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Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

Five Goblins Walk Into A Bar…And Die: A Review Of “Goblin Quest”

June 26th, 2015 No comments

DISCLOSURE: A copy of the PDF was provided by the author for the purpose of this review.

Over the past several years, I’ve been intrigued by the assortment of modern pen-and-paper role-playing games which favor speed and storytelling over hundreds of pages of rules. I thoroughly enjoyed Dungeon World and would happily return to it if I ever found a regular group to play it with me. Others I’ve explored have been the revised edition of Fate, and the charming, kid-friendly Dungeonteller and Adventure Maximus.

Goblin Quest, written by Grant Howitt, is a recently-published rules-lite RPG that casts its players as the hapless fodder of an army of evil. Its level of complexity places it closer to Risus or Kobolds Ate My Baby than it does Fate or Dungeon World. However, its approach to character longevity brings to mind another classic: Paranoia.

As in that game, Goblin Quest players control not a single character, but a clutch of  five, functionally-identical duplicates that appear in sequence as their broodmates quickly meet with humorously gruesome death. According to the game’s fiction, the goblins are the lowest caste of warriors in a Great Battle Camp that certainly isn’t the Land of Mordor. They spawn rapidly because they must; their average life-span is a mere week. But in that short window, those goblins seek glory and foolishness, not necessarily in that order.

Goblin characters have a handful of attributes, which include an Honorific (or surname) for their brood, an Expertise (e.g. “Ganging Up on Things”) and a Quirk (“Covered in Stolen Hair”). Each clutch of duplicates has a shared Dream, and fortunately for them, their short life’s ambition is relatively simple. They also get an Ancestral Heirloom which has been passed down for generations…meaning that their great-great-grandgoblin probably found it a few weeks ago.

Oh, and two hit points.

Task resolution comes down to a simple roll of a six-sided die. A result of 1-2 is an Injury (mark off a hit point!); 3 is Something Bad (the next goblin to act gets -1 on its roll); 4 is Something Good (which grants a +1 instead); and 5-6 is a Victory. If one of your attributes might help in the situation, you can roll an extra die…but both dice count, meaning that victorious death is a not-unlikely outcome.

baerThe storyline–which is intended to run its course in a single game session–is cooperatively defined by the players by asking each other what they want to do and what they’ll need to do it. Each quest is broken up into three tasks of increasing difficulty, each further broken into three stages. To complicate things, a party of dead-goblins-walking will face three pre-generated misfortunes while in pursuit of their goal.

And…that’s really the gist of it. Your intrepid goblin will die, to be instantly replaced by one of its fellows lurking just off-screen. With just enough cleverness and luck, you might see the quest through before you run out of fodder.

This scarcity of rules is mitigated by plenty of fun-to-read background fluff and lots of full-color art, but the real value of the PDF is still to come.

For one, the game includes contributions from a murderer’s row of RPG designers, including Rob Heinsoo, Ken Hite and Robin D. Laws. They provide story ideas, character concepts and “alternate misfortunes.”

The biggest bang for the buck is the second (and slightly-longer) half of the book, which features six rules hacks and one stand-alone minigame. They include:

  • Kobold Quest – similar to the core game, but with kobolds combining forces to build a wacky contraption in hopes of fulfilling the decree of the Mighty Dragon King.
  • My Name is Inigo Montoya, Jr. – a swashbuckling game of revenge, inspired by you-know-what.
  • Sean Bean Quest – a wonderfully bizarre premise in which all of the players are actor Sean Bean attempting to survive one of his films and thus break a curse of infinite death.
  • The Cthulhu Files – a serious, campaign-oriented spin which simulates the encroaching madness of the traditional Lovecraft game.
  • Neither Super Nor Heroic – a group of inept supers brought together as a last resort against evil, whom generally make things even worse.
  • Space Interns – think Redshirts.
  • Regency Ladies – unrelated to the core rules, this is a bonus minigame of courtship in Jane Austen land.

This toolbox of ideas alone makes Goblin Quest well worth investigating, and the core rules themselves will please gamers who take perverse delight in playing easily-dispatched avatars.

You can purchase the PDF of Goblin Quest directly from the author a minimum price of $15.00, and you can also find it at RPGNow and DriveThruRPG.


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The Best Things In Life Are (Mostly) Free

May 5th, 2014 No comments

I’ve previously rhapsodized about my iPad, surely the most wonderful–and certainly most addictive–electronic device I’ve ever owned. The two of us were inseparable. At least, until I finally bought an iPad Air, at which point I broke that piece of outmoded shit over my knee.*

So, now that I have iOS 7, I’m trying out the new generation of apps. And, to my utter surprise, I find myself loving a couple of “free to play” games.

Previously, I’ve largely avoided so-called “freemium” apps, most of which purport to be free yet require frequent “in-app purchases” to provide their full experience. However, soon after acquiring my iPad Air, I sampled Doctor Who Legacy, a game which has been praised as an example of “how to do the ‘free to play’ model correctly.”

