Tabletop Gaming

We’re All Geeks

I’m just gonna leave this here for you because it’s made of fucking awesome.


Jurassic Dice

 

Dino dice logo

A while ago, I wrote a review of Steve Jackson’s highly entertaining Zombie Dice game. There was a very silly expansion involving Santa and cheerleaders (and I mean that in a good way), which has now been followed up with a new stand alone game using the same background mechanic: Dino Hunt Dice.

Unlike the previous game, where the premise was to eat as many yummy human brains as possible, this time you’re trying to capture dinosaurs for your zoo – I like to think of it as people too lazy to make their own Jurassic Park from scratch indulging in a bit of suicidal industrial espionage. As with Zombie dice, you get a cardboard dice cup with the game, although this one is a little dinkier than its elder sibling’s. You also receive ten dice and a mercifully brief sheet of rules.

There are three types of dice, although the brains have been replaced with dinosaurs, and the shotguns with leaves. The footsteps remain, but their roles have been switched – instead of being a good thing, now they are a very bad thing indeed, and mean that instead of escaping, you’ve been “stomped” by an unhappy dino who didn’t appreciate your efforts to bag him. There are five green dice (apatosaurus), three yellow ones (triceratops) and two red ones (tyrannosaurus), with progressively more footprints and fewer monsters.

Players take turns in selecting three dice from the cup, chosen at random and without peeking. They then roll those dice, and see what they get: dinosaurs are put to one side, as are stompy footprints. Provided all three dice didn’t roll stomps, then the player chooses enough dice to make their hand back up to three and rolls again, if they want to; leaf dice are rerolled. All dice are returned to the pot when players change over, with the running total of dinosaurs captured marked by tokens (which aren’t supplied). The first person to twenty dinos wins.

It’s a deceptively simple mechanic, requiring each player to make a judgement on how much they want to push their luck in any given turn; after all, if you acquire three stomps in one roll sequence, you lose any dinos you’ve captured in that sequence. Sometimes nerves of steel pay off – in one game, my husband kept rolling and managed a streak of eight dinos and only two feet! It also meant he beat me…

This is a fast, easily portable game and a great deal of fun. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be an accompanying app for this incarnation of the game. The lack of tokens is understandable as it will keep the costs down, but given the propensity of Steve Jackson Games to produce tie-in tat for Munchkin, I am a little surprised they haven’t done the same for these games – there is room in the cup for storage.

PS: In looking to see if SJG did have associated tie-in tat, I discovered that they also have a version of these games for deer hunting called Trophy Buck. Ick…


Knights of a Thousand Stars: Camelot Cosmos

Camelot Cosmos is the first in a series of tabletop roleplaying sourcebooks by author Daniel Jupp, published by Postmortem Studios. It describes the realms of Camelot, a system of planets whose identity and history have predominantly been drawn from the misremembered pages of Arthurian legend (think original Star Trek episodes “A Piece of the Action” and “Bread and Circuses”), where two great royal houses battle eternally for total control. In charge of one of these tempestuous houses is Gawain XXIII, King of Camelot and the chivalric realms of Pendragon. His rival is the cruel but beautiful Queen Morgan, an unnaturally long-lived combination of mortal and Ascended god. Their minions wage war across the cosmos, both covertly and not so covertly, with both sides locked in a seemingly unbreakable stalemate, watched over by a pantheon of deities that occasionally step in to lend a hand. Artefacts of great power from the lost First Empire still remain, and many seek these (and the legendary sleeping warriors from this period) to aid in their struggle.

This particular book is the players’ guide (although that’s not immediately obvious from the cover), and details the rules, character creation, basic setting and personalities of the Camelot Cosmos, with constant hints of what’s to come in the Gamesmaster’s (GM’s) Guide. The rules are based on a stripped down version of the FATE system from Evil Hat Productions, which makes them pretty straight forward and quick to grasp. A character’s abilities are governed by Aspects, which each give the characters a portfolio of skills. To achieve goals, characters roll 2 six-sided dice (2d6), one “positive” and one “negative”, subtract the negative die from the positive die, add the relevant skill bonus and see if they have beaten a difficulty number set by the GM and based on the FATE Ladder. Degrees of success or failure are determined by “shifts” (i.e. the difference between the target difficulty number and the total from the skill roll) and can be altered by spending Fate points, if required. Fate points can also be spent to remove stresses and consequences (damage) and to improve skills.

Character creation is also stripped down and speedy. A player rolls or chooses three Aspects: a Physical or Psychological one, a Racial or Regional one and a Professional one. They then write a quick sentence to describe how they came by these Aspects and assign skill points within them. What is missing are the quirky, evocative names for the Aspects that are normally found in FATE games; I quite understand the author’s argument as to why he chose not to use them, but personally I think it’s a bit of a shame, particularly given the rich setting. Still, within a few minutes you can have a fully functional character: mine (rolled up just to prove how quick and easy it was) turned out to be an Ugly, Lower Tintagen Spy, born to a slave in the court of King Mark, who had risen to a position of court entertainer despite the disfiguring birthmark he possessed, before being recruited as a spy by one of King Gawain’s minions. There are one or two niggles with the character creation section: there are lots of Aspect lists that aren’t immediately relevant to starting game play, meaning you have to hunt out the lists that are, and some of the Aspect definitions are a little hinky (just because you’re Charming doesn’t automatically mean you’re devious, and being Humble shouldn’t automatically make you poor, either). These are pretty minor, though, and the associated skills lists and descriptions are comprehensive yet mercifully brief.

The setting is certainly interesting, blending Arthurian icons with recognisable genre settings (such as the American Wild West, Ancient Rome and Aboriginal Australia with what sounded very much like dinosaurs) and there is quite a bit of information present. There are details on the Four Courts of power (King Gawain, Queen Morgan, King Tristram and King Mark) and the associated realms associated with each (effectively splitting the Cosmos into Kingsland and Queensland), and character bios on major players in each Court. The three churches are covered briefly (Seraphic, Nephilic and Druidic) along with fleeting glimpses of the First Empire. I’m not sure all of it quite gelled for me (particularly the appearance of the Pinkerton Detective Agency), but there’s certainly plenty of scope for a wide variety of adventuring within the Cosmos.

The book’s layout is uncluttered and straightforward and the use of printed circuit diagrams overlaid with stylised flower motifs is simple but striking. Not all of the artwork succeeds in conveying the feeling of the game, mimicking as it does Aubrey Beardsley which, despite its Art Nouveau swirls and sensibilities, feels more Shakespearean to me than Arthurian (despite Beardsley’s work for Le Morte D’Arthur). I was also a little distracted by the watermark, which for some reason stands out far more on an iPad than on a computer screen (but that really is an incredibly minor point).

The biggest niggle with this book is the fact that it doesn’t contain the GM’s Guide. Although a skilled GM will definitely be able to run an entertaining and varied game with what is provided, there are so many hints and references to the GM’s Guide that its absence is a bit of a slap in the face. One of the main things missing from this book, apart from a passing mention of nanites, is just how “magic” works in the Cosmos, and what’s going on with the whole First Empire plotline; there’s also no introductory scenario. I know all of this is in the GM’s Guide, but I do like everything in one place. Again, I understand and sympathise with the reason for separate volumes, but it does make it harder to give a fair and balanced review of the game as a whole when half of it is located elsewhere.

All in all, this is an interesting concept, a straightforward system and a potentially very rich world to play in. Other sourcebooks, detailing different parts of the Cosmos separate from Camelot, are also promised, as is an ability to trot between them. But, as mentioned above, this book is also a terrible tease – promising you a glimpse behind the veil, but never fully revealing itself. And whilst it’s always good to have a little breathing space so you can let your own imagination run riot to fill in the gaps, it could also serve to put off less confident players and GMs, which would be a real shame.

Still, I look forward to seeing what else Mr Jupp has to offer…

~FuschiaBegonia


Let Me Tell You A Story

Like most gamers (or at least, most of the ones I know), I have a bit of a thing for dice. I have a gigantic collection of them, far more than I will ever need or even use. Well, unless I end up running into a dragon again in Shadowrun (you know something is overpowered when a room full of gamers doesn’t have enough dice between them to manage the attack roll…)

Rory's Story Cubes

So when I found Rory’s Story Cubes in the mighty Leisure Games last year, I had to have them. Presented in a lovely little slipcase (the inner box has a magnetic flap to keep everything safe during transit), you get nine six-sided dice. But instead of dots, you have little cartoon pictures, ranging from straightforward items like an arrow and a pyramid, to slightly more abstract ones, like the comedy & tragedy masks and a demonic shadow.

