Tuesday, June 24, 2014


These are all optional; most are controllable by the character, and most are ‘mistakes’ a character can make. Write up your own list before you start playing so that it is clear which ones you have decided to use. If you're interested in D&D drinking game shenanigans, check out the Crit Juice podcast.

  • Casts Cure Light Wounds, Lay On Hands, Uses Sneak Attack, Casts Magic Missile, Goes Into and Comes Out of a Barbarian Rage, or uses some other suitable class feature agreed upon during character creation.
  • Drinks a Potion (finishes drink)
  • Gains a Negative Status Effect
  • Goes Unconscious
  • Becomes Bloodied (half health)
  • Is Hit by a Trap
  • Rolls a 1
  • Drinks (in character)
  • Breaks Character
  • A Monster Dies (think about this one, it happens a lot)
  • A Character Rolls a 20
  • A Character Finds a Magic Item
  • A Character Disables a Trap
  • An NPC Drinks (in character)
  • A Character Spots an Anachronism
  • A Nerdy Media Reference is Made (Leroy Jenkins, Double Rainbow, Attacking the Darkness, etc)
  • A player-character dies.

Friday, June 20, 2014


The Steam Summer Sale is upon us! Every year the tides of Steam prices sink to new lows, and reveal fantastic games for often only a few dollars. If you buy games on Steam, this a wonderful week for you.This year's summer sale

There are a few categories for Steam sales. There are Daily Deals, which last 25 hours. As of the posting of this, the first one is still live, and features Farcry 3, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Don't Starve, and The Witcher 2, each at least 75% off. You could pick up all 4 of them for about 25 dollars. Those prices will expire at 10AM Pacific, 6/20.

There are also Flash sales, which are voted on by you, the buyer. These last 8 hours and feature 4 games each. Generally they have a theme like "Racing Games" or "Indie Platformers".

Steam is also running what they call their "Summer Adventure". Basically this is a temporary system that awards buyers with in-game items, unique skins, and a chance at free games based on their activity on Steam during the sale. Spending money, voting on Flash Sales, and other activities earn you points for the game. Full details are available at that Summer Adventure link above, but here is the neat part if you aren't serious about earning In-Game items...

Join a "team" during the Steam Summer Adventure for a chance at some free games during the Summer sale. Based on buying activity and badge crafting, randomly-assigned "teams" are going to be earning points this week. At the end of each day, the 30 members of the winning team will each get 3 free games on their Steam wish lists. The thing is, you don't have to buy anything for a shot at free games. There's no real downside to choosing a team (here) and making sure you have at least 3 games on your wish list.

