Play yourself

When it comes time to creating a new character to play in any tabletop roleplaying system, we often let our imaginations run wild (which is absolutely a great thing) trying to come up with the most clever, creative, crazy character ever.  For me, anyways, the more creative and clever a character theme I can come up with, the more I enjoy building that character from the ground up and the more I enjoy playing them.  However, what would happen if we try a different approach to character creation?  What if we brought it a bit closer to home?  It might just open our eyes a bit.

The different approach I am proposing is: play yourself.

Image credit:
Image credit:

Granted, this is going to be a bit more complicated than that.  You will need to mold your character around the system and theme of what you are playing.  Whatever character you decide to play, be it as close as possible to what you can do in real life or not, the most important part is to have their personality match yours entirely.  Now, I do not want you to give your new character your personality as you think or feel others see it, but as you yourself see it.  This will require you to be completely honest with yourself and will take a bit of self-reflection.  We might not like doing this but I feel, strongly, that we will benefit from this exercise.

Please, only try this if both of the following are true: 1) you are playing with a tight knit group of friends who know you very well, and 2) that you let them know, explicitly, that you are playing a character with your personality.  I say this because people tend to behave differently when they are around others they do not know as well.  We only truly open up and are most comfortable being vulnerable in front of our close friends; we trust them and trust is the willingness to be vulnerable.  I also say this because it may not be as obvious as we think to everyone that you are playing yourself.

To me, this exercise can yield some outcomes that will be beneficial to you.  The most obvious one that comes to mind is that how you see yourself is not how your friends see you.  Your close friends most likely see you differently than you do.  This exercise will allow you to see yourself at a different angle and see where you can work to grow as a person.  And your friends, more likely than not, will be happy to help you on that journey.  This can help you work through issues you are having in your life and help you move forward.

Have you ever tried this before?  How did it go?  Please feel free to leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.


Social interaction in WoW

People are, by nature, social beings.  Most of us crave or require regular social interaction with other people.  We gamers are no different.  How we get our interaction, however, may be different.  Most people think of video games as solo activities, and don’t get me wrong several of them are.  But, just because games can and are played alone doesn’t mean you don’t get any social interaction out of them.  Depending on what types of games you play, you can get a lot out of them.

The most basic, current example would, of course, be World of Warcraft.  I have already talked about working as a team in WoW.  Something that goes hand in hand with working as a team is working with others.  In WoW, there’s a lot of content that can be played through by yourself.  This is usually done through questing and achievement hunting.  Nowadays, we can even go back through old content that used to take several people to complete and complete it alone.  I personally get a lot of enjoyment out of that.  Current content or more difficult achievements or quests require playing with other people.

The tool of online social interaction
The tool of online social interaction

If you team up with the same people over and over, they become your friends.  And although they are just your friends in a video game, they are still your friends.  You don’t chat about random things with random people online, but you will with your friends.  I remember a rogue I used to party with often back in the vanilla days of WoW.  Bahaphat was his name.  While we were never in the same guild, we often did dungeons and quests together.  We would chat about how things were going.  After breaks I would take with WoW, one of the first things I would do when I came back was see if Baha was playing and see what he was up to.  I needed to reach out and remake the connection we had.

Right now, I am in two guilds in WoW; one on my horde character that I am currently neglecting, and one on my alliance character.  In my alliance guild, several of the members only play WoW to play with friends.  They never come online to go through content by themselves, they only come online when we are putting a group together to tackle raid content.  Our guild leader has expressed numerous times that he only plays WoW so he can play with friends.  We all get a social interaction fix off of playing this game together.

In my horde guild, they are a bit more tightly connected.  This is mainly due to them being from all over (unlike my alliance guild where we all work for the same company in the same town) and from being in one of the top raiding guilds in the U.S.  Because they spend so much time playing the game together, all the main people have become very good friends.  If you join their mumble chat you will hear everything from funny stories to how things are currently going with someone’s family.  Members even flew from all over to hang out and go to BlizzCon 2014 together.  It’s almost like they are a family.  Everyone is there to play and socially interact with each other.

