Tag Archives: gaming

Ticket to Ride: Europe is on today’s Tabletop

Today, we release one of my favourite episodes of the season, Ticket To Ride: Europe, with John Kovalic, Emma Caulfield, and my lovely wife, Anne Wheaton.

John does the incredibly wonderful comic Dork Tower, and this week he’s been doing a Tabletop storyline that you may enjoy.

Emma is an amazing actor, vlogger, writer, and awesome human.

Anne does a whole bunch of awesome things, including VandalEyes and Rescue Pets Are Awesome. She also runs our charitable foundation, created the celebrity pet adoption calendar for the Wiggle Waggle Walk (raising over $50,000 for Pasadena Humane Society), and for some mysterious reason agreed to marry me.

This episode was really fun to shoot, even if the game ended up being the most intense, focused, serious game we’ve ever played on Tabletop.

I hope you enjoy it, and remember to send me your pictures and stories about your own Tabletop gaming, so I can share them with the world.

OH! OH! OH! And get ready for the second annual International Tabletop Day, which is happening April 5.

There’s a harbor lost within the reeds.

I was getting my things together to go downtown, when my phone buzzed in my pocket. I pulled it out and opened a text message from my son, Nolan, which read: #BURRITOWATCH2014?

I smiled, and replied that I had an appointment downtown, but would be up for #burritowatch2014 as soon as I was finished, if he didn’t mind waiting for me. He said that was fine, and a few hours later we were waiting at one of my favorite places for our food.

While we waited, we took a stupid selfie for Twitter

#BURRITOWATCH2014And then our food arrived. I had an Al Pastor with no rice, extra-spicy, and he had a pollo asada, no rice, with mild salsa.

Burrito Al Pastor

We ate our delicious burritos, and then I took him home. When I dropped him off, I said, “Hey, your mom is going to have dinner with Stephanie tonight, and I’ll be home doing nothing. So if you wanted to come over and watch a movie or something, you’re invited.”

“I may be hanging out with some friends, but if I’m not, that sounds great,” he said.

“Awesome,” I said. “I love you.”

“Love you too.”

He walked up to his apartment and I watched him. I know it’s silly, but whenever one of my kids walks away from me, whether we’re saying goodbye in an airport or train station, or even if they’re just walking to their cars from my house, I see them though this strange paternal vision that makes them look like 6 year-olds, going to their first day of school. They’re 24 and 22, now, and I don’t think that’s ever going to change for me.

I drove back to my house, running a few errands on the way, and when I got home, Nolan called me. “Hey, I’m going to see my friends, but not until later. I don’t have time to watch a movie, but do you want to play a game?”

“Yes, I would love that,” I said. “I have some really fun two player games here. Come over whenever you want.”

“Okay, I’ll be there soon.”

I hung up the phone,  and thought, “Holy. Shit.”

For years, I have struggled to close the gap between us that opened up when Nolan was a teenager and he pulled away from me. We had been so incredibly close when he was little, it hurt me a lot that he was so withdrawn from me, but I didn’t want to force a relationship on him that he didn’t want. Through it all, I continued to love him unconditionally, and I always hoped that one day he would come back to me. I always invited him to our house when we did things, and he usually declined. I’d ask him to hang out, or go for a bike ride, or play frisbee, and he wasn’t really interested. But, recently, something changed. He’s been coming over to see me more frequently, sitting with me in my house and talking with me about his life and the choices he’s making right now, asking for my advice, and closing that gap. It’s wonderful.

One thing I never thought would happen though? Gaming together. We played lots of games when he was a kid, but part of his character build during the teenager level was rejecting everything that was important to me, especially gaming.

So when he called me — didn’t text me, but called me — to ask if I wanted to play games, I was as happy as I was caught completely off-guard.

Much sooner than I expected, Nolan came walking into the house. Our dogs adore him, so Marlowe immediately ran laps, while Riley did her happy “rooooooooooOOoOOOOOOooooOOO” noise. Seamus just leaned into him and demanded scritches behind his ears.

Once the dogs had expressed their love for him, Nolan and I went to my nearly-completed gameroom, where all of my games are on a series of bookshelves that takes up almost one entire wall.

