Tag Archives: gaming

my sword glows blue in the presence of rules lawyers

Around the end of last year, I Twittered

Just read this on Board Game Geek: "My sword glows blue in the presence of rules lawyers." I kind of want that on a T-shirt.

I figured that it was very unlikely that I was the first person on all of the internet to combine gaming archetypes with Lord of the Rings references, so I went online and searched for what would be my favorite T-shirt, right up until the moment something new was my favorite T-shirt.

I was astonished when I found nothing on all of the Googles, and decided it was a moral imperative that I correct this giant hole in the potential geek wardrobe. I made a Twitter poll about it to be sure, which received a couple thousand affirmative responses. My course was clear: this shirt must be created … but how, exactly? I have lots of design ideas all the time, but I am pretty horrible at making them into actual things that have anything in common with what I see in my head.

This time, though, I knew how to make it happen, so I picked up the phone …

<Wayne's World Flashback Sound>

A few months earlier, I’d had a lunch meeting with some guys from Jinx, who were interested in collaborating with me to turn some of my crazy ideas into awesome T-shirts. Some of the stuff Jinx makes is just too loud for my taste, on account of me being an old man and everything, but they had made some things I really loved, like Choose Your Weapon, the RPG skeleton, and the Failboat. They also seemed like really nice guys, the kind of people I could feel good about doing business with, which is damn important to me.

I knew that Jinx had already done shirts for The Guild, so I asked Kim and Felicia if they were happy with their experience. They had nothing but good things to say, so I told the guys, “If I come up with some design ideas, I’ll get in touch.”

</Wayne's World Flashback Sound>

Flash forward to the discovery that this combination of Lord of the Rings and fantasy gaming, which delighted me, did not appear to exist in T-shirt form. (If you see where this is going, award yourself 2d6 electrum pieces and 1d4-1 XP.) I called Sean at Jinx and said something like, "Hey, I have a design idea that at least two thousand people agree does not suck. Want to make it?"

I described it to Sean, and he set his team into motion. It took a long time and a lot of back and forth to get exactly what I saw in my head onto a T-shirt I would want to wear. It was a fantastic collaborative process, though, and the end result is certainly better than anything I could have come up with entirely by myself.

I was so happy with the design they produced, I began actively thinking about other things I’d like to see on T-shirts, and a partnership was formed that officially launches today, with this:

My Sword Glows Blue in the Presence of Rules Lawyers

My Sword Glows Blue in the Presence of Rules Lawyers, by Wil Wheaton in collaboration with Jinx.

We have developed four different designs together so far, and we’ll release one a week for the next month, until they’re all available. Assuming that people like them as much as I do, we'll make more, including a few short runs that only appeal to the 2% of people who live in the same exact weird slice of the Venn diagram that I do.

Now, I have an idea that I think could be crazy awesome, and a fun way to celebrate the release of this T-shirt: tell me your favorite rules lawyer story in a brief comment, and you’ll be entered into a random drawing to win the shirt I’m wearing in that picture, as well as one in the size of your choice that doesn't contain trace amounts of my dead skin cells, suitable for eventually creating an army of clones. I'll also pick my favorite story, and read it on Radio Free Burrito next Monday.

I'm sure it goes without saying that we'll have a Rules Lawyer T-shirt meetup and group photo at GenCon, but I'm going to say it anyway: we'll have a Rules Lawyer T-shirt meetup and group photo at GenCon.

From The Vault: Cross the Blazing Bridge of Fire!

Did you know that I used to write a weekly column called The Games of Our Lives for The AV Club? It was about classic arcade (and occasionally console) video games that were just far enough off the mainstream radar for Gen Xers to realize that they remembered playing or seeing them, even if they hadn't thought about them since the 80s.

I worked very hard to keep it funny, nostalgic, and even a little informative. Though I didn't always come up with heartbreaking works of staggering genius, I'm really happy with about 95% of the columns I turned in … like this one for Satan's Hollow:

The flyer from Bally advertises "The hot new battle game that dares you to cross the blazing Bridge of Fire to do battle with the Master of Darkness-Satan of the Hollow!" After languishing for years in the obscurity of role-playing games, Satan finally crossed into the mainstream of arcades everywhere. Parents panicked as kids eagerly coughed up pocketfuls of quarters to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight.

Gameplay: It's 1982, so of course you have to enter Satan's Hollow in a spaceship. To pull this off, you build a bridge across a river of fire by picking up pieces from the left side of the screen and dropping them onto the right side of the screen. You have a shield that will protect you (for about .08 seconds) from the gargoyles and demons dropping World War II-style bombs. When the bridge is completed, you cross into the game's eponymous locale and face down Satan himself. If you avoid his magic pitchforks and destroy him, you won't save mankind from eternal damnation, but you will earn bonus points and an extra laser blaster for your space ship.