The idea of the game is storytelling: roll all nine dice then try to make a story using the images on them. It’s quite an entertaining little exercise to try this on your own, but taking turns with friends is where this game shines. Due to the random element of dice rolling, you never quite know what’s going to come up, allowing you to create some weird and wonderful modern fables, either co-operatively or competitively.

And that’s basically it: the rules booklet is tiny and the instructions take up just over two and a bit inches square. The dice are sturdy and well printed, big enough for the recommended ages to handle easily but not too bulky for transporting here, there and everywhere (although apparently there are plans for giant ones, primarily for special needs children and group work). There is also an expansion set (“Actions“), which I have, and another one (“Voyages“), which I don’t (but intend to get hold of as soon as possible). Oh yes, and there’s the inevitable app for everyone’s favourite i-device – but heck, as fun as that might be, that’s not even real dice, so doesn’t actually count.

Because the game is fast and portable, it’s perfect for travelling and impromptu game sessions (say, down the pub or when not enough people turn up for your regular table-top game). Part of me also dearly wants to carry out an experiment to see if I can generate a coherent table-top scenario using nothing but these dice, just for fun. And that’s what this game is all about: pure and simple fun. As someone else’s advertising campaign used to say: “the only limit is your imagination.”

~FuschiaBegonia


Here Be Dragons

I’m not very good at most computer games (now there’s an admission and a half from someone writing on a gaming blog), usually because I panic and press all the wrong buttons when things get a bit tricky. But I am good at solving puzzles and spotting things, so here at Chez Pixie most of our console gaming is co-operative: he hits things and I tell him where to go and what to do. And that includes the racing games…

I have a massive soft spot for computer RPGs, despite my rather unfortunate first encounter with them via The Hobbit back in the dim and distant 1980s (but that’s another story). I also have a long and rich history with their table-top cousins; the first game I ever ran at University was using the original red box D&D rules and despite the fact that I only used them briefly (because all of the players had been raised on red box and as a result, I felt I couldn’t surprise them with it), I still have very fond memories of that set, crappy dice and all.

So when we were playing Dragon Age: Origins (by the mighty Bioware), I got a serious attack of the warm fuzzies – you know, that glowing nostalgia for an old-fashioned but much-loved game you thought you’d never see the like of again. I’m not a huge one for game mechanics (funnily enough), but the fact that you could see characters marching steadfastly through the basic D&D rules on screen made me chuckle. The dialogue, though corny in places, was perfectly in-keeping with its origins and I loved it to bits. Dragon Age 2 was also great fun, although I missed the freedom of choosing your starting character’s race. And if Dragon Age 3 isn’t centred on Varric, it’ll be a crying shame (Best Adventuring Companion Ever).

It was, therefore, with a sense of dread that I heard Green Ronin had announced that they were actually going to produce a “proper” Dragon Age RPG (and by proper, I mean table-top); after all, there have been some truly awful conversions of big name intellectual properties to other types of format in the past, RPGs included. But when I saw the box set nestled on the shelf of our Friendly Local Game/Comic Shop over Christmas, I had to have a look, just to see if it really was a train wreck in progress.

My first impression was one of amusement: the cover of the box is very tat fantasy, with an elf, a dwarf and a mage kicking the bejeebers out of some nasty Darkspawn greeblies. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautifully executed and the elf-babe is actually fully dressed – in fact, its perfect for what it’s attempting to emulate (apart from the over-abundance of clothing). The back of the box blurb is straight to the point, too: this is old-school roleplaying and a portal into table-top for those not familiar with the form. Oh yeah, and it has free dice in it as well. Free dice. What’s not to love?

Apart from the dice (three of them; two white six-siders and a red one), you get a Player’s Guide, a Game Master’s Guide and a map of Ferelden. This particular set is for characters of Levels 1-5 (thus continuing the whole original red box theme). At this point I decided it must be mine, whether it was any good or not. Now, having read it, I can tell you that it is good; yes, there are flaws, but on the whole this is a smashing little system that does everything the new and improved current red box D&D tries, but fails, to do (which just goes to show that new and improved is not always better than old and allegedly inferior).

The Player’s Guide sets the scene for the players, with the obligatory “What Is A Roleplaying Game?” section and some notes on group dynamics and game concepts. You then get a far too brief section on the history of Ferelden. This is one of the major points for which the game loses marks for me: okay, if you’ve not played the video version of the game, I’m not quite sure why you’d pick this version up, but some of us don’t have perfect recall anymore and some of the background intricacies have kind of got mixed up with other properties (<cough> Skyrim <cough>), so it really could have done with a bit more oomph.

After the world set-up comes character generation. Nice and simple this bit: roll your 3d6 to generate eight ability scores, pick your background concept (pretty much whether you’re a human, dwarf or elf), tweak it and then choose your class (of which there are three: warrior, mage and rogue) and then tweak some more. The background concept is a little more involved than that, seeing as you have seven actual templates to choose between, but the system is streamlined enough to get a character up and running pretty quickly.

The next chapter goes into more detail about your character’s skills, known in this game as focuses (shouldn’t that be foci?) and talents. A focus is an ability specialisation and a talent is a more specific skill (like weapons training, for example), all of which help to differentiate the characters despite the limited starting choices. Next up is the weapons chapter, which comes with the most adorable set of armour paintings that made me long for a paper doll version of Alistair I could dress up in each one. As with character creation, everything is kept simple and there are no encumbrance rules (The One Ring, take note). Chapter Five deals with magic, another mercifully short and to the point section that gives you what you need to play, rather than endless lists of fireworks that usually bore me to tears and make me give up reading a game all together. The final chapter is an overview of the game rules, such as action resolution and health. There’s even a glossary and an index (and a photocopiable character sheet on the back!). For those of you not sufficiently Luddite, there’s also a link somewhere to a downloadable pdf version.

The artwork on the cover of the GM’s Guide is much more like it, with the good lady mage basically dressed like Morrigan-inna-hoodie. It starts with advice for the GM on setting up a game, creating a story (again, a bit brief, but solid nevertheless) and the different types of GM and player styles. I’m not sure I agree with all of their definitions, some of which may be down to proof-reading failures, which seem to be much more prevalent in this book than the Player’s Guide. Chapter Two looks at the rules in more detail, and even then, they’re nice and bijou.

At its most basic, each dice roll (or test) involves rolling your 3d6 and adding a couple of relevant modifiers. If you roll doubles on the dice, you generate stunt points which allow you to add particular special effects. The red die is known as the Dragon Die, and can alter the outcome of the roll (in terms of degree of success or failure), as well as telling you how many stunt points you get when you do roll doubles. In most cases you’ll be trying to equal or beat a target number, but you might be making opposed rolls (against someone or something else) or an advanced test, which aims to simulate events that take time and uses a threshold mechanism rather than a straight success/fail one. And that’s pretty much it in a nutshell – it really is introductory in every way, shape and form.

There’s a nice chapter on the type of creatures you’re likely to find in Ferelden, including Mabari war dogs (a must-have as far as I’m concerned), and a final one on rewarding your players (oh yes, XP!) before you get to the sample scenario. Now these things are a often a nightmare to write, because you have no idea what players are going to come up with character-wise, so it must be all things to all people. This particular one, “The Dalish Curse”, does suffer from being a bit rumpty-tumpty (and I can see some players running riot with it as written, or wandering off in totally the wrong direction), but it does its best under trying circumstances.

There’s nothing about the Grey Wardens in this set: they’re inBox2(Levels 6-10, or the old dark blue D&D box for those of you who remember these things). Its best to think of this first set as being the section of the video game at the beginning, when you blunder about working through your character’s initial background material (for us, it was all the political manoeuvring surrounding the new Dwarven King). And I enjoyed reading this so much, and making little “awww!” noises at it, that I’ve gone and bought the second box as well (much to the delight of the lovely lass in Travelling Man Newcastle, who was tired of only selling the starter box to people).

So if you want to indulge in a bit of misty-eyed wallowing that harks back to the alleged Golden Age of gaming, or are looking for a way into table-top through a familiar background, this is actually a pretty good place to start. Nicely produced, a good price and a fun, fast read. Go on, give it a go – you know you want to…

~FuschiaBegonia


Pick’n’Mix Roleplaying

I’m a time poor and frankly lazy gamesmaster. If there is something out there to make my gaming life easier, I’m going to latch onto it and suck it dry. Like prewritten stories and characters. With the proliferation of epublishing and the cost of actual publishing, roleplaying companies are branching out into the production of PDF adventures, cheaper for gamers to buy and easy to download. Using house or open systems, they provide background information and more for the world hungry or time pressed player until the next core book comes out. Sometimes it’s the only way for small companies to get their stories heard. Epublishing has a bad reputation as a vehicle for low quality, badly edited vanity projects. So the question is – are they a worth the bytes they are written in?

