Creating character

Rolling up a new character!

I’d always had a hard time getting into the fantasy genre. I’d read the odd novel or two, seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy in theatres, but I just couldn’t get into it. Science fiction was the side of the fence I lived on.

When I took up learning Pathfinder RPG, a game set in a fantasy world, I had absolutely no basis for what sort of character would work in this world or what the ultimate goal was in playing said character. I didn’t know where to start, what was a traditional class and their typical influences might be, how they would think, or act.

I was lost. Really lost.

Like a goof, I struggled through at first. I did my best with the very limited knowledge I had, and hoped that while I learned the game I would also learn the world.

I was wrong. It only made it worse for me.

When I finally admitted this lack of knowledge to my gaming group, a light bulb went off for them. They knew I’d been struggling, but until then had thought it was just the game system. They really stepped up to help me: Blair took extra time to explain the backstory of his world for me, while Dee sent me home with a stack of entry-level fantasy books, and Ethan gave me ideas of what sort of actions a character of my class might do. They made it okay for me to ask questions when I before I’d been afraid to ask.

Once I had a better foothold in the fantasy world, creating other characters became much, much easier, and I found I didn’t stress about the game mechanics.

Lighting the spark

So, how can my bumbling through the fantasy world help you? Here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way.

1- What interests you? You don’t need to have any sort of knowledge of a certain world to know what kind of characters appeal to you. Think about the books and movies you’ve read: did the sauve, debonair James Bond spy appeal to you? How about shape-shifting, ass-kicking Mercedes Thompson? What about the bow-wielding Katniss Everdeen? Tall, large, and fierce Lieutenant Commander Worf? Find one that appeals you, and don’t be afraid to borrow elements from that character.

2- Talk to the GM. They are more than happy to tell you about the world you’re about to play in. If you have an idea (see #1), ask them if that idea will work in their world. A good DM will help you weave the kind of character you want to play in to the world they set up.

3- Listen in. If you’re joining a game already in progress, ask if you can listen to game play for a bit to get a feel for the world and what’s going on. You might find a need for someone that’s missing in the group (a magic user!) or you might get inspired by current events (the trolls ate my parents!).

4- Look at the book. Head to the classes section and find one that might appeal to you. It might be the class description that inspires you, or the character illustration that accompanies it.

5- Man, woman, other? It might seem like a small detail at first, but depending on the world you’re in can change how you play. I once created a female engineer in game set in the 1970s. Though women in sciences wasn’t unheard of, it was still pretty rare, so other characters and NPCs often associated a lot of old-fashioned stereotypes to her. She had to work to overcome those–and the accompanying chip on her shoulder. It made for a more interesting character than just a cookie cutter character that should fit into this world.

I also know some players who will only play one gender — either the same as their own, or not. Start playing whatever you’re comfortable with, but don’t be afraid to try something different.

Hopefully by now you have a good idea of what sort of character you’d like to play. My first long-term character was a druid, sparked by the idea of the Mercedes Thompson from the book series of the same name by Patricia Briggs.

Unpub Mini Vancouver 2014

With City Builders: Rome creator Andrei Filip.

This past weekend, Blair and I had the pleasure of attending the first Unpub Mini Vancouver at Magic Stronghold in Burnaby. The event brings game developers and table top players together to playtest games and provide feedback, so that game developers can improve and refine their games.

I have to say, I had a lot of fun at this event! It was a busy afternoon as we played games, got to know other fellow gamers, and had a good chance to chat with various game developers. One takeaway that was definitely apparent was how friendly and welcoming the table top community is.

Unfortunately we weren’t able to make it for the whole day, but we still had the chance to play three of the games being demoed!

City Builders: Rome by Andrei Filip
A cooperative game where you must build a city in Roman times in the hopes of earning glory back home in Rome. At the same time, you must keep your population happy, keep raiders and looters at bay, while building your city before time runs out. Overall we both enjoyed the game. Initially the number of building type tiles was overwhelming, but the game was quick to learn.

Learning World Defense Force from Adrian at Giant Monster Games.

