May 29 2017
It’s a Critical Role one shot as Grog, Keyleth, Percy, Vex, and Taryon battle for the pleasure of an strange, all-powerful being!
May 29 2017
One of the most unique aspects of Geek & Sundry’s Vast is that unlike almost any other role-playing game show, it includes a writing staff. The writers work with the gamemaster, Jackson Lanzing, to craft the episodes. Given the fairly spontaneous nature of RPGs, the most frequent questions we are asked are about how the process of putting together a season works. Today, I want to pull back the curtain and give you a quick look at how Vast comes together from the writers’ perspective.
In the weeks before a season, we (Jackson Lanzing and the writing staff) trade ideas about pretty much anything and everything to do with Vast. This is the most informal time in the writing process. Whether the idea is a situation, a single scene, a setting, a character or even just an object; this is the time for the writers to help Jack brainstorm as he assembles the bigger picture.
We spend some time discussing Jack’s initial ideas until it leads us to the backbone of the season as a whole. Once that loose track is in place, writers will start pitching concepts for episodic adventures. This can start with a situation, a theme, or even just a tone. These are still just suggestions and often aren’t even designed for a specific team (Peacekeep or Brightest Eye) or place in the season.
For example, episode 3 of season 1, “The Vast and Furious” began in the writers room with the simple idea to feature a big, climactic chase between two enemy ships in space.
Once the basic concept is in place, the whole room teams up to flesh out those ideas, brainstorming together, finding and shaping structure and suggesting detail. During this process, each episode is assigned to one writer as the order of the season falls into place. This produces a very basic set of “story notes” which will serve as a point of departure for a given writer when they begin working on their game module.
Plans are left fluid though because things can change fast in an RPG.
The first two episodes of the season are crafted personally by Jack; following the ideas, plot points, and some of the background stories crafted from our sessions weeks before. As soon the lights go up on the first episode of the season, the players and dice become major forces in shaping the flow and outcome of events.
Individual writers are charged with making sure their game module takes into account all the developments in the episodes leading up to their own (even if it means throwing out all of their plans and starting from scratch). This can include everything from subtle changes in intercharacter relationships to huge shakeups in the intergalactic political scene.
For example, the events of the series premiere found the character Good Idea attacking the crew of the Avalon and severely injuring Louvin. The beginning of the next episode, The Vast and the Furious, had to be rewritten to allow the players a chance to deal with both the physical and social consequences of that unforeseen injury.
Two weeks out, the writer has seen everything they need to know about where the crew is going to be at the start of their module. While each writer must ultimately produce a document that accomplishes the same goals, we all have our own process in getting there. The hope is to create a universe that always feels cohesive, but also fresh and surprising (it’s a tricky balance, but that’s what we’re shooting for).
Regardless of a writer’s individual preferences, a module has to account for a few basic things. Instead of a traditional script, the writer suggests the shape of potential events. On top of this, the writer generally includes ideas for settings, NPCs, and any special game mechanics Jack will need to run the module.
The writer records those ideas in a document which is then submitted to Jack. He adds the final details to the episode, sometimes working with his story editors (the humble authors of this article).
Jack, now armed with a well thought out and detailed episode plan, can deftly craft a story around the choices made by the players during the game. This is where, despite all the careful planning, things tends to move in unexpected and exciting directions. After all, it’s an RPG so in the end, the players and dice really write more of the story than the writers do.
This was never more evident than in the finale of Vast and the Furious. The big climactic chase scene the whole episode was meant to lead up to (all the way back in the writers room) never occurred because Good Idea was able to use his formidable powers of persuasion to deceive their opponent into letting them go.
Because of this unpredictability, after an episode, Jack often huddles with the available writers and immediately begins reshaping and re-planning the events and episodes to come. This process repeats until the season is over, only to begin again in the next season.
Now that you know a little more about how our writers room works, check out Vast on Alpha on Monday nights at 7 PM PST and join in the fun with us.
May 29 2017
We’ve all done it. While hunting for inspiration for a character or that perfect background scene—type something into Google images and browse. While sitting back (often listening to sick music) and enjoying a glass of whiskey, we search image after image till we find something that inspires us. A quick right-click and save image, and we are off to our own mental land of creation. Often forgetting the artist that spent hours crafting something for our enjoyment.
With an avalanche of spectacular art on the internet, Charlie Hoover the founder of Geek Questioner, brings these artistic creations to the forefront. It started with that very innocuous thing we’ve all done—using someone’s art as a visual aid. The Geek Questioner podcast hinged upon a Google Circles Collections (or G+ for short) where a single geeky question each day was asked to the community. With each question, came a visual aid to spark the discussion. In time, the group grew into one of the larger (and still active) Google Collections, but the founder, Charlie Hoover, felt like doing more. While he’s always had permission to use the artwork (reminding us why artists are amazing), it didn’t feel enough to him.
Enter Geekscape of the day. A group with over two hundred thousand followers, four years of archives, and over 1172 Geekscapes to date. The focus? Showcasing amazing science fiction and fantasy art with full credit, links, and features of the artist. Each Geekscape is posted in its own thread with a full discussion on the art itself, this way, each piece sparks its own bought of inspiration. Charlie Hoover spends every morning tracking down the artist, crafting the post, and blasting it out into the ether space of G+, Twitter, and other mediums. The community takes it from there and comments on the art…or even starts writing short-stories in the threads based off it. Art making art! Geekscapes is open to submissions for showcase and welcomes anyone who has sci-fi / fantasy art on their brain. For this article, we’ve had them pick out some of their favorite pieces as well to showcase below.
If you want to find four full years of their archives or join their community, you can find them on Twitter, an RSS Feed, Facebook, their website, and as an actual active G+ collection. We are fans of anything that puts the artist first, so let’s have an art thread! Leave your favorite artist below in the comments or let us know what you think!
Featured Image: Hope by Satoshi-Takahara
May 29 2017
Although small box games typically offer lighter gaming fare, today’s titles can provide a deep, satisfying main dish of tabletop action. From Hisashi Hayashi’s excellent fit-in-your-pocket games to Scott Almes’ Tiny Epic series, small box games prove that bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Here are five games that make up for their lack of size with intriguing gameplay. You can plan an entire game night around these and, best of all, you won’t strain your back muscles lugging these lightweight boxes around (I’m looking at you, Gloomhaven).
Sail to India
From the creator of Rolling America, Yokohama, and many more comes this underappreciated worker-placement, resource-management game. In Hisashi Hayashi’s Sail to India, you’ll explore the new world hoping to create a prosperous trading route. Along the way you’ll improve your technologies, set up strongholds, markets, and churches, and acquire wealth.
All of this is done via the game’s cubes, which are used as workers as well as scorekeepers. It’s an inspired game design choice and provides interesting decisions as the game progresses: you can only have so many resources since your cubes must be used to track your score, and you can’t just send out a bunch of cubes as ships or else you won’t be able to store any of that newly acquired wealth. Even with three actions per turn, you’ll find yourself trying to figure out how to track your resources, technologies, and, ultimately, victory points with your limited supply.
If your group isn’t enamored with word games, surprise them with Paperback, a Scrabble-meets-Dominion hybrid that combines word building with deck building. Those familiar with Dominion will feel right at home, even those whose vocabulary would put them at a disadvantage against seasoned Scrabble players. There’s no need to memorize those dreaded two-letter word lists to stay competitive in Paperback.
Instead, the game is about playing your cards just right more than it is figuring out whether or not kwyjibo is a word. Sure, it’s nice to play “Qi” on your unsuspecting opponents, but you’ll also need to manage your deck to ensure you earn enough money with each word to buy the end-game “novels” (Dominion players, think estates, duchies, and provinces).
Jaipur is one of my favorite two-player games, thanks to its elegant turns and unique market mechanism. In this card game set in an Indian marketplace, you and your opponent purchase goods such as spices, gems, and other items through clever card play and set collection.
Each turn is an exercise in simplicity: you may take a card from the face-up market or sell goods on those cards. Depending on how fast you were able to sell goods, you may earn a token that’s worth bonus points at the end of the round. The more valuable goods such as diamonds, gold, and silver have a minimum requirement for selling, so it’s not a simple race for the biggest prizes.
The game is played over three rounds, with bonuses available after each round. I enjoy the subtleties in manipulating the market, trying to buy low and sell high, and the game remains satisfying after multiple plays.
Deep Sea Adventure
This is the smallest game on this list and it’s the easiest to learn, but you’ll be surprised at how much Deep Sea Adventure has to offer. You and your buddies are divers trying to grab the most valuable treasures. Roll dice and move the corresponding spaces; the deeper you go, the more valuable the treasure, but there’s this little thing called oxygen that’s running out while you’re exploring the ocean depths. You’re all sharing the same air supply so you’ll have to hurry back to the surface after your underwater plundering. Make it back to the ship and you’ll score points; run out of air and your treasures tumble deeper into the ocean for the next round of play.