How have you made friends in online gaming?  How do you keep in contact with them?  Please feel free to leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Image credit and source: Logitech headsets

Play what you like

When it comes to tabletop roleplaying, almost everyone gets excited when they hear “Let’s start a new campaign.”  The reason we all get excited is because now we get to create something completely new.  It doesn’t matter if the new campaign is just a temporary one while in between major story arcs of another campaign or another major campaign, we still approach our new characters the same; let’s create the most awesome, fun character we can.

However, party composition and dynamics does factor in.  It is not possible to have a four person party consisting entirely of fighters.  Actually, that’s not true.  It is possible, the party will just only be effective in combat and quite inept at most everything else.  So, some consideration is needed when it comes to deciding who is going to play what.  This does not, however, mean that everyone needs to pick from the very narrow list of iconic classes and roles.

A word picture of all he classes available in the Pathfinder Roleplaying game.  Not counting the numerous archetypes of course.
A word picture of all the classes available in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Not counting the numerous archetypes of course.

You do not want to feel you have to choose a specific class just because all other roles were already picked by other players.  This does happen.  Sometimes people feel compelled to pick a certain role or class because that’s what the party needs.  A lot of the time, when this happens, that person puts very little effort into creating their character, not really caring to fully flesh it out.  It’s not really their character at this point, it’s the party’s character.  This can lead to a lot of resentment within the party, especially if everyone else got to pick a class or role that they really like.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way, and I highly recommend against choosing to play something you don’t want to just because it will benefit the party the most.  The players will benefit the most, and you will benefit the most, by choosing to play something you want to play.  You do not have to be a cleric (the role of healer is often, in my experience, the last role chosen) just because the current party’s composition is lacking a healer.  So, again, play what you want to play.

It is not your responsibility to provide the entire party with something that seems to be lacking.  If the party is lacking healing, in this example, then the party, as a group, needs to find a workaround.  Most systems out there are very flexible, offering numerous ways to gain the ability to heal without needing to play a specific class or role.  These often come in the way of an archetype, magic items, and/or potions.  The party will find a way to make it work.  Remember, it is not your job to make sure every specific role is fulfilled.  This leads to tabletop roleplaying feeling like a job instead of a way to relax and enjoy oneself.

Playing what you want, in this case, can lead to improved party cohesion, tactics, and roleplaying.  This will increase the amount of fun and character investment everyone experiences around the table.  The party will not run into a difficult fight if they know they don’t have a steady healing source.  The party will also roleplay differently if they know they don’t have a specific “get out of jail free” skill.  And when it comes down to it, this is why we tabletop roleplay, to unwind, relax, and have fun with friends.

When it comes time to create new characters, how does your group choose roles?  Do you try to keep more with the iconic roles?  Or do you mix it up a bit?  Please feel free to leave a comment below and/or share on Twitter.

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I used and entered in all the classes currently available from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game source books.

Strategy with Eclipse

Let’s talk about strategy.  Strategy is important in several aspects of life and, most definitely, at work.  We are constantly coming up with new strategies to deal pretty much everything, always seeking to find a new, more effective way to do something.  I strategize my time and how I am going to manage my MBA classwork while working full-time all the while maintaining my regular routines throughout the week.  However, coming up with new strategies for everything is very tough and very time consuming.  Fortunately, there are several board games out there that require a heavy dose of planning and strategy to play and win.  Eclipse is one of those games.

This was taken from the Eclipse game I played on March 12th.  I am the red player, and as you can see, it looks like I am doing ok.  I have several planets generating a decent amount of money and research.
This was taken from the Eclipse game I played on March 12th. I am the red player, and as you can see, it looks like I am doing ok. I have several planets generating a decent amount of money and research.

Eclipse is a relatively new board game that came out only four short years ago.  It is an incredibly popular game that is enjoyed in households and conventions a like.  There are numerous ways to win the game, which galactic domination being the most common.  While the game is quite fun, It can also be an incredibly frustrating game.

