Jan 232013
 
Prismatic Dragon

Have you ever written up a mid- to high-level character to join a game in progress, or even just to have adventures that are geared for more experienced characters?  Of course you have.  At some point, everybody does.  But how much attention do you pay to the details that support that character’s more seasoned nature?  Do you work out some of the experiences that make up his or her background?  I imagine most of us give it at least a passing thought, but I posit that there is a great deal to be gained by delving into it head-first.  Allow me to elucidate.

I had my first taste of roleplay in the Warhammer 40K universe this week, with an arbitrator for the Inquisition using the Dark Heresy rules.  As if playing in the 40K setting wasn’t enough culture shock, the GM decided to add a layer of additional frosting by mixing characters from Dark Heresy with Deathwatch space marines.  While the systems are effectively identical at the core, the power level represented in these two dynamics is far from it.  In fact, to make my character a viable companion for a space marine, I had to advance him eight ranks to the highest level described in the core rulebook.  That’s right… my wife’s lowly neophyte space marine is now paired up with my veteran justicar.  I wasn’t just a representative of the Inquisition, I had a distinguished career behind me that had led to my elevation in the ranks.

This led me to consider my character’s life.  I needed to be able to portray him, not as a 19-year-old acolyte, but as a 48-year-old judiciary agent who wasn’t to be trifled with.  He leans a little to his left due to an old injury, but he’s a lean and mean pistoleer when the situation calls for it.  He has a hard gaze and an even temper, with a tongue just sarcastic enough to have gotten him nearly killed a time or two and a wit just quick enough to make sure it didn’t happen.  He carries a lock of his wife’s hair, dead now these 23 years.  His daughter (my daughter’s PC) is a trained assassin who serves him with honor.  He’s a little world-weary, just a bit jaded about lip-service to the God-Emperor after dealing with so many heretics over the years, and has a strong love of stinky cheeses.  He has grown patient with age, and he knows how to keep his own counsel.  He is Lord Justicar Cyphus Austerius, and he even despises his first name because he feels that it is weak.

Part of the fun of making a high-level character is trying to determine how they acquired their skills and powers.  Feel free to get creative about it… Cyphus is haunted by his inability to track down the serial killer who slew his closest friend when they were new to the office and didn’t know what they were up against.  It doesn’t matter if the GM isn’t prone to work in formative elements of your past… they’re formative for a reason.  People change as they move through life, and characters should as well.  What was your PC like when he or she first started out?  How are they different now?  What event(s) shaped them in significant ways?  Build flaws into the character.  People often have things in their past that they regret, decisions they should have made, people they should have helped…

Maybe they, too, don’t particulalry like their first name…

Sign off in the comments below.  Let me know about your high-level PCs and what you’ve done to add depth to their meager existence.  How has it affected your game, and what have you learned from it?  It’s always fun to build a character from the ground up, but sometime it can be just a fun to spend a little time with someone who has already written a great deal of their own story.  Invariably, however, they’re going to need a little help.

 

Orryn Emrys, the Prismatic Dragon, is the director of the Prismatic Tsunami web community and the host of the popular Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast. Learn more at http://www.prismatictsunami.com.

Jan 102013
 
Prismatic Dragon

The new year is, of course, a time for resolutions.  Annually, sophic individuals the world over craft horribly flawed To-Do lists with en eye toward self-improvement over the course of the next 12 months.  Some of them even manage to make some of it work.  And to be fair, using the calendar year to mark a time of renewal can be a powerful psychological tool, but the base motivations to make changes in your life certainly require a stronger underpinning than the desire to coat yourself in a somewhat brighter, less disappointing veneer and outshine your dwindling self-image.  That is, of course, unless you have the self-efficacy to respect your needs and limitations and know precisely what you can and should accomplish in the coming months.

I… am not such a person.

I’m not quite quirky enough to label my ambitions as New Years resolutions.  I have goals, and some of them are even realistic goals.  But I thought I’d take a moment to explore the concept of resolutions in the context of tabletop roleplaying games.

