Learning to Adapt

We all game differently.  While playing a board game, roleplaying it up, or playing a video game online, chances are we are playing something while in a group.  And not all groups are the same.  In my board gaming group (going on nine years now) everyone at the table has a fairly strong personality.  This carries over to my roleplaying group as a lot of us are in both groups.  However, this isn’t the case for all groups all the time.  Sometimes we are thrown into a different situation and we have to adapt to those around us.

This adaptation can be as simple as toning down the amount of curse words; I admit, I have a pretty dirty vocabulary at the gaming table.  However, if I am with a group where they don’t appreciate colorful language, or there are kids around, I need to tone it down and I do.  I do not complain about it and the group doesn’t need to keep reminding me about it either.  I do it because it is polite and I want to keep gaming.

This carries over into roleplaying groups as well.  Not everyone in the group can be super boisterous all the time.  Depending on what everyone is playing, we might need to drastically tone down our conversations in and out of character so someone else can have their turn in the spotlight.  Some GMs might not appreciate a lot of side talk while roleplaying is happening.  Others might require you to pay very close attention to what is going on as they will only give you a few seconds to decide what your character is going to do on their turn.  Again, this requires us to adapt to the situation.

This carries over into games like WoW too.  During MoP while we were working on taking down Garrosh for the first time, the guild, as a whole, was on edge and didn’t appreciate screw-ups.  There was very little chatter at all while we were attempting bosses we hadn’t killed yet.  However, after we took down Garrosh and everyone one else quit until WoD, the new guild I joined was all about messing around.  They had taken down everything on a more difficult tier so they were more about having fun and helping everyone else out.  It was incredibly fun raiding with them.  Everyone was constantly throwing out jokes or saying complete nonsensical things to get a laugh.  The raid leader would even modulate his voice to add to the entertainment.  Had I ran with them with the mindset I during my old guild’s first Garrosh kill, I wouldn’t have had as much fun.  I had to adapt to their playstyle.

A picture of the Settlers map my friend took when she was at Strateicon this past February.
A picture of the Settlers map my friend took when she was at Strategicon this past February.

When heading to a gaming convention or trying to get into competitive play, multiply this need to adapt 100 fold as you will encounter all sorts of different people with a wide variety of personalities.  My friends who go to gaming conventions always share stories about some of the people they met at the gaming table.  They would go from wisecracking at one table to complete silence at the next.  They were always adapting to their fluctuating situation.

The adaptability you can learn from gaming with different groups is invaluable in everyday life.  If you are trying to branch out and experience new things and meet new people, finding a gaming group might be the way to go.  You’ll have something in common with the new people and you all will be there for the same thing; gaming.

What is your experience with different gaming groups?  Were some very open and joking often, while others were very on point and serious?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

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Thoughts from Central Park

Some of my thoughts on tabletop roleplaying as I sat down for a brief rest while walking through Central Park.

To me, making a character in Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition is very different from Pathfinder.  I found the transition from D&D 3.5 to Pathfinder to be very seamless and easy and the order of everything is the same or very similar.  With 5E, I felt that I was flipping back and forth between the sections a lot while generating my bard.  This is mainly related to the background that you generate for your character.  While I do like the background system, I didn’t realize that there were more specific backgrounds depending on what class you were playing; this is good as the generic, random one I generated initially made zero sense.  However, having the “archetypes” closer to the class section would make more sense to me, and would have helped streamline the character building process.  This disjointed feeling is most likely due to lack of experience with 5E.

One definite positive for 5E is the stunningly beautiful artwork found throughout the books.  To me, 3.5 lacked art.  There was plenty in the books, but, especially with the monster manuals, you could go a few pages before seeing a picture of some hideous beast.  A good GM could fill in the description holes, but having a picture is very nice.  Pathfinder did an incredible job with this; every monster has a picture so you know exactly what you are dealing with.  Pathfinder also did an incredible job keeping all the information on a monster on a page.  You don’t have to flip pages to get the rest of the description nor are multiple monsters described on the same page; this is very handy.

