Friday, February 27, 2015

Goodbye Mr. Spock

Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock, everyone's favorite Vulcan
Today is a very sad day. While this news isn't gaming related, I felt like I should mention it here anyway due to the subject matter.

Leonard Nimoy, an icon within the geek community for playing Spock in numerous entries within the Star Trek franchise, passed away this morning in Bel Air, California. The actor was 83 years old and the cause of his death is reported to be chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Nimoy's Star Trek cast members, including William Shatner and George Takei, expressed Sadness at his death.

Shatner tweeted, "I loved him like a brother. We will all miss his humor, his talent, and his capacity to love."

"We return you now to the stars, Leonard," wrote Takei. "You taught us to 'Live Long And Prosper.' and you indeed did, friend."

This really hits me hard. Although I've always been more of a Star Wars guy at heart, I still enjoyed Star Trek and personally loved Nimoy's performance as Spock. I remember when I was younger, watching Wrath of Khan for the first time, and I actually teared up when Spock sacrificed himself to save his crew mates. That scene still gets me to this very day, and I'm almost 23 years old.

Although Mr. Nimoy is gone, he's left a legacy behind. A legacy that has brought so much joy and happiness to numerous people over the years, and will do so for many years to come.

Leonard Nimoy, you have always been, and always shall be, our friend.

In honor of Mr. Nimoy's passing, I want to know what your favorite role of his was. Leave your answers in the comments below.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Stuff You Should Check Out: Tabletop Deathmatch 2nd Season

Tabletop Deathmatch's set has definitely got a better set designer.
Sometimes, I wonder about Texas and it's weird bi-polar weather conditions. One day, it's warm and feels like Spring has come early. Then the next day, it's freaking sleeting outside and cold as the 8th layer of the Nine Hells. Because of this, I've been stuck inside all day, wrapped within a cocoon of sheets and blankets, watching the entire 1st season of Tabletop Deathmatch.

Tabletop Deathmatch is a competition-based webseries sponsored by Cards Against Humanity where sixteen tabletop games compete for a chance to receive a first printing and a spot at Gen Con. Although a little dry, Tabletop Deathmatch is pretty interesting from an amateur game designer perspective, getting to hear what these industry insiders think, learn about some pretty cool games, and shows the hard work these people put into this hobby and how dedicated they are.

I highly recommend checking out the 1st season on Youtube. Each episode is roughly 15 minutes or so and will only take you about a couple of hours to watch them all. However, that's not why I'm writing this post.

Last week, Cards Against Humanity launched the 2nd season of Tabletop Deathmatch, releasing the first two episodes, which you can find HERE. They've changed up the formula for each episode, only have 8 contestants this time alone, and seem to have gotten a bigger production budget. I personally miss hearing the judges opinions in each episode, but its nice seeing a cool animation explaining each game and hearing actual comments from people who have played the games.

If you're interested in amateur game design and watching a solidly made competition webseries, I'd suggest giving Tabletop Deathmatch  look.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Random Thoughts: Would You Ever Pay Your Game Master?

While some would deny this, I believe many Game Masters have asked themselves the following question at least once in their lives: "What if I could get paid for running games?" I know I've thought about it in jest a few times, but always discarded it as a weird idea and nothing more.

Apparently, a group of people decided to make that idea a reality. This group is calling themselves the "Professional Game Masters Society", and you can find their website HERE. Supposedly, their mission is to bring the art of Game Mastering to a higher level of quality, thereby improving roleplaying games in general. How do they plan on doing this? By having GMs receive monetary compensation for their services (i.e., get paid). 

When I first read about this, I immediately thought it was a weird idea. Why would anyone pay for something they could get for free? However, a thought occurred to me. We pay entertainers to do their jobs, and a Game Master could be seen as an entertainer, so I can see why someone might make the argument that Game Masters should receive payment for their services when running a game for a group of strangers. 

With that being said, I think this whole thing is a little weird and strange. I think I would be more okay with this idea if it was just a group for players unfortunate enough to not have a GM of their own could fine one in their area, but their would be no paid element. 