My player sheet.  As you can see, at this point, I was doing fairly decent in money and research but terrible in resources.
My player sheet. As you can see, at this point, I was doing fairly decent in money and research but terrible in resources.

I have played Eclipse a couple dozen times.  Each time, everyone around the table, except for a few, try to employ a different method of obtaining points and eventually winning the game.  Some races you can select in the beginning have an advantage with developing technologies, and through those technologies gain several points.  Another option is to develop nothing but warships and start invading your neighbors.  This seems to be the most common strategy employed, and it does have, in the games I have played, a decent winning percentage.

However, there’s a bit more to this game, and its strategies, than just tech or war.  If you play with the maximum number of players, which is six, it is imperative to know and understand what everyone else is doing and realize that it is almost impossible to win by yourself.  A simple strategy of building warships and acting aggressively towards everyone is a quick way to get everyone else at the table to, possibly briefly, join forces and crush you.  Another simple strategy that will get you into trouble is trying to remain removed from everyone else and try to explore and gain more and more territory.  That will also cause a few of your opponents to join forces to crush you.

So, what to do?  Typically, the best strategies involve more than one player, each working with their strengths.  In Eclipse, alliances can be formed where two to three players join forces.  These alliances only work if all parties bring something to the table.  One person can focus on building nothing but warships, while another builds nothing but technology.  In this case, both are generating points for their team while focusing on their respective strengths.

As you can see, the person playing black invaded me and I couldn't do anything about it.
As you can see, the person playing black invaded me and I couldn’t do anything about it.  I lost all but two small systems.

While Eclipse explicitly states what each race is more proficient at, which enables you to develop a good strategy around that, in the real world you aren’t going to be that lucky.  By looking at your team, understanding each of their strengths, a potent strategy can be crafted leading to victory or achievement.  This could be a strategy towards achieving the company goals more efficiently and reliably, to managing your personal spending better.  The point is this fantastic game can help you understand strategy and how to use it in everyday life.

Have you ever played Eclipse?  What is your favorite or most used strategy?  Please leave a comment below and/or on Twitter.

For all the information you could ever hope to know about Eclipse, click here.

Dealing with Stress

stressed-catStress is a part of everyday life for almost everyone.  There is seemingly no way to completely get away from it.  A lot of the time, we, as a people, turn to a vice in order to either reduce our stress or to forget about it for a period of time.  There are a plethora of vices out there, like going for a run or drinking a beer.  Not all vices are healthy; I think you could make a compelling argument that most vices people turn to are unhealthy.

Because of the pressures I face, mostly at work due to the nature of what my team does with very limited resources, I definitely have stress that I need to manage.  While I do occasionally partake in drinking alcohol (mostly beer, though I did recently discover that I do like wine) I do not drink to reduce stress, for I would end up drinking far more than I would like (I am a one-beer-a-couple-days-a-week kind of guy).  I do run, but I find that it does absolutely nothing to reduce my stress (I envy people who can reduce their stress through physical exercise).  So, what does a person like me do to manage their stress?

I game.

For me, not all games or types of gaming are equal when it comes to reducing stress.  If I want to get rid of a lot of stress in a short amount of time for a short amount of time, games like Dynasty Warriors is a good game for me to play.  I can pick from a number of Chinese folk heroes and suppress the Yellow Turban rebellion, where, through the course of the scenario, I can defeat over 1,000 enemies and a few other Chinese folk heroes in the process.  It is great fun and does reduce stress quite well while you are playing.

If I want more prolonged stress reduction, I can play a game like Mass Effect (Mass Effect 2 is my favorite of the Mass Effect games) or Dragon Age (the first one is awesome, second is not bad, and I haven’t had the privilege of playing the third installment yet).  These games offer amazing characters combined with an amazing story and incredibly fun game play.  I am drawn more to these types of games in general, as the stories are fantastic.  While the combat is great and does help to reduce stress like Dynasty Warriors, I find that the amazing story offers more of a distraction from my everyday life.  I care about the characters and what they are doing and trying to accomplish and thus lose myself in their story, completely forgetting, for a time, my current stress.  Unfortunately, I tend to start thing again about my stress either in the middle of playing or immediately after I wrap up.