However, the artwork put into 5E is another notch above the rest.  Wizards did an amazing job with it, and a lot of my friends, on their first flip through the books, commented on how beautiful it was.  I think this beauty is a definite boon for tabletop roleplaying books.  If someone is on the fence about what system they want to play, they will most likely choose a book with good artwork.

This brings me to my final thoughts; all the systems that are currently out there.  I primarily want to try several systems, Monte Cook’s Numenera specifically.  Whenever we have a break from one of our lengthy campaigns, I always want to fill the gaps with one offs or short campaigns from other systems.  Unfortunately we always seem to settle for more Pathfinder.  Not that there is anything wrong with Pathfinder, I just want to branch out more.

For those watching that have played numerous systems, how do you do it?  Have you found a method that works for playing different systems simultaneously?  Do you play, say, Pathfinder one week and then Numenera the next and rotate between the two?  Do you play one for a month or so before switching over to another for another month?  Please let me know if the comments.

The beauty of games

We play games when we hang out with friends, we play them online with people from all over the world, and we play them while sitting on our couches.  There is literally a game for any occasion on covering a wide range of themes.  The reasons for playing are as wide as the assortment.  I have mentioned before that I use games as a stress relief, which has been true since high school.  I also play games, specifically video games, because I love the universes and stories they introduce.  However, there is another side to these games that I haven’t put much thought into and I think it is about time that I do.

A picture I took of the Tiefling race from my D&D 5E book
A picture I took of the Tiefling race from my D&D 5E book

Games nowadays are extremely beautiful and have become an art form.  Tabletop roleplaying systems like Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition has incredibly gorgeous artwork throughout the books.  Not only does this artwork give you a better understanding of what a character or setting is supposed to look like, they also serve as an advertisement for themselves.

The very first thing my good friend brought up when he picked up the Player’s Handbook was how beautiful all the art is.  If you have a chance to flip through D&D 5E, and you should, you will be amazed at how beautiful it all is.  And this is not just limited to D&D 5E, Pathfinder also has incredible artwork, artwork that I think far exceeds that of D&D 3.5 which it is very closely related to in spirit.  You can find amazing artwork in pretty much any tabletop RPG out there.  This beauty is not just limited to roleplaying books, the current crop of video games also are quite beautiful.

I shot I took of the galaxy
I shot I took of the galaxy

This brings me to a reason people play games that I was completely ignorant of until a couple months ago.  A WoW guild mate of mine got me into Elite:Dangerous, which I have blogged about before.  Since I wrote that blog, I have been able to get a decent combat ship and greatly enjoy flying around, collecting bounties off of wanted ships.  We were also able to get several other WoW guild mates to try out Elite, and it was something a couple of them said that really caught my attention.

A shot of my Eagle with a planet in the background
A shot of my Eagle with a planet in the background

They wanted to get enough money to buy a nice exploration ship and just fly around the galaxy exploring all that is available.  All the while they were doing this, they kept saying how beautiful the game is, and it truly is.  Because they thought the game was beautiful, they decided to explore.  Exploration has been a part of Elite ever since it came out, but I never put much thought into it.  I thought it would be boring as all you do is fly from one system to another scanning everything you can find.  However, after hearing a couple of my guild mates talk about how beautiful the game was, I started paying closer attention.  The images of Elite that I have included in this post were taken after I opened my eyes a bit and really started looking at the game.

My Type 6 on an outpost platform overlooking a planet
My Type 6 on an outpost platform overlooking a planet

So, it turns out, people also play video games to appreciate beauty.  Now I know beauty is subjective, but the human race, in general, has been fascinated with space for centuries.  We have constantly wondered, and still wonder, what is out there.  Elite:Dangerous shows us an idea of what could be, and it is magnificent.