What do you guys and gals think about all of this? Do you think it's a good idea, or a terrible one? Would you ever pay a GM to run a game for you? Or do you believe if this group has to exist, it should be more of a volunteer thing?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Pathfinder Musings: Wizardly Revisions

Last Wednesday, I took another look at the Rogue class for Pathfinder, discussed its shortcomings, and presented a few house rules that I've implemented with the sole purpose of making the class better in my games. Today, I thought I'd do the same for another class. However, this time we'll be looking at one from the opposite side of the power spectrum: the Wizard.

The Wizard is one of the most powerful classes in Pathfinder, mostly due to its rather flexible access to magic and certain changes that were made during the upgrade from 3.5 D&D. Recently, I've been toying around with a few ideas to reign in the class' power a little. These suggestions will probably be sound utterly insane to the majority of players who enjoy Pathfinder, but sometimes drastic decisions must be made. Just keep in mind these are merely ideas and I haven't actually implemented them as of yet.

I'll start with the less drastic change, which deals with school specialization. This change would force Wizards to select one of the eight schools of magic to specialize in at 1st level, ultimately eliminating the "Universalist" option. I personally like this change because it furthers the idea of the Wizard being the specialist caster, focusing on a specific subject above all else.

Also, this change would force Wizards to have prohibited schools now, instead of having an easy way to ignore that rule, limiting the spells they can easily cast.

The next suggestion is probably the one that will piss some players off. This rule would strip the Wizard of the ability to automatically learn spells as they gain new levels. Instead, they would have to learn spells by copying them from other sources into their spell books, using the rules presented in the Core Rulebook for doing so. This change would cause the Wizard to not have as many spells and would allow the GM to control which spells they can and can't learn since they will most likely gain new spells from defeating enemies and obtaining loot. I also like how it makes the Wizard and the Sorcerer different in a mechanical sense as well, and gives a reason for why Wizards are generally depicted as paranoid in most campaign worlds (other wizards keep trying to steal their spells!)

The first change would be incredibly easy to implement because it would only require me banning Wizard players from selecting the Universalist option at 1st level. The second change would have to be something I made to almost all prepared casters, possibly implementing a "spell book" concept for Clerics and Druids. Not doing so might catapult those two classes into the vacant slot on top of the power pyramid the Wizard used to occupy.

I also have another idea for dealing with the power of magic, based on an idea presented in 4e, which would probably be utilized along side these rules (or instead of them), but that's a topic for another time. Anyway, these are merely ideas I've been tossing around in my noggin. Do you have any ideas for limiting the power of the Wizard? What are they? I'd love to hear about them in the comments below.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Rule of Three: Creating Non-Player Characters

The GM's role can be a daunting one at times, especially in the eyes of a neophyte. You have to be the arbiter of the rules, a gracious host for your players, and create an fantastic world for said players to explore filled with numerous individuals to interact with. 

While all of those are topics that deserve mention, today's Rule of Three will be focusing on one in particular: creating interesting NPCs. When you're new to the spot behind the screen, there's a fear that your NPCs might come off as flat or boring. It's an understandable fear, but thankfully one that's very easy to negate. 

Today, I want to present three simple tips and tricks that I use to create interesting NPCs, sometimes on the fly. This will not be groundbreaking advice, but I feel its still useful (especially for newer GMs). Just remember, these are just little pieces of advice, not hard rules that you must follow. 

#1. Quirks & Traits
When creating a NPC, consider giving them an interesting quirk or trait. These should be simple features to help make the character more unique and possibly memorable. For example, you could have the local barkeep have a peg leg, which is why the townsfolk refer to him as "Hoppy". Another example could be a scribe who quietly repeats a person's name to herself when she meets someone knew in order to memorize it better. Don't be afraid to occasionally add a random trait or quirk to a random NPC to make a scene more interesting. 

#2. Quirks & Traits Should Inform the Character, Not Define Them
When utilizing weird quirks or unique traits, make sure these features are only a small facet of the character's identity, not the entirety of it. For example, let's look back at our scribe example from before. The reason why the scribe repeats everyone's name when first meeting them is because she's a little scatter-brained and as trouble remembering little details like names and what not. If you find yourself having trouble in this department, try using the quirk or trait as a starting point, wondering why the character would have this feature in the first place and what that feature says about them. For example, maybe the barkeep doesn't mind the locals calling him "Hoppy", seeing it as a term of endearment. However, the barkeep gets angry when a stranger uses the term. 

