When the Dungeons & Dragons session ends

Sometimes when I’ve finished a session of Dungeons & Dragons Kids Club and the kids are gone and I’m sitting here in the quiet room, I’ll take a moment and reflect on the past two hours.

Everyone laughed and had a great time.

Everyone contributed to an ongoing story.

Everyone felt unified and connected.

Everyone in the room used their imaginations, their creativity, their senses of humor and their life experiences to solve a puzzle, unravel a mystery and resolve a problem.

We all walk away with a shared history. The experiences that happened in our imaginations simultaneously over the last two hours will be remembered and retold, as if these characters are people we actually know. In a way, they are. What a unique experience this is. I will play this game for as long as I live.

Dungeons and Dragons: Subvert and satisfy player expectations

As some of you may know, I run a pair of Dungeons & Dragons clubs for kids. It is tremendously fun. The current six-week session ends this weekend, and marks the first time I’ve used a completely original campaign. All told, it was about 12 hours of story and adventure. I’m quite looking forward to the conclusion as (I hope) it will completely subvert and satisfy my players’ expectations. Here’s what’s going on.

For session one, I took a little inspiration from Matt Colville, who, in one of his videos, talked about throwing the big bad at the players in the opening scene of session one, before they could do anything but cower in fear. I did that and it was great fun. They PCs were enjoying their time in a tavern (naturally) when this imposing, robed figure entered, flanked by two lesser robbed figures (I like for my baddies to have lieutenants to taunt and aggravate the PCs) and did all sorts of nasty stuff before making a quick exit.

As I expected, the players did nothing but wait for it to end. “That thing will kill us instantly,” one of them said.

Yes. Yes it would have.

That experience angered and frustrated them, and gave them a “bad guy” to despise. He was quite unpleasant to some of the tavern patrons with whom our heroes were having pleasant interactions, and they did not like that. Now each PC was personally invested in vengeance.

Hook in place.

To make a long campaign short, the players eventually learn that a local mage is intent on becoming a lich, and is gathering souls for the process of transformation. He has several lieutenants doing the dirty work for him, including the Master of Crows, the Master of Locusts and the Master of Coin — all dealt with in one way or another at this point. The trail eventually led to the mage’s tower, where the players find themselves this week.

Once they battle their way to the top of the structure (and deal with the yet unknown Master of Books) they will find the figure they met in scene one, as well as a feeble gnome, dressed in mage’s robes, utterly inert in his throne as a Will O’ The Wisp encircles his head.*

In D&D 5e, Wills are nasty things that subsist on the potent emotions induced by horror, panic, and death. They revel in luring people away from safety, bewildering them, and finally leading them into deadly danger, so they may feast on their desperate emotions.

I decided to have a Will as the real big bad for two reasons. First, it’s a little more interesting as a climax than, “we expect to find an evil mage intent on become a lich, and we do.” Second, there are two strong camps in my group of nine kids: the slayers and the savers.

One group wants to slay bad guys. They like weapons, they like combat, they like being the heroes of the battlefield.

The other group prefers diplomacy. They’ll fight if they have to but they view battle as a last resort. Failure, actually. Discussion failed, so it came to blows. Now blood will be drawn. In fact, the aforementioned Master of Locusts is now a member of the party.

My finale should satisfy both factions. They’ll have an obvious baddie to kill, and a clear victim to save. I’m quite looking forward to their reaction upon finally seeing Brovac the Lost, the decrepit, doddering gnome that he is. I’m sure they’ll want to slay the Wisp — I had each of them experience whispers and dreams promising them glory every now and then throughout the campaign — as well as the original robbed figure. But I’m not sure what they’ll do with Brovac. Yes, he’s a victim but he did collect a lot of innocent souls. Like, a lot. 

Hopefully I’ll subvert and meet player expectations in a way that leaves them happy. But honestly I don’t know, and that’s why I love cooperative story telling so much.

*Thanks to our friend Johnny Tolkien of the inspiration.

What’s making me happy this week Sept 1

A look at what’s making me happy this week, and how you can enjoy them, too. You’ll find an archive of my “happy picks” here.

Paper minis for RPGs

Tabletop gaming is my hobby. I’ve been getting together with the same group of people to drink beer and play games twice per week for years. It’s tremendously fun and a fantastic way to socialize, unwind, think and have a great time.

I really enjoy role-playing games like D&D, Fiasco and so many more. I was thrilled when I found Printable Heroes and Stuart Robertson on Patreon. They’re both making gorgeous, printable paper minis for games like Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder or any other game that uses fantasy minis. Their work is beautiful and I’m very happy to back them.

Plastic and metal minis can be expensive and time-consuming to paint. While I enjoy those more substantial figures very much, there’s something utterly charming about these paper characters.