A good gaming resolution should do one of two things:  (a) shore up a perceived shortcoming, or (b) challenge yourself to accomplish something new.  That makes sense, obviously… how often do you find yourself motivated to resolve to exactly what you’ve been doing for the past year.  There may be nothing wrong with what you’ve been doing… but it hardly requires any level of resolve, if you catch my drift.

So here’s my challenge to you in the next year of gaming… try to come up with an answer to both of these items.  Select at least one thing that you’d like to focus on improving about the way you already play or GM, and try to decide on at least one thing you want to do that you’ve never done before.  I’ve actually crafted a fairly ridiculous tally for the latter condition, but it was a little harder to finger an issue that I wanted to fix.  And I think it’s important that we do.  So here’s what I’ve got:

(A)  RESOLVED:  As a Savage Worlds GM, I’ve done a poor job of remembering to hand out bennies.  This is a big deal to me, because there really is no harm in being generous about it.  A Bennie is another shot at success, not an automatic result, and it’s a damned fun mechanic.  I want my players to have more fun, so this is something I really need to work on.

(B)  RESOLVED:  In the year ahead, I will select at least one genre of game that I have never previously explored and work it into my schedule.  I inadvertantly did this last year with my online zombie apocalypse game, and it was a lot of fun.  And let me tell you… that was kinda nerve-wracking.  I’d never run or even considered running a zombie game, and I wasn’t particularly comfortable with the subject matter.  Future options might include a western game, such as Deadlands Reloaded, or perhaps an espionage game, like Nights Black Agents.

So, what are your gaming resolutions for 2013?

 

Orryn Emrys, the Prismatic Dragon, is the director of the Prismatic Tsunami web community and the host of the popular Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast. Learn more at http://www.prismatictsunami.com.

Dec 272012
 
Prismatic Dragon

I was recently reminded of the challenges involved in helping a player craft a character who doesn’t necessarily fit very well into a functional group.  In my experience, most players like having a specific niche for their character, which naturally begs the consideration that the niche will be valuable to the party.  A character who is a brilliant tactician, for example, is useless if he is a condescending prick who tries to dictate actions without soliciting feedback.  His strategies will never be realized, and the player will just get frustrated.  That isn’t saying that you can’t play the same condescending prick and get your ideas into play… you just have to have a party that wants to listen.

“Lone wolf” characters are the bane of GMs the world over… particularly in large groups.  The character who doesn’t engage in a manner that engenders return consideration from his or her pack may as well be playing a different game, and feeding the wolf is a grave disservice to everyone involved: the GM who can’t fulfill the needs of the party and the PC, the player whose PC doesn’t get the attention he needs, and the group who has to roll their eyes and deal with it.  But let me expand the metaphor from “lone wolf” to the much less evocative “square peg.”

“Square pegs” are PCs who just don’t function well within the group dynamic.  Without careful consideration, the roster of square peg characters can include: the Leroy Jenkins of the group, who doesn’t pay attention and does his own thing; the Madman, who acts in nonsensical ways that seem humerous to the player but often cause the party no end of grief; the Lone Gunman, who isn’t interested in being part of the group at all; the Turncoat, who is more than ready to sell everyone up the river for a decent bribe; the Notepasser, who may or may not be devoted to the party’s plans but behaves so secretively that no one can ever trust him; and even the Idealist, who has no interest in the party’s goals and constantly insists on adherence to strict behavioral policies.  There are plenty of other archtypes, but I think you get the idea.

So dearest Dragon, you say… how do I play my asshat tactician and still get the party to work with me…?  Well, I’m glad you asked.

The most frustrating thing about players who insist on building a square peg character is that they the motive often extends from the player’s psychological need for attention or control, which frequently means candlelit midnight rendezvous arranged by carrier pigeon and encrypted with an ancient cypher to get together with the GM to discuss the details during character creation.  (What, too dramatic?  You don’t know my players…)  This, rather obviously, only exacerbates the problem… If your player wants to hide his or her entire character concept and background from the rest of the table, this should set off a series of claxons in the GMs head that are often accompanied by Klingon battle music.

