RPGaDay #28: Most Memorable Encounter

I was stumped on this one, until I decided to broaden my interpretation.

In 2010 I attended Gen Con for the first time in over a decade. I travelled down from Edmonton with a group of friends, and since it was my first time back in a while, chose to get the VIG, or ‘Very Important Gamer’, weekend pass. If you manage to snag one, I recommend trying it out at least once, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

One of the benefits of the pass is early admission to any of the big name panels; they jump us to the front of the line, and we sit in the front rows set aside for us. My friends and I were going in to see Wil Wheaton speak and read excerpts from his latest book (no, he’s not the MME in this case, though meeting him later would certainly qualify). As we were shown to our second-row seats (the very front row was reserved for industry and convention staff/volunteers), who should be sitting in front of us but Peter Adkison. Yep, Wizards of the Coast founding, Magic: The Gathering creating, Gen Con owning Peter Adkison.

A bit of back story. I was managing a gaming store during the period of TSR’s floundering and D&D’s near-death experience. I have a fine appreciation for what WotC buying TSR meant for the hobby at a retail level, because at that time we were staring down the barrel of a hobby without D&D. That was not a bullet most game stores could have survived, never mind the broader hobby in general. And beyond that, my favourite game of all time would go away (I hadn’t met Pathfinder yet). It was a bleak time.

Back to Gen Con. It meant a lot to me to meet the guy who unbleaked my hobby, and I really wanted to tell him that. Typical Canadian, though, I decided not to bother him and just bask in the proximity. Minutes after we sat down, of course, Mr. Adkison turns around in his chair and says, “Hey guys, enjoying Gen Con so far?” Buh.

Somewhere in the conversation which followed I managed to thank him for saving D&D from extinction, and went so far as to get him to sign my Gen Con badge. He was a very sweet, casual man, and a pleasure to talk with.

Now, that would have been cool enough. But over the next few days we kept running in to him at panels, and every time he would make a point to say hello, ask us how our con was going, and chat with us about…stuff. Most surreal moment: Peter Adkison talking to me about a character he’s playing in his home campaign. It was just such a perfect gamer nerd moment, and it’s one of many reasons I love this hobby.

RPGaDay #28: Scariest Game You’ve Played

The scariest game I’ve played, and I’m sad it hasn’t been topped since, is the first time I played Call of Cthulhu. I’d read H.P. Lovecraft and stories inspired by him for years, and I picked up the first edition of the game when it came out. But I didn’t have a chance to play it until my buddy Grant decided to run a campaign. Grant was a big believer in reality in his non-fantasy role-playing games. For him, and specifically with CoC, that meant we weren’t going to get away with things just because we were the hero. The dice fell where they fell, and if that meant we went insane twenty minutes into the game, so be it. Roll up a new character.

Grant ran us through a modified version of one of the intro adventures, and it was horrifying from the start. We began by answering a summons to an old friend’s hospital room, where he imparted a dark secret to us. Then he died, but not before expelling a fleshy, blood-soaked bezoar right on…me. First Sanity Check of the evening, but definitely not the last. We encountered forbidden books, the walking dead, and unnatural creatures from beyond. I actually managed to hold my sanity through multiple sessions, even as it was slowly chipped away by our ‘adventures’. When my poor antiquarian finally broke, he attacked, armed only with a cricket bat and his firm belief he was the Archangel Michael, some horrible beast of negotiable geometry. It was a good death, as Call of Cthulhu deaths go.

What made these sessions so scary? Partly it was Grant’s deadpan delivery, which somehow made the horrid things he described even more terrible. Play time was definitely part of it. Because of our various work schedules our games usually started at 10pm and ran until the wee hours. So we, like our characters, rarely saw the sun and were so very tired. But mostly we were just invested. It was the first campaign where no one tried to make it funny or silly. We bought into the world from the first game and never looked back. The importance of that is something I carried with me into my future gaming groups.

What was your scariest game? Drop it in the comments!

RPGaDay #27: Game You’d Like to See a New/Improved Edition Of

Not so much a game as a setting, I’d love to see World of Greyhawk get another fair shake as a campaign setting. Wizards of the Coast briefly and half-heartedly promoted it as a campaign world when it launched 3rd Edition. But it was quickly shunted aside for the more popular setting, Forgotten Realms.

