Friday, May 30, 2014


In a post earlier this week, Wizards of the Coast explained that they will be releasing at least some of the rules for the new edition of Dungeons & Dragons for free. Titled Basic D&D, this PDF will include enough information to level a wizard, fighter, cleric or rogue from level 1 to 20. This is great news for gamers everywhere, but isn't quite as revolutionary as it sounds.

Depending on how you count, it, this is more or less the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, a game that has been constantly evolving for many years now. After Wizards received some major flak for 4th edition (I'll write more on that eventually, I promise) they are trying to hearken back to earlier editions for this go-around. This edition appears to be dropping any numbering system and (going by the book covers) rebranding itself with a simple D&D logo above the book title.

Speaking of the book titles, I'm enjoying the art so far. Lots of epic scenes and inspiring monsters. Like the dragon on the cover of the Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set. Speaking of the Starter Set, it brings me to a bit of launch information. Basic D&D sounds like it will launch at the same time as the Starter Set, which is great because it means that everyone around the table can have a copy of the rules on their tablet/phone/computer/retinadrive come July 15, 2014. Which is in just under 2 months.

The launch schedule so far looks like this...

  • July 15, 2014 - Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set launches
    • This will cost $19.99.
    • This will allow players to create characters from the 4 core classes and advance to level 5
    • The free PDF "Basic D&D" will launch, and include rules for full, 20-level character advancement.
  • August 19, 2014 - Player's Handbook launches
    • This will cost $49.95.
    • This will provide additional options for character creation and advancement.
    • The free PDF will expand to include more information to make these options playable.
  • September 30, 2014 - Monster Manual launches
    • This will cost $49.95.
    • This will provide a bunch of monsters. You knew that from the title.
    • The free PDF will continue to expand, like some unstoppable yeast-based monster which will probably appear in Monster Manual 4 during 2017.
  • November 18, 2014 - Dungeon Master's Guide launches
    • This will cost $49.95.
    • This will provide more information on crafting stories, building encounters, and things like that.
    • The free PDF will expand again, and probably become self-aware.

There are a few other products launching near the end of the summer as part of the Tyranny of Dragons campaign that Wizards is running. Tyranny of Dragons is interesting to me, but I'll wait before writing more on it. For now, it's enough for me to know that it's a thing that is happening.

Wizards wants Dungeons & Dragons to expand. They're making cooler-looking books (click any of the links above, basically) which gamers are less likely to be embarrassed about. They made a shiny new logo, which will look awesome on stickers and book covers alike. I'm pretty pumped about that. I'm less pumped about dropping 150 dollars for new core-books, but Wizards has an answer to that as well.

By releasing Basic D&D, an evolving monster of a free PDF, Wizards has created multiple points of entry for new players. A player can play using only that one book, or can use it to supplement the Starter Set, which is only 20 dollars. A DM could buy only the Dungeon Master's Guide or Monster Manual, and use the Basic D&D PDF to flesh out the other rule aspects. It's a pretty awesome feature, and one that brings the new edition to parity with older rules.

That's right; this isn't as new as it sounds. There are excellent resources available already for Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 already. Check them out now if you haven't already.

For myself, I will be holding off on the main books for now, and seeing how far the Starter Set and Basic D&D will get me. Each of these products is also conveniently on sale on Amazon right now; a pre-order; the Starter Set is only $12.65.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


The creak of footsteps on the stairs, the smell of something foul and dead, the feel of something crawling down your back...

Over the last several weeks I have been playing mostly one board game, Betrayal at the House on the Hill. Hardly a new game, Betrayal was originally published in 2004, when it won the Gamer's Choice award for Best Board Game of that year. More recent years have seen a resurgence in the popularity of the game, and it was featured on TableTop in October 2013, to mass appeal.

In Betrayal at House on the Hill, players each control a character investigating a haunted mansion. They deal with strange and spooky occurrences for a while before one of the players betrays the rest. On the face of things, this isn't terribly revolutionary, but lets delve a bit deeper.

