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Gaming: The Next Generation

July 6, 2015 3 comments

First, let me say that unlike a lot of the blogs I post, this is not informative, but cathartic.  You’re not going to become a better gamer from reading this post.  It’s not a review of something cool coming out.  This is something I need to write down, and I want to see what other people have to say about it.

I’m going to be real here, for a minute.  Gaming as a kid was a source of fun, certainly, but also a source of great stress for me growing up.

I started gaming with some neighborhood friend’s when I was eight years old.  I was hooked when my assassin won the friendship of a pet cat that changed into a panther three times a day (from Palace of the Silver Princess). I was excited to climb into my parent’s car to tell them about it.  I was shocked when they frowned and said, “That game is satanic.”

It was 1985.  This was both the height of gaming’s popularity, but also the height of the  various Dungeons and Dragons Controversies which centered largely around the belief that it was intrinsically involved with devil-worship.  Jack Chick published “Dark Dungeons” (viewable here,) which captures what many people though at the time.  Most probably didn’t give it any thought at all, but just accepted it because their neighbor or minister said it was satanic, or they saw something on 60 Minutes about it.

Really, why or how that came to be perceived that way is irrelevant.  The fact was, my folks seemed to believe, even if halfheartedly, that it was true.  Strangely, they didn’t entirely keep me from pursuing it.  They just didn’t like it.  I struggled with that as a kid.  Being really into something, and knowing that my parents, who I loved very much, thoroughly disapproved of it left me with a bit of a pit in my stomach sometimes.  I’m almost certain they thought it was just another phase; a passing interest that would come and go just like other interests had in the past. They investigated it a little bit, and nothing obviously harmful seemed to come from it.  But even into college, they discouraged me.  To this day, I hesitate mentioning gaming to them, despite the 30 years that have passed since that first game.

I have children of my own now.  While I showed my daughter the game when she was younger, she didn’t embrace it, and I didn’t push her to.  My son, however, asked about it and pursued it, and recently asked to play “my game” and so,  a few weeks ago, I decided to let him give it a try.

Perhaps because of my history, I’ve felt strange about children playing games… Felt strange in a way that shocked me… gnawed at me.  I went to SCARAB a few years ago, and saw a group of children (ages 8-11) playing a ‘kids track’ series of games based on the Warriors by Erin Hunter.  I’m not sure if it was the time of the day (the kids would have been playing for probably 4-6 hours by then) or the windowless room they played in, or just my history, but I felt bad for them.  Sick almost.  It felt wrong to have kids inside rolling dice and imagining adventures rather than outside and acting them out, if not living them.  I recalled, however, that as a kid, I would have killed to have the chance to go to a gaming convention, and probably would have loved something that spoke to fiction that I loved and was familiar with. I went again to SCARAB earlier this year, saw a similar table with similar kids, and despite the obvious joy I saw on their faces, I felt uneasy.

With that as a backdrop, I began making a character with you 5 year-old son, using pictures from the book and summaries of character roles to allow him to make his choices.  We used 5th Edition D&D which is classic and streamlined enough not to overwhelm him with choices. He went with a rogue, based on a picture of strong but secretive agent of some sort in a tavern early in the book.  I ran through some feats, summarizing them and he picked one I wouldn’t have, but which turned out to actually be very good.  I pulled something out of my head and we started playing.

I put a single ally, a priest, in his party and described them as old friends that had grown up together in their small town, and had decided to go off to check the ruins of a castle nearby, chasing rumors of gold and jewels said to have been lost beneath the old keep.

We fought some goblins, which he was a little timid about, but when he saw he could gain the upper hand, attacked with gusto.  He tended to enjoy the idea of being unseen more than anything else, and greedily captured as much gold as he could before a mob of goblins chased him and his friend out of the dungeon.

First Game

I have a vast collection of Dwarven Forge, and so we were able to do this right.  The encounters were three dimensional and all details were present, including a swiveling secret door.  When we wrapped up, he begged me to continue, obviously having fun.

As a young boy who grew up into a man with reservations about D&D, especially as it related to his children, I felt mixed emotions as he pressed me to continue.  In many ways, when I first became a father, I hoped to create my own little gaming group and share with my children all the things I had done and still hope to do.  This moment was a realization of something I had contemplated for decades. It was an indescribable feeling (I can’t put it into writing… but numerous emotions, not all positive, tugged at me).

