Category Archives: Games

the sky above the port

This guest post is brought to you by Will Hindmarch, writer and designer of such titles as the one he’s about to tell you about…

A-N-N

You were the best. Underground, cyberpunk street samurai, burglars and breakers, agents of a mysterious spymaster with half a name, zero history, and a plan. He made the missions and you carried them out. You were the go-to crew for high-stakes break-ins, dangerous ops, and impossible escapes. You fought the megacorps, the tyrants, the killers—all for the sake of making a better future, of beating the Technocrats at their own game of shaping tomorrow. You always won, never quit, lived in the now. 

Until, eleven years ago, he disappeared…

Now he’s back—back in trouble—and it’s up to you to save him and maybe, along the way, change the world.

Today is the day. Today I debut Always/Never/Now, an all-in-one RPG adventure of futuristic cyberpunk action and intrigue. It’s 100+ pages in PDF format and available at DriveThruRPG right now for the somewhat remarkable price of FREE.

Additional posts and thoughts on A/N/N can be found at always-never-now.tumblr.com.

A/N/N is developed from adventures and characters my friends and I played years ago — and then brought out of retirement for one more mission in 2011. I retrofitted the adventure I wrote for that reunion and playtested it at conventions like Gen Con, Origins, and PAX until it was sharp enough to share. Then I invited artists Steven Sanders, Noah Bradley, and Craig S Grant to make it more handsome.

And today, at last, it’s ready for you to play.

If you find that you dig A/N/N and you’d like to thank me with dollars, please click the donate button on my website.

—Will Hindmarch

wandering the deadlands

I woke up before the dogs this morning, opened my eyes to the blue/grey light of six am sliding though my blinds, and listened to birds singing in the yard.

Marlowe stretched and rolled over to rest against me. Watson jumped up into the bed and wrapped himself around my head, and Seamus snored at my feet. I lay there for a few minutes, soaking in the feeling of being in my own bed, in my own home, with my pets around me, knowing that I’m heading north of the wall tomorrow to sleep in a hotel for four nights. I can’t complain — I’m not staying with Craster — but I do love my house and all who live inside it ever so much.

I arched my back, felt my ribs crack and blinked sleep out of my eyes. I eased myself out of the bed so I wouldn’t wake anyone up, and walked into my kitchen, where I began to prepare my morning coffee. I’ve recently converted to the Chemex, and though it takes a little longer than the Aeropress, it’s worth the wait, and the ritual of the whole thing pleases me.

While I waited for the hot water to drip through the grounds, I heard footsteps in the hallway. Anne came out and said, “What are you doing?”

“Making coffee.”

“Why are you awake?”

“I don’t know. I guess my body decided that it had all the sleep it needed … so here I am.”

Marlowe walked out, her little feet clicking against the floor, and joined us in the kitchen. She looked up at Anne and wagged her tail.

“Good morning, little Marlowe Bear,” Anne said, petting her. Marlowe wagged her tail faster.

I poured my coffee and took it into the dining room, where I had left my Deadlands Marshall’s Guide open last night. I picked up reading where I left off, coffee warming and waking me up.

Deadlands is a setting for Savage Worlds. It’s a “Weird West” setting where players live in an alternate version of 1879 America where the Civil War isn’t really over, but a cease fire holds, most of California has fallen into the ocean due to a great earthquake, and all kinds of weird and terrifying monsters roam the countryside. I’m going to start a Deadlands campaign for my group in a couple of weeks, and I’ve been preparing, figuring out what parts of the world interest me, where I think my friends would enjoy exploring, and what sort of big story I want to take them through over the next few months. It’s the first time I’ve run a campaign since the 80s, and I’d forgotten how much work goes into the whole thing. My brain is tired from all the information I’ve been cramming into it, and I feel a pleasing mental fatigue that I normally only experience when I’m working long hours on a movie or tv show.

My imagination has been working overtime as a result, and though I can’t remember any of my dreams, I wake every morning with an unsettled feeling, like a soft sort of dread from whatever Dreamlands I visited while I slept. It’s not unusual for me to have full-blown nightmares when I’m away from my own bed, and I must admit that I’m a little anxious about what waits for me in the dark Canadian nights of the next few days.