After having spent too many hours with it, I can vouch for this assessment: you can play Doctor Who Legacy as much as you want without paying a dime. Yes, you can purchase “time crystals” which can be spent in turn on various characters and perks, but most are easily acquirable in-game. And you’ll earn plenty of crystals just by playing.

Now, I did spend a few dollars on crystals, partially to support the developers and partially to access a special “fan” area which offers previews of upcoming characters and levels. But that was a choice, not a requirement.

The game itself is a Doctor Who-themed riff on the likes of Puzzle Quest, which combines “match 3″ play with role-playing game mechanics. You assemble a team of characters drawn from the TV show, each of which contributes hit points, attacks and special abilities to your mix. Then you pit your TARDIS crew against a large array of enemies with powers of their own.


It’s got a rudimentary story, something about the warlike Sontarans fracturing the timestream in their attempt to conquer reality, but it’s barely coherent and beside the point anyway. It’s just an excuse to toss in every TV character you’ve heard of–and quite a few you’ve completely forgotten about. It’s the sort of game in which you can pit K-9, Strax, Cleopatra, an Ood and Winston Churchill against the combined might of the Whispermen, the Peg Dolls and the Flesh. And if any of that made sense to you, this game might be right up your time corridor.

The only thing that seemed capable of stopping from matching 3 with the Doctor well into the night was an equally addictive game, and now I’ve found one. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a collectible card game set in the World of Warcraft universe. And while Doctor Who Legacy is fairly dependent upon being versed in the TV show, Hearthstone is perfectly enjoyable without any knowledge of prior Warcraft games.

My first reaction to Hearthstone was “this is a dumbed-down Magic: The Gathering.” And I was dead right. But what I realized after a while was that I was having a load of fun playing a dumbed-down Magic: The Gathering.

Really, the gameplay is extremely similar. Two players square off in a duel of spells and summoned minions, attempting to penetrate the enemy’s defenses and whittle their opponent’s life down to zero.

However, the differences are in the details. Unlike Magic, players are not allowed to interrupt each other’s turns with spells, eliminating the chaos of endless counters and counter-counters. You still have to be savvy in your card play, but you needn’t worry about baroque “timing” issues.

The game takes advantage of its digital-only format by incorporating random effects that would be difficult to effectively model with physical card decks, and by allowing players to set up “secret” traps for each other.

The interface is slick and visually dazzling, with magic missiles whizzing across the battlefield. Special “golden” cards (which are earned through play) feature animated images.


While the game pretty much demands that you play other people, the designers have eliminated the douchiness that stems from online matchmaking. Opponents may only communicate through a handful of pre-programmed “emotes,” imposing civility and sportsmanship. And a strict, 90-second turn limit keeps things moving.

Even better, they’ve entirely done away with the secondary market that plagues collectible games. You can’t trade or sell cards, you can only acquire them in-game. You earn “gold” which can be used to purchase new “packs” of cards, and if you get too many of a given one, you can scrap them for credit which can in turn be used to acquire the cards you really want.

Of course, you can spend real money, either to buy packs or to enter Arena mode. The latter offers greater rewards each time you win a match, and players in the know suggest that once you get good at Arena play it pretty much supports itself. I am not good at Arena play, but even so, I earn enough “gold” through regular play that I gain a free entry into the Arena every two to three days. And I truly haven’t spent a dime on the game to date.

*A total lie. I have a ton of media stored on the old iPad 1, and intend to use it as my “reading” tablet.

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Boardgame Full Of Monsters

February 11th, 2014 No comments

The main reason that I haven’t been blogging much lately is that most of my free time had been taken up by a boardgame design contest. The Champaign-Urbana Design Organization is sponsoring a competition called CUDO Plays, which encourages locals to collaborate in designing, playtesting and manufacturing their own games.

I’ve always had a lot of boardgame ideas percolating in my head, but have had a lot of trouble turning them into something playable. When the contest was announced last fall, I thought it might be the chance to finally complete such a project.

At the kick-off event, I found myself talking to a couple other random gamers (who shall be known as Bryan and Paul, as those are their names) and the three of us decided to form a team.

Bryan already had a semi-fleshed out concept for a game called Monsterville, which would’ve placed the players in charge of districts of a city besieged by monsters. For a brief time we turned the concept upside down and had the monsters running the town, defending it from humans. Eventually, we threw out both ideas in favor of something loosely inspired by one of my favorite films, The Cabin in the Woods.

Intermediate prototype design.

Cabin Full of Monsters casts the players as vaguely evil forces, each of which recruits a team of creatures to stalk and dispatch the unfortunate human visitors to a certain woodland cabin. The bodies of the deceased are then placed in one of four graveyards depending on the successful monster’s preferred method of mayhem: Terrifying, Surprising, Gory or Creative.

The game is meant to be semi-cooperative. The players must work together to keep any of the graveyards from being emptied (each turn, one or more bodies are removed for reasons that remain ill-defined). Should that happen, all players lose. On the other hand, all players can win if the supply of potential victims is exhausted, leaving only a “sole survivor.”

In addition, each player has an individual goal (for example, at least 12 points’ worth of victims in each graveyard), many of which overlap. After eight rounds, players check to see whether they’ve completed their victory condition.