World Defense Force by Giant Monster Games
This is a fast-moving, cooperative card game where players work to destroy monsters that are attacking the world. Don’t work fast enough, and the monsters will eat the world population.This game had the group of us laughing hysterically as we tried to kill the monsters before the timer ran out.

Tree Up! by Robin Carpenter, Agentic
This is an easy to learn tile game where you build a tree and work to get inhabitants to move in for more points, while fending off attacks from your opponent. The concept of the game was really cute, and makes for a great game both for those new to gaming and for those experienced. It was nice to find a game that was for two players — since there’s not a lot of good ones out there — that provided a challenge for both but still fun.

TreeUp! by Robin Carpenter and Agentic

Other games that were demoed included Berlin Noire by Edward Disher, Custom Bot Combat by Kody Otter, Sloops! by Sébastian Bernier-Wong and Peter Gorniak, Town Builder by Eric Raué, For Greed or Glory by Parallax Games, and The Shrine by Jay Cormier and Shad Miller. We look forward to being able to playtest these titles at a future date!

Board games for camping trips

Blair and I kicked off summertime with a camping trip in the backwoods with our friends. There was 20 of us in total, half of that being kids under the age of 12. It was a fun, relaxing week filled with sunshine, campfires, and – of course – board games!

Obviously not all board games are suited to being played in the wilderness. The elements, the players, and what you have available for a gaming surface all play a factor in what games to take (not to mention little games pieces that could easily get lost).

Our trip provided a great chance for us to test out games that work best…

Fluxx – As long as I can remember, card games have been a standard item kept in my family’s activity box. It didn’t matter if we were taking a road trip, going to the cabin, or were flying for a vacation – we always took a deck of cards. Fluxx is great because it offers the same flexibility as a deck of cards in that it’s small to pack and easy to learn, while offering you something new from regular old card games. Plus who doesn’t want to hear their friends talk in a funny accent while camping?

Cards Against Humanity – This wouldn’t be much of a camping game list if I didn’t include CAH somewhere in it. What could be more fun than playing this hilarious politically incorrect game with friends while camping? If there are kidlets around and you don’t feel like waiting until they’re asleep to crack this out, then try Apples to Apples instead.

Love Letter – This is a really easy game to learn, while still being a fun and dynamic. It changes slightly depending on the number of players you have, and hiding one card away prevents too much card counting. It packs up really small, particularly if you have the edition with the carrying bag, and there are minimal pieces to worry about (16 cards and 13 tokens). The setup is incredibly quick too, for those moments between wanting to play just one more game but also wanting to go to the beach. Love Letter also appealed to the kids, since it was easy for them to learn; the girls love the concept, the boys were a little turned off by the name.

Zombie Dice – If there were one game that’s a default for getting tossed into our travel bag, it would be Zombie Dice. So easy to learn, this is another one of those quick games you can play in a few minutes. We also have the Triple Feature expansion for this, but we usually put it aside when playing with newbies and younger players. The only downside to this is the noise level, which means it didnt’t get brought out after the kidlets went to bed.

The Resistance  – This game has not only travelled with us on a camping trip or to the cabin, but has also been schlepped across Canada and to the United States. It packs reasonably small, with no really small pieces that could easily be lost. Players take on roles of resistance members trying to figure out who is the spy among them; meaning it’s a really good way to learn your friends’ poker faces. The Resistance has the ability to get everyone playing, since it’s another easy learn game and doesn’t require much skill, other than a good bluff.

Top 5 Tips for Tabletop RPG Newbies

Dice tray with dice, and a Pathfinder RPG character sheet.This post originally appeared in the Terminal City Tabletop Convention program booklet. See my recap of the weekend here. 

Six months ago I dove into the world of tabletop RPGs. If you’ve never played, or are relatively new to it like me, RPGs might seem a little intimidating. Over the past months I’ve discovered a fun world of storytelling, laughter, friendship, and fun. If you’re thinking about getting into tabletop RPGs, but are a little uncertain, here are my Top 5 Tips for Newbies.

