Category Archives: Player

WYRDROAD

I have established a new Facebook Gaming Group.

I haven’t had much time to build up the membership yet because I’ve been busy but I have tried to build up some interesting content. The primary interest of the group is gaming, but like this blog it will cover history, archeology, warfare, science, technology, fantasy and science fiction, literature, pop culture, comics, etc.

You’re welcome to visit and to join. Just hit the links provided.

WYRDROAD

 

NornsOld4

11 BETTER

11 ways to be a better roleplayer, the Safe for Work version

This is the “safe” version of the 11 ways text with all the rude bits removed if you want to share it with someone who’s upset by profanity.The original rude version, complete with swear words, is available here.

ONE. Do stuff.
Job One for you as a player is to do stuff; you should be thinking, at all times – “What are my goals? And what can I do to achieve them?” You are the stars of a very personal universe, and you are not going to get anywhere by sitting on your butt and waiting for adventure to come and knock on your door.
Investigate stuff. Ask questions. Follow leads. No-one needs you to point out that this is an obvious plot thread while you do it. Mix up scenes, talk to people, get up in their grill. If you’re not playing the sort of character that would do such a thing, find something you can affect, and affect it.
If you keep finding yourself pushed to the back of scenes and twiddling your thumbs – why is such a boring character hanging around with the sort of people that Get Stuff Done?
Be active, not passive. If you learn nothing else from this article, bloody learn this.

TWO. Realise that your character does not exist outside of the things you have said.
You can write as many pages of backstory as you like, mate, but they don’t factor in one bit to the game unless you show them happening. Are you a shrewd businessman? Cool. Do some business, shrewdly, in front of everyone else. Are you a hot jazz saxophonist? Play the saxophone. Are you a wild elf struggling through social interactions with civilised people? Struggle through those interactions! Don’t go off and sit in a tree!
This ties back into the first point, really; you only exist through your actions. It is not the responsibility of other players to read your backstory, and their characters cannot read minds. Well. Some of them can, but you know what I mean. They shouldn’t have to.
So display your talents, your traits, your weaknesses, your connections. Take every opportunity to show, and not tell, the other people at the table what your character is about.

THREE. Don’t try to stop things.
Negating another player’s actions is fairly useless play; it takes two possible story-changing elements and whacks them against each other so hard that neither of them works. For example, your fighter wants to punch some jerk, but your monk’s against it, so he grabs the fighter’s hand. In game terms, nothing’s happened. All you’ve done is waste time, and we don’t have infinite supplies of that.
Instead, go with the flow. Build. If the fighter wants to break someone’s nose, what happens after that? Does your monk rush to help the jerk up? To admonish the fighter? To apologise to the jerk’s friends, before shit really kicks off? To save the fighter in the big brawl that ensues, even though he was going against your will? Or to throw the biggest guy in the tavern right at him, to really teach him a lesson? Those are all examples of interesting stories. Stopping him from doing anything whatsoever isn’t.
Don’t negate, extrapolate. (See, that rhymes, so it’s easier to remember)

FOUR. Take full control of your character.
“My character wouldn’t do that” is a boring excuse, a massive NO to the game’s story on a fundamental level. It’s a point-blank refusal to participate.
Instead of being bound by pre-conceived notions of what your character would and would not do, embrace complications and do it, but try to work out why. Why is your Rogue doing this mission for the church? Does he have ulterior motives? Is it out of a sense of companionship with the rest of the party? Characters in uncomfortable situations are the meat and drink of drama.
(Do you remember that great story about that hobbit who told Gandalf to go away, and sat at home picking his hairy toes all day before his entire village was swallowed up by the armies of darkness? No. No you bloody don’t. So put on your backpack and get out there, Frodo)
If you keep finding yourself having to explain your actions, or not wanting to go along with group decisions because of your character’s motives… well, maybe your character’s motives are wrong. They’re not written in stone. The group’s the thing, not your snowflake character, and if they’re not working, drop them off at the next village and maybe try playing someone more open to new ideas. Maybe work with the group to build a character that fits in.
Your character is part of the story; this is not your character’s story.

FIVE. Don’t harm other players.
Oh ho, here’s a jolly thief that nicks stuff from the other party members! And their Sleight of Hand roll is so high that no-one will ever notice! Gosh, what a jape.
No-one likes that guy. (That guy generally plays Kender, and I am fully of the opinion that Kender should be promptly genocided out of all RPGs. I don’t think genocide is a crime if we’re talking about Kender.) If you steal from other players, you are exerting power over them in a really messy, underhanded sort of way. If they find out, what are they going to do? Are you going to force them to escalate? Is it fair if they kill you for it? Is that fun for them?
Similarly, attacking other players is awful, too. I’m okay with this where systems fully support and encourage this, of course – something like Paranoia or Dogs in the Vineyard – but, hey, give it a rest. I am hard-pressed to think of a way where such a thing improves the game; if your group is fine with it, discuss it beforehand. But keep me out of it.
There are a whole load of things out there to steal from and beat up and kill that won’t get offended when you do it to them, so go bother them first.

SIX. Know the system, don’t be a jerk about it.
If you know a system, you are easier to GM for, because you know your character’s limitations. You can calculate the rough odds of a particular action succeeding or failing, just like in real life. You can make prompt assessments of situations and act accordingly, because you understand the rules of the world.
(New players, of course, get a free pass on this one. But do make an effort to learn the rules, obviously, if you’re keen on sticking around in the hobby.)
But for the love of God, don’t rules-lawyer. Do not do that. It is not hard to work out, because here is a simple guide – if you are arguing over a rule for more than twenty seconds, you are a rules lawyer. You are the Health and Safety Inspector of roleplaying games, and you need to stop talking, because you are sucking the fun out of the game.
There are times when the rules are wrong, and that’s fine, but I’m hard-pressed to think of that time the guy remembered the rule and we all laughed and had a great time because he made the GM change it.

SEVEN. Give the game your attention. If you can’t give your full attention, step away from the table.

Hey! What’s that you’re playing, on your phone there? Oh, is it Candy Crush Saga? That’s funny, all these dice and character sheets gave me the impression that we were playing Dungeons and Bloody Dragons, I must be terribly mistaken.
It is hard to think of a way to be more dismissive of someone’s game than playing a different game during it. If you find yourself getting so bored by what’s going on you’re resorting to playing a game on your phone, or reading a book, or checking Facebook, then step away from the game. You are draining the group with your very presence. I would rather have an empty chair than someone who wasn’t paying attention, because I don’t have to entertain an empty chair.
And of course, it’s up to the GM to offer an entertaining game. This is not one-sided. But going back to point one, act whenever you can. Give them something to work with. Unless you’re paying them money to do this, they are under no obligation to dance like a monkey for you just because they’re behind the screen.

EIGHT. If you make someone uncomfortable, apologise and talk to them about it.
I have a rule in my games, and that rule is: “Nothing has sex with anything else.” Simple. Clean. Elegant. No sexual conduct; it’s weird, often. I’ve had seduction attempts, obviously, and that’s fine. I’ve had characters deeply affected by sexual assault. But, and this is the crucial thing here, nothing had sex with anything else “onscreen.”
In situations like the ones we find ourselves in on a weekly basis, it’s easy to make people feel uncomfortable. Maybe it’s as blatant as discussing dead babies; maybe it’s something much more benign, like being rude or chatting them up in-character.
If you think you might have upset someone, then ask ‘em, quietly. And if you have, apologise, and stop talking about that particular thing. It’s not rocket science; that’s how existing as a functioning social human being works, and somehow because we’re pretending to be a halfling for a bit, we often forget how to do it.

So, you know, be nice. Be extra nice. No-one’s going to think any less of you for it.

NINE. Be a Storyteller.

The World of Darkness books call their GM a Storyteller, because they are very obviously unable to call a spade a spade. But they have a point; a GM is telling stories. It’s easy to forget that the players are doing that too.
So put some effort in, eh? Say some words. Develop a character voice and stance. Describe your actions. Work out a level of agency with the GM so you can chip into wider descriptions, or just make assumptions and describe it and see if it sticks. A good GM should go with what you’re saying, anyway, unless it really goes against their plan.
Similarly, brevity = soul of wit, and all that. A good GM doesn’t monologue, or have their NPCs have long discussions, or make players sit back and watch while their world plays out. So know when to shut up, and to keep your descriptions short – unless you’re an incredible storyteller, of course. But short and punchy is always better than long and flowery.