“So I have Hive, which is really fun and kind of like chess, All Creatures Big and Small which is like Agricola but for 2 people, Battlelore, which is a minis game with really cool movement rules, OGRE, which is the first wargame I ever played, Carcassonne, which I can teach you in about 5 minutes …”

“You also have all these decks of Magic cards,” he said, showing me a box that does, in fact, have several hundred Magic cards in it, collected from the first edition I ever owned, to the most recent release.

“Dude, let’s play Magic!” I said. We used to play Magic a lot when he was younger, and it was one of those things that, while it didn’t close the gap, certainly bridged it from time to time. In fact, during that time, I gave him unfettered access to my Magic cards, which he used to duel kids in his school. On day, he came home and was really upset that kids were printing cards from the Internet, and using them in sleeves, which he (correctly) interpreted as cheating. “I’ll never use sleeves,” he declared, “because I want everyone I duel to know that I’m not cheating.”

“This is an excellent idea,” I told him, both because it was, and because I really hate playing any game that has cards in sleeves. I mean, that’s like putting plastic on your couch, for fuck’s sake. Andrew.

Nolan took some of my cards with him to Game Empire to play in an open dueling thing, and an ur-gamer of my generation refused to play with him, because, in the ur-gamer’s words, the cards Nolan was using — my cards — were “far too valuable” to be used unless they were in sleeves. He gave Nolan sleeves for those cards, which Nolan used, but then returned when the duel was over, if I recall correctly.

Back in the present, he said, “Let’s play two-out-of-three with random decks.”

We grabbed a couple decks, including some Mirrodin Besieged decks, the Knights and Dragons duel decks, and two Planeswalker decks that I got at GenCon or PAX or some con a couple years ago.

Now, I am not the greatest Magic player in the world, and I don’t spend nearly as much time playing it now as I did when I was much younger and had more time (and money) to invest in keeping up with the latest rules and releases, but I still have a good time whenever I play. I also believe that, generally, fast decks that kill with one thousand cuts are usually more successful than slow decks that count on defending yourself a lot while you wait for a big bad to show up and smack the other guy into dust with two or three big hits. I could be wrong, but that’s my general experience.

I mention this because we randomly pulled decks, and Nolan got a fast deck each time, while I got a slow deck. They weren’t especially balanced, and he immediately took the first two games from me, basically by stabbing me a bunch of times with goblin spears, using the Dragons half of the Knights and Dragons duel decks.

We switched to the Planeswalker decks for the second match. I got Garruk (green), and he got Chandra (red). These little decks are really fun. They’re 30 cards each, a very simple build, and lend themselves to really quick duels … which is pretty terrible if you’re the guy with the green deck who needs to get 7 freaking mana out to play his Wurms, while the other guy’s red deck slowly murders you with goblins. Again.

I did win a single game, because Nolan should have taken a Mulligan on his draw, and after five games, it was Nolan 4, Wil 1.

“I just realized that your decks have both been fast decks, while mine were built around withstanding a lot of small hits until I can smack you a couple times for lots of life,” I said.

“I prefer fast decks,” he said.

“So do I,” I said.

He cocked his head to one side, which he’s done since he was little whenever he’s about to get serious, and said, “do you mind that I’m killing you? Like, is it still fun for you?”

When Ryan and Nolan were little, they played Little League. They were coached by their hypercompetitive dad, whose winning-is-the-only-thing attitude ruined the experience for both of them. At one point during one of their seasons, I had to stop going to games because I couldn’t stomach watching their biodad yell at them, oblivious (or uncaring) to how much it was upsetting them. And, Jesus Fuck Shit, Little League Parents: get some fucking perspective, will you? They are 8 year-olds, playing a game, on a weekend. If those little kids winning those games is the most important thing in your life, you fail at parenting, and life in general.

Sorry. I still get angry about how much those games upset my kids, and how I couldn’t do anything to protect them from it at the time. The point is, during that time, I tried my best to support them and provide a counter weight to their biodad’s crap. I told them, “It’s fun to win, sure, but if you only have fun when you win, you completely lose the joy of just playing a game, and being part of a team that works together. You’re not going to win every game you play, so if winning is the only way you have fun, you’re going to have a bad time pretty often.”

I think they intuitively understood that, and I think their understanding of that, coupled with a desire to meet their biological father’s demands, made the entire Little League experience very difficult for them. I know that they internalized my lessons, though, because they’ve both told me as much at one time or another in recent years.