We played on.  I finally crafted a final confrontation with the evil wizard commanding the goblins, adding an NPC fighter to balance out the small party my son was guiding.  As the wizard stood to challenge the party and call forth zombies to march against them, my son surprised me.

“No.  Wait.”

“What do you want, thief?  Say, before I destroy you.”

“I’m here to join you.”

“Hubba-wha?! You want to join me?”

“Yeah”

“Well, then your first task is to slay your friends! HAHAHAHA!”

“Okay, I kill them.”

“…..Wut?”

“Yeah, I kill them.”

“Uh…. okay, you chase after them, and they curse you as they flee the dungeon.”

He laughs.

“And, uh… you become a menace to the surrounding countryside, raiding and pillaging with your goblin companions, building the power and influence of the wizard you now serve.”

“Cool!”

So… My son appears to either be a sociopath, or has the makings of a great game master some day.

He has pressed to play again, and we have revisited it but sometimes it becomes more about the setting and figures than about the game itself.  He remains young for the game. But I still feel that hesitation, and want to hear what other parents have felt or how they have acted in introducing their children to games.

Monte Cook has kickstarted No Thank You, Evil as a starter RPG for families, and maybe something like that would be better suited (though it sounds like my boy needs a game called, “More Evil, Please” from his last game). There are a variety of second and third generation gamers that are introducing the next generation to the hobby, and various products that support that goal.  Maybe I need to just get over it and let him play.

In the end, I think that exposure is good, but moderation is essential.  This will start as an occasional thing and we’ll see where it goes as he gets a little older.  The only thing I know is that I won’t be passing on to him condemnation of his interests, whether they be this or something else that I don’t fully understand, but instead will seek understanding myself and encourage him to be who he wants to be.

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Categories: Uncategorized Tags: , , , ,

RPGs in Peril?

January 2, 2012 8 comments

Recently I’ve been reading the articles about the state of DnD and RPGs in general. In my own little RPG-filled bubble it seemed to me that RPGs were doing just fine. While having a niche audience, they seemed healthy enough. Even in our little town of Asheville, NC we have three Friendly Local Gaming Stores. Or I should say had.

The articles about the contraction of the hobby really hit home when I read yesterday that Blitzkrieg games would be closing for the winter. They played host to our fledgling Pathfinder Lodge, and had one of the most pleasant gaming retail spaces I had ever seen. Their facebook post indicates they’re just closing for the winter, but who knows what that really means. If they couldn’t afford to stay open, how could they afford to pay rent in downtown Asheville? I hope for the best, but am prepared for the worst.

In the meantime, I’ve convinced a lot of the other Skyland guys to give this Pathfinder Society thing a try before we head down to SCARAB, and now we’re looking for a venue. Hopefully one of the other shops will step up to the plate, but judging by their schedules they may not have room for us. Saturday is filled with Magic the Gathering, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, Warhammer 40k, etc.

This also made me think of the average age of RPG players. I’m about to turn 31 in two weeks, and I’ve been on the young end of the spectrum at many gaming tables. I’m the youngest guy at Skyland Games.

Does this represent a microcosm of the gaming industry as a whole? Fragmented, aging and contracting? What can we do about it? I think the best thing we can do is spread the love of tabletop RPGs to the next generation. A lot of kids who grew up in the 80s heyday of D&D and RPGs in general are now having kids. When mom and dad have a bunch of weird looking dice, and a shelf full of monsters and creatures of all types that can have a big influence on their kids and that kid’s friends.

MMORPGs, incredible console games, flash games, and casual games provide more distractions than ever. Its important to remember that its not a binary choice. Just because you play one type of game doesn’t mean you will never try anything else. Many people who play pencil and paper RPGs have played world of warcraft or skyrim because we love the genre. The most important thing we can do is make sure that option is available to the next generation and keep inspiring imaginations. Host an event at the library, start a blog, or show a kid what a d20 looks like. The future of RPGs is up to us.

Categories: DnD, Lore, News, Pathfinder, RPGs Tags: , ,

4e Skill Fumble – House Rule

December 30, 2011 4 comments

We’ve been having so much fun with iCrit and iFumble, we were talking last session about fumble results for 4e skills. I suppose you could have a critical success, and in fact, my epic 4e Thief gained two successes in a skill challenge when I rolled a 20 on one, but really fumbles are more fun. At least for the GM.