The secret to making your square peg character a success is working with the other players rather than against them.  A little counter-intuitive, isn’t it?  Let’s review a couple of inherent rules of successful RPGs.  First… don’t split the party.  This is often treated as a literal bit of dogma… and to be fair, I tend to like splitting up the party (more on that in another blog).  But it’s also a great metaphor.  For the same reason that juggling separate groups of PCs can bog down the game, trying to accomodate square peg characters can be disruptive and unfun.  Which leads to the second axiom:  Your job as a player is to enable and enhance the enjoyment of the game for everyone involved.  That’s right.  Your job.  You may not feel like you have much influence over whether Mopey Susan or Irritable Oscar are having any fun, but you certainly have the power to make it less fun.  And playing a character that takes something away from the challenges and victories enjoyed by the group is a great (read as “dickheaded”) way to do that.

If you want to craft a square peg character and make it fun for everyone, involve them in the situation.  If the insane wizard in the party is just some shmuck who keeps creating havoc to destroy the party’s well-laid plans, then that wizard’s eventually gonna get left behind or meet with an unfortunate “accident.”  If he’s my brother, however, or my employer… or if he’s the maguffin, as in “his addled brain holds the secret that the bad guy desperately wants and we aren’t letting him out of our sight”… well, that changes things.  Wanna play the lone wolf?  Make him a usurped prince and ask the other players if they would be willing to be servants of his dead father, who asked them to help keep him safe.  Or make him a lone wolf who has sworn to protect another member of the party.  Give your square peg a powerful tie to the group or a reason to be part of their plans.

In my online zombie apocalypse campaign, one of the PCs is a heartless prize-fighter who is as likely to trip his companions and leave them to the monsters as he is to give them a hand.  The player initially tempered this propensity by establishing him as a prisoner of a US marshall, played by one of the other players, wrongfully accused of murdering his wife.  The prisoner transport was disrupted by the zombie apocalypse, of course, and the marshall is no longer around… which has made it a little more challenging for the player to keep control of his own character, but he finds ways to work with the party as much as he reasonably can.  After all… there’s safety in numbers.

So… do you have a square peg character idea?  Want some help figuring out how to make it work with the group?  Bring it on.

 

Orryn Emrys, the Prismatic Dragon, is the director of the Prismatic Tsunami web community and the host of the popular Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast. Learn more at http://www.prismatictsunami.com.

Dec 202012
 
Prismatic Dragon

One of the sincere joys of being a consummate gamer with a semi-serious friend addiction is the opporunity to check out new games… which will invariably happen even more after Santa has his way with me next week.  So… with all the holiday gift-giving going on – amidst my personal convictions that games are absolutely the most the brilliant sort of gift, since they invariably have the potential to please a small crowd of participant upon any given occasion - I thought I’d discuss one of the newest board game offerings on the market this holiday season.

This week’s delightful selection is a game concocted by the slightly unhinged scientists over at Cheapass Games and produced by Paizo Publishing entitled Save Doctor Lucky, and when the shiny new game box appeared on our table at this week’s session I found myself rubbing my hands together in wicked glee.  If you know why, then you probably would have had a similar reaction; if you don’t, well… allow me to enlighten you.

Save Doctor Lucky is actually a prequel to the ardently unapologetic murderfest Kill Doctor Lucky, originally released in ’96.  The original game casts the players as villainous guests of the aptly dubbed Doctor Lucky, who seems to slip out of harm’s way time and time again as the players maneuver to get him alone in his sprawling mansion and do him in, often with a weapon card of some sort.  Players can move themselves and the good doctor around the board with special movement cards and thwart each other’s attempts with the use of failure cards, which are expertly characterized by hilarious flavor text.  The pace of the game is set by the acquisition of spite tokens with every failure, each of which later adds the attack value of a murder attempt and can even be handed across the board as failure currency.  All in all, it’s a deliciously spiteful romp that leaves the table in stitches as the tension ratchets.