“Yes,” I said. “I’m having a really great time playing with you. Winning just doesn’t matter to me.”

I paused. Then: “Are you ready for the greatest comeback in the history of life?” I asked him, “because it’s about to happen.”

He looked silently back at me, and raised his eyebrows.

“Shut up! It can totally happen.”

More of the look, and we both laughed.

“Okay, which of these decks do you want?” I asked him. One was called Into The Breach, which had a pretty cool-looking, H.R. Geigeresque insectoid creature on the cover. The other was called Infect & Defile, which had a dimilar, H.R. Geigeresque creature on its cover, but more bird-like.

“I’ll take, uh …” he looked at them both, and reached for Into The Breach. “I’ll take this one.”

I took the other, and he said, “No! Wait! This is green, and that is black and blue. I want the black and blue deck.”

“Normally, I’d say it’s not a big deal and you can have it, but you’re destroying me so much I’m going to keep it and consider it a minor victory.”

“Dude. That’s harsh.”

“I know. I’m terrible.”

We opened the boxes, and pulled out the decks inside. They are Event Decks, which I’d never played with before. It’s a pretty cool idea: you get a deck that’s constructed from a bunch of different sets, built around a particular theme, that’s theoretically tough enough to withstand tournament play.

“Hey, this is really cool,” I said, “and there’s even a little insert that tells you how to play the deck.”

I took my insert out and opened it up.

“Are you fucking serious?” I said.

He looked up at me, and I read the first sentence to him: “To win with the ‘Infect & Defile’ deck, you’ll need to be patient.” I skipped a bit and continued: “…given enough time, you’ll draw more cards…”

“Oh man, that’s hilarious.”

“Well, I’ve certainly been training up for this deck,” I said. “Let’s do this!”

We started our duel, and Nolan just ruined me, quickly, in back-to-back games. In the second game, he used a devastating series of instants to cut me down to four life, then a sorcery to finish me off, all on the fourth or fifth round.  “I’m not even angry, ” I said, “that was amazing.”

“You are the undisputed master of Magic,” I said. “You may do The March, if you wish.”

The March is this silly victory thing we’ve been doing in our family since we first played one of the DVD versions of Trivial Pursuit in the early 2000s. Anne loves to do it, and I’ll admit that it feels pretty good to do when you’ve earned it, especially if you’re extremely obnoxious in the marching and saluting.

“No, I’m good,” he smiled. “I think these decks weren’t very balanced.”

I shrugged. “I don’t play enough to know, and if we were really super serious I guess we could switch decks and play again, but I know you’ve got to get to your friend’s house, and I don’t want to monopolize your Friday night.”

We cleaned up the game, and he said, “I had a really good time playing with you, and I’m not just saying that because I won.”

“I know,” I said, “I had a great time playing with you, too. I’m really glad you came over.”

He bent down and hugged me (he’s almost 6’2″, now, and has giant arms, so he pretty much engulfs my tiny 5’11″ person when he hugs me). There was a sincerity and warmth to his hug that I didn’t realize had been missing for a very long time. I hugged him back.

“I love you, Nolan,” I said.

“I love you, too, Wil,” he said.

I pulled away and patted his chest with my palm. “Have fun with your friends, and be good. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay. Let’s do this again.”

“I’d like that a lot,” I said.

He went out the front door, and I closed it behind him. Through the glass, I watched my little boy walk down the driveway, towards his first day of school.

Escape From Waterdeep

When we’re in production on Tabletop, we shoot two episodes a day. Each episode takes around five hours to film, and by the end of the fourth or fifth day in a week, we all get a little silly from sleep deprivation.

Before they leave for the day, we ask all the players to sign a few copies of the game they played. We keep these signed games in a vault at Geek and Sundry, and give them out as prizes, or offer them for select charity auctions.

Last season, when we were shooting Lords of Waterdeep, I went to sign the cover of the game, and thought that the artwork sort of looked like Escape From New York. I was feeling a little silly, so this happened:

Lords of Waterdeep

Escape from Waterdeep

This copy of the game lives in the Geek and Sundry offices, and will remain part of our permanent collection.