Which is a shame, because Greyhawk was a world with a lot going on. It had a rich history, great epic villains, and a world rife with wrongs for adventurers to right. All the classic AD&D modules are set there. It’s where we get the creators of our favourite spells: Bigby, Tenser, Melf, Rary, Otto, Drawmij, Mordenkainen. Adding to the nostalgia factor, it was Gary Gygax’s home campaign. For that alone it deserves much better treatment than it’s received in recent years. Sadly, it seems stuck in limbo; WotC won’t do anything with it, but won’t let anyone else touch it either.

But maybe someday I’ll dust off my Greyhawk characters, and ride to adventure at the behest of the Circle of Eight. Or is that against the Circle of Eight? Whatever, either will be fine.

RPGaDay #26: Favourite Character Sheet

While there are plenty of really good pre-printed character sheets out there, my tendency has always been to write mine out very neatly in some form of notebook. Usually this takes up the first 2-4 pages; the rest I then use for campaign notes, maps, sketches, and so on. I tend to play fantasy RPGs like Pathfinder, and I like the idea of my character keeping a journal of some kind. As much as possible I try to make journal entries as I think my character would, which makes it potentially fun and sometimes not very useful for remembering things later. For instance, I once played a barbarian character (Stonk) who, after growing up on the ‘cuisine’ of his one small tribe, was suddenly exposed to the varied foods of the world as he traveled with his party. So while other party members were taking detailed notes on our mission, Stonk’s journal read like a foodie’s notebook (“The King talked; served a passable red wine, but loved the mussel-stuffed game hens. Stonk must get recipe.”)  And of course I carefully tracked treasure. Stonk liked food, but he liked treasure more.

As a side note to this, my friend Morgan once gifted me with what I now consider the ideal character notebook. It was a 9-1/2”x 7-1/2” Moleskine notebook with graph paper pages, ruled at 5 squares per inch. Gorgeous quality, and the graph paper meant I could keep my maps nice and tidy. I’ve found others since, but thank-you, Morgan, for giving me that first one.

What’s your favourite character sheet? Drop it in the comments below!

RPGaDay 25: Favourite RPG No One Else Wants to Play

Oddly enough, I can’t get anyone to play Fairy Meat with me (technically it’s a miniatures game, but it can be played in campaign mode and has character sheets, so I’m broadening the definition). Given the sense of humor shared by my particular group of friends, I’d think a game involving cannibalistic fairies would be right in their wheelhouse. But anytime I’ve suggested it, the response is lukewarm at best. I might have to drag it along to a convention one day, just to find players.

For actual RPGs, finding a group to get together once isn’t hard. I have a plethora of friends who will show up if I announce I want to try a new RPG. It’s continuing the game that becomes the hard part. Whether it’s scheduling, waning lack of interest, or a vast shadowy conspiracy aimed at keeping me from happiness, we never seem to manage to keep a campaign going. My regular Thursday night group is actually only semi-regular; we aim to play every Thursday, with the understanding that life might limit that to once or twice in the month. But we persevere, because it is the most consistent game I belong to right now.

RPGaDay Roundup, Part 3

This is Part 3 of my RPGaDay Roundup, if you’re just jumping in. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 by clicking their links.

Day 19: Favourite Published Adventure

I’m a huge fan of the Adventure Paths for Pathfinder in general. I think the concept of packaging a discreet section of a campaign, along with a mini-gazetteer and bestiary is brilliant. There have been many Adventure Paths published over the years, but my favourite  is still the first one: Burnt Offerings, from the Rise of the Runelords AP. It has some of my favourite monsters, goblins, showcased in all their re-imagined and psychotic glory; it contains the village of Sandpoint, which is such a perfect starting locale for adventurers it’s like a gift to the GM; and at the time (and still, for the most part) no one else was publishing a book like it. Add in gorgeous and evocative cover art by Wayne Reynolds and there is nothing to dislike about this book. And as I mentioned before, Paizo has continued to improve upon the Adventure Path idea since.

