Gaming Breaks

In the course of being a gamer, we sometimes get completely engrossed in one game and ignore all others.  This is why, in a video I will be posting later, I mention that I haven’t had much time, if any, to play games on my various consoles.  I got completely engrossed in Elite: Dangerous on top of actively tackling garrison missions daily in WoW.  However, my recent vacation to the great cities of Boston and New York City allowed me to get away from gaming.  I could have gamed while there, but I didn’t bring a laptop that could handle those games and I was far too tired after waking around all day to even think of playing a game.  I have been back now for a two weeks and I still haven’t thought about online gaming.

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This brings me to the topic I wanted to talk about, taking a break.  Taking a break from our regular routine of gaming can be quite refreshing.  It opened up more free time than I thought and I found myself looking for things to do.  I caught up on some TV shows (I can now say I have watched all of Breaking Bad), but I really was kind of bored and didn’t know what to do.  Kind of a good problem to have, no?

The added benefit of my new found free time is that I was finally able to look towards playing some console games again.  I truly have a huge backlog of games I still have to play.  While I will most likely continue playing Dragon Age: Inquisition until I beat it, I still have the original Assassin’s Creed to beat (just need to do the last couple kills).  I even bought a PS4 and Bloodborne because I kept reading so many good things about it.  If I was still spending all my time online gaming, Dragon Age and Bloodborne, along with a couple other Xbox One games I have, would still be unopened.

This doesn’t just apply to video gaming.  Sometimes we need to take a break from our board game groups and our tabletop roleplaying groups.  The break helps us realize how much we enjoy and how much we get out of our gaming groups.  Fortunately for me, the breaks I get from my board gaming and roleplaying groups are because people are out of town.  I really enjoy these groups, and believe I could go without the breaks (not regularly gaming during the week completely throws my schedule off), however it is most likely that these shorts breaks I get keep everything fresh and fun when we get to game again.

What do you think?  Do you take breaks from your gaming routine and find yourself with a lot of free time to enjoy something else?  Do those breaks allow you to go back to other games that you still need to play?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.


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.

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.

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.

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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.

Adventure Path or Homebrew?

I have been thinking a lot about the new adventure path my Pathfinder group is playing, Mummy’s Mask.  The reason I am thinking about it is because this is the first adventure path I have played that I have actually really enjoyed.  Not saying that the others were bad, as Kingmaker and Rise of the Runelords are not bad modules.  However, adventure paths are a completely different beast than homebrew campaigns.  And, if followed rigidly, feel like plot train where everyone is going to the same destination regardless of whether or not they want to.  But, if the adventure path is followed loosely, with several options put forth for the players to choose from, all reaching the same destination differently, then it no longer feels like we’re on a train.

Generally, I prefer homebrew campaigns a lot more than I do adventure paths.  There’s just something about knowing the DM came up with the world and story all on their own and that we, the players, are a major force within said story and world.  There, of course, is the overarching plot, if you will, that we do have to contend with, but we are essentially given carte blanche on how to get there.

The DM caters every week based on what we did and what we discussed the week before.  This makes it pretty much impossible for the DM to plan several sessions ahead, but it gives the players much more say in what goes on.  There’s almost infinite choices and paths to trek down.  There’s hidden gems distributed throughout the world and story for us to stumble upon and discover.  I absolutely love this aspect of homebrew campaigns.  Everything is completely unknown at the time, and if I was so tempted (which, thankfully, I never am) there’s no material I can dig up, anywhere, that will give me hints as to what’s to come.  So, when given the choice, I would play a homebrew campaign 11 times out of 10.

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However, that is not to say that adventure paths are boring.  If done properly, as I mentioned above, they give the players the notion that their choices do matter.  This brings me to the current campaign I am in (technically, we have three active campaigns going on, with DMs rotating when they get too busy at work or are too tired to prep), Mummy’s Mask.  I have played in a homebrew campaign with this DM before, and it was quite fun…until the Big Baddies continued to become bigger and badder at a faster pace than us.  So, needless to say, I was a tad hesitant when they said they wanted to run an adventure path.

