Category Archives: Gamer Memories

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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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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The start of a long road of gaming…

I can remember my first experience of Dungeons and Dragons. It was a Sunday afternoon, in June of 1991, not long after my eleventh birthday. My brother had finished his mock exams, and was sat in his bedroom, door closed, with his 3 best friends playing the Isle of Dread adventure from the Expert box. And I wanted to be in that room…

I didn’t even want to be playing D&D. I wanted to be in that room because that’s where our Sega Megadrive was, and I wanted to play Sonic the Hedgehog. I knocked, I screamed, I pleaded, and eventually I was so much of an annoyance that I was allowed in order to shut me up.

I sat there, bored out of my brain as my brother described along with his friends, how they we’re cutting through the jungle vines with their short swords, in order to find out where the hideous smell was coming from. Eventually they stumbled upon a cave opening and came face to face with a bunch of spiny two legged creatures whose skin was oily and blended into the stone of the cave.

When they broke to have a drink of coke, a rare treat in my parents household, I looked over the bright orange booklet, admiring it’s T-Rex on the cover, and then getting really confused by the mass of black text inside the book. Where was all the cool stuff about my brother having to pick his way past slimy stalagmites while spears whizzed overhead? It was only after the game was finished that my brother explained that it was all made up based on what they described.

I sat in other games, and started to offer suggestion, and that annoyed them just as much as my original pestering to join them. As such, my brother convinced my parents to get me the Basic D&D starter set: Escape from Zanzer Tem’s Dungeon, and once I got the hang of it, the Rules Cyclopedia.

The rest, as they say, is history… :)

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My Act of Wizardly Cowardice

My favourite gaming moment comes from my favourite D&D session. Session 10 of the main 4E campaign I have been in. We had started out as strangers, but by session 10 we were friends, familiar enough with the rules that we could just get on with the game and familiar enough with each other that we were much more relaxed.

Party:

  • Human wizard named Grunnarch (me)
  • Dwarven Fighter named Hal (my wife)
  • Half-elf Cleric of Melora named Jess
  • Elven Ranger named Booth

Upon entering a hamlet, the gang heard someone playing the Fiddle with far more enthusiasm than skill. As they came to the centre of the few buildings that remained, they saw a beautiful tree with eight slightly decomposing people  dancing around it. One of the dancers wore a plucked turkey on his head. The fiddler was standing near them.

Sensing no immediate threat, Jess led Hal and Grunnarch towards the tavern. Booth strode towards the dancers to see if he recognised any of them. Just as Grunnarch was walking through the door he noticed that Booth’s feet were moving in time with the music. Grunnarch pointed out to Jess and Hal that Booth was starting to feel the effects of the dreadful music and they agreed that Booth was in danger and the Fiddler needed to be killed.

A fight ensued. Booth shot people twice in the face, Hal kept getting surrounded by zombies, and Jess was revelling in turning undead. Grunnarch did his usual trick of standing at the back, pinging off spells, but unfortunately a zombie decided to go for him and he ended up toe to toe. Grunnarch kept retreating towards the tavern door and suddenly had an idea. He decided the best thing to do was to go through the tavern door, lock it behind him and come out of one of the other doors he could see, he could then blast the zombie from afar.

Grunnarch stepped through the door and put the bar down to lock it. A smug grin appeared over his face as his beautiful plan was in motion. Outside, the fighting continued. Grunnarch opened a door which he assumed would lead into a room containing another external door. The room was the main part of the tavern, with tables, chairs, a bar and zombies. Grunnarch quickly (and quietly) shut the door and stood in the corridor wondering what to do next. He was worried that he couldn’t go back out of the door he had used to come into the building as the zombie would still be there. He decided to wait for the others to come and get him.

Unbeknownst to Grunnarch, the fight outside had finished. The rest of the group healed some villagers and explored the rest of the buildings.

…Grunnarch sat on the floor waiting. A bug crawled across his arm. He killed it. I considered this an encounter.

Jess, Hal and Booth managed to find some more zombies to fight in a distant building.

…By now, Grunnarch was getting worried. He couldn’t hear anything outside, but the door was thick. He decided to set a Magic Mouth ritual in the wall opposite the entrance he’d come through, which would relay a message (which I wrote on a note and gave to the DM) for the gang when Jess was standing in the entrance.

After defeating more zombies, the trio decided that they had better see what Grunnarch was up to. Jess strode up to the door that Grunnarch had disappeared through and tried to open the door. It was locked. A very brief conversation ensued about whether to break the door down, but the trio were reluctant to attract attention. They went through the other door, into the bar part of the tavern. All of the zombies that Grunnarch had seen were in exactly the same place. The gang quietly made there way to where Grunnarch had been and could see no sign of him. Jess investigated the first room and Grunnarch rushed out and in his relief gave her a big hug. The gang decided to go back outside. Jess unbarred the  door and walked out. As she stepped into the doorway, the Magic Mouth ritual sprang into action, and a mouth appeared on the wall to proclaim in Grunnarch’s voice (the DM made me read out the note I had given him when I set the ritual):

“I am hiding under the bed in the first room on the right. The door on the left leads to a room full of zombies”

Grunnarch was slightly embarrassed. Everybody else laughed.