Before you complain that none of this makes sense, please remember that the number-one song of 1982 was "Centerfold" by J. Geils Band, and the number-one film was Tootsie.

Could be mistaken for: Galaxian, Dark Tower, Phoenix

Kids today may not like it because: Satan looks more like a sea monkey than like the Prince Of Darkness.

Kids today may like it because: Freaking your parents out because you're playing a game with Satan in it is always cool, whether it's 1982 or 2005.

Enduring contribution to gaming history: Doom wouldn't have been able to take players right into Hell in 1993 if Satan's Hollow hadn't opened the portal 11 years earlier. 

Every column had a different byline, which I tried very hard to make some kind of clever "nobody's going to get this, except for those few people who do and totally love it" joke: 

.mraf ynnuf eht, notaehW liW ot seilper rouy dnes esaelP .egassem terces eht dnuof ev'uoY !snoitalutargnoC

See what I did there? It's a game with SATAN in the title, so I put at BACKWARDS MESSAGE in the column. Ha! Ha! Ha! I am using the Internet!

I loved doing this column, and deliberately retired it while it was still going strong, so it didn't turn into [Pick some series that should have ended years ago while it was still funny. This is not a placeholder note to myself, it's a free option for you, dear reader. Merry Christmas.]

A few geeky games that are worth setting aside some Geek Time to play

I've discovered that, unless I specifically set aside Geek Time for me, Wil Wheaton, I end up doing nothing but work. This isn't entirely bad, because most of the work I do is geek-related, but I eventually run out of HP, and I have to recharge. by doing some private geeky thing, like reading comics, playing a little Xbox, or getting together with my friends 

Think of it this way: reading a comic book gives me a little HP, like 1d4. Reading a graphic novel gives me 1d6+2. Settling in with a good book (Currently reading Spook Country) gives me 1d10, but I can't do anything else for several turns and have to save versus distractions at -2. Playing a video game gives me 1d8+1, unless it's Rock Band with my friends or family, which gives me 2d10+5.

In fact, doing any geeky thing with friends is an automatic additional d10, which is why I like to get together with my friends at least once a month to play hobby games. During these gatherings, I can usually count on going all the way back to my starting HP, and if I'm especially lucky, I'll gain 1d10 additional HP that is lost at a rate of about 1 point every two hours after we've all gone back to our regular lives.

(Incidentally, writing those three paragraphs gave me 1d6-2, in addition to the 3d6+10 I got earlier today when I got to be a voice actor for four hours.)

So recently, I had a bunch of friends over for a game day, and we played some games I loved so much, I wanted to share them with the rest of the class, in case some of you are dangerously low on HP and need some healing:

Dominion

This is a card game that plays like a CCG (think Magic: The Gathering) without requiring you to buy a bunch of booster packs and participate in the deck-building arms race that makes most CCGs a meta game of "who can spend the most on cards." BoardGameGeek says: 

In Dominion, each player starts with an identical, very small deck of cards. In the center of the table is a selection of other cards the players can "buy" as they can afford them. Through their selection of cards to buy, and how they play their hands as they draw them, the players construct their deck on the fly, striving for the most efficient path to the precious victory points by game end.

Dominion is not a CCG, but the play of the game is similar to the construction and play of a CCG deck. The game comes with 500 cards. You select 10 of the 25 Kingdom card types to include in any given play — leading to immense variety.

Dominion plays very fast, and is one of those games that you can play while drinking a beer (or three) and still play (mostly) competently. 

There are expansions, but I won't buy them on principle, because that path leads to the CCG stuff I'm trying to avoid or at least limit.

Revolution!

Steve Jackson Games is famous for putting out the classic RPG GURPS, irreverent card games like Munchkin and the Chez games, and war games like Ogre and Car Wars. This is the company's first offering that could be considered a Eurogame, and I absolutely love it. Quoth BGG:

In Revolution! players take advantage of the fluid political situation by secretly bidding for a number of characters, each yielding a combination of territory control, points (popular support) and more currency with which to bid next round. Players win by gaining the support of the people (the most points). Players can gain bonus points by controlling an area of the city at the end of the game. This game is for 3-4 players and takes 60 minutes to play.

What I love about Revolution! is the lack of one clear perfect strategy to win the game. In many respects, it's like poker: you win by playing against the other players as much (if not more) than you play the actual game. It's very simple to pick up (I'd say it takes about 5 minutes to teach) and really needs four players, though you can play with three.

Bonus soon-to-be-released SJ Games: Cthulhu Dice (I played this at RinCon and loved it) and Zombie Dice (which I haven't played, but looks like a whole lot of fun.)

Pandemic

I love cooperative games, where the players are working together against the game itself. Some games, like Shadows Over Camelot, toss the uncertainty of a traitor into the game, while others, like Arkham Horror, are so purely cooperative, they can even be played as solo games. Pandemic is a purely cooperative game that BGG describes thusly:

You are specialists at the CDC/Atlanta where you watch several virulent diseases break out simultaneously all over the world. The team mission is to prevent a world-wide pandemic outbreak, treating hotspots while researching cures for each of the four plagues before they get out of hand.