My trepidations were unfounded.  They have proven to be most adept at running an adventure path.  They decided that there were going to follow the path very loosely, yielding a lot of control to the players.  If we decide not to do something, it is completely skipped.  Instead of dwelling on all the stuff we did not do, the DM just moves us forward.  To make up for some of the skipped parts, the DM throws some extra stuff into the road we are currently travelling.  This makes it feel less plot train-like and more spontaneous; it’s just another encounter we have to overcome.  At this point in the path, and we have definitely jumped all over the place, I have no idea what is actually coming from the module and what is coming from our DM.

This, to me, is how an adventure path should be run.  Follow the overarching storyline, but allow room for the players to get there their own way.  You truly stop thinking about it as another adventure path and just run with it.  It has completely changed how I feel about the numerous adventure paths that Paizo puts out for Pathfinder.  I might even consider running one someday.

What is your take on adventure path vs homebrew campaigns?  Which do you prefer?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.

Becoming more social part 5 – the current frontier

This is the final installment of my “becoming more social” series for my blog that chronicles my adventure to break out of my shell through gaming.  It is the final installment because it brings me to my current social state, even though it started almost 10 years ago.  I had briefly mentioned the event that lead to the largest crack in my shell in my first blog post, and I will expand on it greatly here.

My friends and I enjoying a funny story at the gaming table
My friends and I enjoying a funny story at the gaming table

In the fall of 2005, I started playing in a Shadowrun campaign with a couple classmates of mine.  A few of us had the same lab class and we were invited to game with our classmate and a couple of his friends, one of whom was going to be the GM.  This classmate had a ton of experience in gaming and had previously gamed with our GM and his other friend that was joining us.  Three of us from lab, me included, were completely new to Shadowrun and this gaming group.  But, since it sounded like fun, and because I was already in love with tabletop roleplaying, I decided to give it a try.

After the initial conversation, we quickly decided upon a location and day for this Shadowrun campaign.  It was going to be at my classmate’s house on a day when we didn’t have class late at night.  The other two who were joining us had been friends with my classmate and his wife for a few years, and they were experienced gamers, the GM had previously run them through a Shadowrun campaign in the past.  We quickly acquainted ourselves with the system and started gaming.

Now, this is VERY important.  If you are gaming at someone’s house who is married, but the wife/husband/partner is not part of the gaming group, it is crucial that you do not ignore them.  It is their house too, so be polite and try to talk to them.  Since this person also lives at the house you are gaming at, they will be around when you are gaming.  This is, perhaps, the most important lesson I have ever learned while gaming: DO NOT IGNORE THE SPOUSE!  Because I didn’t ignore my classmate’s spouse, I was not looked upon as rude or weird as my other two classmates were.  They ignored her and thus she was weirded out by them.  Because I engaged with my classmate’s spouse, when other things came up, like possibly board gaming or a Christmas party, I was invited whereas the other two weren’t.  I also had the benefit of ingratiating myself with my classmate’s wife as I commented on their beautifully decorated Christmas tree, not knowing that she loved Christmas.  So, by being a “normal” person by not ignoring her and making appropriate comments and small talk, I quickly moved from classmate to friend.

Because both my classmate and his wife liked me, they started to invite me over for board gaming and other get-togethers like their annual Christmas party.  It was at these events that I met and became friends with more of their friends.  It was at these events, the board game nights, where they introduced me to their incredible collection of board games, of which I have blogged about before.  Before them, I had no idea there were so many board games; I thought Monopoly was it.  They completely opened my eyes to the wonderful world of board games.

And this couple, whose house this Shadowrun campaign started at, has become some of my closest friends to this day.  We go camping together a few times a year and I am invited over for all sorts of random hangouts (could be dinner, could be for more board gaming).  Because this couple introduced me to their friends and family, I have been invited to a couple weddings, invited to more birthday parties than I can shake a stick at, and made several more friends that I would never have been able to on my own.  I was even able to get one of the friends I made through this couple a job where I work and she will be having her 5 year anniversary later this year.

I am truly grateful for the friends I have made throughout the years through gaming.  However, I am most grateful to the classmate who invited me to play Shadowrun, and his wife.  They have had a huge impact on my life and I am a much better and more social person for it.

Have you made long lasting friendships through gaming?  If so, how did it come about?  Please leave a comment and/or share on Twitter.