Anne went into the living room and Marlowe snuggled up against her on the couch. In our bedroom, I heard Seamus’ collar jingle as he woke up. Outside, the birds continued to sing. I sipped my coffee and turned the pages.

It’s cold for Los Angeles today, gloomy and even a little misty at time. I imagine that above the grey clouds and beyond the heavy mist that clings to the mountains, our universe is being constructed, much like the Deadlands that I’m building in my head.

first impressions from savage worlds

I want to do a spinoff of Tabletop that is a season-long RPG show, with the same group of players and one campaign. I’m trying out different systems to see what I enjoy the most and what would work for the show. Last night we played Savage Worlds, and I really enjoyed it. I can’t imagine another system that would let us get in 5 satisfying combats in one session, and the thrill of exploding dice was really great (except when we were trying to subdue some bad guys, aced three times, and ended up killing them. Oops.)

My friend Martin ran it for us, in a post-apocalyptic setting he’s been working on for a long time. It says a lot about the system, I think, that he could just drop something into it that he developed entirely on his own and Savage Worlds supported it without any weird hacking.

My general impression of the system is positive, though I think using a wild card die with a d4 skill for a trait test is a little broken. We didn’t run the math, but it seems like it turns a lot of those trait tests, which should be very difficult to make since you only hit a success one in four times, into a little better than a coin flip. We talked about making a house rule that a d4 skill doesn’t get a wild die, but I need to do more research on it before I commit to the change.

We felt that the allies were a little overpowered, though I think we were running them wrong (I had 5 grunts with me, and instead of rolling once for them, I rolled 5 times, which I think was a mistake). Again, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a little tweaking to get better balance.

When I run Deadlands, I’m going to use a modified Zones system that John Rogers told me he lifted from Fate, which seems really great: an area is broken up into zones, and it costs one movement to go from one to another. If you’re in a zone with an enemy, you can melee, and you figure close/medium/long by counting zones between you and your target. Rogers told me that he puts each zone on an index card, and encourages his players to describe what each zone looks like (for example: in a nightclub, the stage is one zone, the tables another, then the bar, and the balcony. The players describe the area, so they’re building it in their imaginations and making it come to life). This lets you keep track of combat and gives a sense of spatial awareness without making it about minis on a map and counting squares, which I really don’t like. I don’t mind minis when I’m playing Warhammer, but otherwise, they just aren’t for me.

Overall, I liked it enough to play the system again, and I got enough of a handle on it as a player that I feel comfortable running it for my group next time we get together. I have an idea for a Deadlands campaign that should be pretty fun for everyone involved.

More #TabletopDay awesomeness

TableTopDay_300x600I was talking with my pal and Tabletop Day Super Make It All Happen Guy, Boyan, a bit earlier today, about what people will get when they go to one of their Friendly Local Gameshops to play games on Tabletop Day this Saturday.

Here’s what he sent me:

7 WONDERS — Catan Civilization Board
BELFORT — Promo cards
CASTLE PANIC — Multi-color Hero promo card
D&D — Drizzt promo card
DIXIT — Dragon promo card
DOMINION — Promo cards
ELDER SIGN — Promo card
EVIL BABY ORPHANAGE — Promo cards
FLUXX — Promo card assortment bundle
GLOOM — TableTop Day promo pack
MAGIC — Free Magic: the Gathering Cards
MAYFAIR — A whole sheet of promo tiles
MUNCHKIN — Killer bookmark
RESISTANCE — FULL GAME & promo card set
SPARTACUS — Promo card
SPOT IT — Spot It promo pack
TSURO — Tsuro of the Seas promo tiles

Some of you may be asking yourselves, “How do I get all this awesome free stuff?”

Easy! You just go to www.tabletopday.com and search events that have stars as their icons. These are stores that are guaranteed to have the #TableTopDay retail launch kit. Stores that are listed with a playing card icon may have them, but it’s not guaranteed. We’re not sure how each store will decide to give away their various promotional items, but I’m fairly certain it will involve some sort of gaming experience.

What’s that? You want even more awesome stuff? Okay, how about a TabletopDay bundle from DriveThru RPG, that’s an entirely free set of RPG PDFs that includes quickstart rules for A Song of Ice And Fire RPG, Brass & Steel, Leverage RPG, Savage Worlds, D&D 4th Edition, and Mistborn? Or maybe you’d be interested in playing ACTION CASTLE, the first adventure in the Parsely system!