TEN. Embrace failure.
Failure can be embarrassing. I know that I get pretty het up when the dice don’t favour me – when I’ve spent ages waiting to have my turn in a large game, say, or when I’m using some special power, or when I’ve been talking a big talk for a while or described some fancy action – and I use some pretty bad language, too. And not “fun” bad language, like we all do when we’re gaming. Like threatening “is this guy okay” bad.
And that’s not cool. I need to learn to treat failure as a story branch, not a block. Why did I miss? Why didn’t my intimidation roll work? Why didn’t I pick the lock? Why was I seen? Who worked out that I’m the traitor? What other options can I explore?
Some systems build this in by default – Apocalypse World, for example – and they give you the ability to somehow affect the world whenever you roll the dice, not just fail to affect someone’s Hit Points. That’s great! We need to get ourselves into that mindset by default. We need to view failures as setbacks and explain why our character didn’t achieve their goal, and we need to understand that failure is not the end of the world.

ELEVEN. Play the game.
This is a game. This is not a challenge that exists solely in the head of your GM. This is not your character’s personal story arc. This is not your blog. This is not an excuse to chat up one of the other players. This is not a table to sit at in silence. This is a game.
We have signed up to play a game together. We are all telling a story with each other, to each other, and the story comes first. Step back from the heat of combat; step back from your character’s difficult relationship with their half-Drow mother; step back from the way that the Paladin’s player keeps stealing your dice.
This is a game. Respect the other players. Respect the story, and act in service of it. Respect that you will not always get your way, and that not getting your way can be interesting.
Do what is best for the game. Do what is best for the story. Be active! Be positive! Be interesting! Change things! If you can’t walk away at the end of the night with a good memory, with something that you could talk about in the pub in years to come, then everyone at the table has failed.

THE WRITE GAME – THE FORGE

Indeed. It has been a  seminal influence on my fictional writings, but not just upon my writings. It also greatly influenced many other things I did or am still doing in life, everything from detective work to my inventions.

I also learned a great deal about things like map-reading and ambush setting by playing D&D.

 

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The playwright David Lindsay-Abaire is one of many authors to have gleaned skills from Dungeons & Dragons, now 40 years old. CreditÁngel Franco/The New York Times

When he was an immigrant boy growing up in New Jersey, the writer Junot Díaz said he felt marginalized. But that feeling was dispelled somewhat in 1981 when he was in sixth grade. He and his buddies, adventuring pals with roots in distant realms — Egypt, Ireland, Cuba and the Dominican Republic — became “totally sucked in,” he said, by a “completely radical concept: role-playing,” in the form of Dungeons & Dragons.

Playing D&D and spinning tales of heroic quests, “we welfare kids could travel,” Mr. Díaz, 45, said in an email interview, “have adventures, succeed, be powerful, triumph, fail and be in ways that would have been impossible in the larger real world.”

“For nerds like us, D&D hit like an extra horizon,” he added. The game functioned as “a sort of storytelling apprenticeship.”

Now the much-played and much-mocked Dungeons & Dragons, the first commercially available role-playing game, has turned 40. In D&D players gather around a table, not a video screen. Together they use low-tech tools like hand-drawn maps and miniature figurines to tell stories of brave and cunning protagonists such as elfish wizards and dwarfish warriors who explore dungeons and battle orcs, trolls and mind flayers. Sacks of dice and vast rule books determine the outcome of the game’s ongoing, free-form story.

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Dungeons & Dragons has influenced a shelf full of writers. CreditEthan Gilsdorf

For certain writers, especially those raised in the 1970s and ’80s, all that time spent in basements has paid off. D&D helped jump-start their creative lives. As Mr. Díaz said, “It’s been a formative narrative media for all sorts of writers.”

The league of ex-gamer writers also includes the “weird fiction” authorChina Miéville (“The City & the City”); Brent Hartinger (author of “Geography Club,” a novel about gay and bisexual teenagers); the sci-fi and young adult author Cory Doctorow; the poet and fiction writer Sherman Alexie; the comedian Stephen Colbert; George R. R. Martin, author of the “A Song of Ice and Fire” series (who still enjoys role-playing games). Others who have been influenced are television and film storytellers and entertainers like Robin Williams, Matt Groening (“The Simpsons”), Dan Harmon (“Community”) and Chris Weitz (“American Pie”).

With the release of the rebooted Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set on Tuesday, and more advanced D&D rule books throughout the summer, another generation of once-and-future wordsmiths may find inspiration in the scribbled dungeon map and the secret behind Queen of the Demonweb Pits.

Mr. Díaz, who teaches writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said his first novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” was written “in honor of my gaming years.” Oscar, its protagonist, is “a role-playing-game fanatic.” Wanting to become the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien, he cranks out “10, 15, 20 pages a day” of fantasy-inspired fiction.

Though Mr. Díaz never became a fantasy writer, he attributes his literary success, in part, to his “early years profoundly embedded and invested in fantastic narratives.” From D&D, he said, he “learned a lot of important essentials about storytelling, about giving the reader enough room to play.”

And, he said, he was typically his group’s Dungeon Master, the game’s quasi-narrator, rules referee and fate giver.

The Dungeon Master must create a believable world with a back story, adventures the players might encounter and options for plot twists. That requires skills as varied as a theater director, researcher and psychologist — all traits integral to writing. (Mr. Díaz said his boyhood gaming group was “more like an improv group with some dice.”)

Sharyn McCrumb, 66, who writes the Ballad Novels series set in Appalachia, was similarly influenced, and in her comic novel “Bimbos of the Death Sun” D&D even helps solve a murder.

“I always, always wanted to be the Dungeon Master because that’s where the creativity lies — in thinking up places, characters and situations,” Ms. McCrumb said. “If done well, a game can be a novel in itself.”

What makes a D&D story different from novels and other narratives is its improvisational and responsive nature. Plotlines are decided as a group. As a D&D player, “you have to convince other players that your version of the story is interesting and valid,” said Jennifer Grouling, an assistant professor of English at Ball State University who studied D&D players for her book, “The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games.”

If a Dungeon Master creates “a boring world with an uninteresting plot,” she said, players can go in a completely different direction; likewise, the referee can veto the action of player. “I think D&D can help build the skills to work collaboratively and to write collaboratively,” she added. (Mr. Díaz called this the “social collaborative component” of D&D.)

Ms. Grouling also cited “a sense of control over stories” as a primary reason people like role-playing games. “D&D is completely in the imagination and the rules are flexible — you don’t have the same limitations” of fiction, or even of a programmed video game, she said. A novel is ultimately a finished thing, written, edited and published, its story set in stone. In D&D, the plot is always fluid; anything can happen.

The playwright and screenwriter David Lindsay-Abaire, 44, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Rabbit Hole,” said D&D “harkens back to an incredibly primitive mode of storytelling,” one that was both “immersive and interactive.” The Dungeon Master resembles “the tribal storyteller who gathers everyone around the fire to tell stories about heroes and gods and monsters,” he said. “It’s a live, communal event, where anything can happen in the moment.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire said planning D&D adventures was “some of the very first writing that I did.” And the game taught him not just about plot but also about character development.

Playing D&D has also benefited nonfiction writers. “Serving as Dungeon Master helped me develop a knack for taking the existing elements laid out by the game and weaving them into a coherent narrative,” said Scott Stossel, editor of The Atlantic and author of “My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind.” “And yet you were constrained by the rules of the D&D universe, which in journalism translates into being constrained by the available, knowable facts.”

Mr. Lindsay-Abaire agreed that fictional worlds need rules. “For a story to be satisfying, an audience needs to understand how the world works,” he said. “ ‘The Hunger Games’ is a perfect example of: ‘O.K., these are the rules of this world, now go! Go play in that world.’ ”

Over and over again, Ms. Grouling said, tabletop role players in her survey compared their gaming experience to “starring in their own movies or writing their own novels.”

As for Mr. Díaz, “Once girls entered the equation in a serious way,” he said, “gaming went right out the window.” But he said he still misses D&D’s arcane pleasures and feels its legacy is still with him: “I’m not sure I would have been able to transition from reader to writer so easily if it had not been for gaming.”

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN – ESSAY ELEVEN: LUCK BE NOT LAZY

My next Essay on Gaming and Game Design, since this is my post for Design of Things to Come.

