Public Gaming

When I was in my youth we used to game in a study room of our public library. Then I didn’t think anything of it, although now It would never occur to me. Perhaps that’s because I have a private apartment now, free of judging parents or a pesky sister.

A few months ago we played a post-PAX East d&d game at a bar in Cambridge. The well-themed Celtic pub made a great environment for gaming, and the staff and nearby patrons were between amused to intrigued, but not disparaging. We had a good time, even if it was loud and alcohol fueled. Also we didn’t get through the adventure, but it was a good time. And playing out in the open, moved my gamer shame token down one notch on the track.

Tonight, instead of gaming we returned there just to hang out and geek out (without props)… well we did get a game of Pandemic in (and lost). Sometimes it’s good to get a little fresh air.

Where have you gamed in public? And I mean in a non gamey context. Cons don’t count.

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What’s In Your Wallet?

Recently a friend shared a story where he tried to explain 3.5 after playing 4e for awhile. I don’t remember the exact quote, but he was describing how armor weight interplays with other gear weight (in non-linear fashion) when determining encumbrance for determining armor check penalty and speed penalties. Encumbrance is something I’ve generally always played without. My house rule is generally: everything can fit into the backpack, but nothing unusually large or heavy (doors, statuary, ladders, bodies, etc).

The advantage of an abstracted inventory is that it takes away tedious bookkeeping. Also by having a vast arsenal of items on hand, it makes it possible to MacGuyver up some interesting solutions to puzzles and other situations. The downside is that it takes away some of the challenge and a lot of the realism. But D&D is supposed to be heroic, not realistic… so I guess that’s kinda moot.

Besides the size and weight there’s also an issue of location. Obviously the equipped items are filling up some slot on the body, but everything else? Is it in a belt pouch, pockets, backpack, saddlebags, chest strapped to the pack horse? Normally an item’s location doesn’t make a difference; it’s always just a minor action away from my character’s hands.

But what about if an enemy wants to steal or attack an item? Called shots, sundering, and pickepocketing are out of the rules in 4e so I guess it’s pretty much at DM’s discretion. This is good for an enterprising player that wants to lift a key out of a guard’s pocket, but bad if the DM turns around and has an enemy ritual your sword right out of your hand!

To that end, even though I don’t fastidiously record the weights and locations of everything, I like to have a general sketch of where all my character’s items are, even if there is probably more than is reasonable in the backpack. That way if my DM is feeling evil, I can at least make a case for saying something is hard for an opponent to get at.

Photo courtesy of kevindooley on flickr.

Capturing Villains

Sorry for the late post this week. I was out on Isle Royale with no phone or internet service. Hopefully I’ll have some good gaming stories for that soon.

In my game, we joke that the party is basically a murdering machine… we roam the countryside and massacre evil-doers. In the real world, vigilantes can’t just go around executing people. Even in movies and books, there are generally few lethal fights. Sometimes the bad guys go scurrying off, permanently defeated. Othertimes the villains are tied up and left for the nearby and incorruptible authorities to pick up.

When my group feels sympathetic towards the last standing enemy, instead of killing him, we tend to make them forswear villainy and set them up to be a reformed community member. But generally we choose to kill him to save the hassle.

What I want to try is next time we know we’re going after the bad guys, is to notify the good and trustworthy constable so we have backup to arrest and cart away the bad guys after we’re done. That way we can be heroic without having to deal with the logistics of prisoners.

We actually did this once during Keep On The Shadowfell and it worked out pretty well, although I think the DM was annoyed that we brought along a half dozen NPCs into the dungeon.

Another neat thing would be to create an item or ritual that we can use on defeat bad guys to transport them directly to our campaign’s Azkaban or Arkham Asylum. We don’t know about such a place yet, but it sounds like a great adventure location.

Sword Fightin’ In Style

One aspect of Robert Jordan’s mega Wheel of Time series that I enjoy is its description of dueling, or “dancing the forms” as he calls sword-fighting is called.  A lot of attention is paid in these novels to a blademaster’s maneuvers: each combination of swing and footwork has a fantastical name that evokes an animal and its environment with names like “wind follows the loon” or “heron in the rushes”.  In Jordan’s world, a blade master has learned hundreds of special forms and knows when to use a particular one to counter his opponent’s.

In 4th edition there is a lack of a  a good blade-master class. It’s absence makes me miss the old class kits from 2e, although those were usually associated with the Fighter. In 4th Edition, a Defender Fighter is built to soak up damage: a sword & board type of warrior. I think that my desired type of  sword-master would be more of a striker, like a two weapon ranger, except specializing in one type of sword. The big difference between my vision and what is available is the lack of specialized powers that represent the sword master moves. Martial Power 2 comes close with Combat Styles, although that seems more like different Eastern fighting schools than special individual forms.

Although I probably wouldn’t opt for it in my own games due to the time issues at the table, it would be neat to see some kind of system for more expressive combat: sword forms and dueling. For instance, if an opponent were to attack with a “Fox stalks the Seagull” maneuver, it would be nice to have a list of counter moves to choose from. I don’t know if you’ve played Monkey Island with its unique fight by insulting mechanic, but basically you get a list of responses to given attack and have to choose the most appropriate one. I think I would give that kind of mechanic a go to see how it feels.