Players must plan their strategy to mesh their specialist's strengths before the diseases overwhelm the world. For example, the Operations Specialist can build research stations, which are needed to find cures for the diseases. The Scientist needs only 4 cards of a particular disease to cure it instead of the normal 5. But the diseases are breaking out fast and time is running out: the team must try to stem the tide of infection in diseased areas while developing cures. If disease spreads uncontrolled, the players all lose. If they can cure all four diseases, they win.

This game looks and feels beautiful, and though it's probably the most complicated to learn on this list, it's not nearly as complicated as an RPG, a historical wargame, or understanding one of us geeks. You can adjust the level of difficulty (from easy to legendary) and if you get the expansion, On The Brink, you can add mutations and virulent strains of the various diseases, as well as a bioterrorist who is working against the other players. You rarely breeze through a game of Pandemic, and even though you start out sort of losing, victory is almost always decided by a razor-thin margin. 

Pandemic is so frakking hard to beat, it shouldn't be fun, but I have had more fun losing games of Pandemic than I've had winning a huge list of other games.

Small World 

Days of Wonder is probably best-known for games like Ticket To Ride and its sequels, Battlelore and its sequels, and Memoir '44 and its sequels. Small World is a very recent release from Days of Wonder, and I think it's one of the best games they've ever published. One more time, let's borrow from Board Game Geek:

Small World is inhabited by a zany cast of characters such as dwarves, wizards, amazons, giants, orcs and even humans; who use their troops to occupy territory and conquer adjacent lands in order to push the other races off the face of the earth.

Picking the right combination from the 14 different fantasy races and 20 unique special powers, players rush to expand their empires – often at the expense of weaker neighbors. Yet they must also know when to push their own over-extended civilization into decline and ride a new one to victory!

Okay, so that description doesn't really capture what's awesome about this game. Let me try to explain why I love it so much: first, it's a map conquest game that comes with different maps for different numbers of players, so you get a balanced game whether you're playing head-to-head or with three or four other friends. Second, the zany characters get different unique special powers every time you play, so there's no point in developing a strategy (or counter strategy) exclusively for Flying Amazons or Dragonmaster Ghouls, because you may not get to use it that often. Third, it employs an elegant scoring system that tends to keep the games close (are you sensing some commonality among the games I really like?). Fourth, it just looks beautiful. The counters and the boards feature great artwork, so it's easy to buy into the theme. Finally, it's a relatively quick game, which is important to a guy like me who doesn't have nearly enough time to play all the games he wants to play.

All of these games are suitable for ages 12 and up, with the exception of Pandemic, which I think is >just< a little to complex for the under-14 set.

Now that I've spent enough time on this post to have actually played one of these games, I'd like to close with three RPGs that I haven't played, but desperately want to play:

Okay, now that I've regained some of my HP, I think I'm ready to go ahead and attempt the Drop Off Packages At The Post Office quest. If I don't come back, avenge my death and immortalize me in song.

in place of a title, imagine Ric Ocasek walking around on the surface of a pool

I guess I could just say, "Hey, I'm playing Magic on Xbox Live this weekend, so check out the details here," but it's more fun to tell a story, first.

In 1993, while killing time between appointments, I wandered into a game shop in the valley. I looked around the aisles, thumbed through the RPG books, talked myself into and then out of buying a ton of unpainted lead figures, and eventually found myself in conversation with the owner.

He picked up a deck of cards, and asked me if I'd heard about this new game called Magic. I was a serious wargamer, with numerous Chaos and Space Marine armies, as well as a folder that was bulging with maps and vehicles for Car Wars. Card games were so beneath me, I don't think I even tried to hide my geeksnort.

He had obviously spent time dealing with annoying nerds (being a game shop owner and all) and he patiently deflected my contempt as he opened the box and showed me the cards inside. Over the next ten or fifteen minutes, he showed me how this wasn't just a card game, but was actually a beautifully-illustrated representation of two powerful wizards using primal and astral energies to duel each other. By the end of his demo, I was sufficiently intrigued, and I bought two decks.

I played the game a few times, but it didn't capture my imagination like the board games and RPGs I loved. The mechanics were interesting, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around advanced concepts, like "tapping" and the mysterious "upkeep." (Perhaps I was not the high-level gamer I thought I was.) I went back to that shop a few weeks later (it must have been near a casting office) and ended up talking to the owner about playing Magic. "It's okay," I said, "but I'm just not that into it."

He reached behind the counter and pulled out a long box. "Maybe you'd like the game better if you had access to all the cards."

"That box has one of every card in the whole game?"

"Yes. It's eighty dollars."

"Sorry, dude, there is no way I'm spending eighty dollars on that."