Bryan and I share a love of monster movies, and we took the opportunity to fill the cabin with homages and in-jokes. Naturally, there are Cabin in the Woods references (Redneck Zombies, Unicorn, Merman). There are gamer memes (Gazebo, The Darkness). There are cryptids (Chupacabra, Skunk Ape). And there are swipes from movies including The Crawling Eye, Lifeforce, Death Bed and Flash Gordon (“No, not the Bore Worms!”).

The game required a crapton of art, and a local teacher named Carmen came to the rescue, recruiting her students to depict many of the monsters. The results were often wonderful, sometimes bizarre and always charming. (The Skunk Ape, a Down South cousin of Bigfoot, wound up as a literal half-skunk, half-ape.)

A lineup full of monsters.

Components include 192 cards; 160 tokens to represent victims, monsters and “blood” (the game’s currency); a large gameboard detailing the cabin and graveyard; and eight smaller boards for the individual players. Oh, and a cloth bag from which to randomly draw the victims. I asked a coworker of mine for help making a bag, and this is what her clever daughter crafted. (No matter what else happens with this game, I am keeping the bag!)


To make the tokens, we utilized the University of Illinois’ community “fab lab” and its handy laser cutter. One of the best things about this whole experience was learning about the resources available to folks who want to exercise their creativity, and I’m looking forward to making my own tchtochkes in the future.

It took a full four months from our first meeting to the final product, which we turned in to the competition committee last weekend. This coming Sunday we’ll get to see all of the finished designs and find out who won. For me, the real prize is seeing a complicated game to completion, and perhaps the opportunity to make my own copy to play with friends.

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Con-tact Has Been Made

August 18th, 2013 No comments

If there’s one thing that I look forward to more than any other each year, it’s Gen Con, the massive board/war/card/role-playing gaming convention. I’ve attended every year since it moved to Indianapolis in 2003.

I used to go for a single day of the four-and-a-half day game-a-palooza, but the past couple of times I’ve stayed overnight so that I have time to get outside of the dealers’ room and actually see some games being played. I have a feeling that two days is about right for me; three would be too much. As it was, by the afternoon of the second day I became exhausted and cranky on the overcrowded convention floor. Even the Daleks were feeling beat…

If there was a theme this year, it was people not being ready to accommodate the rush. The first sign of this came with my arrival on Friday morning, when I learned that the convention had temporarily run out of lanyards for the all-important badges that permit access into the ticketed areas. The lanyards arrived later in the day, and con staff were passing them out to attendees on the floor of the dealers’ room.

There were big lines to purchase the new releases. Gale Force Nine’s Firefly board game was predictably hot. I never got a chance to play in a demo game, but I figure that this is one I’ll have ample opportunity to see in the future. The latest issue of Game Trade Magazine, which was being handed out for free, includes a miniature Firefly ship, and by the end of my visit I’d amassed a squadron of them.

The Fantasy Flight Games booth was frustrating. One literally could not enter the store without standing in a line that wrapped around the corner. It took until Saturday afternoon before it had died down enough for me to bother with it.

That said, Fantasy Flight also had the most impressive display of new and forthcoming releases, including a Warhammer Fantasy-themed relaunch of their old Diskwars rules system, and a streamlined 2nd edition of Battlelore which I suspect I’ll buy into when it hits stores.

They also had this:

Sweet Zombie Jesus, it’s a model of my favorite Star Wars starship, the Rebel Blockade Runner, scaled to fit in with the X-Wing miniatures game. It. Is. Gorgeous. There’s also a Rebel Transport, which is swell too.

Another retailer unable to cope was Stoneblade Entertainment, which offered a half-price coupon for their brand-new introductory version of the popular Ascension deckbuilding game, only to sell out on the first day. And the makers of Cards Against Humanity, a game which is not without reason nicknamed “Assholes to Assholes,” abandoned their booth after selling through their stock, leaving nothing behind but a trio of scrawled cards telling their would-be customers to fuck off. Classy.

As with many geek conventions, Gen Con is sort of a nerdery catch-all. Lots of “cosplayers” dressed as superheroes, warriors, steampunkers, anime characters and those inexplicable quasi-Victorian maids that inevitably show up. And, as is all too often the case these day, a fair number of people dressed as who-the-fuck-knows-what, including one that resembled an ambulatory wrap-around shower. One guy getting a lot of attention for the sheer weirdness of his choice was dressed as one of the technicians from Mel Brooks’ Spaceballs, complete with ball-shaped helmet.

And then there was Bob Ross, from The Joy of Painting

Several celebrities were on deck, including Peter Davison, the fifth actor to play Doctor Who, and former Star Trek: The Next Generation star Wil Wheaton. Wheaton has thoroughly rehabilitated his image since his days as despised kid genius Wesley Crusher, and now serves as de facto king of the gamer nerds. I never saw him, but I understand that he was involved in various charity fundraising games at the con.

I did get to say “hi” to Walter Koenig, best-known as Star Trek‘s Chekov, who was there to sign copies of Mayfair Games’ new Star Trek: Catan map pack. Oddly, he seemed to have missed a memo, as he was wearing a cap from competing space TV franchise Babylon 5.