There’s a ton of free stuff and it’s all free to celebrate Tabletop Day. Also, it’s free. Because we love you. Also, don’t forget to download, print, paste, and cut out your very own stand-up me and Tabletop Trophy Of Awesome!

I have to say thank you to all the publishers who got on board with us, and are giving these amazing things to our fellow gamers, and to all my fellow gamers out there who are participating in something that’s so huge and epic, I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it.

This is going to be so freaking great, you guys. Until TableTop Day … PLAY MORE GAMES!

 

 

in which 16 year-old me plays Teen Win Lose Or Draw

This is … uh … a thing that happened.

This last weekend at MegaCon in Orlando, I met contestant Keri again, and she reminded me that we did this in 1989 when I was at the Disney Studios in Orlando. I asked her if she had a copy of it, and her husband told me they had it on VHS, but she was embarrassed by it and didn’t want anyone else to see it. He and I communicated in the secret language of husbands, and he risked sleeping on the couch to share it with us. I’m really glad he did, because unlike pretty much everything I’ve seen from this part of my life, I’m not mortified by it*. I think it’s pretty cute, and it’s obvious that we’re all having a whole lot of unselfconscious fun.

BUT! There is a cautionary tale, here: Kids, this is what we looked like when we were teenagers in the late 80s. I keep seeing that some fools are trying to make these fashion trends come back for you damn kids today. LEARN FROM OUR MISTAKES. DO NOT REPEAT THEM. WE WORE NEON SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO.

*except when I’m hollering at 16 year-old me to give the fucking obvious answer you moron!

March 30 is International Tabletop Day

As promised, the Very Big Tabletop Announcement is here. Take it away, Felicia!

We have wanted to do International Tabletop Day since we premiered a year ago, and we’ve been working on making it happen for almost as long.

At tabletopday.com, you can find and join events in your town, or create your own! You can play wherever you want, but if you go to your friendly local gameshop, you may just get one of the Tabletop Day exclusive bonuses for games like Gloom, Dixit, 7 Wonders, Castle Panic, Smash Up, and more. It’s so so so awesome, you guys, and I can’t wait for you to see the amazing things our friends in the games industry have created for you.

The very best thing about Tabletop, for me, isn’t that I get to play games for my job or that I get to hang out with awesome people while I do it. I know that seems like it would be the most awesome thing about Tabletop, but it isn’t. The most awesome thing about Tabletop is the community of people who have rediscovered their love of gaming, or started a game night, or have somehow been inspired by our show to play more games. International Tabletop Day is all about you, and it is designed to celebrate the community that inspires me to work as hard as I can to make the best show I can.

I hope you’ll join us on #Tabletopday, and play more games!

Guest Blog by Will Hindmarch: Flow

Will Hindmarch is a writer, designer, and mooncalf. You can find some of his stories for sale online at Amazon, DriveThruFiction, and other sites. Long ago, in ages past, he wrote things at wordstudio.net.

(Update: Looking back, I feel sort of silly sharing this. To be clear, I don’t think my changing relationship with video games is due to the games or gamers—not really. I’m just musing here, wondering why it is that I can’t dive into games like I used to. I still don’t know what’s up there. So it goes.)

Listen, can I confess something to you? Lately I’ve been having some trouble with video games.

I’m super excited to play some of the games on my to-play list but I don’t know when I’m supposed to do that. The impulse that used to signal me to play video games often gets met by different pastimes right now—for me, at least. By the end of my day, when I might otherwise power up my console, I find myself torn.

  • Music: “The Last Man,” from The Fountain, music by Clint Mansell

It’s a multifaceted problem. For comparison’s sake, consider how I operate at my desk. When I’m there, I’m almost always doing two things at once, whether I’m working or not.

When I’m working on something largely visual, like the layout for a book, I listen to podcasts at the same time. I listen to Wil and friends talk gaming with Gabe Newell and Co. at Valve. I listen to writers talk shop on the Nerdist Writer’s Panel. I listen to Ken Hite and Robin D. Laws talk about stuff. I get to take in know-how and stories at the same time I get to create things. I like that.

