31 July 2011

Inking some dice

I took a tiny (and geeky) step forward in my "find something to do with my hands" project today and finished inking some new Game Science dice.  Cthulhu's Librarian ordered them for me a month or so ago when he placed an order.  I started inking them while we were at the beach and finished them this afternoon.

The set itself is a 12-piece set, with the standard seven plus a d3, d5, d14, d16, and d24.  It's the "Diamond" color which, as near as I can tell, is clear.  I inked them with an ultra-fine blue Sharpie.  I think they look alright, especially given that it was my first time inking dice since my Mentzer Red Box and the white crayon.

It wasn't a big project; I spent all of 15 minutes finishing the dice.  But it felt really good to do something with my hands.  Toward the end, my daughter climbed in my lap and asked me what I was doing, so she got to help me ink a couple of numbers on the d8.

28 July 2011

Hiatus, Fallow, and Funk

We've been travelling a lot lately, which throws me off in multiple ways.  Best laid plans to do, well, anything, get knocked awry.  It's the kids, really.  Running around the country with two of them is difficult, even though they are really good travelers and I really, really think travel is important for their learning.  How much they learn at this point (other than how to sleep really well in a car seat), is still a matter for debate.

One our long drive back from Texas, I was struck with an epiphany of sorts, connected to a general funk I've been feeling lately.  More an aimless feeling than a funk, I guess.  The epiphany sparked an almost physical reaction, but I keep that in check since I was riding shotgun in our new mini-van and didn't want to freak out my wife and endanger our children.

I really need to engage in some sort of creative activity -- some sort of making -- with my hands.

This reaction was so pointed, so immediate, that I began to think of things I could do and things that would allow me to do it.  I generally suck at a lot of these sorts of activities, however.  In many ways, I am just not "handy."  Which is doubly problematic because I come from a family of people who make, grow, and fix things.  What do I do?  What do I like to do, most of the time?

I am fortunate enough that what I do (for a living) and what I like to do (for fun as well as spiritual sustenance) presents a high degree of overlap:

I like to read books and talk about them.

That's what I spent my youth doing, it's why I went into the major I did in college, it's why I went on to grad school.  It's what I wish I could do more of as a professor (even though I know that's not what most of my students need -- the last thing higher ed needs is yet another someone who mistakes their own interests and likes for the needs of their students).

So I have this dilemma where a substantial part of my personal and professional life is built on reading and talking (or writing), yet this desire to physically create has reached a nigh-fever pitch.

Note: gaming, while very creative, is also primarily about reading books and talking.  Although I could paint minis, or make cool plaster-of-paris dungeons.

I thought about putting the blog on hiatus until I figured this out, but have come down from that ledge a bit.  Even as I see today, that's almost exactly what Christian did.  And good for him.  Because his zine is one of those physically creative acts that I am talking about.  I was so happy to get in in the mail Monday.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.

18 July 2011

The prophet and the bracelet (From the Road)

I sat in with my windows down in the Mississippi heat, waiting for the food.  The family, thankfully, was back at the hotel, bathing and waiting on me to return with dinner.  I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel.  Then I saw the prophet.

He ambled up the road into the Chili's parking lot, two bags slung over his shoulders.  A worn army-surplus coat over filthy jeans.  He saw me looking and started for the van.

"Shit," I muttered.  A dilemma confronted me.  Keep the window down and endure the inevitable sob story and begging, or roll it up and, well, be one of those people I try not to be.  It stayed down and he walked up.

"Hey man!  I was walkin down the street and was praying I'd find a hunred dollas!"

"Sorry. I can't help you," I quickly said, amazed at his audacity. A hundred dollars was a lot to ask from a guy in a van.

"Naw. It's not like that. I was prayin I'd find a hunred dollas cause I needed it to get back to my grammaw and I was just walkin up the skreet there and I saw you and"

"Man, I'm really sorry, but I can't help you." Where was that Chili's guy?

"Naw! God answer my prayers, man! I was walking and look what I found!" He pulled a bracelet from his dirty jeans and held it out to me in his palm. My first thought was how I was going to refuse him when he asked me to buy this crappy jewelry, but then I took a closer look. The thing looked like cheap brass, with some indiscernible scroll pattern around most of the top. There were some obviously fake pearls set into the scrollwork, with empty spaces where more of the gems had fallen out or been removed. I dismissed it, but my gaze stood fixed on the bauble. Then it began to glow...

He closed his palm, but I kept staring at where the bracelet hand been.

"I just wanted to witness, man. To let you know that God answers prayers. You know that He answers prayers, right?"

"uh, yeah, I stammered. "I know."

I looked up at his face as he backed way from the van. He smiled.

"Jesus" was tattooed on his forehead.

Tattooed Christian Prophet (4)
Homeless Wanderer (3)
Collector of trinkets and baubles (2)
Item: Magic Bracelet (3)

17 July 2011

From the Road

July is certainly a month of travels.  I'm back in Texas again, reunited with my family who has been staying with my wife's parents for a couple of weeks.  I've got a conference starting today.  After that's over, we'll drive back east.