There are six different archetypes to the game: the old guy, the jock, the young woman, the teenage girl, the boy-child, and the girl-child. Each character has four statistics (Speed, Strength, Knowledge, and Sanity) which improve or are reduced as they explore the house. Additionally, each character has two versions; there is a fast Jock and a strong Jock. Players are free to choose the character option that has a skill set more to their liking.

Any time that a character takes damage, they move one of their sliders to the next lower attribute. Physical damage reduces Strength and Speed, while Mental damage reduces Knowledge and Sanity. If any attribute reaches zero, the character is lost to the House on the Hill.

Each character has a miniature that is pre-painted (I might end up touching up the paint on mine) to a game-ready standard. It's a nice step up from meeples. The characters' four attributes are tracked on the edge of their pentagonal character tiles. Each is tracked by a little slider that clings to the side of the tile.

The house itself is built of a series of square pieces. As players explore new rooms, they drop a piece onto the table adjacent to the room they are entering from. In this way, the house slowly grows into a new building each time. The rooms' reverse side shows the players whether it belongs on the second floor, basement, or ground floor level. This prevents things like the Attic from turning up in the top floor.

Additionally, some rooms have simple-but-fun additional rules. For instance, players can move from the "collapsed room" to the basement by falling down 1 floor and taking a bit of damage. The dance hall on the ground floor is below the balcony above it, and so on. Rooms that don't quite line up are rationalized as being blocked doors or boarded-up windows, which works well for any haunted house.

Many rooms have symbols on them that correspond to cards. There are three different types of cards, but they mostly work the same way. Event cards and Omen cards usually cause the player to make a check by rolling a number of dice equal to their rank at a given attribute, trying to reach a target number of successes. For instance, a player encountering fire in a room might roll a Speed roll to avoid it. They would roll a number of dice equal to their Speed attribute and try to hit a particular number set on the card. If they succeed, they get a benefit (usually an attribute raise) and if they fail, they get a penalty (usually an attribute reduction).

Some Events and Omens reward the player with Item cards, which are useful tools that can help them in the haunted house. Additionally, some rooms allow the player to draw Event cards.

Omens are generally worse than Events, offering harsher negative consequences and fewer benefits for a more difficult check. Additionally, omens increase the Haunt tracker. After drawing an Omen card, the player moves the tracker up one mark and rolls six dice. As long as they a number greater than the current Haunt "level" they are okay. If they roll a lower number than the one shown on the Haunt tracker, they trigger the Haunt and somebody betrays everybody else.

Once the Haunt has been triggered, things go horribly wrong in all the best ways. The game comes with 3 rule books: the general rules, the survivor handbook, and the traitor's tome. Once the Haunt is triggered, the game gets really interesting. One of 50 unique Haunts is triggered based on which Omen card is triggered in which room. For instance, the "Spirit Board" Omen card has a better chance than most at triggering a "Seance" Haunt, but still varies depending on which room it was discovered in.

The players determine which Haunt has been triggered and (usually) who the traitor is, then the traitor leaves the room to read about their new objectives. The survivors flip to their page in the survivors' book, and determine their own strategy for how they will get out of the house alive. It might involve fighting zombies, eluding ghosts, avoiding a flood, or anything in between.

Each side of the Haunt knows only as much information as is in their book, so they don't necessarily know what the other side is trying to accomplish. The traitor might know that as a newly-turned vampire they have to kill all the survivors, but they wouldn't know that the survivors are looking for stakes and holy water in the basement.

The one thing that I don't really like with the game is the character tiles, and specifically the trackers for the character attributes. Character attributes are tracked with little arrow clips that slide along the side of the tiles, but they don't quite grip the tiles well enough to be reliable. What I've been using instead are torn up bits of sticky notes. I just move the little adhesive bits up and down as needed to track my attributes, which works fine. My personal suggestion: Throw a pad of sticky notes into the box if you plan on playing a lot.

Interested in buying the game? You can hopefully find it here on Amazon. This is a game to shop around for; it SHOULD cost around 45 dollars, but often fluctuates to well over 125. Timing is key, but you may also find a used copy on Ebay with a bit of luck. If you can get your hands on a copy, this game is well worth playing.