Now before I raise the ire of all hardcore 4e players out there, I know that according to the Rules As Written, in a skill check a 1 is not necessarily a failure and a 20 is not a guaranteed success (though usually they qualify as failures or successes if the challenge is even moderately level appropriate), but put your books away. This is house rule time. As a bonus its presented in a massive table. What is D&D without house rules and massive tables?

A few of the obvious skills have failure conditions written in the rules already. Fail an acrobatics/athletics climb check, you fall. But what if you fell really awkwardly, or what if you fell on your head? What about massive failures at diplomacy or intimidate? I present the Skyland Games 4e Skill Fumble Table. Not only does it address consequences for failure, it has degrees of failure based on how far away from the DC the skill check landed.

It also addresses the somewhat irritating mechanic (to me anyway) that a ranger can fail a nature check, and due to the luck of the dice, a paladin could pass it. This will make someone think twice about using a skill they have no business attempting. It could certainly heighten the tension at the table during a skill challenge. There are few truly tense skill challenges I can remember from the many 4e adventures I’ve been on.

Check it out, and let us know what you think if you end up using it: SkillFumble1

— Edit: An astute reader pointed out I am terrible at mathematical symbols. This I freely admit. Updated the PDF to remove obfuscation. —

Categories: 4e, Adventure, DnD, Lore, RPGs, Tips Tags: , , ,

4e Party – Old School Mod Style

December 29, 2011 9 comments

Last night the pirates campaign got under way again, with my 4e conversion of B4 – The Lost City. I did my best to keep the spirit of the original, but since our party is made up of pirates at sea, the top of the temple was just above the water, rather than above the dunes. Unlike a lot of the more recent 4e mods in the Scales of War adventure path and certainly the Living Forgotten Realms mods, this was a much more traditional dungeon crawl. Originally published in 1982, the majority of adventures at that time were crawls.

It was refreshing for me, after playing a lot 4e over the past few years, to recapture some of the old school feel. Some might think that it would be difficult to challenge the party given the mechanics of healing surges and the relative power of 2nd level 4e character as compared to the power of a 2nd level 1e character. I countered this in a few ways.

First off, all the monsters they faced had 4e stat blocks. Several of them had already been restated and were waiting for me in the compendium, or monster vault. Others I needed to find a suitable substitute, but even that wasn’t tough. For instance, in one room the party encounters an enormous beehive with foot-long bees. While there aren’t any 4e giant bee stats, there are giant ant stats. Change their climb speed to a fly speed, stat-up an encounter-power sting, and viola: 4e Giant Bee.

The second way I compensated for 4e mechanics was to limit the short rests they could take. The basis for this adventure is that they are almost out of supplies and need to find food and fresh water to replenish the ships stores. I gave them a little food and one waterskin between them, that I told them would be good for two short rests until they could find more food and water. While most of the encounters were just a few creatures, each battle drained there precious resources, and made them actively look for ways to get food and water, which led to some awesome role-play opportunities. (Player: Can we eat bees? Me: You can try.)

A third aspect that was really fun to see again was the party checking pretty much any door they came across for traps. The mod did a great job of setting this up by leaving scattered bodies of previous explorers who had set off traps ahead of the party. Also, the first room they encountered one of the party fell through the floor to a chamber with several fire beetles. While the rest of the party descended to assist their comrade, the wizard sat back and hurled a spell or two whenever it was advantageous, only going in to the room after freezing the last beetle to a wall with a ray of frost.

Playing an old school mod also got the players in an old school frame of mind. Early on, one of the characters gathered up some old, sludgy oil that could be used as smoky flasks of oil. When the party encountered the giant bees, he had the brilliant idea of using the smoke from the burning oil to make the bees docile. When is the last time a 4e character in your game, scrounged up some material and used it to avoid a fight? Brilliant.

The pirates have managed to scrape together a little water, and they took the time to cook and send back some giant lizard they had freshly slain. To keep the crew fed, they’ll have to journey deeper into the underwater structure. The party found a stairway down, but wisely chose to explore the rest of the floor they were on before charging off into the unknown. It was a great session and I’m really looking forward to next week!

