Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Weekly Assembly: End of the Beginning Edition

We made it to the end of the year more or less intact. I think that’s worth celebrating. It’s been a crazy startup year here at The Gamer Assembly, and we feel like there’s so much more for us to do and get involved in. Keep an eye out for some of our upcoming projects: a post-apocalyptic mini-setting in January, and the Campaign Season Military Blogfest in February.

Thank you for giving the new blog on the block a look, and we’ll see you in 2012!

At Home

Articles posted here on The Gamer Assembly.

  • January’s theme at The Gamer Assembly is The Beginning of the End, in honor of the end of the Mayan calendar cycle.

Away

Content from people involved with The Gamer Assembly posted elsewhere across the Internet.

  • Check out the entries in Got Loot – The Festive Blogfest! Everything from detailing gems, to the nature of loot, to the Antiquity Seeker character theme, to magic items made from the bones of Orcus are available for your perusal.
  • The 3 Types of Loot by T.W.Wombat saves prep time by categorizing treasure from the party’s perspective. Written for both the Got Loot Festive Blogfest and the Schrödinger’s Gun GMing series of articles.
  • Got Loot: Wichtrift by Chris Jackson presents a mid-heroic special item which causes full damage to insubstantial enemies, but passes through corporeal enemies as if they were not there. An entry for the Got Loot Blogfest.

Notes From Abroad

Other interesting articles and cool links.

  • Secret Santicore 2011 over at Giblet Blizzard offers 104 pages of OSR gaming goodness for the holidays. Download a PDF chock full of adventures, random tables, encounters, items, and much more all for the insanely low price of absolutely free.
  • Player vs. Player by Chris Perkins at Wizards of the Coast sings the praises of setting up character vs. character situations. He admits that player vs. player is “a deliberate misnomer”, but the idea of intra-party conflict for the sake of story has worked for me in the past.
  • Daniel Solis muses on Louis CK’s success with the Direct-to-Fan Window and proves that he makes a mean Venn Diagram. Really interesting insight into Daniel’s success with Happy Birthday, Robot! and Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

MetaRoundup

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Adventures Should Die

'CatacombsOfTheWizard' by orkboi on Flickr

'CatacombsOfTheWizard' by orkboi on Flickr

I’ve been reading campaign reports from very early D&D and Tèkumel campaigns. Boy did they focus on dungeon crawling. Sure, the player-characters were more than attack/defense scores, but gameplay centered on descents into old, underground areas that the GM had already mapped out (or generated randomly).

There’s a reason that the term is Dungeon Master.

That’s why so many people who started writing for RPGs started with adventures. They wanted more dungeons (or temples, or what-have-you) to explore. Even today, that’s how most folks start: with an adventure.

But adventures are not the future.

If D&D (particularly classic D&D) makes up the bulk of your RPG experience, adventures are common and useful. But once you’ve played Star Wars games and superhero games and Cthulhu games and hard science fiction games, exploring another set of dusty stone corridors and rooms to slug at monsters soon feels limiting (as exciting and fun as it can be).

Players now want agency. They want to be true investigators, Jedi, Batman; not hired hands told to extract idol #5 from dungeon #38.

Is there a place for adventures? Absolutely. New GMs need them, and experienced GMs with little time need them.

However, there are already plenty of free adventures out there (here are 83 for D&D 4E). While there’s nothing wrong with writing one or two, especially for your own experience, how many do we need?

Adventures aren’t the future. Settings, scenarios, and mechanics are the future. As useful as an adventure can be as a platform, we need to move beyond it.

This is fantasy. Almost anything is possible, given the appropriate constraints–and we can define the constraints.

We don’t need more medieval European geegaws. We don’t need more ways to be Conan or Elric.

I want to play in worlds inspired by The Wheel of Time and Dune and Ringworld and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. (And to those of you poised to type “There already is an RPG for The Wheel of Time,” re-read what I just wrote.) I want to see those ideas spun off and incorporated into new worlds. I want to see Aes Sedai and Bene Tleilaxu and Pierson’s Puppeteers in other settings.

This is not variety for variety’s sake. If this hobby is about white guys in armor beating up vaguely European monsters, it’s going to appeal mostly to white, European guys. If we want this hobby to expand and be more fun and interesting, we need it to expand. Expansion doesn’t mean yet another tomb to explore; it means new ideas and worlds, and ways to interact with those worlds. It needs settings, scenarios, and mechanics.

Let adventures die. Let’s look up to new horizons and new universes.

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Filed under Miscellaneous

Our Fondest Gamer Memories

Gaming inspires. So, what inspired us?

Over the month of December 2011, the members of the Gamer Assembly wrote about their fondest memories as gamers. Here they are:

'Hero Game' by 8one6 on Flickr

'Hero Game' by 8one6 on Flickr

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Filed under Gamer Memories

The Weekly Assembly: The Memorable Improv GM-mas Eve Eve Edition

At Home

Articles posted here on The Gamer Assembly.

  • December’s theme at The Gamer Assembly is Favorite Gaming Memories. We’ve got a few this week.
  • On Stack Exchange and Scholarly RPG Papers exposes a couple of treatises on RPGs. One dissects character creation, and the other uses the four basic D&D classes as archetypical approaches to interpreting RPG rules.

Away

Content from people involved with The Gamer Assembly posted elsewhere across the Internet.

  • Got Loot – The Festive Blogfest starts Saturday 24 December 2011! Come join the community to blog about loot during the last week of the year! Open to all, with guest blogger space still available!
  • Meanwhile, Brent Newhall insists that Castles Were Decoration, explaining the historical realities of castles, and what that means for role-playing campaigns (hint: they’re much more interesting).
  • Brent Newhall writes about his experiences running Everyone Is John, a rules-light story-driven game where each player is a voice inside the head of a totally insane man named John from Minneapolis.