1. It’s all about the group. Who you game with can have a big impact on your experience. I tried to get into RPGs several years ago, but the experienced players were impatient with newbies, and they didn’t appreciate input that was outside of their already defined box. I’ve since learned that groups like this are the exception; not the rule. The two groups I game with now are encouraging, and are keen on spreading their love for the game to new players. If the group you’re in isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to find another.

2. Character sheets are not that scary. The first time you roll up a character, you may feel a little overwhelmed about all the things you need to consider – skills, traits, race, alignment… Don’t worry: if you have a good group (see #1) they will walk you through what you need to know and why it’s important. Each time you play, you’ll find it easier to remember what to roll and what stats give you what sorts of bonuses.

3. Don’t be afraid to sit back and listen. There will be a lot to take in the first few games you play. If you aren’t sure what or how the heck you’re actually supposed to contribute, sit back and soak in the game. Watch how experienced players add to the story and interact with the Game Master. You’ll absorb a lot in the process.

4. Don’t be afraid to jump in. You may feel a little out of your element when you first start playing, because you aren’t a rogue, cleric, or druid in ‘real’ life. But nobody expects you to know all the magic user spells the first time through. Jump in and see what your mind can come up with.

5. Ask. Gamers are a friendly sort (generally, but see rule #1), so if you have a good group they will be happy to answer any questions you might have. Sometimes experienced players forget what it’s like to be new to the game, so if you don’t ask, they might not realize you need help. If something isn’t making sense, don’t be afraid to speak up.

Terminal City Tabletop Con 2014

Terminal City Tabletop Convention happened this past weekend in Burnaby. This was the first year for TCTC. It’s size made it a more friendly affair. Con volunteers and guests were incredibly friendly, and you could tell from the atmosphere that everyone there was passionate about tabletop. You didn’t feel like you were mobbed in the crowd, and other gamers were happy to have you jump into their games.

As we were checking out the second one, someone came over and asked if we’d like to play Shadows Over Camelot. Since neither of us had played, we decided to jump in! We had a full group playing, attempting to fight evil and fill the round table with white swords.

Learning Shadows Over Camelot.

There was a traitor among us, who’s goal was to fill the table with black swords or overcome Camelot with siege engines. I was a little nervous since I drew the traitor card, but in the end I managed to win. I’ve heard this game is a tough one for the ‘good’ side to win, so I’m eager to play again.

After that we asked if we could join a game of Smash Up. Science fiction villains team up to take down bases and earn victory points – how could that not be fun? I got to be dinosaur wizards, which felt rather epic.

Destroying bases in Smash Up!

TCTC also featured a Proto-Alley, where local game designers could demo and play-test their new creations. Our friends from Giant Monster Games and Parallax Games were there. Though we didn’t have the opportunity to play any of the games in Proto-Alley, we did have the chance to connect with some local developers. Hopefully we’ll have some new game reviews for you soon!

Terminal City also featured a large board game library, where convention goers could borrow whatever game they liked for free. We took out Fleet Admiral and gave it a whirl.

Overall I definitely recommend Terminal City Tabletop Convention, and am looking forward to next year!

What is Dungeons & Dragons?

You’ve heard about Dungeons & Dragons — maybe you have some preconceived notions of the game and the players — but have you ever wondered what exactly it is?

What is Dungeons & Dragons?

Dungeons & Dragons is a game created in 1974 by Tactical Studies Rules, Inc (TSR). Considered the beginning of modern day role playing games, D&D was based off of contemporary war games that used dice to determine success and failure. Dungeons & Dragons is often used as the catchall term for tabletop role playing, particularly by those who have never played. From this point on when I say tabletop RPG, I’m referring to the genre of game that Dungeons & Dragons falls into. When I mention Dungeons & Dragons, I’m talking about the game created by TSR.

So then, what’s a tabletop RPG?

At it’s simplest, a tabletop roleplaying game (tabletop RPG for short) is a collaborative storytelling game.

The game master (GM) acts as the narrator, setting the scene that the player characters (PCs) get to play in and giving them opportunities for adventure. Together, the GM and PCs weave a story while giving the character the chance to grow, shaping the outcomes of the game.