Two recent issues are Black Rock Bandits for D&D 4e by PostMortem Studios and Ursa Carrien for SLA Industries by Nightfall Games.

Black Rock Bandits
This download is thirty black and white pages with some art and priced at $1.99. There are two full page colour maps and other smaller maps to aid the dungeon master. Also included are handy character counters to use if you don’t have appropriate models and the product is easy to print out. Cannily it is written in a way that your characters can just pile up to the village and assist in the way adventurer’s do, or can take on the role of the npcs and be absolutely invested in the threat. The story involves dealing with local bandits in various settings and getting to the bottom of some local mysteries. The six listed townsfolk all have good background information and reasons to be involved, which bypasses that headache. You can tell when a writer puts some effort in. A fire Mage baker, that’s a nice touch. I also like the tactics for the monsters and the straightforward well written text. This would make an excellent one off game or beginning to a campaign. The adventure might be hard for a small group but you could easily add or remove enemies depending on the size of the party. It should give a group a solid night of quality gaming and for that price you get a lot of bang (or fireball if you will) for your buck.

Publisher: Postmortem Studios
Website: http://www.postmort.demon.co.uk

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Ursa Carrien
Ursa Carrien is a very different beast. Eight pages of coloured stylised design with integrated art, retailing at $1.49. It looks so shiny on my iPad, but i would hate to try and print it out at home. You are probably not supposed to, we are in the digital age after all. Rather than a pick up and play adventure like Bandits, it details a new area of Mort’s lethal Cannibal Sectors and the monster that lies within and includes a party mission (BPN to those that know). Included are short descriptions, tactics, statistics and related background flavour. Produced by the company that wrote the original game rather than being via open rules it’s very much a new section to a core book. Written to the same good standard and with the same high quality art, it is the most impressive looking download I’ve seen. And also one of the shortest. If you’re looking for value for money you might want to wait, the SLA releases are going to be bundled into a book but there’s no release date so you could be waiting a while. This pack is not for the GM looking for a quick fix but rather a fan of the game looking for excellent new material in the absence of traditionally published media.

Publisher: Nightfall Games
Website: nightfall.me

~xTamsynx


Sex Sells

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I’ve played my fair share of prostitutes in roleplaying games. Okay maybe more than my fair share as it’s the sort of talky, seductive, manipulative character I like. So a game where everyone is part of the oldest profession? Gimme gimme! Courtesans is a mature RPG where the characters are part of the Demi Monde, the VictorIan underworld of accepted irrespectability, sharing a house and trading favours for money and influence. Competing for admirers, aiding each other in times of need and perhaps even providing comfort of an intimate nature? These women are complicated creatures, far removed from the street walkers of our popular culture.

Courtesans is a sister game to the previously reviewed Tough Justice RPG. Same period setting, same “Beer and Crisps” mechanics but with a few tweaks. It’s a good system focusing on character description rather than statistics and fits with the game’s ethos of player driven story rather than adventure dished out by passing monsters. Courtesans are divided into broad categories called origins, which act like classes, bestowing positive and negative qualities in line with their beginnings – Actresses, Professionals, Fallen Ladies, Goldenhearts, Schemers and Upstarts. Perhaps here I would introduce rolls to randomise the physical aspects rather than letting the players choose them. I could see how most Courtesans designed by male players could end up top heavy supermodels! The character’s experience is measured by resources in five different categories – Legend, Reputation, Wealth, Influence and Scandal and as play progresses they fluctuate. During a session, or season, Courtesans procure ‘admirers’, complete actions such as conversation, sex and spying, then attend the Cyprian Ball. The ball is a chance for the Courtesan to celebrate their achievements and give a final boost to their resources. The session is run by a Landlady, who is interestingly also a character herself. Thus the gamesmaster can guide the game in a more hands on manner, which is an excellent idea.

Other great aspects of this book are that a typical gaming session is laid out in detail for new players and GMs, the wealth of historical background information including the Royalty as customers and advanced rules for groups that want to delve deeper into the Demi Monde. I especially like the progression system where successful actions are eventually traded for character investments rather than merely improving your dice rolls.

There is one major section of the rules I personally don’t like. Not because of the mechanics but the subject and the all too gritty reality of the situation – pregnancy. Each season the Courtesan must test to see if any of her liaisons ended with a baby on the horizon. I can understand it’s inclusion but rolling for stillbirths, mother deaths and handicapped children is an emotional step too far for me and might also be for other women playing the game. Also where are the sexually transmitted diseases? Surely if you do one the other should be detailed. However this is not the focus of the game and it could be easily written out if desired.

This game is certainly entertaining, interesting and different to most RPGs out there. I would recommend it as reading for any GM wanting to include ‘ladies of the night’ in their game as more than an easy snack, giving them depth and intrigue. Coming soon is an additional setting book, Courtesans: Weird & Wonderful which could turn this game from an rare treat to a regular indulgence. Providing I can persuade the boys to play of course. I’m thinking props….

~xTamsynx

Publisher: Postmortem Studios
Website: http://www.postmort.demon.co.uk


The AEternal Struggle

I have a soft spot for rpgs set in our world where things are not as they seem like Hunter, Cthulhu and now AEternal Legends. As an Aware, your character sees the world for its true nature, where monsters lurk under bridges, heroes rescue maidens and magic is no longer the stuff of fiction but is the tangible threads of the universe. Enchanted swords, sorcerers and mythical beasts exist and its up to you to help or hinder them. Will you fulfill your potential and bring Light and peace to the battlefield or side with the Dark, embracing it’s seductive power and fall further than the unaware can dream?

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Legends are the most powerful of Aware. They can come from any races or Clades – human, dwarf, elf, gnome, troll, orc and goblin; characters undergoing a physical and spiritual change with developing awareness called manifestation. You think you’re an accountant from Manchester? Well actually…. This is a game of the fantasy of your youth before it became cynical and modern and mostly about vampires and werewolves. The ruleset is Ready2Run, a high trust, quick and loose system. Players choose a clade and a sphere for their characters. A sphere is a general role in society linked to an area of expertise, for example Splendor to knowledge and Victory to art. The usual attribute points, edges and flaws are here and aptitudes are professions both mundane and magical. A list of snappy beliefs and a few skill points round out character creation. Conviction points, gained by acting along with your beliefs, act like fate or story points, allowing you to modify your rolls. Losing them is bad news, hit zero and you are no longer Aware! Interestingly the social class of the character is relevant and comes into play during some social tasks, as well as defining your available equipment. Combat works by allocating your wits pool to actions and defence, so being tactical is essential.

I like this rpg a lot. It awards narrative points for excellent description and roleplaying, encouraging your players to go that extra mile and it matters if you act out of character. The magic system is very open, reminiscent of Mage and Ars Magica, where the player chooses their own effects. The multiple sidebars are helpful and the setting is easy to understand. It also tickles me that if you roll all 6s then you suffer misfortune due to the ‘number of the beast’. The book is well written with an understanding of what makes or a good gaming experience and the art is cool. However the game isn’t perfect, there are ideas here that feel old such as the Ministry of Magic (sorry, Administrative Affairs) and pocket kingdoms and the combat system isn’t quite as simple as it would have you believe. The description of manifestation also seems a little light, I would have liked more on such an important part of the character journey.

AEternal Legends is a fantastic example of a game produced by a small indie company. You can feel the designer’s devotion, there is already a free to download adventure and sourcebook for urban monsters, with more support material promised. It is these sorts of RPGs that we should be supporting wholeheartedly to keep the hobby alive and full of variety.

Now excuse me, I’m off to battle those ghouls pretending to be traffic wardens.

xTamsynx

Publisher: Mob United Games
Website: zpi.nfshost.com/aeternal


Spy-Fi

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If I said The Avengers, you’d know exactly the setting of rpg Agents of SWING. The Cold War, short skirts and fast cars mixed in with international mayhem and poured for your pleasure. Players are employees of the Supreme World Intelligence Network Group and are battling against whatever evil organisation Control (otherwise known as the GM) can come up with in the grooviest manner possible.

The attitude of the game is definitely uncomplicated amusement. Stunts, cliches and zippy one liners are positively encouraged. If you aren’t poking fun at the enemy, wrestling a shark and firing a laser from your watch you are doing it wrong. Agents of SWING is well detailed with twelve (thirteen?) departments to assist you and send you on missions. The often thorny issue of money is absent, gadgets are purchased with advancements or you are given what you need as part of the job. Every character also has a cover which the player creates, meaning you get two concepts for the price of one, like a steel hearted professional killer pretending to be an international playboy. The 60’s setting makes for interesting challenges – imagine no mobile phone, no Internet or advanced forensic testing. Players have to get creative and engage those brains to get things done. On the upside if there is no global meglomedia then who is to know what the Prince of Butani looks like or even if that is a country!