I love the minimalist nature of Oink Games’s titles and this is a prime example of their aesthetic; the components and rules are simple, but the gameplay exceeds your expectations. Rolling those dice to try to get back to the ship in time is a tension-filled as you try not to drown. And the laughter that ensues when you do is always uproarious.
Tiny Epic Galaxies
As seen on TableTop, Tiny Epic Galaxies is a dice allocation and area control game where you’ll colonize planets on the way to ruling the galaxy. Each turn you roll dice to perform actions: gain energy or culture, land ships on a planet to perform a special action, orbit ships to colonize a planet via an economic or diplomatic track, or upgrade their existing empire, which will give them more dice to roll as well as additional victory points.
Thankfully, a bad roll of the dice can be mitigated in several ways: players get a free re-roll of any of the dice, they can convert two dice into one action they choose, or they may spend one of their energy points to re-roll any remaining dice. The first player to 21 victory points triggers the end game. Secret missions handed out at the start of the game are scored sometimes propelling a player to a come-from-behind win.
My favorite part of TEG? The follow action, since it keeps players engaged throughout the game and limits the amount of downtime. Non-active players can spend one of their culture points to follow the action of the active player. So, if my buddy rolled something I needed, I could benefit from it as long as I had the resource (culture) to pay. Bonus: the solo game is quite good and manages to capture the feel of a multi-player game, with various difficulty levels to challenge you.
What are your favorite small box games? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credits: Ruel Gaviola
Featured Image Credit: Gamelyn Games
Ruel Gaviola is a writer and educator based in Southern California. He loves board games, books, cooking, traveling, date nights with his wife, and Star Wars. He reviews games and reports news for iSlaytheDragon.com and his name rhymes with Superman’s Kryptonian name. Follow him on Twitter.
May 26 2017
In the ten years that the Rancho Cucamonga Public Library has been hosting its annual Star Wars Read Day, co-founder Allen Callaci has only missed the event once for a perfectly valid reason:
He was recovering from heart transplant surgery.
One month before the event in 2012, Callaci left work feeling ill. After a trip to urgent care then a follow-up at the hospital, he learned he had Type II diabetes. He stayed overnight and the next morning while the staff was filling out his paperwork, Callaci suffered a heart attack.
“It turned out to be a good thing because they found out that I had an artery that had never fully formed,” he said. “I’d been living with it like a time bomb for over 40 years.”
Given only a 20 percent chance of surviving the flight to Cedar-Sinai in Los Angeles for a heart transplant, Callaci made the trip and was given a new heart. He was also given propofol for 10 days to help with his recovery.
“When I came off of it my first words were, ‘Did I miss Star Wars Day?’” he laughs. Callaci spent two months recuperating and missed Star Wars Day, but he did make it to the Star Wars Celebration in Florida later that year.
“I’d written a proposal to do a panel on Star Wars and libraries as an educational tool for reluctant readers,” he said. “It was literally the first week I was allowed to fly, so if it was a week earlier, I couldn’t have done it.”
The annual labor of love (it’s a nonprofit event) now sees thousands of people from Southern California and beyond descend upon the library’s courtyard to engage with cosplayers, meet Star Wars authors and actors, view customized Star Wars cars, create Star Wars arts and crafts, and play games like Whack-A-Jar-Jar-Binks. This year’s event takes place on Saturday, May 27th.
Callaci’s love of Star Wars, though, actually predates the original film’s debut in 1977, when he discovered the Marvel comic book adaptation that was released before the movie.
“I thought the comic was kind of interesting and I just had to see this movie,” he said. “Back in that time, there wasn’t a lot of fantasy or sci-fi, just Star Trek reruns. And once that Star Destroyer comes onto screen, I was hooked.”
As the city’s literacy librarian, Callaci remembered an early attempt to incorporate Star Wars into a tutoring program when only three people showed up. The next time he decided to use Star Wars as a literacy tool, though, was the game changer.
On that fateful Memorial Day weekend ten years ago, Callaci and a skeleton crew of part-time workers decided to put up a Star Wars display in the library. He used the social network choice at the time, Myspace, to ask local cosplayers to show up at the library for a Star Wars Day.
“All of a sudden we started getting a ton of calls,” he said. “We got over 300 people to the library with very minimal advertising. After that, we knew [what to expect].”
A decade later and fans now anticipate Memorial Day weekend for fun from a galaxy far, far away. Set within the Victoria Gardens outdoor mall, last year’s Star Wars Day attracted over 5,000 people. With the help of a local hotel organization, the recently rebranded Star Wars Reads Day (the official event sponsored by Lucasfilm and its publishing partners) hosted everyone’s favorite scoundrel-turned-Cloud-City-administrator, Billy Dee Williams.
“In my wildest dreams, I never would’ve thought Billy Dee Williams would be coming to Star Wars storytime, which is what this started out as,” Callaci said. “And I got to interview him! It was surreal.”
As the event celebrates its 10th anniversary alongside the film’s 40th anniversary, Callaci looks forward to this year’s gathering, which will feature tributes to Carrie Fisher, from craft projects of headbands with Princess Leia buns to actress Julie Dolan (the voice of Leia in Rebels) reading Vader’s Little Princess.
“This event started to attract reluctant readers,” he said. “They might not want to see me read a story; it might not be that exciting. But have Darth Vader read the same story and now [they’re engaged]. I get a kick out of it because I’ve been a Star Wars fan since I was a kid.
“Seeing the throngs of people taking up the entire mall … and now other libraries around the area and other places that have adapted it. I think, “Wow, I’m getting paid to do this?’”
What are you doing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Star Wars? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credits: Ruel Gaviola
Ruel Gaviola is a writer and educator based in Southern California. He loves board games, books, cooking, traveling, date nights with his wife, and Star Wars. He reviews games and reports news for iSlaytheDragon.com and his name rhymes with Superman’s Kryptonian name. Follow him on Twitter.
May 26 2017
Danielle Ward was sitting in her apartment when the news came on, telling her that states can now block federal funding going to Planned Parenthood.
Ward said, “I was seeing red. I was so livid that I walked to my computer and said ‘I’m giving away a dress to raise money for Planned Parenthood.’ And I’ve never given away a dress since I’ve started my company.” The dress in question: the “Amazon Warrior,” in other words, a Wonder Woman-style dress.
Ward is the brains and delicate fingers behind Little Petal convertible dresses, which are some of the coolest geekwear you can own. They’re comfortable as hell, can be worn in multiple ways (with tutorials to help you origami your dress into the shapes you want), and because they’re not branded, you can wear this to a convention and to a non-geeky event.
But for those in the know, it’s clear these dresses are inspired by comic books, sci-fi, anime, and videogames. The colors give it away, as do the sly names, like “Bounty Hunter Inspired,” “Clawed Mutant Inspired,” and “Bat Vigilante Inspired.”
In a telephone conversation, Ward said, “Basically, all you have to do to win is donate $1, and every dollar is an entry.” In other words, if you donate $100, you get 100 chances to win the Little Petal dress.
But that’s not all: “Altruistic Gifts and Level Up Nerd Apparel donated prop replicas as well, because they like the cause.” Level Up Nerd Apparel is donating a Wonder Woman-style headband, while Altruistic Gifts is offering a shield. “Now there’re going to be three winners instead of one, which is cool.”
More importantly, Ward said, “One hundred percent of the proceeds go to Planned Parenthood.”
The 101-year-old organization is dear to Ward’s heart. “I went to Planned Parenthood from age 18 to 25. I don’t think I had proper health insurance, so I went through them for pap smears and STD testing and general woman’s healthcare. I always thought, ‘If I’m ever in a position to give back to them, I’m going to.’”
Planned Parenthood is a hot-button topic for conservatives, as the non-profit offers abortions. But while conservatives claim that abortion accounts for 95 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services, Planned Parenthood states only 3 percent of their services went to abortion. (Politifact argues that the number is more likely 12 percent.)
Although Ward started her company in 2011, she began making geek wear in 2013. (Note: I own the Bat Vigilante dress; I was one of Ward’s earlier customers.) As it happens, Ward said, “The Amazon Warrior dress was first character-based dress I made, so the dress is the queen of my company.” Giving away this dress has a kind of poetry to it.
In addition, there’s a certain Amazon Warrior-based movie hitting theaters on June 2, and offering this particular dress makes marketing sense.
But the real reason Ward has tied her Amazon Warrior dress raffle to a non-profit that benefits women’s health? “Wonder Woman supports and protects other women, so in my opinion, she would stand with Planned Parenthood,” said Ward.
To enter the contest, which ends on May 31, click here.
Note: If you’re attending Awesomecon in Washington, D.C., feel free to join Ward and friends for an afterparty on Friday, June 16th from 8pm-1am. Tickets cost $10 ($15 the week of the con), and all proceeds go to TWLOHA, a non-profit dedicated to helping people with depression, addiction, and suicidal thoughts.