When the GM and PCs make actions where they don’t know the outcome, they roll dice. Based on that roll, formalized rules tell them whether their action was a success or a failure (though many GMs use these rules only as a flexible guide, not something that is set in stone, in order to make the game more fun).

Players need to interact and work together in order to succeed. Those who don’t will often find themselves bored and with little to do, or they will find their PC being very easily killed off by the GM. A good GM will try to get everyone involved in the game, and strives to foster interactions between players.

As the game progresses, characters will gain experience points (XP) for things they accomplish. Once they have earned enough XP, characters will then level up. Leveling up means that characters become more proficient at the skill they know, and they get the chance to learn more skills.

Is it only fantasy games?

Most people imagine something from Lord of the Rings when they think of tabletop RPGs (D&D is a pop culture staple, after all). Though Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder RPG do use fantasy, there are a multitude of games from different genres to choose from!

Maybe something akin to True Blood appeals to you: try Vampire: The Masquerade. Or maybe you want a riproarin’ space battle: there are Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, and other space based games. If a modern day caper is more your speed, try the Leverage RPG.

Looking for group

Whatever you enjoy, tabletop RPGs are easy to get in to. The trick is to find someone who knows the game and can help walk you through.

A good place to start are game conventions, like Terminal City Tabletop Con or VCON, both local cons to Metro Vancouver. Game Moderators at cons are more than happy to welcome new players into the fold. I regularly run an “Intro to Dungeons & Dragons 5e” session at these cons, to help get new players into the game.

Websites like the Vancouver Gaming Guild and  Meetup.com are great places to connect with other players. A quick search of Meetup.com shows 10 groups close to where I live.

Many friendly local game stores often run tabletop RPG nights. Even if the group is in the middle of a campaign and not able to accommodate new players, they are usually more than happy to have an audience. And this is a great way to get a feel for the game.

If you start asking polite questions, I’m sure someone can help you find a group in your area to join.

Unfortunately, not all gamers are friendly. As a woman in tabletop gaming, I’ve definitely experienced my fair share of sexism. It exists. It’s incredibly uncomfortable. And sometimes male gamers will deny it happens. If you’re a woman looking to get into tabletop, be aware of your personal safety. It’s okay to leave a group if you’re uncomfortable. Listen to your gut. You don’t have to put up with garbage attitude from other players or the GM. There are groups out there that are welcoming.

Tabletop Day 2014

Happy International Tabletop Day!

Blair, Deanna, Ethan, and I were very excited to host an event to celebrate one of our favourite hobbies. Hosted in Surrey, BC, we had 50+ attendees. Plus we had indie game developers Giant Monster Games and For Greed or Glory on hand demoing their proto games.

Thanks to everyone who game out to help us celebrate the day.

My journey to D&D

Dungeons & Dragons always scared me. I’m ashamed to admit it, but back in the day I totally bought into the stereotypes of the game. As a geek, I should have known better.

In the last six months, a world of fun, friends, and storytelling has been opened up to me. I’m a table top role-playing game convert! Over the next few weeks I want to share my adventures as a newbie RPG gamer and as a woman trying to find her place in the world of tabletop gaming.

Nasty first taste

I’ve been a proud geek since my days in high school. It wasn’t until my grade 12 year that I could really wear the geek label with pride, and not care what anyone else thought of me. Looking back now, my perception then of Dungeons & Dragons suprises me. I bought into the stereotype: socially awkward, skinny guys around a table in someone’s basement. They probably had acne, thick glasses, and hadn’t seen the light of day in weeks.

It wasn’t until university did I really start thinking about playing Dungeons & Dragons.  Being a writer I was intrigued by the storytelling aspect of the game. I was already playing in online forum and play-by-email RPGs… it couldn’t be that much different, could it?

My best friend and I were both dating guys who played. I put feelers out to them to see if they might teach us. At first they were keen to teach us. We rolled up characters (a ranger for me, a druid for her) and we were excited to play.