Tabletop roleplaying, however, is where I completely forget about or greatly reduce my stress.  Since I roleplay every week, I usually have stress saved up so I can get rid of it during a session.  Unlike the roleplaying video games mentioned above where you are playing someone else’s story, you are playing your story while you tabletop roleplay.  Granted, it isn’t you exactly; it is a character completely created from your imagination that you are playing, and thus you have a deeper connection with them.  Since they do not exist in the real world, they do not have any of the problems you have in the real world; they aren’t stressed out from your job, so it is incredibly easy to lose yourself in your character.

A picture of my Pathfinder Magus, Seamus Thom, with my steampunk dice and Pathfinder Core Rulebook
A picture of my Pathfinder Magus, Seamus Thom, with my steampunk dice and Pathfinder Core Rulebook

This is part of the reason why I mentioned in an earlier blog (Tabletop Roleplaying Games: An Introduction) that I look forward to my roleplaying sessions every week.  It’s where I dump most of the week’s stress that I built up.  For as long as the session lasts, I get to be someone else with completely different problems/goals/motivations/etc.  Unlike with video games, after a roleplaying session, instead of my stress creeping back up, I will often stay later discussing things about the session with my friends.  We will go over how good the session was and what we hope to do next time.  Or, as often is the case, something funny and off-topic was mentioned during the session, so we will all gather around an iPad or computer to watch some interesting video.  All in all, roleplaying is the best stress relief for me, as it has longer lasting effects over other methods of gaming.

Do you also turn to gaming to reduce stress?  What games do you play?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Stressed cat image credit:

Not your typical gamer

When people ask you to picture the typical gamer, what is the first thing you think of?  Do you think of an overweight, middle aged man who still lives in his parent’s basement, someone with no social life whose friends only exist online or in fantasy worlds?  That has been the stereotype for gamers for ages.  That was the stereotype when I was in high school over 15 years ago, and it doesn’t appear to have changed much at all.

Stereotypical Gamer
Stereotypical Gamer

However, I feel that this stereotype is, for the most part, completely inaccurate, as most stereotypes are.  They may have had a hint of truth in the beginning, but, from my experience, it couldn’t be further from the truth nowadays.  Today, there are so many types of games out there available to everyone that it is impossible to believe that the narrow stereotype mentioned above could keep all of them afloat.  The wide variety of what is available means that there is definitely something for everyone.

To further breakdown this stereotype, we must look at the audiences and countries where board games are produced and played; this is mainly to argue against the overweight part of the stereotype as that is more related to the United States than the rest of the world.  Looking at a list of gaming conventions around the world, the United States definitely has the lion’s share, but Europe and Australia are well represented.  If you look into the manufacturers of board games, you will see German companies mentioned often.  If you are looking at video games specifically, Asian countries are powerhouses for both development and players.  So, as you can see, gamers come from all over the world.

To bring this closer to home, let’s take a look at my gaming groups; yes, I do have more than one.  One of my WoW guilds, that I, regrettably do not play as often as I would like with, has players from all over the United States who cover an incredibly wide range of professional disciplines and lifestyles.  My other WoW guild, the one I play the most often with, consists, almost entirely, of engineers who work for the same company (it’s how I met them).  We are a pretty tight-knit guild because we are all friends and it is incredibly easy to keep in touch with each other.

My board game and tabletop roleplaying groups are fairly small, with more than half of us in both groups, and we play at the same house.  The board game group consists of a husband and wife (board game fanatics, we play at their house), another husband and wife, our friend (single guy), and myself (the other single guy).  The homeowners’ child, who does sometimes watch us play, is getting close to the age where she can start playing too; she is really looking forward to it.  The other husband and wife have two kids who are very young, but will also no doubt want to start playing board games as soon as they are old enough.  The ages of this group range from late to early thirties to early forties, and the professions range from college English teacher, to highway patrol, to engineer (three of us are engineers).