Speaking of Tabletop, here’s what’s coming up for the rest of this season. If you own a game shop, you may want to talk to your distributor about getting extra copies of these upcoming games, if you experience what I’m told is called The Tabletop Effect:

  • December 26th – Carcassonne
  • January 9th - Tsuro of the Seas
  • January 23rd - Ticket to Ride Europe
  • February 6th - Fortune and Glory
  • February 20th - Lords of Vegas

Oh! And speaking of Lords of Waterdeep, which is one of my very favourite games of this year, the iOS version is really great.

This is how I know #Tabletop has arrived.

Tabletop Trophy in Draw SomethingI keep hearing from gameshops that people are coming in and buying the games we play on Tabletop, and from people who tell me that they're using Tabletop to show their non-gaming partners why we love to geek out over games all the time… but someone choosing to use our super lame totally awesome trophy that Lindsey got from eBay for 3 bucks we spent an unfathomable amount of money on making as the trophy for "award"? That's amazing.

I do not always make a meme reference to my own show, but when I do, I choose this one.

In which we play Cal & D.

Saturday morning, I drove over to my friend Cal's house for D&D. Our friend Steve was already there, and our friend Martin was on his way to meet us.

While we waited for Martin to show up, we caught up on our lives, told stupid (and not-so-stupid) jokes, and got ready for the game.

"Hey, I brought you a 4e DM screen," I told Cal, "in case you don't have it, because it's one of the most useful DM screens I've ever used."

"We're not playing 4e," Cal said.

"Are we playing 3.5?" I asked, imagining a five hour encounter where I did little more than grapple.

"No, we're actually going to play a system I made up. It's sort of a hybrid of AD&D, 4e, and some other things. You're not even going to have character sheets." (Later on, we would describe this particular system as Cal & D.)

I was intrigued, and implored him to continue.

"I've adapted a Tomb of Horrors style adventure from Dungeon magazine –"

"You mean when it was still a magazine? Printed on actual paper and everything?"

"Yes," he said. I wondered how he stole it from the museum, and he continued: "We aren't using a battle map or minis, and we're not going to get hung up on a lot of rules. You guys are just going to do your best not to die in the Mud Sorcerer's Tomb."

When Martin arrived, we got our characters. I was a Fire Mage called Hosemi The Corpulent. It was decided that I wore a muu muu, had T-Rex arms, and one of my spells was lighting farts into mighty blasts of flame. Martin was a Gnome Paladin whose name I forget, but was based entirely on the Travelocity Gnome. Steve was some kind of deep earth stone Gnome guy who was essentially a 1st Edition thief.

We met in a tavern (duh) and left with a bunch of lackeys who I called Team Cannon Fodder. On the way to the Tomb, we did a little Roleplaying, and figured out who our characters were. I was kind of like Fat Bastard, leaning toward Neutral/Evil. Steve said he had "a fuckload" of healing potions in his adventurer's kit, as well as two dozen iron spikes. He also loaded up Like A Rock on his iPhone, and used it as his theme music whenever he did anything. Martin's character's goal in life was to save travelers gold pieces – this was especially funny because he was a Paladin of Garl Glittergold, and his battle cry was "GARL THAT GLITTERS IS GOLD!" 

If you are still under the impression that we were taking this very seriously, I offer the following exchange to clarify things:

"Hey," Martin said to Cal, "I want to ride a Dire Badger."

"What??

"Yeah, my mount is a Dire Badger."

"A Dire Badger would eat you, Martin."

"Not this one. We grew up together, so he's my pet."

I Twittered this, and more than one person replied that, if the Dire Badger was domesticated, it wasn't very Dire. I relayed this to the group, and Cal ruled that Twitter was correct, so Martin couldn't have his badger. I, however, got to ride a tiny donkey that was proportional to my size like those little motorcycles the world's fattest twins used to ride on That's Incredible!

We eventually got to the tomb, and sort of, uh, killed a lot of the lackeys in the first few rooms.

I forget exactly what we ordered them to do, but Cal said, "Okay, the lackeys all get together and one of them steps forward. 'We have decided to form a union, so you have to treat all of us the same way.'"

This is when I knew that my character was more Evil and Neutral.

"Okay, I hold my hands out, and engulf that guy in a fireball," I said. "Now I turn to the rest of them and say, 'Would you all still like to be treated equally, or will you do what we fucking told you to do?'"

(This is especially funny to me because I'm 100% a union guy.)

Cal said that they decided to go ahead and walk into the hallway, or whatever it was we wanted them to do.