I've hit upon the idea of a series of posts taking things I see, places we visit, or people I meet or observe and putting them into "game terms" -- describing them like an NPC or an interesting locale.  My inspiration here is really Christian's posts, which I find very entertaining and inspiring.  His posts are often statted out in World of Darkness terms, which is ideal for this sort of project.  Unfortunately, I haven't played any of the White Wolf games since college, so that won't work for me.  I might stat them up in Risus and throw in a random table or two where appropriate, but it's the narrative I want to practice and the ideas I want to save.

Hmm. . . statless narrative and description of an alternative-yet-familiar reality are exactly what Trey is up to.  I can only hope my stuff is 10% the quality of his.

16 July 2011

Test Post

Testing email posting

15 July 2011

Actual Play Report -- Ravenloft

Another game we tried during our geeky guys weekend was the WOTC board game Ravenloft.  Essentailly, you play a simplified 4E character who battles monsters and traps in an ever-expanding dungeon.  The game is built on scearios, each with a certain goal.  I cannot remember the exact name of the scenario we played, but our goal was to recover an artifact from the holy altar in Castle Ravenloft.

I was excited to play this game, as I had heard a lot about it.  Many had remarked that this seemed like what 4E was made for -- a board game with RPG elements.  I've played 4E a little and can see how the system lends itself to a cool board game.

My excitement dissapaited during the set up.  None of us had ever played the game before (Cthulhu's Librarian had just bought it), so this was time-consuming and more than a little confusing.  And when I say "set-up" I really mean just "taking the stuff out of the box".  There are cards, tiles, tokens, and plastic minis.    We had stuff piled up all over the table, not knowing which we would need and which we would not.  Adding to the confusion was the fact that certain game elements (monsters, encounters) had both tiles and card and the minis had no color coding whatsoever, so we spent considerable time figuring out what was called for in the various elements of the set-up.  This could easily have been newbie issues; I could see things going a lot quicker next time, but some clarity in the rules regarding what elements are what would help , I think.

We began play with an Eladrin Wizard, a human ranger, and a human rogue.  On any given turn, you first move and/or attack any monsters on the board, then "explore" by placing a new dungeon tile.  These new tiles may (almost always) bring new monsters into play and often bring new "encounters".  The encounters we faced were traps, environmental effects, or NPC's.  The later two always had some game effect, often some sort of forced movement or position switching.  Cautious at first, we were very deliberate about placing new tiles so that we only had one monster on the board at a time.  Most monsters took one hit to eliminate, with a few of the stronger ones taking two.  Each monster had unique attacks listed on its card, with different attacks applying in different situations depending on the relative position of the PC's.  We fought skeletons, zombies, gargoyles, kobolds, a spider, some wolves and some ghouls.  Our cautious approach soon gave way to more open playing as we realized it was actually more fun to fight more things at once.  Since the goal of the scenario was to find a particular room, the faster placement of tiles via exploration sped the game up considerably.  Whereas the game initually played very slowly, the end was quick and tension-filled.  Traps were falling all around, we fought a running battle with the last few monsters, and all the healing surges were used.  Our success literally came down to the last turn.

I'd certainly play this again.  I think it would be a lot more fun the next time around, since I could manage the set up better and could strike a better balance between cautious dungeon exploring and a faster pace.  I'd also shuffle the encounter cards better so we wouldn't draw five traps in a row ;)

14 July 2011

Two Character Funnel Scenarios

One of the things that bugged me about our DCC play experience was the artificiality of the character funnel.  I get that the game wants to emphasize very humble beginnings to non-heroic characters -- essentially the radish farmer trading his chicken for a life of perilous adventure where death is more likely than not.  I think that works nicely as a conceit for individual characters.  Where it strains to the point of breaking for me is when you put 16 of those radish farmers together and herd them into a dungeon, especially a dungeon that seems designed to eliminate 10 of them to form a potential adventuring party.

I think a lot of that could be eliminated with some creative set up, something that gives the radish farmers a reason to "adventure" and, for those that survive, nudges them toward further exploits.  When thinking about DCC, two immediately come to mind:

1.  An orc invasion!  An orc (or other sort of humanoid or human force) invades the character's lands.  The first DCC adventure can take place immediately after the PC's village is sacked.  The PC's are the only survivors and must venture into the nearby dungeon to acquire resources to survive, since everything else has been destroyed.  An alternative is that the PC's go and hide out in the dungeon to avoid being overrun by the advancing army and a few decide (or are forced to) explore the caverns.  The later scenario is something like "what all the average Joe's of Rohan did at Helm's Deep while the army was fighting above".

2.  Shipwreck!  I've always wanted to do a shipwreck game, where the PC's begin play stranded on an unknown piece of land, with only the jungle and ship detritus to use as play begins.  The character funnel works perfectly for this set-up, as the band of castaways begin to explore their surroundings.  Some meet untimely ends, others end up gaining in experience, riches, and power.  All you would need to do would be to change the occupations table a bit to give it a more nautical theme.  It's a wonderful set up for a hex-crawl, and would even work well for a West Marches sort of game with a large band of rotating players.  This is the D&D version of Lost, which makes it even more appealing for me.