Yes, for those of you wondering, this particular box had a Black Lotus in it, among other things. Le sigh.

Flash forward about a year. I'm on a Star Trek cruise, and there's a dealer's room on board. One of the dealers sells Magic cards. I'm looking at them, wondering if this game ever caught on, or if this was old stock he was just burning through. A fellow geek sees me looking at the cards, and tells me that he ran Magic games every week. He asks me if I would be interested in playing with him. $20, one starter deck and a couple of boosters later, we duel.

Flash forward a few hours later: It turned out that playing with someone who really knew what Magic was and how the game worked made it a lot of fun to play. It turned out that there was a lot more to the game than just dueling, too: there was deck-building and its attendant strategies! I bought everything that dealer had on the ship, and spent more time playing Magic with this guy and his wife than I did looking at the beautiful Alaskan coastline. (Don't worry, I've since been back to Alaska, and I was able to appreciate its beauty and unobstructed views of Russia.) I don't remember that guy's name, but I can thank and blame him for making me fall in love with Magic: The Gathering.

I was never especially good at the game, but for a brief time, Magic ruled my life. I bought boxes of starters and boosters from my friendly local game shop the minute they went on sale. I had black and blue decks, green and red decks, blue and white decks, and I even had a vicious black and red deck that had just 51 cards in it, thanks to abuse of Dark Ritual.

Right around the Ice Age expansion, though, I stopped having fun playing Magic in tournaments, because it had become an arms race: whoever had the most money and time to seek out the most powerful cards would usually win the game. Unless I was willing to keep buying new cards every few months, I saw a future where the decks I had now would be obsolete, and I wouldn't be able to play competitively with anyone. Because I was never very good at the game anyway, it didn't make sense to me to commit to that kind of investment, so I put my cards into storage, and didn't play again until…

Flash forward to about 2005. Nolan came home from school one day and asked me if I'd ever heard of this game called Magic that some of his friends were playing.

"Sure," I said. "I used to play the hel– er, I used to play it all the time. I still have my cards, if you'd like to see them."

I went into the garage and took my Big Box of Games off the shelf. Inside, in a plastic box with tape around the edges to seal it, were hundreds of Magic cards.

"Wow, that's a lot of cards," Nolan said.

"Yeah. I had a lot of disposable income when I was younger."

"What's that?"

"Something we don't have now."

I took the box into the house and opened it. Most of the cards were organized by type, but a few decks were still intact. Nolan looked over the cards. "This kind of looks like Pokemon," he said.

"Yeah, it's sort of like that, I guess, but not lame," I said. I pulled out two decks and showed him how to play.

Nolan caught Magic fever like a stowaway on a plague ship. I was thrilled to have something to do together, so I naturally encouraged his madness. He started taking my cards with him to school, and using them to successfully wipe the floor with his peers, who apparently didn't know how to defend against the old ways.

Then, one day, he came home very upset. "These idiots at school just print out cards online – fake cards that they get from websites – and put them in sleeves to play with them!"

"That's complete bullshit," I said. Then, "don't tell your mom I said 'bullshit.'"

"I'm not playing with them any more," he said.

"I totally understand that. I'll still play with you, though, and you could always go play at the game shop."

"The game shop smells," he said. Ah, out of the mouths of 14 year-old babes.

"Okay. Well, if you ever change your mind, I'd be happy to take you there.

We played almost daily for a few weeks, but Nolan eventually got distracted by something new and different that didn't involve spending lots of time with his lame stepdad. Le sigh.

Flash forward to 2007. Nolan found interest in Magic again, though he enjoyed deck-building more than actually playing. One day he asked me to take him to the game shop to play, and he came home with a rather amusing story:

"So I went to play with this guy, and when he saw my cards, he got real upset that they weren't in sleeves because they're so old and apparently valuable. He asked me where I got them, and I told them that they were my stepdad's cards."

Nolan didn't ever put his cards into sleeves, as a matter of pride, as a way of showing his opponents that he was using actual cards, not printouts like those douchey kids at his school.

"He actually refused to keep playing with me until I put the cards in sleeves." He did his version of the Comic Book Guy's voice: "These cards are far too valuable! I will not engage in a contest with you until they are protected."

I laughed.

"So he actually gave me some sleeves! I put your cards in them so we could play."

Nolan started going to the game shop three or four times a week, spending his allowance on cards, and building up several formidable decks, including a Sliver deck and a Zombie deck that, while apparently not tournament legal, were feared and loathed by the regulars at the game shop.

Around this time, I started looking at Magic again, and I rebuilt a few of my old decks from memory. I still wasn't very good at the game, and in the arms race portion of the game, Nolan had nukes and I had boards with nails in them, but it was still a lot of fun to play.

Flash forward to about a year ago: I got my hands on a box of Timespiral tournament decks. Nolan and I began playing 2 out of 3 matches using sealed decks (or randomly-drawn decks from the box) and just like that, Magic was fun again.