Know of other fantastic geeky artisans supporting great causes? Tell us about them in the comments!
Image Credits: Danielle Ward
May 26 2017
Eric M. Aldrich has seen a lot of gaming on the tabletops of Los Angeles over the past three decades. Growing up in Long Beach during the 1970s, he began playing Dungeons & Dragons when he heard about a gaming convention called Orccon in Anaheim, California.
“I managed to convince my parents to let me go to this, since at that time I couldn’t drive,” he recalled of his gaming convention experience in 1981. “They drove me out there and I had a blast. I didn’t know a person there, but had a lot of fun and got a lot of my friends to go with me over the next few years.”
It was during his younger years when he discovered he had a knack for the administrative work that goes into running a convention.
“Part of it was being a student and poor, so you try to cut your registration fee so you do volunteer work and get in free,” he said. “That’s how I met a lot of the guys that ran the show. I got taught the ropes by a few people because they thought that I was interested in stuff on the administrative end. I was also friends with two guys who were convention managers.”
His passion for gaming and knowledge of convention administration eventually led him to becoming the majority owner and convention manager of Strategicon, which hosts three conventions (Orccon, Gamex, and Gateway) during holiday weekends every year in Los Angeles.
This weekend the second convention of the year, Gamex, takes place at the LAX Hilton. In addition to offering gaming of all types, from miniatures and board games to card games and role-playing games, larger tournaments take place, such as the National Catan Qualifier and Agricola National Championship Qualifier.
Although Aldrich now spends Strategicon weekends making sure the convention runs smoothly, he recalled one of his earliest gaming convention memories: playing Nuclear War, a card-driven game that recently celebrated its 50th year of publication.
“A group of us were sitting there playing the game and after a while we said, “You know, I’m getting kind of hungry. What time is it? Oh, it’s three o’ clock. Ok, let’s get some lunch.”
Aldrich and his friends walked out into total darkness.
“It was three a.m.,” he laughed. “We’d been playing for 15 hours straight and didn’t even notice.”
While he might not take part in all-day games anymore, Aldrich does get to see the bigger picture at the convention: the trends and changing tastes of gamers throughout the years.
“Games evolve over the years. Right now we’re in the midst of the board game boom. Actually, I’d say we’re at the tail end of it. It’s still going strong, but there’s been an RPG renaissance,” he said. ]. “It’s cyclical. When I started, Dungeons & Dragons was huge; everyone was playing AD&D. It was the hottest ticket in town. War games were on their way out. Then, of course, there was Magic: The Gathering, which overwhelmed everybody. It caught everyone by surprise. For several years it just dominated.”
After interest in Magic peaked, miniatures gaming became popular, then the Settlers of Catan took over the gaming world during the mid-90s.
“That’s been going strong for a while. Certainly, during the last 10-15 years board gaming has been the biggest thing,” he said. “But none of the other stuff has gone away. Magic’s still out there, role-playing games are as big as they’ve ever been.
“Gaming in general right now is very healthy.”
In addition to running Strategicon, Aldrich enjoys spending his time pursuing his other hobby: wine. “It’s a fun little hobby since something that’s been sitting on your shelf for 15 years is suddenly pretty good,” he said.
Looking back over his thirty years of involvement with the Strategicon events and over conventions, Aldrich reflects on what it tabletop gaming means to him.
“Sitting down, relaxing, having a good time and exercising the heck out of your brain in a rather unique way,” he said. “It teaches strategy, patience, and it lets you relax. It’s a good time.”
Gamex 2017 runs Friday-Monday, May 26-29 at the LAX Hilton in Los Angeles, California. More information here.
What are your favorite memories at gaming conventions? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credits: Ruel Gaviola
Ruel Gaviola is a writer and educator based in Southern California. He loves board games, books, cooking, traveling, date nights with his wife, and Star Wars. He reviews games and reports news for iSlaytheDragon.com and his name rhymes with Superman’s Kryptonian name. Follow him on Twitter.
May 26 2017
It’s a fairly typical scene on a Friday Night: people hanging out and playing Magic: The Gathering. Maybe you’ve been curious about starting, or, if you’re like me, you played years ago and are thinking about getting back in. You don’t want to be that guy who slows down all the games with a million questions, so you decide against joining in. But what if there was a safe space to be a newbie or to learn about competitive play without that fear?
In 2011, Tifa Robles started teaching her female friends how to play in her living room. The group agreed that it could be a regular event so she asked Card Kingdom if she could run a bi-weekly event. Bi-weekly became weekly, and the Lady Planeswalkers Society was born. Nearly six years later, there are over 100 chapters throughout the world.
While it started strictly for women, over time it has evolved to be more inclusive. Their goal is to get rid of the obstacles that keep people from playing, from finding a safe space to upping your skill level. They are a group of people who want to have a good time without worrying what people think about them. The less obstacles people face, the more people there are to play against.
While they were changing, the community itself changed in response. Originally, people thought it was a joke and not needed. “Women don’t want to play competitive Magic,” and other nonsense was pervasive. Now, women are not only accepted, but wanted. They teach at conventions (GeekGirlCon, PAX West, PAX East, Emerald City Comic Con, and Evergreen Tabletop Expo). If you are hitting one of the conventions, stop by their tables, take a load off, and learn to play.
One of the interesting things about Magic is that you have no damsels in distress and that’s deliberate. Even when the target demographic was men between the ages of 18 to 25, they were still making powerful women. It goes to show that you can be powerful, even if you are scantily clad (I’m looking at you, Liliana of the Dark Realms).
If you are interested in making your own community more inclusive, invite that person who’s staring longingly at the game to sit down and learn. Be welcoming to new players and answer their questions. Find a common denominator when teaching the game. If they’re a video game player, use language they are already familiar with (i.e. red is aggro). Start your own chapter of LPS or restart a chapter that’s no longer active.
Starting (Or Restarting) a Chapter of Lady Planes Walker Society
- STEP ONE: Believe in your vision: a friendly, welcoming place where everyone can learn and compete.
- STEP TWO: Speak to Game Stores in Your Area: ask if they would be interested in helping you host events. If it helps, show them how successful it’s been elsewhere.
- STEP THREE: Generate Interest: make a schedule and stick to it, even if no one shows up. The most successful chapters are the ones that stuck through the tough times to get to the good times.
- STEP FOUR: Reach Out: if there is a lapsed chapter in your area, contact Tifa, and she will see if she can get ahold of the chapter for you.
Help Make your Store Be More Inclusive
The fact of the matter is that an inclusive gaming environment helps people feel welcome to come to the table, particularly if they’ve felt intimidated to play in the past. It’s really about talking to your store to see what they’re willing to do to help make their store more welcoming. Most stores will be receptive.
- Be welcoming to new players. Beyond having a welcoming and friendly attitude, see if you’re store is willing to offer prizes for newbies. While it’s easy to focus on your regulars and making sure that they get a good prize payout, you need to make sure that the newbies are getting something out of coming.
- Work with your store to host a few events where the prize structure allows for everyone to get a pack or hold workshops on how to build a deck or how to draft.
- Pay attention to the conversations happening in your play area. Make sure people aren’t making sexist or racist jokes. Make sure they aren’t treating people bad for being a woman, gay, or new.
- Talk to your store about incorporate a zero tolerance policy for harassment. Ask them to post it on your website and in your store. It might take time and work for it to start sticking, but it is worth it in the long run.
A few words of advice from Tifa for players thinking about quitting due to discouragement: “Don’t. Keep playing. Find a group who is going to accept you for who you are. Don’t stop doing something you love because someone’s not treating you right.” Make Magic fun and inviting in your store and see what happens!
Do you play Magic: The Gathering? Tell us why you love the game in the comments!
Featured Image: Lady Planeswalkers Society
Blog Image Credits: Lady Planeswalkers Society, Wizards of the Coast
May 26 2017
The Kickstarter has been fulfilled and the latest game in the “One Night” series is reaching the hands of eager gamers everywhere. One Night Ultimate Alien marks the fourth in the series that previously consisted of Werewolf, Daybreak, and Vampire. All of them can be mixed and matched in various ways, but each is also a standalone experience.
More than that, though, each seems to cater to a somewhat different play style. Everything from shrewd and subtle maneuvering to wacky chaos can be found somewhere in the series. Here’s how they shake out and which might be right for your group.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf
The first set takes the classic idea of village vs. wolves and puts the now signature “one night” twist on it. The main innovation of this game is not that there is a village hunting werewolves. It’s that you don’t necessarily know what role you have. Everyone gets a role at the start, but during the single night phase, several of those roles wake up and do things. And some of those things even include switching the player identities around.
