the next game, and suggest what you would like to do to celebrate. Maybe it will be to just have the night off to have a bad movie night, or a board game night.

Whatever you do, march forth on March 4th (or whatever your closest game day is) and celebrate GMs everywhere!

Categories: Lore, News, RPGs, Tips

Characters with Character

February 24, 2012 4 comments

There are several different schools of thought when it comes to making a character for an RPG. Two of the bigger schools are the min/maxers and the character actors. A lot of people fall somewhere in between, but first let’s look at the two extremes. I’m about to make some really broad generalizations.

Min/Maxing a character generally refers to people who put their highest numbers in their key abilities, and use a “dump stat” or take penalties to abilities they don’t feel are important for their character. The classic example of this is the dwarven fighter with high strength and constitution and low charisma and/or intelligence. It can also refer to players who scour the rulebooks for the most powerful combination of race, class, feats, equipment, and other bonuses to make the most effective abilities without regard to a character’s personality or backstory.

Character actors generally feel like they should play a fairly average joe with no dump stats as this may reflect a more balanced “real” person. They may have pretty good numbers in their key abilities, but won’t take a penalty in another stat to boost their key scores higher. They also usually have an extensive backstory and have a reason for just about everything on their character sheet, as it relates to their personal narrative.

I personally feel that either approach is fine, as long as you are happy with the character that comes from it. I try and take a hybrid approach, in that I feel any hero should have a weakness, and a reason for that weakness. I’m not one to create a huge backstory for my characters, but I like to have a few key events (dead parents? cliché, yet classic), maybe some distinguishing features and mannerisms, and a short synopsis of how they got into the adventuring game. I feel like if you go over two paragraphs you’ve done too much. Here are some examples:

One of my current characters is a charismatic bard who’s big mouth occasionally gets him in trouble. He was once enslaved, and has vowed to do all he can to eliminate slavery after being liberated by the Eagle Knights of Andoran. He has dark hair, a crooked smile and piercing green eyes. He also has scars around his wrists from being manacled for years. Stats:

Bard 3
STR: 12
CON: 10
DEX: 14
INT: 12
WIS: 8
CHA: 18
Faction: Andoran

Another character of mine is a troubled half-elf who just barely escaped when the orphanage where he was staying burned down. Horribly scarred, he had a troubled childhood, until he was taken in by monks, and taught how to channel his anger. He has a natural affinity with magic, and was drawn to the holy symbol of Nethys, a mask that balances darkness with light. Generally reserved and shy, he joined the Pathfinders to discover forgotten magical lore, and provide his eastern wisdom and burning rage to gain further prestige for his monastery.

Monk 1/Cleric 1
STR: 12
CON: 10
DEX: 18
INT: 12
WIS: 16
CHA: 7
Faction: Lantern Lodge

If you’re going to have a dump stat, not only justify it in your background, but make it part of your roleplaying experience. When I’m playing my bard, I’m the first to try and negotiate or bluff our way out of any social encounter. When playing my monk/cleric, rather than try to be the “face” of the party in social encounters, I’ll try and observe NPCs with perception or sense motive while someone else does the talking.

Whatever type of character you end up creating, make them memorable, and enjoy the game!

Categories: 4e, Adventure, DnD, Pathfinder, RPGs, Tips

Running the Table on the Internet – An interview with The Online Dungeon Master

February 22, 2012 3 comments

Lots of gamers are integrating technology into what used to be a pencil and paper hobby. Some choose to lament the proliferation of smart phones, tablets, and laptops migrating towards the gaming table, and some embrace it. With programs such as HeroLab, D&D Insider, the Pathfinder Resource Document, and mobile RPG apps, technology in tabletop RPGs is on the rise. Some are even playing traditional RPGs completely online. Having never tried it, I decided to consult the master: The Online Dungeon Master!

SG: Thanks so much for answering some questions about running a tabletop RPG online. You’ve got a great site that offers a lot of tutorials for MapTool users, as well as a really nice glossary of terms for people just getting in to the hobby. A lot of people have had success playing RPGs online through a number of different tools, though starting out can be a bit daunting. With that in mind:

What advice would you give to an aspiring digital DM who wants to start a game online, but doesn’t know where to begin?

ODM: Come to me for advice! I’d probably invite the DM to sit in on a session that I’m running, to give them a chance to see how an online game can work. I’d also suggest keeping it very simple at first; use a virtual tabletop like MapTool or Gametable or OpenRPG as just a shared battle map and dice roller, while keeping track of hit points and doing the attack math on paper. You can start automating that stuff in MapTool (or whatever program you decide to use) later. Keep it as close to the in-person experience as possible at first.

