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Out of Character

"Has anyone seen my D20?"

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January 2015

The Daily D4

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Unpub 5

There are fantastic conventions devoted to tabletop gaming taking place all over the world each and every year. Unfortunately because of the high cost of travel, hotels, tickets, and of course the cost of the games you’re sure to buy during your visit I’ve never been able to attend any of them. However the fact that I follow so many game designers, companies, and publishers on social media paid off today because I just heard about one that is free. That’s right free. There’s no charge for players to attend and play board games until their brains explode, and considering that Richard Launius, designer of Arkkham Horror, will be in attendance this year that is a very real possibility. Spread out over three days in February the convention features not only gaming but panels, discussions, and Q&A sessions. I love this stuff.

I also love the idea of this convention more than any other one that I’ve heard of because it is a chance to play games before they’re done, and when changes can still be added. You can give feedback to designers about mechanics that you love, like, or absolutely hate. Whether or not they choose to utilize that information is entirely up to them, but your voice will be heard and that is amazing in and of itself. Apparently there are going to be 75 gaming tables and their expecting more than 1,000 people to be in attendance. I’m am psyched beyond all sanity because not only is this a chance for me to meet who knows how many fantastic people and play some great games, but I can also connect with designers and use Out of Character to help get news about their games out into the world.

Special thanks to Nevermore Games for posting information about the convention, without them I would never had known about it.

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Unless I am mistaken this is a picture from Unpub 4 which was held in a different location, this year the convention will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center as the event has grown to a greater size than ever before.

The Daily D4

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Skills

Pardon any spelling errors today, I am typing this on my phone and the keys are tony. I thought We would discuss something today, something that comes up in RPGs from time to time. Skills. Lots of games incorporate a skill system to take into account the way your character makes a living. Whether they happen to be a starship mechanic, a wilderness guide, a blacksmith, or a tugboat captain there is usually some way to bring their skills into play.

However some abilities are more sought after than others. Being able to pilot a starship in a Star Wars campaign may come in handy more often than an encyclopedic knowledge of every poisonous fungi in the galaxy. As a player I often seek out those skills if they fit my character’s concept, and as a GM I do my best to reward players for selecting them.

Stealthy, diplomatic, learned characters will always find a place in a party. I do wish more people would strike out into unexplored territory though, even if it does raise a few eyebrows around the table. Choose smelling when you play the Dragon Age RPG, spend a few points on an expertise in Aztec architecture when you play Mutants and Masterminds, make a true noble and give them knowledge of biology when playing star wars saga. As long as it fits your character and enhances your enjoyment of playing them I say it is worth a bit of whatever points you’ve been given to build your character.

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The Daily D4

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History has always been one of my favorite subjects, and when it’s coupled with gaming my interest increases rapidly. So much so that sometimes it can even bypass my aversion to reading non-fiction books. A few months ago I picked up a copy of Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt, and it really helped me to understand the story of something that has had a tremendous impact on me. Now there is a new four volume series of books on the shelf that offer even more insights into the history of RPGs, the series is called Designers and Dragons written by Shannon Applecline, and the fact that his name sounds a bit like it belongs in a Dungeons and Dragons campaigns didn’t hurt. Now since this is a four book series, and I haven’t actually read any of the books as of yet, I just want to point out what the things that have me so excited about these books.

Designers and Dragons is divided into four volumes covering four major eras of the history of roleplaying games. Each volume covers approximately one decade and focuses on different themes, people, and events that helped RPGs to evolve. It’s also worth noting that this is apparently the second printing with an enormous amount of content added to the original work, so even if you’ve read the original piece there’s a wealth of additional goodies to be had now.

Volume one will play to the tastes of anyone who has an interest in Dungeons and Dragons or fantasy games, the cover depicts a red dragon its hoard of treasure while some pesky adventurers try and steal it. It covers 1970-1979 and there are profiles on some of the companies that were producing games during that era. TSR is just one of the companies mentioned here along with GDW, and Choasium. In all profiles for thirteen game companies got profiles in this installment. I’ll freely admit that I love hearing how these companies grew and imagining working there when they were spitting out games as fast as they could put pencil to paper. Other features are a behind the scenes look at games like Dungeons and Dragons and Traveler, and ten things you might not know about roleplaying in the ’70s. I don’t know about the rest of you folks but I need to know what those ten things are as soon as possible.