Save Doctor Lucky manages to reproduce the original game’s brilliantly simple rule system with a couple of twists.  In this game, the mansion is replaced by a sinking cruise ship that recently struck an iceberg and the players are trying to earn personal glory by being the one to save the old coot from going down with the ship.  Whereas in the first game the players are trying to get Doctor Lucky alone, in this one they can only attempt a rescue if one of the other players has line of sight.  The reversal is fairly entertaining and is made more challenging by the implimentation of four distinct decks of the ship laid out on four narrow game boards laid side by side.  Players still use movement and failure cards, but weapons are replaced by aid cards that increase the value of a given save attempt.

Though entertaining, the game fails to engage at the level of its predecessor on three counts.  First, the flavor text is simply not as funny.  There is some humor there, but not much of the laugh-out-loud variety, although there is a cool little puzzle woven into a number of the failure cards.  Secondly, the mechanism to limit the duration of play and amp up the tension is built into the sinking of the ship, which is implimented quite well but simply doesn’t have the hands-on flavor of the spite tokens thrown around in Kill Doctor Lucky.  And finally, speaking of flavor, the feel of the game just isn’t as gratuitous.  There’s something about trying to throttle the old man when no one is looking that adds an insidious degree of fun to the proceedings; trying to get your name in the papers as the old man’s rescuer lacks the same bite.

That being said, the game is still a lot of fun.  The rules are easy, and it makes a great family game.  If you’re a fan of the original game, I would definitely suggest giving a try… at only $30 on Paizo’s site, it’s a great value for a fun and really quite attractive game.  If you’ve never engaged Doctor Lucky before, however, I have to insist that you invest in its predecessor.  It’s just good, clean fun.

You’ll thank me for it.

 

Orryn Emrys, the Prismatic Dragon, is the director of the Prismatic Tsunami web community and the host of the popular Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast. Learn more at http://www.prismatictsunami.com.

Dec 132012
 
Prismatic Dragon

Like many of my contemporaries, I was recently researching game-related gifts for a feature on my podcast.  When we recorded the program, however, it was necessary to cut the feature from the length of the show, which still turned out to be the longest we’d ever produced.  Feel free to check it out!  At the very least, you might win some cool gaming swag of your own.

Since it didn’t work out, I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts here on my blog.  Over the past year, my own gaming horizons have expanded considerably, and I thought I’d share a few gems from this year’s consumer stockpile to help stuff the stockings of your fellow gaming enthusiast:

On the top of the pile is the cult classic self-styled beer and pretzels RPG Kobolds Ate My Baby.  That’s right… the kobolds are back, and as crazy as ever!  Five years after its initial run, 9th Level Games has released a “super deluxx edition” in digital format that includes everything you need to play minus the dice and a handful of victims.  It’s the game of “horrible kobold death, cannon fodder high jinx, slightly evil wizardry, cows falling from the sky, and blind loyalty to King Torg (All Hail King Torg!)” and it’s a fantastic stocking stuffer at only $10 from Drive Thru RPG.

You may heard that the merry band of misfits at Evil Hat Productions have Kickstarted the new edition of Fate… but in case you haven’t had the pleasure, I invite you to pick up a copy of their perennial favorite Spirit of the Century, currently a steal at only $5 at Drive Thru RPGSpirit of the Century uses the Fate engine to good effect, providing a quick, fun game of pulp adventure that can thrown together on  a moment’s notice and offer an entire evening of grand entertainment.  Fun for the whole RPG family!

This year, Bully Pulpit Games – makers of the unbelievably entertaining improv RPG game Fiasco – have thrown yet another gem out into the ether in the form of DuranceDurance is a “fast-paced, low-prep, highly collaborative game” with an engaging sci-fi bent.  It takes place on a prison planet.  Seriously.  How awesome can it get?  The PDF is available for just 10 American greenbacks, and Bully Pulpit has even provided us with a fantastic preview so you can see what’s what.  Give ‘em heck!

Another fabulous holiday gaming gift erupted earlier this year from the imagination of famed designer Kenneth Hite in the form of Night’s Black Agents from Pelgrane Press.  It’s a GUMSHOE game, which means you can expect loads of investigation, mystery, and intrigue… and it’s a spy thriller!  With vampires!  Yep… I said it.  There are vampires.  But you’re not the vampires… you’re Jason Bourne-style badasses who have just realized that you’re working for bloodsucking monsters.  And vamipires.  See what I did there…?  While not exactly a stocking stuffer at $24.95, it’s definitely a fantastic gift for the gamer in your life.