SG: What applications/services are absolutely essential?
ODM: A virtual tabletop program and an audio chat program. Personally I like MapTool for the former and Skype for the latter – they’re both free, and they’ve worked very well for me. There are other options, of course, and some, like the WotC Virtual Table, incorporate both the tabletop and the chat into a single program.

SG: Have you tried gaming in a Google+ hangout? Skype? If both, is one better than the other?
ODM: I’ve never used Google+ hangouts for gaming, though I’ve heard that other people have had success with it. I’ve used Skype for audio since day one for multiple campaigns and have never had any problems with it. If Skype were crapping out on me, I might consider Google+ hangouts, but I’ve heard good things about Ventrilo and Teamspeak, so I might try those first.

SG: Have you tried Wizards online game table? iTabletop?
ODM: I have tried the Wizards of the Coast Virtual Table when it was first in beta (and have written about it on my blog). I know it has advanced since the days when I tried it, and the ability to import your characters and monsters from the D&D Insider tools is really, really convenient. However, I understand that there’s still no image import capability for either maps or character tokens, which makes it pretty useless for me at the moment. I need to be able to use my own maps, and I want a wide selection of images for monsters and PCs. Assuming that changes in the future, I’ll try it again.

I’ve never used iTabletop, but I have used Gametable and OpenRPG.

SG: How do you deal with rolling dice online? Do you make any hidden DM rolls, or use an online roller for all to see?
ODM: I use MapTool’s built-in dice roller via macros. I’ve created a shared set of buttons that anyone can use to roll a d20 or whatever die they like and share the result with everyone in the chat window. I also have a parallel set of buttons that creates a roll whose result is only visible to the DM. Most of my dice rolling is within macros, though, such as for monster or PC attacks (each attack has its own button that rolls the attack and the damage).

When I first started building these macros for monsters, I made it so the output was only visible to the DM. I asked my players what they preferred, and they all preferred to see the results in the open. So, monster die rolls are all visible in my games. Monster hit point changes are not, however – the messages in my macros like “The goblin takes 12 damage and now has 10 hit points,” are visible only to me.

SG: Do players have to tell you where they want to move, or are they able to control their own characters during an encounter?
ODM: All players have control over their own characters. They move them around, click their own buttons for attacks and hit point changes, etc. I’ll occasionally drag their tokens around as well, such as if a monster pushes them or if I’m moving them to a new map, but typically the players do everything for their characters themselves.

SG: Does it take more time as a DM to prepare for a home game or an online game? Why?
ODM: For me, it’s the same either way – but that’s because I use MapTool to run my home games, too! When I first started DMing offline (I did online first), I decided that I could either buy a bunch of monster minis or I could buy a projector. I went with the projector. This way, I use MapTool to project the map onto the table, and the monsters are all represented by MapTool tokens. I own no monster minis, and it’s been a good decision for me.

On the rare occasions when I’ve prepped a game the traditional way (dry-erase mat, minis), it takes me less explicit prep time before the game because I’m not drawing the maps or building the monsters in advance as I do in MapTool, but more time at the table (both drawing the maps and rolling physical dice and doing math for the monsters). It’s a much better experience for me to do it with MapTool and the projector. Plus, it makes it easy for me to run the same game both online and in-person.

SG: What are the best sites to find potential online players for a game you want to run?
ODM: My own long-running MapTool game started on EN World (the original thread can still be found right here). I’ve gone back to that same well when I’ve needed to recruit new players for my game (though I’ve also had luck just using my own blog for that purpose). The EN World Gamers Seeking Gamers forum has people looking for online games quite frequently; that’s where I’d start. I personally haven’t used any other sites for this purpose so far.

SG: What is the best/worst experiences you’ve had running an online game?
ODM: The worst experience came in the very first session I ran for what became my long-running Friday night group. That thread on EN World led to me running a one-shot Living Forgotten Realms game for eight players, which I knew I didn’t want to keep doing (eight is too many for me). Five of the eight players became long-term folks in my game, but one guy was really annoying. He came across as a know-it-all with a tweaked-out character, and he basically played his girlfriend’s character for her. He made some really inappropriate comments during the session that frankly offended me (things like having his character try some sexually explicit things with a female NPC – not appropriate for a group you’ve just met). Fortunately, that was the first and LAST time I gamed with that particular person.