Flash forward to PAX this year: I was invited to a party celebrating the release of the latest incarnation of Magic, called Zendikar. The people who run Magic at WotC gave me an extremely rare spoiler card, (which prompted someone from D&D to say, "Hey! Wheaton belongs to us! Hands off!") I hadn't looked into the story behind Magic since that cruise in the mid-90s, but I found the concepts inherent to Zendikar – traps, quests, allies, and especially landfall – really interesting and unique to the Magic universe. For the first time in over a decade, I was actually excited to play a new release.

Now, let's flash back to a couple weeks ago: I was invited to play Magic: Duels of the Planeswalkers this weekend as part of Game With Fame on Xbox Live. My only memory of a Magic arcade game was something very disappointing on the PC in the 90s, so I wanted to play the Xbox version before I accepted. One download later, I settled into the couch with some green tea and began to play.

A few hours later, Anne came into the living room and wanted to know why I'd been there so long.

"I'm, uh, doing research for, um, this thing…" I trailed off while I counted life, power, toughness, to see if I could end this match – the third or fourth time I'd played this particular opponent – on this turn.

"Research? Because to the untrained eye, it would look like you'd been playing Xbox for three hours."

I finished counting. Yes, I could win this turn. I sent my minions out to do my bidding.

"Well, it's both." I told Anne about the Game with Fame event, and added, "so I need to figure out if I like this game, and if I do like it, if I have any chance of not sucking like the Dodgers when I play against people who actually know what they're doing."

The screen announced my victory. I pumped my fist. "Yeah, suck on that, fucker!"

"Um…"

"Sorry. It's, um." I said.

Anne nodded. She's sadly used to this sort of thing.

"So what's the verdict?" She asked.

"I like it enough to play it for three hours today and probably three hours every day if I'm not careful."

"Oh, isn't that wonderful for you."

"Sarcasm detected!" I set the controller down. "But don't worry, I have too much work to do to even think about playing the hell out of this until I am way into Memories volume two."

I picked up the controller again. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have unlocked a new deck and I wish to play with it."

"Well, have fun playing with your deck."

We looked at each other, playing a game of "who's going to laugh first" chicken. I lost.

I played the game some more, and even though I never did very well, I think they've managed to translate a lot of the fun of the card game into this arcade game. I'm sure I'll get my ass handed to me eleven different ways on Saturday, but I learned a long time ago that the joy I get out of gaming isn't too heavily dependent on winning (except when I'm playing Munchkin with Andrew, but that's a whole different dynamic.)

If you're in the US, and you'd like more information about the Game with Fame events, you can look here. If you'd like information about playing with me, specifically, you can check out this page at Xbox.com. If you're outside the US, I can't tell you where to look, because I get the US links, on account of I'm in the US. I bet you could start at Xbox.com and go from there, though. If you can't be bothered to jump through links, just add the gamertag "AtWilW" (get it?) and I guess that'll put you into some kind of pool or queue or something. 

If you're planning to play Magic, and you want meaningful competition, you do not want to play me, but don't worry, because there are several Magic champions and Richard Freaking Garfield just waiting to drag your corpse across every plane of existence and back.

senses working overtime

Anne and I stayed with my friends Steve and Julie when we went up to San Francisco for w00tstock. I've known Steve since high school, and Julie's sister was friends with my brother when they were younger, in case anyone was wondering how small the world actually is.

Steve and I were in the same gaming group (with Darin, Cal, and some of my other friends you may recall me mentioning from time to time) so when we got to their house, I went straight to his gaming shelf to see what overlap we have now (Dominion, Settlers, Pandemic, etc.) I saw, on top of a bookcase, a complete set of first edition AD&D core books. Sitting on top of them was a thick stack of TSR-era AD&D modules, including classics like Tomb of Horrors and Village of Hommlet.

"I can't believe you still have these!" I said.

"Do you want them?" He asked. "I don't have room for them here, so they were going to get thrown out or —"

"THROWN OUT?! THEY BELONG IN A MUSEUM!"

From the living room behind us, I heard Anne apologize to Julie.

"It's okay," I may have heard her say. "I'm married to one, too."

Steve and I spent some time (not nearly enough) looking at all those old modules, as well as his AD&D core books. I even made most of my saves vs. Nostalgic Overload (Rogers will be happy to learn that I didn't once say that I felt like I was visiting with old friends).

"You can have all of these," he said, "because I know I'm not going to have time or space to use them any time soon."

"I would love to keep these, if for no other reason than to preserve the history," I told him. In my mind, I was already sitting on the floor of my office, the smell of a freshly-sharpened pencil rising in the air to meet the sound of Rush on the Sonos while I surrounded myself with open books, graph paper, and piles of dice.

Alas, when it was time to return to Los Angeles, we didn't have room or spare weight in our suitcase to bring them with us, so it's going to be a little while before my dream becomes reality.