Volume two is sure to catch they eye of anyone whose into sci-fi RPGs like Shadowrun, as a gun totting cyborg and a wired up hacker battle it out with what I am going to call a technomancer. I don’t know what else to call a man who conjures up holographic dragon, force fields, and waves around a sword. He looks a bit like Gandalf’s younger brother who decided magic was too old fashioned, tossed his big floppy hat in the trash, and went to CMU. The ’80s seem like they were an interesting time for RPGs and many of them turned their attention away from fantasy games focusing instead on science fiction. This was the era that gave us GURPS, Champions, and Battletech. What more can I say? Sadly I don’t know how much Shadowrun will appear here as it wasn’t published until 1989, but I’m sure it will get some attention. Remember how thirteen game companies got profiles in the previous volume? Well volume two has twenty-three so if you ever wanted to learn more about the history of companies like Mayfair Games of Steve Jackson Games this is your chance.

Moving into the ’90s we start to hear some very familiar names cropping up, and it also happens to be what I think of as the dark age of gaming. Not because it was backwards and bleak, just because games seemed to take on a much darker and more serious tone during this time. Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf, World of Darkness, Dungeons and Dragons 3E, Vampire: The Masquerade, and Warhammer 40K Roleplay all play important roles in the third volume of the quartet.

Volume four features everything you ever wanted to know about gaming from 2000-2009, which gave rise to one of my favorite RPGS of all time Mutants and Masterminds. The fact that the cover depicts superheroes in an midair battle with an evil sorcerer as blimps carrying what I assume are his hoards of minions descend on the city didn’t do anything to dampen my interest in this volume. If you want to know more about companies like Paizo Publishing, Green Ronin, Mongoose Publishing, and Evil Hat this is a great chance to do so. I really want to read about Green Ronin, they emailed me once and it was the highlight of my…well I was very excited and I saved the email to say the least. Pathfinder, Fate, Mutants and Masterminds, and so many other fantastic games all helped make this era great. This is your opportunity to learn how they made it all happen.

In all each volume costs $20.00 a piece, amounting to an impressive $80.00 plus tax. However Evil Hat is doing a special offer, if you buy the paperbacks on their website you get the digital books as well. The books are also available in some stores so if you see one grab it before they’re gone. This series is a piece of gaming history that you are going to want to buy and have on your shelf for years to come.

Again I haven’t read any of these yet, but I promise as soon as I manage to I’ll give you all a more detailed review.

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The Daily D4

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Today’s Daily D4 features something that has held a firm grip on my tiny little mind ever since I saw Star Wars with my dad for the first time, starship combat. Over the years I’ve picked up a number of games that employ a wide variety of mechanics for battles in space, with varying degrees of success. Some games like Star Wars X-Wing Fighter, and Star Trek Attack Wing employ a very strategic setup and recognizable ships the put players in control of some of the most iconic vehicles in all of science fiction. Whether you’re at the helm of your very own X-Wing battling it out with the forces of the Empire, or you’ve been put in command of Romulan warbird and you’ve been dispatched to drive a Klingon force out of the Neutral Zone you’l have to have a sound grasp of tactics to emerge victoriously.

Playing out a starship battle in an RPG can present some more challenges, namely that members of your party may end up twiddling their thumbs with nothing to do. Which stinks of course. For the purposes of this discussion I’d like to examine one of the systems that I am most familiar with, namely Star Wars Saga Edition. Let’s say you have a pilot, co-pilot, and someone manning the guns aboard your rickety old starship while the fourth character a Wookie scout whose player didn’t choose any skills or feats to allow them to contribute to to the parties efforts to evade an Imperial patrol. While three players are piloting, shooting, and anxiously waiting to see how the dice will fall all the poor Wookie can do is hold on for dear life. A good GM can ensure that things don’t go stale, perhaps a party of Trandoshans working in collusion with the Empire manage to board the player’s ship and only their scout can hold them off in a shootout in the corridors. Exciting no? Maybe I’m the only one who enjoys that sort of thing, and if that is the case I apologize.