Friday, May 23, 2014


Cooperative games are games in which the players work together rather than playing against each other. Cooperative game modes are often abbreviated to co-op, since gamers are by and large a lazy folk.

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) have been around for a while now. Depending on how you count it, since either the 80s or 90s. Some of the most popular ones over the years have been Ultima Online, Everquest, and of course World of Warcraft. In these games, a player joins the same game as thousands, or even millions of other players in order to adventure in the same fictional world. Many games have multiplayer features, but MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online) games take multiplayer to another level with an immense, persistent world. This article isn't really about the origin or history of MMO games, but knowing a bit about the genre will make it a much better read. With that in mind...

Welcome to CO-OP MMORPGAMING, a chronicle my delve into playing an MMO with my girlfriend. It's the first experience I have had with playing an MMO as a local co-op game, sitting next to the other player. We will be attempting to play more or less the whole game as a two-person party, which is entirely new to me. Hopefully it will prove useful to gamers on a time crunch who are looking to start an MMO with their significant other or close friend.

About five years ago I had lots of time for gaming. I was single, working part time, and was a student with few enough time constraints that I could game from about 5pm to 3am, several days a week. And I did. I devoured games, completing most shooters and adventure games over the course of a weekend. RPGs held my attention a bit longer, and I could spend weeks or months on them before exhausting them of new content.

Around this time I tried my hand at MMORPGs for the first time. I played The Old Republic (a fun Star Wars MMO) for about 6 months, because I loved the KOTOR series. For the record, KOTOR I and II are still the best Star Wars games out there. I played EVE Online (spaceships and spreadsheets) for about a year and loved it, but ultimately tired of my trading and space exploration. I played Guild Wars (a fantasy MMO with a focus on player-vs-player team fights) for a few months before I lost interest, played TERA (a fantasy MMO that includes a race of Ewok-ish creatures) for a bit, and played AION (a fantasy MMO where you can fly with awesome angel wings) as well. Ultimately I decided that MMOs weren't really my thing. The gameplay structure was based on playing with friends, but my friends never stuck with any one game longer than a few months.

Fast forward to now. I work full time and am living with a wonderful young woman who would like to play games with me. We have gone through a number of cooperative console games, and I decide it is time again to try out an MMO. This interest, in part, was sparked by the excellent anime Sword Art Online. We both work and have too many hobbies (gaming, cosplay, music, art, dancing, writing) so we only have an hour or so a day to play games.

Here's the catch... her computer isn't that brilliant, and most newer games require some pretty impressive hardware to run. The second catch... we don't want to pay money to play the game. 

A lot of free-to-play MMO games are either very limiting to free players or require you to pay money for cool stuff. They let you play for free up to level 10, or to play a few classes for free and pay money for the others. Some let you do certain quests for free, or require that you pay money for decent gear. Some games are free to play, but don't offer any real challenge or excitement and are arguably not even games at all. Social games like Farmville fall into this category. We wanted a real game that we could get a lot of content out of for free.

I did a bit of research and determined that our options for a fun, free-to-play MMO with friendly graphics requirements were a bit limited. Dungeons and Dragons Online looked good, but was very locked into D&D rules. I love D&D, but wanted to try something different for an MMO. Another option was TERA. TERA boasts some pretty graphics and the option of playing as a Popori, which are cute little animal-creatures that look kinda like Ewoks. Finally we had Aion, which is a bit older but allows players to fly around on awesome wings.

I chose Aion because I figured my girlfriend would like the idea of flying in an MMO. Aion is also the middle-ground in terms of graphics among the three games, and seemed a good starting point to judge system performance. We installed Aion on both machines and fired it up, then waited about 7 hours to download the numerous patches the game has had (it's up to version 4.5 now) since it launched...


Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Dexterity is probably my favorite stat, most notably because I love rogues. Dexterity is what characters use to dodge attacks, aim ranged attacks, sneak in the shadows, perform feats of acrobatics, and avoid traps. It factors into their initiative and their Reflex defense. More than that, dexterity is the measurement of balance, poise, precision, and accuracy of any given character. It’s incredibly important to anyone who wants to do things with their character that involve speed and timing; it’s the ninja stat.

