Extra Life is Come Again!

extra-life_blueAfter supporting a number of children’s charities over the years, I adopted Extra Life as my charity of choice about four years ago. It’s the perfect pairing: supporting a cause I believe in by doing something I love. As someone who was sick a lot when he was a child, I know how much that can suck. Adding in the suckage of it being a disease which is not easily curable (or even incurable) is something I wouldn’t want for any child. The money raised by Extra Life goes to helping hospitals in the Children’s Miracle Network, and in my case, the local Stollery Children’s Hospital. Besides helping children in immediate need, they also conduct research which will someday reduce and hopefully eliminate the diseases which strike at children.

If you aren’t familiar with Extra Life, you might wonder how I raise the money. Simply put, folks can pledge a certain amount to my fundraising effort (I’ve set a $1000 goal this year), and in return I pledge to game for 24 hours. This year I’ll be game mastering a Pathfinder game over the course of the day; for a seat at the table you either have to be running your own Extra Life fundraising effort, or make a minimum $25 donation to mine. Taking a cue from some other great tabletop campaign pages I’ve seen on the Extra Life site, I’ll also have ways people can donate at different levels in order to have an effect on the game throughout the day. I may also be live-streaming the game for the first time, but I haven’t confirmed the details on that for myself, so we’ll see.

It’s also a great social event for my friends. My buddy Devin started Team Knifeshoes for Extra Life, and I’ve been a proud member for the last three years. On the day we all gather at a single house, computers and snacks in abundance, and game our way through the 24 hours. It sort of has the feeling of a LAN party, for those what gamed in that era. It’s an event tailor-made for the introvert in me; being with my friends in a social environment without the pressure to converse (GMing doesn’t count, though is an inherently verbal endeavor). And by November 5th we usually have some snow on the ground, so it also feels good to snuggle up together (metaphorically or not) against the cruel winter winds outside.

There will be future posts with details regarding the game I’m running and how you might, if you’re in the Edmonton area, sign up for a seat at the table. But if you’d like to make an early donation, please check out my secure donation page. While I will collect donations in person, donating through my page is the easiest for all concerned; the money goes directly to Extra Life and you get a receipt from them right away via email. You can even donate anonymously if you wish. And if you’d rather wait and see what I have in store for the game before donating, that’s cool, too. Stay tuned in the coming months for those updates.

And I’ll be saying this a bunch between now and the end of the campaign this year, so get used to it now: Thank-you to everyone who has already donated this year! Between online and in-person donations I’m already a fifth of the way to my goal, and looking forward to hitting and maybe even surpassing it. If the past generosity of my friends and fellow gamers holds, I have no worries on that score.

RPGaDay August 22-24

For some reason I cannot fathom, my posts from the weekend didn’t go up right away. Instead, they both posted Monday. Monday’s and Tuesday’s posts were about to go the same route, but I seemed to have fixed the issue. So I apologize if you got post spammed Monday. To cut down on that, I incorporated Mon/Tue post into today’s post. So you get three for the price of one today, you lucky devils!

Supposedly random game events that keep recurring!?

As a game master, the one recurring thread through all my games is low rolls from my big bads. When the party are facing off against minor monsters and baddies, my dice stay relatively hot. But as soon as the party are facing off against whatever the main bad guy is for a particular chapter of the game, my supposedly random dice start pumping out 1’s and 2’s like it’s their job. My incredibly skilled, dangerous evil-doers suddenly become imbeciles. Super fun for my players, of course, because they are kicking ass all over the place. Not so great for me, since I actually like the climactic fight to be, you know, a climax. Dice, can’t live with them, can’t punish them enough.

Share one of your ‘Worst Luck’ stories.

