Category Archives: Games

so you want to try an rpg, but don’t know where to start

This came from my Ask Me thing on my Tumblr thing.

Q: You seem like a pretty good dude, Wil. Thanks for taking time to chat with your fans, and thanks for standing up for what is right. I love following you on social media. You’ve talked about D&D before, and I’ve been kind of curious about trying it out. I would be nervous though as I have no idea what to do. Any tips for 40-year-old beginners???

A: Thank you for your kind comments.

D&D! I love it. I love all RPG games (even the ones I don’t like to play. I’m just glad they exist).

I’ve been playing since the early 80s, and I can confidently direct you to the 5e Starter Set. It is the best introduction to the hobby, to the system, to the experience of collaborative storytelling that makes RPGs so much fun and so special, that I have ever read or played. It gently introduces you to the concepts behind the system and hobby, eases you into the rules, and is filled with sidebars and further reading if you need that as you get deeper into the adventure. By the time you’re finished with it (there’s several sessions in there, probably a few months of gaming if you meet once a week), you will have enough experience to know what questions to ask at the Friendly Local Game Shop about where to go next. It’s a small investment, and a really easy way to find out if D&D is for you.

If you want to make an even smaller investment, this page has TONS of information and resources. You could start here and spend hours without noticing the time pass. Or, at least, I can. YMMV.

I want to share a few warnings with you.

  1. Everyone has their definition of the “right” way to play D&D. You will find yours as you play. Don’t let someone else’s definition of “right” limit what yours may eventually be. Maybe you like minis. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you like homebrew rules. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you just want to roll dice and imagine you’re a fantasy hero. Someone is going to tell you you are doing it wrong. We’ve worked real hard to kick out the gatekeepers, but they just keep spawning. Ignore them. Send them to me if you need to and I’ll handle them.
  2. The D&D rules system is not the only RPG, or even the only popular one. Pathfinder is beloved by millions of people. FATE Core and GURPS have enormous player bases. Monte Cook’s Cypher System is filled with gorgeous lore and character inspirations (but I’ve never played it, full disclosure). I chose the AGE system for our series Titansgrave, and used a lot of what I learned from running D&D for decades to customize the experience for me and the players. What I’m saying is, RPGs do not begin and end with D&D. It’s as good a place as any to start, but it is only one of many systems.
  3. You are going to hear hardcores make impassioned arguments that continue long after you have lost interest about all sort of rules and setting and system crap. Trust me: tune them out. Eventually, you’ll know what you care to listen to/
  4. All those non-D&D systems support and encourage playing in different settings, from Science Fiction to Horror to modern warfare combat. The thing that I believe makes D&D VERY special is its singular focus on high fantasy and everything that means in our culture. All those other systems do fantasy very well, but D&D is kind of the canonical “storm the dungeon, kill the monsters, take their stuff” experience. It’s also the only one that is D&D, if that matters to you.

That’s a lot more information than I intended to deliver. I just get excited about this stuff because I love it so much. Whatever you choose, I hope you have fun!

And when it counts, may you roll high.

A typical day on the set at Tabletop

This is from my Tumblr Thingy. I thought it would be relevant to some of your interests.

QUESTION: Hello, I have a question about Tabletop (don’t worry, it’s not “when will you make more 😋). When you would film an episode, when would the interstitial commentary from the players be filmed? Because it seems like they should be like, during breaks in the game, so that people can give their thoughts as they come up, but during extended episodes I can’t see where that would cut and film them and rejoin, so maybe it was after? I can no longer sleep at night, this question haunts me. Ok bye now 😊

Gamers vs. COVID-19

My upcoming eSports competition show, Gamemaster, has been delayed like everything else, but the people involved wanted to use the resources they had already mustered for production to do some good at a moment in time when it’s so desperately needed.

So we’re organizing to 3D print what we can for our frontline healthcare workers!

“As the spread of COVID-19 continues to impact us all, GAMEMASTER takes solace in friends, family and the indomitable spirit of our players, cast, crew and brand partners. When Reagan Stewart, web developer and an overall tech guru for GAMEMASTER, brought the idea of our team helping to make, distribute and organize PPE for medical professionals as they experience shortages, we immediately saw a way that we could help. Thanks to our amazing and generous brand partners, we have not only been able to set up a 3D print operation in Atlanta, but, we have also developed a network for healthcare providers and first responders across the country to connect with makers in their community to get the specific PPE that they need, quickly and without cost. Thank you all!:”

I’m so proud, and so honored, to be part of this show. I’m so excited to share our first effort to join the fight against COVID-19. If you’d like to get into the fight with us, and add your resources to ours, we have a sign-up page, here.

walked upon the edge of no escape

My friend, Will Hindmarch, is a brilliant writer and game designer. He’s one of the smartest people I know, and his weekly newsletter always challenges and inspires me.

In this week’s newsletter, he talks about playing a videogame called CONTROL, which by coincidence, I began playing over the weekend.

I wanted to share some thoughts here that I shared with Will privately, because I’m interested to hear your thoughts on my thoughts.

Will said:

> As of this week, I’m also playing Control again, and glad to be doing so.

Here’s my reply to him:

This game is beguiling me. I have only faced three boss battles, and I’ve nearly quit during each one. I love the story, I love the visual and audio design, and I love the puzzles. But boy do I hate it when it becomes a video game with a boss battle, especially when it takes two dozen or so runs at it to get the shape of the level, and you have to sit through 30 second loading screens every time you die.