Day 20: Will Still Play in Twenty Years Time…

Games may come and go, but I can predict with some certainty that one form or another of Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder will still have a place on my shelf. D&D has been such a big part of my life, I’ll always have it around. And Pathfinder, though relatively recent, is such a huge part of my current gaming life. Not just the game itself, though that might be enough. No, the friends I’ve made playing the game and as a Venture-Captain for Organized Play, the experiences I’ve had because of the game…Pathfinder isn’t going anywhere.

But I’m also excited to see what the new things in tabletop gaming will be down the line. So I’ll also say, whatever is cool and fun twenty years from now is something I’ll be all over, as I roll my hyperdice in Gamer’s Haven Retirement Home.™

Day 21: Favourite Licensed RPG

The Firefly RPG, hands down. I’m a huge fan of the Firefly show and universe, and this RPG from Margaret Weis Productions highlights everything I love. Action, adventure, clever dialogue (okay, that last depends on the players but something about the game manages to bring it out) all set in a ‘Verse I’ve come to know and love. There might be a time when flying my own ship crewed by a band of strangers and miscreants won’t appeal to me, but I don’t see that happening soon.

I will say this, it is not a game for all players. If you are with a group who all love the Firefly show, which is arguably most of the time, you’ll have a lot of fun. But playing it with folks who are not familiar with, or just didn’t like, Firely, can be a bit of an ordeal if you are trying to immerse yourself. So choose your crew wisely.

Day 22: Best Second-hand RPG Purchase

One of the best second-hand purchases I ever made was the Nexus Live Action Role-playing, Play This Book, Vol 1. I love game books which give me a view to what the earlier days of gaming were like. The book laid out a live-action role-playing game scenario, which could best be played as part of an existing sci-fi or gaming convention. Closer to the idea of those party game murder mysteries, participants would be given characters ahead of time. They would then costume themselves, use the prop items and clues included in their character package, and show up ready to play through the game all weekend.

The book was great! Not only did it outline a pretty interesting plot which included competing intelligence agencies (terrestrial and non-), alien criminals, and a scientist from multiple dimensions, it also gave detailed instructions on how to organize and manage the game. Much of the information is dated, as it comes from a pre-internet and smart phone era. But reading it, I could easily see how aspects of game-play could be updated for use now.

I don’t even know if they published a Vol 2. But I take the book off my shelf and re-read it often for a bit of nostalgia.

Day 23: Coolest Looking RPG Product/Book

Published in 2006, Monte Cook’s Ptolus: City by the Spire is still one of the coolest looking gaming books I own. Now, if it was just a really well-detailed campaign source book from Monte Cook, that might be enough. But this book is so high quality, so unlike any other book published at the time (or since, really), it is the game book to which I compare other game books, and fine them wanting.

It’s annotated. As a GM who has suffered much eye-strain over the years trying to search out details when I’d forgotten where I’d found them, that alone makes the book priceless. Added to that, it is such a beautiful book throughout, with more full-colour art and maps than I’ve seen in entire game systems, never mind a single book. I was lucky enough to get a print copy when it was first published (and later, to get it signed by Monte Cook himself). If there is a house fire, Ptolus will be in my arms as I leave the building.

Day 24: Most Complicated RPG Owned

Pathinder is about as complicated as I get these days, and I tend to look at alternatives which are much lighter in complexity. I don’t mind complex, as long as it serves a purpose other than to be intentionally arcane. I came out of the era of THAC0 and Rolemaster, after all, so I am no stranger to convolutions in my gaming.

If you get a chance to look at them, the wide variety of critical hit charts for the original Rolemaster game are a work of art. Talk about detail for the sake of detail. These tables listed the effects of a variety of different major wounds sustained from an endless variety of weapons, monsters, and other misfortunes. I don’t know anyone, myself included, who actually used them all. I remember my group in junior high had a brief flirtation with them, as applied to our AD&D campaign. But it was a brief fling, as we had better things to do than roll on tables all the time.

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This brings us up to date, gentle reader. Starting Monday, expect a new RPGaDay post every day as we finish out the month.

RPGaDay Roundup, Part 2

The RPGaDay Roundup continues! If you’re just joing us, Part 1 is here. Let’s continue:

Day 13: Most Memorable Character Death

When I was in high school, I had a Paladin I had managed to get up to 16th level. I started that guy in junior high school, and at that time it was my longest running character.