8… below average. You have trouble walking and chewing gum. Coordination just really isn’t your thing. You might hit your head walking through doors, drop things you’re carrying, shoot yourself in the foot while reloading, and get stuck in small spaces. You usually avoid any tasks that could involve balance, timing, stealth, or poise. Maybe you have a crippling injury, are prone to seizures, have impaired sight or balance, or are overweight. Fumbles, from GoblinsComic, has 8 dexterity.

10… an average dexterity score. You can balance, sneak, and react about as fast as anyone else. When out of your element, you fall on your face; when in it, you generally succeed at things you attempt. Not a lot to say here; you’re as dexterous as say, Gimli the dwarf (LOTR).

12… above average. You’re more agile than most of the people you know. Your balance isn’t perfect, but it’s not bad either. You can throw things with accuracy, and while you can’t sneak up on animals, you can sometimes get a jump on other people. Frodo Baggins has about 12 dexterity.

14… impressive, but nothing incredible. Maybe you juggle. You can palm small objects with some degree of competence, and you don’t feel any particular risk carefully balancing over a steep cliff. You can move around with a blindfold and avoid tripping with even odds. I would give Link (Zelda) 14 Dexterity.

16… worth bragging about. Your muscles might not have a lot of bulk, but they have tone. You can dodge oncoming attacks, hit a target on the move, and balance on a beam, but probably not all at the same time. You can control your body in ways that can occasionally leave people around you in awe. Jackie Chan has 16 dexterity.

18… utterly amazing. You react almost before things happen, and it sometimes scares people. Legolas the elf (LOTR) has 18 dexterity. His heightened sense of balance and fast reactions allow him to perform feats of agiltiy like this and this. Because apparently elves are ninjas sometimes.

People more agile than this pass into legend. Their aim improves, their balance as well, but these changes aren’t clear to the passive observer. The greatest pinnacles of dexterous achievement might well go completely unnoticed, a silent shadow in the pages of history.

When you are distributing your dexterity stat during character creation, think about how your stats got to be where they are. Did you train as a pickpocket? Were you a burglar, an archer, or a daredevil? If you’re an assassin now, where did you learn your craft? How do you maintain your disciplined agility? If your dexterity is low, how do you rationalize that weakness? How do you roleplay it?

Friday, May 16, 2014


“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” 
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Most groups who play together regularly eventually consider an "evil campaign", as a way to change the pace of their games and play some antagonists. After so much time saving princesses and defeating dragons, they want to steal, murder, and pillage the town. They want to defeat the heroes for once instead of the villains. They want to play a scheming lich, a brutal orcish warlord, or an insidious drow sneak-thief. On the face of things it sounds like fun, but there are a number of reasons I recommend against it.

Evil for evil's sake is neither fun nor realistic, just kind of gross. If the players created their characters so that they could kill puppies, the game will leave everybody uncomfortable. Watching movies that focus on truly evil characters instills emotions in the viewer of disgust, revulsion, and fear. Horror movies focus on evil as a way to alienate the viewer for artistic purposes, but you can't do that in a game. When you, the player, are the villain, this just isn't possible. It's a different experience to cringe watching SAW than it would be to play the movie's villain, Jigsaw.

But maybe the adventurers don't want to do "evil" things. Maybe they just want to be the "bad guys" for once. "Bad Guys" don't really have a reason to stay together as a party. There is a reason that there aren't any major books that follow a group of truly evil characters; these characters don't let you identify with them, because they aren't human. Nobody wants to be in an adventuring party with Sauron (LOTR) because he's one-dimensional and not a fun guy. As the embodiment of evil in middle earth, he has no respect for human life and would do anything for the sake of his own power.

You may be able to get some humor out of an over-the-top evil game, emphasizing the ridiculous lengths your characters go to in pursuit of their misdeeds, but this is tough and very specific. The PC game Overlord did this rather well, but it has niche appeal and doesn't work as well in groups.

All this said, evil campaigns CAN be run well, but it has to be done carefully. Rather than evil for evil's sake, the characters could be working as pawns to a more powerful entity. They might not be truly evil themselves, but might have to work for the demon who owns their souls, or for the sorcerer who is holding their families hostage. This allows you to include interesting moral dilemmas and give the players diverse challenges.

