Friday, August 24, 2012

Different Games, Same Table.

By their nature, pen and paper role playing games are a different breed of entertainment. While I veg out to plenty of tv shows, video games and movies, I always find myself drawn back to the table. It's a mysterious attraction which is admittedly difficult to explain to folks who've never played a role playing game before.

"What do you mean you don't 'win'?"

"You play on a table? Is it a board game?"

"Wait.. It's just books and dice?"

These are common questions that can be surprisingly hard to answer. What is it that really sets P&P games -and gamers- apart? If you asked me, I'd probably say "Everyone gets to play a different game at the same table."
Say we went to a movie together. We might have different opinions. I may hate it and you loved it. Maybe I'm just not into musicals and you happen to be a fan of the main actor. We could have many differences of opinion but as long as George Lucas isn't involved, the movie doesn't change, we both watched the same exact thing. The same applies to video games, tv shows, stage plays - the list goes on. Video games are particulary adept at making you feel involved. Terms like "open world" provide an illusion of freedom that is still limited by file size and technology.

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not bashing any of these forms of amusement. I'm as big a fan of them as anyone. It's also not my intention to disregard sports or art or other wonderful ways to pass time and create. I'm just trying to explore and describe the unique qualities of pen and paper gaming. For the sake of the uninformed, I'll try to briefly sum up what an RPG is before I continue on to why it's so special...

In a tradional role play environment, a group of friends or even strangers come together around a table and create fictional characters that they will use to explore and adventure in a fictional world. This is done primarily through imagination and communication. These could be valiant knights, savage barbarians, gritty pulp era cops or space explorers. The variety is endless. The 'world' and it's inhabitants are directed by a GM -the Game Master- historically referred to as a Dungeon Master. The players control their characters' actions and the GM controls everything else.

Unlike other games, the GM and the players do not play against each other to reach an end or final goal. They work together to unfold a continuing story. The GM provides the setting, and adjusts it according to the players reaction. This isn't to say that the players and GM are never adversarial. In addition to controlling the environments and personalities of the game world, the GM also controls the monsters, the villains and other obstacles that hinder the players advancement through the story and this is where the dice come in.

Whenever a player wants to perform an action in the world where they have a chance to fail, they roll dice. The dice represent the chaos and unpredictability of the world. Do you want to hit that goblin with your sword? Roll some dice to see if you hit him or catch air. Want to smooth talk the local sheriff to let you out of jail? Roll it and see if he falls for your bluff. There are an infinite number of things one can do in a pen and paper role playing game. The only limitations are in your imagination and imagination is the very essence of the game.

As an aside, if the idea of playing "imaginary games" seems too childish for you, just call it "creativity." It might help you sleep better.

Sheesh, I was trying to go somewhere with that wall of text up there which has escaped me at the moment...

Oh yeah! I was trying to put a finger on what sets P&P RPGs apart. You see, with all this imagination going on, it's sometimes easy to forget that other people are playing and imagining alongside you. What makes the game so special is that it can be different for every participant. I may imagine the world to look grim and dark with armored soldiers, grizzled old wizards and deceptive thieves while the player across the table could be picturing a lush, bright world with shining knights, bumbling sorcerers and dashing rogues. Everything from the smallest stone to the largest beast is open to each players interpretation. To me, that is the best thing any game could offer.

There aren't many mediums that offer this level of invlovement nowadays. In a world dominated by passive entertainment, pen and paper games offer more than just 'turning on and tuning in.' They are social games. Participatory games. Imaginative games.

You can be more than a player, you are a creator- an active participant in an evolving story. That's what sets P&P gamers apart. Anyone can play games, role players bring them to life. 
Until next time, happy gaming.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I tried to resist. I really did.

So I caved in. I ponied up the hundred bucks and bought into the Reaper Bones Kickstarter. We're talking over 200 minis for $100! That's less than fifty cents a pop! The amount of paint needed to color all these guys will easily cost 3x as much as the figures themselves. I don't even know where I'm going to put them all!

This is what it must feel like to be a hoarder.  Here's the current list of figures that are included in the vampire level package.

  I also foresee many motorcycle Sophie figures popping up on eBay in the near future.