So when you wake up, you have a double deduction challenge. You have to first figure out who you are (and therefore what team) and only then try to decide who should be killed so that you get a win. It’s not uncommon for werewolves and villagers to trade sides and everyone has to be careful not to give too much information out too quickly. Telling the complete truth might be helpful for the village, but you can’t be too sure you’re still on the village team when its time to play.
Werewolf is the best version of the game for those looking to take the classic hidden role game and tuck it into a far briefer package without player elimination. If you enjoy the lies and uncertainty, as well as strange gambits from players who think they may have been swapped, then this is the one to try.
One Night Ultimate Werewolf: Daybreak
Daybreak continues the Werewolf theme and adds a ton of new roles. Unlike the original, now even the wolves get special powers. The Alpha Wolf can convert someone to the wolf team or the Mystic Wolf who can look at another player’s card. This gives the wolves some serious strategy to consider as they try to avoid detection.
But many of the cards dramatically increase the chaos. There is also the paranormal investigator who can be turned into a wolf if he sees one, the Curator who can randomly assign a player a new role, or even the village idiot who can shift all cards one player left or right. With Daybreak, you can really maximize the uncertainty. You get an experience where calm and rational deduction is made far more difficult – so bluster and personality shine through all the more.
If you like to point fingers and make baseless accusations, then this is the One Night title for you. It allows you to enhance the boisterous party-like elements and then have a fun semi-surprise reveal at the end.
One Night Ultimate Vampire
Vampire includes the new “Mark” system. Every player starts with a plain Mark but those can be changed during the night. For instance, a player might receive the bitten mark and join the vampire team (no matter what role card they have); someone might be targeted for assassination; or you might even have lovers who want to ensure that they both live no matter what.
The really interesting thing about Vampire is that you don’t have too many opportunities to switch roles. If you start as the Count, you’re very likely to end as him, too. Instead, what changes are your motivations. Maybe you start as the Pickpocket. So you want to kill a vampire. Then you are turned into a Lover and fall in love with a vampire. Suddenly, it becomes important which vampire is killed and you need to defend your paramour. In this way, your role usually stays the same, but your win condition is manipulated.
One Night Vampire gets to a deeper level. Your actual character card is far less important than the mark you end up with. Determining what marks are available, and why the players are acting the way they are, is critical. This is definitely the One Night title to try if you enjoy more subtle deduction or if your group is already well versed in the genre.
One Night Ultimate Alien
Alien builds from the Vampire mold. Like its predecessor, you see very little role switching – there’s only one character that can swap your actual card. But it avoids Vampire’s use of marks. Instead, what a player wants to do changes depending on who else is in the mix.
For example, there are two named aliens on the alien team – Groob and Zerb. If only one is in play, then they act like normal aliens trying to avoid getting killed. But if they are both in play, they win only if the other dies. Suddenly, you have a blood match between two players – and the unnamed aliens are stuck in the middle. And you have the Blob and the Mortician who win or lose based on whether adjacent players live or die.
This provides a fun and interesting challenge. Everyone seems to want a particular person dead (or to stay alive), but it isn’t always clear why. Only by drilling down on the possible motivations – along with some randomized encounters in the app – can you figure out who is who. Although Alien requires an app, it is otherwise a great title for any group that likes to read into the motivations of the players and work backwards from there to the identities at the table.
Which One Night games are your favorite? Tell us about it in the comments.
All Image Credits: Bezier Games
May 25 2017
This week’s episode of The Wednesday Club went into the far reaches of space for a look at the Marvel Cosmic characters and stories. Hosts Matt Key, Taliesin Jaffe, and Amy Dallen tackled the strange and complicated universe that takes Marvel’s heroes and villains off Earth and into the stars.
“[Marvel Cosmic] is not a company, it’s not a storyline, it’s a broad set of characters and story settings,” said Amy.
The Marvel Cosmic stories are basically any stories that don’t take place on Earth, explained Matt. “If you’re a big fan of the [Guardians of the Galaxy] movies and you love them, that’s Marvel Cosmic,” he said. “The Marvel Cosmic stuff is weird, which is why I love it so much. It’s weird, anything can happen.”
Thanos Quest is a two-part prequel to the events of The Infinity Gauntlet, explaining how Thanos obtained the Infinity Gems. Thanos comes from a race of Eternals, and he falls in love with Death after she resurrects him. He decides to gather the Gems to earn her favor. Along the way he encounters other cosmic beings like the Gardener and the Collector, and takes the stones forcefully from them.
“Thanos Quest is one of my favorite Marvel stories of all time,” Matt said. “This basically becomes the operating manual for the Marvel Cosmic universe from 1990 onward.”
(Marvel Comics, Jim Starlin and Ron Lim)
This six-issue limited series was released in 1991 and became an instant classic. Thanos has his hands on the Infinity Gauntlet, a vessel for the six Infinity Gems, which gives him the ability to control time, space, power, reality, the mind, and the soul. It will take all of Marvel’s superheroes, along with their new ally Adam Warlock, to save the universe.
“I feel like it’s necessary Marvel reading,” said Matt.
(Marvel Comics, Jim Stalin, Ron Lim, and George Perez)
This cosmic crossover event in the mid-2000s brought Annihilus from the Negative Zone to wage war on the Marvel universe. The Nova Corps is decimated, and it’s up to Nova and Drax the Destroyer to help save the galaxy.
“It’s such a good introduction to the Nova Corps,” Taliesin said. “It’s the first iteration of our modern Guardians.”
“It’s great storytelling,” said Matt. He also recommends the follow-up series Annihilation: Conquest.
(Marvel Comics, Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Mitch Breitweiser, Scott Kolins, Ariel Olivetti, Kev Walker)
This collection of the 2008 Guardians of the Galaxy 12-issue series features a team familiar to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Star-Lord, Rocket Raccoon, Drax the Destroyer, Groot, Gamora, Adam Warlock, Mantis, Quasar, and Cosmo the space dog make up the team in this memorable run.
Matt describes it as one of his favorite comic book runs ever.
(Marvel Comics, Andy Lanning, Dan Abnett, Brad Walker, Paul Pelletier, Wes Craig, and Carlos Magno)
Silver Surfer #11 is unlike any other comic published in recent years. The Silver Surfer and his Doctor Who-like companion are trapped in a time loop, illustrated in a moebius strip that requires the reader to turn the book to get the whole story.
“You keep having to rotate the book and follow the paths in the circular story,” said Amy. “It’s one of my favorite things from the past couple of years.”
(Marvel Comics, Dan Slott and Mike Allred)
The hosts also mentioned a few other books worth checking out if you enjoy Marvel in space, such as Warlock, The Death of Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy by Brian Michael Bendis, and The Thanos Imperative.
Hang out on the Geek & Sundry Twitch channel every Wednesday afternoon to catch the next amazing episode of The Wednesday Club.
What’s your favorite cosmic comic from Marvel? Tell us in the comments.
Top Images: Geek & Sundry
Other Images: Marvel Comics
May 25 2017
It’s never been a better time to be a Star Wars fan. Not only are there movies, shows, and books, to immerse yourself in, there’s also no shortage of fantastic tabletop games that can let you play out your own adventures in the action-packed universe.
Looking to get in on the Star Wars tabletop action, but don’t know where to start? Check these out:
STAR WARS REBELLION
This game made quite a splash last year, so much so that it made Geek & Sundry’s Best Games Of the Year list. Because of its immersive and exceptional gameplay experience that lets you walk through the original trilogy, and a new expansion coming out soon, now’s a perfect time to bring it to your table.
STAR WARS: DESTINY
This is a game that’s light and accessible from the starter box, but offers a lot of delight and depth through being a collectible game. It’s fun, fast-paced, and our in-depth rundown of the game will tell you everything you need to know to get in and get rolling.
THE STAR WARS RPG OF YOUR CHOICE
Yes, we used the plural there because there have been many (and some that have even influenced Star Wars canon), though the currently supported (and thus most readily available) offerings from Fantasy Flight Games, including Edge of the Empire (which we’ve gone into detail on) and its compatible counterparts Age of Rebellion and Force And Destiny should be easy to pick up from your local game store.
STAR WARS X-WING: THE MINIATURES GAME
There is no list of Star Wars tabletop games that is complete without talking about X-Wing. If miniatures, space battles, and two-player head-to-head battles are your sort of thing, this highly popular game is perfect whether you choose to fly casual, or prefer competitive play. Not convinced? We tell you exactly why you should be checking out the game, though admittedly, making “pew pew” noises when you fly around your table was enough for us.
What Star Wars games have you played? Tell us which ones you love in the comments!
Featured Image Credit: Teri Litorco
Image Credits: Raf Cordero, Asmodee/Fantasy Flight Games, Teri Litorco
May 25 2017
On this episode of Foreververse, the crew must make a decision: save or condemn a presumably innocent man.
FOREVERVERSE Wednesday 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. Ivan Van Norman guides players through various RPGs. Every few weeks, the characters are sucked through a portal, drifting into a new universe (switching the game to a new RPG). Will our characters ever make it home?