Have you ever checked out a game just because the artwork was appealing?  If so, what game was it?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Risks versus Rewards

Last night was my board gaming night, and because our group has gotten slightly large, think eight in total if everyone shows up, we have started splitting the group to play two different games (there aren’t many games out there that comfortably plays eight).  However, the group splitting allows for two smaller games to be played, which opens up the gates to almost everything.  The group I ended up in was playing King of Tokyo, which is a fantastically fun, simple, and quick game (I was very thankful for the quick because I just flew in from the East Coast).

Image credit: http://www.iellogames.com/KingOfTokyo.html
Image credit: http://www.iellogames.com/KingOfTokyo.html

The objective of the game is to score 20 points before any of the other city destroying monsters do.  The most straight forward way to get points is to take Tokyo and stay there as long as you possibly can.  The longer you are able to stay, the more points you get.  There are other ways to get points; by rolling three 1s, 2s, or 3s (which yields 1, 2, and 3 points respectively), or by cards, though those are random.  So, typically, you will try your best to take and stay in Tokyo.

The other results on the dice are claws for attacks, lightning bolts for energy, and hearts for health.  You get a total, not counting abilities from cards, of three rolls to try to get your desired rolls.  You need energy to buy cards, so those are always good to save.  You generally want to keep pairs of numbers, hoping a reroll will get you a third so you can get points.  And attacks allow for, well, attacking.  Each monster starts with 10 health and each claw will take one away.  When you are in Tokyo, your attack dice apply to every monster outside.  However, every monster outside will only attack the one in Tokyo.

So, you need to weigh the risks versus rewards of staying in Tokyo.  I feel that this game explains risks and rewards quite well, and quite simply.  Staying in Tokyo will give you guaranteed points.  However, everyone else wants to get their monster into Tokyo as well, so they are going to keep a lot of their attack dice, hoping to make you yield (once any monster hits you when you are in Tokyo, you can yield Tokyo to them).

It is important to keep in mind that heart dice do not count when you are rolling while in Tokyo, so you need to constantly pay attention to your health and how much damage everyone else is looking to keep.  If you stay in Tokyo too long, you will die and thus are out for the rest of the game.  If you get out too soon, you forfeit points you could have gotten.  So, it is a constant weighing of the risks of staying versus the rewards of staying.  If you are like me, you will stay too long and get killed very quickly in the game.

This, however, brings up another avenue to winning: killing all the other monsters.  This is usually more difficult to do, but if you can manage to get a good combination of powers from the cards, then your damage output will increase dramatically.  This makes eliminating all the other monsters much simpler.  But, it does require you to keep more lightning bolt dice in the beginning and the cards are completely random.  So, do you risk stockpiling energy with the hope that good power cards will be drawn and thus reward you?  Or do you hop into Tokyo and see how long you can survive?

If you haven’t had a chance to play King of Tokyo, you should definitely check it out.  If you know of other fun, simple, and quick games that are similar to King of Tokyo, please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Another look at Paying Attention

In a previous blog I wrote about how not paying attention in WoW could lead to your group all dying during a particular boss fight.  However, in WoW, there are always signals that out, warning you what is to come so then you can respond appropriately.  However, in a game like RoboRally, you need to pay attention to everything going on, because elements on the board will affect your robot and help dictate what happens to them.

This is the full game board for the last RoboRally game I played.  After 90  minutes, I was still in the upper left corner...the starting board.
This is the full game board for the last RoboRally game I played. After 90 minutes, I was still in the upper left corner…the starting board.

All the available boards for RoboRally are different in their layouts, but they all will throw you curveball after curveball as you try to navigate them.  Some elements push your robot forward, others send them back, some will rotate your robot, while others push you into pits.  You have to pay attention to all the belts, lasers, smashers, pits, and, of course, other player’s robots.  You are, essentially, at the mercy of everything else that is going on with the board, and thus, without the proper concentration, you will spend the large amount of time on the starting board not really going anywhere.