Last year Mayfair had Nichelle Nichols signing copies of the Star Trek: Catan base game, so my hope is that they’ll eventually release enough of these that I’ll have the whole crew. Though Scotty will be a tough one.

I was able to participate in demos of several games. Daemon Dice is from the current makers of the former Wizards of the Coast game Dragon Dice. Each player rolls a set of 13 dice which represent the various body parts of their demonic warrior. I thought that it was too fiddly for what it was trying to accomplish, but I did pick up some of the giveaway dice; the “tentacle” die, featuring two “pluses,” two “minuses,” and two tentacles, will serve nicely for the specialty dice used in the role-playing games FUDGE and FATE.

Hegemonic is an upcoming space conquest game that was being promoted as less random than similar titles such as Eclipse and Twilight Imperium. I like Minion Games’ Manhattan Project a lot, but the half hour I spent learning the rules to Hegemonic suggested that, like Daemon Dice, it was unnecessarily fiddly for me.

Legacy: Gears of Time apparently has been out for a while, but I was unfamiliar with it. It involves manipulating history by introducing technologies, and it was something that I was left wanting to give a second look.

I was eager to see the aforementioned FATE RPG in action as run by someone familiar with its quirky system of rules. I attended a session of Games on Demand, which offered multiple small-press and off-the-wall role-playing games every two hours. It too was overwhelmed, and the system devised for dealing with the crush made it difficult to play a desired title. Which kinda flew in the face of “games on demand.”

However, I did manage to bull my way into a Saturday night session of FATE‘s pared-down Accelerated Edition. Unfortunately, I still don’t feel that I have a good idea of how the system works, as the scenario never allowed for a demonstration of combat, and there was little of the back-and-forth shuttling of “Fate Points” which is a core rules mechanic.

I left town after that, getting back to Champaign about midnight. Although I tend to comment on the negative things about the convention, I truly did have a good time and already am looking forward to next year!

Here are a few random sights from Gen Con 2013. First up is a balloon sculpture of the evil god Cthulhu; the winner of a charity auction was allowed to “slay” it.

This is a forthcoming set of Heroclix miniatures based upon the 1966 Batman TV show. It includes sculptures of such celebrity guest villains as Vincent Price as Egghead, Cliff Robertson as Shame, Roddy McDowell as the Bookworm, Victor Buono as King Tut, and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. I want these almost as much as I want that Blockade Runner.

Local businesses near the Indiana Convention Center got into the act. Here, Noodles goes full-out geek with decorations from Borderlands, Pathfinder and Doctor Who.


And now, a gallery of goodies I acquired at the show. This is Dungeon Roll, a spiffy little dice game in which you press-your-luck against an ever-increasing number of monsters. The treasure chest-shaped box is very appealing, but I’m afraid that the paper “hinge” isn’t going to last long. The game itself is a fun “filler” to play between more serious fare.

Here’s a better look at the Star Trek: Catan expansion, which includes scoring tracks and victory point chits. And, of course, mine has been pre-explored by Mr. Chekov!


This is TAU, which I bought because it was innovative and inexpensive. It’s a storytelling game occupying a realm similar to that of Once Upon a Time, except that each player’s “character” is defined by a series of cards which depict its attributes and abilities. These cards, which feature standard numbers and suits, are drafted in a trick-taking game prior to the main event. Then the referee describes a scenario which the players are meant to overcome, with the winner being the last one to die. I haven’t seen it played, but it’s a clever enough concept.

That said, I want to slap the person responsible for the naming and marketing of it. The nondescript name is supposed to reflect the game’s theme of everyone dying happily ever after, except that (according to Wikipedia, at least) the Greek letter Tau is used to represent life/resurrection; it’s Theta that represents death. That, plus the nearly featureless box art, help to disguise what seems like a pretty good idea.

This is Gravwell, from Cryptozoic. I’d read about this one on BoardGameGeek, and enjoyed the demo. It’s an abstract space game in which the players are trying to pilot their spaceships out of a singularity. They play a series of fuel cards to either pull towards or push away from the nearest opposing ship. The cards are selected secretly and played in order of the first letter of the name of the element that they represent. (There are 26 cards, naturally.) It’s the sort of game in which the order of play changes frequently and it’s easy to send one’s ship spiraling helplessly in the wrong direction. Fortunately, you have a one-time-per-round “emergency stop” card.

Next is Colossal Cave, a board game implementation of the original text-based adventure. You know, the sort of early computer game in which you’d type commands like “grab lantern” or “eat bear.” I haven’t tried it yet, so it’s possible that it will wind up an exercise in frustration in which players are endlessly opening up bottomless pits under each other. Still, I like the concept, and I love the graphics.

Here’s an assortment of random dice, coins, tokens and miniatures. That row of red dice includes allows me to generate ranges of numbers from 1/10 to 10/10; 1-2; 1-3; 1-5; 1-7; 1-14; 1-16; 1-18; and 1-22. Because you never know.