May 25 2017
Welcome back to another exciting season of Game Master Tips! Our Game Master extraordinaire, Satine Phoenix, shares with you some of her tips for creating amazing adventures, dealing with difficult parties, or what it takes to sit behind the GM screen. Even if you are a first-time storyteller or a veteran of the field, Satine helps you to become a better player at the table.
This season, Satine brings in some of the best minds to craft an adventure to the show to tackle the issue of the day. TJ Storm pulls up a chair to the table to share his wisdom for running a long (15 years!) campaign.
How to keep it going even after your story is done. Try bringing back elements from the original story. Let them experience the consequences of their experiences. (Remember that NPC they left behind?) Bring more of the world to life to give your characters something to do or let your players be your guide to the next story beat. TJ talks about letting your players get into trouble. A trip to jail means that someone needs to go break them out. Use modules when you need them, but learn how to use them. Simple choices can often have huge consequences.
Check out GM Tip with Satine Phoenix every Thursday at 10AM or find more tips by checking out the past seasons here at Geek & Sundry.
May 25 2017
Every picture in this gallery is hand-picked by the Critical Role cast. How does one get their prints in front of Matt Mercer and the rest of the cast? You can throw it on Twitter and direct your drawings at #criticalrole. Sometimes it helps to include Twitter handle of your favorite cast member. You can also send your picture to email@example.com. Make sure you include your name or Twitter handle with the art. You can also head down to our forum page to post it as well for others to see and admire your talents.
Go forth and start fighting against that negative space. Keep your brushes and pencil at your side at all times. Maybe one day soon, you will see your own masterpiece on the wall.
Feature Image Credit: Caio Santos @BlackSalander
May 25 2017
Fans of the (now replaced) Games Workshop miniature game Warhammer Fantasy Battles may be elated to find out they can revisit the pre-Endtimes land (before Archaon went and broke everything) in an upcoming roleplaying game to be published by Cubicle 7.
From the announcement, Cubicle 7’s CEO Dominic McDowall said, “Like so many gamers I grew up on Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. It’s an iconic setting and I’m thrilled to be working on this new edition of the game. Our team have [sic] a huge breadth of experience with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and I’m excited to be able to bring the Cubicle 7 approach to the Old World.”
The announcement says the game will be taking direction from the first and second editions of WFB, meaning we may not be seeing an Old World populated with Skaven or Khemri, but as the details are currently sparse, who knows what beloved elements we’ll be seeing in the game.
No matter what, we’re excited by the announcement and will be ready with dice as we look forward to more details.
Were you a WFB player? Tell us what army (or armies) you played in the comments!
Featured Image Credit: Cubicle 7/Games Workshop
May 25 2017
It’s that time of year again for gamers of all stripes to start planning their Gen Con events. If you’re in the market for a crazy fun time, I interviewed Dave Mitchard, the Web Monkey for Nascrag. Newbies and veteran players alike will find the long running tournament a great break from their hardcore strategy and combat games. This is all about roleplaying and having fun.
It all started with a group of friends who wanted to play in the D&D Open in 1979, but found it sold out. So they did what any gamers worth their salt would do and started a tournament themselves. 38 years later, it is the longest running RPG tournament at Gen Con.
It is also Gen Con’s best kept secret. A run of bad luck with the listings at the convention has made it hard to find in the past, which is why they send pressgangers throughout the convention halls to spread the good news. This year they will be in the stadium so there will be plenty of room for the shouting and shenanigans that goes on.
Wait, shouting? Yup, Dave’s favorite story includes a giant named Bigal that needed to be summoned by shouting his name three times. “When teams hit that encounter, you’d hear “Bigal, Bigal, Bigal” reverberating through the hall.”
You are scored on how well you stay in character. And the stories are deliciously odd. Last year’s ended up on a sentient spacecraft that crashed onto an island and formed a pocket dimension of eternal youth. Other stories have included the players losing their memories and having to recover themselves, one set in the alternate realities of reality television, and one where the characters were miniaturized and sent on a fantastic voyage on a yellow submarine inside a sick prince.
If you don’t have a full group of six, don’t worry, you’ll be matched with other partial groups at the marshaling area. This game is challenging and will make you think, but it should also make you laugh. This year’s story is called A Little Madness Now and Then. Think Cuckoo’s Nest meets The Mountains of Madness.
If you’re ready to jump in, Round One will be run at 1 PM and 7 PM on Thursday and Friday, as well as 1 PM on Saturday. Round Two is by invitation only at 7 PM on Saturday, followed by the awards ceremony.
They get prize support from a ton of companies. When you’ve been around for 38 years, you make a lot of friends. Last year’s sponsors included: Dwarven Forge, Fat Dragon Games, Gaming Paper, Green Ronin, Iron Wind Metals, Paizo, Campaign Coins, Atlas Games, Evil Hat, Gamer Concepts, and Greater Than Games. Plus, the top teams win t-shirts and copies of the module. The top role player for each character gets the Toby award – usually a handmade statuette (the very talented Dana Cox makes them every year) of their blue Kobold mascot, as well as a t-shirt and a taste of the hoard.
Anyone can go to the awards ceremony; it doesn’t matter if you played or not. Besides, Tom Lommel (aka Bill Cavalier the Dungeon Bastard) entertaining at the ceremony, they will have a special musical guest. Captain Ambivalent, King of the Nerd Rock Accordion, will be debuting his new album “Save the Orcs.”
If you’re feeling charitable, they run a second event each year as well, an one round Pathfinder game whose proceeds go to charity. This year they are supporting the same charity as Gen Con: Child Advocates Inc. Entering this event not only donates Nascrag’s portion of tickets, but Gen Con also donates their portion of the ticket sales. It’s a win-win for a good cause.
They aim the adventures for PG 13, but younger can be okay so long as they have a good idea of how to roleplay. They get plenty of moms and dads with their kids. With how long this event has been running, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the second generation of gamers are now judging as well. They are also female-friendly. Nascrag has been headed by Carole Bland for 14 years and about 40% of the judges are female.
After the awards ceremony, they hang out for hours and tell stories. “Like the time Tom had a team in an adventure that started with them in a lifeboat on a beach. The first thing they did was get in the lifeboat and sail away from the island. Tom, who actually made a living at improv at one time, made stuff up for 20-30 minutes until they eventually returned to the island and began investigating. He calmly took out his copy of the module, opened it up and said ‘OK, page 2.’ That’s the best part of Gen Con for me. The exhausted afterglow of the award party. Old friends, new friends, shared craziness, and that happy feeling of a job well done.”
The biggest reason they continue to put themselves through the exhaustion of running events all weekend is the friendships they’ve made over the years. The players turn the hard work of the staff into fun, and in return, they become friends (sometimes as a new judge or just a familiar face year after year.
I’ll let Dave sum it up. “The folks at Nascrag are some of my best friends in the world. Some of them I only see once a year at the convention. But that’s an intense 4 days. Four days outside of your everyday life. Four days when you can do something creative, something expressive. We make people happy, that’s what it’s all about.”
Event Registration starts May 28th. Keep your eyes peeled in the convention for press-gangers wandering around the convention halls to spread the word of this crazy, fun tournament.
Image credits: Nascrag
May 24 2017
I recently had the privilege to play a prototype version of Warehouse 13: The Board Game with the developers Shawn Smith, Michael Aldridge, and Russ Rupe. We also, and here’s the really fun part, had the pleasure to play with Pete Lattimer himself, Eddie McClintock.
Warehouse 13: The Board Game has been in the works for roughly four and a half years according to Shawn Smith; furthermore, it has been a joint project of Infinite Dreams Gaming and Conquest Gaming. When I asked why Shawn had been drawn to Warehouse 13, in particular, he told me that it was one of the first shows he watched that just screamed “I’m a game” to him. And honestly, the game that he and his team created is incredibly true to the show and excellent for hardcore and casual fans alike.
The game is one-part co-op and one-part hidden identity; players will take on the roles of the Warehouse agents but one of you will be a traitor working for the dubious, James MacPherson. There are multiple ways that the either the loyal agents or the traitor can win. The loyal agents can win by retrieving three artifacts or by stopping two plots. The traitor can win by depleting the deck of stress cards, finishing out two plots, or destroying the Warehouse.
Players can choose one of six characters to play and then they will receive a loyalty card (in the same vein as Resistance or Secret Hitler). Only they will know where their loyalty lies until the traitor is caught. Playable characters include: Myka, Pete, Artie, Leena, Claudia, and Jinks. Unfortunately, H.G. Wells is not playable but that does not mean that she couldn’t get her own expansion at some point. For the six characters that are playable, each person has their own assets, traits, and abilities that can help or hinder the team. Once the player characters are chosen that will determine which player goes first. If Artie is in play then he will always be the first agent to go but if he is not, it goes to Myka, and then to Pete and so-on. Once the first agent is determined, it will move clockwise from there.