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Eleven: Luck Be Not Lazy

“High Fortune is the Good Wife of the Brave Husband.”

“Our survival kit is within us…”

“Good Luck befriend thee, Son…”

Synopsis:Boldness makes you luckier.” Boldness and risk taking make you more likely to survive and succeed than timidity and cowardice. This is true both in life, and in-game.

Recently while reading the book The Survivor’s Club (I am a survivalist and often study various aspects of survival art and science) I came across a very interesting equation by Nicholas Rescher.

The equation is as follows:

λ(E) = ∆(E) x [1-pr(E)] = ∆(E) x pr(not-E)

Rescher was attempting to mathematically illustrate how conclusions are drawn about the conditions and functional nature of “luck.” I have not had the time to examine the mathematics in detail for myself since I have only the basic equation formulation and a basic interpretation by the author of the book (not the author of the equation). I plan on looking up the entire background of the equation when I have the time.

Basically the equation states that how lucky an individual (or theoretically an event, with variable exchange) is considered to be depends upon a number of factors, but not least is the level of sufficient risk associated with any endeavor. That is to say the greater the risk taken by an individual, when success is finally achieved (though success is not guaranteed), then naturally the “more lucky” such an individual is considered in relation to others. This is of course only logical, and can be illustrated in the following way.

Two men decide to cross a chasm. One does so by a secure wooden footbridge with a safety railing, another along a length of tightrope. If both men make it safely across then most objective observers would say that the man walking upon the tightrope was “luckiest.” His risk was greatest and when (if) he succeeds then luck has been said to play a greater role in his crossing (in spite of any personal skill he might possess in wire-walking) than in the guy who has crossed the chasm on a relatively secure footbridge (in which case chance or luck plays a much smaller, if any, role as regards the crossing). This is self-evident, though perhaps often ignored or not noticed in this way in most circumstances by some observers.

lady luck

But I suspect that an even more interesting underlying and basic assumption fundamental to the structure of the equation (though it may not necessarily be overtly stated, when considering “normative variables”) is this: the greater the risk you take the more lucky you are likely to be. Not merely as a matter of relative comparison to others in different circumstances, but as a practical and fundamental matter in most any circumstance. And by extension then the more risk you assume in your given situation then the more likely you are to eventually succeed within that given situation. (Also this implies that luck is not a matter merely to be judged and quantified after the fact, or after the conclusion of the endeavor, but as a functional force, and likely an indirectly measurable force, operating throughout the course of events.)

Think about that for a moment. For the idea may just very well be fundamental to the nature of what many consider “good fortune.” Whether most people realize it or not.

The implication is that with great risk comes not only great danger, but also a greater probability towards actual and more capital success. (I think that there are several reasons for the likelihood of this conclusion, some physical, some psychological, and a few of which I will discuss here). The equation actually states that if you succeed then a larger level of risk can be said to include within the nature of the success a greater degree of good fortune, expressed colloquially as “luck.” But underneath the equation, if you examine it closely, is a sort of sub-structural formulation that implies that the greater the level of risk you assume in attempting any given or particular thing, the more likely you are to actually succeed, but that this does not become absolutely mathematically obvious until after the events are actually concluded.

In short the equation is covertly implying that all things being equal, and excluding the impossible (of course, as well as the intentionally foolhardy and reckless), it is the one who assumes the greatest risk who is far more likely to be lucky and in the end, to succeed as a result of the advantages bestowed by luck. (Is luck the only factor in success? Good Lord no. Preparation, skill, cunning, cleverness, drive, desire, etc. – all of these factors and more, or even less, can help to assure success. But what it is saying is that among roughly equivalent situations and/or competitors it is the more daring and less risk averse who is mathematically far more likely to “get lucky” and win the day, other factors not withstanding. Risk is therefore, as counter-intuitive and paradoxical as the idea may seem, one of the open and golden gateways to good fortune. Or as the old maxim goes, “Fortuna favet fortibus.” There is far more to that observation than mere Latin wit.

We all know that boldness is a fundamental aspect of the nature of Heroism. (Indeed, I personally would not attempt the execution of the function of anything heroic lacking the mettle of individual bravery as my guide. There is neither room for in most risky situations, nor likelihood of success in most dangerous situations for the ‘timid hero.’) Heroes therefore are universally bold. Or on the royal road through hardship and risk to becoming universally bold. Yet often heroes also triumph over seemingly vastly superior opponents with vastly superior resources. Why? Because they are bold. Because they are daring, and audacious, and brave. They also almost universally, whether in real life, or in myth or literature, “get lucky” or at least luckier than everybody else around them. Why? Because fortune does indeed favor the bold. The bold risk great things and therefore fortune is a natural and interested companion along the way. Fortune is attracted to bravery and risk-taking. (This does not imply that all risks are equal, or even equally fortunate, only that fortune prefers boldness to a lack thereof.)

Now it might appear on the surface that the heroic individual, or group, is often both bold and lucky. But the actual truth is they are lucky precisely because they are bolder than everyone else. Hence luck does not make one bold, being bold makes one lucky. There is a direct, if not always immediately observationally evident, correlation. That man who takes the most risk is that man who is likely to be luckiest and to be most successful. Even if bravery does not create good fortune in a particular circumstance it at least maintains and augments what good fortune already exists within that circumstance.

There are several reasons for this I think, some derived from my own personal observations, others I have gathered from anecdotal evidence, some taken from historical studies, still others implied by the equation I listed above.

First, the psychological ones:

1. The man who is audacious and daring tends to impress others with their vision. Small visions do not attract interest or followers. Bravery impresses and heroic visions and examples evoke imitation. Courage inspires devotion. And devotion inspires more courage as well as more of itself, which thereby tends to augment good fortune through cooperative enterprise and shared labor and objectives. Making success far more likely.

2. The individual who is brave tends to impress even dangerous creatures and animals, which will sometimes flee a man who the animal could easily kill because the man exhibits no fear. So if something or even someone thinks you’re crazy enough to be unafraid (regardless of whether you really are or not in that situation) when they think you should be then this gives them pause about their own chances of success against you. Courage in yourself can often inspire caution in an enemy or dangerous opponent, tipping the scales of good fortune, as well as the initiative and control of the situation in your favor.

(This has happened to me on more than one occasion with animals, men, and situations. For instance I’ve been shot at and drawn on on more than one occasion. Most recently this happened to me about two weeks ago. Yet I managed to defuse that particular situation without bloodshed or anyone being harmed because I walked towards the gunfire instead of freezing or fleeing from it when guns were drawn. Not that walking into gunfire is the most impressive or important kind of courage, it is far from it. Other things are often far more dangerous. I know that from personal experience. But the policeman in this case had the wrong location and the wrong target and he was obviously afraid of attack himself and so he drew and fired when he thought he was under attack. I don’t blame him by the way, he did indeed think he was under attack and may have even thought he could possibly be killed. He was also a young fella and a bit of a rookie. I doubt he had ever drawn his weapon before in the line of duty, but that’s just an assumption mind you based upon my observations of the boy, I didn’t really ask him. But he didn’t do anything really wrong; he was just surprised and scared by the situation, not knowing what was really going on. So I supported him when his commanding officer came out to do the in-the-field inquiry about why and how he had discharged his weapon. But I was able to prevent any real harm during the incident by walking into his line of fire [he wasn’t shooting at me, but I caused him to pause by interjecting myself] and taking control of the situation with my voice. Thereby stopping any further firing. I don’t think most people realize how effective an instrument the human voice can be in controlling a dangerous situation but those of you with law enforcement or military backgrounds probably know exactly what I mean. Your voice is probably often your most effective tool of courage and control. So I wasn’t afraid at all when it was happening, though my wife later yelled at me, as she often will, by saying “you stupid white guys run towards gunfire instead of away from it.” But obviously it has got nothing to do with being white, I’ve known a lot of brave men from all kinds of backgrounds, or even really with being stupid I would argue, but with training. I wasn’t afraid at all and so acted as I have trained myself over time, to walk towards danger and not away from it, and to attempt to command any given dangerous situation by not panicking, but by trying to assume control of the circumstances. I also wasn’t scared at all in this situation because I wasn’t thinking about myself at all. Over time I have basically trained fear for my own safety out of myself so that when others are endangered I think about others and not myself. Which eliminates the occupation with “self-fear.” It has become a matter of habit by now, and I never consciously weigh dangers for myself in my mind in that way anymore. However this does not mean the elimination of fear, if my children or wife had been under fire or endangered then I would have been afraid, I would have been thinking of their survival. I do not think though, and thank God this has never occurred, that even in that situation it would have paralyzed me, but I would have been afraid. Afraid for them. Indeed after the shooting I spoke about before was over and I realized just how bad the situation could have become for everyone – there was another officer who could have drawn and started shooting but he remained basically calm and watchful – I had about two minutes where I needed to sit down. To prevent my legs from shaking. But that was about 15 to 20 minutes later. Various friends and some people at church heard about this little adventure from my wife and the police and they all said I was a lucky fool. Just shook their heads. But I wasn’t a lucky fool; I was lucky because in that situation my training allowed me to be bold enough to prevent the situation from becoming completely out of control. I guess what I’m saying is that training yourself to move towards danger may seem apparently crazy, and so the assumption is that you just get lucky that nothing bad happens. Actually you get lucky because you act boldly. The crazy is only relative to those who do not understand that boldness enhances good fortune, not detracts from it.)