Finally, I have to sing the praises of the Dragon Age RPG for just a moment.  Whether or not your gamer giftee is a fan of the excellent Bioware video game series, Green Ronin’s Dragon Age is a work of art, with a clever, fairly simple system and a setting that is rich and bountiful.  Yes, it’s another fantasy RPG, but I’d say that it might be an even better gateway drug to tabletop goodness than the later editions of D&D.  The system is easy to learn and exciting in play, and the world is deep and engaging.  And best of all, the gorgeous introductory set is $29.95, but Green Ronin sells the PDF for only $17.50!

Before I go, I should mention a couple of tabletop games that aren’t roleplaying-oriented, but are still a lot of fun.  If the gamer in your life enjoys miniature games, strategy games, or Star Wars, then I’d suggest you check into Fantasy Flight’s new Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures Game.  It has cool and exciting dogfighting rules, and you can buy numerous expansions to add breadth to your fleet.

And no gift-giving advice would be complete without mentioning that Cards Against Humanity is once again available for sale.  If you haven’t heard of it… well, I have no words.  It’s fantastic, disturbing, and fairly adult.  And they keep selling out.  So jump on it.  Seriously.

Happy holidays, friends!

 

Orryn Emrys, the Prismatic Dragon, is the director of the Prismatic Tsunami web community and the host of the popular Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast. Learn more at http://www.prismatictsunami.com.

Nov 152012
 
Prismatic Dragon

So I’m about to launch another D&D Next playtest game… this time with my whole group at once.  We did a little playtesting back in June, after the first packet was released, and we broke it down into two smaller groups… it was fun – full of eye-popping WTF moments and at least one TPK – but everyone seemed to lose interest pretty quickly.  For the players, it was the pre-gens… my gamers just don’t have much commitment for characters they didn’t design from the ground up.  For me, it was the adventure material… WotC provided a conversion of the classic basic D&D dungeon-crawl The Caves of Chaos from the Keep on the Borderlands adventure, which provided me dozens of hours of graphpaper-laden joy in the days of yore.  Unlike during the halcyon days of my youth, I just don’t find a great deal of appeal in old-fashioned dungeon-crawling.  Adventure is a fine pursuit, but I want mine rife with interesting NPCs, convoluted plots, and about 80 percent fewer 10-foot-wide corridors.

But now, they have character creation rules.  And  more adventures.  And more monsters.  And advancement up to level 10!  Yep… it’s time to play….

Their newest adventure is another classic conversion, The Isle of Dread.  As the name suggests, it’s a lost island adventure with dinosaurs, pirates, natives, pirates, monsters, pirates, and a smattering of old dungeons… in short, everything I need to put my erstwhile heroes through their proverbial paces.  Even pirates!

But when I sat down to start working out a cool metaplot to get the adventurers to the island – in this case, the ol’ princess-runs-away-with-her-forbidden-paramour-in-search-of-a-lost-artifact-that-could-save-her-father’s-dying-kingdom-but-dear-old-dad-just-wants-her-returned-unharmed gimmick – I realized that I kinda needed something more to add a little spice to the game.  Since I wanted to skip ahead straight to the party’s arrival on the island, I wanted to find a way to breathe life into the setup and give the character’s something to chew on right from the start… so I took one page from Fiasco and another from an unusual little indie game called God-King.

I have instructed each of the players to determine a distinct role their character plays in the scenario.  For example, one PC is the king’s man, determined to bring back the princess at all costs.  Another is a priestess secretly determined to keep the artifact the princess seeks safely hidden.  Another is a scholar who has studied the legends of the isle and wants to see more, while another is a treasure-hunter just out to make a fortune.  One of the remaining PCs may be the one who has seen the island before and dealt with the natives, but is afraid of the secrets hidden in the island’s interior.  Another might be a close friend and confidante of the princess.  The roles will allow them to embark on essentially the same mission, but they could find themselves at odds when important decisions are being made.  And they may need each other all the more for their function in the party and role in the scenario.