There are a bunch of great games out there, but here are a few I personally think are worth playing. I don't have the time to update this list with Steam Sale info, so I'm going to just throw out some of my favorites and hope they turn up on Steam.
  • DON'T STARVE - This one is a gothic horror-ish indie survival game that was a big deal at PAX last year. I haven't gotten a chance to play it yet, but not from lack of trying. 
  • SKYRIM - If you haven't played this yet, go play it. Dragons and Vikings and epic music and Bethesda. Wonderful things which I bet will drop to around 15 dollars at some point this week. 
  • BORDERLANDS II - Great first-person shooter in a post-apocalypse wasteland. Play it with a friend. 
  • BIOSHOCK TRIPLE-PACK - Dystopian noir is the flavor of the evening. Bring your steam-powered whatsits and mutagenic plasmids! Bioshock II wasn't the best game ever, but was still pretty great. The other two gems in this pack are well worth the 15 dollars that it's at during this sale. 
  • TERRARIA - This charming little gem is just 4 bucks right now, but I suggest getting a 4-pack and running a LAN adventure with a few friends. Basically think 2D Minecraft with prettier graphics. 
  • GOAT SIMULATOR - This is one I can't in good conscience suggest paying more than a couple bucks for, but as a random open-world game where you play as a goat, I can't fault it. Be prepared for jetpacks, demonic sacrifice, and awful, crippling bugs. Best play while inebriated. 
  • FALLOUT NEW VEGAS - (Fallout anything, really) Post=apocalypse open world wonderfulness. I'm a sucker for Fallout, and in particular, Fallout 2 is perhaps my favorite game of all time. Check these out. 
  • SIR, YOU ARE BEING HUNTED - Who doesn't want to be hunted in the English countryside by Steampunk robots?
  • BALDUR'S GATE II - Turn-based fantasy role-playing at its best. This one is, if Fallout 2 is not, my favorite game of all time. It has aged rather well, and I love it in a way that isn't wholly appropriate. 
  • THE BANNER SAGA - I nearly helped Kickstart this one! Vikings and brilliant story elements wrapped in turn-based goodness. Check it out.\ 
  • BANISHED - Civ V almost made it onto this list, but Banished is probably a better one to try. I haven't played this yet, but I want to. Manage resources carefully and keep your growing town alive. 
  • GONE HOME - I can't wait to play this one. Exploration-driven narrative at its best. Explore an empty house and piece together what happened to the occupants. This one is made of emotion. 
  • FTL - Survive a journey through space in this excellent roguelike. 
  • AMNESIA: THE DARK DESCENT - Horror as horror games should be. Run, hide, and hallucinate your way through puzzles and dark tunnels. 
  • BASTION - This game just makes me smile. Beautiful fantasy with clever narration and a sense of humor. 
  • MASS EFFECT - These games are great. Say what you will about the end of the third game, but the story arc and scope of this series still gives me chills. The second one was may favorite of the three. Sadly, the third installment never made it to Steam.
Why are you still reading this? Go forth and give them all your money!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


With titles like Left 4 Dead, Dead Rising, Plants vs Zombies, and more recently Dead Island each raking in millions of dollars, there is some sociological phenomenon at work to sway public interest toward the undead. In addition to these games there are other big names that are eluding me right now, and of course there are the ‘zombie versions’ of nearly every big game. Here's a few of the factors coming together for this recent surge in popularity for zombie games, movies, and television shows.

Before Vietnam, war was fairly clear-cut in the eyes of the world public. More or less anyone would agree that the Nazi’s had a bad plan and needed to be stopped. Ask anyone why America was fighting in Iraq though, and you’re going to get conflicting opinions. As a gamer, players want their character’s to be justified in their actions. Zombies give them that justification where “real world” enemies do not.

This is a time that might well be later referred to as the “age of the offended minority”. Game developers have almost no limits on the level of gore, nudity, and violence they can show, but they have to tread lightly around any minority’s rights. This isn't a bad thing, but it does mean that there are limits on the dialogue and actions of the “bad guys” in a lot of games. Russians are complicated. Women are complicated. Terrorists are complicated. Germans are complicated. The undead? Wide open. It’s okay to kill 10,000 zombies in a game, but it isn’t okay to kill 10,000 humans, especially when they’re all from the same place.

There were several apocalypses predicted just about now, or a little while ago, by the Mayans or Aztecs or Christian fundamentalists or Nostradamus… more or less whoever you ask allegedly said at one point or another that the end is nigh. This means that the end of the world is topical, and Zombies are a good candidate for why.

When you’re developing a game, there are about 3 big factors in budgeting. Depending on the game, these each have different relative values. First there’s the programming. The game needs to work well; enemies need to act intelligently, etc. Second there’s the writing, modeling and animation. The game has to look good if people are going to want to play it. Finally there’s the advertising. People need to hear about the game. In a zombie game, AI is easy; Zombies are dumb. Writing is fairly easy too; zombies are predictable. Modeling is easier still; zombies have been imagined for over 50 years and have an awkward shuffling gait at the best of times.

