Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Gaming Accessories

As you all know, I'm a bit too active on Kickstarter. And that's just what I've backed - my wife has backed a fair number of projects, too.  Enough that we ended up putting together a spreadsheet to track what we've received and what we're still waiting for.

A few weeks back, I wrote about a couple of projects which were being Kickstarted - and both have now reached their goals (huzzah!).  One of them - Unexploded Cow from Cheapass Games - was used both to get the specific game back in print (now in a deluxe edition), but also to jump-start the company again.

Cheapass games - as I said a few weeks back - made some of my favorite games back in the day. Kill Doctor Lucky and Hong Kong Spree were exceptional (and approachable).

The only flaw in their system was that you had to provide your own components. For some games, it was easy. But some of their games required sets of matching tokens. You could go to the aquarium supply store and get a huge variety of glass beads, but they were sometimes oddly dissatisfying.

A few months ago, we went to a friend's birthday party.  She throws one every year, and every year it's a lot of fun.  We go, we play some games, and we go home with large smiles.  Every year.  This year, we started playing Divinare.  Since we had one rule wrong, we ran out of scoring tokens. "That's okay," he said, "I have my PennyGems."

He walked over to his backpack and pulled out what appeared to be a dice bag, which he then spilled onto the table.  "PennyGems," he said. "They're generic tokens usable in any game."

I thought they were pretty cool (if expensive), and added them to my list of Things To Buy After GenCon.

And then he had a Kickstarter for "A Pale Imitation" - PennyGems in pastel colors. So, instead of ordering from his Etsy store, we Kickstarted at the level we wanted. And I'm very happy with them.

I realized as I was sticking the vinyl to pennies that these would be ideal for Cheapass games.  You can use them a player pieces, money, and dozens of additional token types.

I know there are dozens and dozens of game accessories out there - dice bags, dice towers, tokens, markers, dice - but I'm one of those folks who believes you can never upgrade your game enough.

And I'm a big fan of small business doing what they can to get the ball rolling.

So here are the links I've posted above for accessories - and these are products for which I have seen with my own eyes and touched with my own hands. If you have another good accessory link, feel free to throw it in the comments.

Dice Bags:
Dice Towers:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Obsidian Portal

I just recently decided to become an Ascendant member of Obsidian Portal.  This makes me both an early adopter and late to the party.

You see, about four years ago, one of my DMs discovered OP. And I signed up - but I never did anything with it.  He even gave bonus XP if we'd spend the time to update the site - which was nice.

I never really took advantage of it.  I poked briefly at OP, and then just ... left it.  It looked to be little more than a GM tool which allowed player access. And - to a point - I was right.

But then I joined a Dresden Files game. The GM put the game up on Obsidian Portal, and offered FATE points to players who updated and maintained the pages. And this time, it seems to be working.  The players are actively involved with keeping the pages up to date.  The Adventure Wiki is a bit behind, but the characters seem to be accurate, and - again - the players are active. And I have no idea what the GM has up that is concealed from the players.  I'm not even using my printed character sheet for this game - I'm using my laptop with a window open to my character's page on Obsidian Portal.

It's going well enough that I decided to put my game up on the site. Before too long, I'm going to be running Cthulhutech, but, to get the players used to Obsidian Portal, I'm starting with a short Traveller game.

There's not much up, yet.  I have a map I need to scan, and I need to put the characters up (once they're generated). But I have a couple different batches of Scream Sheets (with a number of plot hooks and Easter eggs) ready to go.

It's astounding to me how easy it's been to get rolling on the game details.  I also have some very creative players, so I expect I'll have a host of cities, asteroids, shops, and NPCs in relatively short order - once the players relax a bit and get comfortable adding to and updating the wiki.

I don't think it's quite clicked, yet, how much of a free hand I'm giving them.

I think I'm going to give bonus XP to players who update and maintain the page during Cthulhutech, too.  I may even count Traveller updates and maintenance for Cthulhutech bonuses, because of how very differently Traveller handles character growth.

The more I poke at it, the more useful it becomes - and not just for gaming, either.  I have several friends who are writers who could use this to keep track of key characters, places, and things in their fiction.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ten Years In

Next week is the tenth anniversary of the weekly game night I've been a part of since the beginning. We will actually be celebrating on October 3rd.