I’m impressed by the many pages of games master advice that really detail what you need to know and be able to do. Coupled with the vast number of recognisable npcs and straightforward way to create enemy organisations should mean playing Control is less of a daunting task. I like the simple but striking artwork, helpful timeline and the breezy character sheet. As someone who has spent far too long cutting up photocopied pages I appreciate the collected tables, making it a snitch to print out your own reference sheets.

There are many things to love about Agents of SWING but I have to put my hands up and say I personally don’t like the FATE system it uses. FATE is open source and has been used in other games such as Starblazer. I agree the mechanics are simple and easy going and lends itself well to this sort of game. My problems are the negative dice – roll 2d6, take one from another, leading to more failures than I think there should be, and the character Aspects. Instead of stats you have a number of Aspects which describe your character which in turn influences your rolls. For example, the Aspect “Mine of Useless Information” gives you a bonus when trying to recall odd facts to say, impress a target scientist. I find this method too broad, open to abuse and daunting for some players.

However this is just my own niggle, it may not be an issue for anyone else. I hear there are tons of supplements on the horizon and even a deluxe printed version with pencils and dice! It is always encouraging that a game is going to be supported beyond it’s first release, showing real love for the product. I’d like to see a book on SWING in the modern world, how it has changed and what happens when agents get old? But I’m being greedy. This is a humorous, action packed, free wheeling game without complicated rules.

In the words of Austin Powers “Its totally shagadelic.”

~xTamsynx

Publisher: Postmortem Studios
Website: www.postmort.demon.co.uk


Stick To The Code

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Ever heard of The Bloody Code? Me neither, but it’s the setting for the Tough Justice courtroom roleplaying game. It was one of the darkest times in British legal history, running from the late 17th to early 19th Centuries. There were over two hundred offenses that could lead you to the gallows via a colourful and exciting legal system. In this game the players are split into two teams – the Defence and Prosecution, the aim is to convict or acquit the accused. A true life or death situation.

Tough Justice utilises the ”Beer and Crisps” mechanic which is very simple and I like that. Choose one of yor six stats, roll a d6, add, modify by merits and flaws, compare. Winning tests adds to your case total and the side with the most points determines the poor defendant’s outcome. There are character classes but these don’t define your abilities, more your role in the trial – lawyers, police types and allies. Allies are everyone else that could be involved in the story, including women and children. As the time setting suggests, playing a women has it’s own special difficulties but they aren’t ignored or relegated, so anything goes. Including felons themselves! The case is split into phases, allowing for pre trial actions. Handy for the characters who aren’t able to talk in court due to the laws in place at the time. Here they get to investigate, harass, seduce or whatever else may help their side win. The book is a hefty two hundred and sixty pages with minimal art but I imagine that helps keep it nice and cheap at ten dollars to download as PDF.

There are many good things about Tough Justice. Never before have I seen such detailed examples of play throughout the book, following an entire case from start to finish using player’s dialogue. It is littered with helpful hints and has a seventeen page ‘olde slang english’ lexicon. They have obviously really tried to help the players understand both the game and the legal proceedings of the time, without getting too technical. Also included are suggestions for making the game kiddie friendly and LARP, something other games would benefit from. I personally like the rules for rolling up defendants and the group story generation. You need a game to play that evening and have nothing prepared? A game of Tough Justice can easily fill that gap as encounters can be player driven without much difficulty and the judge purely reactive.

The biggest challenge with Tough Justice is that it’s a game about playing through a trial in a court of law. When I first proposed it to my gaming group they weren’t jumping up and down with excitement. There are no bad guys to destroy, empires to build, civilisations to protect. The scope is very small, one life to save from the gallows with wits and cunning. Unless this appeals, it’s going to be a hard sell. However I think the game has excellent potential as additional rules to use in your current campaign, whatever setting that may be. Vigilante finally caught by the police? Pirate brought before the conclave for breaking the code? Spaceship pilot threatened with court martial? Tough Justice can be adapted to play out the trials in a way usually glossed over during sessions. Imagine how impassioned a player would be to save his character from a carbonite judgement after two years of play!

As an experienced gamer I would recommend Tough Justice as a well produced game with reams of background knowledge of the time, a simple ‘pick up and play’ concept and it’s usefulness in other campaigns. To misquote the judges of the time and their dreaded sentence of death “Take this game from whence it came, to be held in the hands until read.”


It’s About Time

For fifty minutes one cold November day, I was Sally Sparrow.

Perhaps an explanation is in order: this was 2009 and Cubicle 7 were in the process of releasing their Dr Who tabletop roleplaying game1. It wasn’t actually available for sale at that time due to shipping issues, but they were still running demos at Dragonmeet. It was so much fun that we put in a pre-order and eagerly awaited the day when it would drop through the letterbox and into our clammy little paws. We also won a Dalek standee the same day, but that’s another story…

There have been three Dr Who roleplaying games so far. The first was published by FASA2 in 1985 and has Tom Baker and Leela on the front cover, even though neither of them was still in the show by that point. The second was “Timelord” by Virgin3; unusually for the time, it was printed as a standard paperback and marketed as such to fit in with their line of novels. It includes the following classic piece of advice for novice roleplayers: “Role-playing is like acting: some people are good at it and others are appalling. There are some splendid examples of bad acting in the television series, so a player who cannot throw himself into a role is hardly setting a precedent – in fact he is making an accurate contribution to the adventure!” Er, right.

So why am I writing a review for a game that’s almost two years old now? Because it’s a good game and many people probably don’t know that it’s out there. Also, the new series of Doctor Who has just broadcast one of its best episodes ever. But also because at some point this year, Cubicle 7 will be releasing an updated version with all new artwork and some new monster material to bring it into the Eleventh Doctor’s reign. You can still get hold of the Tenth Doctor edition, which is what I’ll be reviewing here, an eye-poppingly gorgeous boxed set and well worth a look if you can’t wait patiently for the new stuff.

And, yes, I said boxed set. Many of the early RPGs came as multiple booklets in a box with a few dice. They then graduated onto A4-ish hard or soft-backs. Others, like Timelord, have been published in a smaller, more recognised format. Like its FASA predecessor, Cubicle 7’s game has gone for the traditional boxed set, but not for the same reasons. Licensing intellectual property is a very complex area these days; someone else already has the licence to produce Dr Who books, so the designers have been forced to be creative and return to gaming’s roots all at the same time. And yes, it has dice in it. They have TARDIS blue dots on them.

It also has a lot of other stuff in it: a Player’s guide, a Gamemaster’s guide, an adventures book, character sheets, pop-out gadget cards, story point counters and a four sided rules summary, all very similar to James Wallis’ favourite game of all time, the hugely influential Ghostbusters4. And that’s one of the game’s strengths: it has learnt from the best of the past and given the players a fast, simple way into the game that doesn’t necessarily require several days’ reading first. You can pick up the quick start guide (helpfully labelled “Read This First!”) and the pre-generated character sheets (Tennant’s Doctor, Rose, Mickey, Martha, Donna, the decent, non-Torchwood version of Captain Jack, Sarah Jane and the tin dog) and just get on with it. There’re not many games that you can say that about.

Obviously there are rules for creating your own characters; basically, you start with a set number of points that you assign to particular areas. In this game, that’s Attributes, Skills and Traits. There are six Attributes, which give your character a rough idea of their overall capabilities. Then there are your Skills, which make it all a bit more specific. I freely admit that this is the point at which I often give up on RPGs; the background might be amazing, but endless lists of abilities usually kill my enthusiasm stone dead. Fortunately this time, I survived.

Possibly the most interesting of these three areas are the Traits, which show a genuine knowledge and affection for the setting. The best examples of this are “Resourceful Pockets” (a Doctor staple) and “Screamer!” which made me laugh a great deal (even more so now after River’s comment to the Doctor in “The Impossible Astronaut”). There are also bad Traits, which gain you extra points to spend elsewhere, a fairly common idea in gaming but again containing a nice nod to the show’s history, particularly in the form of “Unadventurous”. This Trait can be used to “retire” a character from the story by giving the companion a reason to leave when they are fed up of being cold and wet, hypnotised left, right and centre, shot at, savaged by bug eyed monsters or not knowing whether they’re coming or going or been. There are also some fairly special Traits for aliens and Timelords, should you wish to play such high-powered characters.

What about the mechanics? Well, they’re fast, fun and very organic. It involves a little bit of maths (rolling two dice, adding them together then adding two more numbers to that, comparing it to a difficulty and seeing if you’d beaten it and by how much), but nothing too strenuous. That’s as far as it has to go, but there is a very nice touch in what could basically be described as the Vicki Pollard mechanic (“Yeah, but, no, but”). This allows you to have degrees of success and failure based on how far above/below the target number you were set and its great for getting some extra dramatics into the game if you don’t already do that sort of thing. You’ll also find quite a few tables and loads of examples to support game play, some from familiar episodes and some new.