3. Bravery does not allow for panic, especially not debilitating panic. Courage is usually prepared for most situations (through exercise, practice, training, and habit) or at the very least does not panic and make situations worse. Boldness has “faith in itself.” Because boldness and enterprise are habits and skills that can be learned through practice. Perhaps some people are naturally born fearless or bold. But regardless of the veracity of that statement a person can become bold and daring through the exercise and practice of courage, just as is the case with bodybuilding through resistance training. You become muscularly and physically stronger by working ever-heavier resistance against weak and inexperienced muscles. You become more courageous by placing yourself in dangerous situations and exercising control against your fear. Eventually your “courage physique” will increase and it will take more and more danger to cause fear any real friction or resistance against you.

That’s all I’m gonna say about the psychological factors because it is not my intent in this essay to discuss all possible psychological variables. But merely to present basic possibilities.

greek

Now for some of the physical factors:

1. I suspect that on the physical level there is an “Entrainment of the unlikely” but nevertheless “necessarily possible” whenever boldness is a factor operating upon the physical environment. That is to say that boldness has both a physical and a quantum effect upon the surrounding environment much as it does on the psychological environment in which courage is in operation. Though the effect may be subtle, it nevertheless positively influences events in favor of the party operating “boldly.” The apparent physical effect is displayed as a tendency of events to move favorably in relation to the “bold party.” Though of course more than one party may be simultaneously operating in a bold fashion. It is not my intention in this short essay though to discuss competitions or conflicts between separate parties acting against each other each in their own bold fashion. That subject can be taken up by another if they so desire.

2. I suspect boldness is probably also a “quantum excitement” to the local environment, causing obstacles and frictions to move away from or bend away from the “bold party.” Friction and resistance does not build up in the environment against the bold, but rather boldness acts as a sort of overlaying energy field that slightly tilts the operational environment in the favor of the bold. You might think of daring and risk as exciting the local environment in such a way that it acts as a sort of simultaneous lubricant for good fortune, and as a sort of barrier against misfortune.
Now if all, or indeed if any of this is true, then this idea has large scale implications for human activity and work in the real world. It also has large scale gaming implications, because heroic gaming could therefore be used as a sort of imaginary training ground for the development of higher and higher states of mental and psychologically habitual (behavioral habits begin in the mind after all) boldness, which could then be effectively transferred outside the self-contained environment of a given game and exported to the wider world.

But for the moment, since this is a website and forum dedicated to gaming let’s examine how we might exploit the idea encapsulated by the statement: “Boldness makes you luckier.”
So I’m going to make a few suggestions as to how to use this hypothesis within your game and/or game setting.

1. If you use some factor, variable, or attribute in your game that represents or expresses Luck (I use several in my games) then (given that my previous statements and hypotheses above make sense to you) anytime your players display real courage this should have a corresponding and even compounding “Luck Effect.” If they are brave, and bold, then their level of Good Fortune should naturally increase, or be augmented in some way. Good luck is never lazy, and it is rarely risk-averse. Rather the braver the character the more likely he is to be lucky in any given situation (assuming he or she does not face impossible odds or an inescapable situation).

So acts of courage and heroism are more than likely to have a direct and positive corresponding effect upon factors of good fortune and the benefits bestowed by luck. I can’t tell you how to do this exactly in your game or setting (because I don’t know the details of your setting) but it is my recommendation that you bind together in some way acts of heroism and boldness to corresponding gains in good fortune. (However these things might be expressed, as bonuses to saving throws, or as “luck advantages,” or as gains to certain types of abilities or skills, or whatever the particular case may be in your situation.)

2. I would also suggest that acts of cowardice and timidity have a corresponding suppression upon factors involving luck. The risk averse would also be averse to natural good fortune. After all the obverse of my proposition, that bravery makes you luckier, is easily demonstrable. No great thing was ever achieved by timidity. The timid do not attempt and therefore naturally do not achieve great things. That is self-evident. Therefore good fortune can hardly be considered a close ally of timidity or cowardice, for achievement is the opposite of being retiring and timid. And achievement against great odds can be called one of the potential proofs of good fortune. So the bold often achieve where the timid will not go. And good fortune goes where the bold dare to lead her. Therefore fortune is long time friend of the bold, but always the stranger to the timid.

3. Courage might not only affect “Luck Factors” but even attributes like Charisma, Wisdom, and leadership. Courage should and will increase luck and overall good fortune but it might also temporarily or even permanently increase attribute scores like Charisma, Wisdom, Intelligence, or leadership abilities.

4. Courage causing increases in luck and good fortune might also have a corresponding positive effect upon things like intuition or even psychic abilities (I use the term psychic to reflect both mental abilities and spiritual capabilities.)

5. Courage would make one “fortunate” in the types and quality of the individuals you attract to yourself as friends, allies, and followers.

6. Another suggestion I might make is that in game terms at least allow for a sort of generalized and conditional reaction to acts of heroism, bravery, and boldness on the part of the surrounding environment. This could take any number of different forms but the overall effect would be that the environment “acts lucky” towards the person exhibiting bravery, initiative, and enterprise.

7. Courage and luck might have a beneficial effect upon the degree of power and level of control one may exercise over magic, magical items, artifacts, and devices, and/or more mundane types of tools/technology.

8. If courage increases good fortune and good fortune makes survival more likely then heroism and bravery should likely have direct and positive effects upon any useful survival mechanism or skill within your game.
These are but a few simple ways that the relationship between boldness and good fortune could be exploited in game, and could also serve as a sort of “reward system” to your best and bravest role-players. I could go into other related matters such as the possible mathematical relationship between boldness, confidence, and chance mechanisms, like gaming dice. But I’ve explored pretty much what I personally wanted to explore as regards this subject, and since I am presenting this post as an Interactive Essay others can add related or peripheral content as they see fit.

But in summation I would also like to encourage you all to make better use of heroism, enterprise, initiative, and boldness in your own situation(s), both in real life and in-game. I suspect that given time you will find yourself more and more inclined to boldness through practice (assuming you are not already), and as a result of that more likely to find yourself enjoying an ever increasing level of good fortune and definite luck.

Good luck to you then.

ON MEET-N-UP FOR D&D

On using Meetup to play D&D with a group of strangers

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 4:00 PM

Fate robbed me of an important rite of passage for dorks and nerds. Growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in the 1980’s, I never got to play Dungeons & Dragons. Sure, I played lots of dorky video games with friends, watched the Saturday morning Dungeons & Dragons TV series, and read whichever trashy fantasy novel I could find at the library. I would always see the D&D rule books, with their beautiful cover art depicting scenes such as a wizard with an octopus face firing crimson rays at female barbarian clad in a bone bikini, at bookstores and toy stores, but I never knew anyone my age who played the game. The closest I ever came to dungeoneering in earnest, was a board game called Hero Quest (which is now worth $400! Why did you throw it away, Mommy?), a sort of D&D lite which came with plastic miniatures. Though, the only person I could convince to read the 40-plus page rulebook was my cousin Chris. A few times, we played the six-player game with two-players. Sad, but fun.