Each game is played in a series of Episodes, the first agent rotating per Episode, and five will culminate in a Season. Each Episode will consist of a Ping Phase, Investigation Phase, Retrieval Phase, and a Cleanup Phase. This is important to remember since each character has a “Once Per Episode” and “One Per Season” ability. The One Per Episode will be refreshed during the Cleanup Phase and lead into the next Episode, whereas the Once Per Season can only be used once during the entire game.
The Episodes all start with the Ping Phase; this is where players will draw a location card and roll the clue dice as indicated. Each location card will have a certain amount of colored dice featured on it. These dice will be used to guard the artifact while the rest will become clues within the Warehouse; which, you will want to pace yourselves on collecting. If you collect all the Warehouse clues before the artifact clues then you will receive the negative effect on the artifact card, should there be one.
After the Ping Phase, you will move onto the Investigation Phase. At the beginning of each Investigation Phase, your adversary, MacPherson, will get a turn. This just means that a traitor card is drawn and played immediately. If the traitor is known by this point then they will get to draw and play an action if they would like to. Then, all agents will get to take an action, starting with the first agent. This action can be to heal, use a card’s action, use a Warehouse action, use a field action, travel, or perform a ping action (if there is one). Once all players have taken their action then they will move onto working the case. Working the case means that all players must use a card to obtain a clue or the clue will be neutralized in goo. To obtain clues, a player must use a card of the same color with a number equal to or greater than the clue die. The goal here is to get as many dice as possible in the hands of loyal agents; this is especially difficult when you’re not aware of who the traitor is. Once everyone is done working the case, the Investigation Phase will draw to a close and each player draws one card in one of their focus traits (listed on their character sheets). However, everyone’s hands will cap at thirteen.
Now that all the players have their dice, you will move onto the Retrieval Phase. During this phase, at least one or more agents MUST be in the field to retrieve the artifact and stop it from going into the hands of MacPherson. In this phase, all players will roll their dice to try and match what’s listed on the artifact. Everyone will take turns doing this until all the dice are used. Now, during this time, MacPherson will roll purple dice to try and counteract other players. The purple dice can neutralize most dice (save for Claudia’s green dice) if it matches one of the player’s rolls. If the traitor has been revealed then they will roll in place of MacPherson. This is often tough because MacPherson only rolls one die, whereas the traitor will roll all three purple dice and choose which one to play (but they will lose the die once it neutralizes another die). If the conditions are met, then the artifact can be retrieved for the Warehouse unless the ONLY agent in the field is the unrevealed traitor; they can then make the choice to reveal themselves and take the artifact straight to MacPherson. So, I recommend more than one agent being in the field at any given time.
Ending the game can happen in a multitude of ways as stated earlier. So, if three artifacts have been lost to MacPherson then the end of the game will commence and the traitor is required to reveal themselves. This will kick off the finale and the use of Plot cards. This will mean that the traitor draws a plot, allocates dice, places any negative effects in play, and then actions will be taken. This part is tricky for the agents because every time an agent takes an action, the traitor will get to either draw a card or take another action. Once all actions are taken, the players will get to draw one focus trait card and then it will move on to players attempting to stop the plot. Stopping the plot is exactly like the Retrieval Phase and any cards that can be used during Retrieval can be used to help Stop the Plot. If the agents stop two plots then the Warehouse wins. If MacPherson succeeds at two plots then the traitor wins.
I ended up getting to play the game about three times with these guys and their passion for the show and game is contagious. I only watched two seasons of the show religiously but I found myself enjoying the references, the different artifacts, and the many jokes about whether or not Pete licked it. It made me sad that it’s no longer available on Netflix and that I can’t find a way to binge the whole show (at least not legally).
Overall, I had an excellent time getting to play the game and really enjoyed what Shawn, Mike, and Russ had managed to create. The game is an excellent homage to the show and it is very reminiscent of games like the Battlestar Galactica Board Game. It’s incredibly smooth, streamlined, and the rules never get too complicated. It seems like a lot at the start but once you get into the thick of it, it becomes easy for players to follow. I cannot wait to see a finalized version of this game and I’m looking forward to seeing what Infinite Dreams Gaming and Conquest Gaming can produce in the future! This game receives a solid 10 out of 13 artifacts.
Be sure to check out the game on their website and be looking forward to new updates and a possible Kickstarter page!
Are you excited for a Warehouse 13 board game? Which character would you want to play? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured & Blog Image Credit: Blythe Wiedemann, Infinite Dreams Gaming/Conquest Games, and NBC Universal
Editor’s note: Stills from the show are subject to change based on the availability of high resolution copies from NBC.
May 24 2017
Everyone knows how that D&D is 90% improv, but improv is intimidating! Where does one start? Back in 2015, Dungeon Master, streamer, and improv actor Tom Lommel gave some tips on Twitter about how to develop improv skills and how to use them at the game table. You might have seen Tom on D&D: The Improvised Campaign (which we host on our Twitch channel every week!) and as the Dungeon Bastard under the alias Bill Cavalier. We’re going to break down his advice and help transform you into a top notch improve DM. Learn this stuff well and you’ll never have to prep for a game again! At least, not for more than 10 minutes or so.
Creating a Structure
“I dispensed with the idea that improv is just “make up whatever you want” nine months ago.”
The single most important lesson in improvisation is that there is more to it than just making stuff up. Everything you “make up” is based on a set of rules you’ve created in order to keep the story coherent. Just winging it tends to create stories that are full of holes and aren’t very much fun for anybody. A structure’s job is to:
- Help you and your players suggest cool ideas.
- Fully realize and flesh out these cool ideas.
- Make it easy to incorporate these ideas into your game.
With that in mind, what the heck is a structure? The answer is: whatever you want them to be. If that seems uselessly vague, allow Tom to explain. “All improv is centered around a structure. Sometimes it’s as simple as “Yes, And.” […] Improv has form. The best structure for improv in RPGs: Establish the premise, [then] heighten/expand it, [and then] twist the premise to reveal a new truth. That’s it.”
Understanding your Structure
“Improv can only work if you relinquish the idea that it’s “your story” and embrace the fact that it’s OUR story.”
Simply put, a structure is just the system of rules that undergirds your improv, though sometimes you bend those rules to make it exciting. Sound familiar? Just like D&D rules exist to help you have a fun gaming experience, improv has structures that help you tell a good story—and both rules and structures exist to be broken once you’re comfortable enough using them. By now most D&D players have heard of the improv structure of “Yes, And.” It just asks the GM to allow the players to do cool things if they want to. Matthew Mercer uses “Yes, And,” all the time, he just says it differently. He says “You can certainly try.” Saying yes to your players’ wild ideas doesn’t give them carte blanche to do anything, but it does allow you to let your players help craft the story themselves.
That last point is vital. If you loosen up and allow your players to drive the story themselves, you’ve just saved yourself an incalculable amount of effort. In Tom’s words, “You’ve got FIVE brains working on the story instead of [one]. You’re crowdsourcing the coolness.” And if you’re worried that this sort of structure is “permissive” or will just lead to your players running roughshod over your carefully structured story, then this may not be your cup of tea. That’s fine. But I implore you to try this, even just for a one shot. Let go of your expectations and listen to what your players want. If you engage in the mutual give-and-take of group improv and your players give you goofy stuff, then “your players are telling you what kind of game they want to play,” and you should consider giving it a try.
Creating Your Own Structure
“Improv is fundamentally an act of listening, reflecting, and inventing connections…”
The idea of improvisational structure is inherently vague because it’s such a personal tool. You can use secondhand structures and they’ll often serve you well, but the most useful structures are the ones you build yourself. Tom wants you to know that it your structure should allow you to do three things: Prepare opportunities, embrace player details, and create or discover interesting connections between them.
Whenever you’re creating a structure—whether it’s a structure that you actively use while playing or one that helps you guide your pre-game prep—you should consider these three steps. Here’s an example structure that I use to help me create exciting adventures:
- Pre-Game: Prepare opportunities, but don’t prepare outcomes.
- In-Game: When your players engage with the opportunities you created, make them face the consequences of their actions.
- Post-Game: Talk with your players about their adventure and gather ideas. Return to Step 1.
The first time you use a structure, it might suck. That’s fine. The truth is that there’s no shortcut to mastery. The only path to becoming good at improvisation is practicing good techniques for a long time, and doing your best to learn from the masters. You may find that one technique isn’t working for you. The ultimate goal of this improv training—and really, of any GM advice—is to find a way for you to do what you’re already doing, but more easily.
How much time do you spend planning each D&D session? Let us know in the comments or tweet to @GeekandSundry!