For our younger gamers, a little history lesson: paladins were a rare breed back in 1st Edition D&D. You had to have multiple stats in the 17-18 range (one of which had to be Charisma), and you couldn’t just show up to a game with one already rolled up. You had to roll those dice in front of your GM to make sure you were on the level. I couldn’t believe my luck when I rolled the necessary scores, but there was no way I was going to let the chance pass. And thus, Sir Bennett was born.

Sir Bennett survived through every horror imaginable, including vampires, dragons, demons, and @%&$head DMs who just wanted to destroy a paladin. He was also the first character of mine who ever married; he met, was courted by, and wed a fighter in the party when they were both around 12th level. She later died and Sir Bennett, unable to save her, became a broken man for a while.

Sir Bennett died defending his keep from a marauding army of devils and undead which threatened to sweep across the land. He was victorious, earning the heroes death he truly deserved. As another first, we actually role-played out the reading of his Last Will & Testament (character Wills were the rage back then). Sir Bennett was allowed to return in ghostly form to render his bequests, and a great deal of fun was had, as I recall.

So raise a glass to brave Sir Bennett, a paladin just!

Day 14: Favourite Convention Purchase

It has become a tradition for me to visit the Chessex booth when I’m at Gen Con and purchase a mug of dice. If you don’t know, Chessex keeps a bin of assorted dice at its booth. You can pay a flat fee (this year it was $9) to scoop out a mug of dice from the bin. Mostly the bin is full of regular dice, but there is usually some of their odd or custom dice in there as well. I do it every year to restock my spare dice pool, and see what little oddities I can add to my growing collection. Pro Tip: if you do it, make sure to get your mug as close to the bottom as possible, that’s where the d4s and oddities usually hide.

Day 15: Favourite Convention Game

I will usually bring a few games with me to a con to play in the long line-ups, or when there is a spare chunk of time between scheduled events. So things like Zombie Dice or Cthulu Dice are my go to; they’re easy to teach, fast to play, and fit easily in a pocket of my bag.

If we actually have a chance to sit down at a table, and can take a bit of time, I like to pull out a game my friend Devon introduced me to called King of Tokyo. Has all of the qualities mentioned above, but requires a bit more of a set-up so it is not for all occasions. But it never fails to entertain, and I find it a great palette-cleanser between sessions of other, more intricate games.

Day 16: Game You Wish You Owned

Not so much a game as a game accessory, I deeply covet the Rise of the Runelords Deluxe Collector’s Edition. I’m currently GMing through the Rise of the Runelords AP with my regular Thursday night group, and I love everything about it. When Paizo first released the Adventure Path line, I though it was the smartest idea for a game accessory I had ever seen, and they’ve only improved upon the idea since.

But RotRL started it all, and the Collector’s Edition is ostentatiously gorgeous. Slap me with the Rune for Greed, I wants it so bad! Someday it will be mine, as a present to myself.

Day 17: Funniest Game You’ve Played

Hands down, this title goes to Tales from the Floating Vagabond from Avalon Hill, a perfect gem of a beer-and-pretzel game from my early gaming days. For many years I new the game only as a series of ads in The Dragon, but it hooked me with ad copy like: “Why is The Floating Vagabond like an anole? Sometimes it’s green, sometimes it’s brown, but it’s always a small Caribbean lizard.” I knew I had to play this game.

When I finally did, I wasn’t disappointed. The premise is pretty simple, as with most beer-and-pretzel games. The owner of the Floating Vagabond wanted to drum up business, so he installed a trans-dimensional gate in his door way which, for a few seconds, would randomly connect to a bar doorway somewhere else in the multi-verse. This transports any person walking through the door at that moment to the Vagabond, where he could sell the disoriented patron a drink or five.

What this means, of course, is that you can play anything. Any character you can dream up, who might want to get a drink at some point, can make an appearance in the game. The game does suggest some tropes to ease character creation. The game also uses Schticks to bring the fun and help flesh out your character. Schticks can include things like Never-ending Ammo, Errol Flynn Syndrome (you never enter a room through the door if another way is available, there will always be a rope to swing on), and one who’s name escapes me, but essentially meant that technology you don’t believe in doesn’t work around you (“Sir, I am a simple farmer from 14th century Sussex. Human flight is impossible!” *sounds of planes crashing all around*).