Categories: 4e, Adventure, DnD, Lore, Pirates, RPGs, Tips Tags: , ,

A Christmas Carol – DnD 4e Adventure

December 10, 2011 2 comments

Gaming during the holidays can be tough. Some suggest you may just want to take a break. On the other hand, there may be a few in your gaming group who want to game to escape the other pressures of the season. Often times, gaming during the holidays just isn’t possible because you can’t get the whole group together. For this, we offer a 2nd level adventure for 2 PCs, A DnD 4e Christmas Carol. It follows the Dickens story pretty closely, and as such, there is a lot of box text. Feel free to paraphrase as much or as little as you like.

The PCs act as body guards for Mr. Scrooge, and must defend him from the ghosts that assail him during the night. The ghosts come in various forms. Included are possible adventure hooks, if one holiday session just isn’t enough. Maps were made using the free version of Dungeonographer, from Inkwell Ideas. They have a bunch of great resources.

I hope you enjoy our last installment of our holiday-themed 4e adventures. If you get together with a few friends and play it, let us know in the comments below!

Download: DnD4eChristmasCarol

Categories: 4e, Adventure, DnD, RPGs Tags: , , , , ,

Blog Carnival – Heroes Living and Dead

December 2, 2011 2 comments

Courtesy of Nevermeet Press

The theme for this month’s Blog Carnival is Heroes Living & Dead. For some, it will be an opportunity to tell you all about their favorite characters from campaigns new and old, but I’d like to focus on what gives a hero depth, and makes them worth remembering.

When designing a character (or Hero) focus first on that individuals strengths. Sometimes this is literal strength in the case of a barbarian or fighter, sometimes this is strength of mind (Wizard/Psion), faith (Cleric/Druid/Shaman), or skill (Bard/Rogue/Thief). Generally your character is going to be really good at something. This strong-suit can and should be character-defining, but in order to stand out from the crowd of potential heroes, one must add details to make a character unique.

A good character is going to have a weakness as well. This can be reflected in the numbers on the character sheet (Dump Stat!) but can also be revealed through character background, and role play. A particularly unwise character may charge headlong into battle despite very grim odds. Constitution not your strong suit? Your character may be suffering from a chronic ailment that plagues him, perhaps contracted in a gambit for more power (you guys have heard of Raistlin, right?).

Ok, its too tempting. I’m going to tell you about my character after all. In our pirate campaign, my elven ranger stood his ground, guarding a fallen comrade against a small undead horde while the rest of the party made somewhat of a tactical retreat. We’re first level, so my character went unconscious twice and failed two death saving throws, but survived by the skin of his teeth. In his background his village was ransacked by orcs, and he spent his life training to stand against evil now that he is of age. So when a host of undead pirates land on his beach, he wasn’t going anywhere. The rest of the party did the wise thing in retreating, then had to come swooping in to bail me out of the fire, but it all worked out in the end, and actually added to the story. Since its my turn to DM the pirates for next session, my ranger will be sullenly nursing his wounds now that he knows the breadth of valor of his companions! It should make for some fun interplay between the characters.

So remember, when making a hero its important to think about that individuals flaws or weaknesses as well as what their more heroic qualities. In that way you’ll have a mulch-dimensional protagonist that bards (or at least players) will tell tales of for years to come!

Adapting Old Modules for 4e

December 1, 2011 6 comments

The pirate campaign has been great fun so far. For this campaign we are throwing XP out the window, and round-robin DMing; leveling up any time we switch DMs. Our initial adventure is complete, and we’re setting sail to unknown horizons. DM for next level: This guy.

I love reading through old modules for inspiration, and I love the old school aesthetic. I found one particular module that I think lends itself to adaptation for our pirate campaign: B4 The Lost City. I’m aware that this particular mod has already been updated, but for Paragon Tier, of which our new scurvy dogs are not even close. I don’t want to give too much away, as several of the crew keep tabs on the blog, but I did want to mention that the process has been really fun, and a lot less painful than I anticipated. Most of the monsters already have 4e stats, and the trap damage can be updated by roughly multiplying the potential damage by about 4x. Other than that, its just a matter of drawing the maps. The old maps typically are 1 square = 10 feet, rather than 1:5ft., but that just makes for a more spacious map!

I’ve heard the complaint of so many fights in 4e being a squad of bad dudes in a room 8 squares by 8 squares, but its funny how often I’m encountering that very same setup in the earliest days of D&D. Dust off your old mods, and take a look. You might be surprised!

Don’t be afraid to try a 4e conversion of an old module. Its been a really fun and educational experience for me. Have you had a similar experience, or was a conversion a big pain? Let us know in the comments below!