Additionally, I have instructed them each to establish at least one relationship with another PCs, and one secret relationship (one-sided or mutual) with a different PC.  Relationships can be about love, trust, fear, loathing, guilt, suspicion, or any other emotional entanglement, based largely on common events in their past.  With my group, it is likely that players whose characters are unaware of a secret relationship will also be in the dark, so that they can respond to the other PC’s behaviors organically, but I’m leaving it up to them.  They’ve already started building and scheming, and by the time we start the game next week, I have no doubt that we’ll begin with a strong web of interwoven complexities designed to complicate the party’s goals and make the adventuring fun and convoluted.

Consider adding predesigned relationships into a party’s past to give a game character.  It can offer even the most introverted roleplayer something to latch onto, and if it’s done right, the interwoven relationships will provide just as many reasons for the party to stay together and focus on their goals as it does for them to try complicate each other’s lives.  Ideally, roleplaying will focus less on making things difficult and more on bringing a character to life.  And if you try something like this, or have had similar experiences, let us know!  We love to talk immersive roleplaying experiences on our forums over at Prismatic Tsunami.

Oh… and did I mention pirates!?  Yarrr….

 

Orryn Emrys, the Prismatic Dragon, is the director of the Prismatic Tsunami web community and the host of the popular Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast. Learn more at http://www.prismatictsunami.com.

 

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Nov 082012
 
Prismatic Dragon

I recently started playing in a Champions game.

If you don’t know me, or don’t listen to my podcast – or do, but don’t know anything about Hero System – this probably doesn’t seem like a particularly remarkable revelation.  Well, allow me to elucidate.  The entire gimmick of Metagamers Anonymous is a focus on immersive play in tabletop RPGs:  strong characterization, powerful story development, immersive game worlds, and a play experience that permits participants to fully engage with these elements.  Rules play a very important role in this process; they must be complex enough to allow potent customization and individualization of characters and provide a strong sense of simulationism, but intuitive or streamlined enough to minimize distractions during the actual play experience.

Hero System is not these things.

So why did I do it?  Simple.  It has the potential to be a lot of fun.  Characterization and depth is, after all, largely in my hands as a participant in the game scenario, and although the rules of the Champions game system are not simple or streamlined and generally focus on simulating a pulpy, comic book style of reality, they are certainly crunchy enough to allow mind-blowing customization opportunities.  And besides… one of my regular players really wanted to try his hand at running it.  So I said sure… but only for a few sessions.

One basic assumption of the Champions framework, unsurprisingly, is that you are already a hero.  Unlike D&D and similar gradual build systems, you aren’t assumed to be a noob with a few lingering questions which end of the sword goes into the other guy.*  The power level established at the beginning of the campaign is essentially similar to the power level you can expect to retain throughout play.  Advancement is very gradual, because it kind of isn’t the point.  Hero System games aren’t particularly unique in this approach; a lot of very pulpy games have similarly glacial advancement concepts built into the core mechanics.  That isn’t to say that you can’t run them however you want… just that the most obvious approach is thus constructed.

But sometimes you want to play the guy who aspires to be a hero and hasn’t figured it out yet… and that’s what I did.  My PC is a university professor with a tragic past who would like to put a serious damper on the local crime rate, but he doesn’t exactly consider himself superhero potential.  He’s got some interesting abilities – which aren’t precisely geared toward stomping out evil wherever it may be found – but it has yet to occur to him to apply them to this goal.  Instead, he studies supers… trying to figure out how he can help them do what they do.  He’s really kind of a fun character, though not particularly useful in a fight… which, by the way, can take hours in a Champions game.

System aside, this started me thinking about a fundamental archetype that’s rife with possibilities:  the hero in the making.  This is the guy who doesn’t think of himself as a hero, or even a potential hero, but longs to somehow do what heroes do.  Maybe he has a tragic past, or maybe he’d like to atone for something… maybe he’s just anxious to do something cool or important with his life.  He could be a hero-worshipper, or he could be someone who looks at heroes as dangerous and unpredictable elements of society.  In a fantasy world, maybe he’s the simple moisture farmer… er, stable boy… who dreams of greatness or is forced to flee when his family is killed by stormtroo- uhh… death-eaters.  Or Nazis!  Everyone hates Nazis, right?  Not very fantasy, I suppose…  But I digress.

