My wife approached my desk holding the mail, shaking the noisy manila bubble-wrap mailer incredulously. “What is this?”
As a man who may or may not own too many dice, I replied, “I think you know.”
It was a bag of 105 dice in the amazing vibrant and uncommon colors that make up the “Alchemic Oddities” series of dice that I’ve had my eye on ever since Wiz Dice had a naming contest for the new colors. I’ve purchased a few bulk dice collections in the past like the Chessex Pound o Dice, and the first Wiz Dice collection of 100+ “random” dice. The Chessex dice had some really interesting dice, but were mostly just factory mistakes, some of which were d6s that were missing numbers and there was only one complete set of the same color. Not bad if you want a ton of random dice, but not great if you are looking for sets. I had seen other people’s accounts of ordering from Wiz Dice and receiving tons of complete sets with only a few odd dice out. I was pleased to have a similar experience in that first set and now own just about every typical color of opaque dice, as well as some interesting marble-like and translucent colors.
This most recent set has very unique colors with fan-suggested names like Dwarven Brandy, Faerie Fire, Boiled Bile, and Abyssal Mist. With this second set, I received 105 dice or 15 complete 7-dice sets for $26.34 shipped. That comes out to about $1.75 a set, and they are some of the coolest sparkly, marbled, vibrant colors I have ever seen. If you want specific colors, you can order individual sets at $7+shipping, or just let them pick for you and “roll the dice.” There is something for everyone in this set from oranges, neon yellow, pink, black sparkly, translucent grey, and a gorgeous marbled dark green they call Basilisk Blood.
The best kind of compliment you can get is one that you hear by way of a third party. Our FLGS owner from the Wyvern’s Tale advised a player from my Asheville Comic Expo D&D 5th Edition Demo of the beginner’s box came in and said, “Scott runs the fastest game of D&D I’ve ever seen!” Granted, that might not always be a compliment, but I’ll take what I can get.
A few years ago, however, the Skyland gang was at SCARAB and got to play the Pathfinder Society Special Blood Under Absalom. It was an 8 hour game they were going to squeeze into 4 hours (which we finished in 6), at least that’s what I heard and that’s what it felt like. It was the fastest game of D&D I ever played, and it was EXHILARATING. When your turn came around, you had damn well be ready to take your action with dice in hand, and as soon as your turn was over, you’d better figure out what you were doing next. Players who couldn’t keep up with that pace got passed over until they could, and a few turns were missed as people ‘assessed the situation’. I’ve never before seen such frenetic action, but have aspired to bring that to many games since.
Too many times have I played D&D/Pathfinder/whatever and it goes something like this:
GM: Your character is bull-rushed into the water by the troll. Make a Fortitude save.
Player 1: (rolls) Does a 6 save? I have the Iron Constitution feat, does that apply?
Player 2: Yes, it does.
Player 3: No that’s just for poison.
GM: (flips pages for 5 minutes) No, it doesn’t in this case. Make an upside down underwater grapple check to break the hold.
Player 1: How do I do that?
GM: (flips pages for 12 minutes) uh… Roll a strength check
Player 1: (Looks up from smartphone) What were we doing?
TO HELL WITH THAT. THIS IS AWFUL. That sort of game play is just the sort of thing that kills off fans of RPG gaming.
Now, I should point out that I’m walking dangerously close to being a hypocrite here. I enjoy the technical aspects of the game when they create interesting nuance to game play. When the rules can be applied in a way that makes the game more interesting, I enjoy seeing them unfold. However, many times this is not the case. It’s rules-mongering for its own sake. It slows play, makes everyone lose interest and a feel for the action, and creates migraines.
Instead of that, we should strive as GM’s and as gamers alike is for a fast paced game that reflects that action of the scene and keeps the dynamic tempo of the action consistent with the game itself. The faster the action, the less likely the players are to get distracted, the more you’ll get accomplished, and the more fun everyone will have.
Fast play can be tough. Some games are just too rooted in the tactical to be hastened to a point where you might call them ‘fast’ but here are a few tips to make things jump:
1) KNOW YOUR RULES: Even complex rules usually come down to a dice roll or two under the best of circumstances. If you know a creature uses energy drain and grapple attacks, print out the flowchart or rule you need and be ready to apply it. SRD links or bookmarks on various apps or programs can make this incredibly easy.
2) HAVE YOUR RULES TEAM ON STANDBY: I have been fortunate to play most of my life with great rules guys. If someone asks a question that isn’t known, one presents his belief while the other looks it up. Meanwhile, the GM does what he can while that conclusion is reached or quickly makes a judgment call and moves on. Complete indecision is resolved with tip #3.