Aside from its status as a game only for the biggest dorks, this was long before George R.R. Martin and HBO had made dark fantasy mainstream, D&D has also suffered from a stigma brought on by religious groups and lazy journalists (cough-cough) alike in the 1980s. References to demons and the occult within the game as well as a well-publicized suicide of James Dallas Egbert III caused an international stir. Egbert was a severely, clinically depressed individual who happened to enjoy playing D&D. The press ran with it as they’re wont to do and, as a result, many children, such as my 9-year-old self, were denied the pleasure of invading Castle Ravenloft to defeat its vampiric lord.

Then there was Christopher “Chris” W. Pritchard, convicted of the murder of his stepfather and the attempted murder of his mother. He, along with his three cronies, happened to play D&D and they also happened to covet Pritchard’s $2 million inheritance. Even the film industry got in on the act. Three movies about the purported dangers of Dungeons & Dragons were made in the ’80s with Mazes and Monsters (1982) starring Tom Hanks and based on the novel by Rona Jaffe, taking honors as most silly. The Dungeonmaster (1984) is a close second with its dazzling special effects and memorable dialogue: “I reject your reality and substitute my own!”

“You’re not getting that. It’s bad,” our mother’s would say. It didn’t matter how cool that undead castle looked or how intense the need to fight a weretiger , “…they said on TV it’s bad.”

Time went on and, for me, D&D became little more than unrealized nostalgia. Sex (or rather, the pursuit thereof) and getting high tend to replace the lust for simulated goblin slaughter. Yet, the love of fantasy persisted. Once a dork always a dork. Laughing friends would always deride my choice of fiction. Frankly, I think they’re just jealous of the cover art. Perhaps Mitch Albom would move more copies if his covers depicted a shrieking owl-bear eviscerating a hapless halfling rogue.

Then, one day, it happened again. Strolling through a Barnes & Noble while waiting for a companion, that gorgeous cover art got to me. A beholder, a creature made out of teeth, tentacles and eyes menacing a heavily armored dwarf fighter wielding a jewel encrusted maul. All the years of deferred quests came through the mists of time. Before I could make an intelligence check, I was the proud owner of the Fifth Edition of D&D’s Starter Set and Monster Manual.

After several unsuccessful attempts to convince friends and family to indulge me in my hunger for arcane warfare and pop and chips, I was forced to Google, “How to find people to play D&D.” I’d come too far and waited too long to give up twice. By all the gods I would have satisfaction! The search led me to a site called Meetup. A popular bit of social media, new to me, but used by many to meet others with similar interests: rock climbing, quilting, support groups and dungeon crawling.

Once the obligatory practice of testing the cyber waters for serial killers was complete, I agreed to meet at a stranger’s home to finally play Dungeons & Dragons. Pop and chips in tow, I expected a human horror show from which I would politely excuse myself after an hour. Instead, I pretended I was a necromancer with a heart of gold for five hours. I actually closed my damned eyes and imagined (for the first time in ages) myself creating a crew of zombies to man our seafaring vessel. Zombies work for cheap. My necromancer’s staff featured a human skull with ruby eyes that totally lit up when conjuring skeletons. The skull, by the way, belonged to a former slave master. (I may practice dark arts, but I don’t go in for that human bondage business.)

A more friendly and diverse group of adventurers would be hard to find. The owner of the house, we’ll call him Kumai from the equivalent Japanese culture in the Forbidden Realms (the setting for D&D), had prepared delicious burgers with homemade buns, tomato salad with mint, and freshly baked, crusty Irish soda bread paired with imported aged Irish cheddar. There was Gmorg, the Dragonborn raider who also repairs cars alongside computer systems and a 70-year-old “dark gnome” cleric and retired school teacher who remembered when one had to trade sci-fi and fantasy novels at book fairs and in “back alleys.” They cost 50 cents back then. Our dungeon master was a former Marine with an uncanny ability for doing silly voices and drowning careless adventurers in pools of boiling blood. The use of miniatures and game maps, which adds a board game element to D & D, was too new-fangled for this group. One had to use their imagination with a little help from the gorgeous artwork in the player’s guide.

It didn’t matter that I was clueless to the process of rolling polyhedral dice to determine character stats such as dexterity, charisma. Nor did it matter we were five completely different people of vary ages, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds, who, truth be told, would have never uttered a word to one another outside of this gathering. We had a fucking blast and we’re doing it again next week.

Mostly, social media gives one a depressing glimpse into the cesspool of humanity. A scrying pool into a lich’s jerk-off session where you can witness a grown man refer to a group of first graders in a Christmas pageant as “bitch-ass faggots.” But this time, perhaps the only time in my memory, cyberia came through for me. I played Dungeons & Dragons with a group of strangers and it reaffirmed my faith in humanity.

“It sounds ridiculous, but it’s like a mental vacation,” said the dark gnome cleric. “You’d be surprised by how a spot of imagination can do you well.”

THE COLLEGES TO COME?

Following up on the LARPful post. This could be an excellent stimulus for the imagination. Especially for writers. artists, actors, and perhaps even scientists who wanted a free-flowing environment to conduct chemical and physical experiments and make observations in a fun environment.

I can also see this being transformed easily into a Vadding Experience (the exploration of both modern and older ruins), that is LARPing could be used an an environment to train Vadders.

And finally this could also be easily used as a platform to develop ARGs (Alternate Reality Games and LARPs) and could even be used to train participants in Real World Skills (TSS: Transferable Skill Simulations) and in subjects such as ancient technologies and history.

So this could also easily become a GPAD, a Game of Personal Advancement and Development.

Anyway as far as the current Crowdfunding Project goes Claus, Good Luck and Godspeed. To you, your partners, and participants.

 

LARPFUL, LARK-LESS

I admit, I’ve always had a prejudice against LARPing. I’ve always considered it the sort of live-action joke of acting, and the running gag of gaming.

But I also gotta admit. It’s come a long, long way in recent years. Some of this looks really interesting, and would be especially so if you were a kid.

Live Action Role-Playing has a way of sinking its (metaphorical) claws into you. Consider American journalist Lizzie Stark, who in 2011 visited the Knudepunkt conference in Denmark, the most influential larp gathering of its kind. There, she climbed into the rabbit hole and never came out. I know, because I gave her a hug not two hours ago at this year’s conference. She’s still a journalist, and recently published a stunning book on breast cancer, but she’s also an avid larper and game designer in her own right.

“Discovering the Nordic scene felt like reading James Joyce or Gertrude Stein after spending a lifetime on fairy tales,” she wrote in her 2012 book about larping, Leaving Mundania. What would turn a critical American journalist into a die-hard larper? Good question, but let’s step back a bit here. Larp is organized pretend play. During a larp, participants dress up as characters and leave their normal lives behind for a while. A larp can be about cowboys in 1886, witches and wizards at a magical college, or an advertising agency from hell. Instead of watching or listening, you’re an active part of the experience. It’s like stepping into a TV show or novel. Or kids playing. Both descriptions are accurate.

The author as a general commanding 200 soldiers at Warlarp. Photo: Anders BernerNordic larp, the type that gets the most press, and the one in which I participate, evolved out of the scenes in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland (but not Iceland, the other Nordic country). Not only does some of the most outrageous and mind-blowing stuff happen there (want to play soulless ad execs or tortured prisoner for fun? Nordic larp is for you), the Nordic larp movement has also spawned the world’s most celebrated larp conference. It’s called Knudepunkt (“Nodal Point”) and has taken place annually since 1997. It’s a 100 percent volunteer-driven event, where larp enthusiasts of all stripes come together to discuss, play, and party.

The event has slowly grown from around a hundred participants from the four Nordic countries (sorry, Iceland) to almost 600 this year from almost 30 different countries. It’s a magical playground like no other, where devoted hobbyists and academics stay up late at night to rant about subjects like realistic characters, psychological safety, and techniques to simulate rape.

Simulated rape? Really? Yeah. I started out larping for shits and giggles, and while I still do that, I sometimes also larp for more serious purposes these days. I’ve played a prisoner in a not-that-long-after-tomorrow prison and have been tortured using genuine Gitmo techniques. I’ve been a jealous husband in an 1829 Jane Austen romantic comedy. And I’ve played a heartless peacekeeping soldier, who couldn’t care less about the locals. Not all of this has been “fun,” but all have been experiences I treasure and which have helped form me.