You must understand all aspects of the game in order to navigate it effectively.  While you do get dealt nine cards at the start of the round, you only get to keep five of them, and those five are all played one by one.  So, it is very easy to get completely lost if you didn’t factor in the board elements.  One misstep could send you down a pit, and thus to the start of the game (or your last waypoint).  After every card you play, the board elements, those appropriate, will trigger and do their thing.  So, even though you may have only played a move forward 1, the board elements might send you another two spaces forward.

This is perhaps the most confusing board I have ever seen in a RoboRally game.
This is perhaps the most confusing board I have ever seen in a RoboRally game.

This messes most people up, per my experience, as they do not always consider what the board is going to do in between their cards.  Another difficult aspect are the rotating board elements and cards.  It is very easy to completely lose track of which way your robot is facing.  Since you can only move forward (or backwards), many people accidentally line themselves up with a pit and instead of moving around it, they inadvertently rotate towards it and them step right out over the void.

Then there are the other players’ robots.  If one happens to be facing you, they will shoot you; they have no choice.  Any damage you take affects the amount of cards you are dealt, so it is very important to pay attention to where all the other robots are.  This is especially important if you happen to be close to another robot.  When this happens, you need to pay very close attention to how they are moving because they can move you.  If you are touching another robot, if their movement card has a higher number, they will go first, and that can end up moving your robot over.  Having this happen once will completely ruin your planned route.

This is my robot, Hulk X90, the last time I played RoboRally.  As you can see, I have 4 damage and thus only get 5 cards to plan my route.
This is my robot, Hulk X90, the last time I played RoboRally. As you can see, I have 4 damage and thus only get 5 cards to plan my route.

It is really quite frustrating when this happens.  Last time I played this game, I ended up getting stuck in the starting area for around four turns due to getting pushed by a couple players’ robots.  I had the perfect route all planned out where I could get a nice jump on everyone, but a simple shift of one square to the left made my entire plan worthless.  I was not paying attention to the routes available to the others and thus we all ended up trying for the same one.

Similar to WoW, RoboRally requires you to dedicate a good portion of your attention to the board and what is going on.  Unlike WoW, when I trigger happens, you cannot adjust your route, but instead need to suffer the consequences.  If you want to train your brain to pay attention and WoW is not your thing, check out RoboRally.

Have you ever played RoboRally?  What are your thoughts on it?  Please leave a comment below and/or share on Twitter.

GM Style

When people look towards playing in a Tabletop Roleplaying campaign, they tend to mostly think about what kind of character they want to make and what the setting of the campaign will be.  While these are very important, they may not be the most important thing to consider.  Since several of us, myself included, know and are friends with at least one other person that will be involved, so we tend to overlook the GM.  Specifically, we do not really spend much time thinking about the GM and how they will run the campaign.

I recently read an article on things GMs need to not do and this got me thinking.  How the GM will run the campaign is vastly more important than what you and everyone else are going to play.  The GM is the most important person in the campaign and they have absolute control over what does or does not happen.  Their style can make or break the campaign regardless of how interesting the story or how awesome your character is.

Image credit: http://paizo.com/products/btpy8dqh?Pathfinder-Adventure-Path-Kingmaker-Players-Guide
Image credit: http://paizo.com/products/btpy8dqh?Pathfinder-Adventure-Path-Kingmaker-Players-Guide

Back in college when I first started gaming with a now good friend of mine, another of his friends ran our Shadowrun campaign.  I thought that they were a pretty good GM and had a lot of fun playing in their campaign.  They didn’t pull punches, and some crazy stuff did happen (a fireball being lobbed at a bed with dozens of grenades on it comes to mind…yum, chunky salsa).  But nothing felt unfair or geared specifically to kill a player (though the exploding grenades did kill one of us).  I did count this GM as one of my friends after this campaign.  So, when this friend moved back into town and mentioned that they wanted to run the Pathfinder module Kingmaker, I was fully on board.

