Tuesday, August 25, 2015

“Boutique” Games

Gamers often face the financial challenge of deciding whether they can afford an expensive game that’s tempted them with an appealing theme, high-quality production values, and engaging gameplay. Many times we can exhibit self-control and budget for large game purchases or bide our time before buying supplemental materials. Yet the price of games across the range of the adventure gaming hobby (roleplaying, board, wargames, and miniatures games) continues to creep upward; it isn’t helped by more releases of what I’d call “boutique” games, those with price tags nearing or often exceeding the $100 mark. These make significant contributions to the overall field of games, though at a greater cost to both producers and players.

A recent game convention we attended runs a charity “teacup” style raffle where participants buy tickets (at $1 each) and drop them into bins with numbers corresponding to donated prizes, with all proceeds going to the named charity (in this case one that benefited veterans). I’ll admit, I was sorely tempted by three interesting game “prizes,” Fantasy Flight Games’ Imperial Assault and Star Wars: Armada, and Ares Games’ Sails of Glory starter set. Each of them retails for about $100 and comes packed with some amazingly high-quality components. Their subjects also interest me. My son and I stuffed the raffle tickets I’d bought into the bin for Imperial Assault (his choice), though I diverted a few to another game that tempted me; despite this, we didn’t win any of the raffle drawings, and that was okay (donating to a good charity helped us feel it was worthwhile).

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Recent OSR Acquisitions

This year I’ve started dabbling more in the Old School Renaissance movement (OSR), picking up interesting product thanks to a host of Lulu discount sales and a few other sources. Although my “old school” game of preference remains Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons (Moldvay edition), I enjoy looking over new OSR products, seeing what innovations designers work into the system, and mining them for inspiration. I’ve discussed Lulu and the OSR before, noting the platform’s absence of a “wish list” function; I’ve since returned to more traditional methods – scrawling notes on scrap paper – to keep track of titles of interest. Some materials I ordered from Lulu’s print-on-demand (POD) service; others came from the similar POD services DriveThruRPG and its affiliates offer, and one came among the goodies delivered in a recently ordered Mythoard package. At least one released so recently I’ve only looked over the PDF, though I just ordered the print-on-demand version as it was at the top spot in my “to order next time” list for Lulu.

Starter Adventures by Tim Shorts ($19.99 print, Lulu): I was pleasantly surprised by one of my first Lulu purchases. Starter Adventures offers four short scenarios for beginning characters in each major OSR class. They’re ideal for one-on-one play (one gamemaster and one player) introducing newcomers to a particular rules set or roleplaying in general. Each scenario provides very class-specific challenges and resolutions, inviting a player to explore various aspects of their character’s class. Many rely on an apprentice situation with a more experienced mentor to help set the stage and offer guidance, establishing some ready-made allies or contacts for the future. The book rounds out its beginner-level materials with a detailed tavern location and a full-fledged low-level group adventure, both of which showcase engaging gamemaster characters who can help or challenge new heroes. Besides providing inspiration and guidance for creating brief, introductory adventures for low-level characters, it demonstrates how to craft specific encounters to a particular class’ abilities.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

GenCan’t & the Guns of August

August brings GenCon – arguably the largest, most comprehensive adventure gaming convention in the world – the ideal game experience for which every gamer should strive once in their lives (if we are to believe much of popular gaming culture). It also brings a far smaller but more accessible game event much closer to my own neck of the woods, a cozy but engaging wargaming and board game convention called, quite appropriately, Guns of August. I’ve attended both in the past, yet one remains more realistic in terms of time and finances. Both fulfill roles in satisfying gamers’ needs for shopping, playing, and overall fan interaction.

The GenCon Pilgrimage

Traveling to GenCon and gaming for four straight days has always seemed a mandatory pilgrimage every gamer should aspire to at least once in their life. Back before the internet – when gaming magazines shared info about new releases and conventions along with their other game-source-material fare – the venerable Dragon Magazine ran ads promoting GenCon as well as occasional reports about miniatures competitions. Some of the very first “module” scenarios initially served as tournament adventures at GenCon. As a high school kid and avid reader of Dragon Magazine I quickly came to believe GenCon was the hobby’s leading gaming event, a Meccas every truly dedicated gamer would reach in making the ultimate roleplaying game pilgrimage. But for a scrawny, geeky kid this seemed little more than an unreachable dream one only read about in the pages of Dragon Magazine or other industry periodicals. I realized it was unrealistic to commandeer the family summer vacation to go to a gaming event only I’d enjoy, and one that seemed overly expensive given admission, travel, and hotel expenses, let alone shopping cash for purchasing dream game product I never imagined my local hobby shop carrying.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Films for Adventure Inspiration

[Note: This week I offer a revision of an old Griffon’s Aerie “Dispatch” column from years ago. I’d like to say I’ve been too busy attending GenCon to draft a new entry for this week, but, alas, I’m just recovering from a weekend entertaining out-of-town guests. Nonetheless, I’ve had this “reserve” feature waiting in the wings, one of my favorite and possibly useful resources for roleplaying games. Share and enjoy.]

In our society movies remain one of the more complete means of realizing fantasy through storytelling. Their larger-than-life scale, amazing special- or computer-generated-effects, evocative costumes, and seemingly realistic settings help viewers escape their mundane world and immerse themselves in an entertaining tale. No other media yet comes close to pure sensory escapism (though books can, at times, hypnotize us in the same way, without the powerful visual and aural impressions). Films also fit a complete and sometimes well-told story into a compact period, often about two hours. Viewing them is not quite as involved as reading an entire novel, nor are they short tidbits digested in small doses like most television shows and short stories. This makes them ideal to adaptation as roleplaying game adventures, either as stand-alone scenarios or part of a larger campaign.

Innovative gamemasters can find inspiration in films. They often borrow and modify various composite elements from movies that seem attractive to their games: a cool vehicle or weapon; an exotic location; well-crafted plot points; even heroes, sidekicks, and villains who, with a name change and some stats, can enhance a game. In a pinch the basic premise of a film, its locations, and plot and character elements can form the basis for a spur-of-the-moment scenario. Gamemasters with a crowd of eager players and no adventure at hand can take a minute to recall a good movie and adapt its core plot and other elements to the current game.