Here’s a pro tip. Paper is kind of flimsy, so follow these steps for more rugged paper minis:

  1. Cut the image out of paper and use some rubber cement to glue it to a piece of black poster board.
  2. Cut the figure out of the poster board as best you can.
  3. Use a black Sharpie to go over the edges of the cut pasteboard to hide any white.
  4. Use an X-Acto knife to insert the mini’s base into some black foam core board.

Presto! Instant hero (or monster) ready for adventuring.

LeVar Burton Reads

If you haven’t subscribed to this podcast, let me know. I’ll drive to your house, pick up your phone and do it for you.

Every week, LeVar Burton reads a piece of short fiction complete with sound effects and beautiful story-telling skill. Each week I think, “He can’t possibly top last week’s tale,” and then that’s exactly what he does.

The most recent story (as of this writing) is “The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu. It’s beautiful and absolutely devastating. If you aren’t crying at the end, you weren’t paying attention.

LeVar brings his acting talent and obvious love of fiction to the show and the result is a podcast you really ought to hear. Goodness, I love it.

La Voz by Delinquent Habits

This should make you want to dance instantly. Pure hip-hop, infectious bass and drums, plus horns! I’ve been listening to this nonstop for a week.

Would you like me to blog for you? I’ll write up to 500 words of well-written, original copy on your topic, starting at just five bucks. Click to hire me.

Dave’s 2016: Board games

“I love board games” is inaccurate because “love” isn’t strong enough a word.

For the past few years, I’ve been getting together with friends every Monday and Thursday night to play tabletop games. Monday is “RPG Night” and Thursday is “Game Night,” where we pull something off the shelves and have at it. It’s my main hobby and I love it.

There’s something about sitting around, laughing, having a couple of beers and playing a game that I truly love. It’s a fantastic way to spend time with friends, make new ones and create lasting stories, especially on RPG night. Like that time with the bear trap, or the grenade in the jail cell. Or the silver letter opener. Trust me, those stories are hilarious.

In 2016 I played a lot of games, and these were some of the standouts.

Concept

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A great party game that’s always good for a few laughs. One person knows a secret word or phrase that he must make there others say. This is done by identifying icons on a board that somehow relate to the target word or saying. You’ve got to get creative and I’ve seen some very clever clue-giving. I’ve witnessed a lot of train wrecks too, and that’s part of the fun.

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar

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This a worker placement /asset management game that I love to play. It’s got a Mayan calendar theme, so you’ve only got four “seasons” to gather resources, please the gods and earn the most points. Trust me, it’s more fun than it sounds. In fact, this is one game I’m happy to play anytime, over and over. Incidentally, it doesn’t look this nice out of the box. My friend Dave painted this copy, and it’s gorgeous.

A Study in Emerald

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Do you like Neil Gaiman ? Do you like Lovecraftian Elder Gods ? This is the game for you. Close portals and save Earth from insanity-inducing ancient ones. Here’s a little background for you .

Wombat Rescue

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Wombats poop cubes . In this game, you must find the optimal journey between Point A and Point B for your little wombat. How will he find his way back? By pooping, of course. Lay down and follow a clever trial of cube poops.

Ten Candles

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Probably my favorite indie game of 2016, Ten Candles is a nihilist RPG in which all of the characters will die. It’s guaranteed, you won’t survive, don’t try. You will, however, make up a compelling and dark story with your comrades. The mechanic of actually blowing out 10 real candles adds a lot to the tense, somber mood of this very fun game.

There were many, many more of course. These are just highlights. Perhaps I’ll feature RPGs or indie game or something in the future. Until then, pick up anyone of these titles and you’ll have a great time.

daves2016

Wii outsellilng Wii U

williamwiiu

The Wii U is proving to be a disaster for Nintendo. The company shipped just 390,000 units in the  last quarter, and estimates suggest the original Wii has outsold the Wii U.

A part of the reason is price, of course. The Wii is much less expensive. My problem with the Wii U is, what is the gamepad for? When my son and I were at PAX East last March, we demo’d a few Wii U games and he barely used it (you can see it sitting idle on the table above). Perhaps we didn’t play games that take advantage of it, but it seems like this big bulky thing with no purpose.

The gamepad was helpful for typing in Scribblenauts, but he can already do that just as easily on the iPad.

A brief history of click wheel iPod games

Last week, Apple pulled its Texas Hold’em game from the App Store. Ten years after the first iPod game appeared as an Easter Egg on the original 5 GB iPod, Apple has all but stopped producing games for the music devices 1.

As of this writing, Apple has 17 iPod touch/iPhone titles in the App Store, and none of them are games. To think that the App Store we know today started with a nice collection of simple yet fun games for the click wheel iPods. Here’s a look at the history of Apple’s early iPod games, from Brick to Texas Hold’em and everything in between.

Continue reading →

  1. Note: three games still ship with the iPod Classic: iQuiz, Klondike and Vortex. But none are distributed via iTunes any more.