Unfortunately the group dynamics didn’t work out. The guys didn’t like how we wanted to play our characters, and eventually their enthusiasm for teaching us waned.

Online communities

In the years since that first game of Dungeons & Dragons, I’d joined a forum based Star Trek RPG called Federation Space. Eight years later I’m still an active member and administrator. I’ve put a lot of effort and love into the site, and I’ve grown leaps and bounds as a writer. I also learned a lot about online engagement and community management, which helped me with my university education (communications) and my eventual career (online community manager).

But the biggest impact the site had on me was the friendships I’d made. Here was a diverse and friendly community made up of players from around the world. They understood many of the things I was going through as I grew up as a geek and we had a shared perspective of the changing geek society (suddenly it was cool to be a geek).

I’ve had the good fortune to actually meet many Federation Space players, and become good friends with several of them. I never thought I could connect with people on such a level, let alone through an online RPG game.

Tabletop RPGs take two

Fast forward to 2013. I finally managed to make it out to VCON, a local and nonprofit scifi, fantasy, gaming, movie convention here in Metro Vancouver. I went mostly for the writing aspect, though part of me was curious about tabletop gaming. I’d long been playing Settlers of Catan, and my friend Kathy had introduced me to more games like it. Wanting to play more of these games, and expand my social circles, I went to the con hoping to discover a gaming group in / near my neighbourhood that I could join.

That’s where I met Blair, Ethan, and Deanna. We connected at an inclusive gaming panel, and they kindly invited me to join their gaming group. So I jumped in.

They introduced me to a whole new realm of tabletop RPG games.

The rest, they say, is history.

Gottacon 2014

This past weekend we headed to Victoria to attend Gottacon, a yearly convention dedicated to bringing together gaming geeks of all sorts. First held in 2009, Gottacon focuses on being an inclusive gaming experience with a broad spectrum of games: from RPG and table, to miniatures, trading card games, LAN games, and more. Gottacon also offers a variety of panels, workshops, and special events.

This was our first year attending Gottacon, and our experience was definitely great!

With over 350 events scheduled, you can imagine that this convention was jam packed. We’ll be reviewing all the games we played over the coming weeks, but here’s a brief recap of the weekend.

Friday

Playing Space Fluxx on the ferry to Gottacon.

Attendees had the option to pre-register for games before the convention using a site called Warhorn, though it wasn’t required. I tried to signup following their instructions, but I never received an all-clear email from the con staff. That wasn’t a big deal though, because most of the board game events we were able to join in without pre-registering.

We went right to the board gaming once the doors opened at 5pm. Blair was very eager to play Kingdom Builder because of the Kickstarter project that he’s currently been eying up. In Kingdom Builder, players create their own kingdoms by building settlements, aiming to earn the most gold by the end of the game. Overall we both enjoyed the game, so much so that Blair backed the big box Kickstarter.

Learning Kingdom Builder.

I really wanted to see the Standard Action Live Action D&D, since it sounded so hilarious. A group of five RPGers played the Pathfinder module We Be Goblins 2. As someone still learning how to play table top RPGs, the tips they offered to new players were really reassuring: 1- Roll first, the group will help you with the numbers; 2- Don’t split the group. The game was lighthearted and the players had the audience splitting a gut with laughter. Watching a table top RPG play out was definitely interesting and showed me a different dynamic than what I’m used to in our groups.

Saturday

Our Saturday start was a bit late because we were both tired. As we waited for the next round of games to start, we borrowed Chez Geek from the board game library and played with B’s cousin and her significant other.

Blair has been really wanting to play Dominion, so the four of us went to learn. There were so many others wanting to learn that this game, that two games had to start. Dominion is a deck-building game where players buy more cards to build their way to the most victory points. This game was a bit of a slow start for us, and I left feeling so-so towards it. I think another round of this game is in order before I make a final decision.

We checked out the silent auction, which included a lot of great deals for a variety of gaming products. I was hoping to snag a like-new copy of the Pathfinder Core Rule book, while B was hoping for like-new copies of Avalon and Coup. Unfortunately neither of us won!

