Gamma World

Hi all! I don’t know how many people are still following me, but if you are, you’re awesome! I’ve been on a gaming hiatus, which turns out it meant that I was on a blogging hiatus as well. Fortunately I finally got some D&D on after a four month break. This past weekend I got to play at little Gamma World, run by my friend and fellow blogger @gamefiend.

If you’ve been under a rock the past few months as I have, Gamma World is the mutant, post-apocalyptic, very weird world of D&D. Rumor has it that it’s been around for quite a long time, but I hadn’t heard of it before it’s current incarnation was announced. The new edition is based on the D&D 4e rules, so jumping in to the game play was straightforward, although the characters are anything but familiar. Instead of the standard race/class combos you get randomly assigned two aspects (although you can probably choose two specific ones). I pulled “Rat Swarm” and “Electrokinetic”. You’re encouraged to develop how those aspects physically manifest themselves. Since “rat swarm” is just the generic name for any kind of swarm, I made my character an anthropomorphic swarm of sentient batteries. The other characters were some kind of radioactive android and a doppleganger. The monsters we faced were violent pig-men, radioactive birds, and gangster cockroaches. From my understanding, this craziness is pretty typical of the setting.

In addition to our random characters, we were randomly assigned Omegas which are scavanged tech items (in this world tech is rare and powerful), which seem to fill the spot of magic items. We also each got an Alpha power, which is a powerful one-use power. When you roll a 1 or when the encounter ends, you get a new Alpha. These represent powers your character has in different parallel universes, and receiving a new one represents that alternate universe crossing to the this one (or maybe it’s the character that is shifting, it wasn’t too clear).

Overall the power levels seem pretty amped up over regular D&D 4e, as we barely survived each encounter. Monsters could kill in or two hits and could out some pretty nasty effects, even at first level. I attribute our party’s survival to my character’s insane near-invincibility due to the combination of tech items, armor, high dex, and swarm resistances.

Overall I enjoyed the experience, but I don’t think I will go out of my way to play this game again. The theme doesn’t really do much for me. I think it’s because the whole setting feels too alien to be relatable. I wasn’t able to get into my character’s head; I couldn’t come up with goals and motivations or even a personality. Most of the species in this world seem to be mutant animals or machines, and it’s hard for me to see why they would be anything other than violent, impulsive monsters, let alone go adventuring. The other issue I have with the setting is the same one I have with Dark Sun, it seems to bleak to be worth saving. Maybe I have too many years of high fantasy to thank for that.

However there are lot of things I do like about the system. The random rolling for scores and gear reminded me of old school D&D. In particular you get a 18 and 16 to put into the primary and secondary skill, and the rest are done by 3d6, no choosing, no rolling a 4th die and dropping the lowest. It’s been a few years since I last had a character with a 7 in any stat. The random mundane starting items encourage creative thinking. It’s amazing how useful a flashlight, a gun, and a canoe can be when that’s all you have and you’re up against a giant cockroach gang. Also the constant churn of random abilities and tech give license to try new and interesting things in an encounter, and the lethality of the world forces you to “play big or go home.”

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.

Playing with strangers

Although I don’t think of my regular group as strangers, I did meet them all through my regular game. But in the last month I’ve played in six different games with people I had never met before. Thankfully the people were all cool, friendly, and well adjusted. In fact, this past weekend I played in a game run by @gamefiend (of the popular At Will blog) and I had only met him two weeks ago while playing Pandemic!

There are a lot of advantages to playing with new people. I’ve learned new techniques for role-playing, tips for running characters, cool race/class/power combos, and I have better understanding of the rules from gaming through unfamiliar scenarios. I also go to make contacts in the game industry and met others bloggers that have already helped me out. Gaming with an unfamiliar group is a like skill challenge: it’s work xp if you succeed, and if it fails, maybe you get into a fight, but noone dies.

I find there is always risk and fear when meeting new people. I have not always clicked with a random group. In my experience this happens when there is a big disparity in age between yourself and the other players. It’s also tough when the other people already all know each other–it takes awhile to become part of an established group, and you won’t have that time if it’s a one-shot. Fortunately, this is a whole lot better than dating: first of all you already have something in common (D&D), and secondly, there’s no fear of “gamer shame” (that tingle of embarrassment some people have when telling non-gamers about their hobby).

In conclusion, I don’t have a lot of advice about how to meet new people game with (conventions, gamedays, the friendly local professional game store, the internet), but I highly suggest that you do. It’s a great way to learn new aspects of the hobby and make new friends.