A rather cool feature is the order in which events will happen during any given encounter: those who wish to talk go first (so they can do the whole tenth Doctor Shouty Man thing if they want), then those who wish to run, run (again, all very in-keeping with the show’s formula). Those who wish to do something (like build a gadget) go next and finally those wishing to resort to violence have to wait until the end. The anti-gun message is perhaps a little strident given the Doctor’s previous history regarding fire-arms (and UNIT), but it does fit with Tennant’s holier-than-thou attitude on the matter. I’d be very interested to see if this changes with the new edition, seeing as the Doctor has admitted finding River’s gunplay really rather enticing. There’s a whole load of stuff on damage and how to use the system’s story points to avoid getting moshed (and how to get more of them if you’re running a bit low), and an entire chapter of hints and tips for the new player. Needless to say, they’re rather more useful than the one from Timelord. And all this is just in the Player’s Guide!

The Gamemaster’s Guide is as sumptuously produced as its companion; my only real niggle with it (putting my lecturer’s hat on) is that there are some really odd grammatical choices in parts of the editing that felt really jarring (and that I’d mark my students down for). But then, I am incredibly old-fashioned that way, although I haven’t quite taken to wearing a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. Yet. And then there’s that odd box on the top of page 53 about introducing characters in a game, slap bang in the middle of a section on healing and damage…

The rest of the GM’s book is good; straightforward to read, littered with examples from the series, only one of which I couldn’t place for the life of me (the SS Nakamura, anyone?) and some lovely humour harking back to the original series. Indeed, the Brig gets his infamous quote about aliens being resistant to bullets included in the description of potential alien immunities that will tickle long-standing fans without confusing new ones (à la the whole “Who the hell is Rassilon?” debacle at the end of the specials). Essentially for this type of book, it covers exactly what you’d need it to: story-telling advice, monster details and a more in-depth discussion of the rules. They’ve even duplicated some of the critical information from the Player’s Guide as well, so the GM doesn’t have to go borrowing the players’ book from them at a crucial moment.

All in all, this is a lovely shiny game with fun accessories, a well balanced rule system that can be pruned to suit your group’s playing style and sufficient support to get you going in the right direction. Cubicle 7 did say that they’d release the equivalent of a patch for people who already own the original version of the game when the new edition comes out, which suggests the changes will be mostly cosmetic. There is one other boxed set available (Monsters and Aliens) and a whole raft of others lined up for release in the summer. But then, they were also going to get released last year, which was somewhat scuppered by Tennant’s leaving and the whole re-branding issue. Never mind, I’m sure they’ll appear in time…

1 – Dr Who: Adventures in Time and Space, the Role Playing Game (2009) David F. Chapman et al; Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd

2 – The Dr Who Role Playing Game: Adventures Through Time and Space (1985) FASA

3 – Timelord: Adventures Through Time and Space (1991) Ian Marsh & Peter Darvill-Evans; Virgin

4 – Ghostbusters, a Frightfully Cheerful Roleplaying Game (1986) Sandy Petersen, Lynn Willis & Greg Stafford;West EndGames


Not So Much Walking as Rolling Dead…

As a roleplayer, I have a genetic predisposition towards buying dice of all sizes, shapes, colours and functions. It’s not that I need all of them; heaven’s above, no. But I can’t resist anything that has shiny, shiny dice in it (even if the dice aren’t actually all that shiny in and of themselves).


So it was I found myself attracted to Zombie Dice, by Steve Jackson Games. I’m an utter wuss when it comes to horror movies, zombie ones included, although I did enjoy “Sean of the Dead” and “Pontypool”. But it’s a dice game, so how could I not buy it? And it’s from SJG, sainted doyen of the gaming industry, who brought us GURPS, Car Wars and Munchkin, to name but an illustrious few.

What you get for your dosh is a cardboard dice cup with a lid, a set of incredibly short but perfectly clear rules and 13 dice (3 red, 4 yellow and 6 green). Each die represents a human victim that you, as the zombie, are shambling after. Shake the full cup of dice, take three out without peeking, roll them and see whether or not you’ve got juicy, juicy brains for tea (a brain), a mouthful of dust (running feet) or a shotgun in the face (BOOM!). The winner is the person who manages to get 13 brains in total.

But it’s not quite that straightforward; despite the apparent simplicity of the mechanic, there’s a great deal of tactical play to be had (AKA pushing your luck). Each of the different coloured dice has a different ratio of brains to feet to shotguns, with red being the toughest, having only 1 brain and 3 shotguns (the exact opposite of the green dice). If you’ve rolled brains or shotguns on your turn, those dice are taken out of play and you must decide whether or not you dare try for more dice. If you get three shotguns in total, you’re dead and your score for that round is nothing. It’s trickier than you think and sometimes having nerves of steel is rewarded with an amazing streak of brains. But not always.

You will need some sort of counters to keep track of how many brains you’ve scoffed throughout the different rounds; jelly babies would be quite good fun, because at least at the end of the game you could bite their heads off with a triumphant cry of “Braaaaiiiinssss!”. You might feel a bit sick if you tried that with all 13, though.

If you’re more technologically minded, or just want a taster of what’s in store for you, then SJG have kindly done both a superb free app for the iPod Touch and iPhone, and a 59p upgrade with a few more features such as multi-player gaming. The app zombies have awfully punny names and do try to encourage you to get shot, the mechanic isn’t quite so transparent and the music will drive you mental if you leave it on (perhaps that’s the point) but may I remind you, it’s free! 

All in all, it’s a fast game that is highly portable (in either format), great fun and incredibly silly. So do shuffle along to your friendly local game/app store and get your fix of yummy, scrummy brains…


Things have died. I was not one of them.

It has been months, Femme Gamers, and for that, I am shamed. I wish I had an excuse — and maybe I do. Work, school, husband, new dog, novel. Those are a long list of things. But it’s not like gaming stopped for me, and thus, I should have kept up here. I mean, there’s a lot of things going here, both good and bad.

In September, the Local Anime Con – which I will not name, because I hate the club behind it and will quicker cut my own throat then give those people free press – put our lives on hold, as it does every year. Most of our gaming group is involved in this and it’s yet another reason I hate it’s very existence. Most of the group goes on an anime-infused exodus to other cons, write what they like about the other cons, and then attempt to apply it to their current local anime con that has a completely different social demographic in another state, with complete lack of success that accompanies taking the science behind bananas and attempting to apply it to pork products.

It also puts our gaming on hold for several weeks, as they apply their weekends to meetings, dinners, and the inherent drama that the con is soaked with. It’s all they talk about. It’s all they can afford to deal with. Let me tell you, gentle reader, that this fucking sucks.

During this time we had three games; Shadowrun, which my husband GM’s, Witchfire, an Iron Kingdoms campaign which my ex-boyfriend (but still pal) runs, and Murderous Hobos, another Iron Kingdoms game which a friend of ours runs. The husband and I are not involved in the con, but the ex and the pal definitely are.

Shadowrun does not go on hold. Hobos does go on hold, for the holidays. The ex puts his game on indefinite hiatus with plans to return to the game after the holidays. Life goes on – drama occurs, the con occurs, holidays occur. Games get put on brief holiday holds, but resume. Our friend has some family issues — an illness with his mother — that complicates his life, but she turns out okay (for which we are all grateful) and life goes on.

The ex never picks up his game. We merrily go along for the next few months, up until February, doing the every-other-weekend games. I game Shadowrun one Saturday, make dinner,and have a good old time. The husband goes to play in the Murderous Hobo game on the other Saturday and HE has a good old time. Good ol’ times are had.

In the interim of missing tabletop games, I play a ton of video games when I have the time; bitterness over the theft of my PS3 and all the time I invested in the games on it, now lost – Folklore, Final Fantasy XIII, Red Dead Redemption, and so forth – have made me bitter about trying to return to them, and while I have picked up each one a few times, I have not gotten near to the completion I had when the systems were stolen. I don’t think I can be blamed for this, but I know I ought to build a bridge and get over it, proverbially speaking.

However, all is not lost: I’m loving Fallout: New Vegas and I got into Mass Effect (finally) and while I watch for Dragon Age 2 with trepidation. I’m not going to be a first day buyer on that one – Mass Effect’s control scheme on PC doesn’t thrill me and I don’t really want a sword & sorcery overlay just because Bioware’s lazy and wants to cash in on their RPG epic the ‘fast and easy’ way by just producing a fantasy Mass Effect clone. World of Warcraft: Cataclysm drops and that’s a whole other post in itself, folks. Another time.