When I’m writing, I put on music. I get to absorb music and generate prose at the same time. This helps me escape my environment a little bit and put myself into a headspace that’s a few mental clicks away from the pressures of the blank page.

I often devise a playlist for the project I’m working on. For example, while writing “A Desert is Implicit,” I listened to a playlist I called “Future Desert,” populated with things like the soundtracks from Halo: ODST, Journey, Caprica, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Other playlists, like “Futuristic Operatic,” “Mission Driven,” and “Epic Fantastic” get played for a variety of projects that sort of sync up thematically.

  • Music: “Goodbye Renegade” from Tron: Uprising, music by Joseph Trapanese

These sorts of support structures aren’t necessary, though; they’re luxuries. They give me a chance to do two things once and get more day out of my day. They help work feel more like play.

I say this because it’s important, in my experience, to be able to write without rituals. I don’t need music to write. One way I know the work’s going well is when a playlist runs out and I discover I’ve been writing in silence for an hour. That’s flow.

Continue reading Guest Blog by Will Hindmarch: Flow

Guest Post by Stephen Toulouse: A Mythending Adventure Ends in Fiasco for Munchausen

This guest post is by Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse. He made a comedy album you can get on Bandcamp (cheapest option), iTunes or Amazon and wrote a book called A Microsoft Life. He blogs at Stepto.com.

If I had to pick three of my new favorite games my gaming circle has introduced me to this past year, it would be Fiasco, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and Mythender. All three of these games involve basic improvisation skills and TERRIFY ME BEYOND ALL BELIEF. They are also terribly fun not just to play but to kibitz as well. (note I’m using the non-dick meaning of kibitz where you don’t constantly interrupt the game.)

The problem is I travel in some circles that involve people who write or perform for a living, so playing Fiasco with Wil, or Munchausen with Pat Rothfoss and Mike Selniker, or Mythender with Ryan Macklin can be mega super daunting. I’ll give you a for-instance: during a Fiasco game, Wil’s character was to meet my friend Eric’s character in a cheap bar. It was not the kind of place Wil’s character would ever go if he didn’t have to. Here’s how Wil opened the scene:

“I sit in the seedy bar, noting with disdain and disgust the rips in the vinyl cover of the dirty booth. With a sigh I slowly stir my cheap blend scotch rocks (the best this place could offer) with my finger watching the oily swirls of the cheap booze and the water. The tumbler is dirty and heavy, made from some poor cloudy looking glass. The smell of greasy beef coming from the kitchen well within view of the dining area is making me sick. I see [Eric’s Character] enter from the side, he looks shabby as always.”*

I mean, that’s how he opened. Eric played up to it perfectly but if you’re playing these games and people who have a lot of fun and a background of creativity and improv are playing with you, it can quickly put you in performance anxiety mode.

Thusly, I have tips for playing these games. These aren’t improv or story telling tips, they are just tips centered around the game experience itself.

#1: Don’t feel like you have to play to win.

Yes, most of these games have a form of scoring. But their structure is far more oriented towards everyone enjoying the game itself. I’ve “lost” many a game of Fiasco but much like losing at Chess I had a great time playing and learned something. I find I can relax my mind in these games quite a bit by simply not caring if I win.

#2: Role playing skills vary widely among people, don’t force yourself to try and play at the level of others.

This is by far the handiest tip I can give you, because it helps me the most. So when someone at the table absolutely knocks a scene or moment out of the park, don’t let that little voice who says “Well, I shouldn’t even speak at this point that was so good” stop you. I’ve played Fiasco games where the best role player or improv person actually didn’t win. It’s not about who can consistently turn their scenes into Shakespeare.

#3: Embrace the absurd or impossible when it’s presented.

This is by far the hardest tip to do. During a session of Munchausen, Pat was explaining how his rudimentary space ship reached the moon when Mike interjected and introduced a game challenge:

“But sir, what I do not understand is how you managed the trip being dead the entire time!”

Had I gotten that challenge I would have locked up and probably pushed back the challenge (you can do that in Munchausen), but it’s such a good challenge the other players would have forced it back on me. Pat took it in stride and wove a quick aside of what it truly means to be dead. I saw a similar scene in Fiasco where one character started off the scene describing the other character standing over their character’s own dead body, bloody knife in hand. This forced the other player to completely change what they were planning and explain how the situation came to be.