The best experience has come from my long-running group. We’ve been going for a year and a half now, with no signs of stopping. My players are just such awesome people, and I consider them friends. Three of them have been with the game since the very beginning, and no one has flaked out or anything like that. When I had some personal issues and had to take more than a month off from the game, they were terrifically understanding. All we’ve ever done together was play Dungeons and Dragons, but I still feel like I’ve made great friends.
 
SG: What is the future of online tabletop gaming? Promising developments?
ODM: That’s a good question. I know that different folks keep bringing out new virtual tabletop programs, and I demoed a few of them at GenCon 2011. Many of them are quite pretty and feature lots of bells and whistles. Honestly, I don’t personally need that, but I know that some folks love it.

I think that the WotC Virtual Table is the one that has the potential to be game changing. WotC has done a good job with Magic Online in creating pick-up games on demand. I think that’s a big part of what they want to accomplish with the Virtual Table; an opportunity to drop in for a game of D&D, even if it’s with strangers, whenever you have a few free hours. Now, I think that would create a very different type of RPG experience that a lot of players might not enjoy, but it has the potential to be a big deal.

SG: Any parting advice or tips you wish you knew when you first started gaming using online tools?
ODM: I wish I had known about MapTool first – it’s an amazing program! But my main advice is to keep in mind that, even if you’re using software to play, this is still a ROLE PLAYING game. You’ve got to role play online every bit as much as you would in-person. Talk in-character. Have monsters make decisions based on putting yourself in their shoes. Bring the world to life. It’s different over Skype, in that you lack eye contact and body language, but it’s worth doing.

SG: Thanks again for your time!
ODM: My pleasure!

Categories: DnD, News, Pathfinder, Technology, Tips

Balancing Epic Scales

February 21, 2012 3 comments

http://images.wikia.com/dragons/images/9/9a/Tiamat.pngLast night was another Scales of War session. We’re wrapping up the penultimate module, and while we started at level 10, getting to level 28 has taken more than 2 years of pretty regular gaming. Monte’s recent article and the Weem’s recent post were perfectly timed, as I had them fresh on the brain while playing last night.

As I’ve mentioned here before, playing Epic 4e takes not only an Epic GM, but Epic players who know their PCs cold. Most of our character sheets are somewhere in the range of 10-14 pages, and we don’t even currently have a wizard in the party. That spell book eats paper like no other type of character. There are a number of challenges when playing at high levels for both the DM and PCs.

One of the main ones is encounter balance. It is extremely hard to challenge a well-built epic party. At the beginning of the session last night, we had to figure out if we had just completed an extended rest last session, because several of the party members weren’t down any surges, and weren’t hurt. Not a scratch. Turns out we had been through at least one fight, as some of the guys had used surges, but with the ability to slough off even the most debilitating effects and defenses in the mid to high 40s (my warlord has a fortitude of 53), its very difficult to challenge the party. In the module we are currently playing we encountered an ancient black dragon… as a wandering monster. In a regular game that would be the ultimate encounter and any of the party would be lucky to survive. Using party synergies and team work developed over the last few years of play, we spanked him like a misbehaving wyrmling.

A lot of great ways to counter this and make it challenging using 4e mechanics are detailed in Sly Flourish’s Running Epic Tier D&D Games. One of the best points in there, and one used to great effect in the last fight of the evening, is that big enemies should have auras of vulnerability. Some of the minions were only  doing 10 damage a hit, which at epic level is next to nothing, but then when we stepped up to the big bad, and were vulnerable 25 fire, suddenly the minions were doing 35 a hit; Not insignificant, even at level 28.

We are approaching the ultimate battle with Tiamat herself. It looks to be the very epitome of epic play for 4e. Of course, once we defeat her (and we *will* defeat her), won’t the balance of good and evil be thrown out of wack and cause a dragonlance-like cataclysm? We’ll see.

In the end though, I think I was hoping for something more. Sure, we’re rolling a big pile of dice for any major attack, and my head-math skills have improved appreciably because of it, but shouldn’t our near god-like heroes be something more than just bigger numbers? We’ve got enough feats to allow us to break every rule in the book (Flanking? No I don’t grant combat advantage. Oh he’s got cover? Great! I’m more accurate if they have cover than not.) So why have those puny ‘mortal’ rules at all? I think the Weem has got the right idea. If you stick with it long enough, your hero should ascend to the heights of a pantheon, and when he does, a lot more than the size of the numbers should change.

Categories: 4e, 5e, Adventure, DnD, Epic, RPGs, Tips