Still, I can't stop thinking about those books and the memories they're going to shake loose when I finally do get to read them. I still have the books from my Red Box Set, though, so as soon as I got home from my trip, I took them (including B2 – The Keep on the Borderlands) off the shelf and hopped into the time machine. The last few nights, I've read Keep on the Borderlands cover to cover, all the character creation rules in the Player's Book, and all of the procedures in the Dungeon Master's Book.

As I pored over these three books, pausing frequently to feel the comforting warmth of a nostalgic childhood memory wrap around me, I remembered why I fell in love with D&D and then AD&D when I was growing up: when you get down to their fundamentals, D&D and AD&D provide a framework for imaginative, collaborative storytelling.

As I read the Keep on the Borderlands, and I crawled through the Caves of Chaos for the first time in 25 years, I let my imagination take over. I could see the same places I visited when I was a kid. I could see the wide and winding dirt road, coiled around towering mountains and steep cliffs, that I traveled from the Keep to the caves. (Well, I could see it the way 10 or 11 year-old me created it in his youthful imagination, which is to say it looked an awful lot like that 1978 animated Lord of the Rings movie.)

I could see the Lizardmen (who were more than a little reminiscent of the Sleestaks), I could hear the clang of my fighter Thorin's sword against the cave wall, after he cleaved a kobold in two (just like that animation from Dragon's Lair) and the jingling bag of electrum pieces he took off the corpse (which sounded a lot like the pocket of quarters I kept around for sudden outbreaks of Pac-Man fever). I could smell the crackling fire of braziers (summer campfires), and feel the terror of facing down a minotaur who never seemed to miss when he attacked (pop quizes in math class).

If you played Keep on the Borderlands, some of the encounters that sparked my own memories may be familiar, but I bet that any images of the caves they may have stirred up for you different than mine, because when we played this game in the 80s, every single place we went was made real by our imaginations. In fact, that's one of the things I love and miss the most about the earliest days of tabletop RPGs: I miss gaming that was entirely independent of minis and combat maps. I miss being able to close my eyes and picture the zombies and skeletons lining that hallway, knowing that the way I saw them was different from the way my friend Simon saw them, even though he was sitting right next to me. 

I stopped playing AD&D during 2nd edition, when I felt like it was more about complicated math, charts, and THAC0 than it was about using your imagination to explore a wondrous fantasy world. I switched to GURPS, and even though I know that's a system that can easily lead to min/maxing and metagaming, I played with a group of guys who were into storytelling, with a GM who made you think very carefully about what disadvantages you took. When that group grew broke up, I didn't play seriously again until 4E, which as everyone knows I really enjoy.

Still, when I opened The Keep on the Borderlands and read "Welcome to the land of imagination. You are about to begin a journey into the worlds where magic and monsters are the order of the day, where law and chaos are forever at odds, where adventure and heroism are the meat and drink of all who would seek their fortunes in uncommon pursuits…" I realized something: I never played RPGs later on in life like the ones I played when I was 12.

… Jesus, did anyone?

a spiffy rules variant for munchkin

I'm making myself a little crazy trying to write a column about gaming, gamers, gaming conventions, and why they all add up to mean so much to me. It's not that I can't find the words but – well, maybe it is that I can't find the words. Or, more accurately, I can't find enough words, because I can sum it all up like this: "When I'm gaming, I feel like I am with my tribe."

Hurm. Maybe that's a good launching point, and I can get a little more in-depth from there. (Related: Damn you, Twitter, for making me able to say just about everything I want to say in just 140 characters.)

So speaking of gaming, when I was at RinCon last weekend, I played a couple of memorable games of Munchkin. One of them was an official event called Czar Munchkin that, as the name implies, featured a table of us gamers versus the official Munchkin Czar, who happens to be my friend (and editor of all my books) Andrew. Through some exceptionally munchkin-y behavior, I ended up winning the game, making my Munchkin Convention Play record a perfect 2-0. w00t. Go me.

That game was a lot of fun, and Andrew ran it as a Child's Play fundraiser (what a great idea, Andrew! Great minds think alike!) so we raised even more shiny gold rocks while we played.

The other game I played happened in the lobby of our hotel, where we tried out some variant rules that Andrew wanted to playtest with me and some of our other friends. I can't disclose all the different rules we tried, but one of the ones I really liked was announced in today's Daily Illuminator at SJ Games:

Rules Variant – Listening at the Door

We've been trying out this variant Munchkin rule and figured we'd throw it out for y'all to play around with.

At the start of your turn, draw a face-down Door card ("Listening at the Door"). You may now rearrange your items, do trades, or whatever. Then you Kick Down a Door (starting combat if there's a monster) and your turn proceeds normally . . . except that if you Loot The Room, you draw a face-down Treasure instead of a Door.