This is a hard piece of advice for these games because situations like this can happen often and force you into total and pure improv even if you already felt good about where you wanted to go. Take a moment, think about how you really would explain such a thing, and go for it.

#4: Have fun. It’s perfectly ok to stumble a bit or fail.

The most frustrating thing about these games is when people want to play them but feel they just aren’t good enough. Chances are if you are playing these games you are playing them with friends or, believe me, soon to be friends. If you take a moment to react to dialogue, or feel a story you are telling just isn’t working out, that’s ok. Sometimes there’s great fun in these games to playing in a more minimalist fashion with story telling and instead play the role of kingmaker by using your challenges or points to decide the winner. The point being if you’re going to sit at the table because this looks like fun, no one wants you to feel like this 20 minutes into it:

clip_image001

I hope those tips help. If these games are new to you and you have no idea what I am talking about try watching the episode of TableTop featuring Fiasco!

Stepto

*I exaggerate only slightly. That’s more or less how Wil opened the scene. It was hysterical.

Guest Blog by Stephen Toulouse: Starting a Conversation, Video Games and Violence

This guest post is by Stephen “Stepto” Toulouse. He made a comedy album you can get on Bandcamp (cheapest option), iTunes or Amazon and wrote a book called A Microsoft Life. He blogs at Stepto.com.

Warning: Serious post is serious. I know right?  Should be totally non-controversial.

Yesterday, Nancy Pelosi stated what a lot of us already know and research has shown: That video games don’t instill violent behavior.

Video games are an easy scapegoat for the results of real world violence. Before video games became so realistic, violent films were the scapegoat. Our American culture is unique in its embrace of violence. The entertainment industry is consistent in its reaction to these events, wrapping freedom of artistic expression in the first amendment as the gun industry wraps itself in the second amendment.

I’ve been a gamer all my life and in the industry for the past six or seven years and I think someone needs to say it: As an industry we need to stop turtling up when these terrible events happen and stop insisting that any discussion omit the impact of violent entertainment or culture on those in whom violence may be already present. We need to be part of the conversation and we should not be afraid of where it leads.

Let me tell you a story about why.

Like any discerning gun user, I was noodling over whether I wanted to switch from my SCAR-H to my new Magpul PDW-R. There were important considerations here: stopping power, range, fire rate, recoil, whether I wanted to switch to NATO 5.56 rounds from the larger 7.62’s. I had to think about the number of rounds per magazine, number of magazines I could carry, and whether or not it was a good weapon for close encounter firefights as well as longer range ones. I was hardly going to be an asset in a situation where a gunman surprised me and my friends unless I had the optimal tool for the job!

I’m 40 years old, never owned a firearm, and I’ve never touched an assault rifle. So why do I know so much about assault weapons? Video games. I was choosing the above weapons as my loadouts for Battlefield 3. I have an incredible education and wealth of knowledge about such weapons due to games like Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty. It is an education I would not otherwise have. Likewise I have an education in single or squad combat tactics, understand enfilade and defilade, trigger discipline, conservation of ammo, and suppressing fire.

In short, I have a basic level of combat training that a hundred years ago would only be available to those in the military. (Note that I’m not saying these video game skills would make me an effective combat soldier in the actual terror of a firefight. I’m saying if you wanted to train me to be a soldier, I’m already part way there) Now granted, I could also learn a lot of this from movies, Youtube videos, or books or the Internet in general. But to actually practice the execution of those concepts is easiest through games.

Worse than that, I’ve virtually massacred dozens of innocent people as a mass shooter in a Russian airport in the Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 mission “No Russian”, an emotionally wrenching mission that I can say I did not enjoy playing but I understand its place in the narrative.

Now, I’m not about to snap. I feel pretty strongly confident about that! But let’s say I began to deteriorate over months, obtain guns and then commit a terrible crime.

Is it unreasonable to ask the question of whether or not I was impacted by entertainment, or made a more effective killer because of it?