Bear with me on this one. The world is incredibly fake right now. Women have breast implants, chicken has saltwater injected into it, people burn fake logs, dogs eat synthetic bones, plastic looks like wood… the list goes on. In the midst of all of this fake-ness, the idea of surviving with your wits in any environment is appealing. Fashioning together weapons in a mall, setting traps in the wilderness, and rationing resources are all concepts that hearken to something deep and instinctual within us that is hard to find in a world of boca burgers, soy lattes, and cars made of plastic. It feels good to get your hands dirty smashing heads, even in a video game.

Friday, June 13, 2014


Every table has a few people who don't quite jive well with the rest of the group. They might be too into the game, or not into it enough. They might have some questionable social habits or loudly interrupt other players. Over the years I've spent gaming, I've noticed a few archetypes that seem to be present at most gaming tables, for better or for worse. 

1) Warning Signs:
  • Do your friends turn away or change the subject when you start to talk about your character?
  • Do you tell lots of unprompted stories about what happened “this one time” in a game?
  • Do you repeat those stories? Several times?
  • Did you write a backstory more than 3 pages long?
The Braggart isn't really that bad. He’s a passionate gamer, and generally stays in character. He’s metagamed a bit or rolled well, and he plays the game well besides, so he’s a pretty effective asset to the party. The problem with the Braggart is fairly self explanatory. He goes on about his different abilities, synergies, and backstory, long after his audience has lost interest. There's nothing wrong with being enthusiastic about the crazy stuff that happens in D&D, but try to stay humble in the face of it. Smile and move on.

2 and 3) Warning Signs:
  • Does the party sigh and roll their eyes when your barbarian throws the foreign npc out the window in frustration, or laugh along with you?
  • Have you ever opened a door with another party member’s face?
  • Have you ever squelched a friend’s action to do something stupid?
The Monkey and Berzerker are two very similar players. They are both based on very basic character ideas. The Monkey is effectively insane. Her zany antics are intentionally chaotic. She might roll dice to determine her actions once a day, or make saving throws against bad decisions. Where the Monkey has no common sense, the Berzerker has no higher brain functions. Usually a barbarian, she plays axe-to-face, solving every problem with “I break it in half”. In the right circumstances, these characters can work well and be fun. In the wrong party though, they reduce the plotline to a slapstick comedy.

4) Warning Signs:
  • Have you missed one of the last 4 gaming sessions?
  • How do you react to a phone call or text at the gaming table? What about your friends?
  • Do you describe yourself as a gamer, or just a person who hangs out with gamers?
The Halfling isn't committed to the game. He’s the guy who checks his texts, replies to them, makes a quick phone call, and then takes his turn. He isn't clear on how to play, and will jokingly call the rest of the group his “nerd friends”. The flakiest member of the gaming group, the Halfling will frequently cancel at the last minute when other plans come up. Dungeons and Dragons is about having fun, and there is plenty of room around the table for gamers of all social circles and walks of life, but the Halfling can easily alienate his friends and detracts from the game with his absence. There's nothing wrong with a new player learning the game, but the Halfling takes pride in their lack of knowledge.

5 and 6) Warning Signs:
  • Have you read the rulebook cover to cover more than once or twice?
  • Do you check the book more than twice a session?
  • Do you know the calculable strength of tempered steel, or the methods used to forge it?
The Lawyer and Expert are both authorities in their own right. The Lawyer has studied up on every rule of the game, and she knows exactly how to resolve every action. She overrules the DM to help resolve things, effectively backseat gaming. The Expert does the same thing, but from the perspective of real life. The Expert practices swordplay in real life, is an amateur blacksmith, reads about occult wizardry, or is a general fantasy buff. Both of these players bring a unique knowledge base to the game, but if they aren’t careful, they can annoy their friends and slow the game down. Where the Lawyer will say "You did that wrong; stone walls have a break DC of 25", the Expert will say "There's no way that you can break down that wall; 13th century mortar was actually stronger than modern concrete". These two can be great for conversation, as along as they don't let their viewpoints intrude too much on what the DM is trying to accomplish.