I had a great time playing with this variant, because it meant we burned through a lot of cards in a short amount of time (using the original classic set only, we shuffled each deck at least once, and I think we did treasures twice.) I have several expansions, and while it's fun to add new cards to the game, it's also a drag to end up with so many cards, you don't get to see them all. Playing with this rule means you get to see more cards, and it increases the chances of serious mayhem by some number you'd get if you rolled percentile dice.

If you're still reading, you probably play the game, so I think you'll appreciate this: Andrew was at level 9, and seemed poised to win the game, so the rest of us teamed up to defeat him. As it turned out, though, we were just delaying the inevitable.

Andrew was a Cleric, and went after me. On my turn, I looked for trouble, and fought (and defeated) the Floating Nose to get myself to level 9. Andrew resurrected the Floating Nose on his turn, and announced that he was fighting it for the win. We did the usual things with whatever cards we had left, and when it appeared that we were going to hold him off for at least another round, he played the Potion of Halitosis to beat the Floating Nose and win the game. It was delightfully silly and Munchkiny, too, because he could have just played the cards together, but he made us all go through our hands and gave us just a little bit of hope, before he dashed it all to hell.

Munchkin seems to be one of those games that really divides gamers into seriously polarized camps. I know it's not for everyone, but I just love it, because it's just so silly.

Everybody walk the dinosaur. Well, except for you. You’re not working out.

I have no idea what the title of this post has to do with the content of this post. In fact, I think there's no relation at all, other than the fact that I wrote them both. But when your brain compels you to quote Was (not Was), it's best to just do what it says, and slip in a Simpsons reference if you can manage it.

So. Moving on.

RinCon was awesome this weekend. The delves were a huge success, even though both parties managed to finish them, despite my best efforts to kill them all. I am absolutely going to run Child's Play Charity delves at future cons (and may even organize a special event here in Los Angeles at a local game shop, if enough people commit to playing) and those delves will all be of my own original creation, because running these two delves and listening to our D&D Podcast has made me want to write and run a campaign more than at any other time in my life. I know I keep going on and on about how easy it is to pick up and play 4e, but … dude, it is so easy to pick up, play, and run 4e, the only reason I'm not playing every week is because I haven't had the time to do it. (Fun fact: we had players in both delves who were totally new to 4e – one of them hadn't even played since 2nd edition! – and it took all of about 5 minutes to get them into the swing of things. I know 4e has its detractors, but I just love it that this system is so easy for new players to pick up, whether they're PCs or DMs.)

I had an incredible time playing a lot of new games, as well as many of my old favorites. I especially enjoyed an indie game called Castle Panic
, and an unreleased game from SJ Games that I wish I could tell you all about. I also picked up a storytelling game called A Penny For My Thoughts
that I think was the sleeper hit of the convention. The Rock Band party was also a lot of fun, and some of you may be interested to know that James Ernest is an absolute beast on the drums.

A full con report, including some various thoughts I had about gaming at cons and why they are such an important part of our community is forthcoming, probably as this month's Geek in Review column.

Now, on to business:

My episode of The Big Bang Theory airs next Monday, October 19, on CBS. Yes, I'm excited enough about this to use the silly bold letters in my blog. Yes, this also means that I won't get to watch it live because I'll be performing at w00tstock San Francisco while it airs, but it also means that those of you who wanted to see w00tstock San Francisco on Monday but could only get tickets for Tuesday can still get your USRDA of Wil Wheaton sightings (snort) without ever leaving the comfort of your own home. Because, um, that sounds funny in my head.

SPOILER ALERT! Info about my episode of The Big Bang Theory follows:

The ‘Star Trek: TNG’ alum is guesting next week as a nastier version of himself. And as it turns out, this Wil Wheaton has a longstanding rivalry with Sheldon. How did this geektastic casting come to be? Says Kunal Nayyar (Raj), “The writers were discussing, ‘Who would be a good villain for Sheldon?’ just as Wil Wheaton was writing into them, saying how much he loves the show.” 

(via)

Okay, the final bit of business before I hit publish and go to work on the Memories of the Future release post and a few related bits: the project I've been working on that I wasn't sure if I could talk about, has been revealed. I'm voicing Bill Willingham's Peter & Max: A Fables Novel. It's been a delight to spend five hours a day exploring Bill's world and brining his characters to life, and we're going to have something very special when the whole project is completed.

announcing THE AWESOME HOUR!!1

The schedule for PAX 09 has been posted, and I am on it.

BEHOLD:

Wil Wheaton first came to PAX in 2007, when he gave the keynote address that your parents won't stop making you listen to in the car. In 2008, he returned for a panel that asked and answered the burning question, "Can Wil Wheaton really be a panel all by himself?" This year, Commodore Wil Wheaton welcomes you aboard the USS AWESOME for 60 minutes of story-telling, lingerie-dodging, mirth-making, myth-making, iconoclasting, and the obligatory burning-questioning … ing.