#3. Take Inspiration From Your Surroundings
Finally, feel free to draw inspiration for your characters from your favorite movies, novels, video games, and other forms of media. Are your characters going to have a run-in with a local mafia boss? Maybe look to Don Corleone from The Godfather for inspiration. Need an eccentric magician for Saturday night's game? You could always take a cue from Big Trouble in Little China's Egg Shen. Want to make the town sheriff a tough, no-nonsense protector of the law? Karrin Murphy from The Dresden Files might be perfect inspiration. Just remember, these inspirational characters should be just that: inspiration. Like quirks & traits, view them as a starting point, then try and make them your own. 

The Surprising Benefits of Role-Playing Games (and How to Get Started)

Click the Picture to Read the Article!

On Monday, Lifehacker published an interesting article about role-playing games, the benefits of playing these games, and how one might start playing if they were so inclined. While the article focuses on Dungeons & Dragons, I feel like it does a good job talking about the good things associated with the games our hobby is built upon and showing that it's not this arcane thing, but something anybody can enjoy.

If your interested, give the article a read. I definitely recommend it. Also, I have a question to you readers. What is the most important lesson you have ever learned from role-playing games? How have you implemented this life lesson away from the gaming table? I'd love to hear your responses in the comments below.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Pathfinder Musings: Roguish Revisions

I've mentioned this before, but I feel like discussing this topic again. The Pathfinder version of the Rogue is extremely underpowered, mostly due to some poor design choices and the fact the designers keep taking away the Rogue's shticks and handing them to other classes that happen to do those shticks better. It's really sad because the Rogue is an interesting archetype and deserves a lot more.

Although Pathfinder Unchained will supposedly contain a reworked Rogue that's supposed to be better, that won't hit store shelves until April. Until then, I have to make the current version of the class work. Thankfully, I have some house rules that I hope will help beef up the Rogue a little.

I've done my best to make these rules as intrusive as possible to the version of the Rogue presented in the Core Rulebook. Mostly, these were created with the hope of covering some of the class' weak points and make it much better at its job.

The first house rule is that Rogues are now proficient with the buckler and the whip. This mostly to give players more options.

The second addition is another flavor addition, utilizing an idea that was revitalized in 5e. Rogues automatically receive a new bonus language called "Thieves' Cant". This language is an unspoken one, utilizing different signs and symbols to deliver secret messages. It takes twice as long to deliver any message in Thieves' Cant as it does in any normal language.

The third rule is the addition of a new ability at 1st level called "Dirty Tactics". At 1st level, the Rogue receives a +1 bonus to attack rolls when fighting an opponent who's denied their Dexterity bonus to its AC (whether it has a Dexterity bonus or not) or she is flanking the target. This bonus increases at +1 at 5th level and every 4 levels thereafter. This ability helps make up for the Rogue's lackluster base attack bonus when attacking someone in a situation she would normally get her sneak attack damage against. This is also based off an ability presented in Trailblazer, a d20 toolkit book that everyone should check out if you're interested in the d20 system and like neat ideas.

Finally, let's take a look at the Rogue Talents, which are one of the most underwhelming aspects of the class. The first change I've made is to allow the Rogue to select certain talents multiple times. These talents are Combat Trick, Major Magic, Minor Magic, and Feat. These talents should have allowed this from the get go.

Next is a much more drastic change, with every talent that possesses a once per day limitation now has the following revision. Instead of once per day, you can use these abilities a number of times per day equal to 1/2 your Rogue level (minimum 1/day). These abilities are usually the most pathetic, mostly because you can only get this little benefit once per day. It hurts even more when its an advanced talent, so you can only get these after 10th level. That's just bad. This change hopefully mends that a little.

Have you created any house rules to help the much maligned Pathfinder Rogue? What are they? Also, what changes would you like to see made to the Rogue in Pathfinder Unchained? I'd love to know.

Wizard of the Coast Announces Magic Origins!

Last year, Wizards of the Coast announced they would be making some major changes to the Magic: The Gathering (specifically the release of new sets and the standard set rotation schedule). Part of that announcement was the retirement of the Core sets, with Magic Core 2016 being the last one. 