My tabletop roleplaying group is currently all men as my friend likes to play board games more than she likes to roleplay.  However, we still cover a wide range of professions.  We have three engineers, an operations officer for a small tech company, a logistics officer for a local hospital, and a public relations officer for the Navy.  Although we definitely act like gamers when we are playing, you would be hard pressed to guess some of us were gamers by just looking at us.

The point I am trying to make is that, when it comes to gamers, you need to leave your stereotypes and misconceptions at home.  The gaming community, while definitely dominated by men, is a community that is growing in diversity in both what we play and who plays them.  I would be willing to bet that everyone, in the broadest sense, could be considered a gamer.  So, when you are dealing with or meeting someone who considers themselves a gamer, remember the wide range and depth of that term.  Instead of making a judgment, think about how you might also be considered a gamer and work off of that common ground.

Do you have multiple gaming groups based on what you play?  How do your gaming groups differ from the stereotype?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

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Image origin: South Park

Paying Attention with WoW

Every day, without putting much thought into it, we must pay attention to what’s going on.  On a macro level, we need to pay attention when drive, when we walk, just to make sure we aren’t going to run over or into something.  On a micro level, at work, we pay attention to what we are doing to ensure we are performing out tasks correctly.  However, zoning out can happen and, when it does, has the potential to lead to bad situations.

Video games offer a great environment that encourages and develops paying attention.  And because it ties in nicely with last week’s blog about teamwork, I am going to referencing again raiding in World of Warcraft.

A screenshot of my Death Knight and Magmadar.  He was a terrifying boss back when the maximum level was 60.  Now that's it's 100, he's a piece of cake.
A screenshot I took of my Death Knight and Magmadar. He was a terrifying boss back when the maximum level was 60. Now that’s it’s 100, he’s a piece of cake.

Since the beginning of high end raiding in WoW, specific abilities of specific bosses were countered by abilities specific classes had.  One of the earliest examples of this is the Magmadar fight in Molten Core.  During the fight Magmadar would become enraged, which lead to a large increase in the amount of damage inflicted upon the tanks and the raid.  To counter this, the hunter class had an ability called Tranquilizing Shot.  If a hunter didn’t cast “Tranq” Shot during Magmadar’s enrage, it could easily lead to the entire raid dying.  So hunters had to keep an eye out for the enrage so they could counter it.

Similar things happen for each and every class in the game.  During boss fights, tanks need to know when to use their damage reducing cool downs in order to survive (a cool down is an ability that has a refresh rate anywhere from 15 seconds to 10 minutes).  By paying attention to what the boss is doing, the tank knows when to use their cool downs.  Healers also need to pay attention to what is happening so they can make sure to keep the raid healed.  During certain phases or abilities, healers may need to use a healing cool down to increase the amount of healing they do in order to survive the fight.

Essentially, during every phase of every fight, with some exceptions, everyone in the raid has to be paying attention to what is going on.  Some fights might require you to completely stop damaging the boss in order to handle a specific mechanic the fight has.  In other fights, additional enemies might spawn with abilities that need to be dealt with immediately.  If anything is overlooked, it is very likely that the entire raid will be killed and the fight will need to be restarted from the beginning.  Many fights also have several things going on at once that all need to be paid attention to.  Therefore paying attention is crucial to the group’s success.

This lesson translates directly into what I do for a living, product assurance.  While testing a device I need to constantly pay attention to what is going on in order to catch any strange behavior.  I can pay attention on a macro level, just looking for anything out of the ordinary while testing.  However, I sometimes need to pay attention on a micro level to hone in on a specific behavior is order to diagnose what is going on.

Paying attention, however, isn’t exclusive to my professional field.  No matter what you do in life, paying attention is a crucial skill we all must have.  For some professions, like doctors, paying attention is extremely important because life could be on the line.  For others, paying attention ensures that we are doing our jobs correctly.  We all should strive to be good at what we do, and paying attention is a large step towards that goal.

If you have played WoW, what is your favorite boss fight?  If you haven’t played WoW, do you play any other MMORPGs?  Please leave a comment below and/or share on Twitter.