Maybe that’s why I love this hobby, and especially this conference, so much. At one moment, I’ll be at a lecture where a Finnish Ph.D. in Game Studies is earnestly telling us all why we need to rethink our definition of “games,” and at the next moment, I’ll be knee-deep in a Russian presentation about larps in the 90’s, and hear a story of how some deranged madman thought he was actually the “Son of Sauron”—yeah, that Sauron, the bad guy from Lord of the Rings. I know, Sauron wasn’t big on sons, but this guy wasn’t big on reason, either.

I was 13 when I started larping. My friend Jeppe and I used a bizarre-looking club as a shared weapon, and our costumes were bed sheets with a hole cut out at the head. The club included materials like “crappy stick,” “lumps of felt,” ”newspaper” and was a bright orange colour. Bright orange. And nobody cared—least of all people from the outside.

The author at a young age at the Knudepunkt 2000 conference. Photo courtesy Claus Raasted.Now I’m 35, and my latest larp project was a four-day event about witches and wizards held at an honest-to-Gandalf fairytale castle. It got featured in People and TIME and on MTV, Fox News, and Good Morning America. And they didn’t talk about us like we were freaks and weirdos. “You guys, they have a castle for this larp. A real, freaking castle,” one journalist wrote. Granted, the author does write for Nerdist, which, needless to say, is on the nerdy side of the media spectrum. But the strange thing was the writer for Teen Vogue magazine was just as enthusiastic.

“Hello, I live in San Diego, California,” an email from a would-be participant began, “and I saw your website published on Teen Vogue.”

WTF!?

I’ve been participating in larps for two decades, and even though I’ve been part of the avant-garde Nordic larp movement for more than a decade, I can say for sure that this one caught me flatfooted. When I was a teenager larping was a hobby for the weird, the bright, and the creative. We definitely didn’t read Teen Vogue, and I swear by Spock’s ears that Teen Vogue didn’t write about us.

But all that has changed. The Interwebz is good for many things, and only 90 percent of them are porn. One thing it’s great at is connecting communities. I remember watching a documentary about Star Wars stormtrooper fans some years back. There was this guy from Mexico (or somewhere equally populated, but remote) who was the only dude in his village who thought Star Wars was cool. But due to the power of the electronic superhighways, he found kindred spirits all over the world. He was no longer alone, and now his story has been told to millions of people around the world because of that documentary.

I wasn’t that stormtrooper, but I know a bit about how he felt. When I started larping in 1993, we were maybe a thousand larpers in Denmark. Now, more than 100,000 Danes larp, and I’ve had sit-downs with Danish ministers (plural) about why larping is something they should be aware of. We’ve come a long way, and one of the reasons we’ve gotten to where we are today is because some people got together at the first Knudepunkt conference in 1997 and talked about their hobby in a serious way.

The author being tortured at Kapo in 2011. Photo by Peter Munthe-Kaas.So why do we do it? We do we take games so seriously? Isn’t it just about having fun? Well, sure. But “fun” can mean many things. I’m also quite sure that no one will mock Johnny Depp for taking his acting seriously even in comedic roles. If creative expression was only about getting a few laughs and making people feel good, there’d be no Schindler’s List, no Oedipus, and definitely no Passion of the Christ.

And now I’ve got to go. Because I need to explain to some critical firebrands that we shouldn’t be afraid of the girl from Teen Vogue who wants to pretend she’s a witch in a magical castle. We should remember that all journeys of the imagination begin somewhere, and that the easiest way to get people to understand the rabbit hole is to make them want to jump into it.

After all, if we’re to come out of the shadows and into the light, we have to show the world that while we may sometimes pretend to be vampires who dislike the sunlight, we do it in cool and interesting ways.

Claus Raasted

Claus Raasted has made his living doing larps since 2002, and is the author of 17 books on the subject. His most famous project is the Harry Potter inspired larp “College of Wizardry”, which made its rounds on global media in December 2014. When he’s not busy with projects, he’s happily married and is the proud owner of 100 kgs of LEGO.

GIVE A LITTLE BIT…

Your Dungeon Master works hard to make sure you have a fantastic campaign. So how can you repay them? By showing your appreciation!

Since February is now officially “Dungeon Master Appreciation Month,” it only felt right to come up with 28 ways you can appreciate your DM. How many will you squeeze into the month?

  1. Offer to host the next session at your place!
  2. Create a soundtrack to match the current campaign setting.
  3. Make them a batch of Fireball truffles.
  4. Pay for the DM’s share of the pizza order.
  5. Submit the DM’s best quotes to outofcontextdnd.tumblr.com.
  6. Give them a hand-painted miniature of an important NPC in your campaign.
  7. Make sure the DM’s glass is always full, whether they’re drinking water, coffee, or mead.
  8. Recommend they DM for the D&D Adventurer’s League at your friendly local game store.
  9. Immortalize your campaign’s story in the GameTales subreddit.
  10. Secretly talk to all of the players in your campaign, and have everyone come to the next session dressed up as their character!
  11. Bring the DM a bottle of wine with a customized label matching your current campaign (handmade by you, of course!). You can find a template here.
  12. Share an amazing thing your DM did in the DnD subreddit.
  13. Make a batch of Tavern Stew for the DM and other players.
  14. Share a clip of the epic campaign (or the hilarious NPC the DM voices) on Vine or Instagram.
  15. Tweet your appreciation for your DM using #DnDDMA!
  16. Are you artistically inclined? Volunteer to draw/paint beautiful character representations or maps. Not so artsy? Find a talented friend and commission the artwork.
  17. Send a Thank You card after a fantastic session, and let them know what impressed you–was it the puzzle they wrote? How they had you laughing the whole time? How the monsters were perfectly matched to make it a hard (but not completely lethal) fight?
  18. Get tickets to an upcoming gaming convention and take your DM! Check out the cons recommended by the D&D team here.
  19. Offer to record your next session and edit into a podcast or video.
  20. Write an ode to your DM on the official Dungeons & Dragons Facebook page. 
  21. Sign your DM up for Dungeons and Dragons Online and play a session with them! (If you’re feeling extra generous, make them a VIP!)
  22. Create a sash, crown, robe, or other accessory to signify your DM is the “World’s Greatest.” Insist they wear it to each session!
  23. Make your DM a dice tower.
  24. Create a “pump up playlist” to get your DM in the mood on their way to the next session. Some suggestions are Assorted Intricacies’ “Roll a D6,” Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy,” Stephen Lynch’s “D&D,” and The Doubleclicks’ “This Fantasy World.”
  25. Present a gift to your DM, but make them solve a puzzle or riddle similar to ones they put in your campaign before they can receive it!
  26. Make an in-character “scrapbook” of your adventure with notes/”diary entries” from each day and drawings of people, places, and monsters you encountered. Give it to your DM at the end of the campaign!
  27. Make a dice bag using fabric patterns and colors that your DM will love!
  28. Offer to DM a future campaign so they have a chance to play!

(Editor’s Note: As mentioned in our earlier letter, if you’re feeling inspired to give Dungeon Mastering a try, or want to start appreciating your Dungeon Master right now, then the Dungeon Master’s Guide is the perfect gift for the storyteller in your life!)

About the Author

Geeky Hostess (Tara Theoharis) blogs about “incorporating your geeky passions into your everyday life through parties, gift ideas, home decor, recipes, etiquette, fashion, and more.” More advice, ideas and recipes can be found at http://geekyhostess.com.

A NICE UPGRADE

http://dnd.wizards.com/products/tabletop/players-basic-rules

DAREDEVIL, SNAKE, WOLVERINE, AND THE BATMAN, or How I Beat Metal Gear like a Wet Stepchild

Up until this past holiday weekend I had not played any video game in months. Probably closer to a year.

But after Christmas I played some video games in my spare time, and today my oldest daughter wanted me to play Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes.

So while everyone else went off to watch football games at friend’s houses I stayed at home and played Metal Gear. (Once I start something I don’t like to break off iffin I can help it.)

In the space of a mere three hours I beat the main or primary mission. An amazingly good time for me because I tend to favor stealth and sneaking, Intel gathering, and exploration and reconnoitering of my environment over direct combat (just my nature, in both gaming and in real life). Also I stopped play two times to eat and once to walk my dog.

How good was I, you ask?

Well, let me put it to you this way. If you took Daredevil (not that stupid yellow or red suited Daredevil, but the Black Suit Daredevil) and cooked him, then fed him to Solid Snake, then wrapped that Snake around Wolverine, then made an incision and stuck that Daredevil-fed, Snake-Wrapped Wolverine inside the belly of the Batman to run that mission – well, I was still better than that…

BOO-YAH!