Alternately, the characters could be working together as a result of rigid power structures. I played an excellent drow one-shot where the party was entirely composed of dark elves, and each character had a "hidden motive" that the other players weren't aware of. Mine was to kill one of the other PCs, a priestess who was working for a rival noble house. It didn't end well for my character, whose botched assassination attempt led to the rest of the party sacrificing him for the main quest, but it was fun nonetheless.

Maybe your party is performing a heist, where their evil actions are strictly profit-seeking. These characters are often present in Shadowrun games, where the characters are all performing

Similarly they could be doing something evil for a greater good. Lex Luthor genuinely believes that the world would be a better place without Superman in it, and orchestrates repeated plots to destroy the man of steel. Luthor is also a huge philanthropist, donating millions of dollars to charitable organizations. Moral ambiguity can be fun to play with.

You can make the game work by having characters with strict limits on what they will and will not do. An assassin might say that he "never kills kids" for instance. Real people have limits, self imposed or otherwise, that form the rules they live by. If your party thinks of themselves as "honorable villains" the game will likely run smoothly. These redeeming qualities can make an evil campaign bearable and prevent it from devolving into mindless, ugly slaughter.

Running an evil campaign is different from running evil characters in a "good" campaign. They party might involve evil characters in a party doing good things, or doing morally ambiguous things. If the players are defeating monsters and helping people, they are playing a different game than the one mentioned here. They might be driven by greed, respect for the party's good characters, a debt of honor, blackmail, or any number of other things. The excellent web comic Order of the Stick uses a curse to keep the party's (evil?) character from killing anyone within the limits of an established town. The party might still be entirely composed of evil characters forced to adventure or work for a lawful organization, as well.

Running an evil campaign is also not the same as running a game with a dark setting. World of Darkness games in particular take place in a very dark world, and often involve characters who do questionable things. They aren't necessarily evil though, which is what makes them compelling. A character with evil motives might still be a basically good person. A character who finds their own vampirism repellent isn't truly evil, just deeply flawed. Flawed characters can be a lot of fun to run, but as the DM, talk to your players and nail down exactly what they are looking to get out of the session.

I often find that players who want to play "evil" characters really just want a world where they can do whatever they want without repercussions. While Dungeons and Dragons is about having fun with friends through story-storytelling and escapism, it isn't healthy to take that overly far beyond the bounds of morality. There is no wrong way to play D&D, but take care that the game stays fun and safe for everybody involved. If the players just want to kick puppies, maybe they should take a break from gaming and look at what's going on in their lives.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind. If you speak and act with a polluted mind, suffering will follow you, as the wheels of the oxcart follow the footsteps of the ox. Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind. If you speak and act with a pure mind, happiness will follow you, as a shadow clings to a form.

Wisdom is often confused with intelligence, because the two are usually found together in world figures. In Dungeons and Dragons, they have no bearing on one another. Wisdom measures a person’s judgement, common sense, accumulated knowledge, and levelheadedness. Wisdom contributes to a lot of skills, and also determines your character’s will defense (their ability to resist mind-affecting spells or abilities like illusion and enchantment).

8… below average. You’re impulsive, reckless, and perpetually out of your element. You have no head for history, or for subtleties of the world around you. With 8 wisdom, you’re blind to subtext. Kind of like Michelangelo, of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

10… considered average. Certainly some things get past you, but you’re as wise as anyone else. Ron Weasley has 10 wisdom; it isn’t anything remarkable.

12… above average. You know what’s up, and some people look to you for advice. You know how to weigh the pros and cons of a situation before making a decision, and you usually feel good about the decision in retrospect. Spiderman’s Uncle Ben has 12 wisdom; just enough to come up with a snazzy line about power and responsibility.

14… impressive. A lot of world leaders (or the people who advise them) should be up here. They aren't, because politics tends to value unscrupulousness over morality, but they should be. You’re well traveled, and generally know the best course of action for a given situation. You can tell when somebody is lying more often than not, and people look to you for advice.