The point is… This concept is certainly not limited to a superhero game.  Consider playing the girl who just wants to get that big story for her pending deadline, or that dealer in space salvage who just tries to stay a step ahead of the galactic police.  Or the kid found that dusty old book in his uncle’s attic, nestled between the Egyptian deathmask and that statue of a tentacled monstrosity.  Be the guy who doesn’t realize his own potential, even when surrounded by heroes.

You’ve probably heard of the Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell’s classic extrapolation of the iconic tale we see in Star Wars or The Hobbit, where a simple, regular guy goes on to greatness.  This is, of course, a classic theme in fantasy RPGs.  And for a good reason; it speaks to us as regular Joes, dreaming of the possibilities of a more exciting life.  Sure… sometimes it’s fun to be Batman or Indiana Jones, a fearsome pirate or a mighty samurai, a seasoned character who can kick some serious ass.  But it can also be fun to be the dude from Kick-Ass, whose damn near the plucky comic sidekick in his own story.  Or the kid in Constantine who just wants to learn how to be… well… Constantine.  (Poor kid.)  Try it.

He may not know it, but my guy’s destined to be a superhero.  Or get splattered hanging out too close to the action.  Either way, it oughtta be a blast!

*Obviously I’m not talking about 4th Edition, here, wherein your average 1st-level PC not only knows which end of the sword to use, but can generally stomp a neat hole into anyone who expects otherwise.

 

Orryn Emrys, the Prismatic Dragon, is the director of the Prismatic Tsunami web community and the host of the popular Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast. Learn more at http://www.prismatictsunami.com.

 

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Nov 012012
 
Prismatic Dragon

Rarely does a movie studio elect to give up the opportunity for over-the-top story elements, uber-flashy special effects, and well-versed comedic timing to bring us a tale as close to its iconic roots as this one.  After an exhaustive bout of trick-or-treating with the 3yo, I took my wife to the cheap theater on Halloween night to finally get a look at Lionsgate’s remarkably loyal interpretation of the 2000 AD comic strip character and his pleasant little dystopia, Megacity One.  I got an hour and thirty-five minutes of gut-clenching action and bloody mayhem for my trouble; my wife got an hour and thirty-five minutes of drooling over Karl Urban’s chin and the (apparently far too) occasional shot of said actor’s leather-clad posterior.

We were both diggin’ it.

Dredd stars the quintessential up-and-coming character actor (recognizable – and I mean that sarcastically, since the man literally seems to become a different person with every role – from such notable genre offerings as Reaper in Doom, Eomer in Lord of the Rings, Lord Vakko in the Chronicles of Riddick, and Dr. Leonard McCoy in the new Star Trek movie) in the lead role, paired up with Olivia Thirlby (whom you may recognize… but probably not) as a timid rookie with a headful of psychic juju, attempting to bring down Megacity One’s newest drug kingpin (queenpin?), portrayed by Lena Headey (who reprised Linda’s Hamilton’s iconic role in the Terminated TV series The Sarah Connor Chronicles and has more recently portrayed that sexy biotch Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones) as a heavily-scarred skinny white girl with a penchant for putting people’s insides on their outsides.  All things considered, the cast did a fantastic job of bringing us more fully into Dredd’s disturbing grit and cynicism by refusing to waver in the face of unflattering characterizations and a canonical devotion to Judge Dredd’s essential anonymity.  That’s right, folks… you never see the man’s face.

Stallone didn’t have it in him, if you know what I mean.

Since the story revolved around this singular scenario, 90-some-odd percent of the film actually took place in one building, albeit a structure so magnanimous that it provided life-giving shelter to some 75 thousand grateful citizens.  That’s right.  It housed more people than my hometown, on about 200 levels.  I’d say that makes a pretty good battleground for any FPS.  And we got to see them tear the place to pieces as Headey’s mildly listless villainess took a profound interest in throwing a stupid number of mooks and heavy ordinance at the encroaching judges, who were – after all – just trying to do their civic duty.  The action scenes played well, if a little predictably gratuitous at times, and the story’s tasteful devotion to simplicity made if feel more believable than similar films that spend half their time trying to impress the viewer with futuristic nomenclature and creative conceptualizations of postmodern tropes.