Life settle into a routine. Slowly, as it often happens, discussions crop up about starting a new Friday Game. Witchfire is never mentioned. The ex begins designing a new game sort– very skeletal, very much trying to not be ‘main stream fantasy’. (He’s quite the rebel, my ex. Ask anybody – cue eye roll, here.) He does nothing with it, but talks about running it for a while. Another player in our game goes back to talking about running another, long-dead campaign that quite frankly, nobody really wants to play. All of his games go that way, I’m sad to say, and the group keeps dodging his games – but he still occasionally puts them out as an option. He gets points for perseverance, at least.

Finally, the ex announces last week he’s going to run the ‘new’ world he’s built up– he’s going to have us make characters and let us define our characters WHOLE COUNTRIES and CULTURES and fit them into his ‘existing’ game world, with a few provisos (he has things to say about certain races — things that break them from ‘mainstream fantasy’, of course). He just wants to experiment, he says. Try something new, he says.

So, last weekend, I talk to him over IM about my feelings and thoughts on the matter; I have wanted to return to our past campaign and finish it. Our players are all happy to do so, even though he claims everyone is ‘ambiguous’ or ‘non-committal’; I know both my husband and I want to finish the game, and the others are happy so long as there is dice involved, really. He promises me that come next Friday, we’ll all get together and talk about returning to Witchfire or starting the new, so he’d know what everybody wanted.

Well, let me tell you, friends, that when I walked in on Friday night and found them all building characters for the new game – that he’d been working with the other players for a week, including my husband, on new classes and cultures to cram into the Pathfinder system, I was pretty pissed off. This is not the first time he’s lied to me about following through – there’s a reason he got dumped six years ago, and shit like this factors into it – and spend the rest of the night angry. Everybody rolls up new characters, and I beg off with lack of inspiration.

Later, my husband asks me why I can’t just go along to get along — I say I’m tired of putting up with this shit with the ex; this is part of why he got dumped and it’s tiring of having some of our social life continue to hinge on this person’s inability to commit to anything. I’m not the only one who feels this way– the guys are tired of him saying he’ll do things, but being men, they tend to simply let it roll, because half of them live with them, and none of them are particularly inclined to rock the boat. Also, it’s partially our damage and history together; I won’t lie, it’s a factor.

So, gentle readers: I know when I tell him I’m not going to join his game, there’s going to be drama. If I ‘go along to get along’ my lack of enjoyment and lack of giving a damn about this shitty idea that he’ll drop in less than two months will also cause drama. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

So, do I go full damned and let him just how hard he can fuck himself, or do I attempt some sort of politically correct, “Sorry, it’s not you, it’s me,” which is only half true. A lot of this, very much, is him. But no amount of telling him this — even dumping him over his inability to follow through on anything, including our engagement – has ever made him change, and this sure won’t either.

Damned either way.

~Amanda


I Cho Cho Choose You

We all have our favourites.

Favourite food.
Favourite comics.
Favourite writers.
Favourite guilty pleasure TV show.

Favourite gaming platform.

When we all make a choice, oh wait…erm…okay. When most make a choice of what platform they will favour and play on they have a reason. If you’re me you never make a choice completely. The question is, why do you favour one platform over another? I don’t mean, which is better, but why do you like it so much that you’re willing to sink your hard earned cash into it.

I lie, I do play favourites. I have an irrational and rational bias towards the Sony platforms. In regards to the Playstations, it’s usually been a hardware and game bias, mostly hardware. I do love my DS, but there’s just something nice about the shiny PSP that makes me love it.  That aside I do own all 3 consoles, both handhelds and a kick ass PC. Not to mention the board games and tabletop RPGs. I flit from platform to another, but most people aren’t like me.

So here’s my question to you: Why’d you make your choice?


They can be taught!

So we’ve been continuing the battle of the the better meal at my house, and so far we only have one major hold out — our ‘problem’ player who only plays sociopaths and installs and plays games while we’re around the gaming table and almost never arrives on time for anything (which is a big problem when he’s driving other players).

It seems that sending out an email a day before announcing what food we’re making and leaving it at that has gotten most of of them on board. Several have asked for use of the kitchen to start making food as well, and in two weeks one of our players will be making dinner with my blessing in my kitchen. Two others have volunteered, and we’re working on a potluck style dinner every two weeks.

I’m hoping this will stick, as well as make them feel ‘invested’ as opposed to being ‘mothered’. Either way, I’m pleased with the step in the right direction. The last two games we’ve done well– two weeks ago there were no left overs, and last night the root vegetable and beef stew that was prepared got rave reviews from our gaming group (the meat was so tender it fell apart in the pot!) and made me bless my crock pot… I look forward to eating the leftovers tomorrow at work for lunch!


Around the Watering Hole

As any gamer knows, discussing our passion around people who have no idea of the themes or games we play, can be a funny or potentially offending experience. For me, at work, it can often be rather hilarious. I work in the US Federal Government circles, where it’s easy to assume a lack of odd. In actuality, things like the following happen.

I’ve been roleplaying a MUSH that is of the Amber genre, with its multi-worlds concept. It is mainly, in Amber, a medieval theme with some constraints on the laws of physics and magic. My character is in the midst of plotting the assassination of another character who is mystical and potentially dangerous. I’d just had another character pretty much tip off my plans in a public in-character setting, and was in a bit of a bind about how to proceed with the killing.

Naturally, I turned to my usual lunchtime work crowd. Names have been changed to protect the strange.

My friend, Julia, is into World of Warcraft, and is no stranger to the games I play. She is rather avid in hearing about how I manage to even survive in-character, so I began running the problem past her at lunch. Joe, who works in counter-narcotics, Freida, another computer support person, and Adella, an FBI agent, all began listening in in wonder as I described possibly needing to “use the troops I have to take out their Embassy.”

I know, right?

Some people need a lot of explaining to put such comments and enthusiastic planning to kill someone in the proper perspective. Gamers, I think, tend to talk to other gamers in the same language, assuming the other has the proper basis of knowledge and they just run with it. Mundanes listening in have no context. I run into the same problem with the IT world; two techs talking about computers sound about as comprehensible to non-computer people as dolphins clicking away nearby. It also isn’t as if gamers add qualifiers a lot as we talk. We don’t say “so on the game I…”, we roll on with “So I drew my sword and sliced his head off.” When one comments to a guild mate in the crowded elevator “thanks for helping me gack that demon last night”, it should not draw undue staring. Surely it’s obvious we don’t mean really real. Right?

Surprisingly, the onlookers copped onto what was going on and got pretty enthusiastic, once I’d outlined the problem to them. They’re a very sharp group, with a lot of experience and interests to draw from, just the sort of people you’d feel safe steering your country’s foreign policy.

Joe: Can’t you just catapult a cow into their well?
Me: I don’t have time to start a plague.
Joe: How about rats?
Freida: On fire. Wait, how was the plague started?
Adella and Joe: Fleas on rats.
Joe: Napalm rats, on fire. Very classy and effective.
Freida: Can’t you send in a woman and lure him out of the castle and then kill him?
Me: He knows I’m coming, so I don’t know that he’d trot out after a chick, knowing I’m out there to cut his head off.
Freida: Maybe if she had really big boobies?
Joe: I think we’re definitely onto something with the rats.
A Marine who sits down about then: What are you people talking about?
Joe: Ann needs to kill a magic guy in a hurry.
Adella: It’s for a game.
Marine: This is out of my depth.

The rats solution was popular, even if it wouldn’t work on the game. Eventually, it was agreed that if rats, on fire, were going to be flung through the air, then the soundtrack should definitely be Wagner. I did actually get a decent plan to proceed with the plot from the discussion, but mostly from Julia, the other gamer.

I really do think the mundanes exceeded the weirdness of anything I could have done just talking about gaming in front of them. The whole discussion makes me wonder about running a game with them. Anyone else ever sprung gaming on the unsuspecting, especially at work?


G is for Generosity

This has been a rough year in terms of natural disasters.  Images have flooded our televisions, Facebook ads, and YouTube accounts with visions of planet-wide tragedy.  People from all over the world have come together to donate money to charities to help those in need, including gamers!

When the earthquake struck Haiti in January DriveThruRPG created a bundle that contained donated RPGs from 100 publishers.  This bundle contained several hundred dollars worth of gaming material, but DriveThruRPG charged a mere $20.  All proceeds went to Doctor’s Without Borders in an effort to help with the relief fund in Haiti.  When I first learned about this, I was shocked to see how much money had been raised in such a short amount of time.  My husband and I purchased this bundle, and received an email that basically said that due to the overwhelming purchases of the bundle, it would be a few days before we received the download links for the package.  It was at least 3 days later before we were able to download any of the games for personal use.  Gamers from all over the world came to DriveThruRPG and purchased their bundle for a good cause.  True, they got a steal on the amount of games they were buying, but hey, it was for a good cause!  When it was all said and done a total of  $178,900 was wired to Doctor’s Without Borders.