Back in the D&D 3.5e days, I played a sorcerer named Septimus in an Underdark campaign. Septimus had draconic heritage, and was on the hunt for the dragon who had killed his sire and mentor. Septimus was actually the second character I created for this campaign; the first, a dwarf, had died fairly early on. Septimus, however, had a great run, despite one issue: no matter how he managed to buff his armour class, every monster or NPC the party encountered was able to beat it. From his creation until the party reached their final objective, Septimus’ armour protected him from exactly zero attacks. Despite this and with copious amounts of healing, he survived and successfully infiltrated the fortress with his party. Then he opened a door and took a maximized disintegrate spell square in the face from a drow spellcaster. Failed his save, lost all his hit points, and became a pile of dust in the Underdark. So let that be a lesson: sometimes you will fight and strive and overcome, and still get shot in the face by a surprised drow wizard. It’s an oddly specific lesson, but worth remembering.

What is the game you are most likely to give to others?

BeginnerBox3DI’m choosing to interpret this as what game am I most likely to give to others if they want to try RPGs. Otherwise, the answer is going to vary widely from person to person, depending on what I know they like and what games they already play.

For teens and adults, I’m still partial to the Pathfinder Beginner Box.  It is just such a good product, with the right level of complexity and geared toward starting players. Plus it’s packed with everything you need to start playing right away; miniatures, a map sheet, dice, and a cool starting adventure to wet everyone’s appetite. Combine that with the free material available from the website, which expands on the Beginner Box and aides in the transition to standard Pathfinder, and you have a pretty easy path into the RPG hobby.

For young kids, though, I’d go with No Thank You, Evil! from Monte Cook Games. This is an imaginative story-telling introduction to RPGs, and a great way for parents to get their kids NTYE-03-Cathy-Wilkinsinvolved in the hobby. The kids essentially play as super versions of themselves, in a fantasy world similar to their own but packed with everything they think is cool. They are the heroes who must fight whatever evil threatens their world! It is sometimes silly, always fun, and the perfect game for getting young kids into RPGs. Heck, it’s pretty fun for adults, too, so definitely check it out.

That’s it for today. Have something to add? Hit me up in the comments.

RPGaDay Catch Up!

PFS Dice CroppedYou’d think, after doing RPGaDay for a couple of years that I’d remember it was coming up. You would be wrong. So here is my standard update post, bringing us from August 1 to today. Daily posts will begin tomorrow, as is my wont.

August 1: Real dice, dice app, diceless, how do you prefer to ‘roll’?

Dice. Always and forever, dice. I can’t help it, I love them so much! I can appreciate diceless systems, and I can even enjoy playing them from time to time. And I do understand the usefulness of a dice app for convenience; Roll 20 would be a much more drawn out process without their in-app dice macros. So I’m not against either of those options.

But given the chance, I want to roll actual dice. I love the tactile feel of them in my hand. I love the tension as I rattle a handful of dice, hoping for the right numbers to come up. I love collecting the perfect sets of dice for each of my characters. Dice are too much a part of the game for me to ever give them up.

August 2: Best game session since August 2015?

I’d have to say my best overall session since last year was the first session of my 5e D&D game. It was a perfect confluence of the things I love about gaming; introducing new players to the game, bringing a new game world to life, navigating a new game, and building a new group of players. It was my first time back to the D&D game in over a decade, and I’d forgotten how much I loved the game. And 5e is a great edition to come back on.

A very close second? A recent session of Pathfinder in which the group fought a shadow-infested triceratops skeleton. It was so much fun to run, and the players were having a blast the entire time. Plus, any time you can have a triceratops skeleton smash open an enormous fish tank right in the middle of the battleground? Do it, you won’t be sorry.

August 3: Character moment you are proudest of?

This is a hard one to answer. I’m currently GMing two Pathfinder campaigns and DMing two D&D 5e campaigns, so my play time is limited to non-existent. But my buddy Scott has been in town while on holiday recently, and I got to play a swashbuckler character in a PFS scenario he wrote. Merrick has been a lot of fun, and my favourite moment with him so far was the inadvertent insulting of the aged matron of a Tian Xia family. How was I to know she wouldn’t appreciate my bawdy story? It killed down at the teahouse.

August 4: Most impressive things another’s character did?

