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Thinking Out Loud

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Any Lucid Dreamers out There?

As odd and as kooky as it sounds, I am strongly considering purchasing this "Lucid Dreaming Kit" -- for both personal interest and for research, since I am currently developing a role playing game based on lucid dreaming... Otherwise, silly as it sounds, I may pass this along as an XMas gift idea to the wife.

Back in high school and into college, I used to have incredibly violent, gory and terrifying recurring dreams -- not like night terrors, per se -- but very vivid and very disturbing dreams which I would remember and carry with me throughout the day. As the day went on, the images and scenes would quickly fade, but the underlying sense of dread, forboding and terror would linger for hours.

My best friend in college gave a speech during a communications class on lucid dreaming. I had never heard of it before, but it intrigued me and we talked about it a lot. Based on our conversations and the constant stream of horrific dreams, I did a little bit of reading on the topic and decided to give it a shot. I tried lucid dreaming for a while, but only think that once or twice did I ever really "assert myself" and start to dictate the nature and resolution of these recurring dreams. After those few episodes of being enmeshed on a more conscious and controlled level, the dreams started receding, and occured with much less frequently.

I can't help but wonder if my sudden interest in the topic as the basis for the RPG is the quasi-science of it, or the fact that I've been having a few more of those really disturbing dreams again...

Are any of you lucid dreamers? Or given it a shot? What prompted you to do so? Would you recommend a particular book or program for lucid dreaming?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Game for All Ages...

Another cool story about why kids are awesome.

I ran a very interesting session of Dungeons & Dragons at Archon over the weekend. It was a 7:30 - 11:30 PM session, my last of the convention, and I was exhausted. I really just wanted everything to be over by that point.

Then up to the table comes a 40-something year old dad and his two daughters, age 8 and 11. "We signed up for this, but none of us have ever played any sort of roleplaying game, other than Fantasy Flight on the Playstation." Great, I think to myself, just great.

Soon another father shows up with his 13 year old son, but they've both played a little. And the 6th player was an experienced gamer who didn't mind in the least.

And it turned out being the best session of any D&D I've ever run at any convention. It took some time to explain the very, very basic concepts and rules, but it all boiled down to "just tell us what you want to do and we'll help you do it."

Those three kids came up with some of the most creative, clever and original ideas to overcome various challenges. There was not a single rules argument or issue. Nobody argued that a spell should have lasted longer, or that they should be able to move an extra space. And nobody had to be reminded it was their turn.

One great example -- during a battle that ensued with these small, nasty little fey called "dobbin" at the beginning. The players were getting peppered with tiny arrows. The 11 year old said "We're in an old dead tree, right? I'll light my torch and threaten to burn their home down if they don't throw down their weapons and surrender." Then she turned to her dad and said "I'm just pretending." And then she rolled a Natural 20 on her Intimidate check. Classic.

In another section of the adventure, there's a rope ladder nailed to the wall, allowing access to the second floor - but the first one up spotted a spider swarm on the ledge, close enough that only 1 or 2 people could climb up before engaging the swarm. They didn't have any way to deal with it other than a few torches, so they tried thinking of creative ways to get past them.

They all flipped the character sheets over to look at their equipment, and a bunch of great ideas came out -- such as tying rope to the edges of a 6' x 6' tarpaulin they had to create a massive "sling" and scrape the spiders off the ledge, or using the spell mage hand to grab a tree branch and sweep the spiders off the ledge.

But the winning idea was when the 8 year old said "Why don't we use my hammer to remove the nails from the ladder and just re-attach it over on the other side?" And the 13 year old worked off that by suggesting he could use his spider climb potion to carry it up the opposite side of the wall and secure it so the rest of the group could climb up. Those parents beamed with so much pride, it was awesome.

What a great session.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Archon Recap >> The Good, The Bad & The Smelly

Well, Archon 30 is come and gone. And it was pretty fun. Exhausting, but fun.

Even though it's a very, very small convention (especially when compared to the likes of GenCon or Origins) it has a faithful following, and the daily Archon newsletter that there were more event registrations over the course of Friday and Saturday than during previous years -- I'm not sure how/if that directly relates to attendance, but good for them.

Archon has a pretty heavy focus on costumes and masquerade events. There were a lot of people in costumes of some sort. A lot. At GenCon, I'd wager that fewer than 2% of the overall attendees got dressed up (in one way or another). At Archon, I'd guesstimate closer to 10% -- which is pretty significant.