In other news, my "completed" monster list for my compendium is up from 6 to 8! Almost there!

Until next time, happy gaming! 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Asleep at the Wheel

I was reading an interesting post by Sean over at Tales from the Flaming Faggot about the OSR community running out of steam and it got me thinking about it as well.

Especially since I'm not really part of OSR but have also been very absent as of late.

While I know some folks get blog fatigue, I can only hope that they are just extremely busy playing all these games we love talking about! On my end at least, summer is pretty relaxed for gaming not just online, but at the tabletop as well. A lot of folks are busy and it would be a shame to waste all of this good weather. Weddings, parties, vacations, work, etc. With so much stuff going on it's difficult to get everyone's schedules lined up. I don't know what other group demographics are around the globe, but mine is comprised of a gaggle of twenty-somethings with one other player and myself leading the pack at a ripe-old thirty(ish). Finding a day when everyone is available is something akin to herding cats.

Personally, I wish my lack of presence was due to such wonderful activities as partying and vacationing but mine is a bit more pragmatic. Work on our house is continuing at a rapid clip and I was lucky enough to mess up my back pretty bad two weeks ago. I spent much of my bed-ridden hours playing The Witcher 2 on my 360 between bouts of medicine induced sleep.

That's not to say I've been asleep at the wheel my friends. Oh no, much to the contrary. As I've mentioned before, I am working on my own little monster compendium. Some creatures strictly home brewed with others based on more obscure critters pulled from ye goode olde times. I've got tons of stuff I want to show off. I've been chomping at the bit to splash it all over the site but I need to show a bit of restraint. This is gonna be my first ever "self published, try to make a few bucks project," and I want to do it right.

My project currently contains 16 monsters, all fluffed out. Six are completed with stats and ten still need stats. No art yet. I was surprised at how in-depth monster creation in the pathfinder game can be. While I know a lot of folks out there just throw stuff together and slap some arbitrary xp on a creature, I'm really going all out, following the rules as best I can.

Unfortunately they don't have rules for undead plants, so I had to wing it. Trust me, it's much cooler than it sounds.


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Our Last Session.

After looking at that title I gave myself a chill. By last I don't mean "final." I mean the "session prior to our next". I don't think I could ever imagine not playing again.

Anyway, our last game went well. We played in Vince's apartment and his girlfriend got the pleasure of meeting our motley group of table top heroes. I have to say that they were great hosts and she seemed authentically interested in the game. While she didn't play as a character, she still contributed, joked and asked questions from time to time. Very refreshing!

The game was our "Group Two; kick in the door" crew. A rag-tag group of adventurers plodding through the the southwest deserts and southern jungles of our campaign world. In this game they were hired by a wealthy merchant prince to recover a staff of unknown power from the lepidon kingdom to the south. Lepidons are a lizardman-like race in our campaign.

The dungeon was a short an sweet sunken temple. More or less a series of chambers in a straight line, it was laden with traps and inhabited by a white-skinned subterranean race of lepidon religious zealots who used an intricate network of tunnels to sneak around the party.

More or less inspired (leaning towards way more) by the first ruins in Raiders of The Lost Ark, the heroes were forced to tiptoe their way through the darkness, poking ahead with a quarterstaff because they had not one rogue among them. During their slow journey forward Vince's ranger "Steve" was pulled into a tunnel and forced to wrestle his way free with the help of my wife's nearby witch. After successfully sneaking past the albino lair, they obtained the scepter and were attacked by four immense animated statues who had also been supporting the ceiling. With the place falling down around them, the party dashed for the exit, setting off the numerous traps they worked so hard to avoid -including the giant rolling stone trap- believe it or not, one I've never used before.

By far my favorite part was the escape. Bloodpaw; our mousling paladin was too slow with his small size and heavy armor so Nagatha the witch was forced to scoop him up and carry him out, taking a bit of damage in the process.

While I'm excited to play again we have a few hiccups that are holding up our next games. An injured player, a newlywed and my reconstruction have all put a dent in our schedule, but this stuff is normal for summer. I think by late September, early October we'll be back into the swing of things.

Until next time, happy gaming!