Learning Small World.

Next we joined a round of Small World. Blair had played this before, but I hadn’t. I’d seen it played on Table Top, so was definitely wanting to play this (plus being a Disney theme parks fan, how could I not want to play?! Commence singing of “it’s a small world after all” in my head.). In Small World, your goal is to rule the world. You choose fantasy races that take over plots of land. This game runs really quickly, and it’s a lot of fun! Each race is matched with a random special bonus quality, which means each time you play the game will be different.

We’d met Adrian Walker, game designer from Giant Monster Games, earlier in the convention. He’d described their new game, Kingdom Bots, and the strategy player in Blair was intrigued. We made sure to catch this demo of the game,

Testing out Kingdom Bots.

where players play robot factions who try to build new civilizations while obliterating their enemy. All in all this game was great fun with some exciting new ideas alongside a well balanced implementation of old! Make sure you check out their Kickstarter and support this great game.

Next up was a game called Goblins. Admittedly, we were expecting a different game of Goblins; apparently Goblins is a popular name for a board game. This version is a dungeon crawler card game, still in the beta phase. (Unfortunately I can’t seem to find any information about this game on the web).

Since a copy of Amerigo is included in one of the pledge levels for the Kingdom Builder Kickstarter that Blair is eyeing up, he was keen to play this. In Amerigo, players explore “South America”, creating trade routes and building settlements. The neat thing about this game was the cube tower it came with.

Sunday

Sunday morning we caught the Making Kickass RPG Adventures panel, comprised of veteran GMs Steve Saunders, Douglas Lloyd, Alex Flagg, Chris Tulach, and Jonathan Tweet. These guys offered great tips not only on creating great worlds for players, but also advice on running games and keeping players interested. I think one of the biggest take away for me is that as a GM, you’re a player too and need to have fun as well!

Unfortunately because we had the catch the ferry home, we weren’t able to sit in on anymore scheduled games. We did play a round of Revolution! with B’s cousin. In this game you’re trying to have the most influence in a town facing revolution. Using blackmail, force, or money, you try to spread your influence to earn victory points.

Of all the games we played this weekend, I would say that Small World and Revolution! were my favourites. Blair’s favourite new experiences were Kingdom Bots and Amerigo. Revolution! and Small World were two of his favourites for replayed games.

Final say

We both had a blast at the convention. I was definitely impressed by the coordination of everything and the fact that there were no lulls in programming. The attendees at the con were really friendly and welcoming, as we made some great connections with other gamers. Ticket costs were affordable compared to other cons I’ve been to. The Empress Hotel even provided a great food court (though I’m bummed I didn’t get to try the butter chicken poutine!) which was a nice added bonus, since often con food can be pretty awful.

This con is not to be missed, particularly if you’re a gamer of any kind. I would also recommend this con for convention first-timers.

At first you’re going to suck

This morning I pulled out an older manuscript of mine, determined to give it a thorough editing. It was one of those pieces that I’d written and, when finished, thought “gee, this turned out better than I thought.” It was one of those pieces that had got me to thinking that maybe I could take a crack at the whole “getting published” idea.

As I read through the chapters my optimism rapidly dissolved. “How in the world did I think this was good?” The writing was hokey. I immediately poked a tonne of holes into the story and the characters. I’d started so many different subplots, which thread was meant to be the main plot? I hadn’t even finished the story itself.

Reflecting back on it, perhaps at the time it was a good piece for me. It surprised me that something only three years old could be so awful. Because I write every day, I don’t see the improvement I’m making – the same way a parent doesn’t notice how their kids grow until they see an old photograph. Three years is a long time to improve my skill, even if only enough to see where I went wrong with the manuscript.

One of the best writing tips I think I’ve ever received is, “at first, you are going to suck.” And it’s true. Nobody is perfect on the first attempt; or maybe the second, sixth, or one hundredth. But every attempt you make, you will get a little better.

Despite knowing that, it still socks it to my self-esteem. Will I ever improve to the point where I have a finished manuscript that I’m satisfied with enough to submit to a publisher?

I hope so.