Unfortunately, many of the costumed people are overweight, overage and trying to pull off looks they really shouldn't. I'm glad you have self confidence and a good self image, but I really don't want to be subjected to seeing 50 year old women weighing 200+ pounds wearing Sailor Moon or skimpy belly dancer outfits.

And please, people, bathe. The unfortunate strongest similarity between Archon and GenCon was the smell. My olfactory senses still haven't recovered.

In a quirk of coincidence, however, I ran into some folks I wasn't really expecting to see there. Sure, there were the dozen-odd people from other local gaming groups or a few folks who recognized my BGG badge, but I also ran into two people I met through my real job...

First was an intern for a local video production company, who was competing in the masquerade events (as a Starfleet officer, then Professor Snape from Harry Potter, and she had a few other home made costumes as well). She was certainly the pleasant exception to most of the costumed folks there -- cute, well groomed, in a well-made and tailored costume, and pleasant. Did I mention she was cute?

Then I also ran into someone I've met at some Business Marketing Association meetings, and had talked to enough that we thought there might be a potential business opportunity for us to work toward. So finding out he's into gaming (and for him, specifically, comic books) was a real boon. In fact, he had a booth at Archon, to promote his new comic book, Damned. I picked up a promo copy and read through it, and it's pretty neat -- I wish him all the best. And now that we know we have something in common away from the office, I'm looking forward to working with him and getting to know him better. Tres cool.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Off to Archon!

I'm headed off to Archon soon, a local gaming convention here in St. Louis. Surprisingly, despite having lived in St. Louis for nearly 12 years now, this will be the first time I've attended Archon -- and I'm really looking forward to it.

As a favor to Joseph Goodman of Goodman Games (who gave me my big writing break to write D&D modules for his great Dungeon Crawl Classics line) I'm running several sessions of A Question of Morels, a scenario I wrote for DCC #29 - The Adventure Begins. It's about an herbalist in need of some rare mushrooms to brew his potions, but -- surprise, surprise -- things don't quite go as planned.

I'm also running several sessions of A Crash Course in Cthulhu, an introductory scenario for Call of Cthulhu which I've run nearly a dozen times, and always have a blast. I've written detailed backstories for all the pregenerated investigators, so they each have motivations to tie them into the clues and plot hooks that come up. And each character has one reason to like/trust one of the other characters, and a reason to dislike/distrust another. It's a great time.

I'm hoping this will help satisfy my craving for RPG gaming, or it may be just a tiny taste which turns my craving into a ravenous hunger. Either would be fine with me. Hopefully I'll also be able to get some boardgaming in over the weekend. We'll see how it goes.

I'll be wearing my custom name badge featuring my BoardGameGeek username Ynnen and my avatar. If you are attending Archon and bump into me, say hi!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Long time no blog...

I haven't added a post to my blog in a while, as my gaming has been on the ebb the last few weeks. It's been a pretty dry month for gaming -- and only partially due to opportunity.

I did get to playtest some of the new options and rules I had been working on for Forbidden City and another beer n' pretzels sort of game I put together, as well as finally tried out Elasund. It was fun, but my gaming mood has been fairly mercurial lately.

I think the crux of it is that I really miss role playing games. I had played in a great Call of Cthulhu campaign that was aborted just as things heated up. Then a very interesting Eberron campaign that suddenly stopped. A few other D&D games dried up. And my attempts to get some AFMBE, Call of Cthulhu, Deadlands or Warhammer started have all fizzled. Ka Spuck.

So that's been a bit of a downer. Yet you'd think that'd make me appreciate the flexibility of boardgaming. If only 4 of the 5 can show up, you've got tons of good options available. But for me, boardgaming begins and ends there at the table. I rarely daydream about an upcoming session of boardgaming, and it lacks the creative output and opportunities to weave storylines and engage the other players.

With roleplaying games, only 50% of my enjoyment comes at the table -- there's just as much fun to be had with the session notes, planning encounters, kibitzing online with the other players about the plot, and all those sorts of supplemental exposure to the game.

So I've been a little "meh" about boardgaming. Yeah, it's fun, and I like socializing with my gaming buddies. But it's missing something. To fill the void, I've been playing City of Villains, the MMORPG. It's been a lot of fun, and quasi-fills the RPG need, but it's not perfect. Hopefully I'll be able to drum up some F2F RPG gaming soon.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Read any good games lately?