I don’t know if the answer is “yes” or “no” to the latter question, but I believe it is not unreasonable to ask it. And yet my industry tends to react with howls of outrage when it’s brought up. To be fair, it’s often brought up alongside the trigger question of “Do video games in and of themselves cause violence?” However the defensive reaction to even the idea that money should be spent looking into this has been as consistent as is the NRA’s opposition to having gun control be a part of the discussion. We (myself included) roll our eyes at having to have this argument again.

I thought a lot about myself when I was choosing those weapons in Battlefield 3. I realized that I contained a lot of knowledge uniquely specific to the killing of other human beings when I was weighing those options in the game, and it bothered me deeply. I do not believe the concept that these games are “murder simulators” (paintball would be more effective at that, video game levels and physics are meticulously designed for fun factor and aren’t terribly realistic). But the idea I had all that knowledge in my head bothered me.

So I think that we as an industry need to be a part of this conversation much more than we are right now, or we can’t expect those we think will have a bigger impact to be a part of it either. I was proud to see Electronic Arts and Activision and other companies talk to Vice President Biden on the issue. I think the reaction so far to the latest round of violence has been far less defensive than before. I also saw a lot of opinion pieces and forums posts stating it’s a waste of money to study it. I still saw some of the old defensiveness.

I think the industry should be leading the discussion, given the success of games centered on combat violence involving guns, especially real life weaponry.

To be clear I know tons of responsible gun owners, I think the problem of violence in our society is complex and multifaceted. There are no easy answers here. And perhaps I’m not seeing the measured voices of reason in the industry who want to take a look at this, or hey maybe I just have this whole thing wrong. I’d love to know what you guys think in the comments.

*One side point, I play and enjoy Battlefield games and Call of Duty games. I’ve assisted in making them and other “shooter” games better during their development. I’m not suggesting they are bad or a threat to society or anything like that. They are used here simply to illustrate a point: that video games can be very powerful educators as well as entertainment. It’s worth looking at what they are educating us on and any impact that might have.

“You see an iron door at the end of the corridor. The door has three lightning bolts engraved on it.”

When I played D&D as a kid, I always wanted to be a magic user, not because it was easy, but because it was hard*. I died a lot in those days of d4 hit points and three worthless levels of cantrip spells before you got to do anything, but when a wizard survived and got powerful enough to melt goblins with fireballs … boy, was that awesome.

I don’t play as much as I used to, and I haven’t even run a game of my own or played in a regular campaign in a couple of years, but with the recent release of classic D&D modules as PDFs, I feel the itch to run Basic rules… you know, for kids.

GS-Tabletop-LogoIf I was going to play, though? I think I’d have to be a barbarian or fighter now, because I have fallen in love with the d12. It’s such a beautiful die, and it just doesn’t get any love at all (that’s why I chose it for Tabletop). I know it’s kind of weird to choose a class based on what kind of dice you’ll be rolling, but it’s where I find myself at the moment … and I’m really okay with that.
…Hmmmm I was going to write all about what it means to switch my preferred class from magic user to fighter based on the die I’d be rolling …. but now I can’t stop thinking that a Geek & Sundry show where I run a classic D&D campaign using Basic rules — maybe a modified module or series of modules or something like that — for six or eight episodes would be pretty awesome. Like, maybe a visit to the Lost City?

The walls of this room as plain stone. An oblong box made from stone slabs lies in the center of the room. Written in several languages on the side of the box are the words: "May the curse of darkness destroy all who dare desecrate my resting place." The box is 3' high, 7' long, and 3' wide. - From The Lost City (Dungeon Module B4)
The walls of this room as plain stone. An oblong box made from stone slabs lies in the center of the room. Written in several languages on the side of the box are the words: “May the curse of darkness destroy all who dare desecrate my resting place.” The box is 3′ high, 7′ long, and 3′ wide. – From The Lost City (Dungeon Module B4) Yes, this is actually mine and I actually scanned it. It was printed in 1980.

I mean, I’ll stay focused on making season two of Tabletop happen, but once we get that locked down, I bet an RPG show would be really, really great. (At least for me, because I’d have an excuse to play it: “Sorry, Anne, but I have to read this module and these rules and prepare these characters … because it’s my job and I have to do it so we can eat.“)

*I’ve written about this before, but I can’t find that post or story or column despite 20 minutes of searching. If it rings a bell for you, please let me know so I can link it.