And finally, I leave you with a little fellow named Cubie…a plush Gelatinous Cube.

Apparently it was the winner of a contest called “Design a Game-Related Tchotchke that David Thiel Cannot Possibly Resist.”


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All The World’s Monsters

April 25th, 2013 No comments

A couple of months ago, I read Playing at the World, a history of early wargaming and its evolution into Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a massive brick of a book–700+ pages in an ant-sized font–and almost too definitive. Still, if you want to truly understand from where this hobby sprung, you need to seek it out.

I came away from it with a much greater appreciation for D&D co-creator E. Gary Gygax, who–if not the sole progenitor of the role-playing game–was clearly the chief architect of the classic dungeon crawl. But what impressed me most about this account of Gygax was his work in classifying and codifying the monsters of our shared mythology.

Allow me to backtrack a bit. I’d been doing some research into creatures of legend in an effort to create a bestiary for the Dungeon World RPG. My first step was to consult my treasured copy of Mythical Monsters. Published in 1973 by Scholastic Books, I bought this cartoon guidebook in grade school and have kept it to this day.*

It drew heavily on Jorge Luis Borges’ 1957 work Book of Imaginary Beings, so I sought out that volume as well. From it, I learned two important things:

  • Many mythological creatures took no definitive form. Accounts of their appearance and attributes varied wildly depending on who was telling the tale.**
  • Pliny the Elder would believe pretty much anything. You could walk up to him and claim that a hippopotamus breathed poisonous gas and foraged for pearls at the ocean’s bottom, and he’d write it up for his Natural History, no questions asked.

“No! Really! You say that one look into its eyes would kill you stone dead? Yet you’re still alive and telling me this? Why, I believe every word of it!”

Returning now to E. Gary Gygax, it’s well-known that he drew on many sources in developing his extensive list of dungeon denizens: Tolkien, Conan the Barbarian, Ray Harryhausen films, comic books and dime store toys. But as Playing at the World describes, Gygax went one step further than Borges: he pinned down these mutable myths. He distinguished the cockatrice from the basilisk, the gorgon from the medusa, the goblin from the kobold. Much of what we think we know about the catoplebas, the peryton and the manticore came by way of the Monster Manual.

As a fan of all things dark and dangerous, I tip my flagon of ale to you, Gary, for your role in preserving and cataloging our heritage of horrors.

*Unfortunately, in scanning the artwork for this article, I broke the binding of my beloved 40-year-old paperback. You may now feel sorry for me.

**Reading the wild descriptions of beings widely agreed upon as purely fanciful, I was struck by how similar they were to those found in the core beliefs of accepted, mainstream religion. Which of these is the myth?

  • “(It) was larger than a mountain. Its eyes shot forth flames and its mouth was so enormous that nine thousand men would fit inside..the beast had three gullets; all vomited forth inextinguishable fire.”
  • “(I) saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns…the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion…”

Trick question. They both are.

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The Goblin Thrusts His Spear At Your Gut…What Do You Do?

January 28th, 2013 No comments

I’d been running a 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign off-and-on since 2008, but last year I began to tire of it.

Oh, there was still a lot that I still liked about 4E. It was the first iteration of D&D in at least 25 years that gave me the confidence to run an ongoing game. And I had a ton of fun crafting custom monsters and building memorable tabletop battlefields.

There were downsides as well. Combats tended to be long and somewhat mechanical. The underlying math of 4E’s level advancement assumed that player characters received frequent (and rather generic) magic weapons so that they could maintain parity with increasingly deadly opponents. And, more than anything, I found I didn’t have the free time to achieve the level of customization that I wanted in my campaign.

For these and other reasons, I folded my D&D game late last year. Yet I still have a dungeon-building itch that I need to scratch.

This is where Dungeon World comes in. It’s a hack of an earlier role-playing game called Apocalypse World, rewriting those rules to give them the flavor and feel of an old-school dungeon crawl. Coincidentally, I stumbled across DW on the very day it launched its wildly successful Kickstarter funding campaign. I plunked down my cash, and I’m told that the softcover rulebook should be along any day now.

Dungeon World is one of a new breed of rules-lite RPGs that emphasize storytelling and player interaction over pages of charts and copious lists. I’ve looked at a bunch of these (Risus, Cosmic Patrol, Old-School Hack) but have often felt that there wasn’t enough there there. Sure, I don’t want to have to memorize a ton of rules, but I need some structure. I need dice to roll. DW hits my sweet spot in terms of what gamers term “crunch.”

Players are given one of several fantasy archetypes–fighter, wizard, thief, cleric, etc. Everything that they need to know about their character fits on one double-sided sheet of paper. (Clerics and wizards each have a second sheet of spells, but even those are far more compact than the extensive lists found in traditional pen-and-paper RPGs.)

The basic gameplay of DW revolves around “moves.” The game master asks “What do you do?” and the players describe their characters’ actions; if these trigger one of a number of predetermined moves, they roll dice to see what happens.