I am not sure what happened between the Shadowrun campaign and Kingmaker, but they became the most cruel GM I have ever had.  If we didn’t, in their mind, properly plan for a fight, sometimes because we would have needed to metagame the proper knowledge, we would get punished severely: player-killing severely.  If we spent a ton of time planning out exactly what we were going to do, making sure we had all the proper provisions necessary, we were punished severely: all rations destroyed severely, and the GM was very strict with regards to rations.  It was basically damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Now, Kingmaker is fairly highly regarded as a good Pathfinder module.  Under a different GM it might have been.  But this GM, with his style, completely ruined any enjoyment any of us had in the campaign.  Instead of looking forward to my gaming night, I started dreading it.  We all continued coming because we were all friends, but this is a very large red flag that should not be ignored.  If you aren’t having fun in a session or campaign due to the GM’s behavior or style, leave.  You are under no obligations to continue.  We all game because we like it and we get enjoyment out of it.  No one is forcing us to play, so we shouldn’t force ourselves.

Have you ever played in a game where the GM’s style completely ruined the experience?  How did it end?  Did you confront the GM, or did you soldier on?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Rolling stats vs Point Buy

Here's a couple examples of stat rolling I did.  They show a bit of the variability of rolling, but both are quite good.
Here’s a couple examples of stat rolling I did. They show a bit of the variability of rolling, but both are quite good.

When I first started playing D&D, everyone always rolled for their stats.  Depending on the DM, you might get three or four d6s to roll and taking the highest values; you might even get to reroll 1s once.  For both of these, we would then get to decide which results go to which stats.  Others make you assign your results in order and thus what kind of character you would play would also be determined from your stat rolls (it just wouldn’t make sense to play a wizard with an INT of 10).  For several years, this is always how I generated my character’s stats.

Point buying is the other way to generate stats for your character.  For D&D 3.5, all stats started at an 8 and you had to buy your way up (Pathfinder starts at 10).  When I first started, I didn’t like this because 18s were extremely expensive, and all of your other stats suffer because you cannot afford to buy them up as well.  So, in my opinion, you only could have mediocre characters.

Here's a quick 20 point buy process I did, starting with STR and working down.
Here’s a quick 20 point buy I did, starting with STR and working down.

After a particularly nasty TPK (Total Party Kill), when we were all rerolling our stats, I got hit by the balance train.  You see, I had rolled amazing stats.  I think my lowest roll was a 15, and I had at least one 18 and two 17s.  When you put my rolls into the point buying system, they had a value of around 52, which is well outside the realm of typical point buys.  Most point buy campaigns are around 18 to 20 (in Pathfinder anyways) with epic fantasy being a 25 pint buy.  My numbers were crazy huge, but I did feel that my character was going to kick all kinds of tail.  Another player, who rolled the second best stats, had a point value in the mid-30s.

However, as someone in our party is wont to do at any given time, terrible rolls were made.  I think their highest score was a 12 or 13 and they had multiple rolls below 10 (and these were the better set of numbers as we got to roll stats twice).  They were going to be extremely weak, especially when compared to my character.  I looked over their numbers, looked over everyone else’s, and then looked at mine.  I could not, in good conscious, play my character when everyone else would be considerable weaker.  If everyone else also got into the mid-30s with their rolls, I might not have complained to the DM, but it was more than night and day between me and everyone else.

So, I flat out said to the DM that we have to switch over to a point buy system.  This started us on the point buying train and we have been on it ever since.  While I still like the idea of rolling stats, there’s just too much volatility in it where some characters will be awesome, stat-wise, and others will be awful.  Point buying allows everyone to start off on equal footing, which I believe is necessary for a group game like D&D or Pathfinder.  I think that you set yourself and your character apart from the others by how you play them and the personality you give them; not by playing Superman while everyone else get to play regular citizens of Metropolis.  I do prefer Pathfinder’s point buy system over D&D 3.5 as I feel 10s are a better starting point than 8s.

What do you think about rolling stats vs point buys?  Do you prefer one system over the other?  Have you had an experience similar to mine where you rolled awesome (or terrible) stats compared to everyone else?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.