I used to keep a long list of people who, at one time or another, had attended. I lost track at one point, and never really got back on track. I lost track before we moved our weekly gatherings to the game store, and we had well over 200 different names on the list.  Since moving to the store, we have grown.

A decade ago, I had a couple of friends over to play Settlers of Catan, which a co-worker had purchased for me as a gift.  We agreed to meet again the next week, and ... and we never stopped.

I eventually got burned out on Settlers, so we moved on to other games. That was ... that was thousands of games ago.

After three years, we outgrew my apartment, and we moved the gathering to Phoenix Games.  Brian has been a good host for the last seven years, and his space (and parking spaces) have allowed the group to grow.

At my apartment, we were averaging eight to ten gamers per week and using two tables.  The last few years, we've been between fifteen and thirty on a typical evening, with six to eight games going simultaneously at times.

Over the years, some of the people I met through Game Night have grown into some of my best friends.

My current DM is someone I met outside of Game Night, but we didn't really click until he randomly showed up one week. He has since become one of my best friends (in addition to being my DM).

It's been a good decade, and I find myself looking forward to what will happen over the next one.

Thanks to all the regulars and others who have made this possible.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Broken Perspectives, Unusual Viewpoints, and Unreliable Narrators

My wife and I just recently started watching a new TV show.  She has a weakness for crime dramas with a touch of fun - she loves Castle, for example. And Numbers.  And Bones. We both loved Monk.  And now we're watching Perception.

All of these shows have main characters who work as consultants to the regular police department (or FBI). The most of the viewpoint characters are damaged in some way, which makes them more entertaining and interesting.  The viewpoint character in Monk suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. In Perception, the character has schizophrenia, and often sees characters who aren't there.

The difference between the two is that, in Monk, we can't see the OCD's effects directly.  We can see, indirectly, what Adrian Monk is forced to do, but that's not the same.  In Perception, we can see the imaginary characters (and other things) that Dr. Pierce interacts with.  It casts doubt on the existence of every single character on the show other than the lead. In fact, I occasionally find myself wondering if the entire show isn't in the lead character's mind.

Last night, I was playing our bi-weekly Dresden Files game. During the game, I realized a few things about my character's headspace - and that's always a scary thing. Doubly so in the Dresden universe.  After the game, we were hanging out and chatting, and one of the other players said something to me (and the rest of the group) about her character's perspective.  What if Harry Dresden is an unreliable narrator? What if he really is the villain of the piece who is spinning a story for us? What if the White Council was right to not trust him?  That's the perspective her character brings to the game. And it's not entirely outlandish, even using Butcher's writings as your source.

So how much of this can you fold into your game?  A lot.

Have a player who takes schizophrenia as a flaw on a regular basis?  Ask one of the other players (in secret) if he wants to play a hallucination. Tell him to be careful not to directly interact with the rest of the party. It's entirely possible that the rest of the party will try to interact with him - he'll need to learn to shrug it off. If the party decides to follow the hallucination's lead at some point, then clearly the schizophrenic character repeated what was said.

The imaginary PC also had to be prepared for a lot of hitting but not doing damage. Or having the foe just shrug it off. It also means that PC shouldn't take a roll essential for the rest of the party.

Want to mess with your players in a superhero game? Do to them what JJJ has been trying to do to Spider-Man for years - turn public perception against them. Maybe that last villain they busted had been waging a PR campaign against them. Or maybe it was a matter of one press reporter was in the wrong place at the wrong time and so it looks like the PC's did something.

Or maybe they are villains and didn't realize it.

Batman's cave is filled with trophies - what if those trophies are pieces to a doomsday machine he is building? What if his Rogues Gallery keeps busting out of Arkham with his help? He has manipulated his villains into doing his bidding for years.  If the Mad Hatter's latest theft - a microtransmitter - isn't recovered when the Hatter is caught, who would notice? There is, after all, a whole warehouse full of components for whatever the Hatter was building.

In games which have a merit/flaw or advantage/disadvantage system, I very rarely see a character without one of the drawbacks. After all, they are free points, right?

As a GM, the players rely on you for every single scrap of information about the world around them.  YOU control their senses. All of them. Want them to hallucinate a smell of flowers that isn't there? Tell them that they smell flowers. Want them to notice a detail somewhere? Point it out to them.

Just remember that you don't necessarily need to be a reliable narrator.