Notes From Abroad

All other interesting articles and cool links.

  • Fantasy Armor and Lady Bits gives us an armorer’s perspective on balancing utility and femininity to avoid the fantasy trap of pointless armor for women. Cheesecake Armor Bonus, beware; your days are numbered.
  • And since it’s December Twenty-Third, I’d like to wish everyone a happy Christmas Eve Eve (YouTube Link). The song is also available free from the creators right through here, complete with bonus creepy cat. Thanks to Paul & Storm for plagiarizing this song from writing this song in the style of They Might Be Giants.

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On Stack Exchange and Scholarly RPG Papers

For those of you looking for a great Q&A site across a wide variety of topics, try Stack Exchange. For those of you looking for a great Q&A site specifically about Role Playing Games, take a look at Stack Exchange’s RPG site (RPG.SE for short). I’ve been a member since March, but other demands on my time have diverted my attention lately. No matter when I visit, I always find at least one interesting question posted, and some of the discussions give me a very different perspective on the gaming community.

One of the most highly-rated contributors to RPG.SE is named Brian Ballsun-Stanton - take a look at his site to find out more about him. He’s a PhD student from Sydney, Australia studying the philosophy of data, database design, and human computer interaction. Come to find out, he’s written a couple of papers about role playing games that I can only describe as scholarly. Compared to a blogging hack like myself, these papers smack of academic rigor and scientific method, and they bring up some great ideas for discussion. These papers will take some time to read – they’re not one-page blog material by any stretch. If you’re interested in his other research papers, visit his profile on Mendeley.

Clerics, Magic Users, Fighters and Thieves : Theoretical Approaches to Rules Questions on the Role-Playing Games Stack Exchange (171K PDF) - Brian posits that the four traditional D&D classes translate to archetypical approaches to the rules themselves, and analyzes some of the answers on RPG.SE in light of these archetypes. For instance, Clerics (which Brian dubs Jurists) will look for answers to rules questions within the rules as a more or less closed system, while Fighters (Realists) will look to the real world for answers and apply that realism to the rules.

Constrained Optimization in Dungeons and Dragons : A Theory of Requirements Generation for Effective Character Creation (152K PDF) - This paper focuses on character creation. Brian breaks down characters into a series of underlying criteria, each of which can be plotted on its own axis. These axes imply different things under different rules systems. If you want a character with high Durability, you’ll lean toward fighters in D&D but spend more points on Body and Defenses in Hero, for example.

Feedback and opinions on these are welcomed. If you’d like to leave a comment, we’ll make sure Brian receives it.

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Gaming Memories: No Limits and Spectacular Failure

Ever since PAXEast came along in Boston, I’ve been looking forward to it each year. Especially after last year, when I devoted most of my time to the Wizards of the Coast gaming area. Now I love my regular gaming group. We meet every couple of weeks and it’s a ton of fun. However, I really love playing with new gamers and people who haven’t gamed in a long time. There’s an excitement there that’s contagious when players realize or remember why this game is so fun. I’ve seen it not just at PAXEast but at Game Day events or when introducing the lone new person the game. Two things seem to alight this realization more than others. The idea that you can try anything and the idea that failing can be fun.One of the modules I ran for WotC at PAXEast was Learn to Play. If you have time at your next con I suggest running a few of these. Few people are more enthusiastic to play then the people who wait in line just to learn. The good folks at WotC gave us some kick solid advice. “Tell them to a roll a d20 and get them to have fun.” I’m paraphrasing, of course, but it really is the core of the game, and it helps to think of it that way.

Players, even experienced players, can get distracted or overwhelmed by their character sheets. Getting players to ignore the sheets really helps showcase what makes tabletop games different than video games. There are no limits to what you can try. You’ll never hit the invisible wall because the designer didn’t script the rest of the street, because you have the DM to continue on with you.

I had two groups move through a small dungeon to eventually face a young white dragon. Both groups got to the dragon in different ways, and both approached it differently. Both groups also had their smiles spread wide when facing this iconic foe and experimenting with the limits of the game.

The first group fought the dragon. They got the dragon between two rooms and flanked it the best that they could. Their health faltered and the dragon seemed no worse for wear, until the rogue got an idea. “Can I back flip onto the dragon?” he asked me. “You can try, but its would be a very difficult check to make.” A look of worry. “However, it would probably be pretty awesome.”

So the rogue went for it, flipping several feet down the hallway and then flinging himself into the air. His acrobatics check was particularly low. The dragon jerked his neck, the rogue slipped, and he fell belly side up in front of the dragon’s maw. They loved it, and the rogue even offered to spend his action point to try to get in an attack as he was falling, which of course I allowed. The party was looking pretty bleak when time ran out. I used a smile face die to epilogue each party member, with the players helping to interpret what each face meant.

The second party found the dragon all together, and it was quite the surprise. He was sleeping. They woke him. Someone had a feeling that this was bad news so they started lying. I don’t remember all the details but it was hilarious. They took a wrong turn, they were just leaving, they all just simply love white. They kept built off how the dragon reacted to each one and it just kept getting more elaborate. Then they ran. Their first instinct was that they lost. After all, they had not defeated the dragon. I corrected them. They had not lost, they simply failed to kill the dragon. They succeeded in living, with treasure no less! I retold the fate of the previous party and they felt pretty good. They got it. They won. They went into an encounter where they had assumed dragon death was the only path to success. That would have been the goal in a video game. Then they decided how they would win. I like those smiles of realization.

I can’t wait for Learn to Play next year.

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Filed under D&D 4E, Gamer Memories