No one thing, but it is an absolute delight to watch my friend Anita play her gnome sorcerer Twig in my Council of Thieves campaign. Anita plays a perfect gnome character, inquisitive with little regard for her own safety. The interplay between Twig and the character Kring (half-orc barbarian), her friend and self-appointed minder, is one of the best things about the each session. When two players can mesh their characters in such a way that it enhances the experience each session, it’s truly a gift as a GM. And relatively recently we’ve added in a Halfling rogue which has become Twig’s partner in crime. Fuel to an already robust fire…

August 5: What story does your group tell about your character?

As per my answer on August 3, I don’t get to play a lot. So I don’t think I’ve played a character enough recently to allow my group to develop stories about my characters. Things should change this fall, and I’ll be back to playing more. We’ll see what stories will come.

August 6: Most amazing thing a game group did for their community?

For the last couple of years a group of my friends have formed a team for Extra Life. Team Knifeshoes has raised thousands of dollars for children’s hospitals, and it’s one of the best things I get to be a part of every year. I’m looking forward to it again this year, and I have some special tabletop events ready to go which I hope I’ll be able to pull off. They also have a Tabletop Appreciation Weekend running September 16-18, so see what’s shaking for that.

August 7: What aspect of RPGs has had the biggest effect on you?

The social aspect of RPGs has had the biggest effect. I’m an introvert, so left to my own devices I will happily spend all my time alone in my room reading, or playing video games, or watching stuff on YouTube and Netflix. Having a fun excuse to get together with friends and play pretend? Yep, I’ll take it. And as a GM I get to indulge my introversion by sitting alone and dreaming up encounters and game worlds for my players. Really, it’s the best hobby I could have stumbled into (way to go, ten-year-old me!).

August 8: Hardcover, softcover, digital? What is your preference?

My preference is always for the physical book, whether it’s hard or soft cover. But as a busy GM on the go, especially one who has made several trips to Gen Con and PaizoCon over the last several years, I have also embraced the digital age. Currently, most of the Pathfinder books I own are in digital format, though I’m shifting the needle on that. Most of what I own for all my other games, though, are books on shelves. I enjoy cracking open a gaming book to look things up, and I like walking in to my game room and seeing the books lined up on the shelves. My library is only going to get bigger. [insert evil laugh]

August 9: Beyond the game, what’s involved in an ideal session?

It’s hard to describe what makes a session ideal for me, outside of the actual gameplay. I can describe it best as ‘easiness’. When my friends and I are just together, and none of us is having to work terribly hard at having or creating a good time, that’s easiness. I’m lucky enough to have several groups which achieve that on a regular basis, and so I’ve managed to get to a place where I’m excited about each session because of that. Play shouldn’t be work, and if it is that might be the time to find another group.

That’s it, tune in tomorrow for regular RPGaDay updates through August.

 

Start GMing Now

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgIn honour of International GM’s Day, held each year on the anniversary of Gary Gygax’s passing, it seemed only right to post something about starting your GMing career.

If you’ve never game mastered before, it can seem like a pretty daunting task. And it isn’t for everyone; many gamers I know go their entire time in the hobby without running a single RPG session. There’s nothing wrong with that. As with most things we do for fun, there’s no point in doing it if it isn’t going to bring you enjoyment. But if you have ever thought you’d like to see what it’s like on the other side of the GM screen (and we’ll talk about those in a moment), then here are some tips to make that transition easier.

1) Gather Resources – There are plenty of resources out there to make a GM’s life easier, most of them available on-line and many for free or extremely cheap. If you haven’t quite decided what game you want to run, your first stop should be Drive-Thru RPG. Use “Free” as your search term, and then settle in for some serious scrolling and clicking. There are a metric buttload (yes, we use the metric buttload here in Canada. It’s about 2.67 of your Imperial Buttloads) of RPG material available for free on Drive-Thru. If you haven’t picked a game yet, you want to keep an eye out for anything marked as Quick Start rules. That will give you a bunch of options to choose from for your first game. Even if you’ve decided to run a standard Pathfinder or D&D game, there are pages and pages of free adventures to get you started, as well as PDFs of paper miniatures and map sheets. Yes, you’ll have to spend some time searching, but I did mention free, right?