It’s like I’m intrigued by the story, but my skills as a FPS gamer just aren’t where they need to be for me to get through those video game bits without ragequitting at least once a day.

I had a thought about Control: I’ve been playing RDR2 since it came out. It’s literally the only game I’ve played, I’ve even replayed it, with a replay of RDR1 in between. I have been able to adjust the difficulty setting so the game really holds my hand and makes the video game portions of the story simple and satisfying to get through. In a way, I’m getting to live inside competence porn, right? And I’m a middle-aged white dude in that game, which is significant when I compare it to Control, which is REALLY FUCKING HARD … and the protagonist is a woman.

So I’m thinking about how REALLY easy life is for middle-aged white dudes, especially when we compare our lives to the lives of young women. My current experience has become a metaphor, which has been intellectually stimulating and challenging (in a really good way).

In RDR2, I have (effectively) unlimited ammo, (effectively) unlimited health items, and because I only cared about the story and exploring the world (sidebar: riding my horse all the way across the map, stopping only to engage photo mode, like I’m a tourist in the old world, is really satisfying and fun), I adjusted the difficulty to reflect my personal difficulty level in the real world, which is to say I put it on the easiest setting.

When I started CONTROL, I immediately noticed that I have to manage my ammo, and health is WAY more vulnerable than it is in RDR2. There’s no computer assist in aiming; I have to do it all myself (and I am NOT good at it). Mechanically, I have to work really hard to kite around the bosses without dying, and the game is just totally unforgiving when I fuck up.

Maybe I’m overthinking it, but I feel like the experience I’ve had with these two games is a really strong metaphor for the different experiences men and women have in the world, online and off.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense outside of my head, but now that I’m thinking about the hours I spent playing Control yesterday, and thinking about how, even though it can be REALLY hard and REALLY frustrating, it’s also compelling. I’m not entirely sure it’s worth the effort, with my limited free time (when I ragequit last night, I said, out loud in an empty room: “This is such a waste of my time. I am not having fun and I don’t know why I’m even giving this goddamn game my time,” and yet here I am, thinking about trying it again today.

This is a new experience for me, to be seriously challenged in a game and not know if I’ll be able to overcome the challenges that exist between me and the resolution of the story. After nearly three years of something that’s less gaming and more competency porn, I’m finding out if I can actually rise up to meet a challenge (and if it’s worth the effort) that I can’t skip or have help overcoming.

I feel like it’s a powerful and meaningful metaphor, and it’s caused me to examine and reflect upon my privilege, and I appreciate that. At the same time, I feel like the point of games is to be fun, and this game isn’t really “fun” the way RDR2 has been “fun” for me.

But I don’t think that’s the game’s fault. My son is 30 and he loves games like this that are REALLY hard (he loves something called Dark Souls that reduced me to tears in about thirty seconds). Most of the games I looked at when I was trying to decide what to play instead of RDR2 seem to fit into this difficulty curve, which I suspect may just be the state of games today, and I’m an old man who is outside the demo.

There’s another metaphor for ya.

horsin’ around

Red Dead Redemption 2 is the most emotionally profound game I have ever played. When I finished it a couple months ago, I felt a kind of wonderful sadness that something I loved was over, secure in the knowledge that I’d be able to experience the story, spend time with the characters, and explore the world all over again whenever I did a replay.

So about a week ago, after I had finished replaying the story in Red Dead Redemption 1, I started my replay. I already have a deeper appreciation for the early character interactions, because I’ve spent a hundred hours more with them than I had the first time around, and I know now that I really want to spend as much time in chapter 2 as I possibly can.

But I know that you’re not here for my philosophical ruminations on the deeper story that is happening around Arthur and his gang, and I know you aren’t here to read a thousand words about why it feels so good to leave this awful world behind for a few hours every night.

You’re here for horse names. I see you.

So Hosea wants me to go hunting with him. I know there’s a legendary bear in our future, and I know that we aren’t going to take it down on our first try, because I’ve been here before. But what I don’t remember is that Hosea wants me to take this old draft horse to the stables in Valentine and sell it, so I can get a new horse of my own.

I already have a horse, and he’s fine, but there’s nothing special about him. He’s sort of a starter horse, and he’s a good boah, but he isn’t that fast, even after we’ve reached our maximum bonding level.

So I go to the stables, I sell this big draft horse, and I pick up a Palomino. She’s beautiful, with a gorgeous white mane and some dappling on her haunches. She’s fast, and she’s going to cost me $150 of my $155.

It’s a lot of money to spend on my horse, and it’s going to be challenging to rebuild my savings this early in the game, but the alternative is a $50 horse who I don’t feel anything for. Even in a video game, an emotional connection with my horse is important to me, so I spend nearly all of my money, and buy her.

Now the game lets me give her a name, and I have to make the most important decision I’m going to make in this game for the next 24 hours of gameplay.

I have already used Mane Weidlin and Neighlor Swift. I briefly consider Nagnes Moorehead, but it’s kind of a walk, and it’s too long for the number of characters I get, anyway.

So I start thinking about horse-related terms, and I end up with “Steed” in my head…

Which is why I am delighted to introduce you all to my new horse, Tara Steed. She’s a little bit of a mess, but she means well and is doing the best she can.

She’s no Neighlor Swift, but who is, really?