For example, if a player says, “I leap at the orc and swing my blade at his neck,” it might trigger the Hack and Slash move. The player rolls a pair of six-sided dice, adding modifiers as appropriate. On a result of 10 or more, the action succeeds. On a 7, 8 or 9, the action still succeeds, but there are complications. The orc may wound the character, or perhaps he shouts to call out the reinforcements in the next room. A 6 or less is an outright failure, and an opportunity for the game master to make one of his own moves in response.

The main precept of DW is that everything “follows the fiction.” Players can attempt just about anything, but only so far as it fits the fictional world. (Poking a heavily-armored dragon with a dagger isn’t a Hack and Slash move, it’s just a bad idea.) And, as one player pointed out on the Dungeon World forum, there’s nothing in the rulebook to explain how a medusa turns people to stone…a medusa turns people to stone because that’s what a medusa does.

Combat runs smoothly. There are no battle grids, no rolling for initiative…and no turns. Players act in whatever order they choose, and  therefore can build on each other’s moves. And because the non-player creatures only react to the players’ moves, the game scales easily to fit the size of the gaming group.

Even more so than 4E D&D, creating monsters is a snap. Here’s my attempt at writing up Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwock.

Aside from a brief description, this is all the information you need for a fully-realized monster.

And while the moves in the rulebook cover pretty much all of the things one typically does in a dungeon crawl RPG, it’s easy enough to create custom moves for specific situations. Here’s one I wrote to simulate the “Room of Pools” from the classic 1979 D&D adventure In Search of the Unknown.

All this freedom does come with a cost. The game master has to be on his or her toes, tapdancing madly in order to keep up with the players’ improvisations and to give them meaningful choices to make.

In fact, Dungeon World actively discourages preparation. It instructs the game master to show up to the first session with only a vague set of notes. He or she asks the players questions about their characters and the relationships between them, and together the group builds the fictional world out of whole cloth.

This presents challenges for a gamer such as myself who is used to fully mapped-out dungeon complexes and predetermined storylines. I volunteered to run a DW event at last weekend’s Winter War convention, but was worried about my ability to wing an adventure for a group of strangers.

Happily, my initial session went very well. It helped that two of the players had prior experience with the game, and another had read the rules. All five were really into it, and everyone seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves. I’m hoping to start up a semi-regular game in the not-too-distant future, and will encourage them to return.

If you’re interested in learning more about DW, there’s an active community on Google Plus…which represents the sole reason I have anything to do with Google Plus.

I hope to blog more about Dungeon World in the coming months. Until then, what do you do?


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September 5th, 2012 No comments

After a two-year hiatus, I’ve climbed back aboard the Warhammer 40,000 battle wagon. For too long, I allowed myself to be mocked by my unbuilt soldiers in their cardboard coffins. I sold off the Necron battleforce box I’d bought several years ago when I contemplated adding a third army to my existing Tyranids and Sisters of Battle. I even began to consider chucking my entire collection onto eBay.

Then my friend Kyle went on a summer vacation frenzy of buying and building a Space Wolves army. It turned out that all I needed to reignite my enthusiasm for painting little troops was someone who didn’t mind my lack of familiarity with the current Warhammer 40K rules.

As someone who grew up unskilled at model-building–I literally used to have my dad put together my Aurora monster kits–I’m proud that I not only have I successfully completed at least 125 soldiers and vehicles, but have engaged in customizing and even kitbashing my own creations.

Recently, I was inspired by another modeler’s kitbashed Zoanthrope. (A Zoanthrope is a Tyranid elite unit with a huge, exposed brain that floats around the battlefield unleashing deadly psychic blasts.) While I didn’t have enough of the plastic parts in my bits box to follow his design, I crafted something along similar lines.

Here’s the model prior to painting. Astute 40K modelers will recognize a Tyranid Warrior’s skull, a Genestealer torso–with Genestealer claws to serve as its stunted talons–and a Carnifex spike. The tail is a decorative piece from the old Battle for Macragge boxed set. The rest is sculpted Green Putty. (The rock piece was also from the Macragge set, but ultimately I had to go a different way for the base, as the model kept snapping off.)

Here’s the finished product on the left–with a piece of gravel from my driveway acting as ballast–and the official Games Workshop model on the right.

And here are two other views, so you can get a look at the brain. I’m never going to be much of a sculptor, but painted up it doesn’t look bad.

My other major project was a Mycetic Spore. It’s the Tyranid equivalent of the Space Marines’ drop pods, only as befits the techno-organic ‘Nids, it’s a big, fleshy sack that disgorges troops into battle. There’s no official model, so people have come up with all manner of kitbashed Spores.

Again, the Maximum Heresy blog provided the inspiration. Instead of a kids’ ball, I used a large craft egg from Hobby Lobby as the core. The tentacles were made from Green Putty wrapped around speaker wire, tipped with leftover Genestealer claws.

A couple of other decorative pieces from the dear old Battle of Macragge were used, one of which was meant to become a toothy maw/access point. Unfortunately, I became so enamored with the hot glue gun that I almost completely obscured the plastic piece, with the result being more of a blobby mound. I ultimately added some toothpick-tip teeth to sell it as a mouth.

An old CD became the base. It was decorated with more driveway rocks and some fine gravel typically used in model railroad layouts.