Featured Image Credit: The Dungeon Bastard
Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast
TableTop: Wil Wheaton Plays Star Trek: Five-Year Mission With Jesse Cox, Jaime King, and Jessica Chobot
May 24 2017
Space the final… well, you know how the rest of this goes. This week on TableTop, Commander Wil Wheaton along with Jesse Cox, Jaime King, and Jessica Chobot plan to survive Star Trek: Five-Year Mission by Mayfair Games. This co-operative dice-placement game lets you roll with the punches as you try to diffuse different problems on the Enterprise. Score points, solve problems, and try not to kill each other in the process.
Can Wil’s perchance to roll low work for him in this game? Will Jesse’s talk with the game box pay off in the end? And what will they do when they only have three minutes to solve a problem and no way to talk to each other? Find out on this episode of TableTop.
Catch all the previous episodes of TableTop on Geek & Sundry or head over to Project Alpha to watch the new episodes before anyone else.
May 24 2017
No class is so intrinsically tied to D&D than the Bard. Bards are incredibly fun to play and are able to offer support to your entire party. That’s the first thing to keep in mind when playing a Bard; you are not dealing a huge amount of combat damage but you are making sure the rest of your party is. As always, make sure you check out our tips for new RPG players to help setup your character and develop a fun backstory, as well as character hooks to keep you excited.
Statistics in D&D represent how your character interacts with the world and what they can (and cannot) accomplish. Work with your DM to ensure you are generating your statistics the same as the rest of your group and whatever method chosen, you will generate 6 different numbers; 1 for each attribute. When you have your numbers, it’s important to prioritize your statistics to get the most out of them.
For a Bard, your highest attribute score should always go to your Charisma. This is both your spell casting ability, as well as the main stat for skills like Performance and Persuasion. Your second highest attribute should be Dexterity. This helps you with both your survivability, adding to your AC, as well as helps you go first so you can start handing out Bardic Inspiration to the rest of your party. The next most important skill is Constitution for your hit points and the other attributes just fall away in terms of importance. This means your allocations should look like this:
Charisma -> Dexterity -> Constitution -> Wisdom -> Strength -> Intelligence
The reason strength is so far down the priority list is that Bard’s can get a rapier for starting equipment and because this weapon has the Finesse trait, you are able to use your Dexterity bonus for your attack and damage rolls.
At level 1, Bards know 2 cantrips and 4 spells. Keep in mind with your Bard, that the number of spells you know is found in your class table and is completely independent of your casting value. For your cantrips, I recommend one utility option and one combat related. For utility, I feel that nothing beats Light. Not every member of the party has dark vision and the last thing you want is to be stuck in a dungeon and have to fumble around to find your way. For the combat cantrip, I recommend either Blade Ward or True Strike, depending on whether you want to be more defensive or offensive, respectively.
For your 4 spells, I would recommend embracing the support role of your Bard and taking 2 healing spells, Cure Wounds and Healing Word. Afterward, make sure you have something that deals combat damage. Dissonant Whispers is a great spell that both deals combat damage, and forces the creature (if they fail their saving throw), to take a reaction and flee from you. That bonus ability can be crucial in a fight that is starting to go south. Finally, I recommend Feather Fall. With your other spells and Bard abilities, there really isn’t anything you aren’t doing and Feather Fall is exactly the kind of spell that you never think you’ll need until you ABSOLUTELY need it.
Using only the Player’s Handbook, there are two different Bard Colleges you can choose at 3rd level. The College of Lore focuses on knowledge and skills and is a fantastic choice if you want to fully embrace a playstyle that is very “Swiss Army Knife”-esque. You gain proficiency in 3 skills, can use your Bardic Inspiration to protect your party, and eventually learn two spells (which don’t have to be Bard spells) and even incorporate your Bardic Inspiration into your own ability checks.
The College of Valor focuses on combat abilities and allows you to both offer support with your native Bard skills, as well as start to become quite capable in combat. You gain proficiency with medium armor, shields and martial weapons. Your Bardic Inspiration can then be used to either add on damage rolls or even as a reaction to add a bonus to your AC. Eventually, you can attack twice whenever you use the attack action and even attack once when you use your action to cast a spell.
Do you have any tips for new Bards? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credits: Wizards of the Coast
May 24 2017
For many geeks, San Diego Comic-Con is a magical place. Thousands make the trip every year, battling crowds, commotion and online combat to get their hands on a treasured autograph or that exclusive release to display back home. Magic and musicals make a classic team, with quite a few geek icons trying their hand at a little song and dance. It was only a matter of time before the two worlds truly merged. Creators Nicholas Brandt and Laura Watkins mixed the two together to create Comic-Con The Musical!
Comic-Con The Musical features a narrator that is also, naturally, a Dungeon Master. It weaves in classic convention scenes like cosplayers, singing and long lines everywhere with a trio of plots. A movie mogul announces a life-changing contest, a showrunner seduces a superfan to steal her ideas, and an alien tries to take over the world because Comic-Con is the one place where nobody would seem to notice. Everyone learns to be proud of who they really are and embrace their inner superpower by the end of the show.
“I’m a huge sci-fi/fantasy fan and I wanted to write a musical that had all sorts of cosplayers singing their dreams”, said Laura Watkins. “I had a song idea for a heartfelt Alien Ballad, and a few other ideas. I couldn’t figure out what kind of story would tie them together, and that is when I teamed up with Nick!”
“Laura brought me on as her resident nerd friend,” said Nicholas Brandt, “I’ve been going to Cons since I was a kid in Buffalo. I started going to the bigger shows when I moved to California after college. Many of the characters and experiences are based on real events that happened to me or my friends, and I think anyone who has been to a Con will relate – making new best friends in a line, meeting your idol, getting stuck in a costume, what it’s like having to “work” a Con instead of play, finding that perfect addition to your collection, being exhausted and hungry but still feeling like it’s one of the best days of your life. Every character has a bit of me in them. I think the character most inspired by my experience, though, is Jason. I had the actual experience of going to Con trying to get people to read a comic that I had assembled and printed myself.”
Comic-Con the Musical’s first draft was finished in November 2015, just in time to submit to the 2016 ASCAP DreamWorks Musical Workshop with Stephen Schwartz. It was chosen as one of four shows to present at the workshop hosted by the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. There, in February 2016, we performed the first thirty minutes of the musical and then received feedback from well-known Broadway composers Stephen Schwartz (Pippin, Wicked), Irene Mecchi (The Lion King), and Karey Kirkpatrick (Something Rotten).
During the rewrite process Brandt and Watkins presented selections from the show at Rockwell Table and Stage for the Musi-Cal series. Using all of that creative feedback to propel another rewrite, Comic-Con The Musical held a full workshop on November 13th, 2016 and then was revised based on that feedback for our 2017 Hollywood Fringe Festival performances.
“I was influenced by a lot of film scores,” said Watkins. “Star Trek, Star Wars, Iron Man, LOTR and more. I was influenced by the opening numbers in Ragtime and Into the Woods. I also was kind of inspired by the character of ‘The Wizard’ in Wicked. Book of Mormon was also quite an influence. I guess I got a little bit bit by the Hamilton bug along the way as well.”
“One musical that I discovered directly following the ASCAP Foundation DreamWorks Musical Workshop is Heathers the Musical,” said Brandt, “I adore it. It’s great at establishing the wants of its characters, which is one of the key notes we took out of that workshop experience. Avenue Q (and the play Hand to God) inspired the use of a puppet for the alien/Flarg Princess character primarily because I didn’t want people in the audience to assume she was a cosplay character so she needed something visually dramatic to set her apart. Anything I’ve seen since we first started writing has pinged a staging thought in my head. I’d love to do a large staging with some inspiration from Rude Mechs I’ve Never Been So Happy (for projection) and Amelie the Musical (for surrealism).
Fans looking for a sample of the songs can click here to see how this show compares to Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog or the Supernatural musical episode. If you’re in Southern California, keep an eye out for the next performance of the show. It could be something fun to talk about while waiting in line at a con for a little piece of magic to take home.
What is your favorite geeky musical moment? Let us know in the comments.
Feature Image Credits: Comic-Con The Musical
Rob Wieland is an author, game designer and professional nerd. He writes about kaiju, Jedi, gangsters, elves, Vulcans and sometimes all of them at the same time. His blog is here, his Twitter is here and his meat body can be found in scenic Milwaukee, WI.
May 23 2017
Persona 5 is the most recent entry in a line of deep JRPG video games that incorporate a unique mash-up of traditional RPG action, dating sims, urban fantasy, and Jungian psychology. An important aspect of these games is your main character’s ‘social links’, the bonds that they form with their NPC allies; these bonds are a literal source of power for our heroes, and exploring them is a fun and often fascinating part of the experience. The game introduces a bevy of characters for your masked high school hero to meet and befriend, such as a disgraced doctor, an investigative reporter, and a star boardgame player named Hifumi Togo.