"Oh, I also collect his ashes, and I draw them into a little football field, paying careful attention to the fifty yard line," I said.

This particular hallway had some sort of evil field of evil in it, so I was able to pass through relatively unharmed, but everyone else took a lot of damage, killing all but one of the lackeys.

"Clever way to get rid of our cannon fodder," I said. Cal smirked.

A little deeper into the dungeon, I took over the mapping duties. Now, I should point out that at this point in our day, the wine had been opened. I don't want to mistake correlation for causation, but my mapping became very detailed, including drawing giant dicks on the various statues.

"Why is it that, whenever we play D&D, we become twelve year-olds?" Martin asked.

We were all laughing too hard to reply, but I think I can answer him now: it isn't always about the game. It's never about the system, and it's rarely about "winning" as much as it's about the company and enjoying a few hours respite from the responsibilities and burdens of our real lives. Maybe we all become twelve because that's when most of us started playing, and though the reasons we seek escape have changed, the escape is still welcomed.

RPGs can be all about telling a collaborative story, using our imaginations, challenging our wits, and building heroic epics … but they can also be an excuse to get together with people we like to goof off and leave the Muggle world behind for a few hours, seriousness be damned. Whenever a system holy war comes up, I'd encourage you to think about that, and maybe use it as an escape hatch (so this doesn't happen) and ask yourself how often you have said, "Boy, that was a great system," versus "Boy, I had a really good time playing today."

Shortly after Steve's Gnome triggered a trap and found himself impaled on a gate made of daggers (seriously, who the hell makes a gate out of daggers?!) and our last surviving lackey was turned into frozen hunks of former-lackey, our wives came home. We decided to suspend the adventure, eat dinner, and finish the night with a rousing game of Cranium Pop 5.

We're planning to get together in the near future to finish our assault on Mudhoney's Tomb of Mud and Mudmen featuring Muddy Waters and the Mudskippers (which is what I kept calling it) … and this time I get to be the guy who threatens to punch Cal in the dick if he doesn't show up.

“In fact, I’ve never seen her this excited for me to go play D&D.”

In my keynote to PAX East last year, I said that gaming is the foundation of, and the mortar that holds together, the strongest and longest lasting friendships in my life. I've been playing with the same guys since high school, and even though we all live in different states (and some of us live in different countries), a few times a year we all gather at someone's house (usually our friend Cal's house) for a day of gaming, eating, drinking, and more drinking.

Over the years, girlfriends and boyfriends have come and gone, members have been added to our group, and our family has grown. We've introduced our gamer-adjacent partners to the hobby that we love so much, using infection vectors like Wits & WagersPandemicFrank's Zoo, and Shadows Over Camelot. We've had children (Yay! Future gamers!), divorces (Boo! Now it's awkward!), and a D&D campaign that lasted for a decade. Without gaming, we'd still see each other, but I know we wouldn't see each other nearly as often as we do.

About a month ago, we got together for our annual holiday gathering. Cal told me that he wanted to run a D&D one-shot, and that he wanted me to set the date, so I wouldn't be able to back out for some series of reasons that were defined as "bullshit."

I pulled out my phone, and looked at my calendar. "How about January 29?"

Cal called our friend Steve over to the kitchen. Steve lives in Northern California, and getting down to Cal's for game day is about as complicated as flying to LAX from SFO.

"Wil says he can play on the 29th. Can you come down?"

Steve didn't hesitate. "I can do that." He looked at me, pointedly. "…but can you?"

"I just said I could. That's why Cal called you over."

They looked at each other. We've been planning a one-shot for a few years, and it always falls apart because of me, and some series of reasons that are always defined a "bullshit." They looked back at me. Nothing needed to be said.

"I promise that I will play on the 29th," I said. I typed it into my calendar. "See? I'm typing it into my calendar right now. That makes it official."

Cal set his wine glass on the counter, and pointed at me. "Okay, we'll play on the 29th, but if you don't show up, I am coming to your house, and I will punch you in the dick."

Steve said, "I will also fly down from San Francisco and I will also punch you in the dick."

I said, "Well, I don't want to get punched in the dick, and I really want to play D&D with my friends, so I don't think it will be a problem."

We made celebratory noises, and opened another bottle of wine to mark the occasion.