16… among the top 5% or so. Gandhi. Martin Luther King. Rafiki (Lion King). You know a lot about a lot. At this point, think about your wisdom as you role play. Your character should probably have a moral compass or ideology of some kind that you are working toward; what you say, how you act, should reflect that.

18…’re a paragon of wisdom. When you open your mouth, people around you are inspired and awestruck. Yoda, Jesus, and Buddha had 18 wisdom. (I’m going with an all-or-nothing viewpoint on whether they existed, because I really want to live in the same universe as Yoda) You are a font of wisdom, so that should definitely be reflected in how you role-play. Choose your words carefully, and try not to be too impulsive.

Wisdom is a great governing point on how your character should react to situations, but ultimately it is up to the player. Even characters with a high wisdom can make mistakes (many of my paragon examples were assassinated, and the other agreed to train Darth Vader) and that has no bearing on their overall wisdom. In my opinion, these mistakes come out in role-playing the same way that a high dexterity character can trip when they roll a 1.

It's important to remember that Wisdom is not the same as education. Wisdom represents your character's life experience and judgement. The healer in a barbarian tribe could be wise and illiterate, the same way that a power-hungry young wizard could be learned and unwise. Wisdom isn't about what you know (most wise characters have gained their wisdom through study/meditation as well as experience) so much as how you act.

Friday, May 9, 2014


Several months ago I started running a DCC game (If you haven't played it, you should) with several friends. It immediately grew beyond my expectations and after shedding a few players, currently has about 8 regular attendants. In the DCC ruleset, players each run around 1-3 characters at a given time. I started DMing with small groups of around 3-4 adventurers, but our party has around 14 characters run by 7 players right now. To deal with this small army of players and characters I've put together a few tips, detailed below. This list is far from comprehensive, but helps with any group.

Food can be a valuable ingredient to any game, but large groups add unique food options. Tell your players to bring snacks, or award a bit of XP/gold to players who bring something to munch on. A hungry adventuring party soon becomes an unhappy one, so have options. If your group drinks, remember that beer is basically bread in terms of calories, and can hold off hunger with surprising effectiveness.

I usually suggest building a game around a meal (lunch or dinner). Everybody can chip in for takeout (send a runner and keep the game going) or order in. I generally ask my players to each bring something (drinks, chips, whatever) along with 5 dollars for pizza. After gaming for a couple hours, we order pizza delivered, and the 5 dollars generally covers about half a pizza with room for a tip.

Regardless of how much you prepare, the party will do something that you aren't prepared for. They will kill the bartender when they get bored, ignore your quest hooks, and blindly miss the traps you thought would be unavoidable. That said, preparation makes the difference between a long and boring, frantically-researched session and a smooth session.

Before each session, I generally get a basic idea about what's going on within 1-2 miles of the party and write that down as a few bullet points. If this involves any monsters, traps, or challenges, I jot down the book/page that includes the rules I may need. If it's entirely original, I'll throw my notes (custom dragon stats, loot tables, town guard names, etc) into a folder for quick reference. I keep this list on the side since it probably won't come up, but when it inevitably comes up anyway, I have it there for reference.

When the party moves beyond where you think they were going or they move in a different direction, make sure you have a backup plan. Their guide could suffer apparent poisoning or a curse, forcing them to find the antidote to save a life. They could receive urgent word from the king/duke/count that their help is in need. It's good practice to keep a list of things you can drop on the party at a moment's notice, just in case.

Another option is to keep a list of wandering monsters handy, and throw one of them at the party to slow them down. If the party was searching for a lich-king's lair, send a few undead at them (sentries) to point them in the right direction. While I'm personally not a huge fan of random encounters, you may be able to introduce quest items to the party this way. Maybe that Troll killed a messenger and still has the note on him. Maybe a monster was carrying a weapon inscribed with the name of an NPC or family the players know. Tying the encounters to the world you have created will help create a sense of realism to the game.

Managing initiative for more than half a dozen players is just silly, and keeping everybody focused easily falls to one side. There are a couple schools of thought for this. One is to have everyone roll initiative as normal, and have the highest initiative roll go first. From there, play proceeds around the table, ignoring all other rolls in favor of simplicity. This can work pretty well, but tends to leave players feeling a bit under-powered if they end up at the "end" of the circle. They have to wait for the 10 other characters to each go as the circle creeps slowly toward them. 