3) THE TALISMAN RULE: The old Talisman Board Game used to have a fantastic rule when you couldn’t figure out what the answer to a rules question was:
Phrase your rules question for a yes or no answer.
You can always default to this, figuring out things on the backend if need be. Usually, these rules calls aren’t life or death situations. If they turn out to be, maybe make it one of the few exceptions to the fast play rule and do the research, or better yet, let the GM err on the side of Player success. Who is going to be upset that the player prevailed? If it’s the GM, then you are definitely doing it wrong.
4) ROLL TOGETHER: Players and GM’s alike are superstitious and don’t like to do this, but both player and GM should always be rolling their damage dice with their to hit dice whenever possible. It seems like it wouldn’t save much time, but frankly, you’d be amazed how much time it seems to save, if only because it guarantees that those dice are out and in hand with the first toss, instead of having to fish around for a few extra d4’s because your magic missile just got an extra die because of that last level. Multiple attacks can be resolved together with sets of colored dice, but colors need to be consistent. Don’t forget to throw in dice for miss-chance, hit location, or whatever other special modifier you need to account for.
5) PLAYER READINESS: This encompasses several things. When I was younger, I used to make a player with a casting class look up the spell description and have it ready every time they cast a spell, or deemed them to be ‘fumbling with spell components’ until it was ready and they came ‘off delay’. (I am so old, it was actually just added to the casting time for the spell; grognards you know what I’m talking about). Frankly, I wish I still did this, even though it guarantees I’m remembered as a complete bastard.
A faster game should push players to do this more anyway, and apps like ufisk and Lone Wolf’s Hero Lab can allow you to look up or print out spell descriptions, respectively, with great ease. I prefer paper to electronics, as a smart phone or tablet can easily become a quick check of an email which turns into watching a five minute video of a cat playing the piano. Nothing bugs me more than trying to move the action along or having a good RP moment, only to find out that the player involved or that was close to the action was mentally checked out for something unrelated to the game. Paper doesn’t do that.
In the end, a player should know how their abilities work as much as a GM should. Losing a turn or a forced delay allows a GM to keep the action flowing, often without major player detriment, and nudges lazy players into line at the same time.
6) SHAME POINT!: Players who can’t seem to get their act together (playing on phone, don’t have dice ready, don’t know how their abilities function, etc) are deserving of retribution for ruining everyone’s good time. Dungeon Bastard uses Shame Points in his World’s Worst Dungeon Crawl (which is amazing and plays fast and is incredibly fun) and even with no actual penalty for a shame point, it’s enough of a poke to get people on task. Technically, if you roll under the number of shame points you have, you have to leave the game (I keep a broken office chair about 20 feet from the table in the unventilated garage for just such an occasion. They can shout their actions into the room if need be….)
We also enjoy use of the “Eshleman Hat’ as a shaming device for someone who takes too long of a turn (relating to a friend who once took a turn that lasted one hour… I shit you not).
These things are fun, but also bring attention to a player’s lollygagging in a playful and generally inoffensive way. Another tool for your toolbox.
7) JUST ROLL THE DAMN DICE!: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone fret about a rule that might arise before they have determined whether or not the action succeeded. Get your players to throw those dice as soon as the action has been declared (and you do the same). Half the time, you’re going to see that the tough rules call was irrelevant because the attack didn’t connect in the first place.
8) HAVE AN INITIATIVE MONKEY: Sometimes running the combat can be tough while also tracking initiative. If you have someone you can rely on (and that’s a big if) have them keep the pace going. When they call out initiative, have them also call out the next player “On Deck” which will help to focus the player coming up. Having a good initiative monkey is key, as a bad one will actually hurt you more than doing it yourself. Another alternative is to use a board that everyone can see, or clothespins on your game screen with each player’s or characters name written on it, along with monster pins of a different color. Names actually work better here, because people always respond to their name, whereas character names get ignored sometimes. This is doubly true at conventions.
9) LIMIT RETCONS: Players will worry you to death and stop the continuous flow of action by saying, “oh, I wanted to move here after I attacked” etc. etc. A good house rule is that any action can continue to be modified or changed until someone rolls a die. Then, an irreversible determination of luck has occurred and all actions are locked in. Apply this to yourself as well, if possible. Sometimes, as a GM, you’ll have a lot more to keep track of, and so it is (mildly) forgivable.