While I was in Portland last week, Anne called me. "Are you still playing D&D with Cal and everyone on Saturday?"

"I don't want to get punched in the dick," I said.

"… um."

"Yes. Yes, I'm playing D&D on Saturday. Why?"

"All the wives are getting together for an anti-D&D-girly-spa day while you guys play, and then everyone is getting together for dinner after. I wanted to make sure you were playing before I told them I'd go."

"Woah! That's awesome," I said. Then, I had a million dollar idea. "Someone should open up some kind of non-gamer spa or something right next to a game shop, so nerds can drop their Muggle partners off while they play."

"Muggle?"

"Yeah, if you don't know what a Muggle is, you're a Muggle. That's just science, Anne."

In the silence that followed, I could feel The Look coming through the phone at me.

"Anyway. Yes, I'm playing, and yes, you should go, because that will be awesome for both of us." 

"Mmmmkay," she said.

Our undying love was declared, and we hung up the phone.

Over the next couple of days, Anne texted me frequently about the spa day, and how much she was looking forward to getting together with her friends while I played with my friends. This morning I e-mailed Cal with some questions about the game. In his reply, he told me to make sure Anne was connected with the girls for their spa thing.

"Oh, she knows all about it," I wrote back. "In fact, I've never seen her this excited for me to go play D&D."

When I told PAX that gaming was so important to my friends and me, I didn't even consider that all of our wives, who only know each other because of us, have formed their own friendships that are independent of their nerdy husbands. So, in a way, gaming didn't just bring my group of friend together (and keep us together), it brought our wives together, too. The next time some idiot says that gaming and gamers are antisocial, I think I'll mention this … and then punch them in the dick.

In which my shirt.woot shirt makes its resurrection roll

The Lords of Shirt.woot heard our prayers, and have brought my shirt, How We Roll (or, as I like to call it, Critical Mass), back for the holidays!!

Real quick history lesson: I designed this shirt, that I really love, for shirt.woot last year. It was pretty damn popular, but was overtaken by other awesome designs in the Reckoning, and was sent off to a farm where it could run around and play with other shirts. I was super bummed (and a little angry) when it died, because I didn't get a chance to cast a single healing spell on it … but today, it's been given a second chance at life.

I'm super excited that they're doing this, because I can replace mine (there was an unfortunate incident when I failed a DEX check and took ongoing stain damage that not even the washing machine could end), but also because we've improved the design a little bit for the reprint.

When I thought up this design, I wanted it to look very similar to the old D&D sourcebooks that I loved as a kid. To that end, I suggested thin, dark lines to hold it all together. In theory, this is awesome; in practice, it's pretty easy to lose the thin black lines on the dark grey shirt. Unfortunately, I didn't realize or consider this until I'd seen it a few thousand times on other people at conventions all over the place. So when I was contacted about doing How We Roll as a reprint for the holidays, I suggested that we make the lines a little heavier, and make them white instead of black. The crew at shirt.woot waved their magic wands, and it was done.

Here's what the revised design looks like:

How_We_Rollz8bDetail

By the way, your DM told me that if you wear this to the next session, you get +2 on the roll of your choice.

Testing the theory that one can not have too many dice

Just before I went out to GenCon in August, I wrote:

I have one request, which I hope isn't unreasonable: I'd like to test the theory that you can't have too many dice. If I see you at GenCon, would you give me one gaming die? I'll bring home as many as I get, dump them all on my office floor, and take a picture. I think it could be pretty cool … or very, very sad. Either way, it will be something, you can be sure of that

Before I even left, the response was epic, including this hilarious and brilliant comic my friend Joel drew for his webcomic, Hijinks Ensue.

I hoped I'd get a fair amount of dice, but I was totally unprepared for how many, and the incredible stories that came with just about each one. For three straight days, hundreds of people gave me probably close to a thousand dice, total, and each one had a story: "This is from my original red box" and "These dice killed all my players and I need to get rid of them or they won't play with me again" and "This is my first set of GenCon dice, I wanted you to have it" and the most common: "These dice are evil. They are out to get me. Here you go. Good riddance."