13 July 2011

Actual Play Report-- Dungeon Crawl Classics

Dungeon Crawl Classics was high on our list of games to play during our geeky guys weekend.  In fact, it was the only game we explicitly said "we're going to play".  We were reading the rules on the car ride down, talking about all the quirks and tables.  Cthulhu's Librarian even ordered some Zocchi dice for me!  We were all excited about the game, but after playing it a bit using the Free RPG day adventure, my excitement is now considerably muted, though not completely abandoned.

Our first night, we all rolled up a stable of characters.  There were only three of us, with Cthulhu's Librarian agreeing to GM, so that left RM and I to come up with the fifteen or so characters required to play the adventure.  We dove in to the random generation of scores, occupations, and equipment.  I found this part quite fun, actually.  Sure, some of the characters had horrible stats, but it was always interesting to see how they were all going to turn out.  I ended up with, among others, a noble and two squires -- so the noble immediately had two people to carry his stuff around.  Cthulhu's Librarian also rolled up a few characters, so by the end we had a party of 22.

My initial thoughts about the character creation process was that it's fun, but there's some degree of tedium involved.  By the time character 8 rolled around, things were getting a little stale.  I think the party had a total of four squires and five farmers.  There were only three demi-humans, while we also had three grave-diggers.  The rules certainly say you can choose professions, so this is easily avoided.  Really, I think we were all just disappointed no one rolled the privy-cleaner and his complementary bag of poop.

We put our characters aside for the evening and dove into the adventure the next day, beginning the "character funnel" by which the giant party is winnowed down to a more manageable size of adventurers who will go on to be first level.  This aspect of the game has potential, but it was one of my least favorite parts of play.  I was effectively playing 14 characters at the beginning, so my play experience was atypical and certainly colored by that.  First, without a proper in-game set up, having all these random commoners head into the dungeon was hard to rationalize.  "Hey!  We're poor and want adventure.  Let's all head into the mysterious magical gate to see what's there" just didn't work for us, especially when we began to consider how these folks would act in the dungeon itself.  Do they stick together?  Follow a leader?  Shove others forward into the doorway that's almost certainly trapped?  Wait, do they know it's trapped or is that just my meta-game knowledge creeping in?  This is aside from the fact that it's just hard to play that many characters with any degree of skill.

That last point -- meta-gaming -- was actually something we struggled with quite a bit.  Even if you take out the role-playing problems the character funnel created, there was still the gamey problem of resource (i.e. character and party) optimization.  Within our party, there were clearly some folks who were more competent than others, based on the random stat rolls.  There were clearly some who were tougher, with substantially more hit points -- if you consider 4 hit points to be substantially more than 1.  How do you play that, from a tactical level?  The characters who are "better" are the ones that give the party as a whole the best chance of survival, but they are also the ones you want to survive because they will make better 1st level characters.  Do you then send your 1 hit point gravedigger with an 8 agility ahead to scout, even though you know he won't find anything or be of any use except by dying to alert the rest of the party of the monster or trap?  We really struggled with this.

For the record, we did not finish the adventure.  It got late and we got tired.  I lost a total of five of my fourteen characters in the time we did play, with the first dying seventeen minutes into the game.  That was too be expected, but the constant death simply got old, especially when it's almost a given that ANY hits to a character will result in his or her death.

We didn't get to try out many of the aspects of the game I was looking forward to -- the magic system, especially.  It's probably more accurate to say we playtested the character funnel concept.  Generally, I found that lacking, though I can imagine a couple of scenarios where the level-zero start with a large number of characters would make sense and provide a very interesting beginning for a game.

12 July 2011

Geeky Guys Weekend

Cthulhu's Librarian, Risus Monkey, and I all used to live in the same town and play in the same gaming group.  Now, we try to get together at least once a year.  Abandoning home, family, and jobs for at least a few days, we hang out.  Although we haven't set forth any official criteria for what we do, the following have emerged by default:

  • Gaming!  
  • Some form of outdoor activity, often hiking.
  • Visit some National Park, National Monument, or something similar.  (I have a National Park Passport.  It's silly, but I love getting those stamps!).

This year, we went to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I got my Passport stamped at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, part of the Hatteras National Seashore.  We did a short hike at the Pea Island Wildlife Sanctuary, until we were ambushed by bugs and forced to flee.  We also played Microscope, Dungeon Crawl Classics, and the new Ravenloft board game from Wizards of the Coast.

Since this is a gaming blog, primarily, I'll try to do some play reports of those three games in upcoming posts.

07 July 2011

Travel Misadventure

When the family and I hit the road last Friday, I had the best of blogging intentions.  I set up the "post from email" widget on the blog, fully intending to post interesting things I saw or heard or thought of that were gaming related and/or inspirational.  Obviously, that didn't happen, largely due to some travel misadventure that took days to resolve and left me merely glad to get to our destination safely.  But we all did arrive safely, if later than we intended, which is the important thing.  I may share a bit more if I have some time soon.

Now I am back home for all of five hours before hitting the road again.  This time, it's for a geeky guys weekend that will hopefully be considerably calmer than the previous trip.