By the way, I really enjoyed Ground Zeroes. It was a typical operatic Metal Gear game but far more gritty and tactical and down to Earth minus most of the really weird villains and the bizarre combat sequences (and cut scenes). I think of it as Metal Gear Lite without all the crazy Japanese metaphysics about warfare and life and the universe. (It did have a couple of open gut scenes though.) Now actually I often really like the crazy Japanese metaphysics but it can get kinda convoluted and plot sticky from time to time. This was like supercooled frictionless Japanese metaphysics.

It was more of a very simple, straight forward, almost realistic (considering it is a Metal Gear game) infiltration and hostage recovery game/mission. The parameters were simple. Which was an extremely nice and simple change of pace for a Metal Gear Game.

It was short though, even with me burning through it with very few mistakes and only being killed once.

It alert mode though, those Marines sure were tough and sure did like to bunch up in hard to scatter fire-teams with good overlapping fields of fire. Another reason I avoided combat, plus I really didn’t feel like killing Marines even if they were rogue, and it was just a game. (Gotta lotta buddies who are Marines.) Though with such an undeveloped, or I should say unspecified plot it was really hard to tell good guys from bad guys or even just exactly what was going on.

I still don’t really know, but ya know, that’s a Metal Gear plot for ya, ain’t it?

IT AIN’T JUST FOR SLAYING DRAGONS NO MORE

And there ya go…

Actually my whole family has played for years now and it has been an especially good tool for teaching critical thinking, overcoming danger with planning and preparation (basic survival mind-set and skills), problem solving, and tactical decision making to my wife and daughters. So I think it is every bit as good a gaming tool for females as it is for boys.

 

Dungeons & Dragons strikes back

After a period of decline, the iconic game shows signs of revival thanks to an update and a greater diversity of players

From left: Sophia, Jung, and Charles Starrett play D&D at home.

Kayana Szymczak for the Boston Globe

From left: Sophia, Jung, and Charles Starrett play D&D at home.

Some updated player’s and dungeon master’s guides for D&D.

Ethan Gilsdorf

Some updated player’s and dungeon master’s guides for D&D.

As a teenager in the 1980s, Charles Starrett spent hours playing Dungeons & Dragons with his pals but stopped after high school. His interest was rekindled as a father when he introduced basic role-playing games to his two daughters when they were six years old, and he also persuaded his wife, Jung, to play.

“They just gobbled it up,” Jung Starrett says of her daughters’ interest in D&D.

Now the couple and their now 14-year-old daughters, Sophia and Julia, gather around their Brookline dining room table regularly on weekends to toss polyhedral dice, slay orcs and hobgoblins, and tell an unpredictable, unfolding fantasy story, together.

As it turns 40 this year, the pioneering role-playing game (or “RPG”) appears to be enjoying something of a renaissance after a period of decline. Once the province primarily of white, suburban teen boys and young men, D&D is drawing a more diverse group of players, owing in part to the widespread popularity of fantasy books, films, and television shows. And a new update of the game is renewing interest among veteran players.

An estimated 20 million people have played the game and spent at least $1 billion on its products since D&D’s early days. But the game, which experienced strong growth throughout the 1970s and ’80s, began a slump in the 2000s. The game’s publisher, Wizards of the Coast, does not make sales figures available, but analysts say that RPG sales have been declining for years, partly supplanted by the surge in video games and Internet culture.

In response, Wizards, a Washington subsidiary of Providence toy-and-game giant Hasbro, launched a revamp of the game’s rules this year, informally known as “Fifth Edition,” that returns D&D to its story-based roots. The response has been positive.

“Nearly every player I’ve spoken to says they like the new rules,” says David Ewalt, author of “Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It.” When one of the core rule books, the D&D “Player’s Handbook,” was published in August, it climbed to the top of Amazon sales charts and hit number one on both Publisher’s Weekly and Wall Street Journal’s hardcover nonfiction lists.

Distributors and retailers say the new edition is selling better than expected, says Milton Griepp, founder and CEO of ICv2, a publication that covers geek culture. “And expectations were high.”

Nationally, and locally, retailers are saying the new edition is doing well and drawing players to game nights. John Beresford, books manager at Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, reports that the store’s weekly in-store D&D events have grown by at least 25 percent. “Fifth edition is getting a lot of nostalgia gamers back in to take a look and is also drawing in a number of new gamers,” he says.

Unlike the last edition, released in 2008, the new D&D focuses less on mimicking video game-like action and combat, and more on ease of play, role-playing, and narrative. Also making the game more accessible, the rules ask players to consider characters who do “not conform to the broader culture’s expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behavior.” Your 12th level wizard might be gay.

In addition to getting a boost from the game update, D&D and other RPGs are also finding fresh player bases.

“There’s been a real expansion of the audience in recent years,” says Ewalt. When Ewalt went to his first game convention 20 years ago, the attendees were largely white, male, ages 15 to 40. When he attended the massive role-playing game and tabletop game convention called GenCon this summer in Indianapolis, “there were men and women, kids and adults, and people of all races and cultures.’’

Liz Schuh, head of publishing and licensing for Dungeons & Dragons, agrees. “We are seeing a broad mix of ages playing D&D today,’’ she says. “The game spans generations, as parents introduce their kids to the game that inspired them as kids.’’

One reason new audiences are embracing D&D is that so many of its key concepts are already familiar to a generation steeped in video games. D&D spawned a legion of game designers and programmers, and the industry borrowed heavily from D&D tropes such as outfitting characters, leveling up, cooperative game play, representing character traits as statistics, fantasy battles, dungeon environments, and controlling avatars.

D&D also benefits from the popularity of fantasy entertainment such as the “Lord of the Rings,” “Hobbit” and “Harry Potter’’ books and movies, and hit TV shows like “Game of Thrones.” As in the case of video games, the appetite for consuming fantasy worlds is one that D&D actually had a role in nurturing.

A whole generation of screenwriters, novelists, directors, musicians, and actors who once played D&D — including Stephen Colbert, the late Robin Williams, Matt Groening, Vin Diesel, and George R. R. Martin — have proudly embraced their basement-dwelling days as a nerdy badge of honor.

“All those kids who were obsessed with the game in the early 1980s have grown up, and many of them entered creative pursuits because D&D got them excited about telling stories and creating adventures,” says Ewalt.

The game’s imaginative reach extends beyond popular entertainment. “Gaming certainly provided me with an imaginative praxis that helped prepare me for the imaginative praxis of being a writer,” says Junot Diaz, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer and MIT professor whose group played D&D in the 1980s. “The game was an important source of solace, inspiration, learning excitement and play for us.”

Chris Robichaud, author of “Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy” and a D&D veteran since age 10, is bringing RPGs into the classroom as a learning tool. At the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where he is a lecturer in ethics and public policy, Robichaud has been teaching D&D-like simulation called Patient Zero. “I wanted to give policymakers the creative, outside-the-box thinking opportunities that only a tabletop design with a gamemaster at the helm could really create,” says Robichaud, who believes his game “has the distinction” of being Harvard’s first “zombie pandemic tabletop simulation.”

The potential educational benefits are not lost on younger players. Back at the Starrett home, Julia and Sophia say they play primarily because it’s fun, but the game has also imparted valuable life skills.

“I have the reputation as a walking dictionary, which I got from playing D&D,” says Sophia, who has been blogging about “the benefits of playing D&D.” Beyond building your vocabulary, the two sisters reel off myriad other boons. The game improves critical thinking, decision-making, spatial intelligence, and team-building.

“In D&D, if you’re going to succeed,” says Julia, “you have to be part of a group of very diverse individuals all going for the same goal.”

Indeed, the role-playing game is a perfect tool for forging communities and connections “which can further knit our society together,” says dad Charles. “We can even explore living a life as someone who believes quite differently from how we actually believe, which increases understanding and empathy towards those who differ from ourselves.”

Like a warrior after an epic battle, D&D has survived to fight again — and its players hope it will keep on rolling for another 40 years.

Ethan Gilsdorf is the author of “Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks.” Contact him at www.ethangilsdorf.com .

THE BAER PASSES

Goodbye and Godspeed Ralph. You did us a solid.

Ralph Baer, inventor of first video game console, dies at 92

The man largely credited as “the father of video games” has died at age 92, according to a report from Gamasutra. Ralph Baer, a German immigrant and inventor, created the very first home video game console in the late ‘60s. It was simply called the “Brown Box,” and it later came to be known as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972 after he licensed out the design.