If you have decided to run either Pathfinder or D&D, then I also recommend checking out the Paizo and Wizard’s of the Coast sites, respectively. Both have fantastic resources available, many of them free for download. At the time I write this, Paizo is running a Humble Bundle for charity. The value of the PDFs available is over $350, and you can get everything for about a $17 donation, an amazing deal by any standard. WotC will likely have similar deals available through Humble Bundle at some point, so it’s a site worth keeping on your radar.

2) Plan the First Session – Resources in hand, you can begin planning your first session. The details of how to plan are the subject of a separate article, so I won’t delve in to them here. But don’t bother planning any more sessions just yet. After all, your first may be your last, depending on how your players feel about the game, the setting, and a bunch of other details which have nothing to do with you. Probably the best way to plan the first session, and show off the game in its best light, is to treat it like this is the only chance you have to play it. That way you won’t be tempted to hold anything cool back for a future session. Why bother? Get all the cool stuff about the game in there right away. If the game is about exploring strange and dangerous old ruins, get them stuck into a weird old ruin right away. If the game is about mech warriors, get them in the pilot seat. Whatever is cool about that game should make an appearance as soon as possible, so your players can get excited. Then if you do go ahead with more sessions, your players are more willing to sit through quieter, slower bits because they know coolness is just around the corner.

Your first session is definitely one where you want to over-plan and under-deliver. Don’t worry that you won’t get to everything you came up with; you won’t. But you want more adventure than you think you’ll get to, just in case your players do something you didn’t expect. And as a new GM, that may happen a lot at first, so it pays to be ready. Don’t worry that you wasted that effort if the players don’t get to everything you’ve prepared for them. Just save it, make some changes, and use it for another session. All your players know about the game world is what you tell them, so they never need to know what they would have found if they went left instead of right. The left-hand encounter can show up later, with them none the wiser.

3) Gather the Players – Game chosen, an evening’s entertainment put together, it’s now time to gather your players. I’m assuming that you’ve come to GMing in the traditional fashion; a bunch of your friends were sitting around, lamenting they didn’t have a game, and you volunteered. But maybe you’re new to the hobby as well, and figured sitting in the GM’s chair was the best way to get your equally green friends to play. Whatever the case, the key to gathering your players is to pitch them on what’s exciting about the game. Easy enough to do, since you focused on that very thing during your preparation, right? Now is the time to really sell it to your potential victims…er, players.

Another part of successfully pitching the game is also knowing what your players like. If you’re pitching to veteran RPGers in search of a new game, you have a good idea of what they might like to play. But even if they are new to the hobby, you can usually find the not-so-subtle clues that point you to RPGs they might like. Did your group of friends flip over the Avengers movies? I see super-hero RPGs on your horizon. Are they action-movie crazy, or do they gather and discuss the latest fantasy epic? You might want to look at a cinematic action RPG like Feng Shui for the former, whereas the latter will be right at home in whatever fantasy RPG you land on. The point is, if you want them excited to play, pick a game based on something which already excites them. And remember, it’s just one session for now. If it doesn’t work, pick another game and repeat until something clicks. Hanging with friends and trying a bunch of different RPGs sounds pretty awesome in its own right anyway. And maybe you can convince everyone to take turns GMing for a session, so you get some play time as well.

Hope that helps convince you to take the GMing plunge. I’ll have plenty of GMing tips and tricks down the line (and you can search for past articles right now), so please come back for a visit any time. If you’ve got a specific question regarding GMing, or playing, or about RPGs in general, send your question to RenaissanceDork@gmail.com. I’ll answer when I can, and may save up questions for a Q&A post here.

2016: The Year of the Game

cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgAs the new year steams ahead, you are going to see much more activity around the old blogstead. 2015 was a bit rough for me on a personal level, and my posting definitely suffered as a result. Moving forward, I’m holding myself to at least two posts a week, with the option to put up more as my schedule and ideas allow. I love talking about this stuff, and I need to get back to talking about it here so my ramblings can hopefully be of use/entertainment to others.