What I love about this memory, is the DM was great. The story took place over about an hour and a half of play time and juggling all of the fights while still having the wits about him to see that Grunnarch’s plas would be frustrated by Grunnarch’s actions without being cruel about it is something I’ve not been able to live up to as a DM so far. But I will one day.

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Gaming Memories: Character vs. Player Hits Home

I’ve walked through my gaming memories before. I wrote a whole series of articles called Wombat’s Path chock full of some of the things I’ve experienced in 30 years of gaming, and more recently I wrote a little something about GMing for the first time. Most of the memories that stick with me are instances that have taught me something, either about myself or about RPGs in general.

I’d like to focus on a game from late high school and explore that memory, if you’ll indulge me. I mentioned the results of this particular game briefly in Wombat’s Path I: The Early Years, but not with any detail. See if you can find the reference.

I don’t remember the season or if we were juniors or seniors in high school. I’m pretty sure there were five of us that night in Kev’s basement. That basement was our gaming sanctum. The walls were studs and insulation framed with cinder blocks, but that let us tack the Greyhawk map up full-size. The concrete floor stayed tolerable only from the carpet remnants piled on it. We found a table and a few serviceable chairs and lived in that half of the basement making our own worlds a few nights a week.

This particular time, Kev GMed something D&Dish, a quick mercenary job for a local noble who’d gotten bitten and started losing control of himself every full moon. It was a new game, and we had rolled up characters who hadn’t worked together before, thrown together for the promise of an easy retrieval and easy money. How hard could it be to get wolvesbane from the woods?

We defeated the pack of werewolves without contracting lycanthropy, and we had the wolvesbane in hand. Adventure over, right? We found a shrine with a hybrid wolf/woman statue. She had a valuable gem in either hand. We had been warned to not touch anything except the wolvesbane, but Matt’s character had to grab the gems over the objections of the rest of the party. And what does a werewolf spirit curse you with if you were to, say, steal a couple of sacred gems from one of her shrines? That’s right – lycanthropy.

So Matt’s character wants to use the wolvesbane, that same wolvesbane that we were hired to retrieve to fix himself, and the rest of us refused. There was handwaving, drama, and debate. It resolved, but not without some hurt feelings. Matt didn’t understand why his friends weren’t helping him, and the rest of us wondered why our characters would help a stranger who had gone off the rails and done something stupid after we were warned explicitly not to do it. The rest of us had a solid separation between player and character. Matt’s dividing line seemed a little more nebulous.

We all got over it – we were friends after all. But this experience brought home to me the need for a social contract. Everyone around the game table needs to have the same expectations about the game, even on something as basic as deciding as a player vs. deciding in character. I didn’t even know what a social contract was at that point, but I tried to communicate what my games were about from then on.

It also brings into focus something more general. Everyone has their own history and expectations. Everyone has a mental map with an opinion about what good gaming is. And here’s the thing about opinions – every single one of those opinions is absolutely correct until modified by experience. So do yourself a favor and take some time to hash through what the game means to everyone at the table. Don’t do the group a disservice by sweeping things under the rug and saying, “That’s just how D&D works.” You’re partially right – that’s how your D&D works. But when it comes to a head and someone feels betrayed because their expectations aren’t being met, you’ll kick yourself and wonder why it’s so hard to find good people to game with.

What gaming memory brought a lesson home for you?

And I’d like to end with an awesome song by Mikey Mason entitled “Best Game Ever” which illustrates this point, or rather what happens when you don’t set a social contract about what’s OK and not OK in the game. It had me laughing my fool head off. It’s bleeping censored so it’s theoretically work safe. Half-elf half-orcish Monk/Illusionist, indeed.

Thanks for reading!

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How the Illuminati Made Me a Better Gamer

Illuminati imageI arrived at my first GenCon with a goal: play a few games I’d never had a chance to try. When I perused the schedule, one game caught my eye: a late-night game of Illuminati, the card game of intrigue and back-stabbing.

That first GenCon overwhelmed and delighted me, and by the time I arrived at the Illuminati game, my feet dragged along the industrial carpet. I debated with myself about the wisdom of matching wits with strangers this late at night. Would I even enjoy myself?

I found my table, and discovered three experienced players who knew each other, plus another newbie and myself. I balked. I didn’t want to be a third wheel, and said that I’d just watch this one. I’d be happy to observe the game’s mechanics, so I could play it well the next time.

One of the experienced players interjected, “No! Join in. That’s part of the fun!” The others nodded.

I gaped. Here was a group of people beckoning me into their private parlor. Me, an outsider. They didn’t care about whether I’d mess up the dynamics. They wanted me to have fun.

So I sat down and they explained the rules. We dove in. I realized I was playing with master Illuminati players, not so much because of their tactics, but because of their trash-talking. One would gleefully back-stab another, who would reply with a blithe, “Oh, thank you veryfuckingmuch.”

We laughed and double-crossed each other until the game tipped whole towards one of the experienced players, and we called it a game. It was late, and we stumbled back to our hotel rooms, exhausted and happy.

That’s exactly the feeling I get from the Gamer Assembly, and it’s an experience I seek to replicate. We’re open, we welcome newbies, and we focus on just relaxing and having fun.

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