Dredd has enjoyed a slow but steady growth in box office receipts, earning over $36 million worldwide by the end of October, but it has a ways to go before it makes enough money to earn a sequel.  It was a fun and exciting film that never really lets up, and – if your girl is into action movies and/or Karl Urban’s chin – it can even be a remarkable aphrodisiac.

Happy November, friends!

 

Orryn Emrys, the Prismatic Dragon, is the director of the Prismatic Tsunami web community and the host of the popular Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast. Learn more at http://www.prismatictsunami.com.

Oct 252012
 
Prismatic Dragon

Under no circumstances do I enter into a relationship with a new game lightly, particularly when it costs around $50 to do so.  As an old school tabletop RPG player, I certainly already own more than enough gaming material to keep me entertained for the next 200 years or so.  So why buy into Wizards of the Coast’s audaciously-entitled Lords of Waterdeep?  Well… two reasons.  One, because it has such a fancy-looking box.  Trust me, I know what I’m talking about… I have more than a few old Helloween CDs, and I didn’t buy them for the contents.

Secondly, because it’s amazingly original.  So many games are just clones of something else with a little flavor and a couple new mechanics bolted on.

Thirdly (did I mention that there were three?), because it has lots of cool little fiddly bits to keep me entertained.

Okay.  So maybe I should’ve stopped at two.  The game play is rather unique, making a round of Lords of Waterdeep rather unlike anything else I’ve ever played.  It is a strategy game, of sorts, but not a war for nations.  As you huddle around the aesthetically pleasing game board, you adopt the persona of a scheming, backstabbing, money-loving, no-good… er, person of interest, who just happens to be one of the 15 or so powermongers who persistently vie for control of the city’s vibrant economy.  In a deceptively organized fashion, you bribe officials and make back alley deals, plying gullible adventurers with promises of fortune and glory as you slowly undermine the efforts of your worthy opponents.  And then, when no one is looking… you pull your dagger from the hidden sheath in your peryton-skin boots and plunge it into the heart of your neighbor.

Then you sleep on the couch for about a week.

But seriously… Lords of Waterdeep employs the quick-paced action of a Eurogame and the time-honored traditions of strategic play to craft an unusual game that, despite the intimidating inclusion of about five thousand little pieces, is quick and easy to learn and not particularly difficult to master.  The rules are deceptively simple for a game with so many elements, and the game uses decks of intrigue and quest cards to add a random facet to every individual’s treasure chest of options.  And best of all, your identity as one of the city’s 15 lords is kept a secret during play, and each lord has his or her own agenda that provides buckets of potential victory points at the end of the game.

I’ve now played through almost a dozen games, and every game is very different.  Play time, once you’ve got the flow of the game figured out, rounds out at about two hours, give or take the time any given strategist decided to chew his curd while studying the board.  I’ve played several games with a full compliment of five players (they claim there will be an expansion that allows a sixth), but it is just as fun with only a few.

Your agents in the game are represented by standing pieces with a roughly bipedal shape, and the adventurers you hire to complete your quests are represented by friendly little cubes, color-coded for each of four basic classes.  Finally, the coin is modeled after the square brass toals that are used in Waterdeep according to later-edition D&D canon, and cool little golden sickles to stand in as 5-piece coins.

The game changes constantly, allowing for everyone to enjoy the journey without a clear idea of how it’s going to turn out.  Lords of Waterdeep is an excellent game for anyone old enough to grasp the mechanics and refrain from eating the pieces.

That being said… the little victory-point trackers look delicious.  *grins*

 

Orryn Emrys, the Prismatic Dragon, is the director of the Prismatic Tsuanmi web community and the host of the popular Metagamers Anonymous RPG podcast.  Learn more at http://www.prismatictsunami.com.