I like Hifumi. She’s shy, but passionate about her game: Shogi. Hifumi is a champion Shogi player, who is seeking to become the first female to reach 3rd Dan (rank) of the professional leagues. Despite her mother’s insistence that she rely on her looks to gain more fans, Hifumi wants to earn her place through mastery of the game (at least, that’s how things start. Nothing is ever that simple in the world of Persona). She channels her passion through the game, demonstrating intense tactical expertise, which she will share with the hero if he agrees to practice with her.
Getting to know Hifumi was interesting, but it left me with one burning question: What the heck is Shogi exactly? Persona 5 gave me some inkling, as I watched my main character play a board game with Hifumi in a Church in the middle of the night (totally typical of this series, by the way), but I wanted to know more.
Image Credit: Oliver Orschiedt
With a little research, I learned that Shogi (将棋shōgi) is what you might call Japanese chess. Two players will try to trap each other’s king using pieces with a variety of powers, but there are two key differences between this and the classic western strategy game. The first is that captured pieces don’t get kicked off the board. Instead, these pieces join the opposing side (the traitors) and can be played back onto the board by the capturing player. The second big difference is that when a piece reaches the last 3 rows of the opponents side, it can level up. In chess, only the pawns can do this, but Shogi knows no such bounds! Thus a Bishop can become a Horse, a Rook can become a Dragon, and a Knight can become a Gold General (I mean, who wouldn’t want to be one of those?).
While Shogi is known to be Japanese, it’s believed that it evolved from a game called Chaturanga which originated in India and traveled to Japan via China and Korea. It’s estimated that the game may have been around as early as the sixth century! Seeing as it has been around so long, it’s no surprise that Shogi is often represented in Japanese art and film; sometimes you can even spot it popping up in manga and anime, like this episode of Nartuto Shippuden where Asuma teaches Shikamaru about sacrifice through playing the game.
Image Credit: Persona 5/Atlus
Shogi pieces are all tiles marked with Kanji characters which can be a bit difficult to learn for anyone unfamiliar with the Japanese language, but with practice anyone can learn to play. If you are curious to try learning Shogi, there are plenty of books, videos, and even apps available.
Akira Watanabe’s TsumeShogi is a great app to begin with as it is one of the few in English. The series offers different levels of play so as you advance in skill, you can try out more challenging games. You can check out the beginners course here.
A super simplified and adorable version of Shogi is CatchTheLionWars (iOS and Android). This one is unfortunately only available in Japanese, but the game highlights how each piece moves and is simple enough to practice with.
One of my favorite things about games like Persona is that, though the magic of excellent localization, they introduce us to cultural touchstones to which we might not otherwise be exposed. And as a bonus, Hifumi’s lessons even made my main character better at strategic combat! So while learning Shogi may not make it easier for you to swap out party members in real life, it’s really cool that it features a game that ties Persona not just to its own series, but to a gaming tradition centuries old.
What sort of games do you feel passionate about? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured Image Credit: Persona 5/Atlus
May 23 2017
The entertainment industry loves to imagine the future of crime. And with future crime comes future crime fighting. So–let’s talk about the future of fighting crime!
We’re not sure if we’ll ever be comfortable with police robots patrolling the streets, nor are we comfortable with notions of law enforcement probing our brains in an attempt to apprehend criminals before they ever commit a crime. Still, there are some very pragmatic tools for fighting crime that read as though they might have emerged from the realm of science fiction. The future of crime fighting is now, and emerging technologies promise to reshape crime fighting as we know it.
The Internet Of (listening) Things
2017 will be remembered for a lot of things, some good, some bad. Certainly one of the most interesting events of the year was allowing an Amazon Echo to “testify” in a murder trial. In March, after a defendant requested they do so, Amazon has agreed to hand over Alexa data to prosecutors in a murder trial. The company had initially refused to do so, saying it sought to protect the privacy rights of its customers, and that Alexa’s questions and answers were protected by the first amendment. While Alexa is constantly listening, it only records data after the “Alexa” (or whatever name one gives their Echo) commands are given. However, the Echo speaker was reportedly streaming music near the incident, and investigators believe it might have been awakened intentionally or accidentally. If so, the presence of a recording could tell them if the defendant was talking with the victim when he said he was sleeping, for instance.
In public, law enforcement agencies are increasingly turning to IoT to reduce crime through efforts such as connected (and listening) lighting posts, body cameras, and new innovations in data acquisition. In 2015, New York City implemented a gunshot detection acoustic surveillance technology called ShotSpotter that uses tiny, inexpensive sensors to detect, locate and alert law enforcement agencies of illegal gunfire incidents in real time. Since then ShotSpotter has provided thousands of alerts on where guns went off, 74% of which weren’t reported by 911. NYPD said ShotSpotter helped recover 32 firearms, including 13 on cases with no 911 call, and has led to 21 arrests. Eight of those arrests had no 911 call.
The big (and growing bigger) question is whether these increases in security are a worthy tradeoff for the corresponding loss of privacy?
In Quantum World, Identity Verifies You
Identity theft is a term used to describe a variety of forms of impersonation and fraud. A key step in identity theft is impersonation, which involves obtaining and presenting some personal identifiers or credentials that will convince another person or institution of the false identity being claimed. Such identifiers traditionally include fingerprints, Social Security Numbers, birth certificates, passports, bank cards, etc. –- But the cost of reproducing or defeating these authentication mechanisms continuously drops, meaning we desperately need a surefire way to identify ourselves using things that nobody can forge or steal from us.
Enter quantum biometric authentication! The basic idea is that nobody can fake your particular quantum funk. Quantum biometric authentication relies on that fact that, at the electromagnetic level, we’re all unique snowflakes. A digital signature formulated by the electromagnetic signals in your body, created from signals that a quantum biometric authentication sensor can detect from any contact point, can provide higher levels of security that are more resistant to hacking and identity theft. In fact, this form of biometric authentication is unique in that it not only identifies the individual but can identify different cognitive states. In other words, it can determine if the user is awake or asleep, sober, focused or unfocused, and detect stress or anxiety levels.
In addition to security, this could have widespread ramifications on public safety in areas such as shipping and trucking, public transportation, and… bars! Imagine a bouncer or bartender being able to detect the precise levels of their patrons’ intoxication. We were going to talk about smart cars detecting whether their drivers are sober enough to drive, but by the time quantum biometric authentication hits commercial primetime, our cars will surely be driving themselves.
Minority Report is (kinda) Real
Could people be locked up just because a computer model says that they are likely to commit a crime? Could all crime end altogether, because an artificial intelligence gets so good at predicting when crimes will occur? Researchers have been working with law enforcement departments to develop predictive algorithms that they can come closer than traditional detective work to figuring out who is most apt to break the law. They say criminals commit violent crimes in predictively distinctive patterns and often have similar attributes. Those include previous arrests; unemployment; an unstable home life; friends and relatives who have been killed, are in prison or have gang ties; and problems with drugs or alcohol.
Companies like HunchLab and PredPol are currently the wunderkinds of predictive policing. They both dig into dozens of other factors like past criminal activity, population density, census data, the locations of bars, churches, schools, and transportation hubs, schedules for home games — even moon phases. Some of the correlations predictive policing software has uncovered are obvious, like fewer crimes on colder days. Others are more mysterious, for example: rates of aggravated assault in Chicago have decreased on windier days, while cars in Philadelphia were stolen more often when parked near schools.
Today only a limited number of studies undertaken to measure the efficacy of predictive policing. At best, predictive policing has shown a ten percent improvement in crime reduction than regular policing methods. The biggest concern thus far has been its seeming penchant for racial profiling. The Wisconsin Department of Corrections is actively using a tool named COMPAS (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions) to determine sentencing guidelines for criminals based on a COMPAS generated risk score. They claim that COMPAS risk scoring provides a sound assessment that accurately identifies an offender’s risk to re-offend is the cornerstone of effective supervision. However, a recent ProPublica analysis found that black defendants were 45 percent more likely to get a higher score and twice as likely as white defendants to be misclassified as a higher risk of violent recidivism.
Personally, all this stuff makes us all kinds of uncomfortably itchy. But this ain’t about us, it’s about you. So tell us…
What are your thoughts on the future of crime fighting?
May 23 2017
Transmission incoming! Signal Boost! is our weekly love letter to all fandoms, be it books, podcasts, indie games, Etsy shops, soundtracks, websites, or events. Come see what wonderful, crazy stuff is out there and connect with a community of fans who knows what it’s like to like the wonderful, crazy, and unknown.
Amy Vorpahl creates music, takes on multiple RPG shows, writes for Mothership, and now gives you some amazing Signal Boosts. (We’re not sure if she ever sleeps.) Pick up your ukulele and start singing along with Amy about folk singers with a little pop, a master of props for dragons, and a magician who knew too little. Tighten those strings and stay on key. This might just be the most musical Boost yet!
Check out Amy’s Recommendations this week:
What things would you want to Signal Boost? Let us know in the comments below and tune in every Tuesday to find out what’s hot and potentially unheard of in the land of geekdom.