10) KEEP UP THE RHYTHM: As GM, all these other things are useless unless you can keep the action flying fast and furious. You need to push to make each turn seem dynamic, and that includes non-combat rounds if at all possible. Have a way to move around your table if not in initiative. If someone takes an action, jump on that, but then move to the next person, tell them what they’re seeing and ask them what they do in response to that. Even if it’s nothing, ask them if they have a sword/blaster/torch out, where they are positioned, or maybe even make them roll a die and when they give you the number, laugh manically and move on to the next person. Keep them reacting to what you’re doing.
11) ERR BOLDLY: Key to this whole process is making sure your players are not watching you read. Nothing is more action chilling than watching someone read a book. Do your best with the guidelines listed above, but as Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going to err, err boldly.” Try to err on the side of the players, and they will love you for it. But keep the action moving, toss the dice, and get the action back into the player’s hands.
Fast play isn’t always what the doctor ordered for every game, but most games benefit from the application of dynamic action. Others that don’t (Vampire, Call of Cthulhu, etc) will still have their moments where you’ll want to apply these techniques, and even then you’ll want to bring intensity of a different sort to those games. But that’s another article for another time.
Recently I’ve picked up a few games for the iPhone that started out as more traditional board or card games. A lot of them are great versions of the originals, with the added bonus of always being in your pocket, and allowing online games with friends who may not be able to make game night. They also tend to be a fraction of the cost of the physical board game.
One of my favorites is Hive. I bought this first as a physical board game at the recommendation of the Wyvern’s Tale. Essentially it is like a game of chess, in which different bugs move in different ways, and the object is to completely surround the opposing player’s bee. This is one of those easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master games, and has won a ton of awards. It quickly became one of my favorite games, and the quality of the physical tiles is fantastic. They have a nice weight and are clearly built to last. Not sure if you’re crazy about the concept? At a list price of $32, that can be a lot for something you may or may not like. Why not try it out first? The $2 iOS version will teach you all the rules through a tutorial, has two player local or online play, as well as play against various difficulties of AI. If it becomes one of your favorites, you can always pick up a copy at your friendly local gaming store!
Another one I tried out at a recent board game night was Fluxx. This is another seemingly simple game, that can great pretty crazy pretty quickly. The main goal is to collect “keepers” that match whatever the current goal card has on it. Keepers can be physical things, or concepts such as cookies, pizza, love, dreams, music, the brain, the rocket. The goals combine these like “Hearts and Minds” which requires both the brain and love, or “Dreamland” which requires both dreams and sleep. It’s kind of weird starting out, but you quickly get the hang of it. Other cards allow you to draw or discard more cards, or affect other player’s hands to try and get the keepers you need to win! There are a ton of expansions for Fluxx, The physical deck lists for $16, but if you’re not sure, the iOS version will only set you back $3.
Quarriors is a dice and card game that requires a little more screen real estate than most, so is iPad only. I’ve had my eye on this at the game store for some weeks, but never pulled the trigger. I *do* love dice games, but I didn’t know if I would like this one or, (more importantly) if my wife would like it as she is often my co-player. At a list price of $70, I really wanted to be sure. In Quarriors you start out by rolling dice to give you Quddity, a type of currency you use during your turn to summon your minions or capture other dice that are available on the cards dealt for the game. The cards are either other minion or spells which boost or augment minions, quiddity, or how many dice you draw from your bag. Overall I think it is enjoyable, but not something everyone would be in to. Is it worth $70? I don’t know. Is it worth $4? Absolutely!
I’ve heard some very good things about the iOS adaptation of Lords of Waterdeep, but haven’t picked that one up as of yet. Next time you are on the fence about a board game, try before you buy! There may be an excellent mobile version out there already!
First up, DICE! One of the chief complaints about DCCRPG is that it uses weird dice. Personally, weird dice was one of the first things that attracted me to D&D back in the 80s, and having new weird dice brings back all those feelings of mystery and intrigue of discovering the game for the first time. They are expensive, however. d14s, d16s, d5s, d7s and such aren’t produced in numbers that make them cost effective they way “standard” rpg dice are. There has also been a chorus of DCC fans who want a set of official Goodman Games dice to go with DCCRPG, or dare I say it, a beginner box-set? While a DCC red box is still just a dream, affordable funky dice can be yours, thanks to the Impact Miniatures 14-dice set kickstarter! There are tons of options to this kickstarter that allow you to get just the dice you want, and not have to buy in at a higher level just to get what you were looking for. Their “picks” system is confusing to some, but I’ll put it in terms RPG nerds can understand. Its a point-buy system. You buy a certain number of “picks” (points), then spend them on the stuff you want, just like building a character, but instead of a gnome illusionist, you end up with a pile of funky dice! The guys at impact have had success with kickstarter before for both minis and dice, so I have every confidence this project will go well. I’m really looking forward to having my DCC dice bag full of DCC dice!