PAX East 2010 Report

Wow… I’m starting to finally recover from nearly 4 straight days of gaming. I have to say that PAX East was awesome. I got to play a ton of board games, video games and of course Dungeons and Dragons. I also had a lot of access to Wizards of the Coast folk to ask questions and bring up some issues. I also had a chance to DM the Dark Sun preview adventure. There was a lot of fun to be had and I highly recommend PAX (and PAX East) as destinations for RPG players. I met a lot of great people that I hope will be long-term gaming friends, but also unfortunately I met a few D&D Jerks (I didn’t know they existed). In the five adventures I played in I came across a whole slew of situations that will make great posts: effective use of skill actions in combat, dealing with bad players and dms, dark sun, organized play, PHB3, the DM’s challenge, upcoming D&D products (like the Player’s Strategy Guide), effective use of encounters and power designs, etc etc…

Highlights
The people. I got to  meet lots of great people: including some awesome gamers from as far away as Portland and Canada. I don’t want to brag and name drop, but so far two the people I’ve gamed with Phill, the Chatty DM (who lived up to his moniker), and Sarah Darkmagic (my regular DM) have written up their experiences so check those out. I also got to meet a lot of local gamers, and I hope to seem around FLGSs and future cons in the area. In addition to famous and/or industry people, there were lots of gamers playing every kind of game in every corner of the convention center. From people like this guy: Lots of fun for all.

The Games. In addition to D&D, I got to play tons of board games, including the new Mystery Express from Days of Wonder, some Magic with the promo decks in the swag bag, got to meet some Interactive Fiction people, see lots of upcoming video games, including Prince of Persia and Civilization V. There were even meta games for the convention, and games for waiting in line (of which there was a lot of).There were also console games, computer games, and classic console and arcade games! I even got meet Luke Crane of Burning Wheel. Must play Mouseguard sometime before the year is out…

The Keynote and Panels. Wil Wheaton brought his A game (along with Pandemic, D&D, and Dragon Age), and really managed to speak to all the generations of gamers there. In addition to Wil, there were a lot of concerts and game industry panels. I didn’t get to many of them, either because the rooms filled up or I was busy gaming elsewhere.

D&D Activities

  • In addition to some unofficial side gaming, Wizards had a big booth in the Expo Hall with “live D&D” which allowed six people to take on six simplified characters and attack a single monster rolling real d20s. It was a fun, especially considering the whole experience with waiting on line was less than 10 minutes.
  • Learn to play d&d: I did not participate in this activity since I already know how to play, but this like all the organized activities “sold out” really quickly, and the people seemed to have a lot of fun.
  • Dark Sun: On Saturday I played the dark sun adventure. I was surprised by how young the other players in my group were and that they haven’t been playing very long. It was a weird switch for me. They seemed to have fun, although I think they were pretty distracted by the time last encounter came around after about 2.5 hours. It didn’t help that the DM was really bad. Thankfully for the group I DM’d the adventure on Sunday I learned a lot from his mistakes. I think my group had a lot of fun as well, and I hope I brought Athas to life for them. Although I’ve DM’d tons before, it was the first for me since 4e came out, and I was glad WotC was short-staffed enough for me to get the opportunity. I hope I’ll get more soon. I’ll blog a bunch about that experience soon.
  • Undermountain delve: This was another event that I did not get to participate in, but it looked pretty cool. Also I think there were prizes for the participants.
  • DM Challenge: There was a poorly advertised contest for DMs to come up with a short adventure based on the Underdark book. About 9 DMs participated in this, including our own Sarah Darkmagic. For me, the adventure started off really fun with a nice dynamic encounter, but our DM kept us there until well after 12:30 when the contest was supposed to only go until 11pm (although most were still going on at 12). He had a wonderful scenario set up and it was the first time I ever saw a complete set of minis where the actual minis represented the monster it was supposed to be. Unfortunately the adventure was one encounter too long and the big boss fight was too complex to deal with at that hour. Here is a picture of Dave the Game’s winning final encounter:
    Dave the Game at PAX East DM challenege
  • Save My Game Panel: The WotC hosts held a live session of save my game. Once again the differences between 4e and 3/3.5 became apparent by the types of questions that were asked depending on which edition was being played. I particularly liked that the panelists also let community members answer questions, and that there were lots of nodding heads along with the points I agreed with. I think this format would be great online as some kind of scheduled and mediated forum. Sort of like newbie DM’s new minicasts, but where anyone can answer. I’m looking at you @trevor_wotc.

It was nice that I got to sample a whole variety of games. I would have liked more time for card and board games, and to have a had the patience to wait in line to get signatures and meet more geekleberties.

Check out my pax pictures on flickr.

Getting Con’d

When I was a kid, I saw ads for GenCon in Dragon magazine and wished I could go. I never understood why my parents wouldn’t let me go by myself to Wisconsin for a convention. But now that I’m adult, I should, in theory be able to go a gaming convention. Unfortunately travel and vacation is not free, and most of the conventions that I’ve heard of happen in the midwest: Gencon, Origins, Fear the Con, D&D Experience, etc.  Until I started getting involved with RPG blogs and podcast last year I thought there weren’t any in New England. But I guess it’s con season here now.

I missed TempleCon and Unity Games last weekend, and I don’t think I can afford Boskone this weekend, but I hope to make it to TempleCon next weekend and I already have tickets for Pax East. As a con newbie, I’m looking for advice from the crowd. What should I look forward to? Am I better off looking for a d&d game or pickup games of Magic and board games? What should I avoid? Have people run games at a Con? I think it might be fun to try someday, especially with one the many game systems I own books for but are unlikely to play with my regular group.

And if anyone is the New England area, what other cons should I be looking forward to, and is anyone going to them?