Here’s the side view, as well as a close-up of the mouth. There’s a Genestealer just beginning to emerge!

Honestly, I’m a little less enamored with the final product. It reminds me more of an angry avocado. Still it gets the job done; the job being dropping a load of bitey, shooty Tyranid troops behind Kyle’s Space Wolves lines.

I still have a couple of squads’ worth of Tyranids to paint, and at some point I intend to add a flying Hive Tyrant to command my forces. And somewhere further down the line, I have schemes for a kitbashed Carnifex. Watch this space.

Categories: Games Tags: ,

A Fetish For Gaming

August 20th, 2012 No comments

One of the events I look forward to most each year is Gen Con Indy, when tens of thousands of board-, war-, card- and role-playing gaming enthusiasts descend on Indianapolis for four days of cardboard and plastic nirvana.

The original Gen Con (literally short for “Geneva Convention”) was held in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. I first attended in the late ’70s, soon after my introduction to Dungeons & Dragons and the cottage industries that game spawned. I went back sporadically over the years, but it wasn’t until the gathering moved to Indianapolis in 2003 that I made it an annual thing.

This year was the first time that I stayed for a second day. Previously, I’d been a Friday-only guest, taking advantage of the (relatively) smaller weekday crowd. The problem with that was that it meant that I rarely stepped outside the cavernous dealers’ hall, and had little opportunity to actually try out some of the new games on display.

I think two days was just about right. I was able to thoroughly cover the dealers’ hall and still have time for some demo games. Three days would’ve been too much; I was fried by Saturday evening.

Wizards of the Coast, the Hasbro subsidiary that publishes the Magic: The Gathering card game as well as Dungeons & Dragons, made a good showing with its Drow*-themed booth, the centerpiece of which was a massive, life-sized statue of Lolth, the Demon Queen of Spiders. They also gave out some adorable papercraft models of Lolth.

There were Doctor Who fans galore this year. Nicholas Briggs, the uberfan-turned-radio drama producer who managed to get himself installed as the official voice of both the Daleks and the Cybermen, was on hand and using a modulating microphone to threaten passersby with extermination.

Cubicle 7 was demonstrating its new Doctor Who card game. It was, as friend Dave Lartigue and I feared, pretty much a numbers contest with a veneer of Who theming. The gal in the TARDIS dress was cute, though.**

When Gen Con Indy began, costumed geeks were thin on the ground. That’s changed. Nowadays, you can’t throw a 20-sided die without hitting an anime character. The parade of short-skirted, be-ribboned maids was challenged only by the ranks of the Steampunks. (“Steampunk” is an aesthetic based on a quasi-Victorian reality of steam-powered technology. Basically, it involves a lot of gears and corsets.***)

It occurred to me that Gen Con is now providing cover for fetishists. For the women, it seemed as if there’d been an open call for the sluttiest slut who ever slutted. Lots of flesh on display is what I’m saying. For the men, it was largely some combination of leather, top hats and creepy mustaches. (With the occasional cross-dressing superheroine.) When I left for dinner in downtown Indy, I passed a Steampunk couple with the man holding the woman on a leash.****

A couple of blocks away, there was a massive gathering of motorcyclists pointlessly roaring up and down Meridian Avenue. I think that they have more in common with the Gen Con crowd than might be assumed. Certainly, both parties demonstrate a love of leather and a need for exhibitionism.

Amongst the grown men dressed as Finn from Adventure Time, there were some impressive, creative costumes. The woman (or was it?) attired as one of Doctor Who‘s Clockwork Robots had its eerie, gliding movements down pat. And, of course, I was absolutely in love with this gal who came as Mothra.

Oh, I hear you saying, wasn’t this supposed to be about games? Sure, and I got to try out several of them. Dungeon Fighter was a highly-enjoyable dice fest in which the players cooperate to take down the usual assortment of subterranean monsters, except that they do it by attempting to bounce their dice into a large target. Some monsters and/or special attacks require one to toss a die underneath a leg or off the tip of one’s nose. Hilarity really did ensue.

X-Wing was basically the aerial combat miniatures game Wings of War with a Lucasfilm overlay, not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I could certainly see myself getting it, especially if I found it for cheap. The problem is that the core set comes with only two TIE Fighters and a single X-Wing. Remember that movie scene where one X-Wing got in a dogfight with a couple of TIE Fighters? Me neither. If you want a second X-Wing, or perhaps even a Y-Wing, be prepared to throw down 15 bucks per ship. That said, the miniatures are high quality, and the forthcoming Millennium Falcon is a thing of beauty.

Relic really is nothing more than a Warhammer 40,000 reskinning of Talisman, which is itself more-or-less D&D Monopoly. I enjoyed it well enough, and may consider it when it hits shelves later this year. I am concerned, however, that it will go the same route as Talisman and its million, billion add-ons. (Though, given that while at Gen Con I bought expansion sets for both Ascension and Quarriors, I can’t really complain too much.)