Next up, Earthdawn from FASA! Yes, THAT FASA. Probably best known for battletech/mechwarrior, shadowrun, and maybe Crimson Skies, FASA is back with a new edition of Earthdawn. I never personally played the original, but fans seem pretty passionate about the setting, and I’ve heard it mentioned many times when people are adapting a setting to a new RPG system. From what I’ve read it sounds like a “post-apocalyptic emerging from a dark-age” kind of setting, which reminds me (possible inspired the latter?) of Numenera. Dusting off a classic can have mixed results (see Traveller review) but I wish these guys the best. In a time when massive conglomerates are buying up the rights brands/settings we knew from years past, its nice to see a team battle back and reclaim a franchise.
Lastly, I have been a big fan of d20monkey almost from day one, and the man behind the comic is involved in designing the logo and graphic work for Iron Edda: War of Metal and Bone. The most recent project of Tracy Barnett, creator of several successful kickstarter RPGs like School Daze and One Shot, Iron Edda is a heavily viking-inspired setting using the FATE core system. It looks pretty intensely awesome. I’ve been looking for an excuse to get more into the FATE system anyway, and this might just be the ticket. Dwarves laying waste to the land in massive metal constructs? Undead giants? Ragnarok? Yep. Sign me up.
Book report: I just finished reading Hard Magic, the first book in the Grimnoir Chronicles by Larry Correia. In short, it’s a noir-type alternate history where average people have super powers or magic. Like x-men in the 1930s. Highly recommended. Check out a sample here.
iOS RPG: Cthulhu Saves the World. This has been out for over a year and a half on iOS, and probably longer on other platforms, but I just downloaded it the other day, and am loving it. I haven’t had this much fun with an old school RPG since Chronotrigger. It is a really good time! Bravo Zeboyd games!
I recently picked up the Core Rulebook for Edge of the Empire, just minutes before a game session being held at our Friendly Local Gaming Store, the Wyvern’s Tale. I wasn’t completely new to the rules, having picked up the beginner game a few months ago. I had really enjoyed running the beginner game for some friends, and so I had high hopes for the big book. It did not disappoint.
Weighing in at 448 pages, the book contains everything you need to run an Edge of the Empire game, other than the dice (more on that later). It is filled with rich full-color illustrations and is very nicely laid out with relevant sidebars and examples for different aspects of the game.
Edge of the Empire focuses on worlds around the “outer rim” of known space. The character careers and specializations reflect this Space-Opera meets Wild-west sort of feel. Each career has 3 specializations. When combined with the different race options, there is a huge variety of character options in this book. Careers include: Bounty Hunter, Colonist, Explorer, Hired Gun, Smuggler, and Technician. Each have three specializations which allow access to skill-trees that reflect that specialization. For instance, the three specializations for Technician are Mechanic, Outlaw Tech, and Slicer. A mechanic is mostly going to focus on skills that keep ships operating smoothly, An outlaw tech focuses on improving and modifying equipment and droids, sometimes with less-than-legal components! A slicer is unmatched in computer skills and accessing systems to gain advantages through information, or control over those systems. That is a LOT of variation in one career!
The system itself is a unique balance of rules-light improv, and rules-heavy tables and mechanics. My favorite aspect of both the combat and skill system is that it isn’t as simple as hit or miss. When you roll a check you assemble a dice pool. The dice pool is made up of positive dice from your skill and proficiency dice, as well as boost dice that represent any factors that may be in your favor, and the negative dice made up from difficulty dice, challenge dice, and setback dice representing everything that is working against the action you are trying to accomplish. For a very difficult task, you add more negative dice to the dice pool. Rather than just being numbers on the dice, there are several symbols that can come up. On the positive dice you have symbols representing successes, advantages, and triumphs. On the negative dice you have symbols for failure, threat, and despair. For an action to succeed, you need to roll more successes than failures, but here is where it gets interesting: whether or not you succeed you can create an advantage or a setback. For instance, if you try and shoot a storm-trooper with your blaster, you may not roll enough more successes than you do failures, meaning your shot missed. However, if you roll more advantages than you do threats, your shot has had some advantageous effect. What that is is up to you and the GM to make up. Maybe your shot hits a coolant pipe near the storm-trooper, reducing their visibility which makes it harder for them to attack you! Mechanically this adds negative dice to their die pool on the next attack, but you decide the flavor to make the action awesome! Conversely, you may get enough successes to hit, but you may also generate a threat. This could be shooting the storm-trooper in the chest, but the force of the hit backing his body into an alarm button on the wall! Your imagination is the limit, just like what every good RPG should strive to be.