The device set the footprint for home consoles to this date: a computer in a box that was manipulated with controllers and connected to a television. He also developed a “light gun” controller that was bundled with a shooting game. It is widely believed to be the first-ever video game peripheral. Later, he designed the Simon pattern-matching electronic toy that’s still available today.

Baer was awarded the National Medal of Technology from President George W. Bush in 2006, and he received the Pioneer Award during the Game Developers’ Choice Awards in 2008 (video below). For more on Baer, check out this excellent interview from 2012 and this wonderful profile from Ars Technica.

GAMING – IT’S WHAT PEOPLE DO

Roman Game Board Found in Turkey

Archaeology news

kibyra-game

Archaeologists working in the ancient city of Kibyra in the southern Turkish province of Burdur have discovered a game board dating to the first or second century C.E.Under the aegis of Mehmet Akif Ersoy University’s archaeology department, excavations were being conducted in the city’s agora.

The board belonged to a game called Ludus duodecim scriptorium (“game of 12 markings”)—XII scripta for short—which was popular throughout the Roman Empire. The name likely came from the three rows of 12 markings inscribed on most of the Roman game boards discovered. While not much is known about the rules, the game was played by two players with three dice and may have resembled the modern game backgammon.

According to the ancient Greek geographer Strabo, the early inhabitants of Kibyra may have descended from the Lydians, an Anatolian people (Strabo, Geography 13.4.17). Sometime in the second century B.C.E., the city formed a tetrapolis with three neighboring cities. The tetrapolis was dissolved in the first century B.C.E. and Kibyra was subsequently incorporated into the Roman province of Asia. Known for its ironworking industry, the city boasted a number of public structures, including a stadium, theater and odeon.

The free eBook Life in the Ancient World guides you through craft centers in ancient Jerusalem, family structure across Israel and ancient practices—from dining to makeup—throughout the Mediterranean world.

THE ABILITY HOARD – AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY ON PERSONAL AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

ESSAYS ON GAME DESIGN

Essay Fourteen: The Ability Hoard

THE ABILITY HOARD – AN INTRODUCTORY ESSAY ON PERSONAL AND CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT

When it comes to my own characters (be they fictional or gaming) and even the players and characters I DM I think of Skills, Capabilities, Abilities, Attributes, (innate personal and individual features) and so forth as much more important character elements and possessions than magic items, spells, money, and other types of what is normally thought of as “standard treasures.”

To me the single greatest types of treasures a character (or a real person) can possess are what they can actually do for themselves (and for others) in the world, devoid of all outside help, material/materiel, and extraneous accoutrements. So I’m going to call this idea and post the Ability-Hoard, or the Treasure of Personal Capacity. I think that this is where the true emphasis of “characterization” should be evident, and most brightly shine.

Let me, at this point, briefly define the Ability Hoard.

The Ability Hoard is that accumulated set of skills, talents, abilities, capabilities, extraordinary qualities (be they physical, mental, psychological, or spiritual), educational and individual merits, virtues, and sensory capacities that a character or person possesses which allows them to resolve difficult problems or to gain some beneficial advantage over others or over a particular set of circumstances.

Now I realize that this may be an entirely personal opinion, or at least very probably a minority opinion, but to me the Ability Hoard (similar to the poetic term Word-Hoard in this respect), be that in a fictional world, a gaming environment, or in Real Life is by far the greatest wealth a person may possess, and as such accumulating and developing and increasing your own Ability Hoard is of paramount importance to both your success in this world (or in any fictional world) and to your favorable development as an individual.

(At least in the gaming world, it has been my observation, and far too often in the Real World, possessions, especially powerful and valuable possessions seem to consume much of the emphasis and interest in any setting. However the Ability Hoard is not only a treasure and a possession in its own right, it is the one possession you own which actually allows you to grow and multiply all of your other possessions – be they physical, financial, material, mental, psychological, or otherwise.)

Thus in my opinion, whether you are speaking of gaming or Real Life a person’s Ability Hoard is their Chief and True Treasure, and the one source of wealth that is never subject to theft or plunder by another. (Unless, of course, you intentionally allow some particular element of your Ability Hoard to be stolen by another.)

I will return to the idea of the Ability Hoard in later posts, because for one thing, it constitutes a vital and fundamental part of my Games of Personal Advancement and Development series. For now, however, I just wish to introduce the concept.

In closing, what is your opinion – is a character’s or an individual’s Ability Hoard their single greatest source of treasure, or do you consider some other form of treasure a more valuable possession?

DEED-IN-DEED

How D&D swallowed another innocent clandestine female nerd… is there no end to this effrontery?

That Time I Started Playing Dungeons & Dragons for a Blog Post…

I recently went on a deep undercover writing assignment. My goal was to infiltrate a local Dungeons & Dragons group and make them believe I could be one of them, just for one night, so that I could write about the shenanigans that are role playing games.

I wanted to try something new, and my boyfriend kept going on and on about Pathfinder (which is an off shoot of Dungeons & Dragons, basically) so I figured hey, I could go for 4 hours and give it a shot, blog about it, and then move on. That was six months ago. The reason I didn’t write the blog post was because I’m still playing it and you know what? It’s really cool.

dice

Image: James Bowe via FlickrUntil I started dating my boyfriend I always thought Pathfinder was just someone mispronouncing “Pathfinders,” and that they were referring to that later version of Girl Guides where teenagers learn how to braid and roast s’mores over a bonfire while singing Kumbaya. Which is why I found it really confusing when my boyfriend told me he was going to join a Pathfinder group. It became less confusing when he explained to me that Pathfinder is an RPG (role playing game) much like Dungeons and Dragons. I mean, I still found the whole Dungeons and Dragons thing confusing, but at least I wasn’t picturing my boyfriend learning how to braid his beard while wearing a green vest full of badges anymore.

So I began to learn bits and pieces of what playing an RPG is like because I like taking interest in my boyfriend’s interests. He would come home from game night and regale me with tales of his journey through what I assumed was Middle Earth. He went on and on about slaying all sorts of monsters and finding treasures, and he talked about the jokes that were made during the night and it seemed like fun. It basically sounded like Game of Thrones if Game of Thrones were a comedy on FX. He explained to me that Pathfinder was like the younger sibling of Dungeons and Dragons. Basically if Dungeons and Dragons were Disney, Pathfinder would be Pixar.

Part of me wanted to try Pathfinder as soon as my boyfriend began explaining it to me, but there was still part of me that grew up being told “Dungeons and Dragons just isn’t cool.” This was long before Community did an episode on it, of course. I hate to admit it but I heard whispers about the people playing Dungeons and Dragons in high school, and it always seemed frowned upon. It was just Darwinism coming into play when I found myself never wanting to associate with Dungeons and Dragons. I didn’t want to get pummeled to death in the school yard. I didn’t want to be turned upside down and have my lunch money stolen.

So I continued on through my life associating RPGs with wedgies and swirlies, and I probably even snickered negatively on occasion when people talked about their Dungeons and Dragons days. And then something wonderful happened: I woke up one day and realized that I didn’t want to be at all associated with the people who bullied other people for playing games in their basement. I realized that it’s cool to do whatever the heck you want to do if it makes you happy. Trust me, that’s a hard thing to realize when you come from the small town I come from. If you replace dancing with Dungeons and Dragons then my hometown is essentially the town from Footloose.

It’s no real secret that my boyfriend is a “nerd,” as some people would say. He reads comic books, he watches sci-fi shows and movies, he plays board games and role playing games. For years now I have been toeing the “nerd” line myself. I grew up watching shows like Buffy and Dark Angel. I always loved sci-fi movies more than any other genre. But that was where it ended. I didn’t play games. I didn’t read comics or fantasy novels. If you asked me what “the TARDIS” was, I would assume it was some sort of French dessert. And I certainly didn’t have a sweet clue what a D20 was.

Obviously when you spend a lot of time with another human being, you tend to take on some of their interests as your own. It was only natural that I would sit down and watch all of Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who with my boyfriend. Of course I would go to Comic Con in Montreal with him next. Then came the board games like Munchkin and Carcassone. I enjoyed everything he introduced me to. So naturally when he started talking about Pathfinder I began to wonder if it was something I could enjoy with him.

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