2016 is also the year I get back to my gaming roots, as I GM…sorry, DM, my first D&D campaign in over a decade. D&D 5th has reinvigorated my love for that system, and I’m excited to start a new campaign with four new players who seem just as excited as I am about playing. Don’t worry, Pathfinder isn’t going anywhere; I still GM two campaigns for that, as well as playing in a third. But I’m going to be exploring and talking about D&D a lot over the next while, so brace yourselves for that.

This year, I plan to do a lot more gaming, period. More boardgames, other RPGs, computer games…I plan to immerse myself this year in as much gaming as I can handle. And then blog about it.

That’s it for now. Expect another post in a few days, as I talk about the start of my shiny new D&D campaign.

Extra Life is Almost Here!

4A-7uuL6ek1iJEjSSYLUMGTE5DruF6OZu_TNdGAkW1oOnce again I’m taking part in Extra Life, a fundraiser by gamers to raise money and awareness for children’s hospitals all over the world. Last year I did a mix of tabletop and computer gaming. This year, however, I’m going full tabletop, baby! For the full 24 hours I’m going to GM the Emerald Spire Super Dungeon, a 14-level behemoth put out by Paizo. I’m really excited to give this a whirl, and I can’t wait to see what shenanigans my table gets up to.

Because this is a special event, I’ve made some special rules just for the day. We’re using pre-gens to cut down on non-playing time. Levelling will happen “MMO style”, with characters levelling as soon as they reach the right XP amount (we’ll be using the Fast track). Players will have just 10 minutes to level their character, and then we move on. If a character dies, that player must make an additional donation to Extra Life to bring the character back and keep playing.

And characters are going to die. Oh, yes. But I don’t want to waste in-game time with the party trying to find ways to being a character back to life. So for this event, the Emerald Spire itself will bring characters back to life, interfering with the natural order of things for its own twisted purposes. But just because it brings you back, doesn’t mean it brings you back…right. I’m creating a list of Emerald Spire Resurrection Effects, which should provide hours of entertainment. Well, for me, anyway, and that’s the important thing.

So if you’re in Edmonton and want to play, you can sign-up here. And if you aren’t in Edmonton, or are but can’t make it on Saturday, you can still support our brave adventurers and Extra Life by donating. Every bit helps and is appreciated.

Getting Back in the GM’s Chair

cropped-chibi-brent.jpgTonight my Thursday Knights convene after our annual summer hiatus. We’re diving back in to the Jade Regent Adventure Path, just a smidge of the way into the first book. It can be tough coming back to your regular game after some time away, so I thought I’d share three tips to make the transition from unsightly mob of civilians to crack team of tabletop pros easier.

1) Manage Your Expectations – The first session back, you aren’t going to get as much of the story done as you would during a regular session. Hopefully you’re friends as well as gamers, so there will be more than the usual bit of socializing and catching up, since you’ve all been apart for so long. Go with the flow on this. Gaming is a social event, after all, and you want your group to enjoy their time together. Don’t ruin the fun by cracking down too hard on first-session kibitzing. But…

2) Start as You Mean to Go On – …do start getting the group back in the table habits and house rules you’ve used. After a break some of those habits will have been lost, so be gentle. But if you had specific ways of doing things (working out initiative, how each player’s round works, and so on) or house rules you were following, make sure you draw your player’s attention back to those things. And of course, if you had habits or house rules that weren’t working for you, now is the perfect time to let them fall by the wayside.

3) Hang That Sucker! – If it is at all possible, end the session on a cliffhanger. Your first session back after a break, you want to get your players excited about coming back for session two. And three, and four…you get the idea. So I trick I’ve used is to end the first session on a cliffhanger. It’s great if that can be a big story moment for the players, because that will really grab their attention. But I have, when a good story point wasn’t in sight, just stopped the game with, “Okay [insert character name], the [insert suitably horrific creature] swings at you with its [flaming tentacle/acid-spewing greatclub/halfling corpse]…and that’s where we’ll end it for tonight.” At the very least, you have one player extremely interested in what’s happening next week.

What tips do you have for getting the band back together? Share them in the comments below!