I'll be in The Serpent Theatre from 2:30-3:30 on Sunday at PAX. I think it would be kind of awesome if we did a massive How We Roll photo as soon as the panel ended, too, but we'll talk about that as we get closer to PAX.

Got PAX questions? Post them in comments and I'll do my best to answer them.

“…tactical terrain for building utilizable dioramas”

Gabe:

The box of Dwarven Forge
stuff I ordered showed up yesterday, and when Kara saw it she told me
it looked like a dollhouse for boys. I laughed and explained that it
was actually tactical terrain for building utilizable dioramas.


This afternoon as I was placing the
tiny mugs of ale in the tavern I had built, my mind drifted back to her
words from yesterday. I shook my head to clear the thought. Come on,
this is clearly not a dollhouse. I chuckled softly to myself as I
placed the miniature basket of butter-horns on one of the wooden
tables. Dollhouses are for girls.

In my day we didn't have awesome sculpted terrain and hand-painted miniature figures! We had graph paper and our imagination, and we liked it!

Well, except for when we started playing Warhammer 40K, and we had shoeboxes filled with terrain, and foam-filled suitcases to carry our Chaos Marine armies.

…man, now I want to play D&D, and I want to paint minis.

in which i find something unexpected during a Journey Through The Silver Caves

This weekend, I had a last-minute change in plans, and discovered that I had the free time to go play in World Wide D&D Game Day, which was set up by Wizards of the Coast to promote the release of the Monster Manual 2.

I went to my friendly local game shop, where I was able to join a session that was just starting out. I picked a Dwarf Paladin, because I've never played either of those things before, and I thought it would be pretty fun. As it turned out, I was correct. Even though it was a dungeon crawl with people I didn't know, I role-played the Dwarf, as they said in Sherman Oaks in 1983, like totally to the max.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun, even though I had to leave before the final encounter because — you know, it's easier if I just tell the story:

Having dispatched the dreaded Rust Monsters in the second encounter, we turned our focus onto the godddamn beetles who kept immobilizing me and the Tiefling. I was getting ready to use one of my daily powers when my phone rang.

I saw that it was Nolan, and sent the call to voice mail, planning to call him back when the encounter was over. He called again, and I ignored it again. When he called a third time, I figured that something important was happening and he really needed my attention.

"Hey Nolan what's –"

"I need you to come pick me up right now and take me and Calvin to the hospital."

My heart jumped into my throat. "What!? What happened? Are you okay?"

"Calvin fell out of a tree and broke his collar bone. His parents are gone and you're the last last last last resort. I know you're playing D&D, but can you help us?"

My heart dropped back to its normal place in my chest. "Yes. I'll be right there."

I told the guys I was playing with what had happened. Luckily, my friend Martin had just come into the store to meet me, so I handed my character over to him. I reminded him to keep role playing heavily, and make sure he didn't roll higher than 7, just to keep things  consistent.

I left, and spent the next few hours taking care of Nolan's friend (who was ultimately fine, but isn't going to be climbing any trees for a few weeks.)

When I got home, I called Martin and asked him how the rest of the adventure went. He told me that Eomer (the Dwarf we played) pulled off some last-minute heroics, and the PCs ended up "winning" the delve:

"That Eomer is a bad mother -"

"Shut your mouth!"

"I'm talking about Eomer!"

"I can dig it."

All of this is preamble to the whole reason I'm writing about it, though. I read this gaming blog called critical-hits. It's awesome, and if you like RPGs, you should read it to.

Anyway, there's a post today about playing the WWD&DGD, written by a guy who ran the delve.

The adventure was Journey Through The Silver Caves, a
straightforward dungeon-crawl that puts the PCs on the trail of a
kobold wyrmpriest who stole an important book of prophecy from a local
fortress. (I will spoil some about the adventure, so if you’re planning
on playing through it at some point later, consider yourself warned).
The PCs meet at the fortress and receive information about what they’re
seeking, the caves nearby, and most importantly, their reward. I
explained that the PCs had traveled together for a short time, but were
forgetful about each other and so should make short, awkward
introductions about their race and profession before continuing. After
the typical introduction around the table, the group arrived at the
caves.

Brief interlude about the D&D game days: I love the Wizards does these things, because it helps build the gaming community in a number of ways. An obvious one is making it really easy for new players to give tabletop RPGs a try, but a less-obvious one that I don't hear people talk about is how fun it is for all of us who play, all over the world, to share our individual experiences playing the same characters in the same encounters. It's so fun to hear how some other party handled the rust monsters, for example, and how other players who chose Eomer decided to use his powers.

Okay, back to the reason I wrote this post: I was reading the post at critical-hits, enjoying myself thoroughly, and then I saw this picture near the end of the post. I may have let out a little squeal of joy, because the DM was wearing the shirt I designed for shirt.woot.

I love that. I love that so much, I wanted to share it with the world. Which I just did.

So there.