I got to play a full session of Dungeon World, a rules-lite role-playing game that straddles a line between old-school D&D and freewheeling storytelling games. I participated in DW’s recent Kickstarter, and was eager to play it with an experienced game master. It was a lot of fun, kinda like improvisational theater with just enough rules crunch to keep me satisfied. The GM used a nifty set of geomorphic dice to design the dungeon on the fly, and I wound up buying a set for myself.

In addition to a crapton of dice, I walked away with two painted squads of Sisters of Battle for my Warhammer 40K army. I recently got back into that game, and realized that I didn’t have a hope of being competitive without at least a couple more units of armor-plated nuns. As I was dreaded the possibility of painting up another twenty metal miniatures covered in fiddly details, I was grateful to find these. They need a bit of touch-up work, but in general they’re painted about as well as I would do on my own. I also picked up a bunch of bits and bobs for some Warhammer modeling projects I’ll be working on.

My other big purchase was a copy of Star Trek Catan, a lightly-reskinned version of the ever-popular Settlers of Catan. On one hand, it’s about as pointless as the multitude of themed Monopoly sets. Aside from some character cards which grant players limited special abilities, it really is just Catan with starships instead of roads. On the other hand–and this was the hand that reached for my wallet–it’s Catan with starships instead of roads! And Nichelle “Uhura” Nichols was there to autograph the box! Ka-ching!

All in all, I had a great time at Gen Con Indy, spent more money than I should’ve, and came away feeling satiated. It’s less than a year until Gen Con 2013. Can’t wait!

*The Drow are a race of dark-skinned elves who live underground and are uniformly evil, with the notable exception of a few tortured outsiders who have entirely too many books written about them. Unfortunately, the combination of dark-skinned goth fantasy characters and costumed conventioneers tends to result in public displays of blackface.

**There was also a second girl in a TARDIS dress, accessorized with a blue lamp perched atop her head. And on my way out of the hall on Saturday evening, I briefly spotted one in a bump-covered Dalek dress, complete with tiny dome hat.

***Slap a couple of cogs on your corset. Boom! You’re steampunk!

****Because, I guess, the importation of steam-powered computers into Victorian society loosened England’s long history of cultural repression and turned London into a haven for BDSM enthusiasts? I’m just spitballin’ here. 

The Ovens Of Ar-Gar

March 22nd, 2012 No comments

Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about tabletop role-playing games. In addition to news and speculation about the upcoming 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I’ve been following a number of gaming blogs for their tips on running a better campaign. That’s when I stumbled across the One Page Dungeon Contest, an annual challenge in which Dungeon Masters submit complete adventures formatted to fit a single sheet of paper–maps, descriptions and all. Many of the past winners were entertaining, clever and inspiring.

I decided to try my hand at it and enter this year’s competition. However, I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, so rather than starting from scratch, I revised an old scenario I wrote for the one and only time that I ran a 3rd Edition D&D session.

The original version was my unofficial sequel to a gaming community in-joke. Years ago, professional game designer Monte Cook (now leading the 5th Edition design team) wrote a humor piece entitled “The World’s Shortest (Yet Technically Complete) Adventure,” aka “The Orc and the Pie.” (Sample text: “Adventure Background: An orc has a pie.”) It ended with a suggestion for a follow-up: “Somewhere, there is a bakery making these good pies. Perhaps it’s guarded by more orcs.”

I took that as a challenge. And so it was that one day a band of stout-hearted heroes delved deep underground to find the source of those wondrous baked goods. Goblins were murdered, pies were thrown. Good times.

Anyhow, it struck me that this adventure would be relatively easy to recraft as a One Page Dungeon. I drew a new cavern map and condensed my overwritten descriptions to the bare essentials. The result just fits on one page, though I did have to resort to an 8 point font.

Click on the .jpg below for the actual .pdf of “The Ovens of Ar-Gar.”

Not everything from the original made the cut. I left out the unhelpful old woman obsessively prattling on about her potatoes. (Crazy old ladies are a role-playing fallback for me.) I also excised the bit in which the party stumbled across the site of Monte Cook’s own adventure, a literal 10′ stone cube containing a dead orc and an eaten pie.

However, most everything else is there, including some stuff I’d forgotten about. My favorite is the Angry Fish, inspired by what I imagined to be the resentment felt by a goldfish in a bowl. The Angry Fish swims back and forth in its underground grotto, fiercely guarding its single gold coin.

You’ll note that the descriptions are short and generic. That’s because the contest specifically requests that entries be game system-agnostic. I also left the number of monsters and the composition of treasure up to the Game Master so that the scenario can be scaled to fit his or her needs.

That’s about it. Enjoy!

Categories: Games Tags: ,

Lucky Geek, Or The Luckiest Geek?

March 1st, 2012 No comments

The guy in the center just rolled a “natural 20″ on the “Gender and Relative Attractiveness of Your Fellow Players” chart. (Also the “Unlikely Occurrences” chart.)

By the way, I used to have those dungeon tiles. I bought them at Gen Con. They were made of cheap particle wood, but did I ever love constructing labyrinths out of them.

Image from the late, lamented kids’ magazine Dynamite. The full article is surprisingly fair and well-written for what appears to have been 1980.