For some groups, this works rather well. Mine isn't one of them. Many of my players, as I mentioned earlier, are running 2-3 characters each. DCC has high character death, and by throwing more PCs at the grinder they have a better shot at surviving. To speed up initiative, I generally just have players each roll initiative with their "fastest" character. That way instead of dealing with fourteen initiative "turns" I can deal with more like seven.

In any initiative system, try to keep a running announcement of who is "on deck" to act after the current player. Anyone who isn't ready to go will have time that way to catch up with the game before the rest of the table is waiting on them.

Running a game with more than six players is hard. Make sure your players understand this, and they will try to make things easier for you. If you find yourself overwhelmed, it's 100% okay to say "Hold on everybody, I need to figure out what's up ahead" and take ten minutes in the middle of the session. Don't make a habit out of it, but keep in mind that it is totally an option. Your players would rather have a DM who is comfortable running the game than a DM who's scrambling to put something together on the fly.

Communicate with your players and make sure that they are ready to play when their characters need to do something. Keep a picture in your mind of what the players are each doing, relative to the world around them. Make sure that threats affect each player so that nobody feels forgotten or safe. Nothing will turn players off in a game faster than feeling like their character doesn't matter.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Charisma is the all-encompassing attribute for personal magnetism, physical attractiveness, leadership, seduction, subtlety, and acting. In the right game it can be an important stat; no other attribute directly deals with social situations. If you aren't a Paladin, Bard, or Sorcerer, the chances are pretty good that Charisma was a dump stat. There are some great possibilities that a high Charisma opens up, especially if you embrace it through the way your character interacts with the world. How does your charisma reflect on your character? Here’s a good breakdown:
8… below average. Your character has something clearly off about his appearance or demeanor. You probably have a harelip, a stutter, or a disfiguring scar. Maybe you’re just eerily silent and look menacing. Jaws, from the Bond movies, has 8 charisma. Maybe you’re missing an eye or an ear. Ladies of the evening will probably charge extra.

10… pretty standard. You look unremarkable, speak clearly but with no particular skill, and though you may have a few minor social flaws, they are balanced by your strengths. John McClane (Die Hard) has 10 charisma.

12… above average. Nothing amazing, but certainly respectable. Han Solo would be a good example. You might look average, but have a great personality. Maybe you’re unusually friendly. Women don’t fawn over you, but you don’t have too much trouble finding one, either.

14… pretty damn high. You have a natural sense of leadership about you, and are definitely sure of yourself. That sense of confidence carries across to your appearance. Aragorn (LOTR), has 14 charisma.

16… starting to reach the limits of human potential. If you don’t look stunning, you are incredibly persuasive. If you are familiar with The A-Team, you are Lt. Templeton “Face” Peck. People stop and stare for a moment as you walk by, and you are usually the center of their attention. Conversation revolves around you wherever you go.

 is unbelievable. You are a charismatic icon, and a legend follows in your wake. Women swoon as you pass, and try to catch your eye. Jaime Lannister might have 18 charisma. If you have any physical flaws, they only make you more attractive. When you open your mouth, honey drips off your tongue.

As a player, when you plot out your charisma, think about how you want the world around you to react to your presence. Have you been scarred by some terrible trauma, physically or mentally, or both? Where did you learn your manners, and how is that carried over in your personality? How much luck have you had with the opposite sex? With the same sex? Do you obsess over your appearance, and if so, why? Who are you trying to impress?
And remember…
Charisma Motivational Poster

Friday, May 2, 2014


Faster than light, or FTL, is a game that (as of this writing) has sucked 53 hours out of my life. I say that strangely with a smile on my face, as I curse Steam's habit of tracking such things. FTL is (if you haven't heard) a single-player PC game that is now available on Windows, Linux, Mac and iPad (hopefully coming soon to Android). You, the player, pilot a small spaceship across the stars in order to deliver vital intelligence to your fleet. Pursuing you like a horde of slow-moving space zombies is the rebel fleet. The game uses a top-down viewpoint where you direct your crew around the various rooms of your ship to fire weapons, maintain shields, and try not to blow up.