Are there any 4e powers or combat variations that put the strategy into individual swings of the sword, rather than the move/damage type strategy of the standard powers?

Deepest, Darkest Fears

Sarah Darkmagic just got back from Gen Con with a crate of swag.  When your DM gets new material, it is an occasion of concern for any player. This event combined dangerously with a simple innocuous email she sent out my fellow players: “Can you please send me your characters worst nightmares?” Now I’m suspicious about what she has planned. My guess is our campaign is headed for some sort of abyssal/madness encounters with sanity-eating monsters. Or maybe just some heavy shadowfell and fear themes. Or maybe these questions are just about adding depth to characters. (Yeah, I don’t buy it either).

This question isn’t one I’ve previously answered for my character. There are two interpretations of “worst nightmare” that could answer her question; its usefulness depending on which direction the campaign is going. The first is a literal nightmare. I’m talking about scary dreams that might involve being chased, falling, being trapped, etc. Nightmares tend to have common themes for people, but vary in specifics. In particular it’s common for fantasy characters to have reoccurring nightmares. These can vary from being chased and captured by a blue dragon out in the Misty Mountains, or seeing your homeland ravaged by savage orcs.

Since my character is a Tiefling, I imagine his nightmare are more demonic in nature. He probably dreams of being captured and tortured by Dispater for not being evil enough and failing to terrorize the material plane.

A more colloquial interpretation of “worst nightmare” is an intellectual fear. These could be being trapped in an elevator with an annoying coworker, being asked to campaign for a political rival, or having your spouse find out you’ve been lying about your identity all this time. These aren’t nightmares per se, but this kind of very personalized anxiety can be just as powerful in a role playing situation.

My character is a Psion and his identity and source of power comes from his incredible intelligence and telepathic abilities. Being stripped of his mental faculties is a big fear of his, and he’d probably turn tail and flee from a mind flayer when he might stand up to a powerful dragon or devil. He’s also a little egotistical so a worse fate than being rendered stupid (which he might then be too dumb to realize) is being treated as if he were. A big irrational fear of his is being trapped by some kind of playground conspiracy where everyone pretends like he’s an idiot and won’t admit to it. That’d drive anyone nuts.

Fears may not be a traditional aspect of character generation, but a good one to think about when fleshing out a well-developed person to be your PC. Any good suggestions for nightmares for my Tiefling Psion or for your own characters?

Catching Up on Gen Con

Like many people, I didn’t get to go to Gen Con this year. Thankfully there are a number of podcasts that have recorded interviews or whole panel sessions and have posted them for free on their sites. After listening to a bunch, I feel like I was there (at least, in a small part) even if I didn’t get to play or buy any games. Here are my recommendations if you want to catch up through podcasts.

  • The Official Dungeons and Dragons podcast. These guys have recording from their big panel sessions, which is basically like a State of the Union for D&D along with their future plans. The official podcasts seem to have the best audio clarity of these sessions, which is a big plus.
  • Fear the Boot. The guys from this podcast created a series of 3-6 minute videos from the con and social activities outside the main events. My favorite is Chad’s walk through the dealer halls, even if it is mostly his beard.
  • Atomic Array. These Ennie-award winning guys put out a bunch of ~30 min podcasts with 3-4 interviews each episode. The sound quality is pretty good and the interviews interesting with a good dose of familiarity between the hosts and interviewiees.
  • Tome Show. Jeff did a great job getting his panel recordings out while the con was still going on. Unfortunately the sounds quality is not great so go with the official D&D podcasts if they cover the same talks.

Any other good sources of live-recorded Gen Con goodness? For those who were at the con, how do these compare to the experience of being there?

[Your Advice] No Game? Problem.

My group missed its game tonight, bringing down our average this summer to less than 1 game per 3 weeks. I would love to keep gaming week after week but real life keeps getting in the way. My younger self believed that we could keep the gang together by getting together for a game, movie, or have a guest DM.

The problem we’ve had with the guest DM situation is that it takes time to prep a game. I’ve had a backup adventure in the back of my head for a few months. Unfortunately it’s not fleshed out enough to deliver on a few days notice. It also doesn’t want to fit into one night of gaming, making hard to do it for a one-shot. Even if I ran an encounter straight out of a module, it still takes time to read through the adventure, and pick out maps, minis, tokens, etc. In additions I like to prep monster cards and take some notes to let the game go smoothly. Even if someone was able to run a game completely off-the-cuff, if we’re down one or two players, it’s tough to run any adventure. And if we’re down our hosts then there are logistical and cleaning issues in the way of getting together elsewhere.

And if we wanted to punt on the game and just get together, we have to fight inertia and being tired after a whole day of work…

What do you do to keep going and keep momentum up? If your game gets canceled how do you spend your free evening? For myself, I’m blogging and reading some Robert Jordan, but somehow it’s not scratching that itch tonight…