There's nothing inherently wrong with these archetypes, and nobody is exactly a cookie-cutter copy of one of these. It's worth paying attention to them though, because each is an exaggeration of qualities in a good gamer. A good gamer takes pride in their character, and isn't afraid to do something crazy once in a while. A good gamer keeps the outside world in mind, and doesn't solely live within the confines of the game. A good gamer knows a bit about the real world, and a bit about the game world, and can let the DM handle the latter.

As always, game on.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


First of all let me say that women who are into gaming are more than just a welcome addition to the gamer hordes; women are a big part of that subculture all on their own. The world doesn’t need to “accept” the idea of gamer girls, because the idea is already a solidified reality. The world might as well “accept” the idea of gravity.

Some years ago, when I was still using tumblr, I started following the “Gamer Girls” tag. The tag was full of pictures of attractive women holding game controllers over their chests, and I sacrificed copies of Duke Nukem Forever in ritual fires to appease it. In return, I had many a picture of attractive ladygamers. The relationship was symbiotic at first. Then I started to find commentary on what a "Gamer Girl" was or was not. It seems that there is a fair amount of contention circulating online about what it means to be a girl gamer. 
Some of the discussion is downright mean. 

There needs to be a little bit of clarification on this point, so I’m throwing in my 2 caps worth. I am not a girl gamer, but this is my corner of the internet and I'm going to do my best anyway.

The gaming community is one I generally liken to a college dorm. It’s a community full of people who are enthusiastic and collaborative and wonderful, but it’s also a community with a lot of people who don’t communicate well. Everyone in the dorm wants to show their best side, and people get hurt when those sides clash. 
In any environment, people flock together to make friends, and use social constructions (categories and rules that humans make up to organize their world) to differentiate their own little circle from the rest of the world.

Women in the gaming community wrongfully fall into two different categories. It isn’t right and it isn’t accurate, but people enjoy categorizing things so the groups get constructed. “True” gamer girls who are the hardcore enthusiasts and look like they spend weeks playing WoW straight without bathing, because they do. “Fake” gamer girls are the casual gamer crowd, or the women who pretend to like games to impress men (or other women, whichever they prefer).

These two fictional categories are constantly at war with one another, which is hilarious to me, because neither one is real. Social constructions like these are bullshit, and there is literally no reason to dwell on them at all. The two categories only exist in the first place because it’s more socially acceptable to mock a group of people than an individual. Women who play games are just gamers who happen to be women. That’s all there is to it.

The world is full of female individuals who play games. Some of them are good at gaming. Some of them suck. Some of them play games to attract men. Some of them love gaming, and others play because they want to spend time with their significant other who also games. Some of them are teabagging jerks. Some of them swear like sailors. Some of them enjoy dressing up like video game characters. Some of them play games for the storyline and like turning the difficulty down to a low setting. Some of them can kick your ass at Super Smash Bros, and others will loudly complain that Super Smash Bros is an unbalanced and outdated game anyway.

For many women (and many men) gaming is a passion that has developed since their childhood. We live in an age where people can meet from across the globe without leaving their homes and happily discuss their hobbies with somebody else who they may never see in real life. Wasting that opportunity by tearing down the very enthusiasm that brings people together is criminal. There is no wrong way to enjoy video games, but trashing somebody else for enjoying their game a different way ruins the experience for us all.

One day the internet will collectively decide to start treating people like people. It will be a glorious day, and I heartily look forward to it. Until that day, keep in mind that there are no "jocks" in the world. There are no "geeks" in the world. There are humans in the world. Many of those humans play games. Some of those humans are women, and whatever their reason is to play games, they don't need to defend it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


As a Dungeon Master, you have complete control over the game. Gods bow before your might. Vast worlds spring to creation under your fingertips, and puny adventurers are as flies before a thunderstorm. In short, you have a lot of power. As the most famous comic-book uncle once put it, "With great power comes great responsibility". Your players have trust in you as their DM, and it is important to honor that trust in the way you handle your games. This isn't a comprehensive list, but covers a handful of things that I have seen in games, and my thoughts on each.