Since I came home from GenCon, I've been too busy to take a proper photo of the giant haul of dice I got, but I made some time this morning to take a few shots. They're all at Flickr, and none of them truly capture the enormity and beauty the way I can experience it with my own eyes, (especially pouring out close to 15 pounds from the big GenCon bag I keep them all in) but this is my favorite one:

GenCon Dice Haul #1

Now, to the important question: Can you have too many dice? I require further research and testing, but the early results of my experiment clearly say "No. No you can not have too many dice, especially when each die or set of dice you get comes with a story from the person who gave it to you, allowing you to make a personal connection that merely talking to each other does."

Enormous thanks to everyone who gave me dice at GenCon and at PAX. I think I'm going to keep doing this, until one day I have enough dice to cover my entire floor.

PAX After Action Report, Part One

PAX started for me, like it does for a lot of people, a few days early, when I was traveling to Seattle.

I took the train from Vancouver (for $38, you really can't beat it) and met a couple of other guys who were on their way to PAX. I introduced them to Zombie Dice, and we played several games, nerding out and making silly math and statistics jokes the entire time.

Upon arriving in Seattle, I spent three days with my friends Chris and Nicole, playing games like Mad Scientist University (a favorite of Nicole's daughter Kate), Wings of War, and Dragon Age RPG (which Chris designed.) Our friend Will Hindmarch joined us the day before PAX, and we had a nerd sleepover. It was awesome.

As I said last week, I made an effort to spend this PAX the way I've always wanted to: not really working, instead just playing games, hanging out with my friends, and recovering HP and Mana. Making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.

Friday, I did my first signing in Bandland, where I was given the best Magic: The Gathering card, EVER, and then went directly to Console Freeplay for some L4D2 with my friends Mojo and Abby. We did a lot of stupid hollering and stuff while we played, which added a great deal to the experience. I also learned that Abby likes to let her health drop to below 5 before she uses a medpack, which is both hardcore and insane. After that, we visited Classic Console Freeplay, where I lost my shit upon seeing a working ZX Spectrum with my own eyes. I didn't get a picture of the small stack of cassettes with games on them, which is a bummer.

We then wandered through the Expo Hall, which was packed with gamers and exhibitors, but didn't really stop to watch demos or play anything. I was way into the booth design for Fallout New Vegas, though. Then it was time for lunch at Juice It (which has changed its name, but like Pink Godzilla, will forever be known by its former name to me). We ate our food in the Rock Band Freeplay area, and that was awesome. It was really fun and joyful to watch and listen to people playing the game, being encouraged by everyone around them whether they were succeeding or failing, and of course singing along. After eating, I saw a T-shirt that mashed up two of my favorite things: Wheaton's Law and Penny Arcade.

I spent some time in [ENFORCER]land after that, and then headed back to my hotel, where I played a playtest of Munchkin Zombies with my friend Andrew (Munchkin Czar), Logan Bonner, Keith Baker (!), @Stepto, and @thevowel, which was as munchkiny and braaaaiiiiiiins-y as you'd expect. One of my favorite moments was when Eric (that's @thevowel) played an IRS Agent Wandering Monster on Andrew, who failed to run away, which caused him to lose his most valuable item … which was called "An Arm and a Leg."

"Hey, the IRS Agent just caused Andrew to lose an Arm and a Leg," I said, "just like real life." There was much rejoicing.

When Munchkin was over, and Stepto and E went off to do X-Box-y stuff, Logan ran Gamma World for us. I never played Gamma World back in the old days, but I've always heard that it's a lot of fun, so I was super excited to give it a try. WotC is updating it, using modified 4e rules, and it was a lot of fun. Real quick, here's how WotC describes it:

Earth. After the apocalypse. Never mind the radiation—you’re gonna like it here.

The D&D Gamma World Roleplaying Game offers
hours of rollicking entertainment in a savage land of adventure, where
the survivors of some mythical future disaster must contend with
radioactive wastes, ravaged cities, and rampant lawlessness. Against a
nuclear backdrop, heroic scavengers search crumbled ruins for lost
artifacts while battling mutants and other perils.

This product is a complete, stand-alone roleplaying game that
uses the 4th Edition D&D Roleplaying Game system as its foundation.
It appeals to D&D players as well as gamers interested in fantasy
science fiction set in a bizarre, post-apocalyptic world.