In the video game arena, indie developer Wolfire Games,  released something very similar, and  had an amazing outcome.  The Humble Indie Bundle includes:  World of Goo, Aquaria, Gish, Lugaru (in HD), Penumbra: Overture, and Samorost 2.  What’s Wolfire’s charity of choice? Child’s Play , a game industry charity dedicated to improving the lives of children with toys and games.  So far, Child’s Play has had an amazing $1.7 million dollars donated since 2003 from gamers across the world.  In the few short days that Wolfire had their Humble Indie Bundle out there for gamers to download (for as little as a $0.01) 124,250 people donated $1,136,933!  I’d say that the video gamers are a generous bunch too!

Back to the tabletop scene, Daniel Solis has been working with donors for his [Happy Birthday, Robot!] game on KickStarter It’s a brilliant idea!  Again, donors can contribute to see the game published and receive special perks depending on the level of their donation.  However, Daniel took it one step further.  He decided to donate copies of [Happy Birthday, Robot!], to different gaming organizations, schools, and libraries across the world, because his original goal was exceeded very quickly.  Once the book is published, he will be donating 3 books to the organization Kids Need to Game . He will also be sending copies of the book to ten different libraries and schools to help foster role-playing and storytelling in the classroom.  This entire project has been backed by generous gamers across the world, and thanks to them as well as Daniel, students will be given the chance to play this game in their classroom.

Finally, on a more personal note, thanks to the generous donations of a number of indie game designers, my classroom of 4th graders where able to finish their storytelling unit by creating their own hardbound storybooks. Being the end of the year, funding at my school was running short and there were no available funds to purchase storybook kits for my students.  Thanks to the power of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, I was able to get enough money donated to purchase 26 kits and pay for express shipping. I did have friends and family members donate, however, the bulk of the money came from indie rpg designers and enthusiasts.  My heart goes out to them for their overwhelming donations, and my students are just as grateful.

We all know that there are a lot of stereotypes about gamers.  Gamers are perceived as being nerdy, obsessive, socially awkward, and childish.   But, while we’re generalizing, I think we need to add “generous” to that list.


Multipass!

The computer is your gateway to new and exciting people! Yes, some may be sociopaths or pedophiles, and some of them are simply dicks. But still, what would the world be without people?

On second thought, don’t answer that.

I like to play with people. I like cooperative games a lot more then I like competitive games. I enjoy being a story with fellow players in my tabletop games, and I enjoy smokin’ a Spitter before she vomits all over my team mates in my newly discovered love for Left 4 Dead (1 or 2, they’re all awesome.) I enjoy it. I enjoy the broader (and usually older) community on PC connections then I do on say, XBox — in fact, XBox Live is a reason we chose to go PS3 instead of XBox (along with the Red Ring of Death, general catalog being superior on PC, etc). It’s got a bad reputation. I just wasn’t interested in dealing with it. So the computer is my box of choice. I prefer single or dual player on console, and I enjoy a broad range of games from puzzlers to shooters on my PC.

And now I’m using it as a Tabletop aid. A friend of mine, who I have known for going on ten years now, used to run a tabletop Exalted (2nd edition, for the curious) game online as his regular gaming group spread over several states. They added a few other friends, and wa-la! They used Google Wave as their first tool for it’s ease of sharing documents and having a ‘bot’ dice roller you can ‘invite’ your group communications. (This is still how they do dicerolling.) But to expedite the communications process, they set up a group Skype and now we all spend 2-3 hours voice-gaming over the internet.

So now I have a new Thursdays group, and I look forward to seeing how this works. I’ve been gaming — roleplaying specifically — since I was about eleven years old. I am now thirty-two. This is two decades of gaming books, and if I wasn’t ashamed of it’s well loved, tattered shape I would photograph the first gaming book I ever bought — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness. Fangirl? Yes. Do I care? No. I’ve done statted, non stated, consent-based, ICC=ICA, you name it, I’ve played it across various platforms and tools. But I think, after the laughs shared over Skype Thursday night, this should be a fun experience if my schedule allows me to keep up with it.

In the other end of the spectrum, I’ve found the cooperative campaigns of Left 4 Dead to be highly rewarding with good pals, some laughs, and even getting the husband involved. I bought both games while they were on sale on Steam after The Passing DLC had become available. It lead to a lot of fun times with friends, and I eventually convinced my husband to get it. We did some with friends and some friends-and-bots campaigns, and enjoyed every minute of it. He’s a little frustrated with some of the gameplay elements, but I think it’s all part of the fun. I’m on Steam if anybody wants to give it a crack, and welcome others into my gameplaying circle. Just be aware I tend to have friendly fire accidents. Shooters are not normally my usual choice for gaming, but I’m getting much better with them!


The Netbook and the Gaming Table

The addition of small, very portable computers has really changed a lot of the way people view computing. I own a couple, and tend to carry the Sony Vaio P around like a security blanket. This means, then, I have access to a lot of data, even when not connected to the internet. This has held true for the other class of portable computing devices, the crop of e-book readers. I’ve found it useful to keep my gaming notes, especially for RPG games, on computers and have caught chatter from other roleplaying and GMing friends about the coolness of having whole RPG sourcebooks and manuals on their Kindles.

So what has the lightening of the gaming bookbag done for you, if you’ve switched to using electronic tools?

I’m not a huge tabletop gaming person, but the games I play all seem to have some new enhancement. With the ability to carry quite a bit of data around, having all my notes for games is easy, when it all fits in my purse.

For myself, my main tool has been Microsoft OneNote, which is a data collection and organization product that is often included in the more complete versions of Office. It’s a good buy on it’s own, if you’re a Windows user. I make use of a lot of personal notes when playing a RP MUSH, keeping track of my evil plans, notes on stats and specific game files I use often but need to view offline, etc. This picture is a snippet of the gaming section.

Each little portion of my character’s activities has a section, and pages within it. The main screen shows a rumor posting that relates to a plot I was working on. As a player, it helps to copy certain useful information into a form I can carry around, search, and add to. How many of us in online gaming have remembered reading something before, something a character said, but not the specifics? Handy now to slap into a searchable database.

Obviously, from a GM’s point of view, finding a software package for their platform and creating a database like this could mean not having to repeatedly create things each campaign. OneNote, as well as Evernote and other data organizing packages, allow you to create a page and then save it as a template to use over again. With OneNote, you can print a PDF right into it, and then overlay more typing. It’s a great way to create character sheets, if you lack a PDF writing app. It does take time to build up a treasure trove of your own information in any database, and that can be daunting to some, I think. Not everyone is confident with computers enough to take up a database application and turn it into something that is readily useful. I find OneNote to be very easy to use, and am interested to hear what others use to store their campaign notes.

While even Microsoft OneNote runs on a netbook quite well, if you’re into lightweight, there’s the Tiddlywiki option. A Tiddlywiki is a single file you open up in a web browser and manipulate right there. It’s all saved in one file, but due to the magic of Javascript, you can create chunks, called tiddlers, and hide and show them as needed. The blank file without modifications can be found at www.tiddlyspot.com. M Thomas at his RPG Dumping Ground blog, has written an excellent introduction to the plain TwiddlyWiki file, and his blog looks interesting for RPGers as well: http://rpgdump.blogspot.com/2010/02/using-tiddlywiki-part-1.html. However, with the flexibility of Tiddlywiki, there is already at least one ready-modified file devoted to tracking RPG campaign information.

As with any of the Tiddlywikis, just go to the blank one and Save As the file to your local disk, and there you can modify it. Narrator’s Helper, by the Flying Turtle bloggers, is located here: http://flyingturtle.deepeningdays.com/narratorsHelper.htm

I won’t go into detail about the file, only to say that the author has added a number of new features to the TiddlyWiki, including the ability to roll up NPCs and track their hitpoints and damage, as well as rolls based on their stats, right in the wiki file itself. Most of the improvements involve handling random number things in games that use dice, in addition to all the tagging goodness of the TiddlyWiki. If you’re the light programming type, I encourage you to download the file and try your hand at a customization. Share what you create with us, too!

Lastly, I wanted to mention the iPod Touch/iPhone devices. There are quite a few handhelds out there with their own app stores and such, but this is just a sampling off my own iPod Touch.