Splitting the party is one of the oldest and most often discouraged gameplay "mistakes". The party reaches a fork in their tunnel, or a trap drops some of the party into an underground river. Splitting the party often slows the pace of the game down though, and no player really looks forward to watching somebody play D&D while they wait for the DM to get to what's going on in their own fork of the tunnel. Few things will make a player feel more betrayed by their DM than having their character singled out away from the party and then killed because they didn't have backup.

Splitting the party is often seen as a way to mix things up by separating the vulnerable wizard from their protective paladin. It can highlight the rogue's sneaking skills and give characters a bit of time in the spotlight. Done correctly, it can also put the players off balance. The overpowered barbarian might suddenly have to learn how to survive without the Cleric they took for granted. It can work, but use it sparingly.

I once ran a supernatural campaign that took place in Germany during 1950. In it, the characters investigated various supernatural horrors loosed by Nazi experiments. Think Cold War Lovecraftian horror. My players and I loved the idea and were excited about the game, but we knew very little about the setting. I knew almost nothing about post-war Germany in terms of what was legal, what factions were active, the state of women's rights, or ideas about racism and classism following the fall of the Nazi regime.

I didn't know much about how intelligence agencies operated in other countries (players were each from a different nation). I wasn't sure what side of the road cars drove on, or whether Germany would have French or British cars on the roads along with BMW and Mercedes. A lot of this I could make up, but at a certain point making things up created a world that didn't feel as authentic as I wanted it to. The books were excellent and I had a lot of fun putting everything together, but even after dozens of hours of research, I kept getting surprised by basic things that everyone should know about the world. As the DM, this isn't really a great thing for world-building.

Understand that there is nothing wrong with running a game in another country, or with running one in another time period. Historical settings are a lot of fun. But as the DM, you should have a good idea about what the world is like. You should know the cost of bus fare. You should know the typical breakfast served in your game. You should know whether there is an imposed curfew in your city, and what side of the road cars drive on.

Science Fiction and Fantasy settings can get away with a lot of this because if the edges of the world don't quite fit together the DM can just say "it's magic" or "it's alien technology" and make everything okay, but if you're running a game in the "real world" try to make it feel "real" and know what the "real" aspects of it are.

Deus ex machina is latin, and translates roughly to "God from the machine". This is not to be confused with the excellent video game of the same name. Deus ex machina is a plot device wherein the central problem of a story is resolved by an external force. This external force can be any new event, character, or phenomenon you can imagine, but hasn't until this point been something the audience could reasonably expect. It originates and refers to old greek plays, where writers would find themselves in a corner and end their play by saying "and then Zeus showed up and hit the monster with a lightning bolt and everything was okay." Even back in the day, a lot of people thought it was kinda dumb.

There are a bunch of examples of this in literature and film, but Tolkien (Hobbit, Lord of the Rings) is somewhat famous for using both Gandalf and the Eagles in this way. Just when it looks like Helm's Deep is about to fall, Gandalf shows up and fixes things. Just when the goblins are about to roast the dwarves in their trees, the eagles show up and fix things. And it happens again and again and again. It gets old.

This is compounded in games. In a movie, the viewer suspends their disbelief and enjoys a presentation of a story. In a game, the players themselves are crafting the story. Intervening with an overwhelming force to dictate what happens removes that player agency and tells the players that they shouldn't bother to try. If they players don't try, the DM will just solve the issue themselves, after all. This is one that will cause a game to shed players, and rightly so. Unless you have a very good reason to, I would avoid deus ex machina altogether.

Failure is a part of the game. It can be fun, and create interesting situations for the players. It can be alarming and can shock them into sticking to safer plans. Importantly though, it is a part of the game. As the DM, your job is to facilitate the game. To make it interesting, and to help the players make it fun.