Well, between the quarterfinals and semifinals of Pro Tour Fate Reforged, Wizards announced Magic Origins (a.k.a, M16). The set will hit store shelves on July 17, will contain 272 cards, will follow the origin stories of several Planeswalkers (Jace Beleran, Liliania Chandra, Gideon, etc.), and feature two new mechanics. 

Back when Wizards announced the forthcoming changes to Magic: The Gathering's set structure, they also hinted that M16 would do something special so the Core sets would go out with a bang. Looks like they're living up to that promise. I'm really interested in seeing these new mechanics, see how they integrate the Planeswalker origins into the mechanics, and what cards will be reprinted. This will be especially interesting since Modern Masters 2015 will be released the previous month, and rumor has it some Modern staples will be included here as well. 

Jace Beleran, Then & Now

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Going Commander: Decision, Decisions

Magic: The Gathering has evolved since Alpha hit the store shelves back in 1993. That's to be expected from a card game that's lasted over two decades and seems to be more popular than ever. While the continually growing & changing mechanics are the most obvious signs of the game's evolution, the different formats that have developed over time are as well. While each are interesting in their own way, I want to talk about one specific format today: Commander 

Previously known as "Elder Dragon Highlander" (EDH for short), Commander is primarily a casual format where players construct a 100 singleton (no more than one copy of any given card) deck that has a legendary creature (or specific planeswalkers) that acts as a "commander". When building your deck, you can only use cards who match the color identity of your commander. For example, you could only use Red & Blue cards if your commander was Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind

I was introduced to Commander last year after I made my return to Magic. At first, I wasn't the biggest fan of it, feeling like it bred douchebaggery at every turn, especially since most Commander games have multiple participants. However, as time went on and I "played" (i.e., forced to play) more Commander games with different decks, I grew to enjoy it. It can be a blast when you're playing with a decently sized group, with players wealing, dealing, & backstabbing throughout the game. 

Since I've started enjoying Commander more and more, I figure it's finally time for me to build my own deck so I can stop borrowing a particular friend's decks. I know I want to build a deck around a specific theme, trying my hardest to stay with that theme throughout most of the cards. After some brainstorming, I've narrowed my options down to three concepts. Now, I just need to figure out which to keep and which to put back on the top of my library (a little Magic humor for ya). 

The first, and probably easiest concept for me to build, is a Red/White Aggro deck called the Boros Legion. The deck would use either Argus Kos, Wojeck Veteran or Tajic, Blade of the Legion as the commander. The reason why this would be the easiest deck for me to build is because I already own a lot of the cards that I'd probably put into it, also I'm pretty good at running Red/White Aggro decks. Also, the cards I don't have are pretty cheap, with most being under $2. 

The second concept would be a very different kind of deck. This one would be a Blue/Black Faeries deck called Oona's Dark Court. Obviously the commander would be Oona, Queen of the Fae, and it would probably focus on screwing my opponents over at each and every turn. While the cards are rather inexpensive, most are from Lorwyn & Shadowmoor, rather old blocks, so I'll have to track them down first. 

The final concept would be a Black/Green Treefolk deck entitled the Dark Heart of the Forest. I'd probably end up using Sapling of Colfenor as my commander. This one would probably be more about the flavor than what's actually good, and it'd have the same problem that Oona's Dark Court would have. 

Most likely, I'll end up making the Boros Legion for now due to the previously stated factors. However, I'm going to try and collect the cards I'll need for the other two and slowly piecemeal them over time because I'd like to have a few Commander decks to change things up every now and again. 

Do any of you play Commander? What's your current Commander deck if you do? Do you have a cool name for your Commander deck? I'd love to know. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

Go Fund It!: Epic PvP: Fantasy

One of my favorite card games is AEG's Smash up, a game where each player takes two faction decks (like "Ninjas" & "Dinosaurs"), shuffle them together (creating "Ninja Dinosaurs"), and tries to gain the most victory points by playing their cards on specific bases. The game's simple to learn and incredibly fun to play.

Epic PvP: Fantasy is a card game designed by Luke Peterschmidt and Ryan Miller. The game utilizes a similar mechanic to Smash Up, with each player taking a race deck and a class deck, shuffling them together, and uses this new deck to fight your friends and family. This game looks incredibly fun, especially if you like cool card games. Although it's already reached its goal, give this Kickstarter a look and give them some money if you like what you see.