Ship to ship combat is done in much the same way, and in my experience moves quickly and is action-packed. There is a conversion table for regular dice (d6, d8 and d12) but looking up all of those and figuring out which is cancelling what would bog down the action to the point where the dice really become worth it. There is also an application for the dice for iOS, Android, and Kindle, for $5.00, but if your interest is piqued, I would recommend the Beginner Game, which includes a set of dice, a two-sided map, character and baddy markers, and an excellent adventure that throws you in to the action right away. I’m looking forward to running this for the guys, hopefully for many sessions to come!
– Many players will be familiar with a lot of the “feel” and details if they are Star Wars fans
– Narrative action system combines the best of mechanics and improv for a cinematic, fast-paced combat
– Tons of options for characters and backstories
– Custom and expensive dice
– High buy-in between the Core Book (MSRP $59.95) and dice (MSRP $14.95)
– No PDF version of the book
Just in time for Free RPG Day, here are some great Kickstarter projects that I have been watching:
*** ENDING SOON ***
- Dogs Playing D&D Posters – This poster is a parody of Dogs Playing Poker and would make a great addition to your gaming space.
- OVA: The Anime Role-Playing Game – This one ends soon and is going to be great. Get in on this one!
- Mekton Zero – I loved Mekton through Mekton Zeta by R. Talsorian Games, but this one is going to be less mecha mechanic wargaming and more role-playing. After Robotech, this was my mecha go-to RPG.
- Deep Magic: A Tome of New Spells – A supplement for Pathfinder made by Kobold Press. The stretch goals on this one are fantastic. I highly recommend this one!
- Kaosball – Arena sports boxed game!
- The Red Dragon Inn 4 – The fourth installment of this highly addictive card game.
- WarGods of Olympus – Mythological boxed game. It looks very cool. Stretch goals include additional game pieces!
- Whisper & Venom: RPG Adventure Boxed Set – An entire set of everything needed to play this multi-system adventure,
- Raging Girls – The Toughest Girls of the Galaxy – Lady miniatures! ‘Nuff said!
- Psionic Miniatures – New psionic miniatures by Dreamscarred Press as a complement to Ultimate Psionics.
- Dwarves, and Goblins, and Goblins Oh MY! – This project includes many different types of minis that could be used for any system.
- Crossover Miniatures – These look to be great for those super-hero type games.
- Giant Soft Polyhedral Dice – Nice looking foam dice! I am definitely in on this one!
- Dial Dice – Very interesting dice set about the size of a credit card. Very interesting!
- Darkraven Fantasy Soundscapes – Need background music and special effects? Get in on this one!
- Magnetic Status Markers – Different colors and sizes make these markers suitable for almost any purpose.
Check out Monday’s article: Eyes of Lamashtu – Cooperative Summoning
As you may have read, we are kinda fond of Kickstarter at Skyland Games. We’ve individually helped to fund a bunch of stuff, mostly game or geek-related. I’ve done 6 myself… some playing cards, some comic books and some game-related. My most recent Kickstarter was Dice Candies. In my experience, there’s two things gamers really like to do: eat and buy dice. You can never have enough snacks and you can never have enough dice. Dice Candies blends these two together by creating chocolate (or sugar) polyhedral dice.
At our regular Wednesday night Pathfinder game, I told everyone we had a special surprise but we had to wait for everyone to show up. When I took out the silver pack and the candies, everyone commented how cool they were and what a great idea it was. I asked everyone to roll a d20 and whoever got highest would get their choice of die to consume. Of course, the d20 went first, followed by the d12 and so on down the line until the low roller chose the d4 (he’s a… unique… person so it’s not surprising he’d take the d4 to be different). We offered the host’s wife the d6, but she declined. I think even if it was chocolate, it may have been too geeky for her.
For some reason, even though I followed the updates pretty closely, I got it in my head that the dice were hollow. I was pleasantly surprised that they were quite solid. And very tasty. I told everyone that they were made of cacao, and there were some jokes at my expense related to a Portlandia skit, but we all enjoyed them very much. At $7.99 MSRP they’re definitely for special occasions and would make great gifts. After the Kickstarter, it seems like he’s going to be continuing to produce (and expand?) his product, so I’m sure this won’t be the last we see of these delicious treats. Check out his website for ordering information.