Maybe it had something to do with discovering the game around the time I discovered booze, but I loved this game. Ridiculous from start to finish, the game never takes itself seriously. It was one of the few beer-and-pretzel games I’d found which published modules. But with names like Cosmic Paternity Suit, Adventure with No Name, and Hypercad 54, Where Are You?, the modules never took themselves seriously either.

Tales from the Floating Vagabond was Kickstarted a little while back, and reached its funding goal. So I’m hopeful I’ll be able to lay my hands on a new version of the game very soon.

Day 18: Favourite Game System

Pathfinder RPG is still my favourite system these days. I know it, I’m comfortable in it, and I have a number of years of history with it. I don’t see it losing the top spot in the foreseeable future.

But a system I’m currently seeing on the side is the new Star Wars: Edge of the Empire game. Everything about the game mechanics supports playing a game with the feel and tone of Star Wars, which is something previous editions have missed for me. Also, the game doesn’t try to explain things which don’t need explanation; we don’t really care how computers work, for instance, so very little time is spent on that type of tech. And I’m a big fan of the custom dice used with the game. Yes, you’ll need to learn what the symbols mean, but once you do resolution becomes very quick and intuitive. I also think they were smart not to give us Jedi right out of the gate. As cool as they are, we know it’s the scoundrels which really make the Star Wars universe cool.

RPGaDay Roundup, Part 1

I had such great plans, gentle readers. I had intended to blog all through my trip to Gen Con, and every day of the con, and all the way back home. The capricious powers which oversee internet access, however, had other ideas. So today I am playing catch-up so I can go back to a post a day starting tomorrow.

In the interest of not casting wall of text, I have broken up my round-up into three manageable parts. Look for Parts 2 and 3 later today, but let’s jump into Part 1:

Day 7: Most “Intellectual” RPG Owned

Personally I consider every RPG I own to be intellectual, at least compared to many other types of games. But not all games are the same; I know Kobolds Ate My Baby does not occupy the same intellectual realm as, say, Dogs in the Vineyard.

Looking at the RPGs I currently own, I’d have to say Microscope stands out as particularly intellectual, though with a large helping of imagination and creativity thrown in. For those who have never played, Microscope is a cooperative history/world-building game, in which you work with the other players to weave the history and stories of your shared time period. It’s perfect for those evenings when you want something fun and rules light.

Day 8: Favourite Character

I’ve had several characters I’ve enjoyed playing over many, many years. But hands down my absolute favourite was my first Living Greyhawk character, Argent. Argent was a gnome bard who made his way from adventure to adventure atop his trusty riding dog Coda. Normally, a bard, never mind a gnome, would be considered a waste of space at most LG tables. But for some reason, no one in our area was playing clerics, which meant a dearth of healers. Suddenly Argent, with his cure light wounds (and later a wand of the same), was a friend to all. And I played it up; Argent was never afraid to get in the thick of things to heal other characters in combat, trusting in his abilities and the sure-footed Coda to carry him through. Always cheerful and charming regardless of the odds, other players came to love the little guy almost as much as I did. As a result, a character which could have had a very short life expectancy ended up reaching retirement age.

Favourite moment with Argent: Killing an erinyes with a jam tart. Okay, okay, more specifically: Argent cast uncontrollable laughter (the material component of which is a jam tart) on the poor flying devil, and she died from the fall. But hey, she died happy!

Day 9: Favourite Die/Dice Set

I have a lot of dice, so picking a favourite is hard. But I have a d4 which I made from a rock I found on a hike when I was twelve. In no way did

A battered reminder of good times.

A battered reminder of good times.

I carve this rock, it just happens to be in the almost perfect shape for a d4. I obviously don’t use it for gaming these days because there is no way it rolls true. But for a while, every magic-user I ever played got a lot of mileage out of magic missile with that die.

As for favourite set…whichever set I’m currently playing with is my favourite; if I’m using it it means I’m playing.