Because blow up you will. In theory, a player could beat FTL in several hours. I will preface this by saying that I may not be excellent at this game, but in the 53 hours I have spent, I have yet to ...technically... beat the game. Playing on "easy." FTL is a "rogue-like," a game in which the player is unable to reload if they fail or make a poor decision. In FTL, every choice you make while traveling across the reaches of space impacts your odds of survival, and the wrong decision will leave you floating in the void.

Traveling across space means navigating across a network of randomly-generated 8-bit stars through a branching path of nearby sectors. At each star, you are prompted with a text-based decision. These decisions vary wildly. One star might involve deciding whether or not to attack a rebel cargo ship, and another might be choosing what method to use when surveying an asteroid field.

Combat is a constant companion in FTL; it seems every alien race has it out to kill you. You can direct your crew (who each slowly improve at their shipboard tasks) to various stations at the ship, where they improve system performance. If you want to get the best out of a room, it pays to have a crew member there to operate the console and make repairs as needed.

If the crew act as one resource in combat, the other resource is power. After upgrading my weapons systems and getting a new missile launcher, I found that I could only power all my weapons if I turned off the "nonessential" systems for a while. Nonessential systems like the medical room.. and life support. This worked well as my crew ran about, repairing damage from enemy weapons, until a stray blast ruptured the hull and disabled my engines. My engineer immediately started to fix the engine, and I moved power to shields to compensate my ship's immobility. Meanwhile, air leaked out of the engine room, and I opened up several nearby doors to feed more in. By the time the hull was repaired (and air stopped leaking into the void) my ship was barely providing enough oxygen for my suffocating crew. I moved power from the shields back to life support, and watched oxygen levels slowly climb back up to normal levels.

These frantic moments of the game, where you scramble to target weapons, repair rooms, balance power, and keep your individual crew alive as they repel intruders or fight fires, make the game fun. When you add in the thrill of teleporting to an enemy ship, hacking their systems, launching attack drones, or venting rooms to put out fires, the game becomes addicting.

Part of the strategy in FTL involves handling your ship in combat, and the rest is wrapped up in how you choose to upgrade your ship. Almost everything you do gives you scrap (the currency of the game) which you can use to buy new weapons, systems, crew members, and upgrades to your ship. In addition to these upgrades, you spend scrap to pay for repairs, fuel, missiles, and drone parts to keep the ship running. You decide who to hire as crew; there are half a dozen distinct races. You decide if you should upgrade shields or get more system power. You decide if your ship's weapons should be replaced, and with what. Maybe you should get a teleporter so that your deadly Mantis crew members can teleport aboard enemy ships, avoiding weapons systems altogether. Maybe you should invest in drone systems, and control a squad of robots to attack, defend, or repair ships. Is it better to repair your ship now, or to buy more power so that you can keep shields and weapons going without turning off life support? The choice is yours.

These choices matter, because when you get to the eighth sector, you fight the rebel flagship. The flagship is the "boss battle" that you have been preparing for in your journey across space. So in addition to surviving to cross the stars, you're also trying to make your ship into something that can survive the final boss.

Replay value is something worth mentioning here... and it's hard to pin down. FTL rewards repeated play-throughs with unlockable ship layouts. In addition to your starting vessel, you can unlock half a dozen other ships by completing specific actions in the game. Impress one of the alien races in the right way, and you get their ship. Each ship comes with 3 layouts, which change the way the ship plays significantly.

FTL isn't for everybody, to be sure. When your ship explodes, you lose all progress that play-through had given you, which is frustrating. It does serve to make every moment in the game more tense though, and to keep you on your guard. For me, it doesn't get old.

I've fought with aliens, made shrewd business deals, and explored the vast reaches of space. I will probably come back to FTL one day, but for now I'm basically done with the game and look back on it favorably. 50-odd hours into FTL, I still have things I could unlock and I still run into unique encounters in space. It's worth at least a couple of play-throughs, and hard to pass up for ten bucks.