You start out making random characters, rolling 2d20 to get two different backgrounds that combine into one character. I got Sentient Plant and Radioactive, then rolled truly awful stats (yeah, you get to roll 3d6 for your stats! Old school, baby!), so we decided that my character's name was Needles, and I looked just like the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree (Me: Oh, DAMMIT! Logan: I think you mean, 'Good grief.'). Andrew was an empathic giant parrot called Fluffy (he named his character before he even knew what it would be), Will was a seismic doppelganger called Dug Dug, and Keith was a Yeti mad scientist called Doctor . None of us were particularly smart (average INT and WIS scores were 10), and we all lived in a bunker together. I won't recall the entire adventure, but some highlights were:

  • Introducing everyone to each other, sort of like this: "This is Andrew, he edits all of my work, and is the Munchkin Czar for SJ Games. This is Logan, who freelances for WotC, and made the Bard a worthwhile playable class. This is Will, who designed games for White Wolf, and does all the interior and cover designs on my books. This is Keith, who designed Gloom and Eberron. I'm, um, Wil … and I have really interesting and successful friends."
  • Keith getting a kaleidoscope, and then using minor actions the rest of the time we played to take kaleidoscope readings (Logan always gave him results, which Keith recorded in a notebook). 
  • Dancing with Danceboot '86, who had been modified to also be a guard of some sort. Logan did the best D-d-d-dancebot voice and c-c-c-chaacter voice ever. He was always r-r-r-ready to p-p-p-party!
  • Destroying the big scary Umberhulk/Manticore/Laser-beam-eyes monster fairly easily, and getting eviscerated by the little fucking Sonic The Hedgehog/rolling-needle-best thing.
  • Staying up until 230 with my friends, playing a game.

I'm sure I'm forgetting other awesome things, and hopefully the rest of the guys who played will comment here with their own memories about the experience.

My takeaway from Gamma World: I wouldn't want to play an entire campaign, because it's just a little too gonzo for me, but I think three or four
sessions (would you call that a mini-campaign?) as a break from my
regular game would be perfect. Also: Logan Bonner is a frakkin' great DM.

Upon realizing I stayed up too late, I moved my Saturday signing back a little bit, and went to sleep, marveling at how lucky I am to have such awesome friends, and so many incredible opportunities to do cool things.

Next: Saturday.

never forget your roots

While walking through Comicon three or four years ago, I stopped to look at one of those booths that's filled with a hundred different T-shirts.

Somewhere among the various superhero crests and clever nerd phrases and obscure sci-fi homages, I saw a fairly simple design: an Atari joystick, sitting atop the word ROOTS. I grinned and reached for it, and noticed that it was folded next to a similar design that replaced the Atari joystick with a classic NES controller.

"Of course," I thought to myself, as I felt like Old Man Wheaton, "for a lot of the damn kids today, the Atari 2600 is as relevant as black and white television or a transistor radio."

This thought triggered a trip in my mental Tardis to long afternoons spent playing Yar's Revenge and Megamania, and I ended up wandering away in a fog of nostalgia, forgetting to buy either of them.

A few months ago, I was preparing my dungeon delve for the Emerald City Comicon. Rather than pull something pre-made out of the Dungeon Delve book, I created something entirely new. Though I would eventually do the final revisions with Dungeon Tiles, It was the first time I'd designed and built an adventure since I was a teenager, so I started the way we did in the old days: I sat on the floor with some books, some dice (even though I didn't really need them), and used a pencil to build my dungeon on graph paper. 

While I sketched out the first few corridors, counting squares and carefully making my lines as straight as I could, my brain slipped into a stream of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey … stuff … and it used that memory from Comicon as a lens to look back through years and years of afternoons spent alone in the sanctuary of my bedroom, building and refining hundreds of dungeons with nothing more than some analog tools and my imagination. 

Earlier today, my friend Scott Twittered:

Nobody has created an online toolkit for drawing D&D maps? This is ridiculous. I'm using graph paper and pencils like a monk from the 1800s.

replied:

@pvponline Using graph paper and pencils to design dungeons isn't a bug, it's a feature.

I couldn't help smile to myself when I saw Scott's Twitter, because I knew that later today … well, in this case, a picture is worth 1000 words. Here's the idea I had so many months ago, turned into a T-shirt:

Wil_wheaton_roots_t-shirt

As I said I Twitter this morning, I'm especially proud of this one because it's relevant to my interests. If you like it as much as I do, you can get your own in basic, premium (which is a softer fabric, and a slimmer cut), and women's from Jinx.