Aside from gaming, one of my favorite past times is reading. I generally read fantasy and science fiction, preferring my entertainment to be detached from the everyday. But despite getting to read some fun novels lately (I just finished William King's Slayer series and am almost done re-reading Rally Cry by William R. Forstchen), I find myself reading game-related content most of all.

Not reviews, GeekLists or session reports (although I do read quite a few of each), however. Game rules and rulebooks. I often bring rulebooks to work to read over lunch, or pack an RPG core book along on a trip. I love reading about new mechanics, trying to visualize how different rules work together, trying to imagine how strategies would unfold. Some games and rulebooks lend themselves to mock set up and playing through scenarios and situations, but games with clear rules and well designed layout and images can really convey a lot.

For roleplaying games, there's the added element of daydreaming about the atmosphere, and creating a narrative of play for the proposed setting or system. I can wile away the hours just thinking about fun scenarios, character concepts or the people I'd like to sit around the table with and game. In fact, for some of the systems, it never gets past the reading and the daydreaming -- simply too many games and activities competing for the ever-shrinking available time.

So what are some of my favorite games to read? I'm so glad you asked.

InSpectres (Memento Mori Theatriks) - A wonderful Indie design RPG. A slightly tongue in cheek, slapstick game about creating your very own Ghostbusters-esque organization to battle evil spirits and monsters. Wonderful, inventive gameplay and some very clever mechanics that put the focus on action and rely on the players to drive the story as much as the referee.

Hollow Earth Expeditions (Exile Game Studios) - A great pulp-adventure game about discoveries in the unknown. With a dash of Jurassic Park, a pinch of Raiders of the Lost Ark and you've got the recipe for an enthralling setting, plus some great mechanics (their Ubiquity resolution system) which keeps the action fast and furious. I've re-read this book several times, thrilled at the potential it offers.

Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage (Avalon Hill) - While not as thrilling a read, each time I read the rules, the game makes a bit more sense. There are still some confusing sections, but for the wealth of strategy and the depth of the immersion, reading the rules is very enjoyable. I always come away with new insights, or new ideas on what to try the next time around.

Battlestations (Gorilla Games) - Walking a fine line between an RPG and a boardgame, Battlestations rulebooks, despite some proofing errors, send my mind reeling in hypothetical ecstasy... As in, I keep dreaming up new hypothetical situations, trying to design new scenarios, and finding new ways to appreciate the mechanics and the love that Jason and Jeff Siadek pour into their game.

Space Hulk (Games Workshop) - The beautiful layout and wonderful diagrams help clearly explain the rules. Space Hulk has a lot going on, but the well-written rules and fabulous formatting help demystify the game. The game is very easy to grasp from the rulebook, and allows players to focus on dreaming up plans to crush their opponent.

What are some of your favorite rulebooks - boardgame, roleplaying or otherwise? What about them is so engaging?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Interesting Game Article >> Passed Along By Fellow Gamers

It's amazing the series of coincidences, referrals and chats that can eventually lead to discovering something interesting online.

Case in point, I was online checking email, when I was pinged by Simon Hunt (designer of Take Stock) to tell me about an interesting article he saw over on Boardgame News by Larry Levy. His article, titled "The Two Faces of Gaming" was spurred on by his reading of a recent Bruno Faidutti post over on Bruno's web site. The most interesting part about Larry's column was actually the response by my GeekBuddy Valerie Putman.

It was a bizarre web of ideas, concepts, notices and communication that finally got me to read the article, which is essentially about the impact of certain timed events during a game, such as when you draw a card. Does drawing a card at the beginning of your turn create more downtime or analysis paralysis than drawing at the end of your turn? Or does drawing at the beginning of your turn create more excitement and anticipation?

It's a great read, and I strongly recommend you check it out. Both Larry's column, and the article by Bruno that started it. And then Valerie's comments, which succintly mirror my own feelings about the topic. Here is part of her response, which I largely agree with:

When you draw at the end of your turn, you are much less likely to care as much about what you draw. First, you have to wait until everyone else plays before you get to use it. Second, the game might change enough between turns that you don’t know yet when you draw it if it is helpful. It is much more engaging to draw at the beginning of your turn.

What do you think? Does the timing of these game mechanics matter? How about opposed actions, like rolling dice in combat, or "after the fact" card draws after the person's turn has passed? I think it's too easy to overthink the impact and significance of design decisions like this in short, filler games, but perhaps there's more impact in longer, more tactically and strategically rich games, like Card-Driven Wargames. Dunno. You tell me.