Day 10: Favourite Tie-in Novel/Game Fiction

My answers to this one are a little broader. My favourite tie in novels are Prince of Wolves, Master of Devils, Queen of Thorns, and King of Chaos, written by Dave Gross for the Pathfinder Tales line at Paizo. Each is set in a different region of Golarion, following the adventurers of Chelaxian noble and Pathfinder Varian Jaggere and his bodyguard Radovan. Dave has a knack for telling an engaging story while bringing his environment to life. None of the novels seem shoe-horned in to their region, instead they present a very natural and entertaining look at what makes each area special. Plus they’re just great adventure stories with interesting and layered characters. If you haven’t read them yet I highly recommend you pick them up. I also suggest subscribing to Dave’s website, you won’t be sorry.

For game fiction in general, I really like the entire run of short-fiction Paizo posts for free on there blog every Wednesday. Sometimes it’s a chapter preview from an upcoming novel in the Pathfinder Tales line. More often it’s a wonderful piece of short fiction, spread out over four posts. Again, I highly recommend checking it out.

Day 11: Weirdest RPG Owned

I don’t own anything truly weird at the moment, with the bulk of my collection given over to Pathfinder and the like. But once upon a time I owned a copy of an RPG, the name of which escapes me, that used the I Ching as its main resolution mechanic. Players, or player and GM, would cast their fortune, compare them, then after some discussion come to an agreement on which fortune trumped the other. I picked it up at a convention as someone’s home-brewed game system, and only played it once. The thing that made it especially weird was that the game had nothing to do with Chinese mythology other than the use of the I Ching. It was just a straight-up fantasy game. If anyone knows the game I’m talking about and can point me to it, I’d love to read it again.

 Day 12: Old RPG You Still Play/Read

Until fairly recently I was involved in an ongoing Boot Hill RPG play-by-email. Boot Hill was sort of a sleeper hit for TSR back in the day. While it never had the following D&D, Gamma World, or Star Frontiers had, it still had its devout players. And it was a tight little game which did what it advertised: let you role-play in the Old West. The rules were simple, game play was pretty smooth, and you could immerse yourself in the table-top version of a Spaghetti Western with relative ease. If you liked that genre, it was everything you could want. If you didn’t, you likely never knew it existed.

RPGaDay, Day 6: Favourite RPG I Never Get to Play

A game I desperately want to play but never have is Fiasco. I love caper/heist/crime movies full of lovable losers, where things don’t go so well, but somehow they pull through. Or don’t, that’s part of the fun. But I’ve wanted to play this game since I first heard about it. That feeling intensified when Wil Wheaton played it over three amazing episodes of Tabletop (Setup) (Part 1) (Part 2). Watch them and you’ll get it. Also, Alison Haislip’s ‘dead eyes’ will haunt my dreams.

I don’t even have a real excuse for not playing it yet. My friend Scott is willing to run the game at the drop of a hat. He’s got every Fiasco setting book ever printed (or damn near), and I know we have friends to play with us because they’ve already run through it with him. There’s even a Fiasco scenario set at Gen Con! Everything and everyone is conspiring to make it clear I should play this game.

So it will happen. I’ll nail down a night in mine and Scott’s busy schedules, and we’ll get this played. After all, besides real life, when am I going to get a better chance to play the lovable loser?

What game haven’t you played, that you want to? Drop me a note in the comments.

RPGaDay, Day 5: Most Old School RPG Owned

I’ve culled a lot of my collection over the past few years, but I’ve kept a few things which mean a lot to me. One of those is a copy of Metamorphosis Alpha, an early TSR sci-fi game. If it came out now, it would certainly fall in the beer-and-pretzels category of role-playing games; light, easy to get in to, and packed with fun.

The premise was simple: You are all passengers on the colony ship Warden. The ship has been struck by radiation, mutating you and your fellow passengers into horrid creatures. Worse, you no longer remember how to use much of the technology around you. Now, survive!

Did it make for many long-term campaigns? No. But we lost many an evening playing out the misadventures of our irradiated colonists. Through the haze of time I can’t think of a single moment that stands out, other than the good times spent. But that’s okay, the good times were enough. And I still pull interesting ideas and hooks from the game, even now.  So that was $6 well spent.

What’s your oldest game? Share in the comments!