  • Armory: If you’re into World of Warcraft, you may have known about the Armory app for iPhone. This is a slick little app that shows your character stats and equipment, just as it is in the Armoury website. Nice graphics with page turning sounds. However, I have found it not to work if you have an Authenticator on your account.
  • Authenticator Mobile: Speaking of.. if you do have one, or wish to secure your WoW account, the Authenticator for Mobile is a free download out of the App Store. This is a program that generates a unique timed number that must be typed in when logging in. It’s an excellent idea to help keep your account from being hijacked (as mine was last week), and you don’t even have to dish out the $6 to buy the fob one off the store.
  • Pocket MV: For those who are sucked into the virtual world of Second Life, there is Pocket Metaverse for accessing that graphical world right from your iPhone. Unlike some lightweight apps, this one allows map viewing, limited movement, chatting, inventory manipulation… the next best thing to actually logging in. For those on netbooks or older laptops that can’t handle the client, it’s a good option, even if it eats battery power like Oreos.
  • Dice Rollers: There seem to be a number of them, such as Crit, Dice Bag and Motion-X Dice. Your mileage may vary, as I haven’t tried any of them, but those are free for the download.

I’m sure the new iPad will open up things even more, and the touch capability with the large screen should tempt programmers to create new tools for us gamers. Be nice to your programmers, convert them to gaming, then maybe they will gift us with cool.

I’ve kept to what I know here, but if anyone has cool tools they’ve found useful on portable devices, please share with us in the comments!


The Care and Feeding of Your Gaming Group

I like to cook.

Scratch that. I like to cook a lot. I like to cook big meals to boot. I like to cook all sorts of things. I love Asian flavors specifically but I branch out whenever possible. I own several cookbooks, and I recently upgraded my kitchen appliances with the same passion I applied to choosing the new video card and monitor for my computer.

This becomes a problem. When we used to run a different game at my place, I cooked before every game. Apparently this didn’t fly with my gaming group. They actively resented my good-deeds (that I did without being asked, happily and without complaint) and when that game closed, these players said straight out said to my then-boyfriend-later-husband that they would no longer game at my house because I ‘forced’ them to eat.

Note that they couldn’t tell this to me. I was intensely offended when I was told about this exchange months later, but nobody apologized or even acknowledged that I was aware of this rudeness. Life goes on, though. My husband and I married, and his house and my house became the same house. He was running his Shadowrun game, and by God, he was running it in his own home. When he moved, the game moved. Nobody could argue with that logic — he wasn’t carting his books across the valley just because they didn’t want to be inconvenienced with my hostessing.

So the snubbing began. I’d let them know that I was preparing a large meal and they were welcome to join. They’d arrive, maybe one would partake but the rest would feed themselves before or after the game rather then take my freely offered, no strings attached food. No money or supplies were requested. They brought drinks and snacks of their own volition. But my efforts were routinely snubbed, to the point that they’d show up late after eating out and a top it, brought desert from a restaurant despite that I had made a full meal and desert for them and told them ahead of time I was doing so.

I very nearly threw them out that night, but behaved myself as best I could in the face of this insult. However, this is pretty much the only gaming group we have, and so we put up with these sorts of shenanigans and blatant disrespect. It was things like that that we had to warn folks about when our newest player asked about joining our group. They had decided they didn’t want to play at a decent hour, they wanted to come over at 10:30. They didn’t want to eat with us. They basically wanted to do things only on their time schedule, at their whim, and nothing else.

Our new player, however, has none of these bad habits. He is courteous, gracious and a very genteel man. We had him and his girlfriend over for pre-game dinner, and enjoyed ourselves. When I mention I’d like to make something, he’s the first to volunteer a side. His presence is actually a moderating influence, it seems, on some of the bad habits of our gaming group. This week when I said that I’d be making shrimp creole before game, they were all quick to let me know they’d be happy eat with us and brought sodas. I admit, we also used his schedule– and our need to take him home as he and his girlfriend only have one car– to leverage an earlier starting time! Yes, the GAME MASTER had to leverage against his own player group, because they had decided that starting at 10 was what they did for all the other games, and they’d do it for this one, regardless of what he wanted.

This means I’m very grateful for our new player, and enjoy his presence for more then just what he brings to the table not only as a player but as a nice person and a calming presence. I am also pleasantly surprised that being ‘good’ in front of the newbie has made them less of a pack of dicks. I mean, it’s not all that bad. We wouldn’t hang out with them if they didn’t have redeeming qualities. It just seems that a lot of the time, they’re just Big Boys who don’t want a Mommy, and I suppose that’s what they see my efforts to feed them as, though I can’t imagine why– I’m hardly matronly.

But I like to cook, and I like to game, and I don’t see why the two shouldn’t meet regularly. I don’t try and cook for game that’s not at my house — so why should sitting down for a meal with friends and then grabbing the dice bags be such a crime?

Boys. Can’t live with ’em, can’t feed ’em. What can you do with ’em?


Aren’t we done with the introductions yet?

I believe the answer to that question should be a “Yes”, once I’m complete!  Better late than never, I always say.

My name is Cassie Krause, and I’m a school teacher by day, mother by early evening, and a gamer by sundown.  I live with my husband Clint, and our son Dade in Kansas City, Missouri.  I play mostly tabletop RPGs, card games, and board games.  I recently purchased a Wii and am slowly getting back into the video game arena.

My husband and I run a small press RPG company called Red Moon Medicine Show.  Gaming is a fixture in our household, and every night is filled with some sort of action along those lines, that is, once our 2 year old  is down for the count. We cannot pull our dice bags out until Dade is asleep, because he will want to play too.

Monday nights are generally reserved for my husband and I to play some sort of game together.  Our current game of choice is Dominion (look for a post soon about how awesome this game is).  On Tuesday nights, we have our regular game group come to our home. I am the only female in the group, and it brings up a lot of interesting situations.  On these nights we generally play-test whatever work in progress my husband has, but we also play RPGs and board games along the lines of 3:16, Last Night on Earth, and many others.  Wednesday nights vary, and sometimes this is our night off to catch up on our favorite shows and just relax.  On Thursday nights, my husband heads out to a friend’s house to play yet more tabletop RPGs and I head towards my Wii for some relaxation of my own!  Finally on Friday evenings, we head to our some-what local game shop, Game Cafe, in Independence Missouri, and host Friday Night Role Play.  This is something that we just recently started up, and we hope that it becomes a big hit.

I’ve recently started introducing my students to RPGs, one of them being [Happy Birthday Robot!] developed by Daniel Solis.  I plan on my posts being from a teacher’s perspective about how gaming, not just RPGs, can actually benefit our youth. What? A teacher who believes gaming is healthy?  That’s just unheard of right?

I look forward to hearing what all the readers have to say.  Now, I must depart and go gather my young minds from PE!


Shadowrun with a new player

We added a player to our Shadowrun game this weekend; a friend who had migrated from out of state to be with his long distance lady that I knew from a forum or two. They both came over early, had dinner with my husband and I, and we got to know them a little better. We’d met the player before, but this was the first time interacting with them as a couple, which is sort of important to us as we have few married or otherwise committed friends who share our interests and are tolerable human beings; we know other married  or ‘serious’ geek couples, but they tend to be the worst kind that gravitate to each other and make each other worse, not better.

The lady was something of a geek herself, but she is low key and not very active. She’d gamed with her significant other but not much else, and had neither the time or really the enthusiasm to join the game, so she simply came to dinner to meet and greet her boyfriend’s friends. This bodes well for him — it means she’s willing to let him have his life and she have hers separate from each other when need be, but doesn’t talk down to us or to him for these nerdy interests.

So we had a nice, home cooked meal (I prepared lemon chicken with sweet and sour stir fried turnips and carrots), talked extensively about life and work and nerdness, and little before game was about to start, she excused herself and went her way.  We helped him finish his character while we waited for the others to show up at our new time (eight o’clock) and settled in for what turned out to be a very productive game.

I think our new friend will work out well with us. He kept up with our jokes, tolerated that most of the group brought laptops and set them up (we have a very tech heavy group — and many use netbooks to handle character information and/or sourcebooks) and I think both starting earlier and adding a new player helped them be more alert and on better behaviour in general. We’ve had problems with the computers being a distraction in the past (and I should never have given them the code to my wireless router) but we’ve all had our distraction slip-ups.

Our new player kept up, RPed accordingly and while he’s a very straight-laced character in a group that’s a little wild, I think things will work out okay. We made our pick up, headed out and had a stop off in Salish country (for those who have an idea of what that means) and then found our that our Rigger pilot got hijacked while in a deal and half our cargo was being demanded as tribute. We don’t even know what the cargo IS; it’s in a briefcase that’s attached to the write of a young elf Rat Shaman on his vision quest — a total non-combatant! We don’t have the key to the cuffs, to the briefcase, nothing.

It’s gonna be a very interesting session! We’ll be playing again in two weeks – next week is our Iron Kingdoms game. Our new player won’t be in that game (it’s too established to really bring anybody new in) but I think once it’s wrapped we’ll be able to integrate him more thoroughly into our other games if he decides he wants to.