I feel as though I’ve gone off on a tangent here, so let me get back to the point. Starship combat tends to give everyone who chooses the right blend of skills/feats small tasks, or lots of tactics and strategy. Either way there’s a lot of fun to be had, but neither one has ever made me wince as I imagine the wing of my ship scraping alongside the bottom of a dreadnought pursued by a squadron of fighters, as the massive ship powers up it’s most powerful weapon preparing to fire on the planet we’re trying to defend. These encounters can feel a bit prolonged and I think you really need something the feels fast paced, hectic, and scary to convey the right emotions.

So there you haven’t it, my tumbling terrifying thoughts for today. I’ll have something a bit more structure for everyone tomorrow.

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The Daily D4

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Today’s Daily D4 features a game I just picked at while I was out today, and some thoughts I’d like to share about an RPG campaign I ran recently. Also I’d like to take a moment to wish everyone a safe and happy new year. Hopefully it will be a year filled with lots of great games for everyone.

Mars Needs Mechanics

Nevermore Games has put out some great products, but I’ve wanted to try Mars Needs Mechanics ever since I saw it on Kickstarter a while back. Set in the city of London in 1873 the players take on the roles of one of the British Empires Aether Mechanics. Since the Queen has tasked the British Royal Academy of Space Exploration with launching an expedition to Mars within the year they’re planning to host a series of competitions to find the best mechanic in the empire to join the crew. The crew will need a mechanic who can build anything and everything that they might need on Mars quickly, efficiently, and with minimal resources. Remember this is 1873 so the crew can’t use a 3D printer when they need a wrench, they’ll have to improvise. So how do players win a chance to join the Mars bound crew? Well they’ll have collect resources, invent all sorts of useful gadgets, and maintain a steady flow of wealth while hoarding the most useful components they can get their hands on. So what sorts of things do you get to build with all of your assorted bits? Well it’s a steampunk fan’s pleasure buffet to be certain, everything from X-ray goggles and clockwork roosters to fully functional automatons. All of your inventions offer different advantages in game, but they’re also going to eat into your resources so choose what you build carefully. As an added bonus for fans of Nevermore Games it comes with an exclusive card for Chicken Caesar: Fowl Play.

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Bloodshed in the Temple of Bahamut

A few days ago my friends Sebastian and Jessica came over and we played a two players RPG session that I made up on the moment. It turned out pretty well, and it was surprisingly different from any campaign I’ve run in the past. I’m a big fan of mysteries in RPG campaigns and the employment of subterfuge, riddles, and puzzles. When I was just starting out as a GM I tried to use those things on more than one occasion and found that they tended to confound players and take them out of the game, so I gravitated away from them.

Dracker and Jessa, a dragonborn rogue on the run from his clan and Jessa a human paladin of Avandra both found themselves in Waterdeep at the start of the game. Dracker was hiding out from the members of his clan who were trying to hunt him down and punish him for dishonoring the clan. Jessa had been hired on at a number of temples to assist in training others who showed some promise in combat, and who might go on to become paladins themselves one day. They were both invited to the temple by the head priest of Bahamut, who revealed that three of the temples inhabitants had been murdered in as many nights.

The game took on a murder mystery tone and both players seemed to have a good time unraveling the mystery of what was going on in the temple. They spent several hours searching the victim’s rooms for clues, interrogating a disgraced brother in the dungeons, looking over bodies in the catacombs, and wiping out a demon worshiping cult whose members had been sacrificing the brothers to open a portal to a demonic plane. The last and only encounter that occurred during the night took place deep beneath the temple. The duo found themselves facing off against a trio of cultists and an assortment of demons that had already been summoned to serve them.

Luckily they encountered the spirit of one of the murdered brothers who ventured down into the catacombs with them, and helped them clear out the demons. In the end thanks to the blessings of Bahamut and Avandra they managed to wipe out the demons and restore the sanctity of the temple by completing a cleansing ritual. It was so much fun that I’m thinking of developing it into a complete adventure module so other people can use it. It’s also inspired me to use more clue gathering in my campaigns because I think the experience taught me how to do so more effectively.

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